Talking Combat Archives - Roll For Combat: Your Friendly Neighborhood Actual Play Podcast

Talking Combat 064: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Balloon Of Death

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 064: Pleased to Meet Kaiju.

Hoooooooly crap.

On one hand, this ellicoth isn’t viscerally creepy the way some of the more horror-infused monsters have been. A big dumb cow-ephant doesn’t really give you bad dreams for the next few days the way some of the other creatures might. No larvae, no brain-melting acid… walk in the park, right?

On the other hand… 20-foot reach? Basically hits on anything greater than a 1? LOW damage is about 20? Basically, it’s a Macy’s Thanksgiving Balloon of Death. Any chance we brought harpoons and tow cables? No? Pity.

What’s compounding the problem in the early stages is that we don’t really seem to be settling into any sort of plan. It’s a little hard to place people without the battle map, but we had a distinct difference of opinions. Bob seemed to be maneuvering as if we were in full retreat. I was trying to do more of a guarded withdrawal since we had to move in such a way to avoid hits. Mo sounded like he actually wanted to go the other way and retreat into the hut if that was possible. (Though… isn’t the marrowblight in there? Yeah… bleed encounters… that couldn’t possibly go poorly.) Hirogi was coming from the other side of the building so he was actually fairly safe and was treating it as just another fight. I know, he’s got trophies on the brain again.

Frankly, I liked my idea of splitting up even if it was met with skepticism. I figured if we each picked a compass direction, maybe we could figure out a way to ping-pong it back and forth between us… while at any given time, 3 out of 4 of us would be safely out of range. (Sucks to be the one in range, though maybe that person could double-move to stay ahead of it.) But at least early on, it didn’t seem like that idea was getting much traction, and I will admit I hadn’t considered that the terrain might become difficult or impassable if you stray too far off the road.

Also not good: two hits basically took CHDRR out of the fight. On some level, CHDRR is expendable, and if his dying serves the greater good, I’ll do it. That said, I’d prefer to save his heroic sacrifice for a moment when it means something, not when we’ve barely put 20 points of damage on this thing. Also, not to be too meta-gamey, but if CHDRR dies, I’d need 24 hours to repair him, which puts him out of commission for the marrowblight. So for the moment, I’m going to have to pull him back to the edge of the fight and crit-farm from range.

One thing that dawns on me: I’m just glad we’re not playing this encounter with Pathfinder Playtest rules. Pretty sure critting any time you exceed the hit threshold by 10 would turn this into a massacre.

So, I don’t know how this is going to go. On one hand, it hits like a truck; on the other, it doesn’t seem especially fast for its size, and it has so far only attacked once per round. And while it hits me on any number, maybe the people with better armor are a little harder to hit and it might actually miss once or twice. One can hope, anyway.

The fight makes up the bulk of the episode and is going to continue into next week, so there’s not a lot more to be said about it for now. I did want to briefly go back to John’s confrontation with Wynetta Trux – on re-listen, was John just being exasperated, or did John actually think Wynetta was sand-bagging us on purpose, or that she might even be in league with the Corpse Fleet? I think he was just roleplaying exasperation on Mo’s part, but there’s a few moments where it played like the latter.

THIS IS WHY YOU LET THE FACE OF THE PARTY BE THE FACE OF THE PARTY. There’s a reason you never saw the A-Team sending B.A. Baracus to ply people for information. Face… maybe Hannibal in a pinch.

As far as Steve’s GM tip, I figured I’d talk a bit about how I handle imagery for my characters.

For informal games, I’ll usually just grab something off the Internet, as I suppose a lot of us do. Yes, I have a monk who is represented by Future Liu Kang (“Old Man Liu-gan”?) from Mortal Kombat X, and there was a sorcerer who was a particularly appealing Jace Belerin card from Magic The Gathering.

For characters that are going out in “public”, I like to put in a little more creative legwork; since I’m not any sort of artist (I peaked at stick figures for the most part), I’ll often fall back on character creation tools from video games. Neverwinter 2’s creator tool was a nice one for a long time, though a bit low-res and you got more of a general body look than any facial detail – for facial detail, possibly something like Dragon Age or I think I even used The Sims 3 once. Or sometimes I’ll reverse-engineer the process by going to my local game store and buying a miniature and letting that drive the character I make.

Of course, the caveat on all of this is that it’s easier for the fantasy environment because it’s more established. It can be tough to find anything for Starfinder because the races are so new. OK, humans and androids are easy enough. Ysoki and vesk have some analogs (rat-man/lizard-man) in other universes, though they tend to be holding fantasy weaponry and wearing fantasy armor. But Shirren? Kasatha? Races from the newer books? There, you’re kinda on your own, which, I suppose, is another reason to spring for character art if it’s a character you’ll be using for a while.

I did take a quick listen to Steve’s interview with Rob McCready about the new playtest classes, but I feel like I’m kinda stuck in the middle – I don’t want to just regurgitate what I said last week, but until we actually sit down and play them, I’m not sure I have a ton of new things to say. My main takeaway: comparing them to Pathfinder classes is a bit of a no-no. I also hoped to hear more about the “other” stuff in the Character Operations Manual, but if it’s too early, it’s too early.

Next week, we should get the rest of this big fight against the ellicoth. After that… I guess we’ll see what Steve decides as far as taking a holiday break. Ironically, right when Steve goes on vacation is when my schedule slows down for the year, so I’m game for whatever. Perhaps it’s time for TUTTLE AFTER DARK: A FREE-FORM EXPLORATION OF THE HUMAN SOUL. Jazz music! Bad poetry! UTOPIAN MANIFESTOS! It’ll be like when Dylan went electric, man!

(There, that ought to get Steve cracking on editing the next few episodes…)

Well, whatever Steve decides about the holiday slowdown, we’ve got a new episode next week at the very least, so we’ll see you back here for that. In the meantime, hope you get a chance to drop by the Discord channel, whether it’s to playtest the new classes, or just to drop in on the reindeer games. See you out there in the Drift.

Talking Combat 063: Take My Breath Away

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 063: Ghouls Are People Too.

I’d like to start this week by expressing relief at Steve’s GM tip. When I first heard it, I thought he was going to do something crazy like argue that we should do away with dice in favor of having 12 listeners vote on whether our attacks hit. “Sorry Tuttle, the jury didn’t find it compelling that you’ve been practicing with that pistol enough… MISS!” Comparatively speaking, court as a roleplay analog is a fairly benign landing spot. If you want to get pedantic, it’s an incomplete analogy as the GM represents both the judge and the prosecution in an RPG, but there are some similarities… the phrase “rules lawyer” didn’t materialize out of thin air, after all.

I have to admit I don’t know how far to get into the new classes – we don’t really deal with “breaking news” very often here on RFC. On one hand, they represent a Thing That Is Happening in the larger Starfinder community, and our Discord channel is already kicking them around. On the other hand, it would feel kind of egotistical to get too far out in front of the other guys’ opinions or (potentially) interviews with Paizo people who actually worked on the classes, if Steve is going to be doing those as he says. Also, I don’t want to get repetitive – it would suck to do a deep dive and then realize that’s what we’re talking about next week too.

For now, I’ll leave it at first impressions.

  • Biohacker might be fun for someone else, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy the playstyle. It’s on the more subtle side of things. Access to heals immediately creates a niche for it in the game, and I like the class ability that gives you a free scan of any creature; I just don’t think it would be my thing.
  • Calling a vanguard a monk is an oversimplification. It’s got some similarities (unarmed striker, “entropy” is kinda like ki) but it’s also got differences (can wear heavy armor, entropy is powered up by taking hits). So it’s not a nimble striker that’s supposed to avoid hits – more of a brute that’s supposed to take hits because it pisses him off. (Now I’m imagining that moment in any Hulk Hogan match where the opponent starts slapping Hulkster to no effect, as his eyes bug out as he hulks up and gets more angry.) The vanguard also formally (re-)introduces shields to Starfinder – yes, the people of the Pact Worlds forgot how to hold a piece of wood or metal in front of their face for thousands of years and just now remembered – so maybe Chris will want to re-roll his fake paladin in the Society game.
  • The Witchwarper is a sorcerer-like caster (including CHA as a primary stat) that has a lot of cool flavor – things that play around with movement and terrain, elemental damage types, etc. – but some of its best abilities run on Resolve Points, so juggling heals/staying alive with unleashing its best powers could get dicey. The single most interesting thing I saw was “Lessen Injury” which allows you – as an interrupt – to lower a damage roll against you or an ally to the lowest possible value. So a 15-point 2d8 could become a 2. It doesn’t work on “extra” damage (crit/sneak attack/etc.), but that’s potentially crazy-useful stuff.

If you put me on the spot, I suspect Witchwarper is probably the one I’d want to try first. Some interest in Vanguard, but if we’re talking close combat, I have this feeling that Solarian already scratches that itch better than Vanguard is going to. Biohacker? Eh… let someone else have that one. Logistically, I don’t think we’re going to have a playtest for the show: not to put our business in the street, but people’s holiday plans are making it tough to fit in our regular sessions, much less extra sessions for a side game. But I do think we’ll be coming back to these after everyone has had a chance to look at them in greater detail.

Meanwhile… right! We had a show this week! Easy fight, rocky week with our people skills.

After poor Mo got beaten to a pulp by the ghouls, it was nice to have a fairly easy fight. I did like the “take your breath away” effect – it had a neat little sci-fi flavor… almost like creating a little mini-black-hole in your lungs. I did find myself wondering if the breath effect got worse with successive fails – maybe you get oxygen-deprived and start attacking other people or pass out if you fail two or three in a row – or if it was just an extra source of damage. The former, if true, could actually get pretty hairy. The latter… not really that big an issue. It seems like they’d make a pretty good boss challenge for a lower-level party – harder to hit at lower levels and the fort saves would be a little harder to make.

I also cracked up that Tuttle got to kill steal while Rusty and Hirogi were having their pissing contest about who was doing more damage. There was something fitting about that, and it actually harkened back to our Carrion Crown campaign, where I was a notorious kill-stealer. Stylistically, I was imagining the opening scene from the first Lethal Weapon where Riggs puts four or five shots in a guy while doing a little barrel roll on the ground. So we’ve got Lethal Weapon AND Lethal Weapon 2 represented – perhaps next week Tuttle will have occasion to explain how they fuck you in the drive-thru. (Or better yet, maybe we can just forget everything Joe Pesci did after My Cousin Vinny.)

Speaking of abrasive Joe Pesci roles, our people skills this episode could’ve used some work. It was oddly difficult to get information out of someone whose life we had just saved, but we somehow managed that herculean feat. And then Mo decided to yell at Wynetta Trux for… reasons. I mean, yeah, it was a little odd she’d get so ornery about having clean up bodies that we had to face doing work on her behalf, but jeez… overreact much, Mo? We’re already facing an uphill battle being agents of the living on an undead planet; probably don’t need to make things harder by alienating the one person who’s on our side.

(General aside: I thought our stint on the reality show all the way back in Book 1 would confer some sort of benefit or grease the wheels for us when we arrived here, but… nope. Reality TV celebrity is just as fleeting in the Pact Worlds as it is in real life.)

Well, hopefully next week, we can talk Wynetta down from being offended (that’s a Rusty job if ever I heard one) and get some information – remember that she was supposed to be researching that bone spur for us, right? So hopefully we can put that together with the new clue we found and that’ll give us a path to follow. I’m still not crazy that it almost has to lead to fighting a marrowblight, but we’ll jump off that cliff when we come to it. So, see you next week, and in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and talk about the episode, the new classes, or whatever else floats your boat. (Unless you’re late-career Pesci fans, in which case we’re gonna have issues. My review of The Super was so harsh it almost got our college newspaper’s press passes revoked.) See you next week.

Talking Combat 062: Red Vesk Redemption

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 062: Merry Critmas.

First things first: I hate to rain on Steve’s parade, but I’ve never read any David Eddings. I generally trust Steve’s taste on stuff like this, so I’ll check him out at some point, but I’m probably six or seven books deep on my “get around to it” list, so it might be a while. And since at least one of those is a Brandon Sanderson, that’s more like 10 or 11 regular books.

I do think the structure Steve lays out has a certain wisdom. Change is good, keeps any one aspect of the game from getting too stale. Even fighting. Yes, battle is the engine that makes the car go, but even endless dungeon crawl can get boring after a while. Besides, what’s the alternative structure. Tolkien? 14 episodes of travel, two episodes of singing elf or dwarf songs, one combat episode that’s resolved in 30 seconds, followed by a pedantic argument that Tolkien’s definition of a “ranger” doesn’t really fit the Pathfinder class very well; if anything, Legolas is more of a true ranger while Aragorn is more some sort of fighter who maybe took a dip in alchemist to get the herb lore… or maybe a ‘roided-up bard… or… (at which point one has begun to apply head to desk repeatedly).

Sorry, now that you’ve regained consciousness…

This is one of those episodes where I have to admit I don’t remember much of what happened. There’s a lot of moving parts to my recall ability – how long between when it was recorded and when it’s time to do the write-up, how involved my character was in the action, whether real life was picking at the edges while we were playing (there are nights where Dad Duty still comes into play) – and this episode… well, it wasn’t a complete black hole, but it wasn’t all there. I had absolutely NO recollection of a second shopkeeper; I knew we fought something, but was actually thinking of a different fight that happens later on. (A spoiler… but a very mild one. Yes, we fight again at some point. Also: Rosebud was the sled.)

And yet my brain started doing the same Goldfinger parody at the same point when Steve started talking about ghoul fingers, so it’s not totally lost. Is that memory rattling around in there somewhere or are my jokes just that predictable?  I’m sure my brain will wake me up to soul-search about that at 3 am some night soon.

I forgot, for instance, about the Joy of Reach. Those swoop hammers turned this battle into a massive pain in the ass. Not so much for Tuttle; he managed to keep himself on the fringes of battle. CHDRR, on the other hand: bad times. By having him rush in without figuring out how things were laid out, I accidentally put him into one of the squares where no matter what he did he’d be open to one, if not multiple, attacks of opportunity. It didn’t totally tie my hands, and I think there were a few times where the enemies maneuvered in such a way CHDRR was in the clear to attack as long as he didn’t move, but it was like fighting with one hand tied behind my back.

Of course, I shouldn’t really complain, since John was feeling this pain – quite literally – more severely than I was. That’s right… we have the glorious return of “Mo Dupinsky, Pinata For Hire”. I’ll admit I remember him taking a crit at some point during the fight, but I didn’t actually remember him dropping. I know he was frustrated – as you can hear when he got snippy with Bob about not getting into the fight – but when the bad guys land two crits on you… what are you gonna do? Just not your day.

On a more positive note, I had fun because this was Tuttle and CHDRR’s first battle with their weapon upgrades. CHDRR rolled low on his damage rolls, so the difference wasn’t all that noticeable with him, but Tuttle landing a crit for something like 20 and then a regular damage roll for another 11 gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies. Other than the odd kill shot, I don’t get to feel like a productive member of the fighting force all that often. FEAR ME, FOR I AM BATTLE-RAT!

(Also, note to self to go back and look and see if CHDRR’s temporary BUTTON-based weapons can be upgraded to something sexier at Level 6. Probably not, but you never know.)

Plot-wise, this episode doesn’t really move the needle, though it gives us the raw materials that should pan out next week. We found the bone spur for the marrowblight, which we gave to Wynetta Trux for further analysis. We’ve also rescued the female bone trooper, though the episode ends before we can get any information from her about her friend who ran off to join the Corpse Fleet. (Still like “Corpse Corps” better). So we’ve investigated both leads and have hooks to move the story forward – just the way David Eddings would’ve wanted it.

The “Good Undead/Bad Undead” schism is still coming into focus a little bit. I’d just started coming to grips with the idea that undead are Just Plain Folks and now we’re fighting them again. And they’re ghouls… but they’re just hitting us with hammers instead of doing anything particularly ghoulish. And there’s the fact that we caught them menacing ANOTHER undead person. I’m SO going to need a PowerPoint on all of this.

I’m also a little worried that the marrowblight is next on the dance card – looks like a nasty customer – but if that’s what’s in our future, I guess we’ll jump off that cliff when the time comes. After all, Mo’s the one that’s going to be getting hit most of the time, right? I may be BATTLE-RAT, but BATTLE-RAT is not an idiot.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Unlike Steve, I don’t have jury duty; I just picked up some PS4 games over the Thanksgiving weekend that I have yet to play. “Oh look at me balancing the scales of justice”… well, finding a team to take Carl Hagelin off my hands so I can promote my #1 draft pick in NHL19 is important too, man!

We’ll see you back here next week for the continued exploration of Eox; in the meantime, hope you’ve been enjoying the reindeer games on Discord. Have a good week, and see you next time.

Talking Combat 061: My Undead Has A First Name – It’s R.U.S.T.Y.

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 061: Eoxbound and Down.

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving! Today’s special bonus challenge will be to ignore the good smells coming from the kitchen long enough to recap this week’s episode. FEED ME, SEYMOUR!

So the highlight of this week was the appearance of Amanda Hamon Kunz. These guest NPC appearances have always been entertaining, and Amanda was no exception, though I wish she could’ve stuck around a little longer. I’ve said this in relation to having other players (in the Society games) but I think it applies equally to having someone run an NPC – it’s good to get another voice at the table, another take on the character.

I’m trying to frame this in such a way that it doesn’t sound like I’m criticizing Steve, but if you think about the number of roles the GM has to play over the course of a campaign, it’s hard to come up with distinct personalities for every single one. Especially in more of a roleplay-light campaign like we play. Maybe that NPC you did in Book 2 starts sounding like the one you did in Book 1. As a general pattern, Steve’s quest-giver “liaison” NPCs tend to be toward the stuffy and scholarly end of the spectrum, so I’m not sure he would’ve ever had Wynetta Trux be a tobaccy-spittin’ redneck. It was a breath of fresh air.

It’s also double-neat because Amanda herself was the author of the module in question, so you’re experiencing the material with that extra layer of the author’s original intent. I don’t want to get too grandiose – “IT’S LIKE SHAKESPEARE PLAYING MACBETH! IN THE GLOBE THEATER!” – but maybe a little bit of “playing with the DVD commentary on” vibe.

This week, we also finally got to the bottom of the Rusty mystery. Surprise! (Sorta.) Rusty is undead and has been since the akata attack way back in Book 1. Realistically, we probably saw this coming from the minute Steve started discussing the possibility during his interview with Erik Mona, but good to have it confirmed.

On the other hand, this is one of those things that played differently to me because Player Jason had information Character Tuttle did not have. Since I also write the book reviews for the site, I had already seen the part about necrografts in the Starfinder Armory, so I’d been thinking for a while that Rusty’s salvation from the akata disease involved necrografts in some way. (For the record, the Core Rulebook mentions the existence of a necrograft as A Thing in the lore-dump about Eox, but doesn’t really take it any further.)

For me, the mystery was whether Steve always knew about necrografts (Inside dirt from Paizo? Were there clandestine parking garage meetings involved?) or whether Steve had come up with a homebrew solution on the fly and then retconned it into the world of necrografts when those finally came out. In short, was Rusty infected with midichlorians, or did he gain access to an unseen Force that permeates and flows through everything in the universe?

From Steve’s post-game commentary and from what I remember of the original events, it sounds much more like the retcon route. If I remember the original encounter in Book 1, it was a lot more like an injection of nanobots, which doesn’t really fit the necrograft model. Maybe you could argue the injection was emergency triage and then Rusty got actual necrografts when we returned to Absalom, but that’s probably overthinking it.

The other thing I’m wrestling with is whether Tuttle would want any necrografts for himself. That’s a tough call. On one hand, Tuttle is very practical, and necrografts are nothing if not cost-effective. And there’s a certain level of “undead isn’t THAT strange” in his world. On the other hand, I do feel like turning himself undead would be a pretty big leap for him, and he’d AT LEAST want to think that through a little more before saying yes. I suspect he’ll come around once he realizes that turning undead would give him centuries to work on his research.

Plot-wise, Wynetta basically gives us two paths forward. There’s a robbery at a flesh-growth plant (and you thought hot dogs were gross) or we can investigate someone who expressed Corpse Fleet sympathies and may have run off to join them. Since the flesh plant is right across the street from the necrograft shop, but I suspect we’ll be visiting both before it’s all over. And in fact, we manage to turn up a bone spur in the flesh vat (and another awkward conversation with Sean) at the first location before breaking for the day.

Next time, we investigate Lead #2 and hopefully try to figure out who (or what) that bone spur was a larger part of. For now, I hear the call of Thanksgiving dinner, so I’m going to jump right into a food coma. Have a good holiday weekend and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 060: Excelsior!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 060: Undead on Arrival.

I have to confess, the editing of this week’s episode threw me a little. I came in prepared to talk a lot about Amanda Hamon Kunz’s visit to the show, but I kinda feel like I want to push most of that to next week because it feels incomplete until you, the listener, have had the full Wynetta Trux Experience.

(“Wynetta Trux Experience”. Jam band, opened for Phish a few times… underrated, but would’ve gone further if they’d had a better bass player.)

So with no disrespect intended toward Amanda, I’m going to mostly set her aside for next week, other than to say it was a lot of fun having her on the show. Instead, let’s start with Steve’s GM note about changing PCs, with a particular eye toward Tuttle.

It is true that Tuttle has changed from the way I drew him up in my head, but it’s kind of funny how unintentional it was. (At least at first; at this point, I’ve started intentionally leaning into it.) To recycle that old joke about fights and hockey games, I went to a min-max and a roleplay broke out.

Tuttle started in my head as a very bookish academic who kind of turned his nose up at getting his paws dirty. If there was any more reputable gig that could fund his scientific ambitions, he’d rather be doing that, but here we are. And it’s only been recently that I’ve explicitly thought “Tuttle’s adventures are going to change him – he’s going to see that being a sheltered academic is limiting and embrace the chaos of field work”. To be honest, most of his changes were rooted in pragmatism: either solving the last problem we faced (especially if it revealed something that would be an ongoing issue moving forward) or anticipating a problem that was coming up. But still, it is true that walking through those progressions DID change how I perceived him and his willingness to “get weird for science”.

(“Get Weird For Science” – next Tuttle T-shirt quote.)

And I think what makes it work is that there are pieces of his core that are preserved – it’s a fusion of the old concept and the new concept. If I threw EVERYTHING about Tuttle out the window, then I’d just be min-maxing and making the character portrayal follow the stats. But I like to think I’ve preserved enough of the old Tuttle to keep on the right side of the Roleplay Gods. He’s still content to let CHDRR be the muscle of his personal operation, so CHDRR still gets all the combat feats and if Tuttle takes combat skills at all, they’re usually defensive. He’s still got the same ethical center, which usually manifests in giving Hirogi’s ethical lapses the stink-eye. While he’s embraced the necessity of roughing it, he still complains about it quite a bit – at any given moment, he’d still rather be nursing a coffee, tapping away on a keyboard, with indoor plumbing and air conditioning at his disposal.

Now, on to Eox. This week, we mostly experience Eox on a theoretical level, and really only get into the meat of it in the last 10 minutes or so. But we still learned some interesting stuff.

First, the physical environment. Radioactive and/or poisonous atmosphere. Nights last 15 Pact World days. Huge flesh-rendering plants that make the place stink of death. Yep. It’s Mordor.

It’s also kind of interesting to see the degree to which the living are tolerated rather than accepted. I’d been viewing this through my Pathfinder lens – I mistrust undead because undead were pretty universally bad guys there. It never really occurred to me to think about what the undead thought of the living and how they might be treated. So that was an eye-opener. And that’s even the “good” undead. We haven’t even gotten to the Corpse Fleet yet.

Speaking of the Corpse Fleet, as we discussed a little bit in the podcast, it doesn’t sound like Eox takes the Corpse Fleet THAT seriously, or maybe they don’t care as long as the Corpse Fleet is only going after living targets. One office in the worst part of town, staffed by one person, and (it seems) all she does is file reports – largely logging crank calls if Sean is the measuring stick – with the government that largely get ignored? There was something about the bureaucratic indifference of it that that reminded me of the beginning of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – I was waiting for Trux’s office to be an out-of-order restroom with a “Beware of the Leopard” sign on the door.

There’s also something that came up while listening to the show I wanted to discuss which… I’m going to ask your indulgence here.  It’s a weird little rabbit hole that even though I went through the books to re-read the lore and “proved” it couldn’t be true, it left an interesting residue. Interesting enough I wanted to throw it out there for grins.

What if the pre-Gap history was somehow wrong and Eox was Golarion?

What set me off was Steve’s description of the crater. Something in my brain latched onto that and said: “Oh, that’s just like the Worldwound”. And from there it was off to the races.

Now before you all send me 30 copies of the History Channel Alien Guy image with the caption I’M NOT SAYING IT WAS GOLARION, BUT IT WAS GOLARION… I know it’s wrong. Eox is in the wrong orbit, so there would have to be some Wrath of Khan Ceti Alpha 5 shenanigans going on. And the original inhabitants of Eox are identified as the elebrians, a race related to but distinct from humans. And some of the pre-Gap history references the existence of Eox. And the gods themselves say Golarion is out there somewhere, safe and sound, waiting to be found.

But it was a neat what-if to explore: what if undeadishness had won the long game in the campaign setting we’ve been calling home for the past decade? What if all those Pathfinder adventures saved the world, only to let it advance to the point where it could destroy itself so completely they had to turn undead to save themselves. Kinda sobering, isn’t it? I realize this is “what if our planet is an electron in an atom in a larger universe?” level crazy-talk, but it was fun to think about. Or maybe I was just sleep deprived and missing my first cup of coffee. You tell me.

Speaking of indulgence, I’d like to close with a few words about the passing of Stan Lee. Yeah, I know his bailiwick was superheroes, not roleplaying games, but I feel like there’s a fair amount of overlap in the various fan communities.

I don’t have any personal story of meeting him, and I don’t feel a compulsive need to list my 34 favorite Marvel characters in order of preference. (ABRIDGED: 1. Spider-Man. 2. Everyone else.) And I also recognize his contribution to pop culture was somewhat a product of his own hype, and he sometimes stepped on other creators to claim the lion’s share of the credit for himself, but we can unpack that some other day.

I think what I really loved about Stan Lee is how he used his public persona – even after he was out of the day-to-day at Marvel and had no more direct skin in the game – to respect and affirm people like us: people who wanted to exercise our imaginations in ways that might seem unconventional, people who didn’t see anything wrong with indulging in a little escapism because it was FUN. Hell, the man made a career out of it. Here’s a guy who was a success in the entertainment world, using his platform to tell us that stories about a kid bitten by a radioactive spider (or, at the risk of indulging hubris, making up your own stories about a science rat with a robot buddy) are just as worthy of your time and attention as More Serious Pursuits. And his cameos, which started as a bit of a gimmick, evolved into a bit of a low-key covenant with the fans – “if you keep showing up, so will I”. It was almost like having that relative out on the edges of your family tree who you don’t see all that often, but sometimes got you in ways your closer family didn’t.

Good old Uncle Stan. Gonna miss him.

That’s it for this week. Next week, we’re going to really dig into the mysteries of Eox and Amanda Hamon Kunz gets to take her appearance to the next level when we finally meet Wynetta Trux. Until then, hope to see you on the Discord channel, where the party never stops. (Though it sometimes slows to a crawl because we’re old and several of us have kids.)

Until then, EXCELSIOR!

Talking Combat 059: Guns. Lots of Guns

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 059: Pick Six.

It’s leveling week on Roll For Combat. Always fun to get a new set of toys to play with. Tuttle kind of gets the narrative short straw in this episode because I missed the memo on both weapon fusions and mnemonic editors, which ended up consuming a lot of the bandwidth.

On the bright side? Guns. Guns galore.

Tuttle gets a weapon upgrade from the repair process, and an armor upgrade too. For those scoring at home: 6400 credits’ worth of upgrades for 100 credits’ worth of UPBs. I have to admit going in, I was concerned the repair process would be tougher (and/or more expensive) but a couple really good rolls was all it really took. The armor was a fairly minor upgrade, but I’ve been using that wimpy little azimuth pistol for WAAAAAAY too long. Only downside: deafen is a pretty situational critical effect compared to the simple joy of lighting stuff on fire, but that can be fixed with weapon fusions.

CHDRR’s weapon upgrades came from the part of CHDRR’s sheet Steve doesn’t let me see, so that was kind of a nice surprise. I was getting to the point where I was going to have to retire his starter weapons soon anyway, so having them upgrade semi-spontaneously is pretty nice. I was starting to feel a little useless in combat, so even if this doesn’t make me a Hirogi/Mo level damage-dealer, it at least makes me a little more viable.

You may note that this shopping session was heavily influenced by the release of the Starfinder Armory. For me personally, the teleportation puck and regenerative blood were two of the cooler items I found in that book. The teleportation puck seems like one of those things that will be completely useless until we find the perfect situation for it – maybe we’ll need to get across a chasm, or we’ll want to use it to flank an enemy or something (Reaper from Overwatch creeping into my thinking, clearly). Regenerative blood is a lot more straightforward and generally useful; it’s the equivalent of a free healing serum each time you rest.  That certainly doesn’t suck.

The last change was the datajack. The initial reason the datajack appealed to me is that it moves the command node for CHDRR into my head, so I don’t have to use a hand to operate my datapad. Particularly now that I’m going to be riding CHDRR into combat, having a free hand seems like a good idea. The side benefit of an additional plus on Computer checks… I mean, I’m already something like +15 or +16, so it’s not THAT important, but at some point, I’m going to just squeak by a Computers check by 1 and then I suspect I’ll be singing its praises.

I wasn’t directly involved in the weapon fusion discussion because I wasn’t particularly interested in those (at least not this level), but I do have a more general observation: I found I started to understand the fusion system better after I read the Runes system in the Pathfinder Playtest. Spoiler: if they’re not EXACTLY the same system, they’re similar enough. I don’t know if it’s that the Pathfinder Playtest writers wrote it a little cleaner, or if somehow the fantasy concept and the tangible idea of engraving a rune onto a weapon made it stick in my brain a little better, but that really helped lock it in.

I do think I’ll be dipping my toes in the fusion market at some point fairly soon. Like I said above, my current gun has Deafen as a crit effect which is pretty underwhelming.  I already worry that there will be situations where it won’t do anything (e.g., creatures without hearing), but the fact that Deafen only affects initiative and Perception checks is frankly, kind of lame. So I’ll do it at some point (MOAR DAMAGE!), but for this round of shopping, I had better choices available.

In a similar vein: mnemonic editors. I like the concept; I might use one eventually; I just wasn’t interested in it this time around. I think a large part of that comes from playing a skill-monkey build: it feels like the other guys were optimizing for combat and I’ve achieved one-ness with being a crappy fighter. I do like the idea of the mnemonic editor, though. You may have noticed a recurring theme of me wanting to see them lean into the sci-fi elements more – a device that can reprogram your brain to learn new skills absolutely qualifies. Though I am disappointed none of us threw in a Keanu-ized “I know kung-fu!” Golden opportunity lost.

We end the episode ready to find out what awaits on Eox. I’m definitely curious to see what that’s going to be like, but I also don’t want to hype it up in my brain too much. Part of me thinks “undead planet” and wants it to be something mind-blowing – fountains spraying blood instead of water, scary Eye of Sauron towers everywhere, and so on. But our other encounters with the undead so far in this game have emphasized just how normal they’re intended to be. So I suppose I have to be equally prepared for undead mundanity – undead janitors, undead banging away on Excel spreadsheets, possibly even undead Starbucks (VENTI O-NEG, EXTRA BILE). It’ll be interesting to see how Paizo threads that needle between exotic and commonplace.

Speaking of which, we have the person who had to thread that needle with us next week: Amanda Hamon Kunz, who wrote the next adventure, pays us a visit. I know part of the allure of special guests is that they work at Paizo and have all sorts of inside info, and yes, that’s cool. But for me as a player, it’s equally exciting just to have someone new to break up the dynamics of the table a little. A new voice, a new sense of humor… heck, maybe mix in some movie references that are a little less dated. (Johnny Mnemonic?) So that’ll be a treat.

That’s it for this week; we’ll see you next week from Eox, vacation hot spot of the Pact Worlds. Same Undead Time, New Undead Planet. In the meantime, thanks for listening and feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the merriment that’s going strong over there.

Talking Combat 058: Buzzed Lightyear

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 058: O Co-Captain! My Co-Captain!.

I wanted to start this week by clarifying some chronology. Some of you more astute listeners might wonder why we spent the last episode upgrading the Sunrise Maiden, but then still had the original specs. The actual order we recorded the episodes was:

  1. First pass at Sunrise Maiden, up to where three of us had three different numbers in the builder app.
  2. This week’s episode where we flew home to Absalom and got in the scrap with the Corpse Fleet bikers.
  3. Finished the build process once we returned to Absalom, aka the second half of last week’s episode.

BEHOLD THE DARK TRICKERY OF PRE-RECORDED AUDIO!

This week’s battle was… well… “pesky” is probably the best way to describe it. You got the feeling these ships weren’t much of a match for us in terms of trading shots, but they were faster than we were, and since there were two of them, it tended to be difficult to keep both of them in a firing arc even when we won the piloting rolls. But even when they were hitting, they weren’t doing much damage, which they compounded by rolling like crap, so it never felt like we were in any real danger.

No shields to balance? No glitches to fix? This gave me a chance to step out from Damage Control Tuttle and try out some tactics on the offensive side. In this fight, squeezing out extra speed seemed to be the most useful thing I could do, but I also tried pushing auxiliary power to the weapons (kinda useless – maybe rerolling a 1 entirely might be more useful), and I even considered manning a gun. It was nice to feel like I was contributing to the offense rather than standing around with the roll of duct tape waiting to patch holes.

I’m not sure how I feel about Chris’ secondary battle with the rulebook. It’s true we don’t do space combat all that often, so it’s pretty easy to forget. But there was a stubbornness there, where people were trying to help him and he was brushing them off with “I got this” when… he very obviously didn’t. Also, it seemed like the concept he was struggling with was fairly simple – it’s turning radius. The maneuverability number is how many hexes you have to move between each turn of the arc, and you have to start with at least one move before you can turn at all. Check, please.

Maybe it was the booze/cold medicine/whatever.

Which gets us to Steve’s GM tip. I have no “moral” objections if someone wants to have an adult beverage at the gaming table. To borrow from Jeff Spicoli, this is OUR time, and I don’t really have a problem if someone wants to pop a cold one during OUR time. Also, as long as they’re not sloppy drunk, it can loosen people up and create some interesting interactions. And if they badly derail things, I leave it to Steve as the GM to handle it.

That said, I don’t drink during our games purely as an energy thing: for any given session, I’ve usually worked all day, had to make dinner for my family, and then maybe have a half-hour to decompress before we start playing – if anything I go the other direction, dip into my stash of Mountain Dew and caffeinate. I think ONE time (pre-podcast), we were playing the night of my office holiday party (open bar + take the bus, so I don’t have to drive), and so I was still a little buzzed; I don’t feel like my judgment was impaired, but I do remember feeling like I could doze off at any time. Heck, maybe that WAS the one time I fell asleep during the session.

Though I’ll also agree with Steve that anything goes at conventions. That’s like… Mardi Gras for nerds. Do what you gotta do.

Getting back to action, I get Bob’s frustration and not being able to extract more data from the Corpse Fleet ships, but I think at some point you just chalk it up to “that’s what the plot requires” and move on. Yes, I can go to my car, bring up the GPS screen, and see the 5 or 10 most recent destinations. So yeah, it’s a little odd supposedly futuristic sci-fi ships would have lesser technology than that. On the other hand, it’s easy enough to hand-wave a story reason it’s not the case – it could’ve been a suicide mission type thing where they didn’t expect to come back, so they stripped all the logs and nav computer and all that stuff because it wasn’t going to be needed – so at some point you just go with it.

As far as throwing the prisoners out of the airlock… I’ll just say that Jason the Player wasn’t sure why we even took them on board anyway and figured they weren’t going to tell us anything useful, but I had to roleplay Tuttle as being against harming them. I have to keep reminding myself that the undead are nominally good guys in this setting.

Then again… does throwing undead out an airlock really accomplish anything? On one hand, they don’t need to breathe, eat, or sleep; on the other hand, I assume the absolute-zero temperatures of space would still eventually kill them or render them functionally inert. Oooh. Maybe they’d go into some sort of deep-freeze cryostasis and come back as villains later in the story! (Kinda like tossing General Zod in the Phantom Zone in Superman 2.)

Alas, that question will be tabled for another day, as sanity wins out and we take our prisoners back to Absalom. After collecting a reward and conferring with Chiskisk, it looks like we’re going to follow our leads to Eox itself – the undead homeworld! I have to admit I’m pretty excited – the whole idea of an undead society is one of the things that’s distinctly new about Starfinder, so being able to campaign in that setting should be pretty cool. And OK, maybe we’ll be able to figure out what’s been going on with Rusty all this time. Whether he wants us to or not…

Talking Combat 057: Same Ship, Different Day

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 057: Better Homes and Starships.

There’s really not much more to say about the cultist base. I suppose the one remaining thing is personal – as long as the skill checks to repair gear are makeable, Tuttle will come out of this with a weapon AND armor upgrade, which is pretty nice. On one hand, it’s only going from a +5/+6 to a +7/+7, but I do get back the second upgrade slot that I lost when switching to the D-suit. Also, at least in headcanon, I can tell myself that since it’s ysoki technology, it fits better, so Tuttle will now be humming ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” whenever he enters rooms from now on.

Overall I don’t mind the occasional low-combat clue hunt. While the combat engine is the driving force, it’s actually nice to step away from that once in a while. Having said that, when you do that, it’s probably a good idea for the GM to drop a few hints that that’s the nature of this particular section of the story, so the PCs don’t spend hours searching for the secret door to the mythical “rest of the adventure” that’s not there. As a player, it can be pretty difficult to leave the mindset of the “big fight at the end” behind, so sometimes it’s hard to accept that there’s no fight and there’s a tendency to think you missed something.

I suppose the real question is: what do you do in one of these low-combat clue hunts if the players aren’t finding the clues? Then you find yourself in a situation where you’re not fighting anything, you’re not gaining information… you really are just spinning your wheels. I suppose that’s where maybe the GM has to step in and deus ex machina it a little bit and have the players stumble upon a datapad or something that either gives them the information or points them back to the place they overlooked.

At any rate, on to the meat of the episode: Adventures In Shipbuilding.

As Steve points out right at the end, this was actually the product of two different game sessions. There was a really rough first pass which went roughly up to the point where Chris, John and I had three different numbers in our builder app, and that’s actually where we stopped for the night. Then we kind of cleaned up that first session offline and did the rest (including weapons, which we didn’t even touch in the first session) in the second session.

I found that at a high level, the best way to do this process is to build the ship you want, see how badly you overspent, and then try to dial things back to get the ship you can afford. In doing so, it feels like the shields or the computer tend to be the places that offer the most wiggle room because there are a lot of options that offer a wide spread of build point and power usage choices. With other systems, the choices tended to be more narrow.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • When it comes to thrusters, you pretty much want to be as fast as possible. The cost difference isn’t that much, and the combat benefits are vital. If you’re not moving 10 or 12 spaces, you might as well be wearing the interstellar equivalent of a KICK ME sign on your hull.
  • When it comes to Drift engine, yes you want to have one, but the use case for the higher levels is marginal – you get where you’re going faster, which might lead to less “wandering monster” encounters in the Drift. I suppose it depends a little on your campaign style – if you’re playing more of an open-ended “explore the galaxy” game, it might be worth investing in. For adventure paths, which mostly tend to hop around the Pact Worlds, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of upside.
  • Also worth mentioning that the power logic on Drift engines is inverted – it doesn’t cost power against your power budget, but you have to have a minimum power core for the drift engine you select. (I assume that implies that all the “combat” systems are turned off when you’re in Drift travel or something.)
  • Armor is a mixed bag. It doesn’t cost anything in terms of power, but its build cost is accelerated by the plus and the frame of the ship, so it can get expensive (in terms of build points) fast. Also, once you get above +5, it starts messing with your target lock – i.e. less maneuverable, easier for missiles to hit.
  • Expansion bays, crew quarters, etc. are mostly throwaway costs. With a few exceptions (the Hangar Bay being the biggest), they don’t draw a lot of power or take a lot of build points. Leave enough resources to have… something… but don’t sweat it.

Lastly, I should mention I made a mistake on weapons, which we might want to correct next time we’re in spacedock. I mistakenly shot down John’s idea of the 8d4 railgun because I got tripped up on my terminology. A Heavy weapon CAN still be mounted on a Medium frame (which is what the Sunrise Maiden is). It’s Capital Weapons that require a Huge (or larger) frame. Though there would also be a cost to upgrade the weapon MOUNT from light to heavy as well. So… yeah, we could’ve upgraded our weapons more than we did, and my misreading of the rules is primarily to blame.

On the other hand, Tuttle got his science lab, so there’s that! Though I thought it was kind of funny that I was the one arguing against it – +1 bonus on science checks vs. the ability to craft stuff? – while Mo and Hirogi were arguing in favor.

There are three other observations I had about shipbuilding, though neither directly impacts this campaign.

First, I echo Steve’s sentiment that it’s initially counter-intuitive that none of this costs money, that the ship is almost just another member of the party. I can sort of understand why – it would be another potential cash sink in a game that already has a fair number of them; furthermore, you’d be spending a large chunk of party loot on something that doesn’t even get used every adventure. But it’s still sometimes a little odd that your ship just levels up along with you and you can get new gear for free.

Second, it seems like the jump between big (NPC) ships and player ships is almost two different games, and I wonder if that’s going to create issues at the higher levels, and/or in homebrew campaigns. Basically, the short answer is Capital weapons are orders of magnitude more powerful than light and heavy weapons, but can only be placed on Huge ships, which have crew complements starting at 20 and going into the hundreds.

My most immediate concern is that I worry that player ships might be badly outgunned at high levels. Right now, a ship with a Capital weapon could literally one-shot the Sunrise Maiden – tear through shields and hit points with one dice roll. And OK, Han Solo shouldn’t be trading shots with an Imperial Star Destroyer either, but I worry you could reach a point in the story where you just don’t have the firepower to get past the obstacle in your way.

Of lesser concern, but still worth noting, is the fact that a party of players can’t man a big ship by themselves. Which, as mentioned, locks groups out of the heaviest weapons, but also messes with the potential of open-ended Star Trek style campaigns where the ship is the home base and fighting other big ships is a more commonplace happening. Now, I realize if a gaming group really wants that sort of game, it can be solved with GM prerogative – you can either hand-wave some AI that reduces the crew complement or “United Federation of Planets” it and assume there’s an NPC crew that’s willing to work for free, because paying 14-16 NPCs would bankrupt most groups. But it’s a limitation worth keeping an eye on.

In saying all of this, I recognize Starfinder isn’t Star Wars: X-Wing. Ship combat is ultimately an add-on, not the core mechanic of the game. But it is true that some people, particularly on the homebrew side, are going to want to make it a more front-and-center piece of their campaign, and some accommodations are going to have to be made.

The third of my observations is that I hope expansions lean further into the more exotic aspects of sci-fi at some point. Right now, other than a few weapon effects, ship combat is pretty conventional; it feels like those old Avalon Hill wargames. And that’s not a bad thing… I played some of those and really liked them as a kid. But if you’ve got this sci-tech/magic hybrid sandbox to play with… bring some of that into the ships. Maybe you can have Mirror Image for your ship, where it creates multiple sensor ghosts. Maybe you can have a starship equivalent of Blink, where you can do a short range teleport once or twice per combat. Nanobots that heal hull damage to the ship? Where’s the Omega-13 device from Galaxy Quest that rewinds time? At some point, I’d like to see my sci-fi ships incorporate some crazy sci-fi shit and not just trade cannon shots like they were ships of the line at Trafalgar.

But those are concerns for other days and other campaigns. Today, we’ve got a slightly more powerful Sunrise Maiden 2.0 (or should it be 6.0 since it “leveled” up with us?) and we’ll resume our hunt for…. Cultists? The Corpse Fleet? I guess we’ll figure that out next week. See you then!

Talking Combat 056: Movin’ Right Along

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 056: Rage Against The Machine.

This is one of those weeks where I thought the big-picture discussions on the side were far more interesting than what was going on in the game.

That’s not to say nothing happened. Certainly, Rusty getting his face blown off by a laser was amusing. Though I’m forced to ask who puts that much firepower on their sock drawer? I also wasn’t faking genuine remorse at hitting and critting CHDRR, even though I was under the effects of a confusion spell. We also had another incident of Hirogi bleeding encounters, though it turned out that was Steve adding a little extra oomph to what would have otherwise been a kind of boring fight.

It’s funny Steve mentions that because although the editing of the episode doesn’t linger on it, I’m fairly sure we went into the room with the second veolisk in the early stages of exploring the compound. Granted, we didn’t stay very long and we didn’t search, but I really thought we had passed through that room before. So now that Steve says he added the second veolisk to make it a little more of a workout… that would certainly explain it.

I suppose one might ask if it’s the GM’s place to do that. The short answer is absolutely yes – first and foremost, the GM serves the story and the mutual fun of the people playing. And you can’t have it both ways: we’ve talked before about giving the GM the latitude to make an encounter easier to avoid a likely TPK; if you’re going to accept that, I think you have to be equally accepting if a GM feels like an encounter would be too easy and decides to spice it up a bit.

(Obviously none of the above applies to Society play. In Society play, things are very regimented, and part of the experience is that everyone who played a certain adventure played the same adventure. If the GM starts winging it there, it undermines the experience.)

I do think Steve was right to make this fight tougher. Take out the veolisk and those two sentry robots would’ve been almost a foregone conclusion. But more than the challenge, it felt like the right call story-wise. At the risk of a mild spoiler, we’re about to leave and we KNOW (based on the symmetrical architecture of the base) there’s basically no rooms left to explore. Given that we’d been wandering for almost an hour since the last major story point, two robots would’ve been an almost anti-climactic finish. The goofy, chaotic fight we ended up getting served as a nice way to wrap things up and end on a high note. “Serve the story.”

And that’s another question Steve briefly touched on. When should a GM hand-wave actions that clearly aren’t going to move the story? When should he or she say “you aren’t going to get anything else from this, time to move on”? As Steve mentioned, everything after hacking the main computer was… “filler” isn’t quite fair, but it certainly didn’t add any major developments to the main plot. (Yay, we learned how to chant “Nyara knows”!) So when does a GM pull the plug on something like that and steer things (subtly or overtly) to something more productive? You particularly see this a lot when it comes to roleplaying and interacting with NPCs – some people just want an almost MMO-like transaction where they get the quest from the quest-giver and move on; other people really want to drill in and talk to these NPCs and get their whole life story, even after they’ve got the three pieces of information they actually need.

I think the right answer is to read the table and the players and see how they’re responding, and in particular, to make sure the players are equally invested or equally ready to move on. I think where things get problematic is where one person is either dominating the action or (on the opposite end) feeling like they’re being railroaded. If the party as a whole wants to dig in and search every room because they want to feel like they earned every scrap of treasure they find… OK, that’s the game you deliver to them as the GM. If everyone is cool with “we Greyhawk the room”, then THAT’s the game you deliver. But if most of your players are checking their phones while one guy pokes every floor tile with a 10-foot pole, that’s the scenario where you’ve got a problem.

I do think session boundaries present an opportunity for the GM to steer without steering. You don’t have to come right out and say “this isn’t going to get you anything, move it along”; a little reminder that “oh hey, we have about 40 minutes left” can get the players to clarify their priorities – if they still want to open every jar in the pantry, you’ve at least left them a hint that they’re sailing into the waters of diminishing returns.

The one place one would have to be careful with all of this is the danger of leaving the players under-geared for future encounters. Much as we’d like the story and the grand adventure to be center stage, the dirty little secret is that gear matters – some of this stuff is balanced with the assumption that the party will have certain levels of firepower. If they miss one magic item or a few credits… eh, whatever. If they walk away from an entire wing of a dungeon – especially if they walked away because the GM convinced them to do so – I think you have to throw in a way to make that up, loot-wise. Maybe have their benefactor give them an extra reward. Maybe throw in a side quest before the next major development in the main story, so they can make up some of the difference.

(Holy crap, I just gave a GM tip. WORLDS COLLIDE!)

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the idea of not using skills in a campaign.

First, I’m glad Steve called out the fact that Tuttle would be pretty useless in a zero-skill game… saves me most of the trouble of doing so. And I’m not lobbying for some zero-combat game where our characters strive to bake perfect soufflés and become experts at… pottery or something. I know at its Gygaxian roots, this all started as a wargame, and at the end of the day, combat is still the engine that drives the action.

But once again, I come back to the theme of storytelling. This game evolved beyond its grognard roots, and the reason it did so is that people wanted to use the platform to tell interactive stories rather than just beat the crap out of each other. Sitting around coming up with Tolkien Fight Club scenarios (“Dude… Aragorn, Legolas, and Galadriel… against Smaug”) is superficially interesting; the story of destroying the One Ring is a book parents still read to their kids decades after it was written.

Now, “we beat up the other guy” is a good story, and the details can sometimes be compelling. Skywalker v. Vader. Deckard v. Batty. McClane v. Gruber. And yes, it’s easier to model those sorts of things with game mechanics. But “we beat up the other guy” is certainly not the only story out there, and not always the most interesting. To keep it in sci-fi terms, not all Star Trek episodes were resolved by combat – sometimes an impassioned Picard soliloquy or inverted chronaton particles accomplished what a photon torpedo couldn’t. For an even better example, look at Doctor Who: those stories are pretty much NEVER resolved by fighting. It was always The Doctor talking his way out of trouble (social challenges) or coming up with some technological solution (skill challenges). (Don’t come at me with “Gallifreyan jiu-jitsu” – people did a lot of drugs in the Baker years.)

So I think when you take skills out of a campaign, you’re not just making characters less interesting, you’re making the stories you can tell less interesting. I still love cracking orc skulls as much as the next guy, and Ezrik (my mindless thug of a warpriest; the one with the chainsaw) was one of my favorite characters ever. But I think leaving room for other playstyles is a big part of what makes this shared hobby of ours more than just a pen-and-paper version of Mortal Kombat.

I think the one small exception is introducing new players to the game. I think when you’re running new players through their first couple sessions, I think combat is a more accessible entry point than a bunch of skills challenges. Let ‘em whup a little kobold ass so they can see the possibilities, THEN ease them into skills once they’ve got the bloodlust going.

So I recognize I barely mentioned the actual game action this week, but I thought Steve raised some really interesting issues, and like he himself said, we exhausted the story relevance of the cultist hideout once we found the main computer. Next week we should get off this godforsaken rock and figure out what to do next, so hopefully you’ll be back next week to join us for that. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the conversation going on over there.

Talking Combat 055: Summer Camp for Sociopaths

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 055: Stop Hitting Yourself.

I CAN’T DRIVE… (episode) FIFTY-FIVE!!!!

Sorry, just wanted to get that out of my system. Do I have to mail a four-cent royalty check to Sammy Hagar now?

So it appears the “Whomping On Cultists” portion of our program has been postponed. It appears that there are no cultists to whomp on.

The big story reveal of the episode was that Tahomen’s last transmission included orders to his cultist playmates to pack up their gear and head for the next location. Unless there’s still a rear guard yet to be met, nobody’s home. We also got a bit of a lore dump, but most of that felt like flavor rather than specific clues as to what to do next. Torture, evil ceremonies, ancient elvish priestess… summer camp for sociopaths!

We also found out there may be a third party with undead connections – the Corpse Fleet badge we found amidst the viscera, the broken necrograft, etc. – but we don’t know their role yet. Are they trying to stop the cultists? Are they trying to steal the ultimate weapon for themselves? An alliance between the two? (Well, you usually don’t chop your allies to bits with a laser grid, so… unlikely.) Is it just a coincidence and the Corpse Fleet stopped by selling the Eoxian equivalent of Girl Scout cookies? (Also unlikely, and not just because the undead don’t really eat cookies.) All TBD, but the plot has certainly thickened.

OK, JUST thought about it… I’m really hoping the juxtaposition of undead + cultists doesn’t mean they’re going to find a way to resurrect Nyara. Psychotic undead elf priestess holding thousands of years of pent-up anger as a Big Bad? In the words of Sam Beckett at the end of every Quantum Leap, “oh boy”.

But… but… Paizo would never… do something that…

(curls in the fetal position and begins weeping)

Sorry, where was I?

In the midst of all of that: critter fight! Specifically, a veolisk, the spacefaring cousin of the basilisk. I’m on record that I’ve been excited to see more exotic space critters and less humanoids, so this was fun. And OK, maybe it’s because Tuttle is a wuss who can’t punch himself very hard and CHDRR is immune, but as status effects go, I really don’t mind confusion that much. 50/50 you just waste the turn, which is no worse than missing with an attack; 25% you take some minor damage, and 25% you get to do what you want anyway. That’s really not that bad as status effects go. Frankly, the akatas on the Drift Rock were worse.

As far as the mistake Steve made interpreting the gaze attack: I’m sure part of my ability to be magnanimous is that the mistake broke in our favor, but I really wasn’t too worried about it. I agree with his general vibe that gaze attacks are usually explicit attacks, not aura/passive effects, so I don’t fault him for missing it. I’m wondering if maybe since the attack was reduced from petrification (for a basilisk) to confusion, they made it a little easier to use. Either way, a timely crit made it a fairly short fight, and we’re back to exploring the compound.

For the record, I was only half-kidding about keeping this place as a hideout/base of operations. It might be kind of useful to have a place to hole up if there’s ever a reason we can’t return to civilized worlds. You know… when Hirogi does something that finally gets a bounty placed on all of us. We’d have to do some renovations though: Tuttle would NOT be a big fan of the lack of privacy involved with interconnected rooms. Or the spartan bathrooms. He’s a space-rat who’s fond of creature comforts.

We’d definitely keep the death lasers, though. I could even see Tuttle working on ways to make them more lethal.

The last major development is kind of a selfish one. We found an armory with some possible weapon upgrades! Hooray! Tuttle has literally been using the same azimuth laser pistol since fairly early in Level 1*, and there’s been a few fights where I literally could not overcome damage resistance without overcharging my weapon. Yes, there’s an engineering roll to fix them, but as long as it’s anything reasonable, Tuttle should be fine.

To be fair, I’ve at least considered a weapon upgrade every time we’ve gone shopping, but the price-to-benefit was always pretty limited. It always seemed like it was “pay half your money, to jump up from a d4 to a d6”. Kind of hard to justify when there were more interesting things to buy, and I suppose I’ve been hoping a weapon upgrade mixed in with the loot would be quicker in coming. And now it finally has. Better late than never, I guess.

(*=Technically Tuttle had a semi-auto pistol for the first session, but he attached that to CHDRR after the opening fight at the spaceport and took a laser pistol for himself. So, basically since Day One.)

That’s it for this week. What does next week look like? Well we’re still not quite done exploring the complex, but if you assume what looks like a symmetrical floor plan (and/or no additional floors), there’s probably not a lot of real estate left to cover. I’m not sure if there’s still more clues to be found or if the computer was the big find and we have to cobble something together from what we have on hand – maybe we can descramble the garbled destination if we go back to Absalom, maybe we look into the undead connection or something (contact Gevalarsk Nor and see if they’re missing any Corpse Fleet dudes?). I guess we’ll find out next week. See you then!