Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 8 of 11

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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.


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.


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 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 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


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…


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.


Talking Combat 031: Stomp and Circumstance

Yaruk Stampede

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 031: Welcome to Ukalam Park!.

I wanted to start this week with a quick logistics/scheduling note regarding the Society shows. One of the things we’re going to try for the Society shows is to just have one wrap-up Talking Combat instead of doing a separate one for each part.  It just feels like they might work better as self-contained pieces, and as a personal bonus, it might make my writing workload a little easier. If that becomes unwieldy or doesn’t feel like it’s working, we’ll change it up, but for now, that’s the gameplan. So if you’re expecting Society Part One this week… just read this twice and hang tight, I guess.

Having dispensed with that bit of bookkeeping, it’s finally time to head out to the jungle. Annnnnnd… this sucks. Let’s go back. It’s pretty quickly evident that it’s going to be a wild ride.

First, the general sci-fi fan in me wants to ask the obvious question – why can’t we just teleport right to the destination, again? I mean, the technology certainly exists – the game has both teleport and interplanetary teleport spells. As a rules issue, I’m sure there are reasons – we don’t know the specific destination, maybe it’s got an anti-magic field, etc. At a meta-story level, if we could teleport, so could the bad guys and this adventure would be really short. All I know is you didn’t see Jean-Luc Picard slogging around any damn jungles.

It didn’t really crop up in this episode because we elected to keep our armor on, but there’s the ongoing issue of managing the heat. So… we don’t have enough days on our armor to go all the way out and back, and each day we don’t have protection, we have to make a crap-ton of Fortitude saves. Granted, the damage, if we fail, is non-lethal damage, but it’s still a pain to deal with. It turns out there’s a perfect armor upgrade for this situation (the Thermal Capacitor) but at 3600 a pop, that’s a pretty painful purchase.

Since we can only get delayed, not lost, navigation is a lesser issue, but it’s still annoying. Take the fairly easy roll for nine miles, or take a riskier roll on anything from 4 to 12 miles. I figure Hirogi’s the one who has to make those rolls, so for now, it’s his call. He’s the one we’ll make fun of if we get lost. That said, my personal vibe would be to take the safe nine and push harder if we get concrete evidence that we’re catching up or falling behind.

Although we screwed around with food quite a bit in the previous episodes, it’s now looking like the least of the concerns. We’ve got plenty of rations, and even if we run out of those, you can use Survival to scrounge off the land. (I had a rogue in a previous Pathfinder campaign that pretty much lived that way the whole time.) Someone on our Discord channel pointed out the Ring of Sustenance or the Clear Spindle Aeon Stone also solves this problem, and we even have one of the latter. That said, at 245 for the stones, it wouldn’t have been the worst idea to buy three more of those and be done with it. Maybe I’ll put one on my “Retroactive Problem Solving” shopping list.

As an aside: “solving the previous problem” is one of those bad habits for me as a player in general. I sometimes get a little too fixated on some previous situation that went badly and try to solve it in the future instead of just moving on. We get into a rough fight in darkness, I take Blind-Fight as my next feat. Have a slog where food becomes an issue, go out and buy an Aeon stone. The beautiful irony is that far too often, this becomes a means of reverse-engineering Murphy’s Law: ensure a situation never comes up again by wasting resources on the tools to deal with it. Sometimes you just gotta forget it and move forward.

Now, what do we have to deal with a herd of stampeding dino-beasts?

Well, crap. Got nothing in the old backpack for that.

Let me say that I like this encounter on a theoretical level. Getting chased Jurassic Park-style by a herd of dinosaurs is a pretty great concept, and the mechanics were fun. It’s got a nice little ebb and flow to it, and it’s a nice “something else” – it’s not combat and it’s not a “talky” social challenge. If I was running a different character, it probably would’ve been a lot more fun.

Unfortunately, Tuttle was absolutely the WRONG character for this challenge. Basically, the encounter relies on all the skills Tuttle sucks at – he can’t Bluff or Intimidate, he has no strength for Athletics, he’s decent at Stealth (+6), but hiding doesn’t move the encounter forward, it just keeps Tuttle safe. So basically my job was to hide out and let Rusty and Hirogi get us out of this mess. I suppose by that definition I was reasonably successful – at least when AoE tree-bombs weren’t going off and showering everyone with splinters.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s to be found in that gunshot. Does that mean we’re catching up to the group that kidnapped Dr. Solstarni? Or did they just leave someone behind to slow down anyone who might be following? Or is it even possible there’s a third party out here? I’d like to believe it’s the first, but I guess we’ll just have to keep pushing forward and find out.

Also – and I TOTALLY admit I’m metagaming here – I hope the fact that the bridge collapsed behind us means there will be some streamlined alternative means of getting back (ala finding the Sunrise Maiden in Episode 1). If not, I guess we’re going to have a fun time getting back across that chasm. THROW ME THE WHIP, I’LL THROW YOU DOCTOR SOLSTARNI.

This week, the Amber Die interview is going to get the slightly shorter end of the stick, but I did want to touch on a few points.

First: the idea of doing “homework” is something I totally support. First, I think there’s a level of preparation that’s common courtesy to other players. Everyone has to double-check a rule now and then, but if you’re constantly digging through the rules to understand the basic mechanics of your character, you’re wasting people’s time. Above and beyond that, playing with this group where we live in different cities and have a limited amount of time each week – it’s really enforced a certain level of discipline over the years. We really want to hit the ground running and get the most out of them, and preparation is so key to that. With email, chat tools, cell phones, there’s a LOT you can do between sessions to maximize the time you spend at the gaming table (real or virtual).

The other thing I wanted to briefly discuss is the conversation about death penalties. I think my guiding principle on death is that the penalty should be inversely proportional to the intelligence of the decision-making that led to the death. I’m of a mind that if you do everything right and happen to get a bad beat, the GM ought to be willing to make the death penalty more forgiving or perhaps even – as Steve mentioned – trade death for some other lesser punishment that has different long-term consequences. Conversely, if you’re a dumbass and run right into the Grim Reaper’s scythe because you’re making poor choices, not working as a team, etc. – I think the penalty can and should be fairly stiff. Having said that, “stiff” is relative in this context – I think any penalty should be one that lets the player get back in the action fairly quickly, because there’s nothing more demoralizing than being the one player at the table who gets to watch everyone else have fun. Maybe you can root for your teammates for an hour or two out of esprit de corps, but at some point, you want to get back in the fight, and if your GM is going to wait hours or even multiple sessions to deal you back in… that kinda sucks.

Anyhow, I’m going to wrap it up here. I still have to change all my social media account passwords so I can’t log in and accidentally see any Infinity War spoilers. (Because of a pre-existing commitment, I can’t see it until Sunday. ARGH!) Next week, we’ll delve deeper into the jungles of Ukulam where things get even hairier for Team RFC. In the meantime, our Discord channel is always pretty lively, so drop on by and join the fun.

Fun that I won’t see until some time Monday. Don’t blame me, blame Thanos.

Talking Combat 030: Playing The Long Game

Order of the Amber Die

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 030: Fort Nite.

I have to admit I don’t have a lot to say about this week’s game action – I’m not sure there’s much to say about yet another round of fine-tuning our shopping lists. I guess I’d rather spend my Talking Combat this week discussing Steve’s interview with the Order of the Amber Die. I actually hadn’t heard about them until Steve told us about them and pointed us at their site, but now that I have, I’m pretty impressed.

Overall, I find the idea of what they do pretty appealing. My closest equivalent would be the fantasy baseball league I was in for 30-ish years – we had/have a yearly in-person draft which was a similar experience though not nearly as intense. (I’m not in the league anymore, but since the draft is in Pittsburgh, I still get to see everyone, and there have been a few years where I’m the emergency drafter for someone who can’t make it.) You get a chance to reconnect with all these friends going back your whole adult life, you spend a weekend engaging in a common hobby (though for some, the game is only the flimsy excuse to socialize), there was a similar vibe of sitting around telling “war stories” of seasons past even after the draft was over. I can certainly see the appeal of applying that sort of model to role-playing games. Sounds like a lot of fun, actually.

I also thought the idea of a main group and a bench was pretty inspired, and allowing people on the bench to still contribute as NPCs seems like a way to keep the group as a whole thriving. First, it makes it a less binary commitment – if it was “main group or nothing”, I would think attrition might become a problem where people would say “well, I didn’t make the roster for the last three adventure paths, why am I still part of this?” and drop out. But if the people on the bench still have the option to come by for one or two days, say hey to everyone, and drive an NPC… that seems like a win-win (much like my “emergency drafter” cameos in the baseball league). And, while they’re not looking to grow it to an international franchise ala Batman Incorporated, it does seem like it also creates a gateway path to try out new people without forcing them to jump into the deep end of multiple four-day commitments spread out over the course of the year.

Having said that, confession time: there are pieces of the Amber Die model I’m not sure I could handle.

The first is the pace and length of the session itself. Four full days, possibly playing in uncomfortable conditions to create immersion… did I hear him say they play standing up? I have to admit I’m not sure I could handle that. I’m used to “bundled up on the couch with my laptop and a dog or two on my legs”. Our RFC sessions usually run 2 or 3 hours, and sometimes my Dads-n-Kids sessions go 4 or 5, but multiple full days? That sounds pretty intense, and I have to admit, I’m not sure how well I’d keep up. Or at least, it would be like running a marathon where I’d be curious to try it once to see if I could do it, but I’m not sure I could do it on a regular basis.

And it’s funny… as I’m writing this, I thought to myself “well that’s gonna throw a wrench into PaizoCon” because that’s also four straight days of gaming as well. But I think that’s different because that’s four days of discrete 2-3 hour commitments, as opposed to one big event that dominates the whole schedule. If you can’t hack four full days at a con, you can build breaks in. Go back to your hotel room and take a nap. I suppose if you absolutely had to, you could blow off a session without sending the Earth flying out of orbit. If you can’t hack the pace of an Amber Die session, that could really wreck things for the rest of the group. (Among other things, I wonder what they do if someone has to cancel or leave early – I’m sure emergencies arise.)

The other thing that I’m not totally sold on is the idea that they play using Iconics, which – in case there’s someone listening who’s newer to the game – are pre-made characters created by Paizo. For me, part of the whole fun part of playing these games is the creation and evolution of the character. I’m not as deep of a roleplayer as Bob is, I don’t pretend Tuttle Blacktail is the most original creation on the face of the earth, but I do like the idea that my character is MY contribution to the story. If I’m playing a character concept someone else came up with, that might feel like something’s missing.

Don’t get me wrong. At the end of the day, the other people at the table are more important than the character you play – I don’t think I’d ever refuse to sit down at a table because playing a pre-made is somehow beneath me. And the Amber Die guys do seem like fun guys who are wired similarly to our group. In one of our out-of-channel conversations, we started joking about how Steve’s interview was like the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine started hanging out with Bizarro Jerry and his friends (probably more famous as the “Man-Hands” episode). Just saying that in the long haul, building that character from the ground up and watching it grow is one of the essential things that draws me to the roleplaying experience in the first place.

The idea of a Player Captain also seems like more of a mixed bag to me. On one hand, it’s probably a good idea to have someone be in nominal charge of the team and it’s good to have someone looking at the big picture of a campaign; on the other hand, I worry it could reach a point of overplanning where maybe it stifles individual creativity a little. If anything our group tends to go the other way – I think there’s a degree to which there’s a little one-upsmanship at work where we actually like to surprise each other with our builds. Beyond coordinating on group resources like healing, we kind of each do our own thing.

Then again, I don’t want to knock the arrangement too harshly because I’ve never really experienced it. We’ve never really actually tried having a formal captain – Bob tends to be loosely in charge of things like note-taking and keeping track of time, but it sounds like the Player Captain role goes even deeper than that. So maybe I’ll leave the jury out on that one until (if/when) I ever play on a team that has one.

The last thing I’ll briefly touch on is those teamwork feats they discussed. I remember (in particular) looking at those for a rogue I was playing in Emerald Spire, and they do seem like they offer some pretty powerful benefits… EXCEPT that other people have to have either the same feat or some complimentary skill that makes the feat go. And unfortunately – at least in Pathfinder – feats always feel like they’re so scarce that it’s hard to justify picking something so situational when there are choices that are applicable in almost any fight.

In particular – and this is just me thinking out loud – it would seem particularly hard to go with teamwork feats for Society play. If you’re playing Society instead of adventure paths in a long-standing group, maybe you can still make them work. If you’re playing with random players at cons or some other pick-up group situation, you have almost no ability to guarantee the other people in your group will have those feats.

But that gets off in the weeds a little. All in all, I think the Order of the Amber Die sounds like a pretty fantastic idea and I’d love to be a fly on the wall at one of their sessions, to see the mayhem in person. (And OK, a die that rolled four 20s in a row is probably somewhere up there with the Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore as a bucket-list item.) Among other things, it makes me want to call my old gaming group from my childhood – I think I’m the only one that still plays regularly, but I’m in touch with all of them – and spend a long holiday weekend running a game. Hmmm…

Next week I’ll look forward to the second part of that interview, and YES, I can guarantee we finally leave our safe haven and head out into the wilderness. Pinky-swear and everything. In the meantime, I may also be doing a little bit of an Episode Zero for our Society game, so potentially be on the lookout for that. And as always, we tend to be around on our Discord channel and on social media, so drop by and join the festivities if you feel so inclined.

Talking Combat 029: Have Fun Storming the Jungle

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 029: Besides, You Know What A Cautious Fellow I Am.

On the surface, it’s “another shopping trip” this week; however, this week’s trip to the store represents a different sort of puzzle from our last grocery run.

When civilization is close at hand, shopping is a pretty straightforward exercise: upgrade your personal gear, and then pack in a few consumables around the edges if you need them. And that’s what the last shopping trip represented. But that’s for the scenario where it’s going to be fairly easy to get back to town. Consider the Drift Rock – at least until the Hippocampus was stolen, we were never more than a few hours from home, and even then, we probably had the option to call for an emergency extraction.

This time, though, we’re headed out to the middle of nowhere, we don’t know how long it will take to travel there and back, or what “there” represents – are we going to face a multi-day dungeon delve, or is it going to be staring at the alien runes for three seconds like Chevy Chase looking at the Grand Canyon in National Lampoon’s Vacation, and then we head home? And how long will that take – will we have to do a full retrace of our steps or will Deus Ex Machina Airlines provide us a quicker ride home? Also, we have challenges we haven’t really faced before – poison and disease are hinted at by Zan’s notes, there’s a hot jungle climate to deal with, and for once food and ammo management are going to be a factor. In short, the dangers of screwing up inventory management are pretty high, and could even cripple our game.

The other thing that concerns me, which we can’t work around? Being reliant on Wahloss to translate for us. I don’t know if there’s any foreshadowing embedded in Steve’s comments or the decision to give us an NPC helper, but it seemed like it might become relevant. We’re heading into elf territory, none of the core party speaks it, and our grad student translator is kinda squishy. One of the nightmare scenarios is that we lose Wahloss, arrive somewhere where we needed his language skills, and are painted into a corner. So I really don’t know what you do about that. I guess I could look at having Tuttle add a language if/when we level next – I’m OK with the idea that he’d bring along Elvish For Dummies to read in the tent at night.

And ohybytheway, there’s still also a reasonably large enemy force that’s headed for the same destination and has a head start on us. The informant said they had 15 people – one of those was Solstarni, and maybe a few others might be non-combatants, but that still leaves us 10 or 12 potential enemies (…“on the 30th floor of Nakatomi Tower. They’re very slick, and well-financed”…). So not only do we have to deal with all the challenges the jungle throws at us, but we still may need to win a battle where we’re outgunned two or three to one.

Easy, right?

In other news, between becoming the custodian of the Stitchspider and the group purchase of the med-kit, it sounds like Tuttle has semi-officially added “team physician” to his list of duties. I guess I’m cool with it, though I’m not sure if I’m going to officially lean into it and take abilities that help with medical skills as Tuttle levels up. If I do, I might also see if I can rescue the needler pistol back from… Hirogi, I think?… and start shooting people with healing serums during combat.

Now let’s shift gears to the GM tip. How do you keep a long-running campaign going?

I think a good 75 or 80 percent is just basic respect for each other and developing a common understanding about people’s time.

  • What’s the expectation for how often you play and what the hours are? How hard are the starts and stops? We’re a little loose on start times because we tend to spend a few minutes bullshitting about other stuff, but our end times are pretty firm because we’re old and have to work in the morning.
  • It’s important to decide what constitutes a firm commitment that can’t be broken and what isn’t. As an example: Chris still plays WoW and established on Day One that his guild’s raid night comes first. Some other group might think that’s a stupid thing to schedule around, but for us, it’s fine because it’s something we all agreed on.
  • It’s good to have an understanding how much lead time is needed to cancel or reschedule (acknowledging that even with all of that, emergencies sometimes come up).
  • You might even to establish what bare minimum “required” attendance looks like or how many sessions someone is allowed to miss before they should consider giving up their seat at the table and letting the group find someone else.

At some point, most of it circles back to common courtesy, and if you don’t have that, it’s probably above the pay grade of a gaming column to develop your basic life skills.

I will add a few more concrete suggestions to the conversation, though.

First – I’m not trying to kiss Steve’s ass by saying this, but I’ve always felt like the GM – and/or the person who’s physically hosting in the case of a face-to-face game – deserves a little bit of extra consideration when it comes to scheduling. They’ve got a tougher job than Joe Player, who usually just has to show up and start rolling dice. Up to a point, if the Founder of the Feast needs a little extra accommodation, it’s probably nice to give it to them.

Second, I wanted to amplify Steve’s point about playing something else every once in a while. Maybe have a second adventure you dip into every few months just to break things up. (Or heck, even step away from roleplaying games entirely and play some Catan or Cards Against Humanity or something.) Above and beyond giving everyone a breather from characters and a story you may have been playing for months or even years, it might give you a chance to let someone else try their hand at GM-ing or it might serve as a way to give a new face or two a seat at your table to see how they gel with the existing group.

At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s one of the secondary reasons we decided to start mixing in Society play here on the podcast. Yes, at the end of the day, You The Fans were asking for it, but it also gives us that means of cleansing the palate for a session or two (a wafer-thin mint!) and a way to bring in special guests in more meaningful roles. And if you think about it, Society play is almost tailor-made for this. You can usually run a Society adventure in one or two sessions, and they’re only loosely connected so if you want to bring in a new player or even if a core player wants (or needs) to take a break, people can jump on and off the train with little disruption. And then we can get right back to Tuttle’s plans for world domina… did I say that out loud?

I don’t expect we’ll ever see a guest GM, though. In addition to the logistical considerations – running the game server and the podcasting software – I’m pretty sure Steve just loves torturing us too much to give up the conn. You can have his GM Screen when you pry it from his cold dead fingers!

Well, that’s all I have for this week. Join us next time, when we back up all that gear and hump out into the bush. What will we run out of first – food, ammo, or half-baked Platoon references? Tune in and find out.

On a personal note, I’d like to end with a birthday shout-out to my son who turns 14 today. Let this be the year he learns how to play a rogue properly and takes full advantage of sneak attack damage instead of just charging at stuff like he’s playing a pally in full plate. Still a great kid, though.