Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Your Friendly Neighborhood Actual Play Podcast - Page 4 of 8

Talking Combat 039: Cheesy and Chrome

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 039: The Great Indoors.

Well…. No more difficult terrain to deal with. What am I going to complain about now? Part of me finds surrender an unsatisfying way to win, but I suppose if the sniper had jumped down and started running across the difficult terrain and we had to chase it, I probably would’ve voluntarily poured Diet Coke on my own laptop to make the misery stop.

On the surface, we started this phase of the battle in pretty rough shape, as everyone except Tuttle was pretty dinged up. On the other hand, we’d gotten the two biggest challenges out of the way with, and what’s left didn’t feel that imposing. Two guys who just felt like cannon-fodder and a sniper whose weapon hits hard but fires slowly. Even in our current condition, I still felt like we could handle it, and that turned out to be correct.

In fact, I’m noticing a larger trend here. I find myself worrying when we face monsters – they tend to come with the sorts of nasty special abilities that really stretch our lack of magic and/or healing to the limits. Disease. Poison. Paralysis. Implanting of chest-bursters. General nastiness. But when we face humanoids? By and large, they tend to just be straight-up slugfests, and I usually put my money on our team in situations like that. Even in a situation like this where we enter pre-damaged, I’m able to retain a certain level of “we’ve got this” confidence.

You’ve got guns, we’ve got guns. You’ve got grenades, we’ve got grenades. Cue the Morpheus “bring it on” hand gesture.

I will admit part of that bravado is just dumb luck that we haven’t run into any humanoids with magic or other special abilities. So far it’s just been their firepower vs. our firepower. It’s possible we’ll eventually run into a humanoid caster and that might get uncomfortable. (See Also: PaizoCon, where we fought a technomancer NPC that definitely took a little bit of a toll on us.) But for the most part, it’s been battles of roughly equal tools.

And another part of that bravado is that in this particular battle, it’s easy for me to say that – I’m only into stamina damage.  Maybe I’d be feeling different if the StarJelly had spent the last 15 rounds chewing on me instead of Mo. I’ll accept some ribbing from the guys about that, but I can’t feel guilty about it. It’s a product of circumstance. As I pointed out last time, the game mechanics of moving the drone put me at a disadvantage. Unless the guys would’ve preferred I left CHDRR (and half my offense) to supervise Wahloss’ omelet-making, I was going to fall behind and there wasn’t much to be done about it. At least until Level 7 where CHDRR gets an AI upgrade.

I do think Steve gave us a bit of a hint how we could’ve handled this differently when he dropped the factoid into the conversation that the sniper didn’t start shooting until we reached 250 feet. The good folks at 20/20 Hindsight Farms would probably say Mo should’ve pulled back when the SpaceJelly hit him and we should’ve dealt with that outside the sniper’s range first, and then charged. But hey… you live, you learn.

Well, most people learn. Us? Not so much.

Speaking of living and learning, I would like to point out that this is the first episode where you can see me actively looking for chances to use THE BUTTON. (And for the record, this was recorded before we went to PaizoCon, so I hadn’t received my public shaming yet.) We reached a point where the sniper was cornered out on the statue’s hand, there was nowhere to run: full attacks from everyone involved to finish things quicker was clearly the smart play, but it seemed like a good moment to give the people what they want. I will admit to a faint glimmer of hubris that we’d still get Whirling Chainsaw Dervish and THE BUTTON would actually notch its first direct kill, but nope… instead, we get NASCAR CHDRR. He will ride eternal, cheesy and chrome!

I’m starting to gravitate toward the realization that most of THE BUTTON’s effects are buffs and heals, which means a) let’s start deploying it earlier in fights and b) let’s not worry so much about positioning CHDRR in front of bad guys before using it. If there’s a Whirling Chainsaw Dervish waiting to be found, it feels like it’s going to be a pretty extreme edge case, so it’s probably best to stop treating it as the most likely outcome.

Regarding Steve’s GM tip about the Pathfinder Playtest game modes, I think we stumbled on a lot of that organically by virtue of being a group that plays remotely (and in particular in different time zones). Even before we started podcasting, time was our most precious commodity – we had people in different time zones, three of us are parents, we ALL have various out-of-game obligations, we tend to not have a lot of wiggle room to start early or end late. Yes, it’s a leisure activity, but we are forced to keep to a schedule with some diligence.

Downtime mode was a natural extension of that schedule – do as much of possible out-of-channel so we could maximize our “productivity” (I hate the word – it conjures up images of PowerPoint slides – but it’s applicable here) when we actually got online to play. For us, “downtime” really meant DOWNtime. Leveling characters, going shopping, crafting, research, even some low-level NPC interactions were things we didn’t actually “play” but instead farmed out to email between sessions. Thumbing through the rulebook choosing feats might be moderately interesting when you’re face to face and can shoot the breeze while you’re doing it: when you’re disembodied voices on the other end of a headset, it starts to feel like an invitation to check out.

Exploration mode is similar though there’s really no way to do it out of channel. Looting/searching rooms after a battle is a prime example – dragging our characters around D20Pro square by square doing Perception checks may be the technically correct way to do it (“I look in the crate”, “I look behind the sofa”), and maybe there’s a way to make that flow sitting at a table. In an online setting, it feels more like turning 2 minutes of actual action into 15 minutes of busy-work. So there are a lot of times where Steve lets us exist in a perpetual “Take 20” bubble that functions a whole lot like “Exploration Mode”. The two exceptions are a) if there are specific things that need to be found, or devices that are binary in nature (you make them work or something bad happens) or b) if we’re in a section of the adventure where time is a factor and the time associated with a bunch of Take-10/Take-20 equivalents would be unfair.

I don’t to make this sound like it was an easy or obvious for Paizo to come up with, but it does seem like a useful way to structure and apply terminology and boundaries to something we already do. Like Steve said, sometimes there can be gray areas where you don’t know whether something should be hand-waved, and having a rule to fall back on could be very useful.

So next week, we’re done fighting, but we’re not necessarily done with the encounter as a whole. We still have to see what information the sniper might have, and we probably need to drag Wahloss up to the temple to see if there are any clues to be found. While we’re waiting for that to happen, feel free to drop into Downtime Mode and join us on social media. See you next week.

Talking Combat 038: Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Fight That Never Ends

Talking-Combat-38

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 038: Meet And Greet At The Feet.

Full disclosure: this week’s Talking is coming to you from my yearly family beach vacation in the Outer Banks, so you may get whatever I feel like writing before sun, seafood, and…

(Hmmmm…. Alliteration time. Something else starting with “S”. Salamanders? Soul-crushing ennui? SAND!…)

…sand pull me away from the keyboard. Consider yourselves warned.

This is one of those episodes where there’s a lot going on, but not a lot of it involved Tuttle. If you look at my character arc for this episode, it’s basically “run a lot, get shot once”. I’ve noticed the difficult terrain is doubly difficult for poor Dr. Blacktail – even setting aside snotty jokes about the poor physical fitness of academic types, the fact that I have to share movement with the drone is proving to be painful. Rusty and Hirogi can just double-move each round and they’re good. Tuttle has to play his round-by-round game of leapfrog with CHDRR, so it’s taking him a lot longer to get from Point A to Point B.

Some of it is one of those “session vs. episode” disconnects. Since we play for 2.5 or 3 hours and the episodes are usually an hour-ish, one recording session often (but not always) yields two episodes. So you can get a session where someone’s contributions were just front-loaded or back-loaded in such a way that there’s an episode where they disappear a little. This week was one of those. At the risk of providing a mild spoiler for next week, Tuttle and CHDRR do finally get into the action at some point.

I don’t want to beat the dead horse from last week, but I’m still feeling like we missed something when approaching this encounter. Maybe there was a path through the difficult terrain that a Perception check would’ve revealed. Maybe letting Wahloss make a Culture check would’ve given us some insight as to where elves put their temple entrances instead of just barging through. (Yes, I’m saying elves have a racial foot fetish. Add it to the Pathfinder Playtest.) Heck, maybe we should’ve just meta-gamed enough to make the real-world parallel to the Statue of Liberty and assumed the entrance was at the feet. But it still feels a little sadistic of the designers to put the entry point of the map about as far away from the temple entrance as you could possibly put it.

Two things dawned on me while writing this:

First is just the observation that this almost has to be the person who started the stampede. Sniper rifle could’ve spooked the herd from a safe (for them) distance… there can’t be TWO snipers running around out there, right?

Second, I noticed the sniper never tried to shoot Mo. Was that just Steve being charitable and trying to not to pile on John since we left him to die, or did the sniper not have a clear shot? Was THAT our way of separating the two encounters and we missed it – the jelly was guarding the approach where the sniper couldn’t hit us? That seems counter-intuitive at first glance – you’d think the sniper would pick a spot that would cover our most likely approach, but you never know.

The good news is “one down, one to go” as Mo finally got his revenge on the StarJelly. With a crit, no less. There’s a little cognitive dissonance that you can kill a huge creature hovering 50 feet up by hacking at its (wafer-thin) tendrils, but if that’s what the man says, that’s what the man says. Either assume it dropped down to attack and that’s when Mo hit it, or say it died of shock/blood loss and move on. It was definitely a lucky break that Mo was able to get inside and serum up for Round 2 because if he had to just stay out there and trade shots, he was probably toast.

The bad news is that the “one to go” has friends. With grenades. And a pretty good defensive position. I think once we get organized, it’ll be OK because it’s 4.5-on-3 and I recognize cannon fodder when I see it but we’re going to have to figure out something to get past them. I suppose we could start chucking grenades back UP the stairs, but if the sniper is still up in the head, maybe rushing them while they’re divided is the better play. We here at RFC know ALL about divided parties: “You think the divided party is your ally. But you merely adopted the divided party. We were born into it, molded by it.

There was a little bit of an interesting rules-lawyer question toward the end when I thought about using CHDRR’s jump jets to hop him over the statue’s feet to get into the battle faster. I think my original interpretation was right, but for the wrong reasons. My original take was “well, I can’t give orders to CHDRR when he’s out of line-of-sight”. That’s not actually correct, or at least it’s more complicated than that. If CHDRR is anywhere within comms range, I can give orders, so that wouldn’t have been an issue. On the other hand, it would be debatable whether I could give CHDRR effective orders when I can’t see the battlefield on the other side. CHDRR would physically be there, but would I really know where the StarJelly or the guys with the grenades were, to tell CHDRR where to go? Are his protocols advanced enough to seek out the bad guys or does that start getting into independent action? It feels like at best, I might have been able to put him into sentry mode – stay alert, hit anyone that’s not us. On the other hand, being able to park him and use full movement on myself wouldn’t have been a terrible idea.

I think my favorite moment of the entire show was the final moment when Rusty thanked Mo for saving him and no one could process Rusty’s sincerity. Something about that just cracked me up on re-listen.

Before I wander off to the beach, I’ll take a few moments to talk about Steve’s GM tip. From the player perspective, it’s always a fine line when you’re trying to use a real-world example to explain a concept and when you’re meta-gaming. The GM always has that Nixon-ian “if the GM does it, it’s not meta-gaming” attitude to fall back on, but the player has to be aware of that balance. If I’m considering what CHDRR should be able to do, I sometimes assume even Level 1 Starfinder drones are at least as capable as our most modern AIs, so sometimes I’ll say “Elon Musk’s got a robot that can so XYZ so CHDRR ought to be able to do the same thing”. On the other hand, I had kind of gotten the idea halfway through our slog that the entrance to the temple was at the feet, but referencing the Statue of Liberty seems a little too much like meta-gaming – there’s no context to bring that into the game and just decide that’s where the temple entrance was. (Also, past a certain point, going around the back was going to be the shortest path anyway.)

The place where I as a player find it very useful is developing a voice for a character. If I’m trying to play a character that’s different from me, it can be very helpful to pull elements of your character from the world around you. Something that serves as a compass to guide your actions and reactions. It’s not a natural thing to put yourself aside and ask “how would this fictional creation in my head handle this?”. But asking “how would Person XYZ that you actually know handle this?” can help you make that leap, at least until it gets instinctual and takes on its own life.

Tuttle? I knew a guy at my old consulting job who was technically brilliant, but he also had limited people skills and didn’t suffer fools – at one gig, he once told our client sponsor to his face (the one person who WASN’T ready to throw us out of the building because the deployment wasn’t going well), that if he didn’t understand the thing we were doing, he was too stupid to be working with the product. That guy is who I come back to when I need a Tuttle Moment – asking the Astral Extractions suit to her face if they were bankrolling the Downside Kings was one of those.

I think I mentioned this in my Society writeup, but the compass for Nala tends to be my daughter – or at least my daughter from a few years ago when she was at that same age. “How would she react to some grumpy adult (Pollux) bossing her around and lecturing her about good and evil?”.

I suppose you can do fictional characters too, but I always find those don’t resonate as well and it feels a little like cheating. Take our Strange Aeons game: I joined at the last minute because another player dropped out, and I was strongly urged to play a healer. So I wasn’t totally dialed in – I rolled a dwarven cleric and pretty much decided Khelgar Ironfist from Neverwinter 2 was going to be the compass until I figured him out. And I guess it worked, but it also never really felt totally comfortable either. So I think real-world examples are probably best if you can find them.

Speaking of the real world, I’ve got some fish to eat, some beer to drink, and absorb as much sun as I can handle until I turn into LobsterMan. So I’m going to go do that. Next week, we… maaaaaaay… reach the end of this fight; certainly the tide has turned in our favor now that StarJelly is no more and the fight’s about to move indoors. Let’s hope it has, anyway.

Talking Combat 037: Terrain Pain

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 037: Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads.

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate difficult terrain?

I suppose I should refine that a little bit. I don’t mind difficult terrain in small enough doses that it adds some strategic nuance to the battlefield. Figuring out how to navigate around a few obstacles during a fight can make for a fun challenge. Sometimes it can even be helpful in cases where you can turn the terrain around and use it against the guys you’re fighting. So in small doses, I suppose difficult terrain is fine.

THIS map? Where it’s just an entire football field of difficult terrain, with a sniper shooting at us while we’re trying to navigate it? Ugh. At least there are some walls and pillars that can be used for cover, so it’s not a complete charge to our deaths, but it’s kind of a pain. Then again, I suppose it could be worse – going back to Pathfinder, there was a level of Emerald Spire where the whole level was difficult terrain AND complete darkness… fighting against goblins that were unaffected by both. That was just miserable. (Especially since I was playing a rogue and could never get myself into position for Sneak Attack damage.)

I also feel like not knowing where the entrance just feels like a bit too much. You’ve got this huge map with 200 or 300 feet of difficult terrain to cover, someone shooting at you, AND you don’t really even know where you’re supposed to be going? It just feels like some portion of this should’ve been a little easier. Or maybe it’s our fault – maybe we should’ve been doing Perception rolls to look for a path or something. But we’ll give it some time to play out – other than Mo, most of us haven’t taken any real damage. The other great equalizer is that the sniper has been rolling like shit so far. That bought us a little time to figure this out.

I would also like to state for the record that I still hate Incorporeal creatures more, but Difficult Terrain is working its way up the list.

Splitting the party is starting to look like it’s going to be a really stupid move, but I’d like to say a few things in our defense.

First, Hirogi LOOKED like was going to stay to the north with Mo the first few rounds and Rusty and I were going south; 2 and 2 would probably have worked better than 3 and 1. I don’t want to throw Chris under the bus exactly – we didn’t really explicitly say “you go left, we go right” – but by the time he changed course, Rusty and I were pretty far along to the south. I guess this is why Order of the Amber Die has a player captain, huh?

Also, I don’t know about the other guys, but I have to admit I misread the situation at first and thought Mo was getting hit by a trap, not a creature. I thought maybe the sniper had set up some kind of defense perimeter – maybe an entangle grenade or something – and Mo had just set off whatever it was. He’d be entangled for a few rounds, then he’d break free, and we’d get back to business. By the time the thing started following him and continuing to attack, we had already gone south toward the head of the statue and coming back for him would’ve just taken longer.

Lastly, there was a roleplay case to be made for not helping Mo: John was initially kind of ambiguous about the thing attacking him (remember that it missed the first time) and the shooter was the much more obvious threat. So while it was obvious to us at the table, you can make a case the characters acted correctly. When you’ve got someone actually shooting at you vs. “mean air” or whatever Mo’s complaint was… you probably choose the person shooting at you.

I did like discovering Tuttle’s new tactic of “drop-and-pop” by using his ysoki racial Moxie (for the record, Kip Up is the non-racial feat that does the same thing, so we were both right), but I would point out that it’s ONLY good for a situation like this… where you’ve only got a ranged attacker to contend with. Completely useless if there are any melee enemies around. If you’re dealing with ranged attackers… great, you give them a -4 to hit, what’s not to like? If you drop in a place where you could still get meleed… oh boy, might as well just get your will ready. Not only do the melees get +4 to hit, but I’m reading the racial for Moxie, and although you can stand up as a swift action, it doesn’t seem to mitigate attacks of opportunity.

So we end the episode on a bit of a positive note because at least we found where the shooter is hiding. Unfortunately, we still need to find a way to get in – doesn’t sound like those windows big enough, though maybe we could chuck some grenades through them – and we still need to figure out how we can circle back around and help Mo out. (Or strip the gear from his corpse. Only the dice know for sure.) Hang in there buddy, we’re coming for you!

For once I’m not going to spend much effort on Tuttle’s leveling process – Level 4 was kind of boring and the podcast covered the major bullet points: a better heal for CHDRR and learning Elvish so we can carry on if Wahloss meets a nasty end. I’m also not going to say much else about Steve’s PaizoCon observations because I wrote a whole thing of my own. I would suggest you might want to check out Steve’s appearance on Know Direction, though. (I’m listening to it live as I’m writing this, but my understanding is they’ll have an edited version on their site later.) Steve and the Know Direction guys get into a pretty deep dive on their Pathfinder Playtest experiences, so if you want more information on that, you might want to check that out.

Next week: more difficult terrain, we find out if Mo survives, and maybe we’ll actually find a way into the Plague Warden. Or maybe not: Steve’s not lying that this is a long battle. But a fun one, so you’ll want to see how it turns out.

Talking PaizoCon 2018: Sleep-Deprived In Seattle

PaizoCon 2018

I have to start with a bit of an apology. When we were boarding planes to head west to Seattle (or north in John’s case), the general plan was to be a bit more of an embedded reporter, giving you updates from the convention, and… well… that didn’t really happen. I chucked a few photos up on our Discord channel, but to be honest – and at the risk of gloating – there was a bit too much to do. I suppose I can blame a little bit of it on the timezone change kicking my ass, but truth told, we were running around too much to have a good solid window for writing.

So here I sit at the SeaTac airport, reflecting on my first PaizoCon experience. And I gotta admit it was better than I expected. A LOT better. Yes, the mental hamster wheel is already spinning in the direction of going back next year.

Speaking generally about the con, PaizoCon is – for better and for worse, but mostly for better – a much smaller, more close-knit thing than Origins or GenCon. Saying that sounds a little obvious: PaizoCon is just for Paizo products whereas those other cons are more general gaming cons. If a Borg cube carved out Paizo’s floorspace at a larger con and dropped it in a different city… that’s roughly the scale of PaizoCon. But what does that translate to in terms of real-world considerations?

On the good side, there’s more opportunity to really spend time with the people you meet. At a larger con, you game with someone once, and then they’re washed away in a sea of humanity unless you specifically try to make plans. At PaizoCon, the numbers are more manageable, you tend to randomly see people throughout the weekend, and there are enough public areas that you can take five and catch up on Sunday with that person you played with on Friday night. That gives it a more human feel.

Also, one focus means everyone is speaking roughly the same basic language. EVERYONE you meet likes some corner of this shared Paizo universe we all entertain ourselves within. OK, you might like Pathfinder and I might be more oriented toward Starfinder, but we’re at least on the same general wavelength, as opposed to a jumble of interests where the Catan people and the Ticket To Ride people never speak unless it’s to organize 3 am knife-fights in the parking garage? (I’m sorry… what?)

So what’s the small downside? There’s not as much surrounding to-do in the larger community. When you go to GenCon, the entire downtown business district embraces it – restaurants re-skin their menus with fantasy themes and put Game Of Thrones on the TV instead of sports; there’s a flotilla of food trucks; unrelated businesses organize their own events to welcome gamers to the city (and OK, dip their snouts in the tourist dollar trough). Here… it’s just another thing that’s happening. OK, the lady at Taco Bell was very nice, but she didn’t ask me if I wanted minotaur or griffin meat in my quesadilla, and frankly, I think she was a little concerned that a grown man would order a large Baja Blast at 6:30 in the morning three days in a row. EVERY MEAL IS FOURTHMEAL.

THURSDAY

We didn’t really do any gaming on Thursday, but there were a few individual moments I wanted to share.

First, you should be aware CHDRR’s creator is firmly in your corner on the issue of THE BUTTON. I finally got the chance to introduce myself to John Compton and thank him, and pretty much the first thing he said was to give me a good-natured ribbing about my BUTTON Cowardice: “You do realize you’re doing a show where you’re entertaining people, right?”. So armed with a dose of tough love from John Compton, I’ll try to do better. Having said that, I’ll still go to bat for the partial defense that mechanic-drone action economy sometimes makes it hard to use. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

Second, Steve and I got to have dinner with the hosts of Know Direction (Jefferson Thacker aka Perram and Ryan Costello) and Patchen Mortimer (aka Patch), who runs the Daily Bestiary (it’s what it sounds like – a blog that posts articles about different monsters from Pathfinder on… you guessed it… a mostly daily basis). Since Perram would be hosting our panel later in the weekend, there were about five minutes of “work” preliminaries before we settled into Hawaiian BBQ and talking about gaming. You know… as we gamers do.

The other thing is that poor Chris rolled a 1 on Air Travel. The rest of Team RFC trickled in over the course of Thursday, but not Chris. First came the portion of the saga where they turned off the air-conditioning on the plane, so he got to sit on the tarmac slow-cooking for a few hours. Then they took him off the plane and let him hang out in the terminal. Then they had to get a different plane entirely. (Kind friend that I am, I texted him to ask if they were assembling a new Frankenplane from the parts of other broken planes.) I don’t think he actually got into Seattle until 1:30ish Friday morning.

FRIDAY

We started our gaming weekend with Steve, Bob, and I playing a Starfinder Society game (#1-12, Ashes of Discovery). It’s a repeatable, but I’m still not going to say much about the plot itself since some of you might still want to play through it. Bob played Quinn, who you already know, though he didn’t roleplay it quite as heavily. Steve rolled an android technomancer name Zargon, which (among other things) made me throw out the android technomancer I had rolled. I didn’t really want two in the party, and Steve plays so rarely that I was willing to defer to what he wanted to play. Besides, Steve already had a T-shirt for his guy… you can’t compete with that. And then we had a non-RFC player (Brendan) who was playing in his first or second game of Starfinder with a pre-gen, and guess what… he went with the android technomancer anyway. So three REALLY would’ve been overkill. (Or high comedy… we may never know.)

I didn’t really want to play Nala because I’m saving her for the show. I thought about a straight-up Nala clone for a second (I got as far as registering “Reya Trienzi” on the Organized Play site), but my next-in-line concept was an Icon Operative: imagine Guy Fieri, if he uses his cooking show as a cover to take him around the galaxy doing black ops work – and with four arms, since he’s a kasatha. Thus was born Zegraal of “Clan” Tastebud Supernova (the name of his show).

The game itself was pretty straightforward, and I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, so what were the key moments? Zegraal did get to use his cooking abilities to help win a skills challenge, so that was useful. There was that moment when Steve’s character fell into a ravine and we realized that between three experienced players, none of us had thought to buy rope. Luckily, Steve had a flight spell, but still… oops. Brendan rolling a triple-4 on a magic missile to bring down a major bad guy was kinda cool. And while I don’t want to indulge in full-on schadenfreude, it was fun to see Steve in the player role – suffering through bad rolls with the rest of us, arguing with the GM… good stuff.

My next game was the much-anticipated (partly because it was the only lottery event I got into) Starfinder/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover. It was the core five GotG characters, plus Mantis (but more the badass martial artist version of Mantis from the comics than the movie version). I have to admit the translation worked pretty well. The Starfinder classes were a good fit – Star-Lord was the Envoy, Gamora an Operative, Drax a Soldier, Rocket a Mechanic. Making Groot a Mystic was a little bit of an odd choice at first, but they re-flavored some of the more exotic Groot abilities as spells and it worked. And yes, they named every one of his spells “I Am Groot”. The GM even whipped up a playlist of 70s/80s music to have running in the background, though he probably drifted a little too far into the 80s with some of the selections.

I got to play Star-Lord. Pretty standard Envoy build, though they set up his primary weapon (the Element Gun) to have selectable damage types, which was pretty nice. He also had conventional frag grenades and gravity grenades that either pinned enemies to the ground or pulled them toward the blast, depending on the saving throws.

The Guardians characters were set up as Level 10 characters, and the story was that the Guardians were pulled into the Starfinder universe to answer a distress call at Absalom Station because (spoiler!) Thanos had learned of the existence of the Starstone and figured one Starstone could do the work of the six Infinity Stones. The encounter itself was a series of battles (that’s my one minor complaint… almost no skills use involved; maybe one computer to hack to get things started) – facing a pack of beast-like aliens, a Sentinel, and Thanos himself. And… burying the lede a little here… I got the kill shot on Thanos! In fitting Star-Lord fashion, everyone else did the bulk of the damage, and I got a crit in the final round to take the last 10-12 points. Poor, poor Mantis though. She had climbed up a wall to fight Thanos while he was in the air, and he critted her, followed by 20 or 30 feet of falling damage – the grand damage total was somewhere in the 140s.

Friday evening was just one of those goofy con things where you start with “going to dinner with a couple people” and end up in a rapidly-growing amoeba of humanity. The plan was originally going to be dinner with Rob Trimarco, Jason Keeley, and two other people; on the way out of the hotel, we joined up with another group of Paizo folks (that included Patchen from the previous evening), and there was a third group of Paizo folks at the restaurant we ended up going, so we pushed tables together with them as well. So that’s how I “accidentally” ended up going to dinner with like 12 or 13 Paizo people and playing Mario Kart with them later. But, it’s a convention… sometimes that’s just how it is.

SATURDAY

Saturday became my day to do touristy things, though it didn’t start out that way. I had originally picked up a Pathfinder game off the trade-in table (a table where people who can’t make an event leave their tickets so someone else can fill in), but what I didn’t realize is that pre-gens for that game cut off at Level 7 and these guys all wanted to play Level 10 or 11 characters. So this left me in a spot where at best I’d be a Leadership follower played by a live human, and at worst I’d be the one getting blamed if things didn’t go well. So I decided to walk away from that game and go into the city. I won’t bore you with those details too much, but… “Pike Place, Space Needle, Seattle Sounders game” covers the gist of it.

The evening events are tricky because they’re the sorts of things that could merit their own posts. The centerpiece of the banquet (besides eating large quantities of cow) was the presentation where Paizo revealed their plans for the various product lines, and after dinner, Jason Keeley ran us through an abbreviated version of the Pathfinder Playtest. (Still wearing a full three-piece suit no less. Classy.) On one hand, it almost deserves its own post; on the other hand, I don’t want to keep you waiting too long. So I guess I’ll throw you a few observations I found interesting, and maybe come back to it if there are still more questions:

  • As a meta thing, when they say “playtest”, they mean it. The first several adventures will be designed specifically to showcase and test different aspects of the game, and they’re going to be made available for free long as you offer feedback. They didn’t say what these aspects were, but within our little group, we took that as one adventure might focus primarily on skills and social challenges, another might feature a lot of spellcasting, maybe another would feature underwater or airborne action, etc.
  • The presentation portion mentioned character-building would follow the “ABC method” – Archetype, Background, Class – to make it feel more like writing a character’s story instead of just grafting numbers onto the chassis. It kind of feels like an expansion of Starfinder’s Themes, maybe with slightly more powerful abilities available. The demo used pre-gen characters, so we didn’t really get to test it – this is mostly extrapolating from Jason Bulmahn’s presentation.
  • They showed a page from the Druid class page showing the spell for DINOSAUR FORM. As someone who ran a druid, I might have gotten a little teary. And you’re damn right T-Rex was an option. How could it not be?
  • They’re basically flattening the action economy, or at least flipping the perspective a little bit. Now, you can take three actions per round. Period, end of sentence. If there’s granularity, it’s on the side of the abilities themselves – a spell might have a verbal action and a somatic action, so it will, therefore, count as two actions. A lot of it washes out with Pathfinder action economy – if you move and do a two-action attack, that’s still kind of like an attack and a move action – but it feels more flexible.
  • Following up on that previous concept, some spells can be beefed up and made more effective by putting more actions into them. For something like Magic Missile, it might just be “you gain more missiles for each action you use”, but it can be more multi-dimensional than that. I was playing the healer in our party: one action was a touch heal, two actions were a ranged single-target heal, and three actions was a group channel. (Also, channeling can now damage undead AND heal at the same time. About time.)
  • I also heard (but I honestly forget who I was discussing it with) that some spells might scale depending on what spell slot you put them in. That is, you wouldn’t have Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, etc. You’d just have “Cure”, and the spell slot you expended on it would determine how powerful the spell was. This feels like it would make for more interesting and versatile characters because you wouldn’t have to relearn more powerful versions of the tool you already have.
  • The answer to “well, why don’t you just get in someone’s face and attack three times?” is that subsequent attacks take a cumulative -5 to-hit penalty, so good luck hitting that third attack unless you have some sort of feat or class feature that helps. (Steve was playing a rogue, and his penalty was “only” -4, so there will clearly be mitigation for some builds).
  • For you melee types, shields go from a simple adjustment to AC to an active defense system – you use one of your actions to raise your shield and the shield can negates some/all of the damage of an attack. But if the shield takes too much damage, it’s damaged, and ultimately destroyed. Makes the sword-and-board fighter a bit more interesting to play because defense contains an active component instead of just giving your abstract tin can better stats.

I’m sure there’s more to be gleaned from the weekend, but those were some first impressions. You’re welcome to ask additional questions on social media, and we’ll answer what we can, or perhaps we’ll circle back around to it later with another Talking or a GM tip or something.

As a logistical footnote, the banquet and the Playtest session afterward was actually the only time during PaizoCon that the RFC crew was all assembled in one place, and as we thought about it, it was probably the first time in 10 or 15 years we were all in the same room together. Power of gaming, huh?

SUNDAY

Sunday put us in the Way-Back Machine, as other than my Dads-n-Kids game, I haven’t played Pathfinder in almost a year. Specifically, we were playing The House of Harmonious Wisdom (#8-16), a quest-pack adventure set in the Tian Xia  part of Golarion. We all just played pre-gens for this one: John seems to have taken a liking to Seelah the Paladin, I took Sajan the Monk (I love monks once you get them a few levels; it’s just tricky to get them through the squishy low levels), and Steve took Crowe the Bloodrager.  We were joined by two guys who played a gothy brother-sister team of caster types – the sister was an Oracle, but I’m drawing a blank on the brother.

Highlights of this particular adventure? Well, the fact that no one actually spoke Tian Xia was… interesting, but we managed. One of the quests supplied my hero moment as it involved defending the honor of a martial arts school against its rival school – the non-fighters had to use stock moves taught to them by the NPC master, but I was allowed to use my full array of monk abilities (as long as I did non-lethal damage). So I was a bit of a ringer in that one. But the highlight was probably Steve’s 4th level bloodrager putting a guy into low-earth orbit with 90 damage in one shot. Enlarged + crit + rage + generally high rolls = that’s how a formerly imposing bodyguard gets swatted like a fly. And ohbytheway, it was an attack of opportunity, so the dude walked right into it.

Next up on the schedule was our actual LIVE IN PERSON appearance with Order of the Amber Die. I’m going to probably stay pretty general until it gets out there on the Internet and more people have a chance to listen to it, but let me just say I was really pleased with how it went.

I had two main concerns going in.

The first was chemistry with Order of the Amber Die. On one hand, they certainly seemed like kindred spirits from Steve’s interviews and we did get a chance to hang out with them at lunch before the event. So I didn’t think it was going to be a total disaster or anything. On the other hand, you never know until you sit down at the table and start doing it. And you know what? They were fantastic.

The other thing is doing this dog-and-pony show live. When we’re recording the show at home, Steve has the ability to make us look more clever than we really are after the fact – take out all the awkward pauses, remove that odd joke that didn’t really land, clean up any episodes of marble-mouth. You don’t have that luxury when you’re doing it with an audience in the room, and I suppose that was a little daunting. But that didn’t seem to be a problem either – I didn’t have any glaring episodes of mush-mouth and people seemed to be enjoying it and laughing in the right places, so… mission accomplished.

I do have to give credit to Steve for coming up with a pretty solid concept for the show. It would have been so easy to go Thunderdome and just have the two teams fight to see how combat worked between universes. (Though as we were chatting in the aftermath, we did say it would be fun to put together a real battle scenario between the two systems in a more fully-developed scenario.) But I think Steve’s solution – keeping it lighter on dice and heavier on role-playing – ended up being the right call.

PaizoCon 2018

With all of our obligations behind us, the last formal event was the Solstice Scar event Sunday night. Basically, this is an event where 300 people are playing the same adventure (still in tables of 6) as part of a larger campaign. Each table is scaled to the level of the party, so a Level 1 party might face zombies while a level 10 party might face vampires at the same point in the story. As each table hits certain milestones, that moves the overall story along to its conclusion. And there’s a cash bar.

Our table had Steve and Bob playing homebrew characters (an investigator and a heal-less cleric, respectively) and the rest of us playing iconics: I was running Seoni the Sorceress, John played Seelah again, Rob Trimarco took a spin with Crowe the Bloodrager, and Jason Keeley played Hakon the Skald. And, we had one of our contest winners, Shawn (aka GM Notmyideas on our Discord) as our table’s GM.

I can’t tell you much about the scenario because the beers were flowing pretty freely, but the penultimate battle had a wonderful finish. We were battling a baby dragon that was a tough kill because the cave had a lowered section with a ring around the outside, and the dragon was hovering over the lowered area, out of melee range. So first, Rob T. earned his Badass Stripes by jumping off the edge, making his Athletics check, and then making a successful attack that staggered the creature. If that wasn’t enough, Keeley then polished off the beast with an attack with a damn sling. (Needing an 18 to hit, no less.) I suppose I could be mad because I was up next in initiative and had a magic missile with the dragon’s name on it (kill-stealer!) but the whole thing was so damn impressive… how can you be?

(It later turned out there had been a math error and Rob’s shot should have killed the creature, but once you’ve got it on the record that you killed a dragon with a sling, that’s the story you stick with.)

The game wrapped around 12:15 and it was off to sleep for most of us, though a few people stayed up for 1 am games. Then next morning, off to the airport to get back to normal life.

That’s pretty much my PaizoCon adventure, but I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to give a special word of thanks to everyone who came out to Seattle to share the experience with us. Whether it’s wearing the shirts, coming to the live event(s), just stopping by to say hello… there are times where I don’t even know how to process it, except I know that it’s cool and touching. There are times it feels like hubris to even think we should have fans for doing something we love that we would be doing anyway, even if no one is listening. But it’s still immensely gratifying to know that other people are getting something out of it too. So honestly… thank you all.

OK, enough dopey sincerity… time for sleep. I gotta go back to work tomorrow, and at some point, I’ll have a new Talking to bang out as we get back to business as usual in the Dead Suns campaign. In the meantime, thanks for listening and reading, and we’ll see you again back in the jungles of Castrovel.

Talking Combat 036: He’s Only Mostly Dead

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 036: Clever Girl.

You might have noticed I was a little quieter than usual this episode. I tend to be a little more low-key than the other guys to begin with, but as I was listening to this episode, I noticed I was almost invisible when it wasn’t my turn.

It turns out there’s actually a reason for that: the dreaded Technical Difficulties. I believe this episode was one where the laptop I play on was being squirrely: there was uninstalling and reinstalling of programs going on behind the scenes, and there may even have been a point where I had to reboot everything. Steve did a masterful job of editing things so you didn’t hear any of it, but it’s happened once or twice, and I think this episode was one of those. I have since done a full OS reinstall on my laptop right before leaving for PaizoCon, and it’s been a bit more spry since then, so maybe we’re out of the woods. I guess we’ll find out in our next few sessions.

Regarding Steve’s GM tip about making the mistake and fixing the combat in the middle: I do remember feeling in the moment like the fight was a little easier than I thought it was going to be. At the time, I thought we just got lucky – specifically, I was thinking the creature was going to have some sort of cross-contamination interaction with the remnants of the spore storm (either we’d get disease or the creature would use the spores to heal or something), and I figured we had just gotten lucky and avoided those consequences. It didn’t dawn on me until later that Steve might have weakened the fight because a mistake was made.

As I’ve said in other Talking posts, I am fairly forgiving of mistakes, and I figure in the grand scheme, they come out in the wash. For every mistake the GM makes that hurt your chances, he or she will probably make one in your favor if you wait long enough. Life’s too short to worry about it, most of the time.

Except when a character drops.

Character death is the one place where there’s no room for things to even out later, which is why I’m absolutely in favor of Steve’s policy of stopping the game to review a character death. Even though I have to be honest that I can’t remember a specific case where we caught and reversed anything. The last time I remember it even being invoked was in the Emerald Spire; I want to say it was John’s paladin that got eaten by a gibbering mouther. We just took a 10-minute break, Steve reviewed the combat log while the rest of us went and got a soda, and sure enough, he was dead.

First, it’s a logistical thing – losing a character can be a major disruption to a campaign, maybe even a campaign-breaker depending on the surrounding circumstances. I think in the case of John’s pally, we had the resources to afford a Raise Dead, but there are some campaigns where you can’t just go back to town and get a new character all that easily – heck, look at this situation we’re in now. If Hirogi had actually died, is it realistic for us to schlep out of the jungle for a week, sign up a new party member or buy some sort of rez, and go back in? Given the potential stakes, spending 10 minutes to dot the I’s and cross the T’s before you commit to potentially derailing the game for 2 or 3 sessions seems like a smart use of time.

There’s also the more emotional appeal, though. For what amounts to glorified Excel spreadsheets, we players sure come to care about these little scraps of paper quite a bit and imbue them with a fair amount of meaning. When they do occasionally die, it sucks, and it’s nice to know that Steve will take that extra time to make sure everything was done fairly. It’s a simple thing, but it feels like a show of respect for our character’s contribution to the overall story. (And I suppose it gives you a head-start on powering through the five stages of grief.)

But enough of the morbid death stuff. We survived the dinosaur attack, we’re still making progress, and perhaps most importantly, we finally found a way for Wahloss to earn his keep as something other than an omelet chef! OK, we stumbled into it by accident, but still. I’m not sure we want to lean all the way in on this: even though he saved Hirogi’s bacon, I’m still not crazy about sending Wahloss into the thick of combat while he’s the only person in the party that knows Elvish. I’m not sure what happens if we have to turn around because our translator bites it trying to hand us positions. Strategically, I think we probably want to assess on a case by case basis. Stationary slugfest against one or two bad guys, no AoE attacks… yeah, bring him in closer. Mobile, chaotic fight; lots of spellcasters, breath weapons… better to keep him in the rear with the gear. Really the best of both worlds would be to write CHDRR a potion-administration subroutine. (Or… add a weapon mount, equip a needler pistol… po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to.)

In the grand scheme, we’re a little over halfway to… whatever we’re supposed to find out there. 70 miles out, 50 miles left. So, somewhere between 4-plus (if we were to make all our rolls on hard) and 8-plus days (fail every roll) to go. Zan’s notes still mention quite a few landmarks yet to discover – the Plague Warden (giant statue of an elf, mentions something about absorbing illness, so… healing properties?), the Forsaken City (pyramid-y graveyard), and the Stairs To Eternity (big set of stairs that go up a mountain to a haunted temple). The writings on the obelisk also mentioned the Temple Of The Twelve. So still a lot of stuff we haven’t seen and a lot of answers to get.

But apparently, we’ll get them as level 4 characters. DING! as the MMO crowd says. I haven’t figured out the full Level 4 build but you can guarantee Tuttle will be taking Elvish For Dummies, so we can remove Wahloss as a single point of failure on this mission. (For those of you still adjusting to Starfinder from Pathfinder, Culture takes the place of the dedicated Linguistics skill.) I’ll have the rest of it figured out in time for next week’s show; in the meantime, feel free to visit us on social media and join the conversation.

Talking Combat 035: Getaway Day

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 035: Do You Want to Build a Sporeman.

This week at Talking Combat, let’s be honest; we’ve mostly got PaizoCon on the brain.

As you’re reading this, the various members of Team RFC are winging their way across the US, headed for the Paizo Mothership in Seattle. So, while I don’t want to blow off this week’s episode entirely, I’m probably going to turn the majority of this into a soft preview of the weekend’s fun.

Part of the problem is that this is one of those episodes that lives and dies with the table banter. We’re not fighting, we don’t have any social encounter, we’re not particularly moving the plot along – most of the episode is just a snapshot of Life At A Gaming Table.

As a listening experience, I think it’s valuable to include an occasional episode like that. Yes, sometimes the fun of a gaming table is going on weird mental field trips where you talk about the Star Trek transporters to beam human waste out of the body. But it’s kinda tough to write about an episode like that without just resetting every joke and saying “remember that, that was funny” like that one Chris Farley sketch from SNL.

For the record, beaming your poop out of your body totally sounds like something the Vulcans would’ve come up with – why have a completely unsanitary system to remove waste with an access point in every home, when you can just beam it away? (Oh dear God, they probably repurpose it into the food replicators. Vulcans eat their own shit. It certainly explains why they’re so humorless all the time. Head-canon established.)

If you’re looking for tangible accomplishments this week…

Well, I guess we may have established that Rusty is using some sort of technological solution to hide his undead-ed-ness . It’s a curious development, but we’ll have to put a pin in it and come back to it once we’re out of the jungle. My inner Rules Lawyer does wonder: if he’s turning undead, shouldn’t he have immunity to the jungle heat? Maybe I’m operating from a Romero-centric view of the undead, but they never struck me as being all that concerned about the weather. Show me the episode of The Walking Dead where a zombie takes a break from brain-munching to go put on a sweater. I’ll wait.

Tuttle also took his first (half) day au naturel. I’d been holding off as long as possible because Fortitude saves aren’t Tuttle’s strong suit, but as Bob said (and it mirrors what I was thinking) I want to have a couple days’ worth of cooling left for potential dungeoneering at the destination, so I’ve reached the point where I kind of have to take a day. Also, I have CHDRR as a bodyguard, so I’m a little less worried about getting attacked while armorless (though the temporary hit points are still an issue).

I have to admit I’m getting a little mentally tired of the jungle trek and I’m ready to arrive somewhere soon. From a game design point of view, I get that surviving the environment is What The Challenge Is, but I share Chris and John’s frustration on getting nickel-and-dimed to (non-)death on non-lethal damage. Very frustrating.

As the episode ends, I was worried we were gearing up for another ScorBaMonk attack, but it looks like it’s more of an environmental challenge, with some sort of pink dust storm headed right at us. It doesn’t seem like “the dust is poisonous” is going to be the big reveal, because we’ve got environmentals for that. So what is it? Hurricane winds? Falling trees? The storm gets us lost and we have to re-establish a path? I assume there’s a cherry on the top of this sundae yet to be revealed, but I guess we’ll find out what it is next week.

So let’s talk PaizoCon. Full disclosure: I’ve never been to PaizoCon before, though I have attended GenCon and Origins. Obviously, those other conferences are more general gaming and this is more laser-focused on Paizo games, but there will still be similarities. On the other hand, my drinking game of taking a shot every time you see a new variant of Settlers of Catan won’t be of much use this time.

Most of us are getting in Thursday, but between managing the time zone change and decompressing from 8 or 10 hours in the clutches of the airline system, I’ll need some Me Time. There are a couple different versions of the plan (none of which are so pretentious as to involve a hot stone massage), but it will likely be both low-key and unrelated to gaming.

To compensate, Friday is pretty much going to be wall-to-wall dice-throwing.

In the morning, most or all of us are playing SFS 1-12 (Ashes of Discovery) together, including the rare sighting of GM Steve as a player character. It’ll be nice to play with these guys in person, instead of as disembodied voices.

After lunch is the one lottery event I got in – Awesome Mix Vol. 1, which is basically a conversion of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters to the Starfinder system. As a huge fan of the Marvel movies (negotiations with the ex-wife to rename our son T’Challa are still ongoing), if I was going to get into ONE event, I suppose I’m glad it was this one. Having said that, I’m going to lobby hard to play someone other than Rocket, since I’m reaching my Furry Tech Rodent saturation point.

Friday night is my first block of (unintentional) free time. I had a Pathfinder game booked, but then we decided to move that to Sunday morning. In the meantime, the other official games either filled up, or I didn’t have a character of the right level, so that kind of left me without anything. So either I’ll use Friday night to relax, or maybe try to find a pickup game if one’s available.

Saturday is the day of “soft” stuff – mostly panels and other podcasts – though that’s another spot where I could toss stuff overboard if a pickup game emerges. I’ve got both Know Direction and Glass Cannon on the schedule, and I’m on the fence about attending Steve and John’s WoW talk. On one hand, there’s a chance I’ll have already heard some/most/all of the stories they’re going to tell, just by virtue of our friendship. On the other hand, I didn’t see another event that was more compelling, and there’s a little bit of “support the team” vibe as well. My other question mark is whether to attend the Celebrity Gaming session with Jason Keeley – I do want to see him in action, but I might not want to spoil an SFS adventure we might play on the show. And then we’ve got the banquet at night.

Sunday morning, Team RFC is playing again, though this time it’s Pathfinder instead of Starfinder (8-16, House of Harmonious Wisdom). There are a few hours of downtime (I think I could fit the monster design panel in if I didn’t mind rushing a bit), and then we’ve got our “official” appearance with Order of the Amber Die (and now, with Perram from Know Direction moderating the interview portion). I have to admit I’m intrigued how Steve’s going to combine Pathfinder Iconics and the RFC crew, though I keep mentally rooting for an homage to Battle of the Network Stars. “Next up, Mo vs. Seelah in the tug-of-war, with guest referee… Buck Rogers’ Gil Gerard!”.

The last* event will be Sunday night’s 8-99C (Solstice Scar) game, which is the community event where 300 people play the same large-scale game at the same time. This is also the event where we’re specifically trying to be extroverts, break up Team RFC a little and play with our fans, contest winners, and whoever else wants to join the reindeer games. If you’re going to be at PaizoCon and playing in this event, you should try to track us down and game with us.

(I put an asterisk on “last” because I signed up for a playtest of the card game on Monday morning before I go to the airport, but that’s more of a palate cleanser than anything else.)

You will note there are a few things missing from this.

First, I want to track down John Compton and give him a big hug for creating CHDRR Mk 3. It may get awkward, security may even be called. I make no promises.

Second, I have a half-formed notion that I do want to get out and see Seattle a little bit. I mean, yeah, I get my check-box for any “what states have you visited?” games the moment I step off the plane, but it does seem a shame to come all this way and only see the inside of a hotel. If I don’t do this Thursday night, there’s a chance I’ll ditch some of the panels on Saturday and go wander. Screw the Space Needle – I need to go visit Funko and open their eyes to the glorious possibilities of the Tuttle and CHDRR Pop! set.

Third, it feels like a low-key betrayal to admit this in a blog for a Starfinder podcast, but I want to see the Pathfinder Playtest in action. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really enjoying Starfinder, but at my core, I’m still a swords-and-sorcery guy. If Pathfinder 2 is going to be a cleanup of Pathfinder with some of Starfinder’s Greatest Hits grafted onto the frame, I’m absolutely down for that. I didn’t sign up for any of the lottery playtest events, but Steve assures me we’re going to get a look at it.

I’ll close with a few logistical notes. The first is that, as Steve said, we will be doing some sort of coverage from PaizoCon. We absolutely want to share some of the fun of PaizoCon with people who can’t actually be there. Having said that, we’re still sorting out the logistics of HOW to cover it – formal blog posts vs. updates via Discord; single post per day or multiple smaller posts throughout the day, etc. And there’s also the question of folding into our schedules that we can still… you know… enjoy ourselves.

The other thing I wanted to say, even though it’s been fairly heavily implied: if you’re going to be at PaizoCon and you see us wandering around, absolutely feel free to say hello. (Unless it’s within 50 feet of the men’s room, because… you know… boundaries.) We all share this common hobby we all love, it’ll be fun to put faces to the random Discord screen-names, and we’re happy to hear what you like and don’t like about the show. Though Emily Post says if you’re going to criticize a man’s podcast, you have to buy him a beer first. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just believe in a polite society. (Now I know you’re going to say podcasts didn’t even exist when Emily Post did her thing, but she was a very forward-thinking lady. Possibly even a time traveler. Ignore her at your social peril.)

OK, I gotta roll. Next time you hear from me, it’ll be from the convention floor. Whether you’re following our updates or have another holiday weekend (at least in the US) plans up your sleeve, hope you have a fun weekend.

Talking Society #1-10: And Now for Something Completely Different

#1-10 The Half-Alive Streets

Jason recaps the events from the Roll For Combat playthrough of Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-10: The Half-Alive Streets. Episodes of this complete scenario playthrough include Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Welcome to the first Talking Society blog post.

At its core, Talking Society is going to be a lot like Talking Combat. I’ll reflect on what you just listened to – sometimes I’ll stay pretty close to the game table and react to the action itself; sometimes I’ll use the action as a springboard to talk about other issues that come up at the gaming table. It’s all going to be pretty free-form. The main difference is that instead of breaking the Society shows up weekly, I’m going to try to just do one (presumably longer) post that covers the entire arc of the Society adventure.

In future installments, I figure I’ll start with a “what’s new?” section where I talk specifically about the new faces at the table and the new characters, but for this episode one, “What’s New?” is… well… just about everything.

First, we have two “new” players, but it’s really two players we’ve seen before as NPCs – Jason Keeley and Rob Trimarco. In fact, their guest spot and the positive reaction to it was one of the reasons we decided to give this format a try in the first place. Keeley (since he was OK calling himself that for clarity, I’ll continue to do so) works for Paizo, and Rob is (among other things) a Kevin Bacon-like figure who is friends with both Keeley and the New York contingent of the RFC group. If you somehow fell directly into this Society game without hearing the original RFC podcast or are latecomers who are catching up, Rob and Keeley originally appear in Episode 28 (“Six Degrees of Investigation”).

(Aside: I’m totally OK with a future where all gamers have a Trimarco Number, measuring how many degrees of separation exist between them and Rob Trimarco. THIS NEEDS TO BECOME A THING.)

MaijaOne thing that’s going to be new is having actual magic in the party, in the form of not one, but two Mystics. You’ll note that the “RFC Classic” group (Soldier, Operative, Mechanic, Envoy) is about as low-magic as it gets; this time around, we mixed things up and both Quinn and Pollux will have some spells to throw. And more importantly… sweet, sweet heals! Lack of healing is a recurring theme in the main game, so it’ll be nice to have that covered a little better. Still no Technomancer, but life is long and weirdness abounds.

What’s new for me personally will be playing a front-line fighter for the first time. Tuttle was very much an “in the rear with the gear” character while playing a Solarian is going to put me up in people’s faces. I mean, yes, you can probably do a ranged Solarian build if you’re clever about it, but it seems like melee is the path of least resistance.

I kind of gave the quick skim of Nala’s influences as Baby Driver and Jubilee from the X-Men, but allow me to expand on that a little more. I already knew I wanted to be a Solarian because that’s the class I passed on to create Tuttle when we started this thing. From a game standpoint, the Ace Pilot theme was what came into focus next – I knew I wanted to be the person driving the spaceship because that seems like where the action is. Baby Driver kicked in the idea of a teenage “getaway driver” character who would steal spaceships to go joyriding, but you know what they say – “one pop-culture reference is theft, two is a mash-up, three’s a character concept”. (Kinda kidding… but kinda not.) I thought making her a girl instead of a guy would create a different roleplaying dynamic with the other party members as well as softening what might otherwise come across as “obnoxious lacrosse bro”. On the other hand, I also knew I didn’t want to do the umpteenth take on Sullen Goth Girl – pair that with Solarian powers and you’re just ripping off Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool instead. That’s where Jubilee gave me the idea of a more upbeat character, though I suppose there was some less overt mental linkage between Jubilee’s sparks and Solarian photon-side powers too. Bruce Lee became the third leg of the stool when I was trying to decide on a weapon – sword seemed kind of cliché, and it was kind of ridiculous to imagine a teenager wielding a big spear or trident, and then the nunchuck scene from Enter The Dragon jumped into my brain and solved that problem. WA-TAH!

VriskenOther influences: maybe a hint of Tracer from Overwatch (plucky, yes; British, not so much), I actually use my daughter as a guide for how to react to roleplaying moments (“What Would <X> Do?”), and of my own accord, I decided Nala would be a little bit of a practical joker when the chance arose. For the record, I didn’t realize until later that “Nala” is also the name of the female lion from The Lion King, so that’s NOT an influence.

The early part of the adventure was all about establishing the story and feeling out the social relationships amongst the party. My initial read was that she’s going to butt heads with Pollux and (to a lesser extent) Big Sexy quite a bit. Lawful good, kind of full of themselves, the sort of adult authority figure who she ran afoul of back in her troublesome phase… yeah, she’s going to get tired of them. I think she’d see Lucan as a potential mentor – “space pirate” is probably on her short list of career aspirations. Quinn was the surprise. I assume things would gravitate toward a somewhat stereotypical “oh great, old guy” attitude toward Quinn. However I don’t know that Bob intended this, but he played it in such a way where Quinn was the one person treating her as an equal and listening to her ideas, so for the moment, she actually kind of likes him. I have to admit I didn’t get enough of a read off Keeley’s Senesal to figure out how they might get along.

The other roleplaying wrinkle here is that Nala could be really good at social skills and leadership roles – she has a high Charisma and she even has a decent Strength for Intimidate checks – but since she’s just a kid, I do want to reflect some reluctance to take center stage. I think as a long-term character development arc, I might put ranks in those skills and make her more comfortable with a leadership role over time, but out of the gate, I see her as more of a follower willing to defer to others (though perhaps with a touch of sarcasm when she thinks someone’s being stupid).

The Vesk barbershop/social club was a good example of this. If you just go by the stat sheet, Nala probably has the scores to go in there and try to charm or even intimidate the vesk. And I thought about it for a second. On the other hand, is that really something a 16, 17-year-old kid would do as the junior member of an adventuring team? Probably not. Though if it had worked, having a room full of vesk cowering before a teenage girl would’ve been pretty hilarious.

So we have the general framework of a plot – someone is selling really high-quality artificial limbs, so good they can’t be easily detected as such. And we have to find out which of the – initially five, but two really stand out – businesses is the one selling them.

TheskellAs the plot moves along, it is an equal mix of hilarious and painful to watch Chris try to play Lawful Good. I think the Lawful part chafes more than the Good with Chris – I think Chris can do the “selfless and brave” parts of the job description, but I think he’s ultimately an agent of chaos: he wants to keep the story moving and to make things happen, so Chris the Player wants to cut corners that Pollux the Character shouldn’t be cutting. I mean, I’m no expert on Iomedaen ethics, but I’m pretty sure “I’m going to stand around the corner so I don’t see you guys commit the crime of breaking and entering” isn’t a Thing.

On the other hand, he made up for it later by promising to put 800 halflings and their families through college. In the words of Aaron Burr processing 30 years of disagreements: “Sweet Jesus”. I didn’t mind doing the right thing and paying for the gear to perform the surgery – that’s cool. Especially in Society: at the risk of meta-gaming, sometimes you do the good deed and hope it will be rewarded in soft “rep” and boons rather than hard coin. On the other hand, enough with the weeping and the hugging. When did this become a Hallmark Original Movie? Ugh.

So now we have the fact that the artificial limbs are making people sick, and we follow the path to… our first combat: fighting the remains of the shady friend to the sick halfings. Which of course led to Nala’s big hero moment – the double crit for the win! (And equally lucky, surviving the explosion with one hit point left). Obviously, a double crit is pretty exciting on its own merits, but I think part of the reason it was so exciting is that thing was hitting HARD and it was feeling like we might lose a few people or even TPK. (There was also a logistical aspect that heightened the reaction: since we were using Roll20 instead of D20Pro, we weren’t as familiar with the tool and there was this moment of not realizing what had happened and then figuring it out en masse.)

This was the moment I truly fell in love with the Solarian class. And yes, I did save that screenshot. “Holy-shit.jpg”. Frame it, put it on a wall.

Among other things, we find some loot, including Falcon Boots that allow you to adjust your personal gravity. The nearest comparison I can think of is the “lashings” from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books. Ummmm… “yes please”? Since I’m building Nala around mobility (already took Fleet to get her up to 40’ movement), being able to manipulate gravity and potentially maneuver on different surfaces could be a huuuuuge benefit. For the moment they’re a) too high level and b) too expensive, but I’m definitely filing them away on whatever the Starfinder equivalent of my Amazon wishlist is. Much like the white guitar in Wayne’s World… “someday, you will be mine”.

Nala gets an additional hero moment working on the dead guy’s computer – between Skill Adept and taking Computers as her racial “Student” skill, she ended up with a +6 in it (50% “wanted to broaden her skills”/50% “what teenager DOESN’T know computers?”), so we find the address where the parts are being manufactured. Annnd it’s surrounded by zombies trying to get into the building. It’s cool. They’re just taking a strong stance on the value of customer service. I can respect that.

So we go around to the back and find what I thought was an alternate way in. Look, I know. Knocking on the door seems like a bad idea with the benefit of hindsight. But I thought maybe the people inside would… you know… want to be rescued, and would actually let us in. Silly me. Instead, we got a zombie flash mob and a fight that ran our resources right down to the bone. Pollux actually dropped; Nala, Big Sexy, and Senesal were pretty close; Quinn hadn’t taken much damage but was out of spells. We were right on the edge of disaster.

But the edge of disaster is often where the most fun moments happen.

First and foremost, there’s the dumb luck of going 5-for-5 on the post-death explosion rolls. For those of you who have never been forced to take a basic stats class in your travels, there was approximately a 3% chance (1/32) of that happening. Given how close this fight was, it’s a little scary to imagine if even one or two of those Michael Bay ‘Splosions had actually gone off.

Second, it was fun to see Chris’ paladin build in action. He didn’t really get into the previous fight much because of the tight spaces involved, so this was his first real chance to engage. I was wondering how he would pull it off, and damn if he didn’t come up with something pretty close to a working paladin. I particularly liked the Reflective Armor spell, though there was a bit of a lively conversation on Discord about how “Reflect Armor” doesn’t really prevent the damage – it actually does it to both parties. As someone on the Paizo boards put it: “if you also take the damage, Reflective Armor is neither reflective nor armor”. (Old-school SNL fans, feel free to add a “Tawk amongst yuhselves”.)

Third, there’s the pure optics of Quinn serving as our tank, beating on stuff with his staff. I’m not sure it gets better than a frail 90-some-year-old dude beating down zombies with a stick while half his teammates are on the red end of their hitpoint bars.

Lastly… Paging Mister Lucan. Mister Lucan, you have a telephone call at the front desk… I don’t want to be too aggressive about backseat driving someone else’s character, but I was a little surprised he stayed at the door as long as he did. I think in the early rounds of the fight, yeah, getting inside made a certain amount of sense. Once our position was being overrun and people’s health bars were dropping. I guess I would’ve given up on the door a few rounds earlier.

But whatever, we survived. And instead of being hailed as rescuers, we get attacked again. (Sigh) What? In the hell? Is Wrong? With You People? You are OFF the Christmas card list.

I found this battle a little bit frustrating because of the classic Melee’s Lament – by the time I got into position to put a-hurtin’ on someone, they got dropped by the ranged folks. But at that point in the adventure, winning and surviving was a higher priority. My general game plan was to set off my Supernova, but either I wasn’t in position, or whenever I was in position, one of my teammates would also run into the blast radius and keep me from detonating.

So in winning the fight we learn the last of the secrets – these guys were using an assembly ooze to make the artificial body parts, which led to an initially high-quality product, but one that made people sick and eventually killed them later. (Folks, this is why those “Initial Quality Surveys” on cars are bullshit. J.D. Power can suck it.) Even with all of that, you’d think being turned over to the authorities would be preferable to being overrun by zombies, but I guess not.

So that’s the end of our first Society mission, and I… LOVED it. The shorter commitment and quicker payoff is nice, I really like that we can get some new faces at the table, and I love love LOVE playing a Solarian. I mean, Tuttle and CHDRR have grown on me in the meantime, so I can’t say I “regret” going that direction, but man it was fun to get in there and mix it up for a change.

If there’s a downside, it’s fairly minor. I still find the loot system to be a little goofy – you have to check your winnings back into the library for now, but you can buy them again later – but I do understand why it has to be that way, and I’ll probably get used to it. My other regret is that that this particular adventure didn’t have any vehicle action, so a big chunk of Nala’s skillset went completely unused. Maybe next time.

I don’t know when the “next time” will be, but I’m pretty sure the enthusiasm is there to give this another go fairly soon. The major moving parts are a) PaizoCon, b) not stretching people’s schedules too thin in general, and c) making sure we have enough episodes of the Dead Suns show in the can that we can record the Society show(s) without running out of Dead Suns material. So hang tight, thanks for listening, and I hope we’ll have a new show for you in the not-to-distant future.

Talking Combat 034: An NPC By Any Other Name

Whaloss

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 034: Undressed For Success.

I’m going to start at the tail end of this week’s show with the player perspective on the GM tip. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I think as the player because the GM has to do all the heavy lifting in terms of building the content in the game engine. Unless you’re willing to help the GM implement, there’s a degree to which the player perspective is YOUR GM SLAVED ALL DAY IN THE KITCHEN TO MAKE YOU THIS GAME TABLE, NOW EAT IT AND BE THANKFUL.

Having said that, I assume I’m still allowed to have an opinion and there might be groups that haven’t decided on a tool yet, so I’ll offer my two cents… though at the risk of being anti-climactic, my player-eye view of the tools pretty much lines up with Steve’s.

  • Fantasy Grounds looked beautiful and had some cool features D20Pro didn’t (I mean, they have dragging-and-dropping attacks on enemies, which almost ends the debate right there), but there were a lot of simple things that just weren’t intuitive – you start to think the control scheme was designed by actual kasathas, because only someone with four arms would find this logical. (Especially for me, playing on a laptop. Using a trackpad with FG ought to be explicitly banned by the Geneva Convention.)
  • Roll20 was the opposite for a while – it was too much of a blank slate. The first time we tried it, it was just a game map and a shared space to roll the dice, but you still had to crunch all the numbers and do most of the adjustments in your head. That did get better now that Pathfinder and Starfinder are supported – we actually used Roll20 for the Society game – but for a while, there just wasn’t enough tool there. (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!)
  • That leaves D20Pro as a nice compromise between the extremes – it’s got most of the bells and whistles you want while still being fairly easy to use, though there are a few things (using consumables, for instance) where I just punt and ask Steve to do it for me. I will say one thing about D20Pro I didn’t hear Steve mention – it’s a little squirrely when it comes to updating versions, though some of that may also be that we’ve been playing beta builds (we became accidental guinea pigs for their Starfinder support). If you go the D20Pro route, I’d almost say just get in the habit of uninstalling and reinstalling in a clean directory.

So now we turn back to the game, where Rusty and Hirogi are doing an impromptu production of Hair, shedding their armor and going almost au naturel. (Looks like I was a few weeks early with that song snippet.) I suppose I concede the logic that we need to conserve our cooling resources, and I even sort of agree with Chris’ meta-logic – if a creature is already rolling a +13, I’m not sure 3 or 4 points of armor is really going to be a deal-breaker. If his armor had damage reduction, that might be one thing, but taking a 90% chance to hit down to an 80% or a 75%… that doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice.

Aside: shall we pass the hat to have the artist draw Naked Hirogi, preferably in the Kate Winslet pose from Titanic? When is Chris’ birthday, anyway?… muahahaha….

But even better, John to the rescue with the surprisingly timely Rules Lawyer, finding the rules about putting armor back on quickly in combat! I don’t want to sound too surprised, but it is usually Bob or Chris that come up with this sort of stuff; John and I tend more toward the “show up and play” model of participation. It still doesn’t help with the heat damage already taken, but it’s good to know we can get back into our armor fairly quickly if the situation arises.

And sure enough, arise it does! Our old pal, the ksarik, set up a little trap for us. And I think the thing that stands out about this fight is it was one of the most in-control combats we’ve played through. No weird diseases (though I suppose things could’ve gone sideways if those spores had landed). No difficult terrain. No out-of-the-blue crit putting someone in dire circumstances, though Hirogi did take a few hard hits just because he decided to be out in front. Just an easy, methodical, grind-down-the-bad-guy slugfest. You need one of those every once in a while.

On the other hand, since the big-picture stuff ran smoothly, it gave me an opportunity to focus on the little things. I like to think this blog exists to cover issues both great and small, and today we’re going small and talking about one of my recurring pet peeves.

Let’s talk about proper names, shall we? Specifically, our old pal Wahloss.

Up until now, we’ve mostly been calling him “WAY-loss” (kinda like “weight loss”). I think we’ve also caught a “WALL-os” or two (as in “Sir William” or “… and Gromit”), which actually seems more phonetically correct. But this week we also graduated to “Waylon” (as in “Jennings, the Balladeer from Dukes of Hazzard”) and I think Chris even slipped a “Weyoun” in there (which… OK, I’m not one to turn my nose up at a DS9 reference, but still…).

On some level, I concede it doesn’t really matter. If we all know who we’re talking about – the useless twit who babbles on about laundry and omelets while we’re being pummeled – I’m not sure we need to get so caught up in a Hooked On Phonics pissing match. Steve can name all the NPCs after the roster of the New York Mets for all I care – the real question is whether you can follow the action. Tune in next week when we fight the wild Syndergaard!

And, let’s be honest, that some of this is the newness of the genre. Fantasy has tropes to guide us. Elf names sound like you’re rattling off the Latin genus and species of various plants. Dwarf names sound the noises you make falling down a flight of stairs. Orcs… try to keep it to one syllable; more than two is just showing off. Halflings? First name: rejected cast member of Fraggle Rock; last name: portmanteau of two words, one of which must be a food item. Humans: just take a normal human name and add an extra letter or two to make it exotic and Middle-Agey. Meanwhile, we don’t know the tropes for a lashunta or a kasatha, so we kind of have to ad-lib our way through what we think they should sound like.

(We do know that the guiding principle for Shirren names is to dump a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the table and come up with something that would win the game in a single turn, but that doesn’t get us any closer to pronouncing them.)

At one point a few weeks ago, I actually asked Steve what his position is on this stuff. His attitude – which I’m cool with – is he’s not so concerned about “right” from an Oxford English Dictionary standpoint, but he is concerned about staying consistent from episode to episode. That seems like a fair attitude, and maybe that’s why it caught my eye this particular week – because it was jumping around a bit. But I think the overall vibe of “pick a pronunciation and stick with it” is probably the way to go with it.

Let me amend that. When I have my blogging hat on, it still annoys the shit out of me. Jason The Player just wants to know who’s who. Jason The Blogger has to actually spell this stuff, and occasionally startles his children and household pets by screaming “THERE’S NO ‘R’ IN THAT WORD!” at the screen of his laptop at random intervals.

I don’t know. In the grand scheme of things it’s a small thing to get hung up on, but since combat went smoothly and it was kind of a short episode, I figured I’d vent about it a little bit.

Well, that’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll pick up the chase again, and hopefully, Hirogi will put some damn pants on. In the meantime feel free to join us on social media, where pants are always optional.

Talking Combat 033: Fly Me To The Runes

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 033: Rune With A View.

I’m going to start at the back end this week with Steve’s GM note. To homebrew or not to homebrew? I must confess I don’t GM often, and when I do… I haven’t homebrewed anything since high school, and when I did it was a disaster. (There may have been an overly ambitious attempt to fight the gods involved – it’s not my fault Deities and Demigods included stat blocks!) So I’m coming at this entirely from the player standpoint here.

Overall, I agree with Steve’s sentiment. We live in a golden age of content, you might as well make use of it, at least when you’re starting out. However, I felt like maybe he was short-selling the… “artistic impulse”, is that too pretentious?… and I wanted to offer a few ideas on splitting the difference. We players get to design our own characters and give them life; it feels selfish to tell the GM “stick to the script”. So I had a few thoughts on how an enterprising GM could maybe split the difference.

The first is starting with established content and doing some creative re-skinning. Keep the engine – the maps, the locations, the specific encounters – of an established adventure path and re-write as much of the backstory as you need to fit it into your world and your narrative. The things that REALLY need to work to pull off a successful session will remain unchanged, but you can drag the world-building out into the weeds as far as it takes to satisfy your personal muse.

The other thing that I’ve seen be successful is to homebrew, but to build those first few dungeons around social encounters and puzzles and keep the combat to a minimum. More of a “crawl before you walk” approach. Maybe not full-bore Tomb of Horrors with wall-to-wall death traps, but play up the softer stuff that’s (quite frankly) easier to fudge if you get it wrong. Yes, you probably need one or two set-piece battles so the players have some dice to throw, but downplay the really nuts-and-bolts stuff in favor of storytelling and problem-solving. In my Dads-n-Kids game, we had a scenario like this – my friend Dave designed a story where the town’s benevolent wizard had gone missing and we had to work our way into his manor to find out what happened to him. There were really only two battles in the entire thing; most of the action was figuring out all the safeguards the wizard had placed on things and piecing together the clues. I think if you’re dead set on homebrewing, that can be a different way to ease into it.

Back in the wilds of Castrovel, we finally clear our way to the obelisk. On one hand, I kind of hoped there would be more of a payoff – an actual interior to explore or something – but we did get some clues from the runes: something about paying respect at the Temple of the Twelve (or something like that). I also hoped that Hirogi going up and getting the Mirkwood view would be more helpful – either by getting an orientation toward our destination or perhaps see some signs of the party we were chasing.

Well, I guess technically that corpse we found is a sign. One down, 14(ish) to go. I’m kind of curious whether this was our sniper buddy who started the dino-stampede or someone else. I don’t think any of us really had the presence of mind to check for a weapon, or else maybe the weapon was part of whatever was destroyed by the plant-beast chewing on the batteries. Gut says “no” but I admit I have nothing concrete to base it on. For now, I guess we’ll file it under “general signs we’re headed the right direction” and keep moving.

The Stitchspider continues to be a useful bit of technology. Basically, it fills the role a healing wand would play in a Pathfinder game. OK, it’s got some side effects, but so far, the effects have been well worth the extra source of healing. I kinda hope they make it (or something like it) a more permanent addition to the game.

As we get moving the next day, we find our next bit of creepy jungle life is stalking us. Both in looks (big puppy with a tentacle-face) and in effect (implanting spores that explode out of your corpse to create new ones) it feels a little like a palette-swapped version of the akatas we faced on the Drift Rock. And yes, I’m going to think of it as a “Plant Puppy” because it’s less scary that way. Looking at Zan’s notes, I don’t see any particular reference to our new friend – behemoths yes, stingbats sure, but nothing about this guy.

So just to take stock, as we start Day Five, we may or may not still have a sniper to contend with, there’s a ksarik deciding whether we’re enough of a meal to be worth the effort, and Zan’s journal makes it sound like stingbats hold a grudge if you kill their buddies. It feels like by the time we catch up with the group that kidnapped Dr. Solstarni, we’re going to be dragging half the jungle with us. Won’t that be fun? And on top of all of that, we’re starting to hit our first real decision points on rationing our cooling tech. Tuttle may be having some serious second thoughts about the adventurer lifestyle.

I’ll probably save most of my thoughts about PaizoCon until we’re closer to the event, but a couple quick notes.

First, congratulations to our contest winners. I hope you have a great time and I hope I get a chance to meet you and hear all about how Tuttle is your favorite character. If you’re Rusty fans, just expect incoherent screeching noises – think Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

But to address the newest “programming” development, I’m excited that the Order of the Amber Die guys are going to be joining in the merriment. I really enjoyed Steve’s interview with them, and it’ll be excellent to do something in person with them. I do hope it’s more of a cooperative “Scooby Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters” event (I’m either Velma or Meadowlark Lemon in this scenario) and not Thunderdome-style gladiator combat, because let’s be honest… Tuttle isn’t really cut out for that. Though if we have to go that route, I’m going to insist CHDRR gets a riding saddle just for the event so Tuttle can channel his inner Master-Blaster. Or should that be… (wait for it)… Mouster-Blaster?

And on that horrifically bad-pun note, I think I’ll back away from the keyboard and call it a night. As always, we’ve got fun things happening on social media, particularly our Discord channel, and we always love to hear from you guys. Feel free to drop by and join the fun, and as always, thanks for listening.

Talking Combat 032: Double Painbow

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 032: Shock The Monkey!.

Get ready, I’m going to cross the streams!

I know I said I was going to wait until the end of the Society adventure to comment on it, but we had some serendipity in scheduling in the form of a double-crit in both games – Rusty in the Dead Suns game, Nala in our Society game. At a base level, I just found the coincidence amusing that those both happened to hit in the same week when they would’ve been recorded a month or so apart in real time. Obviously, Nala’s was more exciting both because it was more instrumental to the win (both crits were also for max damage), and to me personally because I got to administer the beating – Tuttle doesn’t get a lot of chances to shine in combat. But I still wanted to give Rusty a tip of the cap for his monkey-slaughtering double-crit in the latter part of this episode.

So, first… it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s been almost two months since the last time we were in straight-up combat. (Episode 24. Last episode of the Drift Rock arc. Yes, I went back and checked.) We had a spaceship combat that got edited for time. Theoretically, we were supposed to mix it up at the diner in Episode 28, but our special guests turned that into a social encounter, which is fine because it led to some fun roleplay. And we had the dino-stampede. But no actual toe-to-toe fighting. So let’s kick off the rust and whup some Stingbat ass.

(Personally, I like “Scorbamonks” better… part scorpion, part bat, part monkey. Halkueem Zan’s dead, so it’s not like he can complain. At the very least, file “Scorbamonks” alongside “Dog Metal Nuggets” in my folder of Hypothetical Band Names.)

The battle started innocently enough. Yes, the fact that the Scorbamonks had poison made them a threat to take seriously, but their base damage wasn’t that bad and they didn’t seem like they had a lot of hit points; the first couple fell in one or two shots. This seemed like it was going to be on its way to being a fairly easy encounter – a good stretch of the legs after a long stretch with no combat.

Then, the captain turned on the “Equalize The Encounter” light. ALL GLORY TO THE OBELISK. Losing half the party to mind control, even temporarily, is certainly one way to level the playing field. (And you get a little medley from Hair for your trouble. You’re welcome.) But oh wait, not just obelisk worship. Carnivorous plant worship! Even better. Now we’ve got a bit of a situation, especially since Tuttle wandered directly into its clutches.

Annnd Tuttle gets both chomped half to death and paralyzed. Sorry. Paralyzed-But-Not-Paralyzed. Either way, ouch. I have to admit I thought my bacon was cooked there for a minute. But then…

THE DICE GODS SMILE UPON YOU.

First, there was a crit from Mo, making Scorbamonk Jelly out of one of them. (Or is it preserves?) Then came my back-to-back 20s (I think only one of them was a natural 20, for the record) to shake off the mind control AND the paralysis in the same round. I don’t count the “extra” Reflex save I took – you don’t get credit for the home runs you hit in batting practice, either. And then Rusty’s dual-crit was a pretty nice finisher, even if it was against a Scorbamonk rather than the Big Bad. (Though I forgot at the time that Mo took a crit in return during all of this.)

So, two takeaways. First, there goes our good luck for the next several sessions. We used up our quota. THE DICE GODS WILL IT SO. Second, I guess I have to stop making fun of Rusty’s fancy-pants Envoy ways since he actually did some big-boy damage. I guess that buys him a few sessions.

Also… man, Wahloss is useless. I never thought I’d actually miss our goblin buddies, but Mr. “I Can’t Take A Single Step Without Asking Someone’s Permission” is going to get real old real fast. I don’t expect every NPC we run across to be Clara-247, but it’d be nice if they were at least as competent as your average kindergartner. Should we get him one of those toddler leashes?

This provides a nice segue into Steve’s GM tip. As I mentioned in a different Talking, I tend to look at active NPC participants as Steve’s way of balancing the encounter. As long as they’re not taking over and making the players look useless, they’re just another tool in the toolkit. To pick a different example, there was a portion of Iron Gods where we were down to three players for some reason, so Steve flat-out lent us a cleric to get through a tough stretch of fights. Similarly, my dad-and-kids game had a few encounters where the party mix just flat-out sucked because everyone chose oddball characters – so I decided to have the quest-giver lend them his lieutenant (made up on the spot – just pulled a spare alt out of my bag) so they had at least one front-line fighter in the mix. Again, just don’t let the NPCs outshine the players, or it starts to turn into an exercise in GM self-gratification, with the players as spectators, and that’s how you lose a table’s interest.

I’m not sure how I feel about non-combat NPCs like Wahloss wandering the battlefield. On one hand, if that’s part of the tradeoff for adding skills you wouldn’t otherwise have access to (like Wahloss’ ability to translate Elvish), then I suppose an element of risk is a fair price. Maybe keeping your valuable resource alive should be a tactical consideration, even in battle. On the other hand, they should have at least some basic self-preservation instincts, shouldn’t they? I mean, I’ve never been in a gunfight in my life, but I’d at least know which end of a gun to point at a bad guy if you handed me one, and I’d at least have the common sense to realize that behind cover is a good place to be. There’s “not much help” and there’s “facepalmingly stupid” and Wahloss seems to border on the latter.

I realize discussing Leadership and running multiple PCs is getting a little farther afield, but I am generally not a huge fan. I’m not against it as an overall philosophical point, I’ve seen it work for other people, but I generally like putting my focus into a single character and getting the most out of that character. The one place I’d consider it is if I had a really compelling two-character concept with some interesting roleplaying hooks, and even then, I’d probably ping the rest of the group first and see if another player wanted to go in on it with me before running two sheets myself.

Also, a historical footnote: years before we ever started playing online, I came up to visit Steve in New York on a game night, and I actually sat in for the evening as someone’s Leadership follower – probably the first time I played with Chris and Bob (though there might have been other people there too). They were fighting a giant spider and I got to sit in the back and pepper it with arrows. Though I recall I got to do a slick John Woo move where there was icy terrain – don’t remember if the creature laid it down or it was already there – so I shot arrows while sliding across the floor on my back. Badass.

Anyway, we found our obelisk, and we cleared it of unexpected guests. Next week, we’ll find out the elves had any reason to build this thing, or if it’s the Elvish equivalent of Clark Griswold’s Second Largest Ball Of Twine. In the meantime, feel free to join in the merriment on social media. Everyone’s got their favorite “Dice Gods” story – consider yourselves invited to share yours.