Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 16

Talking Combat 114: The Council of Hirogi

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 114: Mo Them Down.

“One does not simply walk onto the bridge of a Corpse Fleet capital ship.”

This feels like the “Council of Elrond” episode of our show. We’ve got to sit down and decide on a course of action where we’ve got a fairly limited number of choices, all of which sound like a suicide mission. And our team includes Rusty, who TOTALLY wants to take the Stellar Degenerator to Gondor.

One of the interesting dynamics was letting Seth kinda serve as Gandalf (I know… I’m stretching the analogy here) and lead the discussion. In a different set of circumstances, I might actually be annoyed that “The New Guy” was coming in and monopolizing the conversation, but I think there are mitigating factors here.

First, he’s a “new guy” who has a longer total tenure in the group than I do – while he’s new to this show, he’s been playing with the group for a long time, as evidenced by the ease with which he mimics Chris’ mannerisms. So… you respect that and roll with it. But I think the more important dynamic is that walking through the options was also part of his mental catch-up process – he’s missed two years of the plot, so letting him be the one to lead that conversation was a way of helping him get up to speed. Processing information, asking questions about who has what abilities, and so on. I think if the “original four” had just steamrolled through that conversation, it might have been harder for Seth to get on board with what was going on. And in a related vein, it made him feel more like a full member of the group, rather than the four of us deciding what to do and he’s Noob-Noob pushing the mop around. (I feel like this is a Rick and Morty-friendly crowd.)

On a personal level, part of it’s as simple as I don’t feel a need to be the leader in this campaign; that’s not my character’s role. Tuttle is well-established in his niche as The Tech Guy, as evidenced in our hack of the Level 10 computer. I don’t know everyone else’s character sheets, but I think Tuttle is LITERALLY the only one who could make that roll. I know Chris talks a good game about Akiro being Tuttle’s equal, but if he’s a +21 or +22 in Computers, he’s not making that roll. My sheet isn’t here in front of me at the moment, but I’m at something like +25 or +26 in Computers, so I can get into the 50s with assists. But I think I’m the only one, and even then I think it took something like an 18 or better to get there.

Because I’m honest that way, I should also mention there were a couple non-outcome-altering fails that Steve cut for time. I’ll put it this way – it was boring for me as a player to keep re-rolling, so I suspect it would’ve been equally boring for you as a listener. These were rolls that weren’t low enough to set off a countermeasure, but not high enough (or people failed their assists) to get us over the hump. And we couldn’t just Take-10/Take-20 because of the possibility of countermeasures. I didn’t want you thinking Tuttle was too much of a technical genius.

So we get into the computer and we find pieces of varying usefulness. Obviously a map will be handy regardless. The two viruses are also extremely useful – especially the one that erases us from the security systems. The main thing I’d been dreading is accidentally stumbling through another one of those anti-life rays, and now we basically don’t have to worry about those. The one that creates the false alert? I suspect that will be useful at some future point, and I’m even willing to meta-game and feel like the plot will tell us when to deploy it.

The one that’s a little cryptic is the personal log about the plans for mutiny. Is that just “color” to give some depth to the NPC we just fought, or does that imply we might be able to get some support from her fellow mutineers in some way, or there are some pieces of her plan we could use? Probably not direct assistance: it sounds like this lady was even MORE extreme than the average Corpse Fleeter, and didn’t think the captain was doing ENOUGH to eradicate the living. So… if those are her views, it’s hard to see her disciples taking our side. But if there’s a mutiny plan we could activate without revealing it’s been co-opted by the living or pieces of the logistics (weapons caches, escape routes, access to systems)? That could still be helpful. For the moment, file it in the back pocket.

As far as our plan, I think we’re still settled on – for lack of a less aggressive terminology – a decapitation strike. Take over the bridge, somehow convince the thousands of rank-and-file soldiers we’re still issuing legitimate orders, and then somehow use this ship to destroy the Stellar Degenerator.

Let’s take the elements of that plan in order.

“Take over the bridge” is sounding like a boss fight, possibly with some adds. The real question is whether the bridge of such a ship is like the Enterprise (8-10 people), the BATTLE BRIDGE of the Enterprise (even better… like, three people) or an Imperial Star Destroyer where there are dozens of dudes hanging around. I feel like that’s where you set off the diversion virus – set off the virus to divert “extra” security away, then try to run in, beat the bad guys, and lock yourself in. Arguably the most straightforward part of all of this.

“Legitimate orders”. A lot depends on the technology. Do they have voice or video, or do commands just come in and out on a screen? Heck, maybe they went full steampunk and have old-school pneumatic tubes shooting canisters to the engine room! If it’s voice or video, can Tuttle fake an overloaded Chambers coil that’s interfering with communications, or can Rusty just fake it with charm?

“Destroy the Stellar Degenerator”. Again, there’s a little knowledge gap we have here with regards to how dependent systems work. If we order the guns to start shooting the Stellar Degenerator, are they manned by a live person at a cross-hairs, or just fired as blips on a screen. Similarly, ramming: if we set a course to ram the Stellar Degenerator, will one of those 1500 engineers notice we’re aimed right at a small planetoid, or is it just a vector and some thrust to them and they’re relying on the bridge to steer? And again, is this somewhere Tuttle can chip in – rewire the guidance or weapon targeting so they think they’re doing something benign while they’re actually blowing up their prize (and saving the universe).

The Charisma/Rusty solution here is to come up with a reason why the Stellar Degenerator now represents a threat to the Corpse Fleet and THEY need to change their objective from securing it to destroying it. Then we could use the remnants of the fleet itself to finish the job. But would they buy it, and even so, do we really want to put our entire plan in Rusty’s hands?

And then there’s one more elephant in the room we haven’t even discussed yet. We have NO, ZIP, ZERO, NADA information on an escape plan. OK, let’s say all of this works and the universe is saved. If we’re ramming, that’s a pretty direct path to death. But even shooting the Stellar Degenerator leaves us in a position where the thousands of crew now know the bridge is compromised and we, the only living creatures on board, have to get off the ship. And… what about getting back to Pact Worlds space – do escape pods have Drift engines, or are we going to float around like Ripley at the end of Alien?

Whatever. Heroes don’t sweat the little shit. Let’s do this! Join us back here next week when we decide to move forward with whatever plan we’ve come up with. In the meantime, drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show, and remember to enter the contest. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 20: Hell’s Petting Zoo

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 20: Can’t Keep A Bad Orc Down.

Welcome back to Talking Plaguestone. This week we do battle in the midst of Hell’s Petting Zoo, and also fight orcs galore, who just… won’t… die already.

This week’s discovery is a little bit enlightening. I’d been assuming that the mutated animals were just a side effect of the bigger plan, sort of an accidental creation. I assumed poisoning the water table and killing off life was the main thrust of Vilree’s plan, and you just happen to get acid wolves and killer shrubs by doing that. But seeing all these cages and pens full of mutated creatures, it starts to look like weird beasties are a feature, not a bug.

I was initially alarmed when Steve described the ice rats as a “swarm” of rats because… you know… “swarm” is also a keyword and I’m not sure we’re set up that well for dealing with actual swarms. But then it turned out to just be two individual rats, and… whatever, they’re rats. More of an annoyance, even with the cold attack and the explode-y death. (And yes, I’m glad Steve let the chain reaction stand even though it should’ve been disallowed… it was a nice little moment to have Rat #1 accidentally kill and detonate Rat #2.)

On the other end of the spectrum, I thought the horse (“Stone Jerk Horse, Man”? “My Metal Pony”? “Brickretariat”?) was going to be more of a challenge than it was. It certainly SOUNDED formidable when Steve first described it. You hear “stone body” and you immediately assume some sort of resistance to piercing and/or slashing, which immediately drops me and Cade’s effectiveness. I was even half-expecting it to be immune or resistant to Celes’ fire as well. So yeah, I thought the horse was going to be the problematic piece of the encounter. But, as it turns out, Prue’s ghost flail made short work of… “Pony Stark”?

If there was an actual challenge to the fight, it was twofold. First was the openness of the battlefield and the number of combatants. When you get that many entities fighting and no real choke points, things get a little crazy – to wit, the joke about forming a Conga Line of Flankers. At least early in the fight, it was tough to find places to move to where you wouldn’t be showing your back to at least one enemy. Once the rats were gone, the numbers became more manageable, but for a while, it was interesting. (It also dawns on me that this is one of those classic fights that would’ve taken a bunch of extra rounds with First Edition because everyone would be five-foot stepping around to avoid attacks of opportunity.)

The other pain point of this fight, of course, was orc ferocity – even when orcs die, they don’t die, unless you have another attack waiting to finish them off (or if a friend can do it). It’s not a hugely unbalancing thing, but when you’re watching every hitpoint and hoarding every healing resource, it’s a little irritating to give a creature that “should” be dead an extra attack. Also just frustrating when it comes to “glory of the kill” moments; you do 20 damage and think you killed the enemy, but it stays up and the next person up lightly nudges them to get the death blow.

Still, the fight goes quicker than anticipated (thanks to a few timely crits), and we’re left to explore a cave complex to the north as the most obvious “next place to look”. (If I remember correctly, a session break actually fell between the two comments, but Steve made it sound like a pretty seamless transition.)

And there we stumble into fight number two, which is almost entirely “orcs chucking chemical bombs at us”. I’d have to go back and listen again, but did they EVER do a conventional weapon attack? I don’t think so. Maybe they punched sometimes when they ran out of chemicals? Again, this fight wasn’t THAT tough, but this time, in addition to orc ferocity, the Annoyance Du Jour was the infliction of persistent damage. The base damage on most of their attacks was actually pretty weak, but if you got that persistent damage – particularly from more than one effect at a time – it could start to add up. And as we discussed a little, your choices for getting rid of it are to hope to make flat checks or to spend actions trying to clean yourself up – actions you then can’t use to speed up the killing. It’s weird… no individual attack felt all that impressive, but it still started to reach a point where I was going to have to consider Lay On Hands.

The other frustration was a silly one. When I threw my alchemical fire into the enemy cauldron, I thought the results would be more… dramatic. OK, I was hoping for some fireworks. But nope, just an unsatisfying plunk as it goes into the cauldron with the 20 other chemicals already in there. Damn it, Steve! Give me my Michael Bay ‘Splosions!

For all that talk about different frustrations, though, it was a pretty successful combat. Nobody dropped, didn’t even take that much damage, multiple crits along the way. I don’t know if we just got lucky or if we’re actually learning some tactics, but things are looking up for us. Next time, we get to loot, and there’s still some of this cave complex left to be searched, so maybe we’ll find Vilree lurking somewhere in here.

But that’ll be for next time. While we’re all waiting, drop by Discord channel or our other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 113: A Fistful of Akiros

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 113: Akiro By Committee.

Welcome to Talking Combat. Come for the Starfinder action, stay for the review of Shakespeare In Cleveland, the straight-to-video sequel to Shakespeare In Love.

This week, we finally get to see the newly-enlarged party in combat for the first time, and it’s kind of awesome. Hirogi, in particular, is much more effective than I remember – I don’t know how much of it is upgrades from leveling and how much of it was that Chris used to roll like crap, but Hirogi is a newly minted killing machine. I remember Chris CONSTANTLY complaining that the Operative class was broken and he could “never” get Trick Attack to work properly, and now Seth is landing shots for 40, 50 points of damage. I suspect Chris is secretly dying inside to see it happen.

Then again, maybe it’s no secret at all. Maybe Chris sabotaged his own computer so he wouldn’t have to listen to Hirogi thrive without him. Well, that’s what I’m choosing to believe, anyway.

I will say Seth is doing a good job picking this stuff up on the fly. It is true Steve edited out SOME of the learning curve (I do believe it reached a point where I snuck in a quick game of Overwatch), but Seth’s instincts have been pretty good overall. I’d put it this way – he comes in with the right ideas of HOW to use the character; he just needs a little bit with the nuts and bolts of HOW to do what he’s thinking about doing. Better that than just running around like a schmuck and getting him killed in two sessions. (Well… as far as you know… this is only our first combat session. Did I just give you a spoiler?)

Speaking of picking stuff up on the fly, thanks to Chris’ computer problems, I got to take Akiro for a test drive this week. That was an interesting change of pace. I have to admit that my grand total of experience with a technomancer was a single Level 1 society game at PaizoCon… back in 2018. Needless to say, a Level 11 character has a few more moving parts than that guy did. But I figure I could fake my way through with a mish-mash of watching Chris do his thing and whatever lessons I could port over from playing a cloth caster in sword-and-sorcery games.

As an aside: I generally agree I was probably the best choice to run Chris’ character. Seth was still learning the system, Bob and Chris have a weird competitive thing going on, and John just kinda gets in a groove with Mo. So almost by default, it was probably best to give me the call from the bullpen.

Now in general, running another person’s character isn’t that big a deal to me. In fact, it’s actually a fairly common occurrence in our Dads-N-Kids 5E game. This just in: teenagers are mercurial and sometimes decide to skip a session because there’s something cooler to do than play D&D with your dad. This is the way.

And yet, even so, I have to admit I was still a little nervous.

Certainly, the most immediate concern was not getting Chris’ character killed. Maybe it’s Pathfinder Second Edition rubbing off on me, but lately, I’ve been walking around on pins and needles feeling like I’m one hit away from an ugly death. If that HAD happened, having to explain that to Chris would’ve not been fun at all. Pretty sure coming back from technical difficulties to find out someone killed your character is “stop talking to that person for a couple of months” territory. But you know what? Akiro DID take a crit, and even 60ish points barely got into meat damage. So I guess I didn’t need to get THAT concerned about things.

In a similar vein, I was also cautious about not wanting to do anything that could mess up the 2-year investment we’ve got in this story. Logically, I can wrap my brain around the idea that a TPK was out at the really skinny end of the bell curve, but how would that suck if I somehow screwed up the sprint to the finish of this whole endeavor? “Sorry McDonald just torched the last two years of your listening life bumbling around with a character he doesn’t understand. Sucks to be you. YOU’VE BEEN LISTENING TO ROLL FOR COMBAT…”

The more immediate and realistic concern for me was resource management. Not just for this battle (if Chris happened to come back while the fight was in progress) but there’s also the fact that we don’t know when we’re going to get a chance to take a long rest. I was really cognizant of using the wrong resources and leaving him in a bad position: spells, resolve points, whatever. I didn’t want Chris coming back and feeling like I’d caused more problems than I’d solved.

So you’ll note I did play things fairly conservatively. First-round, I had mirror images left to play with, so I decided to hang in the pocket and cast a spell – magic missile, specifically. In the second round, the boss and one of the other minions were kind of running a pincer maneuver and were about to get flanking on Akiro AND he was either out of mirror images or maybe had one left. So spending a resolve point to teleport away seemed like the right call there. By round three, the fight began to wind down, so it felt safe to just have Akiro shoot his gun for the rest of the fight. I did consider the ultimate Akiro move and doing a second cast of Holographic Clone when the first ran out… which, given that crit, might have been not such a bad idea.

Chris’ technical issues and my trial-by-fire notwithstanding, we were able to finally dispatch the boss and track down the last runner. It feels like that was the big area boss and we should be able to move on, but I guess we’ll see about that next week. Until then, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show and join the general merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

P.S. May you find peace in the Great Link, Constable.

Talking Plaguestone 19: Weed Whackers

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 19: Cade Kale Bane.

Sweet, sweet revenge!

Now I know it’s not very sporting to sit back and nuke a bunch of plants from afar when they can’t do anything about it, but after the almost-fatal butt-kicking I took a few episodes back, I’m not in a sporting mood. If anything, I just wish I got a chance to personally do more of the damage, but I don’t really have a good ranged option, and I wasn’t going to charge right into the spore cloud. Revenge makes a man stupid, but not THAT stupid.

Speaking of spore clouds: on the surface, this fight ended up being easy, but we were about one failed saving throw away from things getting a lot more interesting. The bushes themselves were physically weaker than the bloodbushes – not as many hit points, didn’t seem to hit that hard – but the mind-affecting spores had Prue right on the line between “mildly inconvenient” and “big trouble”. Disoriented? Eh, whatever… minuses to a couple of rolls. Confused? Then you’re either attacking your own party-mates or standing around letting plants punch you. Perhaps both at the same time. If Prue had turned on us, that could’ve been quite the fight. Pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the Face Full O’ Ghosts.

As we were en route to this week’s adventure, we start to get a clearer picture of Vilree’s plans. I had been thinking it was just generalized death and decay: starve out the town by making all life wither away. In that vein, I’d been thinking the various creatures we’d encountered up to this point were a side effect, rather than the plan itself – that they got sick or drank contaminated water accidentally. But as we get closer to the source, it starts to look more like full-blown mutation is the real plan, and the more general blight and decay was more of a buffer zone that happened to reach the town. And that if we leave it unchecked, eventually the town itself will start to look like this “Forest of the Damned” or whatever we’re dealing with. So… even more reason to put an end to it.

It continues to be weird to be that Noala bailed on us again to… save animals, scout the perimeter, “set traps”… whatever it is she’s doing. This is now the second time she’s done that: she heads off on a smoke break; we get attacked.

On a meta-game level, I know that you send her away because you don’t want to give an NPC first-team reps that are meant for the players. If your NPC shows up and kicks asses the players are supposed to be kicking, it starts to make the players feel like they’re just along for the ride and undermines their game experience. “If Noala can do all this, why did she need us anyway?” So I get her absence as an overall gaming mechanic.

But I have to confess it still makes my Spider-Sense tingle just a little bit. There’s a little piece of me that wonders if she’s actually in league with Vilree and is leading us into dangerous situations on purpose to try and get us killed. I draw the line at her actually BEING Vilree because the ages seem to be wrong and she hasn’t shown any aptitude for alchemy or magic (as a daughter of a witch might). But I’ll admit the thought briefly crossed my mind.

Then again, it’s still true that the townspeople (or at least Dalma) vouch for her, so this is probably just crazy-talk and I should probably switch to decaffeinated coffee. Or maybe the townspeople are stupid. That’s also a possibility.

There’s something else I should mention that’s half confession, half clarification. When Steve described the entrance to the inner sanctum as “like an eyeball” or an “iris”, I think there was some confusion on our part – I (definitely) and the rest of the team (from later/off-line conversation) thought he was describing an actual eyeball… like a magical sentry or mutated wildlife that was keeping watch. In retrospect, I think Steve was describing a door where instead of it swinging open or lifting like a portcullis, it’s more of a radial thing that expands and contracts. Think the inner gateway Spock flies through in Star Trek: The Motion Picture or the ventilation shafts Tom Skerritt was crawling through in Alien. But in the moment, we thought we were dealing with an actual eyeball that was keeping tabs on us. So if we seem like we handled that with an over-abundance of caution, that’s why. And OK, that means all that time we spent nuking the door was probably wasted effort. Probably could’ve just stepped on through.

When we finally do step on through, we find another hideout, though this one seems more like we’re on the right track. It’s got orcs, corrupted animals, and a big pool of toxic sludge right in the middle of the camp. (Is that pool the source of the corruption? LET’S DRINK SOME AND FIND OUT!) If it’s not THE source, it’s still some sort of testing ground or place where the nastiness is prepared or something. If it’s the source, does that mean Vilree is here? Guess we’ll have to fight our way through the orcs and rats and find out.

As a brief response to Steve’s show note, I will concede there’s still some learning curve we’re experiencing in Second Edition. I don’t think we’re making any GLARING mistakes, but there are times when we’re maybe not working every angle our characters have to offer. Just to pick one example, I have my Liberating Step ability which lets me protect a teammate from damage, but I hardly ever remember to use it. Now, part of the reason I don’t use it is that the protection isn’t very MUCH damage at low levels (2 + my level) and it uses up my reaction so I can’t use that AND block an attack with my shield. But another reason I don’t use it more is that, quite frankly, I forget. So…. getting better, but still learning. Guilty as charged.

So next week… we fight, and it’s a real fight too… not glorified groundskeeping. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show so far. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 112: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 112: Nice Planet You Got There…

I’m going to go a little off the beaten path this week.

The adventure itself is Part 2 of “Seth Introduces Himself”. It’s fun and all, but there’s not a lot to write about the action itself. We poked a few more rooms with a stick. Huzzah!

What is slightly more interesting is the potential upcoming moral dilemma Tuttle and I find myself in at this point. As I was listening to this week’s show, I was struck by the fact that we’ve now had THREE of the five party members make some sort of joke about keeping the Stellar Degenerator for ourselves. And I’m not totally sure how I should feel about that – both as a player and a character.

Well, that’s not true. Jason the Player thinks that’s a bad idea. When it comes to these games, I like being one of “The Good Guys”. I’m not a big fan of moral ambiguity. I think the most “bad” character I ever played had a mild thievery streak from growing up poor on the streets (particularly with regards to food items). As an aside, I’m equally terrible at this in video games. When I play the “bad” option in games like Mass Effect, I actually feel guilty for being rude to what amounts to a computer-driven story point. DID I HURT YOUR NON-EXISTENT FEELINGS, LINES OF CODE? (pats console on what I imagine to be its head)

So OK… Jason the Player definitely doesn’t want the party to go rogue. I’m a softie at heart. We’ve established that.

But how would Tuttle respond to that? That’s the real question. Alignment-wise he’s Lawful Neutral, so he doesn’t have the +1 Yoke of Goody-Two-Shoes around his neck, but he does subscribe to some general sense of law-based ethics. I do think if he wanted to keep the Stellar Degenerator, it would be to study the science behind it rather than to turn a profit, but the lawful side of him might fall more in the “there are some things man wasn’t meant to know” camp. WHY DOES GOD NEED A STARSHIP?

Also, let’s remember that there are other ways for Tuttle to scratch that itch. The “Foundry” building back on Istamak had TONS of data modules that we didn’t really look at because we were trying to find our specific bread-crumb. But an entire library of artifacts of a civilization arguably more advanced than the Pact Worlds? Even without a working Stellar Degenerator, that’s Tuttle’s wildest dream come true. Tuttle could destroy the Stellar Degenerator, go lead a research team back to Istamak, and STILL flood the academic airwaves with papers for years based on the contents of that building. For that matter, the remnants of the defense systems – depending on how thoroughly the battle with the Corpse Fleet destroyed them – could possibly also be mined for science without having to release a planet-destroying superweapon into the wild.

(And hey, maybe he could get a date with the female ysoki we pretty much forgot about and abandoned in a locked room back on Moon Six. You know… assuming she’s still alive. And also not as crazy as her brother.)

Now we get to the other question… how much should I treat their jokes as in-game vs. out-of-game? We’ve had at least three people (Rusty, Akiro, Hirogi) express SOME sort of interest in keeping the Stellar Degenerator for ourselves.


The nature of this episode (and last week’s) walked a little bit of a fuzzy line on whether it was the players or the characters talking. If it was Seth and Chris joking about extracting ransom from planets… then Tuttle may or may not know his teammates are planning on a heel turn. (He may think they’re untrustworthy for other reasons, but those particular statements would be inadmissible in Roleplaying Court.) Also, maybe it really is just joking and they’re going to do the right thing when the time comes. But if it was Akiro and Hirogi saying it… then I have to decide what my plan is going to be in response to that.

And that doesn’t even take Rusty into account. With Rusty, there’s the added dimension of his persuasive powers. How does that play? If Akiro or Hirogi talk about it… they don’t have a lot of guile to them, so Tuttle would know not to trust them. But Rusty is another matter. Is Tuttle even aware enough to know that Rusty can’t be trusted? In which case, maybe I should plan a failsafe that Rusty can’t talk him out of. Or is Rusty just that good and Tuttle doesn’t suspect a thing? We have also seen Rusty lie to OTHER people, so we can’t be so naïve as to think he couldn’t do that to us… could we?

And then, let’s say all of this comes to pass and Tuttle decides his teammates are truly thinking of using the Stellar Degenerator for their own malfeasance? What do I actually do about that? Certainly, I can’t outfight the rest of the party, though maybe if Mo was on my side…. Since I’m good with computers and engineering, could I rig something to destroy the Stellar Degenerator that they couldn’t counter? And then that steps back out of the game and gets into player agency – if I do something like that, am I hogging the story and trying to make the ending all about me? (But if they’re talking about stealing a planet-killer, aren’t they already making the story about them?)

The funny thing is: as I’m reading this, I realize I sound TOTALLY paranoid, and you’re probably imagining me sitting at some murder-board with pictures and strings connecting them. And to an extent that’s true, but it’s in a good roleplaying way. None of this is directed at Bob or Chris or Seth as people. It’s all directed at their characters and “thinking out loud” how my character should respond to their moves. If I can throw on my pretentious scarf and beret… “creative process”. So I think it’s a good thing for the game as a whole. Must be the Plaguestone rubbing off on me.

So that’s basically it for this week. Not much happened in the game itself, and I spent the week whipping myself into a frenzy thinking about how the endgame might play out. Not quite 14,000,003 possibilities, but quite a few. Next week I promise we get introductions out of the way and get back to the adventure at hand. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show and join the merriment in general. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Plaguestone 18: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 18: Country Rogue, Take Me Home.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving here in the US, so I guess I’d better bang out a column before the turkey coma takes me for the day.

Here in Microbrewery Simulator… errr… Talking Plaguestone, we have another week of mostly working on side quests. At first, I was kind of impatient with the side quests and kind of wanted to get on with the main story, but I have to admit they’re growing on me. Especially now that Brixley gets to be a cult leader, AND gets another encounter with my nemesis, Old Woody.

Old Woody was a throwback to our (pre-podcast) Iron Gods campaign, though I don’t know if it’s something written into the adventure or something Steve made up. My recollection of the story is that we needed information from the townspeople and could only gain their trust by winning a drinking contest. In addition to having the best CON of the party, my character (Ezrik – I’ve talked about him before; the guy who became a mutant) had also permanently lost his sense of taste. So either the Fortitude save I was supposed to do was either nullified entirely or was at least made a lot easier. (I think I could still smell it and it looked disgusting, so I believe I still had to roll a save…)

See, that’s the thing. Steve makes it sound like I’m some kind of reckless thrill-seeker who will drink anything put in front of his character, but it’s really not like that. In the case of Ezrik, OK maybe a little, but there was still some roleplay method to my madness. The first time I did it as part of a religious ceremony, and then… OK, I kinda decided to keep doing it as a tribute to Gorum every time I leveled. So that was maybe a little reckless, but still within the confines of “thanking Gorum for my new abilities”. In the case of Tuttle becoming an aeon, that was a boss fight where I was struggling to even hit against the big bad’s armor class, so I decided to pop my Loot Box of Wonder to try to get something that would make me more effective. Here, let the record reflect that I passed when Steve wanted me to just start chugging the cave-water, but drinking Old Woody as a means of consecrating Brixley’s new church seems like a totally in-character and story-relevant thing to do.

So what I’m saying is that Steve needs to come up with flimsy STORY reasons to make me do these things.

Going back to the start of the episode, I thought the mechanic of training with Noala was interesting, but the actual skills she was going to teach us ended up not being worth the trouble for me. I thought I might get trained in Nature or at least get an additional Lore skill; instead, it’s a Ranger ability that I only get IF I multi-class into Ranger, which doesn’t seem like much of a fit with Brixley’s character. Works pretty well for Cade, though, so it’s nice to see him take it. In general, it’s a neat little mechanism to add new abilities to your character.

In Side-Quest Land, Prue’s quest seems to be pretty much done, but the rest of us get some development in.

In Brixley’s case, I actually have the beginnings of a functioning church-bar, and now have a chosen beverage supplier. When I opened up negotiations with Tamil, I just thought I’d be asking for the raw ingredients and we’d have to figure out how to brew ourselves. (Not me personally – I figured the dwarves would take the lead there). Instead, it turns out Tamil secretly dabbles in brewing, so she’s already got multiple drinks we can serve. I figure the main two will be the backbone of the operation, but we’ll save Old Woody for special occasions… ordaining new clerics, baptisms, stuff like that.

A couple of side notes on starting my own brew-pub. I do feel a little guilty in that we’re going into quasi-competition with the Feedmill, but then again, it’s more of a social club rather than a competing business. It’s not like we’re going to be inviting the entire town; just the people who want to join The Cayden Club! Also, the choice of “Betrayer’s Blood” as the brew name was meant to be defiant rather than ghoulish – going for the attitude of “this guy screwed over the town, so we’ll be toasting his defeat every time we hold services” (and soon, hopefully the restoration of the town). After the fact I thought about naming it something more genteel like “Bort’s Brew” – maybe that can be the purple one.

Lastly, we get to Celes’ interaction with the demon, and I have to give Steve credit… I had forgotten how creepy he played that. I didn’t expect to really have a strong reaction to it – especially since we’d already played it live – but I was legitimately impressed at the ambiance he created. The one thing that struck me as interesting is that it’s a side quest that could last for the life of her character if Steve wanted it to. It’s possible it’s a self-contained thing and we might find the way to break the curse in our travels. OR maybe it’s something Celes doesn’t figure out until Level 10 or even Level 20.

Though I suppose ALL of the quests contain a glimmer of such possibilities; Celes’ quest is just a little more self-contained and fundamental to her character. In Cade and Prue’s case, it’s the introduction of NPCs (Pari and Sir Kent) that we could encounter in future adventures. In mine, it’s the church itself – though perhaps one of the dwarves could eventually go out into the world as a new representative of Cayden. Really, any of these could leave lingering effects, now that I think about it. Then again, the rest of us don’t have to do a cost-benefit analysis on whether we can use our spells or not.

Next week, I think there might be a LITTLE more side-quest stuff to take care of, but probably not a full episode’s worth. I’m pretty sure we’re back in the field soon. I hope you’ll be back to join us; in the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing discussion of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 111: Getting The Band Back Together

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 111: Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

So now you know!

I have to admit, I’ve been excited, and even a little relieved, to finally reach the Big Reveal. The relief is that I didn’t slip up and tip off the return of Hirogi in some way – either here or over in Talking Plaguestone. I’m not oblivious enough to mention Seth by name, but a “five” party members instead of “four” or a “Hirogi” instead of “Akiro” could’ve slipped past the copy editors. (Which… when I turn my column in at 11 pm on the night it’s due, basically amounts to “running it through a spell-checker”. Maybe.)

I do feel like I should be honest and admit something: if we’re being totally honest, I got a little bit of accidental advance warning, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. A few nights earlier, we were playing Plaguestone, and I had logged in a little early. While waiting for that game to start, I saw Seth’s user handle (which I happen to recognize from Facebook) and Steve talking in a separate channel. So I actually knew Steve was doing something that was going to involve Seth. BUT… given we were about to play Plaguestone, I assumed he was going to be a Plaguestone NPC. And when he didn’t show up, I just assumed either we didn’t hit that part of the story yet and either filed it away for the following week, or I just forgot about it entirely. Little of both, probably. It never dawned on me that he could be getting Seth ready for a Dead Suns appearance, so in that sense, I was as surprised as everyone else.

But I suppose I should’ve been a little more prepared. In general, Steve has been teasing big things as we finish up the adventure path, so new guests and/or a return of Hirogi (or at least finding out his fate) should’ve both been somewhere in the list of possibilities. I know one of you listeners suggested doing a bottle episode with Hirogi and that always appealed to Steve; it was just a matter of logistics not coming together to write something and play it. And yes, Steve HAD been priming us for a return of Meats and Lasko (the Jay and Silent Bob of our entourage) – seven schedules get hard to coordinate, so he has to pull back the curtain a bit on stuff like that. But this was definitely not on the radar.

As Steve mentioned, I don’t personally know Seth… mostly just through the gaming anecdotes, the other guys have told about him. I used to travel for work, and sometimes when in NYC, I would join these guys for D&D. So while yes, I can technically claim I’d gamed with Seth a non-zero number of times before this, I’d be lying if I said I know him prior to this.

That’s OK though because I know Chris, and Seth’s doing an EXCELLENT job of replicating Chris, isn’t he? Almost a little scary. As Steve is going back and giving you all the history of this, and I’m hearing how little advance prep Seth did… I’m even more amazed that Seth is pretty much playing Hirogi almost exactly as Chris would’ve played him. Greedy… arrogant… self-preservation streak… that’s our boy! I find myself wondering if I could replicate anyone in the party that well. Maybe Mo… just get impatient and start opening doors and running into rooms, and then complain when all the creatures in those rooms attack me and I start taking damage.

(Kidding. Sorta.)

Moving forward, I’ll admit I’m a little curious how this will affect the party dynamic. First, you’ve got Seth playing a character that used to belong to Chris. Is that going to stoke any rivalry between the two? (Oh who are we kidding… of course, it will.) Is Seth going to rub Chris’ nose in his success after Chris grew frustrated with the character? Is Chris going to still try to take credit for anything good Hirogi does? How will that play out?

More generally – as Steve alluded to with his “poor Jason” comment — it’s another layer of pre-existing relationships being thrown into the mix. I want to be careful not to overstate it I don’t feel “left out”, I don’t resent Seth’s presence… none of that clique-y teenage drama. The next five Talkings aren’t going to be me writing bad, pouty poetry. But it is true that I’m already the George (Harrison, not Costanza) of the group, and now we have another extrovert rules-lawyer joining the fray, and one with a bunch of pre-existing history and in-jokes with everyone else but me. It’s all positive and I look forward to it, but I do think I might have to up my game and play my character a little more aggressively to keep up as we bring this adventure path to its conclusion.

I also feel like mentioning that at this point, I REALLY don’t care about sharing loot or anything that mundane. Right now, I want to finish the story. If an extra body gets us to the finish line alive, the more the merrier. I’m a little worried we may have another member of Team “Sell The Stellar Degenerator For A Profit” which may turn the endgame into a Mexican standoff within our own party, but we’ll jump off that cliff when we come to it.

Of course, lost in all of this was a fairly perfunctory combat session before our rescue. Four on one, no particular special abilities; between Bob handing us a surprise round and Mo rolling well on damage rolls, it was an express-aisle butt-whipping. Not much to be said about it except “nice hammer for Mo”. As a flavor thing, I love the idea of the suffocation chamber.

Hirogi’s rescue kind of swallowed up the rest of the episode, so next week we pick it facing roughly the same predicament we were facing last time. I think we’ve established we need to get to the command deck to do whatever it is we’re going to do, but we still need to figure out how to get there and still need to get some better degree of computer access so we can access maps, remove countermeasures, and such. But now we’ve got one more guy to help us do it! Feel free to drop by the Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of all of this, and we’ll see you back here next week. Thanks for listening!

Talking Plaguestone 17: “GM” Stands For Gratuitous Mockery

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 17: The Dragon & The Thief.

After a couple of weeks of tough fights, things slow down… way down… this week.

First, the other rule “mistake” which I put in quotes because I don’t think Prue really had a chance to do it wrong anyway. At least not more than once or twice. I do think one common theme we’re seeing in our mistakes is that we’re sometimes assuming things work the way they did in First Edition, forgetting that the three-action economy necessitates some changes, and I think this is one of those. I have to admit I don’t KNOW because it’s been a long, long while since I’ve played a barbarian, but it does seem to be the recurring theme of our mistakes.

Main plot? Pretty much at a standstill. We find a tainted pool of water, but it’s not THE tainted pool of water, so we’re no closer to resolution. If only we had a modern-day geologist’s understanding of how the water table works. Instead, we’re going to turn the legwork over to Noala for a few days; in the meantime… back to town for a little more R&R.

I had a little bit of a “are we sure we trust Noala?” vibe creep through my brain this episode. On the surface she helps the town, Dalma vouches for her, so I guess she’s a good guy. On the other hand, you could argue she kinda led us right into a trap, and one that didn’t shed a LOT more light on the situation. And conveniently, she was off “searching the perimeter” while we were getting our asses kicked. Also, skipping ahead to later in the episode, Uncle Targy doesn’t trust her, even though Dalma does. I mean, I’m PROBABLY just being paranoid, but something to keep at least one eye on.

I do also still wonder what role – if any – that empty pillar in the town square plays. Was there a rock there that keeps the plague at bay? Is that where the water to the town is getting corrupted? It feels like it might be significant in some way, but we haven’t really found any clues pointing that direction. Ah well, file it away for now.

Side quests? Not much better. I guess some of us make a little progress, but nothing really reaches a final resolution. In Brixley’s case, it means giving an impromptu TED Talk on Cayden Cailean. Now, I’d like to point out that I did try and study up a little between episodes – I went back to the First Edition books and read up on the Cayden Cailean lore, and then… oops, most of it went right out of my head the minute I actually had to do it in-character.

All of this is a little weird to me because I don’t tend to play high-religion characters, so my knowledge of the Pathfinder gods is kinda spotty in general. I know the names and the general themes (alignment, what they’re the gods of, etc.), but that’s usually about it. So having to do a book report mid-game is a bit of a double-whammy. But I got through it I suppose.

After a check-in with Cade and Celes, Prue’s sidequest takes us on a detour into the low-stakes world of game-within-a-game gambling. It’s the Thief and the Dragon! As Steve and I alluded to, our group did play this game back once in the pre-podcast days, but I have to admit I don’t remember it well. It’s basically a 5% chance of a big win, a 20% chance of a loss, and then the rest is situational depending on whether there’s already a coin there or not. I guess it’s fun to have games like that available because they add some flavor, but at some point, I’m compartmentalized in my entertainment. I’m here to play Pathfinder. If I want to gamble, I’ll go drive to the casino or something.

I suppose the highlight of the episode was the out-of-character ribbing – mostly at Steve’s expense – at the end. It’s not so much that the jokes were SO hilarious as much as it represented another step forward in our coming together as a group. The Dead Suns group has been together a while, so there’s always been a fairly easy rapport between us, and we talk smack freely. With this group, we’re getting there (witness the various jokes about Brixley’s fashion sense) but this week took it to a new level, which was kind of fun to listen to after the fact. It’s not like I’m overtly trying to turn that group into this one, but trying to meet in the middle is, to me, a welcome goal.

It’s also weird to consider that in the Dead Suns group, we’re all basically the same age (cough-old-cough), and I am (by a few months) the baby of the group. In this group, we’ve got Vanessa and Loren both representing the Young People. Each has its merits – on one hand, being in a group where everyone has the same cultural shorthand is nice; then again, we sometimes get in a rut where we make the same joke 18 times BECAUSE we’re all on that same page and have been on it for a while. Having some different perspectives in the group can be refreshing too – sometimes familiar can be a little TOO familiar in a long-running group.

Also, it’s good to get in some group abuse of the GM every now and then. The GM gets to hold so much power over the players that sometimes it’s good to take them down a peg or two to remind them of the power of democracy in action. You know… by making a bunch of jokes about how old they are. Tread lightly because they still have the power to throw wandering monsters at the party, but get your shots in when you can.

Anyhow, don’t hold me to it because I never know how Steve edits the episodes, but I think next week we return to the wild to further our investigations and hopefully get a little closer to finding Vilree and solving this mystery of what’s plaguing Plaguestone. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, 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.

Starfinder Character Operations Manual Review: Classing Up The Joint

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.

It’s been over two years since the launch of the Starfinder game system. In that time, Paizo has released a lot of supplemental material – three bestiaries, a world lore book, a loot compendium – but the one thing we haven’t gotten yet are new character classes.

Well, get ready, because the Starfinder Character Operations Manual is here, and it’s bringing three brand new character classes with it. To be fair, that’s not ALL it’s bringing, but by general importance and page count, the new classes do tend to hog the spotlight. Also, since the classes also had a formal playtest, it’s the part of the book players may also have some existing familiarity with. So… we’ll get to the other stuff, but classes are where we start.

At first glance, there’s going to be a tendency to view these new classes through a Pathfinder lens and say we got an alchemist, a paladin, and a sorcerer. And look, that’s a convenient shorthand, especially when talking to people who have played both systems, and the similarities are there. But that also does these classes a disservice because if there’s some common DNA in there, the folks at Paizo have done a lot to make sure these new classes definitely have a sci-fi feel that’s different than their swords-and-sorcery counterparts.

First, there’s the biohacker. If mechanics make the world safer through building things, biohackers make the world safer by injecting people with weird chemicals. The class has the spirit, if not the exact functionality, of the alchemist from Pathfinder – you have the ability to craft chemical compounds on the fly that you can inject into a friend (boosters) or foe (inhibitors). The bad news is that like spells, there’s a daily limit for how big a batch of raw ingredients you can brew up each day; the good news is you don’t have to choose your toys in advance, you can whip up what you need in the heat of the moment. There are both general-purpose buffs and debuffs, but a biohacker also gets access to “fields of study” at 1st, 7th, and 13th level that come with more specialized effects. There are also “theorems”: more general class abilities, such as the ability to do limited healing, a poison skin that sickens enemies that hit you, and so on.

If there’s a caveat to this class, it’s that the inhibitors, at least, are pretty dependent on being good at combat in general. If you miss with a ranged attack, you waste the biohack that you had equipped, and if you don’t do enough damage to overcome any resistances, the biohack fails as well (assume it didn’t break the skin or something). If a melee attack misses, you still have the biohack for your next attack, but I’m not sure how much of a front-line melee class this is supposed to be. Boosters don’t suffer the same problem because there are mechanisms to hit your allies without even having to perform an attack roll.

Here’s the one thing that concerns me. I love the idea of the biohacker. I love the general concept of a guy who runs around and shoots weird chemicals and nanites into friend and foe alike. It’s definitely got a sci-fi feel – arguably it fits a sci-fi setting better than the alchemist fits in Pathfinder. Now here comes the “BUT”. It’s a low-offense support character, and while it’s got great lore and storytelling possibilities I’m not sure I see the “hook” on the gameplay side. Envoys have low offense but you’re a master of social situations. Mechanics have low offense, but you have a drone to play around with. (Or an exocortex… if you missed the point of the whole class.) Biohacker? I’m not sure what the gameplay “thing” is that makes you want to roll one. “Nice robotic sidekick, Mr. Mechanic. You think that’s cool? I can… (checks character sheet) cure the dazzled condition (stares at the camera like Jim Halpert in The Office).”

The next class is the vanguard. At first glance, it feels like Starfinder’s attempt to create a true defensive “tank” class, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s definitely a melee class – a vanguard gets access to both heavy armor and shields; one of its key powers, the Entropic Strike, only operates at melee range; and a lot of the defensive abilities assume you’re upfront taking hits for your team. Many of the class powers operate on “Entropy Points” which are generated largely by giving or RECEIVING damage, so while yes, there are damage mitigation and damage avoidance abilities in the vanguard toolkit, there are times when it will be strategically advantageous to actually take some damage to power your abilities. So this is NOT an “in the rear with the gear class”. I mean, the name “vanguard” gives it away.

It does seem like a class that’s going to require some subtlety to really get the most out of. Yes, one can go the easy route and play it for full offense, just storing up points and then releasing Entropic Strike “lather-rinse-repeat” style. At that point, it starts to feel like a Solarian that’s trying to compromise between the armor and weapon builds at the same time. But the total toolkit does allow for some pretty versatile stuff – you can pump Entropy Points into your movement, use them to reduce the damage, take damage intended for an ally… all sorts of things. I particularly like “Dampen” which lets you spend an entropy point to halve the damage of an area effect if you’re in the blast radius – a one-man grenade disposal unit. It also has “aspects” which teach you bonus combat maneuvers and let you get entropy points from additional sources such as receiving healing or doing damage to multiple foes. My general vibe from this is “easy to learn, hard to master” but definitely something new and unique to the Starfinder setting.

The last of the three classes is the witchwarper. I have to admit I’m rather fond of this one – at first it comes across as kind of randomly thrown together until you realize that’s the point: it has a flavor, and the flavor is harnessing chaos.

At a nuts and bolts level, if you’re looking for a Pathfinder analogy to frame the discussion, the witchwarper is to the technomancer what the sorcerer is to the wizard: the spontaneous caster vs. the book-smart one. Compared to the technomancer, a witchwarper gets fewer total spells, but they don’t have to prepare them beforehand and can cast anything in their arsenal at any time. However, there is more to it than that, which comes with the “warper” part of the name. The witchwarper has the ability to tweak reality itself to create unexpected effects.

There are generally two main mechanisms for this. First, all witchwarpers have the “Infinite Worlds” ability where they can drop a spell slot of a given level to create a bubble of an alternative universe; mechanically, either an environmental or an instant effect for that level (or multiple effects, if they use a higher-level spell to do lower-level effects). For example, dropping a level 1 spell can be used to either create a patch of difficult terrain (environmental) or a flash of light (instant) that can inflict the dazzled condition (or even blinded on a critical failure).

The other main mechanism is through class abilities called “paradigm shifts”. The bad news is these tend to either be limited use or cost a resolve point to use; the good news is you can get some pretty powerful effects from them. The general themes tend to be movement (speed enhancement, teleports, etc.), inflicting or removing mind-altering effects, or messing around with damage types (increasing or decreasing resistances, or even changing the damage type of an attack – “surprise, your acid attack is now fire, which I am immune to… sucks to be you”). I think my personal favorite is Substitute Mind, which lets you free an ally of mind-altering effects by (essentially) copying part of their mind from an alternate reality where they weren’t affected.

So those are the new classes, and I recognize that some portion of you will stop reading here. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Going back to a more “order of the book” view, the book starts with new themes (can we go back and retroactively give Rusty the “Grifter” theme?) and racial abilities. Most of the core Starfinder races now have a few alternate stat setups (vesk that get a bonus to Dexterity from extended time acclimating to low gravity, “mind forward” lashunta who give up Constitution to improve their Intelligence) and there is now a selection of race-based feats to take. The surprise here is that in addition to the Starfinder core races, the Pathfinder core races (elves, dwarves, etc.) get semi-equal billing in a way they hadn’t before. In the Core Rulebook, they were kind of buried in the back in a section about converting Pathfinder characters, right before the glossary. They still don’t get a LOT of real estate compared to Starfinder races, but at least they’re invited to the party. Start rolling that halfling solarian, I guess!

After we hop over the new classes, the book presents some additional options for the existing Core Rulebook classes. I’m not going to be exhaustive, but there were a few that jumped out at me. First, there was a new “Advanced Prototype” mechanic build that lets the mechanic use a weapon or armor as the vehicle for his upgrades (the idea that instead of developing a drone or exocortex, he or she just builds a BFG). Solarians get a little more versatile with options for a ranged weapon or shield as their solar manifestation instead of just weapon or armor; also, higher-level solarians can give up one of their zenith powers to be able to have a second manifestation. Also, I’m not as familiar with the soldier, but it looked like the soldier had an unarmed combat build, almost like a monk.

Next up, we have archetypes, of which there are ten. These represent ways to add a little bit of flavor to your character without a fundamental overhaul, as well as a way to add some roleplay feel. One thing I noticed is that in Pathfinder they tend to be formal well-defined organizations, while in Starfinder they tend to be more generic roles like “medic” or “instructor”: that’s neither good nor bad, just an observation. The level of definition also varies a little bit – something like the Esotericist (casters who reject technology and seek out the purer roots of magic) is a fairly well-defined set of modifications for caster classes, whereas the Free Trader is “well, you get some bonuses to skill checks when it comes to buying and selling things”. I think my personal favorite is the Fixer archetype, which gives you class skills such as cleaning a crime scene of evidence and maintaining a network of contacts in the criminal underworld. Just in case you want to be the Pact Worlds version of Winston Wolfe.

I’m going to gloss over a few sections because they’re fairly “list-y” and I’m not sure what people would find interesting, but I’ll mention their existence. New general feats. Cool. New gear, but a lot of it seems oriented toward injection weapons and shields, to create some biohacker and vanguard loot drops. And spell lists; again, most of the chapter features the new witchwarper spells, though there are also some new mystic and technomancer spells as well.

The part I wanted to get to is the “New Rules” section because there’s a couple of potentially interesting things here.

The first is that they seem to have heard some of the frustrations with starship combat and tried to create a few more ways for players to participate. Primarily, this was through the creation of two new roles, though they’ve also added “open actions”, which we’ll come back to. The first of the new roles is the Chief Mate – think of this is a dedicated generalist that can give bonuses to any other station. So, they can help coax more speed out of the engines to get more speed or help the science officer execute scans to get more information, or they can poke around in an access panel to enhance an engineer’s attempt to divert power to a system. Interestingly, the chief mate’s checks run on Acrobatics or Athletics, which gives a more combat-oriented/low-skill character something to do.

The other role is the Magic Officer, which I like because of the open-ended possibilities. A Magic Officer can do things like performing the Science Officer’s scan activity with magic instead of computers, obscure the enemy’s targeting computers to increase your armor class, add magical damage to weapons, fold space to decrease the turning radius of the ship, and things like that. The Magic Officer abilities run off Mysticism. In addition to liking the flavor of the Magic Officer, I think it’s a smart thing that they’ve given a role to characters and skills that didn’t really fit into the existing Pilot/Captain/Sci-Eng/Gunner framework.

They’ve also added “open actions” which feel like responses to the problem of either having too many people in the party, or circumstance-based inactivity (the battle changed in such a way that manning my current station is unproductive, leaving me nothing meaningful to do). Open actions require a single skill rank to perform and don’t require being at a particular station, but they also have pretty limited benefits – for example, you can perform “Range Finding” which gives a +1 to a single attack roll. They tend to be summarized as “not very exciting, but better than sitting around doing nothing”. They also added a few additional “minor” crew actions, which already existed in the Core Rulebook and solve the opposite problem of too few people to man all the stations.

I’ll say this. I don’t know if these are the right specific changes, I but I respect that they’re listening to the player base on this. One of the persistent complaints about starship combat is that a) all roles aren’t created equal, and b) some character builds get left behind with not much to do. This feels like it TRIES to address that, which I’ll give them credit for.

The final section of the Character Operation Manual provides some fleshed-out rules for downtime activities. We’ve all had games where the party gets a couple of days off, and sometimes it’s unclear what people should be doing. Or even if they do have an idea what to do, there aren’t really any rules for how to do it. Well… now there are. Some of the activities are very rubber-meets-the-road, such as Convalesce: if you do LITERALLY nothing for 24 hours, you regain 2 hit points per level (and reduce two points of ability score damage). Others are more situational and esoteric, such as Work Out, which (if successful) lets you bank a free re-roll on a failed Athletics or Acrobatics for up to a week. It’s not earth-shattering stuff, but it’s nice to have both some suggestions for things to do, and some mechanisms for actually doing them.

So that’s the Starfinder Character Operations Manual in a nutshell. Ultimately, it’s going to sink or swim based on the new character classes, and I’m pretty pleased with what we got. I love the witchwarper and I’m probably rolling one as my next character (though at least one other member of our group feels the same way, so it may be pistols at dawn for the honor of doing so). The vanguard seems like a cool and unique and interesting concept, but I’m a little worried about the learning curve. The biohacker is the only one that leaves me a little less enthused – I love the lore and the general idea of a space alchemist; I’m still stuck on finding the hook that makes me want to roll one. (If you’re wanting to play one, don’t let me stop you.) The rest of the content isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s what you’d expect from a player-oriented volume, and the starship combat in particular shows they’ve been listening to the player base. If you’re playing Starfinder, this one’s a keeper, so off to the local gaming store with you. Or maybe just the Internet; that works too.

Talking Combat 110: They Locked That Door For A Reason

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 110: Tuttle Mnemonic.

Under the heading of “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”, we are now on the enemy flagship. You know, the battle cruiser the size of Manhattan, potentially manned by hundreds, if not thousands of undead troops. Our assets? Tuttle’s brains, Mo’s strength, and Akiro’s steel. With CHDRR as playing the part of a really complicated wheelbarrow. THE DREAD PIRATE RUSTY IS HERE FOR YOUR SOULS! (Except undead don’t really have souls, so… so much for that analogy.)

I fully admit I don’t know where we go from here. I think our only real chance is to do some sort of decapitation strike on the bridge. With capital ships, the guns and engine room are manned by dozens or hundreds of people, so taking over an individual system seems like a losing proposition. But if we can get to the bridge or the captain’s cabin, perhaps we can take control and give fake orders that will be taken seriously because they’re coming from the bridge. Or something. Still figuring it all out. Though even the bridge on the Enterprise (TNG) had a dozen or so crew if you count those stations scattered along the perimeter.

The first part of our plan actually goes better than expected, as Rusty actually uses all those fancy bluff tricks on someone other than his own teammates, and cons that hangar guard into letting us pass. I know Steve said in the show notes that there was supposed to be a vehicle fight in there, but I’m just as content to not do it. Having said that, if we DID have to fight it, I probably would’ve just fired up my jetpack and gone vertical. It is a big hangar, after all, so… high ceilings. I thought my Disguise roll (I think I rolled an 8 and it bumped up into the teens) was going to leave us hung out to dry, but a) maybe Steve used Rusty’s roll or an average of the group and b) if I was playing the role of a prisoner perhaps my disguise didn’t have to be all that good anyway.

Our initial checks provide us with bread crumbs on where to go next (in the form of conveniently unscannable rooms on the area map), but not much else. This led to our first minor strategy quarrel – John and Chris were definitely in sweep-and-clear mode, but I was trying to prioritize our limited resources. Based on things Steve said back on Moon 2 and en route, it sounds like we MAYBE get one or two long rests, so we simply can’t be taking EVERY fight, and rooms like “gravel pit” don’t seem like they get us anywhere productive. (Unless it’s special experience-doubling gravel? Magic gravel? STAR GRAVEL!) Better to prioritize those high-security areas that are more likely to have tools we need to reach the command center, which still feels like the ultimate play for now.

Also – and this gets more into metagaming – sweep-and-clear tends to be good for the parts of the campaign where leveling and loot matter more. At this point, we’re on final approach. We’re pretty much done leveling (MAYBE we get one or two more before the endgame, but I’m not counting on it) and it’s hard to imagine a loot-drop that’s going to be a difference-maker. So how much do we want to put ourselves out and expend resources for… an extra d4 of damage on our guns or a +2 to EAC?

Some of it is as simple as admitting that John gets a little impatient as a player because he wants to keep things moving. John is all about making things happen, and the combat engine is the most interesting part of the game to him; I don’t think I’m giving away any state secret by saying that. In fact, he gushed about that Pathfinder quest one-shot because there was a minimum of screwing around – it got right into the action. That’s where he’s happiest. So some of it was John wanted to open a door because John wanted to open a door, and the door to the slime cell a) was closer and b) didn’t involve any sort of fancy-man computer check to open.

I did see a comment on the Discord boards that we’re not really taking advantage of our X-ray vision resources, and that’s a fair criticism. Tuttle has the Stinkeye, and I think Akiro had an X-ray vision helmet (unless I’m thinking of Hirogi and that item went poof back on Istamak). I can’t speak for Chris, but I’ll break that into equal parts “I kinda forgot about the Stinkeye because it had been a while between sessions” and “I’ve been assuming starship bulkheads are made of thick enough metal or have energy shielding such that it’s gonna get blocked anyway”. So… yeah, guilty as charged. Moving forward, I’ll try to remember to use that a little more, but in the short term, I’m going to miss a few opportunities.

The next bit of fun is the death… errrr… anti-life ray we stumble across as we attempt to leave the hangar and enter the secure area. Ow. If we don’t come up with a solution for detecting or deactivating that, this adventure’s going to come to an end a long time before we reach the bridge. Our best hope is that maybe it’s only for sensitive areas of the ship, and we’ll only have to deal with it one or two more times. Or that there’s a way to turn it off in one of the red rooms on the map.

Though it did send me off on a whole mental digression while re-listening: what do they do if they’re taking on living passengers for some legit diplomatic reason? (Same with the lack of atmosphere, now that I think about it…) Do they have more of a “diplomatic quarters” area the living can stay in that doesn’t have, well, DEATH RAYS? Do they have an entirely different ship? (Yes, now I’m imagining an undead equivalent of a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, with Zo! Providing nightly entertainment.) Then again, it’s worth remembering this is a Corpse Fleet vessel, not the main Eoxian fleet — yes, they’re related, but these guys probably run lean and mean on purpose. Diplomatic missions probably aren’t a high priority to a separatist faction that wants to kill eradicate the living.

OK… end of digression. Moving along.

As we return to action, I finally win the argument about which room to open, but it may not be the “win” I thought it was: what we’re looking at is some sort of execution or interrogation chamber, with a sub-boss guy who is clearly NOT buying our supposed disguise. So… shoulda gone with the gravel pit, right? I guess we’ll find that out next week. While you’re waiting, duck by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.