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Talking Circus S1|22: Turn Off The Dark

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|22: The Rule of Ghoul.

This has to be one of the weirdest episodes of Roll For Combat ever. Although we got a few ghouls for an appetizer, the main combat of the episode went basically unresolved and the big bad ghast (I assume that was the point of Steve describing the one attack as “ghastly”) got away. In fact, most of the action came from just navigating the environment – falling rocks, no light, etc. – and dealing with the sickness. And we end the game with a little light violation of the Geneva Convention as Ateran murders a captive prisoner, the boss from the previous episode that they had previously tied up. Then again, we all know how Ateran has been on edge because of his feelings about druids, and the session did start with Hap joking about slitting her throat, so maybe the signs were always there that this was going to end badly.

Hmmm… maybe murdering prisoners is how the evil clown from the other circus got his start…

On to the game. First and foremost, it was good to get that reminder about “Learn a Spell”. Loren was just doing a regular Identify, but it’s good to get into that stuff. “Learn A Spell” is kind of a compromise between the First Edition poles of either “you get access to every spell on the list” free-for-all and the overly restrictive “you get these five spells and that’s all you can EVER do”. As a general skill, any caster class can do it. One of the interesting features is that you can either learn the spell from a scroll or spellbook OR you can have someone teach you the spell through conversation. So theoretically, one way to learn new spells is just to study with NPC casters, if the GM allows it. The thing that’s a bit risky is that if you fail the check on Learn a Spell, you can’t try again until next level. Oof.

Another thing I found interesting was Loren was going back to the First Edition version of Produce Flame, and I was a little surprised Steve let her do that. If you’re new to Pathfinder with Second Edition, Produce Flame used to be kind of a hybrid between a light spell and a combat spell. You basically got a blob of fire on your hand that lasted for 1 minute per level, which you could either use as a light source, or you could use as a ranged attack, with each shot consuming one minute’s worth of fire. Looking at the plain text of the rules, Second Edition took away the secondary usage and just made it a combat spell, but I guess Steve let it slide a little.

I will say, lighting has not traditionally been this big of a problem in our adventures. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve had major issues with lack of light source. I think the biggest thing is that a lot of fights tend to be in rooms that are either already lit, or are at least fairly open spaces where all of the party’s (and enemies’) light sources can combine to make lighting mostly a non-issue. Even most “dungeon” crawls are usually something semi-civilized like a castle or a tavern or something, so there’s some type of human activity. Also, at least in our other group, we tend to be fond of darkvision races, which gets around the problem entirely. And more as a personal choice, if I’m any flavor of caster, I’m taking Light as one of my cantrips anyway.

The one notable recent exception to “no light, no problem” that I can remember was Emerald Spire – not only was there an entire level that was dark narrow passages like this, but most of it was also difficult terrain. And did the enemies have darkvision? Of course they did! That was a freakin’ nightmare.

On the other hand, all of this business with the light sources did give us the moment of the night: Loren discovering AFTER all the dust had settled… “Oh, I do have light!”. That’s just fantastic.

At the end of the episode, we have the somewhat shocking (but maybe not) resolution with the evil priestess from the previous session. I think it was inevitable that some sort of renewed fight would break out – she seemed to be stone-cold crazy, so I don’t think she would’ve just let herself be walked back to town. On the other hand, it was a little surprising to see Ateran lose it and just off her like that. He’s usually so calm and collected; if there was going to be an emotional outburst, I would’ve put my money on Hap.

It’ll also be interesting to see how they roleplay this going forward. Both Vanessa and Loren were both showing various levels of disappointment (bordering on disgust in Alhara’s case) and Ateran’s still getting over the hump on being the outsider of the group. One hopes this doesn’t set them back too far in their personal relationships.

I think what’s messing with me as we end the episode is the ambiguous note it ends on. Generally, Steve tends to end either on a natural stopping point in the story, or at least on a fairly well-defined cliffhanger – i.e. combat is about to start and that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. So the idea that there’s still this undead Super-Ghoul running around, they don’t know where it is, and we don’t really know if it’s going to attack them five minutes into next week’s show or we won’t get a resolution for 2 or 3 more weeks… that’s a little weird and atypical, and I’m still processing how I feel about that.

But… my feelings aside, that IS where we’re ending this week. Next week, I guess we’ll see what happens with their battle against the undead. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|21: We Come In Peace, Shoot To Kill

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|21: No Mercy For Old Men.

This week, the players attempt to fight Gygax’s First Law of RPG Gravity: combat is (and will probably always be) what the system does best.

Since it’s the eve of GenCon, I’ll give you the ten-cent history: Gary Gygax and his friends (Dave Arneson among them) were into tabletop wargaming (anyone remember Avalon Hill?), and around the time Lord Of The Rings got big with hippies, they decided they wanted a set of fantasy wargaming rules so they could have wizards and dragons and armies of orcs and elves fighting instead of Panzer divisions and cavalry. From there, they borrowed a pinch of what game designers would now consider “legacy games” and decided their commanders were distinct individuals with their own lives between the war campaigns, and then they started sending their commanders on adventures without the armies. That’s what eventually became First Edition D&D.

If you really want to drill all the way into this, I’d recommend checking out Jon Peterson’s Playing At The World. Peterson gets all the way in the weeds with first-person interviews and also by delving into the newsletters and other correspondence Gygax and his collaborators were exchanging at the time they were building this stuff. I’ll warn you the tone is a little dry and “academic”, but it really gives you a full picture of how this whole thing sprang into existence.

Sorry… book plug done. The reason I mention all of this is that while TSR/Wizards and Paizo have made admirable efforts to beef up the “social interaction” side of the game over the last few decades, it can still at times be an exercise in pulling teeth to do anything other than draw weapons and start whaling away. Which is kinda what happened here – the two sides went round and round for about 10 minutes and then we had the moment from the Conan sequel where Conan (played by Rob in this case) says “ENOUGH TALK” and throws a dagger into dude’s stomach.

For the record, sorry Steve, but I was on the player’s side on the dispute with the two guards. If you break it down, the players were offering them a BETTER deal than what they were insisting upon. The players were offering to let them leave WITH their weapons, and the guards were digging in their heels on the idea that they should give up their weapons first? In an area that’s potentially a hot spot for undead activity? If they really wanted to get as far as possible from the ghouls in good faith, they should’ve jumped all over the party’s offer. Frankly, given that there were reinforcements on the way, it doesn’t seem like their faith was that good in the first place. Seems more like they were trying to stall for time and get some help.

Of course, the battle itself is a total afterthought, thanks to Hap critting on a Burning Hands that hits all three targets. Two of the three dead immediately, the other basically on his last legs, and finished off with the next attack. So much for a peaceful resolution, I suppose. Not even a chance to render them unconscious.

Next, we have the fight with the person that we’ll assume for the moment is the boss… at least this time, she’s unambiguously evil – both in her own actions, the defaced holy symbol and in the fact that she’s got a demon riding shotgun. Only much to Steve’s chagrin, we don’t really get to see what she can do: Alhara manages to evade her first big spell, and the melees basically pound her into the ground before she can do much else. Including yet another crit, this time by Rob. Team GM just can’t buy a break tonight.

It’s funny… I had never really thought about it before now, but Steve’s got a point. As a GM, for the story to progress and the game to continue, the GM ends up bearing the burden of losing. Over and over again. Maybe you push the party to their limits, but at the end of the day, you usually end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. And you can be the most party-friendly GM in the world, and I imagine that would get a little tedious after a while. I mean… the guys who play for the Washington Generals probably take some satisfaction in helping the Harlem Globetrotters put on a good show, but deep down I bet every one of them wants to cut loose one night, play a legit game, and just run the Globetrotters off the court.

In a setting like that, I guess one of the few comforts would be that you get to test-drive different creatures and use powers that maybe the players don’t even have access to. You lose, but you get to lose with style. But if the party lands a crit or two and beats your enemy’s ass in basically one turn… you just get to take the beating and watch the players celebrate.

As an aside, the best one of these I ever participated in was a sub-boss battle in Iron Gods. It was an archer who was going to be taking free shots at us as we worked our way up a winding staircase. There were a few places to take cover, but it was probably shaping up to multiple rounds of misery. But I landed a Hold Person spell, and then Steve failed three straight saves to break free. So while the archer was stuck in stasis, we full-round moved up the steps and coup-de-grace’d the archer without him ever firing a shot. Not very sporting, but effective.

Back to action, the party ties up the witch and does a little healing, which brings up the abstract question of the evening – how effectively can one “tie up” a caster? Now, the easiest of the three to deal with is material components: if you take away their stuff (including their holy symbol/focus item), they can’t cast any spells that require stuff. But that doesn’t take away as much as you would think – a lot of lower-level spells are just Verbal and Somatic anyway. As far as Somatic, the rules explicitly state a caster can’t do Somatic gestures while restrained, so Somatic is meant to be more than “wiggle your pinky”. So on the surface that suggests you could actually tie a caster up pretty effectively. However, that’s assuming you’re some expert at tying restraining knots and or securing them somewhere that would be hard to escape from. If you leave someone unattended while you explore the rest of a dungeon, what’s to say they can’t break free of their bonds and escape to fight another day? I have a feeling we may yet learn the answer to this question.

In the meantime, our party of intrepid adventurers continues their exploration, and basically finish the session by roughing up an old married couple. Nice. For the third straight combat, a crit shortens the fight quite a bit, though at least this time they were explicitly doing non-lethal damage, so they didn’t kill anyone. I don’t usually feel sorry for Steve (rooting for the GM is like rooting for the dealer at a casino), but yeah… 0-for-3 with each fight basically lasting one round was a pretty miserable evening.

And still no sign of the undead that they’re supposed to exterminate. Watch… that’s when all those 20s will turn to 1s. But I guess we’ll find out next week. As usual, feel free to drop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show, but also, if you’re reading this Thursday, I hope you’ll drop by virtual GenCon tonight and check out our live Black Lodge session. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|20: Blood-Red Carpet

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|20: The Wind And The Waves.

Well, it finally happened. We all joke about COVID-19 making so life so weird and time so fluid that you can forget what day it is, but this week it actually happened to me. I went out to walk the dogs this morning, started thinking about my day’s schedule and where I was going to fit the final polish of my review of the Advanced Player’s Guide, and the brain kicked in: “Yesterday was Thursday, weren’t you supposed to write a Talking Combat?”.

Oops.

So… no, I wasn’t donating a kidney or fighting crime dressed as a giant bat; I just forgot what day it was. My bad.

So this week we pick up with the “assault” on the hermitage, though it starts out fairly pleasantly, with Hap knocking cheerfully on the door like she was the local Girl Scout troop on a cookie run. And then Druids-But-Not-Druids start swinging on them. How uncouth!

First, let’s discuss this whole “it turns out they’re not really druids” business. I’m sure it might feel to some of our listeners like it was a bit of bait-and-switch to have Ateran complaining about druids for weeks and then it turns out it’s really some combination of “priests” of unknown abilities. But it’s not something I’m going to lose a lot of sleep over.

First and foremost, this feels like one of those things where there’s the brand and the generic concept, like someone who refers to every soda as a “Coke”. There is the Pathfinder class called the “Druid” and that means specific things in terms of game mechanics. But there’s also the layperson definition of a “druid”, which is “Do they have some sort of magical power and screw around with plants and animals? Then they’re a druid.” If you’re some sort of farmer who sees a spell cast once or twice a year, those two might as well be the same thing. So if it helps square the circle in your brain, imagine that the bumpkin townspeople don’t really know the difference between a “druid” and a cleric who happens to be wearing a green cloak and acts chummy with the local squirrels.

Having said that, I will say that Second Edition kinda blurs the lines on this stuff a little, anyway. Thanks largely to the implementation of the sorcerer as a class that can choose from any of the schools of magic. If you duck your head into our Black Lodge campaign, we have my character Nella (an actual druid) and Seth’s character Nixnox (a primal sorcerer) and they have a LOT of overlap in their spell list. I’m sure they’ll grow into more distinct entities as they get more into their signature powers – for example, right now I don’t use Wild Shape because it’s largely useless in combat at low levels – but we had a Level 1 fight where Seth and I were both casting the same spells: Produce Flame and Heal. If some random townsperson was watching from afar, they might think we were both druids too.

It actually dawns on me that, intentional or not, this could be a way to combat metagaming as a GM – let your NPC’s be wrong about stuff occasionally as a way to throw the party a curveball. As players, we’ve gotten into this routine where – unless it’s specifically a “palace intrigue” story and we’re given hints to expect deception – we accept our missions from the NPCs and just assume everything they tell us is accurate. But strictly speaking, there’s no reason it HAS to be. I suppose you’d have to factor in the experience level of the “quest-giver”: I’d expect the head of a local Pathfinder Lodge who’s been adventuring for 20 years to have better intel than the drunk guy on the corner stool of the local pub. And you’d want to limit how far you take it – you don’t want to have the party waste an entire session lost in the wilderness because the NPC didn’t really know where the bandit camp was. Creating some “fog of war” through selective misinformation? Cool. Derailing entire sessions and wasting people’s time? That’s a quick way to kill a game.

So the fight gets going, and I think what struck me was the style – it was basically a battle of knock-out punches. Mostly big swings for big damage on both sides, which led to a pretty quick battle. Normally you end up chipping away (or outright missing) a lot more – this fight felt like those YouTube videos of Russian slap-fights where they just take turns slapping each other as hard as possible and see who drops first. Unfortunately, in this case, the first to drop was Alhara, but the last of the (presumably) barbarians was close behind, so no long-term harm done.

On a roleplaying level, I’m interested to see where Loren takes Hap with this increased reluctance to actually harm people. We always bake in the assumption that adventurers are true believers – committed and fired up to go do good and right wrongs (or at least fired up to go make money); it continues to be fun to see someone who’s actually kind of ambivalent about the whole adventuring experience. One of these days, I’d want to take that to its ultimate conclusion and try playing a full pacifist – buffs and heals, no offensive abilities whatsoever – but it would probably have to be with a different gaming group. I think the members of the Black Lodge group would probably shoot me out the airlock if I ever tried something like that.

For our big Rules Question Of The Day, you can count me amongst those who thought Battle Medicine and Treat Wounds were the same basic thing and belonged on the same timer. Honestly, I thought Battle Medicine WAS Treat Wounds, just FASTER. I didn’t really get the distinction that Treat Wounds was more of a multipurpose ability. Cue that NBC “The More You Know” graphic…

So once the fight is resolved and everyone’s back on their feet, we resume exploration and free the mayor. It’s a little fun here watching Steve navigate the terrain of what the mayor would and wouldn’t know based on how long ago he was kidnapped; I think I caught at least one slip-up and Steve had the mayor mention something from the second circus performance. Or he said, “people are talking about it”… so, wait… your captors went into town and checked out the circus and then talked about it when they got back? I’ll put it this way: even if Steve got it right and I mis-heard it, that’s what I’m going with now. I’m now imagining the master druid of the enclave rolling their eyes and saying “FIIIIIIINE, you can go to the circus tonight. But you have double shifts next week!”

The exploration continues, and we end the action this week at a Big Ominous Door. What’s behind it? REAL druids? The creepy clown from the other circus? A storage room filled with bacon where Darius will give up his adventuring and live out his days? I guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

And yes, next week’s Talking will be back on Thursday. Promise.

Talking Circus S1|19: Albatross Lacrosse

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|19: He Slimed Me.

I wanted to start this week’s column with a quick product plug, though a fairly non-controversial one given the likely audience for this podcast. If you hadn’t heard, Paizo has a pretty great Second Edition Humble Bundle going on at the moment. Even at the entry-level of $5, you get a PDF of the Core Rulebook, the Plaguestone module, a couple of Quests, and a few other goodies – a pretty good starter package if you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge on 2E and haven’t done so yet. At the top end of $30, you can get a physical copy of the Core Rulebook for less than it goes for in stores, along with all the other toys from the lower levels. (No, I don’t get a commission. Just figured I’d mention it.)

OK, my days as a pitch-man are over for now. On to this week’s episode.

I wanted to start with a little discussion of our old friend, the Dungeon Crawl. I don’t think that dungeon crawls are inherently good or bad; they have their place in the world. Where things break down a little is that long dungeon crawls don’t always play nice with the storytelling aspect of the game, ESPECIALLY if there’s a time constraint built into the story. The mechanics of the game demand long rests if you want to keep adventuring, but sometimes the idea of just shutting down and toasting S’mores while surrounded by hostiles can feel a bit… what’s the word?… ridiculous. Look at the final assault on Vilree’s hideout in Plaguestone – I think we ended up taking two long rests during that exploration, which is kind of silly when the captain had already turned on THE TOWN IS ABOUT TO BE DESTROYED sign.

That said, if you’re willing to just suspend disbelief or go into low-story mode, dungeon crawls can be a lot of fun though, since it distills the RPG experience down essentials. You explore, you fight, you loot, maybe you level. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes rolling dice and bashing heads is just plain fun to do. My pre-pandemic home game was working on a run of the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon, and our GM handwaved the logistics by building a town within a day’s walk of the dungeon. So basically the dungeon was just turned into Disneyworld, and you went back to your hotel at night after visiting the park during the day. Problem solved.

I do think, as Steve says, a little of that goes a long way. At some point, it’s more fun to have a reason for what you’re doing. To choose an example from the computer gaming world, that’s why I never got into the Diablo series all that much. Compared to something like the Neverwinter Nights or Baldur’s Gate games, there just wasn’t enough story to make it interesting… go down in the dungeon and kill stuff, to get better gear and more powers, so you can kill more stuff. Yay.

As we get into the story itself, the first thing that jumped out… which actually caught me off guard but is fortuitous timing… is the release of real live Advanced Player’s Guide material and the formal updating of Ateran and Alhara’s characters from the Playtest to the live version. I’m not going to regurgitate the changes exhaustively – and at least in Alhara’s case, it’s a fairly minor moving-around of some feats – but it’s generally exciting to finally see this stuff set loose in the wild. More selfishly, it also means the Advanced Player’s Guide review that’s been percolating in my documents folder will be headed your way soon.

So our team is done with circus life and sets off to the druid hermitage to search for the mayor, and the first challenge is attempting to get the frog-creatures guarding the entrance to go somewhere else. Not only was the party’s attempt to resolve the issue without combat pretty clever (Bird Lore? Where in the hell did that come from?), but I’d like to petition to have Alhara’s Albatross Toss added as a demonstration sport at the next Olympic games. TBD whether it should be for distance, accuracy, or both. Or did she just introduce Golarion to a precursor to lacrosse?

But come on. We can’t NOT have combat. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE TITLE OF THE SHOW. It’s not Roll For Clever Conflict Avoidance. Sure enough, we eventually get a fight, not just with the beasties, but with an environmental hazard of slimy rocks to navigate. The fight doesn’t end up being too burdensome, but it did present us with an interesting bit of roleplay at the end when Hap decides to not finish off the fleeing critter.

I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, it’s kind of fun when characters have little quirks that take combat outside the box a little. Combat can get a little rote sometimes, and injecting some of your character’s personality is a good way to spice it up a little. “I won’t kill creature XYZ”. “I want to see my enemy die up close, so I’ll always want to melee even when a ranged attack would make more sense”. The whole “once I draw my blade, it has to taste blood.” Stuff like that.

On the other hand, it’s still a team effort, and there’s a point at which the team’s survival should take priority over roleplaying moments. (See also: just about everything Mister Peepers does in the Black Lodge game.) To be clear, Hap refusing to kill one fleeing critter doesn’t qualify because the battle was basically won. Unless the fleeing critter came back with reinforcements, it wasn’t going to endanger the party to let it go. But if Hap drops her guard in the middle of a boss fight and the party wipes… not sure how I’d feel about something like that. At the very least, THAT level of commitment to roleplay is something everyone should be on the same page about before you do it.

Speaking of roleplay, we got a LITTLE more development on Ateran’s mistrust of druids, and on Darius’ weird brand on his arm. Which… full disclosure… I had kinda forgotten about the latter. Taken in conjunction with Rob’s comments about finding an archetype he was interested in, I wonder if the brand is going to pay off with a dip into some sort of magic class at Level 4. Barbarian? Champion? Really beefy sorcerer? I guess we’ll see eventually.

I have to admit it’s a little hard to envision how big the hermitage is, but it sounds like it’s a larger main building with maybe one or two smaller buildings (sounded like a storage shed was mentioned?). Things look kind of abandoned – does that mean the druids are waiting for an attack, or does that mean something worse attacked them? The party decides to just knock on the front door and is met by a big brute of a guard working the front door. Despite Hap’s attempts to be friendly and convey the secret handshake, looks like next week’s episode will start with another fight.

As usual, while waiting for the next episode, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|18: Run Through The Finish Line

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|18: Knowing Is Half The Battle.

I’d like to start this week with a totally personal note of congratulations. Two of the members of my childhood gaming group both turn 50 this week – Chris, the member of our party had a knack for getting killed, rolled the odometer today, and our long-standing GM Dmitri hits the big 5-0 tomorrow. A big part of the reason I’m here writing this column and doing this podcast today is because I lived on the same two-street area with those two guys who were wired for the same sort of weirdness over 40 years ago. (Including a willingness to go on the 2-3 mile walks or bike rides to our local gaming store.) So… congrats, boys!

Back under the big top, we’re getting ready for the second official show of the circus, which means we have to wrestle with the elephant in the room – a slightly suboptimal situation that encourages metagaming. As Steve mentions in the pre-game and the players discuss at a few points, the true optimal outcome of a circus performance is that the anticipation and excitement match EXACTLY, in which case you get double the revenue – I guess the crowd starts tipping or buys more souvenirs or something. In the first performance, I think this happened because both numbers maxed out and stopped there, but this time, since they were both below the cap, there was some question of how much to optimize for hitting the number. This even led to a “joking but not joking” speculation about forcing an act to tank to keep the numbers in line. It felt like the last scene in The Incredibles, where Bob and Helen were cheering Dash on to victory, but wait, not by so much… slow down a little… there you go!

I don’t want to be overly critical of Paizo’s decisions here – I’m not a game designer, and I’m sure coming up with these mini-game systems to fit within the existing structure isn’t easy and has a lot of moving parts. I feel like it’s more “unintended consequences” than outright bad design. And I do actually think there’s a valid “showmanship” case to be made against just getting excitement as high as you possibly can. If you think about a music show or a play or something, they don’t just go the same tempo the whole time, they dial it back for a few slow numbers here and there for the audience to catch their breath. The ebb and flow of a performance is a real thing.

But at the same time… when the rubber meets the road, and you’ve got the party coming up on their big finale and they’re thinking of how they can ease off on the performance to keep the needle where they want it… that feels like it might be in need of a house-rule tweak. I think you want a system that encourages the party to “run through the finish line”.

So how might you do that? Maybe the sweet spot can be a little wider and the party can be off by one or two and still get the payday. Or, maybe being over on excitement can be better than being lower, but not double – “you get more money, but the fans got too excited and broke some stuff, so some of the gate goes to repairs” or something. Maybe if they go over by one or two, they can cash that in for some other reward other than money – maybe experience for the NPC acts or bonus prestige or something. Or maybe once the excitement hits the same mark as the anticipation, it doesn’t keep going up… it just stays there unless you fail or unless the anticipation goes up again.

Or, as Loren suggests, maybe they can just use the system as it is, and Steve can just find other ways to make it even out. He has traditionally been pretty good at that over the years. So… keep the rules the way they are, but as long as the party plays the performance straight-up, they get more opportunities to earn hero points or they receive better/more appropriate treasure drops or something.

The performance itself was pretty great. This is another one of those places where I really appreciate the amount of detail they’ve put into scripting their performances. We finally get to see Ateran and their cauldron do their thing! Darius has an action figure! Even the NPC performances were fun and flavorful… after doing all that work on one’s own performance, I’m not sure I would’ve faulted them from punting and just saying the NPCs “do dwarf stuff”.

Though I have one little nitpick… my suspension of disbelief took a little bit of a hit at the idea that the bear would be totally cool with having Hap chuck fire inches from its face. Don’t get me wrong… it made for a great act and Loren described it wonderfully, but still. I kept thinking “yeah, that bear would be gnawing her face off by now”. Does she secretly have a level in Druid and didn’t tell us? If so, nobody tell Ateran.

Afterward, we get a brief discussion of where the circus might go from here. First, the fact that the take diminishes each show suggests that eventually, they’ll have to move on to a new town to keep the money coming in. Not sure if it’ll be a flat 25% per performance, but it’ll definitely be less. We also get a little discussion about how to improve the acts – both their own and the NPC acts. The upshot of both conversations seems to be that they’ll need new blood at some point, between the fact that a) the players can’t grow new traits in a vacuum; they have to learn from someone, and b) the NPC acts won’t level, so eventually, they won’t be effective enough to provide any benefit as the crowds get bigger and more demanding. The good news is it sounds like there will be quite a few chances to add new acts, and we’ll know them when we see them. Now I find myself wondering if the members of the rival circus will eventually be recruitable. (Though if they hire the clown, I am D-O-N-E, DONE with this show.)

I do wonder what happens to the old acts, though. Do they just hang around the circus, getting paid to do nothing, hoping they get one more shot? Do they get to cut loose into the unforgiving world? Can we have a third podcast where the cast-off acts start their own adventuring party? It could be the Clone Wars of the Roll For Combat Extended Universe!

Finally, at the end of the episode, it looks like we’re going to return to adventuring mode for the next few episodes. Turns out the mayor hasn’t returned from his visit to the Hermitage, and the Hermitage’s regular resupply wagon also hasn’t shown up. So clearly something fishy is going on in DruidLand – either the druids have gone bad, or something there’s worse than druids causing trouble. Either way, sounds the Hermitage will be next week’s destination, much to Ateran’s considerable dismay.

As always, while you’re waiting for next week’s episode, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|17: Beer and Circuses

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|17: Hapniss Everdeen.

“Yay! We’re going back to the circus!” That’s something you’ll NEVER catch me saying in real life – animal smells, clowns, animal cruelty, overpriced concessions… that’s a hard pass. But for the purposes of this game, I’m excited because the circus mechanic sounds interesting, and we haven’t really explored it since the first episode. (I guess they did send the sideshow people out once, but that didn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes.)

One kind of “meta” thing I noticed this week was the general sense of being at ease listening to this episode, knowing with a fair amount of certainty nothing was going to leap out and attack our party. Even in some of the low-combat episodes of the last few weeks, it was still always a possibility that danger was lurking behind the next corner. But since Steve said in the pre-game that this is basically going to be two episodes of circus… it was the first time in a while where we could legitimately just relax and enjoy ourselves.

I’ll admit to a little bit of surprise that it took SO long to get back to the circus. For a show called “Three-Ring Adventure,” there’s been a whole lot more Adventure than… Three-Ring-ery. Going in, I knew there would be some weaving back and forth between the circus plotline and a more conventional adventure path, but I thought the circus would feature more prominently, especially early in the game. I actually figured they’d want to dig into the circus mechanics and get those down a little more before getting into the conventional dungeoneering part of the adventure.

I just didn’t expect the circus to recede into the background for as long as it did. I suppose some of that is player choice – there were a few forks in the road where they had a choice to do circus activities or pursue the mystery and they pretty much always followed the mystery. Still, a longer “detour” than I expected going in. I’m not disappointed exactly… “surprised” is probably the better word.  That said, here we are… it’s back in the spotlight, so let’s enjoy it.

Though, based on one of Steve’s comments, I would love to see an adventure path someday where the final boss fight is skipped entirely in favor of a crafting challenge or something. That would be sort of hilarious. Perhaps it could be cooking, which would make Loren’s one character very happy… the final boss could be Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef. The secret ingredient… UNICORN MEAT!

As the team’s initial attempts to promote the circus unfolded, I was a little surprised that the rolls to promote the show were SO high. Or, more accurately: “high roll + fairly narrow list of available skills”. Personally, if you’re going to have something that’s more of an open-ended problem, I’d prefer either “limited skills, but fairly makeable rolls” or “fairly open-ended how you apply your skills, but the DCs are a little higher”. This seemed like the worst of both worlds – they needed high rolls, but they also really only had one or two skill options; skills that most of the party weren’t very good at.

I do give Steve credit as a GM here. He is usually willing to indulge in creative problem-solving to keep players involved in the game. Without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, we were doing a Black Lodge adventure where there was a skills portion that was heavy on social skills and crafting, leaving almost nothing for my Nature/Survival/Religion druid to do. To his credit, Steve was willing to work with me on ways I could use my skills to help with the challenges, but he did make the DCs higher than they would be for using the “right” skills. So letting Hap do a performance seems like it’s cut from similar cloth.

Having said that, watching Hap screw up both her rolls and have her orchestrated show go for naught was kind of amusing. Sorry, Loren… schadenfreude… I’m an awful person. I wouldn’t be rooting for this in a combat situation; I think the lower stakes are part of what allowed it to be amusing. Though for some reason, I mentally inserted a completely anachronistic Hollywood type coming up to Hap when she’s finished: “Um… Hap… the guys upstairs have a few notes on your performance.”

Fortunately, when failed skill checks fail to accomplish the desired effect, BEER sweeps in to save the day. Saviors of the village? “Ehhh.” Impressive pyro display in the town square? “I’ll check my calendar.” Ateran kinda half-mumbling about the circus to random passers-by? “I think I’m washing my hair.” But BEER? “Oh hell yeah!” So now the troupe will be playing to a pretty pre-excited crowd, and the hard part of their job is done.

Or is it? After all, beer does have a downside – it generates a lot of excitement, but it also introduces the presence of potential rowdies disrupting the show. And if you remember, a fight broke out at the first show, so is there going to be more of the same? Also, we still have the Random Event… in this case, it’s that too many people show up, raising the cap on how much excitement can be generated. Now… this isn’t bad, exactly, but it does create some interesting risk-reward questions – do you go for bigger tricks and try to get more of a reaction, but with a greater chance of failing, or do you still play it relatively safe?

There’s also the question of choosing the acts, and it sounds as if as the game goes along, the players are going to have to shoulder more of the load on that front since it seems their tricks will advance at a faster rate than the NPC members of the circus. But at least Hap gets to perform with the bear, so that’ll be something to look forward to. And we’ll finally get to see Ateran in action; if you’ll remember, he drew the short straw and sat out the first show, running the backstage and doing a little mild pyrotechnics in support of the other acts.

And the real question is WHEN DO DARIUS AND THE SNAKE GET MATCHING TOP HATS? And more importantly, when will the T-shirt be on the website?

So there you have it. Next week, we’re finally going to have another show of the Circus Of Wayward Wonders. Will the show go well? Do the druids have any surprises in store? Will the rival circus put in an appearance? I guess we’ll find out next week. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|16: Roleplay Roulette

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|16: Broken Homes and Gardens.

My dilemma this week revolves around the mystery of Hap’s unknown origin.

Part of me wants to play Sherlock Holmes and really dig in on this. Break out all the sourcebooks and figure out exactly what combination of feats we’re looking at here. I know elemental humanoids in First Edition – Ifrits were the fire-friendly ones – but unless got access to some super-secret Paizo stuff that’s not released yet, I don’t recall there being an Ifrit for Second Edition yet. Maybe stealing some sort of draconic bloodline or something?

This week, I even started to wonder if it’s a mechanism specific to the Extinction Curse AP. I had been assuming it was a character development thing that Steve and Loren worked out between them, but now we’ve also got Darius waking up with a weird mark on his arm too. So maybe there’s some mechanism Paizo whipped up specifically for this AP that causes ch-ch-changes in people, above and beyond normal character development. Could that be? Or am I just being silly? Or do ALL the characters have little surprises in store for us as they level?

But then there’s another side of me that says “you’re thinking WAY too hard about this; just roll with it and enjoy the story”. Not everything has to be analyzed until it’s a joyless math exercise. So, OK… Hap is turning into Spicy Hot Cheetos Hap, and we’ll eventually learn more about what’s going on there – it’s not like it will NEVER be explained.

So this week was a fun episode. Not only did it go deep on roleplay, but it went broad as well – I noticed almost EVERY one-to-one interaction available within the team got some “camera” time. Really the only one missing was Alhara and Hap – I don’t recall the two of them getting more than a couple passing comments to each other. It was almost the “Tales Of Ba Sing Se” episode of Three-Ring Adventure. (Guess who just finished re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender?)

First, the groups broke into Varus siblings in one corner and Hap and Ateran in the other. Rob T. and Vanessa didn’t break a lot of new ground or have any big dramatic revelations, but they’re really building a nice warm familiarity between their two characters that I’m enjoying a lot. They did plant some seeds that might bear fruit in future episodes, though, sending the letter to try and find the whereabouts of their father. Loren and Rob P.’s chemistry works in more of an “odd couple” way where the differences between the characters make their interactions interesting. You have Ateran, fairly buttoned-up and cautious, trying to focus on the mission at hand, but you can see them TRYING in their own way to open up, but not really having a feel for how to do it. On the other hand, you have Hap, who’s far more interested in playing matchmaker and life in general… very much the teenage girl; you’d barely know there’s an adventure going on listening to her side of the conversation. And in this interaction, we get tension between those two viewpoints when Ateran tries to get Hap to discuss the changes she’s starting to experience.

Then we had a re-shuffle and had Ateran and Alhara spend time together while Hap and Darius did the same. These interactions both blew me away in different ways.

I’m going to go out of order and talk about Darius’ interaction with Hap, because Rob T. managed to channel an almost parental role in a way that was really warm and felt real. A few shows back, Steve mentioned one of the scenes he did with Hap as being like talking to his own daughter, and this felt similarly authentic. As a parent, I really felt this moment: you have these times where your kid is hurt, confused, whatever, and you want to know what’s up but you also don’t want to be part of the problem by being too pushy, so you just kinda… be there for them and hope they’ll talk about it when they’re ready to. I just thought Rob really nailed that feeling.

Ateran and Alhara… I have thoughts on this, but they can all be summarized under the positive umbrella of “I’m impressed how well they’re developing this”.

I feel like romantic interactions between characters are probably some of the hardest things to do in a game setting like this. I’m not talking about “we’re a couple in real life so we’re going to be a couple in-game and mine our existing relationship for the details”. I’m talking about building a new relationship between two fictional characters when the people playing them are also still figuring out who those characters are as individuals… that’s such a delicate thing to figure out. Especially when it takes a level of trust in the other person to go to what’s kind of a vulnerable place, even for fictional characters.

First and foremost, I’m impressed they’re doing this all on the fly. I found myself in disbelief that they didn’t have some sort of “script” in mind for this, so I actually broke the fourth wall and asked Vanessa if they have any pre-planning or any of this is scripted. Her answer was that they have a little bit of a sense where the relationship might go, but everything that happens in an individual session is completely spontaneous in the moment. That’s crazy… in a good way. And maybe that’s what makes it feel so authentic.

The other thing I appreciate is they’re not rushing it and even allowing the relationship to step backwards as well as forwards. I feel like there might be a tendency to rush to “get to the good part”, but they’re willing to let it be a little awkward and maybe even have moments where they misunderstand each other, to let it develop a little more organically, and that also makes it feel more real.

And here’s the thing. I don’t know whether I’m ultimately rooting for Ateran and Alhara to get together or not. In real life, I’m NOT an “opposites attract” person; I’m more of an “opposites mostly annoy the shit out of each other” person. Alhara may be a bit too carefree and Ateran may be a little too reserved for it to work. But I AM vested in seeing where it goes, and I AM convinced that wherever Vanessa and Rob take it will be the right place. For now, that’ll work.

The last interaction isn’t the biggest, but we haven’t really seen Darius and Ateran interact outside of battle much, so it was nice to get them some time together. Smoothing over the ruffled feathers from the last battle and acknowledging their different approaches to fighting maybe isn’t as weighty as some of the other interactions in this episode, but it’s still good to see the Robs working off each other a little since we haven’t had much of it yet. Between this and the Hap interaction, I do see some development creeping in at the edges with regards to Darius embracing a real leadership role instead of just being a guy who fills a room by talking loud and punching stuff. He’s slowly turning from a fun-loving doofus into a fun-loving doofus with a sense of responsibility to his fellow show people.

And OK… honorable mention for Loren and Steve roleplaying Hap’s magic show for the little girl. We get so used to thinking of Pathfinder adventurers as grizzled veterans that it’s fun to have an interlude where Hap The Teenager shines through, just showing off her magic dog to a little kid who had a rough day.

The only “downside” of this episode is that because of all the character development, not a lot actually happened. We got a quick fight against the air mephit trapped in the armoire (NITPICK: maybe it’s because I’m stuck on A:TLA’s definition of the elements, but why does an air mephit blow sand, again?) and then released what’s left of the Hawfton Mill to its rightful owners. And then it’s mostly downtime. On the horizon, it FEELS like it’ll be time to get back to the circus for a while, so that’ll be fun – I want to see what a few characters and more familiarity with the system do for their act the second time around.

But I guess we’ll see that next time. While you’re waiting for next week’s show, feel free to stop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show so far. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|15: What A Difference A Day Makes

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|15: Sting Operation.

This week’s episode is somewhat of an achievement for Roll For Combat – a two-hour episode, that’s BASICALLY the resolution a single fight (but not a boss fight – we’ve had 2-hour boss fights before). And mixed in, we had a mid-episode leveling break.

And it all starts with a swarm, the nemesis of many a player over the years. Personally I still hate incorporeal creatures worse than swarms, but the gap is definitely narrowing.

Let’s start with the differences between First Edition and Second Edition swarms. The truth is it’s a bit of a mixed bag – in some ways, they’re better; in others, they’re far worse. And in both editions, they’re a struggle for low-level players to deal with because low-level characters don’t tend to have a lot of area-effect tools unless they SPECIFICALLY prepare for one. Melees don’t usually have ANY area damage, and casters MIGHT have one 1st-level cone or burst spell if they chose their spells wisely.

On the good side, swarms are generally easier to hit and damage in Second Edition – they removed the immunity to single-target spells and modeled a lot of the damage reduction as flat resistances instead of “half damage” or “no damage”. (For the wasps, it was bludgeoning 7, piercing 7, and slashing 3). So you can use more of your toolkit against a swarm and still stand a chance of doing some damage. Area damage is still the ideal, but you can whittle away with other tools.

But here’s where they’re much MUCH worse. Swarms in First Edition did automatic damage, but it was a small amount – even up to 5 hit dice, a First Edition swarm only does 1d6 damage, once a round. Meanwhile, those wasps were doing 2d8, AND inflicting poison. So yeah, you can hit them more often, but they can hit the players more – and harder – as well. The net effect is that offensively, it’s closer to a full monster, but with a bunch of swarm resistances.

So our team of adventurers makes a valiant first try at beating the wasps, and boy it just… does not go well, does it? Both Varus siblings in serious distress, Hap blows her most effective spell (Burning Hands) and does almost minimum damage, the poor dog gets summoned only to serve as a sacrifice… honestly, it’s a miracle this didn’t end in a TPK. Tactically it also didn’t help that they bunched up and made the swarm’s job easy, but I don’t think spreading out would’ve changed the central dynamic of the fight.

On the bright side, we learned a lot about door-hinge technology in the process. Screw putting an icon into Roll20 – we need a “Door of Many Hinges” T-shirt on the website. Perhaps the artwork can be a door where one entire side is a single, massive hinge. Or many hinges made of different metals with different gemstones. Though the door itself should be as ordinary as possible, just to stick a further finger in Rob T’s eye.

Brief digression: Steve didn’t explain this fully, but Rob T. has a history of bad luck with doors. In one of our Starfinder Society games, he was playing an Operative and spent four or five rounds unsuccessfully trying to open a door while we were in combat against space zombies. Never did get it open. Then in our Black Lodge game, his dwarven fighter tried to muscle his way through a door and met with similarly disastrous results. I suppose Darius critting the hinges this time redeemed him a little, but doors still hold a 2-1 lead over Rob in the grand scheme of things.

So the team has to limp back to camp in semi-humiliating fashion (the Minister of Dad Jokes would ask if they had “Bee-TSD” after that fight?), but it’s always darkest before the dawn, as the team levels up overnight! Level 3! At first glance, Level 3 tends to be a boring level for melees, but casters get their first Level 2 spells, and more hitpoints are an across-the-board good thing.

Though on a personal level, I feel like I have to mock Vanessa a little bit next time I see her. After making much fun of me for taking Quick Jump with Brixley (eliminates the run-up action for jumping), she goes and takes Powerful Leaper? That doesn’t seem fair. Then again: Alhara is a swashbuckler and leaping around is an inherent part of her character whereas Brixley is a stubby little gnome in heavy armor – leaping isn’t really much of a priority for him.

I have to admit I’m intrigued by Hap’s unknown ancestry. Obviously there’s not much to say about it yet, because it’s… well… you know… a mystery, but if she’s feeling cold, does that imply she’s got latent fire elemental DNA that’s starting to come to the surface? Is Hap eventually going to ignite and become The Human Torch? If so, I am absolutely down for that.

For the immediate situation, leveling isn’t half as important as the fact that the team can gear up properly for the rematch with the wasps. That means antidotes for the wasp poison, alchemical fires so there’s splash damage available to the melees, and Hap can overload her spell list with extra casts of Burning Hands. It’s kind of rare to go into a situation where you know EXACTLY what you’re gonna fight, so when it does happen, you might as well make the most of it. This is one of those few cases where even if you’re more of a roleplay group… yeah, min-max the crap out of it.

And guess what: armed with better knowledge what they’re up against and better tools for dealing with it, the rematch is actually a fairly easy win for the Wayward Wonders crew. WASPS BEGONE! The mill has been (mostly) reclaimed… after a quick recon of the premises to make sure there’s no more trouble. At first things look calm – even calm enough to allow Ateran and Darius to get into a grumbling match about whether to use the mending oil on the door or not – but then right at the end, moving the furniture around sets off the combat alarm, and we’ve got at least one more fight on deck for next week.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media, let us know what you think of the show, and join in the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|14: Whose Initiative Is It Anyway?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|14: Spiders and Wine.

I have to start this week with a mild self-correction – I misunderstood a piece of the action last week. I thought it was clergy from the church that was being held in the barn and not the farmers. Somewhere in there, the action switched from talking to the farmer to talking to the priest, and I missed the change-over. Or maybe I thought “Hawfton” was some sort of obscure religious title. So if I sounded a little confused last week… well, I suppose I was. Don’t worry. Steve slapped me around a little and I’m back on the same page.

On to this week.

As I was listening to this week’s episode, I got a very “letting their hair down” vibe from it. (Except Rob T., who unless he’s really let things go during social distancing, doesn’t have hair at all.) What I mean is that this group commits to the roleplaying so well, that it’s odd (but enjoyable) when they just kinda goof off and act like a more casual party. And I have to admit I kinda liked it.

The most notable instance was everyone coming up with ways to deny Loren/Hap the magic item that would be perfect for her character (the dancing scarf thingy). That’s the sort of razzing that was old hat for our Black Lodge group but we haven’t heard nearly as much of on this side of the house. Particularly the extra twist of the knife of giving it to the bear; that was pretty inspired.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I DISLIKE the roleplay or that I want this show to turn into Open Mic Night at H.P. McChuckles. What they’re doing is great and I’m enjoying it a lot. But it’s still nice to step outside the characters every once in a while and enjoy the people behind them and their senses of humor as well. Even in a more RP-heavy setting, that’s an integral part of what this hobby offers… that camaraderie of the gaming table. Perhaps sometimes on the Black Lodge side, we’re a little TOO much the class clowns, but it’s good to keep that part somewhere in the picture.

I assume Steve’s “GM/PC tip about NPCs not just going along with player requests” was mostly regarding Alhara’s attempt to get the gang of town ruffians to join in her exercise regimen. I don’t GM a lot, but I’ll throw my two cents in on this one anyway. (Blame Steve for giving me a column.) It’s an interesting push-pull at work. On one hand, one wants to encourage player participation, and saying “yes” to their ideas is a good way to do that. On the other hand, one of the ingredients in building an immersive setting is creating NPCs that feel like real people and react in reasonable ways. I suppose it also matters logistically how far “off course” saying yes would take you – indulging someone for 5 or 10 minutes is a different thing than derailing an entire session. Adjacent to that, there’s also inter-party dynamics to consider – is there a way to keep the entire party engaged, or is it one player’s personal joyride?

I know you’ll get people who subscribe to that whole “yes, and…” school of improv thought; that you should basically err on the side of agreeing to requests no matter how “out there”. For the most part, I’m not of that school. YES, sometimes being the GM means sidelining the main story for a few minutes to let the players indulge a little, but sometimes it’s also about knowing when to NOT do that. Sometimes the more satisfying state for the party as a whole is to stay on the main story and get to The Next Thing. The one exception was my Dads-N-Kids game (currently suspended because of social distancing) – when we were teaching the kids the game, we tended to say yes to most of their ideas, even if they would be questionable in a more by-the-book campaign. (But we also said yes to killing off their characters if they did something REALLY stupid, because if not… how will you learn?)

Having said all that, I would’ve said yes to Vanessa’s plan, but combined the obstacle course/exercise and the drinking. Have everyone do shots and then go run Alhara’s obstacle course loaded: make the DC checks get progressively harder… possibly taking some non-lethal damage in the process… A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.

Eventually, we finally get back to the main investigation and head out to the Hawfton Mill where we have a battle with spiders in the garden. Two main things stand out to me. First, was Loren making the interesting roleplaying choice to have Hap friendly-fire Alhara with Burning Hands. Maybe it’s because our other group tends to play things “by the book (Mr. Saavik)” but I always get a kick out of people making suboptimal tactical choices because it would fit their character better. Sometimes I wish we could even take it a step further – have people occasionally misjudge the distance on their spells and not know where to perfectly lay down the burst heal or the cone damage – but that might make the game unplayable if you took it too far. The math is pretty delicately calibrated even before you throw in possible self-sabotage. The other thing that stood out to me was the party FINALLY getting some good luck on a saving throw with regards to the spider venom. Seriously, our band of adventurers has had such craptastic luck with status effects, I was assuming Rob would fail his save and they’d have to burn the antidote, so it was a nice surprise for that not to happen.

After some out-of-character dithering about whether to keep going or rest, the team continues their investigation into the mill building itself. We see some normal size wasps, which… after another bit of soul-searching about whether to retreat, burn them out with fire, or just see what happens… leads to our favorite BEEP-BEEP-BEEP noise and the end of the episode.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Circus S1|13: Makin’ Bacon

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|13: This Little Piggy Became Roast Beef.

We pick up this week’s episode in the aftermath of the fight against the mephits, and we’re going to finally learn the identity of the voice that was calling for help. Turns out it’s the family from the mill – they’re a little worse for wear, but not life-threatening condition… mostly just tired, hungry, and dehydrated.

And then things get weird with an oddly involved session of Golarion Theology 101, as the priests decide to get up in Ateran’s face about their faith, and Hap doubles down by asking about other gods that might work for her.

I have to admit, I would’ve been eaten alive by this roleplay. In the intro, Steve talks about having to think on his feet because the players know the lore better than him, but he would NOT have had that issue with me. If I’m being honest, I’ve always been fairly indifferent toward the theology side of Pathfinder. For me, the gods are the mechanism that makes divine casters go, but I have to admit I don’t really dig deep on the lore. I know Cayden Cailean is a fairly easy god to live with because he likes to party, I think I end up choosing Desna a lot because “travelers” and “adventurers” sound like similar concepts and because Neutral Good doesn’t box me in as much, I know generally which ones are good gods and bad gods, but that’s pretty much it for me. Heck, playing a Gorum-worshiper in Iron Gods was a big step forward for me, though even for that, I borrowed aggressively from Klingons in figuring out how to play Ezrik. If there’s ever a test on this stuff, I’m screwed.

Don’t get me wrong. The players roleplayed all of this well… I’m just saying I would’ve been lost. It’s like that one Jeopardy! category you wouldn’t possibly stand a chance in.

Next, we get into some transitional activities – searching the barn, healing up (with the help of the clergy), and such. The bedroll with rat droppings clearly locks this down as Rat-Head’s base of operations. The big revelation here is the additional two skin-suits. They seem like a couple of worshipers of Gozreh, or at least what’s left of them, but their holy symbols are a little “off”, whatever significance that has. So are the druids working WITH Rat-Head or against Rat-Head? Are the skins victims of someone trying to STOP Rat-Head, or were there accomplices using the skins to do some sort of infiltration of the druidic order? Still more questions than answers at this point. (Though there were storms moving through the area while I was listening, so there were places where I wasn’t hearing well – if there’s something glaringly obvious I missed… mea culpa.)

I did like the trick of sneaking the rescued family holy water to make sure they weren’t bad guys in waiting. That kinda cracked me up. Do we know if holy water is supposed to taste any different in the Pathfinder universe? Does it have a hint of citrus? Minty freshness? It’s probably somewhere in Gods and Magic… THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR NOT STUDYING.

After the party digs around, the adventure continues into the apple orchard, where we find the family of boars. It’s a fairly straightforward fight, so rather than a blow-by-blow, I’m mostly left with random impressions.

First, maybe I’m tuned into it because I’m playing a druid in Black Lodge, but boy a druid would’ve been handy for this encounter. Wild Empathy! It would’ve given them an immediate chance to make the boars less aggressive. Would that have been enough to get around the fight? Not sure, but it would’ve been nice to try. But then again, to poke holes in my own argument: Wild Empathy isn’t THAT great because it’s keyed to both a skill (Diplomacy) and an ability score (Charisma) that druids aren’t likely to feature heavily in their builds. So maybe it’s not THAT game-changing.

There’s also the silly but obvious question… where exactly WOULD one want to get gored by a boar? The phrase “wouldn’t want to get gored there” implies there’s an ideal location for being impaled. I’ll open the floor for discussion.

The other thing I noticed… this is the second game where we’ve had a wild boar that led to a post-game pig roast (Plaguestone also had one). I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but one I found amusing. I guess the folks at Paizo like their BBQ or something. Still not as bad as their propensity to murder dwarves to serve as an inciting event, but methinks someone at Paizo has a thing for ribs.

And of course, there’s a return of Ferocity, which is fast becoming one of the Most Annoying Skills All-Stars. Though this time, whether by luck or better tactics, the team was able to manage their attacks in such a way that they still had attacks left even after the boars burned their reaction for the round. The weakness of Ferocity is that it only matters if the creature survives until their next turn. In Plaguestone, the orcs tended to drop on the last attack of the round, so they’d get another round out of it; this time around, the players got pretty good luck on that front.

So the boars are beaten, we find another dead body – this time a gnome with a little bit of treasure on him – and it’s time to wrap things up for the day. Hap burns through some healing spells, and the group carries their well-earned ribfest back to camp. We have a brief Theology Redux conversation between Hap and “Dad” – though I actually thought Hap expressing doubts about the whole adventurer’s life was a nice roleplay touch on Loren’s part — and it’s time to call it a session.

Will the great investigation continue or will it finally be time to get back to circus work? I guess we’ll find out next time. In the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.