Talking Combat Archives - Roll For Combat: Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

Talking Combat 124: Head Like A HAL9000

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 124: More Machine Than Man

As promised for a few weeks, this is the episode where things start to get a little shaky. And while John may be totally cool with a party-wipe to end this thing, I want Tuttle to live. I’m stubborn that way.

The very mild good news of this episode is that we finally beat down the remaining adds, and I got the other door locked so either no more adds will show up at ALL, or they at least have to take the long way around to get to the bridge. So now it’s just us and the Big Bad.

Unfortunately, that’s going wrong in just about every way imaginable. And the hidden reason is the boss doesn’t have to beat the whole party to put us in an unwinnable situation, he just has to beat our top two guys. It’s like losing the queen in chess – the game’s not OVER if the other side takes your queen, but it gets a lot tougher to win.

Right now Akiro is the only one who can see the boss, and he just got hit with that Rewire Flesh spell, which is proving to be NASTY, for reasons I mostly went into last week (Cliff’s Notes: no action needed to sustain + save only does half rather than removes it). As this episode ends, I think he’s out of stamina and into meat. And also running low on spells. Mo, who is our best overall damage-dealer, is chugging potions to stay up because he took the brunt of the damage from tanking the adds. He’s also flat-footed and mute, adding an extra layer of difficulty. And now we find out the boss has some sort of fast-heal. Lovely.

To return to that chess analogy, Mo and Akiro are the queen and a rook. If they go down, we gotta find a way to win with a knight (Hirogi – can do big damage situationally, but the boss is likely to save against his trick attack) and a couple of pawns (Tuttle and Rusty). So THAT’S the urgency – in a few rounds, we might “still” have three guys up, but it’s likely to be the wrong three guys.

I wanted to address some of Steve’s commentary about retreating and waiting for the spells to run out. I can only speak for myself, but I felt like we were doing a lesser version of that. Maybe not a full run-and-hide, but if we could get the adds down and just make it us vs. the boss, we could maybe spread out around the room, try to get some people healed up, and wait until the invisibility broke. If there’s one saving grace about fighting this boss, it feels like it’s not wired for big bursty damage. It’s not some melee who’s going to run in and full-attack for 50 points; it’s just going to bounce around the room lobbing fireballs (several of us have DR vs. fire) and chip away at us, and wait for that DoT to take Akiro down. The DoT doesn’t seem to be going anywhere whether we flee or not. And those corrosive hazes move slowly, so they should be easy to avoid. So the real trick is to not bunch together and give up 2-3 characters’ worth of explosive blast damage at a time. Admittedly, that’s a little more difficult when we’re trying to pass potions between us, but it’s not unworkable.

So it’s not a full tactical retreat, exactly. But it is a strategy of trying to minimize the boss’ strengths long enough for the battlefield to equalize a little. To metagame a little, we’re on round 9 or 10, and a boss is going to be at or above the level of the party, so 13-15th level, maybe? Maybe with all of these adds, the boss might be a little lower? Optimistically, we only have to wait it out a couple more rounds.

The thing we don’t know is whether it has a second cast of greater invisibility… if that happens, I don’t know WHAT we do. Die gruesome deaths, probably.

While we’re talking about invisibility, I did want to offer a mild rules-lawyer on that invisibility, in particular how it interacts with the corrosive haze. Even if you’re invisible, your interactions with objects in the world are not. If you open a door while invisible, people see the door opening. If you threw a sheet on top of yourself while invisible, people would see the sheet just fine. So I feel like there ought to have at least been a CHANCE to see the outline of a person in the corrosive haze – even if it was a really high-DC Perception roll or something. Think the Predator effect from the movie. Then again, to give Steve’s interpretation a fair hearing, a fine mist isn’t walking through a waterfall or even rain; it’s microscopic. If it’s a foggy day, can you really see individual droplets of fog displace when someone moves through them? We’re not living in the Matrix here…

So that’s where we end this. I feel like there are still possibilities for pulling this out, but we gotta come up with something that at least changes the nature of the fight. And for me personally, I should be trying to make Tuttle as inviting a target as possible. I don’t have a taunt ability, but honestly, for these next few rounds… I’m wracking my brain for a way to get the boss to focus its attention on me. I’m probably the least useful offensive character, I haven’t taken much (any?) damage, and I even have DR10 to fire if I have to eat a fireball. I don’t want to die exactly, but if it helps the team regroup, I should be wearing a sign that says “HIT THIS MOUSE, WIN A STEAK DINNER!” or something.

And guess what. I have an “or something”. But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear what I come up with. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media, let us know what you think of the show, and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 123: Resistance is Futile

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 122: You’re Locked In Here With Me!

We start this episode with an act of SUPREME BETRAYAL AND TREACHERY!

Yes, I’m talking about the fact that The Voiceover Guy no longer says “and his drone CHDRR!” when introducing me. What the hell, man? We’ve still got five people coming out of the basement and onto the Internet instead of six, but you had time to do CHDRR dirty like that? I’m lodging a formal protest with… well, whoever one lodges those sorts of protests with. The World Court at The Hague? Judge Judy? WHERE IS MY JUSTICE?

Sorry… rant over.

At any rate, after two weeks of “we got this”, here’s where we finally reach the “maybe we don’t got this” portion of the fight. It hasn’t gone bad yet, but it feels like it’s teetering on the edge of bad.

The main thing is that the lion’s share of our damage has gone onto the two biggest damage dealers, so if they drop, the rest of us don’t have the firepower to take the boss out ourselves. (And in fact, we can’t even SEE him.) Mo and Akiro are the big guns – we know this. Hirogi is pretty good when he lands Trick Attack, but if he doesn’t land that, his damage output becomes kind of ordinary. Rusty and Tuttle though are pretty much support characters. If we have to take something out… well, maybe we should just let Rusty try to talk us out of it at that point. Or swear loyalty to the Corpse Fleet and ask for Australia as the price for our help. (Sorry… Gene Hackman turned 90 recently, so he’s been on the brain.)

In a normal battle, we’ve found ways to spread that out a little so the enemy “wastes” some of their damage on me and Bob (another way in which CHDRR might have been useful – clogging lanes and soaking up attacks). Or at least it’s one Big Bad Squaring off against Mo and the rest of us chop down adds. In this combat, the three of us really haven’t been getting hit, except by the secondary damage (the acid sphere or standing too close together and getting caught in an Explosive Blast).

And that’s the other thing that stands out about this fight. There’s a lot of “extra” damage being brought to bear. Explosive Blast isn’t a lot of damage at this level, but it hits multiple targets. Basically the equivalent of endless grenades. The acid damage isn’t a lot of damage, except that it gives you a 10-point kicker even after you’ve moved out of it.

But the poster child for that is the Rewire Flesh spell. Again, 3d6 per round isn’t a huge amount of damage in any one roll. But it’s a nasty little bugger because it’s basically free fire-and-forget damage for double-digit rounds. There’s no action needed to sustain it. A save only halves it; nothing short of Dispel Magic negates it (and I wasn’t paying close attention to Chris’ rolls, but the save seemed like it was in the 15ish range). It’s internal damage, so any sort of externally-focused damage reduction is useless. So even if the “average” damage on the spell is only 11 or 12 points per round, that’s a constant drain while the caster can go on about his business casting other nastiness. To which Chris is also now more susceptible because he moves slower and is flat-footed. That spell didn’t really leap off the page when I first looked at it except that it had gnarly “flavor”… now, I’d be hard-pressed to roll a caster that DOESN’T take that.

And then there’s that other door. I hinted at doing so last session, but this time I really am going to go lock that thing. I have nothing guiding that decision beyond a) general symmetrical dungeon design, and b) the fact that we really can’t handle another round of adds. We have to start making a dent in the boss. Since we’ve already seen the admiral, the captain, and their Mister Worf (Gatecrasher), I don’t feel like there would be a boss-level monster in the other room, but even another helping of undead monks would arguably push us past our limits. If we’re not there already.

Now, as Seth points out, they might still be able to go back out into the main lobby and re-enter through one of the other doors, but… first things first. If it becomes a race to lock the other sets of doors, I think we can win that one because there’s two of us and we’d have the shorter route to the remaining inner doors.

I don’t know how I feel about Steve giving us such an overt hint about the See Invisibility ampule. There’s probably some absolute level where he probably shouldn’t have done that. If we didn’t study our characters well enough, that’s on us, and if we die… I guess we die. But I do think it’s worth mentioning that this fight was being recorded during the holidays, and there was a two or three-week break around Christmas. So it really was more than a month since we had gotten that piece of loot, so maybe the little hint was warranted. I suppose that’s for you as the listener to decide – cheesy or not? Though for the moment, it isn’t cheesy until we benefit from it.

As we end this week, the adds are down or pretty close to it. If I recall correctly, there’s still one undead monk that’s been hit for at least 100 or so damage, and there might still be a second add whose overall status I’m a little fuzzier on, but that’s it. If we can get those guys down and start working on the boss as a team, there’s still a window to win this. Not to metagame too overtly, but if he’s a caster, that should mean he has fewer hitpoints than your average Big Bad. But it’s going to be a race against time, 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 Combat 122: Admiral on the Bridge

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 122: You’re Locked In Here With Me!

Well, we found the boss. Or, maybe more accurately, the boss found us.

Up to a point, this fight has been going pretty well. I didn’t like losing CHDRR so early, but he did almost 100 points of damage in his swan song, and we actually made pretty quick work of the initial force opposing us (Gatecrasher plus the two monks). Plus, it was a cool storytelling moment.

But… now we have a flying invisible caster to deal with, who’s basically Mirror Universe Akiro. Which is probably the one thing our group doesn’t have an easy fix for. Mo (in particular) is great at stand-up fights – if he can see it and hit it, he can kill it. But so far, Akiro is the only one who can actually see the Big Bad, as see invisibility only works on himself. As one of our listeners pointed out on Discord, we do have a see invisibility spell ampule (basically a potion) we got in the last fight, but for now, we don’t remember it (and I think it’s in Akiro’s possession anyway.. the one guy who doesn’t need it).

I’m going to at least partially plead scheduling on this bout of forgetfulness – at some point during this final fight, we broke for the holidays, and didn’t play for like 2 or 3 weeks. So part of it is as simple as we forgot about the ampule because of the long layover. And/or we got that ampule right at the end of the session when people were starting to mentally pack it in until next week – the “cool” treasure was the four items in the display cases, and the ampule just got overshadowed.

Interestingly, there’s a rules-lawyer I should’ve thought of but didn’t think of until I was re-listening later: the Stinkeye. Just as a reminder, Tuttle has temporary Sense Through Vision (basically X-ray vision) in one eye as an after-effect of using the Stitch Spider. At first I thought I could’ve pleaded that Tuttle might detect a difference in density – that his Sense Through was going through additional material in the spot the lich was in – that maybe might merit a chance to see the edges of the lich or something.

So I went back and read the text of the effect, and it’s actually blocked by “energy fields and sufficiently dense materials”. So, missed opportunity or not? It SPECIFICALLY mentions wall of force, so if I had used the Stinkeye, I would’ve actually seen the wall of force in a bit of reverse X-ray vision. More importantly, it’s also blocked by “force fields that grant temporary hit points”, so if that lich had any sort of shield on him, that might also have blocked my Stinkeye and given me… I don’t know, a lich-shaped negative-space outline? Or, would any of his other spells have tripped it? Granted, if I’d been able to see him, I still wouldn’t be able to do much except wimpy gun damage or chucking grenades at it, but it’d be better than nothing.

(Checked with Steve. He said no, the lich didn’t have a force field. So… wouldn’t have mattered. But I thought it was an interesting digression.)

Meanwhile… reinforcements arrive from the Ready Room, including the named vesk captain Mo has heard of. Again, not an insurmountable bunch, but it ratchets the challenge level up a notch or two, and we probably need to take care to split them up so they’re not all pounding on Mo. The real danger here is that paralysis effect – remember from the train station that paralysis = free coup de grace’s, and that could turn this fight into a shitshow in a hurry. Still, some good saving throws here, a timely crit there, and we’re still hanging in there.

Speaking of good saving throws, I snuck a look at the rewire flesh spell the boss cast, and it’s nasty stuff: 3d6 damage each round (save for half), flat-footed, half-speed, and a -2 penalty to DEX saves. And one round per level so… I dunno… 13, 14 rounds? If/when I get around to playing a Technomancer, I’m definitely grabbing that one.

The arrival of reinforcements from the back left also brings up the possibility that reinforcements could come from the back right door as well – hello, symmetrical “dungeon” construction! Depending on how the flow of the fight goes, I’m going to burn a round or two to run over to that door and try to seal it so bad guys either can’t go in at all, or AT LEAST have to go around the long way and give us a few more rounds to dispatch the current batch. I’ll wait to make sure Mo has things in hand, but sealing that door might be a more effective use of my time than a few rounds of Pew-Cubed.

This brings up a meta point about the blog itself. The next few episodes represent an interesting writing challenge because we begin and end in the same battle. Which is not to say there’s not interesting stuff in each segment, but there’s a potential for overlap and repeating things. There are going to be callbacks to previous parts of the fight, and there may even be a few places like this where I talk about strategy for future parts of the fight. No overt spoilers, but a little bit of “here’s what I was thinking of doing next at this point in the fight”. I just wanted to acknowledge that the blog will be a little fluid about episode boundaries, but I’ll try to avoid spoiling anything outright.

So we end Fight Night, Round Two in roughly the same place as before – pretty good shape on the adds, NO plan for dealing with the boss, unless Akiro can somehow solo him. If you want to delve into the metagame, greater invisibility lasts one round per level so if we wait him out and can stay alive… 13, 14 rounds… we might get a target to shoot at. But that’s easier said than done. Hope you’ll rejoin us next week – you stuck with us two years, don’t leave now! – and see how this goes. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the final fight so far. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 121: Everything is Deader with CHDRR

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 121: Die, Robot.

I have some mixed feelings about this episode, as you can imagine.

First, as a brief aside, I’ll back Steve up that none of this was scripted. Here’s the thing: even without intimate knowledge of the tool, I’ve noticed D20Pro DOES have seem to have some mode where Steve can approve/change/override dice rolls. Mostly Steve uses it to adjust for damage modifiers, and in our PF2 game, the version we’re using doesn’t handle crits quite right with the multi-attack penalty. But when Steve puts a hold on a die roll, there’s a noticeable delay, and that “01” was in my dice window the second I clicked it. So unless he’s got some next-level D20Pro Blacksite add-on I’m unaware of that was hacking my client in real-time, that roll was legit.

On a storytelling level, I think it’s fantastic to have CHDRR go out in a blaze of glory, and even more generally, I like it when big, crazy, unexpected things happen. Paint-by-numbers combat is boring; having something out on the skinny end of the bell curve happen livens things up. So on that level, this was very cool.

And OK, pulling back the curtain a little, Steve sent me the results of the roll by text, but with the understanding that I wasn’t allowed to say anything until he gave me the cue that it was happening. So for MOST of that time, the rest of the group was getting ready, I was sitting there thinking “you poor bastards, you have noooooo idea”. It added a layer of amusement to sit on that secret for a bit. It was like having one foot behind the GM screen for a few seconds.

But… there’s the real consequences of it, which are not trivial.

First, there goes half my offense and my designated bodyguard for the rest of the fight. If you haven’t picked up on it in the past two-plus years, Tuttle is not some offensive juggernaut; take CHDRR away, and he may very well be the wimpiest member of the party. Also, fighting without CHDRR is kinda boring – there’s no real choices to make. So now I gotta do the final fight of the whole game with the least effective, least interesting version of my character. Won’t that be fun? I pretty much have to hope the fight as a whole is entertaining because my role is not likely to be.

Second, in one fell swoop, it undid my plans for The Button. Before all this happened, I specifically wanted to rules-lawyer a better Button for the final fight, and Steve gave it to me. As I said, the main reason I haven’t used The Button more is it costs me (and therefore CHDRR) a full-round action, which hasn’t been worth it for the random effects it generates. But if the Button activation is a move, or even better, a swift? That’s worth doing. I was preparing to be a button-pushing fool – certainly as many times as my intelligence allowed, and maybe even keep going after that. Now? No Button either.

The third thing is that other than the randomly-typed damage and d8s instead of d6s for damage, that was basically the same effect CHDRR already has installed in the form of the Shock Wave (which kicks in when he hits 10 hit points). So somewhere out around Plan G or Plan H on my list of internal scenarios was that if CHDRR got down around 20 or 15 points, I was going to send him on a suicide mission out into the middle of a group of enemies. Including, if needed, shooting him myself to detonate the EMP. (Preferably with a single tear trickling down Tuttle’s cheek. I had this all planned, I’m telling you…) So the coolness of dealing 49 damage to each foe was slightly undercut by the fact that I could’ve let CHDRR fight for a few rounds, let him get whittled down, and then done pretty much the same thing myself as a conscious choice.

And then the other thing that threw a wrench in the works – but this is more normal party shenanigans – was John (in particular) running out into the middle of the room. Chris did too, but he at least went for a corner and got out of the way of the blast. I don’t know why John was getting testy with me… what else did he think I was going to do with a drone that had just turned into a giant bomb? Waste all that beautiful damage? I do understand why John didn’t want our free round to go to waste – Mo’s all about getting in people’s faces and smashing them – but thanks to John moving in, I had to angle CHDRR away from the direct center of the group to avoid clipping Mo, and as a result, I only hit 2 of the 3 bad guys.

Aside from the spoiler-y fact that we just finished recording this week, there are a few in-game hints here and there that this isn’t the whole fight. Right now we’re fighting the brute and two of the same monks that were in the outer chamber which doesn’t seem like a final battle on its own. Additionally, as Seth points out, the main guy is muscle and doesn’t seem like command material. These guys aren’t some pure warrior race where they just put the biggest strongest dude in charge; they’re undead, so I’d expect someone with brains running the show. This guy seems more like a security guard. We also know that logs mentioned a captain AND an admiral, and the captain was identified as a Vesk general Mo had heard of – so even if the brute is one of those two… we’re missing one. And then there’s that force wall Mo ran into: the brute isn’t likely to have that power, and it didn’t seem like the monks could do anything like that in the previous fight. So where is that coming from? There are also multiple doors leading to other areas – is the “bridge” really a bridge complex where we have to clear multiple rooms?

All good questions and I’m sure we’ll find answers – whether we want to or not. But we still gotta clear what’s in front of us first, which we’ll continue to do next week. While you’re waiting for that, feel free to drop by Discord – among other things, Steve posted the complete list of CHDRR Button effects on the “spoilers” channel. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 120: Does It Come With A Gift Receipt?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 120: The Five Stooges.

It’s a bit of a short episode this week as this is basically the last fight before the Big Bad, and it made for better storytelling to let that unfold at its own pace next week. So instead, we finish off what turns out to be a fairly straightforward fight against the monks, and we break down a bunch of pretty cool loot, a lot of which goes unused anyway.

The fight… well, for ONE glorious round you see the potential of the monks, as they corner Rusty and land four attacks on him. So there’s a multiverse world where they catch a party unawares and put a good thumpin’ on them: imagine the party that doesn’t do advance recon and just starts walking right down the middle and lets the monks descend on them from both sides, possibly with surprise. So I’m going to give Seth another round of attaboys for phasing into the room and tipping us off to their presence.

On the other hand: that alarm Seth set off. Still not sure what the full ramifications are there. No new reinforcements joined the fight, but that doesn’t mean SOMETHING didn’t happen. Does it mean more reinforcements are on their way, or is it more just “we lose any chance at a surprise round because the bridge knows someone’s outside”? It’s one of those things I’ll probably ask Steve in the post-game, once we know how it all turns out. In other words, if we TPK, I’ll want to know how angry we should be at Seth. (Kidding… but kinda not.)

Speaking of angry: RULEBOOK WARS!

On a rules level, Steve was correct about the doshkos. The basic unpowered doshkos are indeed unwieldy, but of the advanced ones – basically, anything that’s battery-powered and has typed damage – does not have that keyword. And Paizo is pretty careful about keywords, so that’s pretty much got to be intentional.

More generally, there are two more general principles that pretty much put me on Steve’s “side” on this one.

First, Keep the Game Moving. The amount of time you spend on a rules decision ought to be inversely proportional to the importance of the situation. If the death of someone’s character hinges on a rule interpretation… by all means, stop the game and make sure you get it right. But a between-battles ruling about whether you can take a full attack with a weapon… decide something and let it go. Or… figure it out while you keep playing, which is ultimately what happened. (Perhaps without getting all chippy about it.)

Second, maybe it’s a little self-serving and cynical, but If The GM Gives You Something Good, Take It. I suppose you have a responsibility to be fair and speak up if you know the GM’s making a mistake and you’re getting an advantage you don’t deserve, but if you’ve spoken up and the GM rules in your favor, you don t have to keep arguing. Applying to this situation, John wasn’t wrong to initially call it out, but at some point… take the doshko and enjoy.

As an aside, I use the same principle when it comes to paying for drinks – ask once, if someone else is buying, don’t ask again. Saved me a lot of money over the years.

The rest of the loot… well, first I’m glad it’s not animating and attacking us. That’s certainly a plus. I was still kind of concerned the mist was some sort of creature that was going to attack us. At least it’s not that. As loot? It’s interesting stuff, it’s got cool undead flavor, but it turns out to not be all that useful to me personally.

The eyes, in particular, are possibly my favorite thing we’ve run across in terms of flavor, except that but they happen to confer two benefits I already have access – darkvision is a ysoki racial ability, and the scouting function basically works the same way as the mechanic’s Scoutbot ability (minus spending a Resolve point).

The worm and the warlock stone are basically Mark 3 ability crystals, which… that’s pretty nice, but I don’t think you waste something like that on a secondary ability, and I’m not sure bumping Intelligence up really does me much good at this point. My primary skills are in the +25-27 range, I already know pretty much every language spoken in the Pact Worlds and then some… It’s something I would probably consider if we were to play another adventure path beyond this one, but for a final battle for this one… might as well give it to Mo for more damage.

Besides, one of the two had the same problem as the Flux Fig – it took an hour to apply and I’m pretty sure we don’t have an hour to work with. Much like the ability crystal, the Flux Fig is something I might consider to freshen up the character if we were to keep playing, but even if it didn’t come with a cooldown, I’m not sure I would want to muck with my character right before the final fight. I mean, I’m barely making some of these Computers checks as it is; imagine if I change to a dumb race and lose points in Intelligence. To say nothing of the fact that “Blacktail” would be a silly last name for someone who no longer has a tail.

Of course, there’s also a rules-lawyer issue I thought of while re-listening: Steve said constructs and outsiders are immune to the effects. Since Tuttle is now part aeon, that probably means it wouldn’t work on me anyway. So I eagerly await Mo taking it and becoming a fellow ysoki… if for no other reason than to visualize a ysoki trying to wield a doshko twice his height.

So this is it. As Steve mentions in the show notes, we’re basically at the threshold of the final fight. For Realz, as the Young People say. I’m glad Steve slowed John down a touch on throwing open the door because this does seem like one of those fights we might want to make sure we’re ready for. I don’t PERSONALLY have a lot of buffs, but I could at least use one of my uses of Miracle Worker to give my weapon a bonus for 10 rounds, maybe pre-push CHDRR’s button once or twice since he has a few buffs in his arsenal.

As far Steve’s description of the Big Bad being an A+ boss… I’m not going to go there yet. Steve can share what he wants to share; I’ll leave my reactions until we’re actually in the fight, and that’ll be for next time. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think about the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 119: Me, My Seth, And I

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 119: Interview with the Undead.

Welcome to another edition of “The End, But Kinda Sorta Not The End, But You Know What We Mean”. We’re certainly in the final sprint, and it’s heavily implied at a metagame level that whatever’s left is the amount of combat that can be fit into one long rest (3 or 4 fights, maybe?). But if we’ve got a minion fight and more doors to open and the guy who’s been talking to us on the comms isn’t visibly evident, that probably means this isn’t THE final fight. So hang in there. We’re getting there.

Of course, when we talk about The End, I’m probably the person least affected by resource management – with one huge exception. Ammo isn’t an issue; if we run into something that we have to shoot 50 or 60 times to kill it, we’re gonna lose. I have plenty of resolve points (something like 14). Presses of CHDRR’s button work off my INT modifier (it’s something like 3+INT or 4+INT) so I’m close to double digits on that. The only truly limited-use ability I have is my Miracle Worker (+2 to hit and damage for a weapon), of which I only get two uses. The one big exception is CHDRR himself – if CHDRR “dies”, it takes 24 hours to rebuild him, which would put him on the bench for the rest of the adventure.

Stepping back a little, I was a little caught off guard that I ended up being the one to chat with the Big Bad – Rusty tends to do all the talking for the party, so it’s an unusual position for Tuttle to be in. I suppose I was trying to convince the Big Bad that we were more of a diversion and were distracting him from a bigger problem so he’d keep reinforcements away from the command center, but he didn’t seem to be buying it. On the other hand, I don’t really know that there was anything to be “bought” – we get so locked into thinking every interaction is an active plot point and a chance to roll some dice that we forget that some interactions are just about storytelling. I think that’s what was going on here: I don’t think there was anything here that would influence the outcome (unless we did something REALLY stupid); I mostly think Steve was setting the table and ratcheting up the suspense by letting us know that the Big Bad is both Big and Bad enough that he doesn’t consider us much of a threat even as we’re marching into his inner sanctum. “Sure, come on to my bridge, take control of my ship. Let me know how that works out for you!

Also, somewhere in this bit of pre-game, Chris drops a Mandalorian reference – that’s how you can tell we’re catching up to current. Our cultural references finally have a foot in the 21st century. Now I feel like I’ve got to throw in a current events Easter Egg every time we record so the astute listener can figure out when we were taping. It’ll be the podcast equivalent of taking a picture holding today’s newspaper. “Tuttle takes out a tactical baton and bangs on a trash can to let his teammates know the computer is online”.

We weave our way through ship security – it’s just like Star Wars, only instead of trying to get to the hangar and get OFF the ship, we’re headed for the heart of it. When we reach the command deck, we even start out with some semi-impressive tactics, as Seth phases through the wall while stealthed (I didn’t know he could do that!) and gets us the lay of the land – it’s kind of an antechamber with some glass display cases, and bad guys hiding behind the display cases. So far so good. Though that probably means we have another warm-up fight and then the real final fight in one of the rooms beyond.

Aside: I wonder if the items in the display cases represent a last dose of general-purpose loot, or are actually items that would be specifically helpful against the Big Bad. I feel like they’re almost certainly treasure; I just don’t know if they’re going to turn out to be specific treasure or general treasure. OK… there’s also a 2% chance they Voltron together to form some sort of monster – you’ve got a skull and spine, a severed hand, a spear, and a mist-filled helmet. I mean… there’s also a chance that mist is like… ghost ectoplasm that will join together with the other stuff to form an incorporeal centurion. This isn’t Ghostbusters; it doesn’t have to be green. So, OK… PROBABLY loot, but be wary if the grunts try to open any of the display cases during the fight.

As combat starts, all indications are that these guys are melee dominant – they’re described as both “undead monks” and solarians, both of whom are more effective in close than at range. So for once, Chris has the right idea: I fire up my jetpack and get airborne. I don’t know that I’m going to spend the whole fight in the air – might want to conserve some for the boss – but at least until we get a better sense of how hard they hit and how hard they are to kill, might as well stay comparatively safe.

We get off to a strong start – Mo lands both halves of a full attack, one for a crit, and puts up 100 damage right out of the gate. So it’s a bit of a good news/bad news situation – they have a decent amount of hit points, but they also don’t seem to have anything special in the way of resistances. We tend to thrive in fights like that. Ask the dead ellicoths.

But then Seth… oh Seth. Sweet summer child. Seth puts himself in early running for the “What The <expletive> Were You Thinking?” award by trying to open one of the side doors. I mean… that’s LITERALLY one of the first thing we tried to teach the kids in my Dads-N-Kids game – don’t split the party, don’t bleed encounters. Annnnd, of course, he sets off an alarm. Now look… I don’t mind people acting on their own, as long as they’re able to articulate how what they’re doing helps the party achieve some larger goal. This? Maybe I’m just not a very smart person, but I just don’t see how this possibly helps us. Or even how it WOULD have helped us even if it had worked perfectly. We’ll see what happens, but if THAT’s how we end up losing, I’m gonna be a little pissed.

The remainder of this episode unfolds mostly in our favor. The good news is that we get one of the four monks down – establishing them at around 130-140 hit points. And at least so far, there’s no evidence Seth’s gaffe has brought reinforcements down on us. The bad news is the bad guys do have a ranged attack option, though we made our saves and avoided the effects… this time. (They can also see Akiro while invisible, but that’s mostly his problem.) If they can hit at range, staying in the air may not be the I WIN button I thought it was. Don’t feel like having something go wrong and take a bunch of falling damage, so I’m probably going to conserve battery, land, and try to use CHDRR or the display cases to shield myself from melee.

And that’s where we pick it up next week. We have a numerical advantage, we know roughly how much damage they can take, and it feels like we should be OK as long as Seth hasn’t brought the entirety of the Corpse Fleet chain-of-command down on our heads. Join us next week as we continue our push toward the command center and see how it all turns out. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 118: Hack The Planet!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 118: Undead of Unusual Size.

This week’s column is going to be a bit of a rush job, as I had an unexpected childhood friend come to town and lost more of my weekend to frivolity than I planned. Also, I may or may not be in self-imposed shame exile because “Undead of Unusual Size” was originally my joke (from last week’s Talking) and I forgot that ellicoths aren’t actually undead, thus nullifying the entire premise. SHAME! SHAME! (rings bell)

The battle itself turns out to not be that big of a deal… and that’s kind of been a recurring theme for Starfinder. Things that JUST have a lot of hit points and nothing else going for them have not traditionally been that hard for us. Mo lands a crit or two, Bob’s Get ‘Em usually means we can do full attacks against them and still stand a chance of hitting both attacks, and we can usually chop ‘em down fairly quickly. The fact that they had reach was a little bit of a nuisance at first, but once the first one dropped we pretty much had enough room to move safely. Either that or Mo could afford to eat the first attack of opportunity and let the rest of us move freely.

The radiation could have been a problem in a different setting. If we’d run across an ellicoth on Castrovel, when we were sometimes not wearing our armor to save on the total days of cooling, that could’ve gotten messy fast. (Or if someone had gotten behind the upgrade curve and still had level 5 or 6 armor.) But in a scenario where you’re already wearing a de facto Hazmat suit… it’s kind of shrugworthy. I don’t know if this was bad creature design, or just pairing them with an encounter where people are already going to be geared for it is the issue.

I kinda retroactively liked Steve’s idea of having a couple of support troops with them. Not only might have that been a way to spice up the encounter a little and mix in some different dynamics, but it does seem kind of odd you’d leave (essentially) farm animals to guard a train station with no humanoid supervision. But whatever… big beasties it is. I guess I leave my dogs to guard the house when I go to the grocery store; maybe this is the same concept. Except I apparently need to make stilts for my dogs to get the full ellicoth effect.

I’ll have to admit I got a little frustrated toward the end when Seth was trying to lawyer Steve into a roll on re-routing the guards once they had already been called. I have some sympathy that on a storytelling/improv level you want to say yes to players rather than just shutting them down cold – it’s that whole “spirit of cooperation” vibe. But at the same time, there are limits to that. Some things in life are just flat “no”s, and I’m not sure the GM is required to give out a roll on an impossibility just to humor the party. I mean, where does that logic end… if I proclaim that Tuttle learned how to breathe fire, how many Nat-20s do I have to roll before Steve has to let me do that? Or is it on us as players to SOMETIMES accept that X, Y, and Z are just impossible in this story and work with that?

I’m gonna stick with this for a second and go a little more granular. I’m an IT guy, and this scenario is mostly a computer problem, so it’s kind of in my wheelhouse. I would say there are probably five broad classifications of things I run across in my day job. I would call it easy, easy with dependencies, hard, long-term projects, and impossible.

The first three are a kind of classic problem resolution with increasing levels of difficulty. You know what you have to do, you might even have all the knowledge and tools you need to fix it, but it will take some non-zero amount of time to accomplish. And in the middle case, it’s a conceptually easy fix, but there are binary failure conditions where if you don’t have the right password/cable/tool, it becomes a harder or impossible problem. The long-term project stuff is something where articulating the problem on a theoretical level is easy, you might even have a sense of what you have to do to fix it, but there’s no realistic way you could do that quickly – it’s an hours/days/weeks effort. And then there’s impossible, like getting an air-gapped computer to talk on the Internet or retrieving usable data from a single disk pulled out of a RAID array. You can want to solve those problems all you want, but you’re not going to succeed.

OK, so how does all of this tie back to Seth’s request? Well, going back in time a few episodes, installing and using TombRobber was probably an “easy with dependencies” situation. Once Tuttle got access to the right computer system, running TombRobber was just like running any other program. The idea Seth had in the previous episode with re-routing the trains or crashing them on purpose was more like a long-term project – if Tuttle could’ve studied the system for a few hours or days, he might have been able to re-write the system, but it hardly seems like the sort of thing he could’ve done in five minutes. But the fact that the captain or the admiral (I presume) saw their ellicoths dying and had already called troops to come back… I mean, that’s not really even a computer problem anymore. The message already went out. That’s a “the captain of the ship has ordered guys to Hangar Bay 23, we’re in Hangar Bay 23, we need to not be here when they get here” problem. I’m no military expert, but I don’t even think recalling the order would work as a matter of protocol: if your captain orders you to return to the bridge and then some computer says “never mind”, you probably still come to the bridge.

At any rate, we win the battle, we’ve got a foothold on the command level, but the clock is running. Whoever is on the bridge is at least generally aware we’re on our way even if they can’t see us on the security scans, and reinforcements are on the way. The sprint to the finish begins now.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up. Feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the action and join in the ongoing merry-making. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 117: Jumping Someone Else’s Train

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 117: The Taking of Blackwind 123.

Welcome to a new year of the Dead Suns podcast, and we’re rolling toward the finish line of the adventure path. This week is mostly a transitional week, as we spend most of it riding the train to what we hope is the final destination. Oh, and we pause to level up, so that’s nice if a little anti-climactic.

First, turning to the world of pop culture, I have to confess, as the non-New Yorker, I don’t have the same affinity for The Taking Of Pelham 123 that the others do. Actually, I don’t even think I’ve seen it, so I guess I’ll have to join the rest of you in renting it. On the other hand, as a Pittsburgh native, the mall in the original 1978 Dawn Of The Dead was the one I used to go to all the time, so that’s pretty cool… (For the record, it still exists, but the skating rink is long gone.)

I’ve never played an extended session with Seth, so I’m on the dividing line between “crazy like a fox” and “needlessly overcomplicating things”. Maybe a little of both. I do kind of get where he’s coming from – if we only get one use of the Tomb Robber computer virus, maybe we could create ourselves a second distraction with the train car itself. So I get why he was pushing the Pelham 123 plan. On the other hand, this is one of those times where you could see the rails just a little – after a certain point, it really felt like the Tomb Robber was the MacGuffin to get to the train station on the command deck, at which point we’d have to fight it out the rest of the way. At least that’s the way it seemed to me.

As a brief aside, it’s always been a little fuzzy to me how much these trains are truly independent vehicles, and how much they’re point-to-point, like a glorified elevator, but on a massive scale. Sometimes it seems like we should have fairly granular control; other times, it seems like you just push a button and end up somewhere. At the end of the day… whatever gets us where the plot needs us to be.

Steve does have a point about players needlessly complicating situations sometimes. Over the holiday break, we had just such an occasion in my home game. One of our characters… OK, fine, me; low-level monks are squishy… died and the party didn’t have enough money for the raise dead ritual. The church offered the remaining party a reduced rate if they’d steal a rival evil cult’s holy symbol from their temple. The cult HQ had an alleyway with a window and a locked door… so, have the stealthiest character sneak in and steal the symbol. Easy enough, right? Instead, we had the most morally ambiguous party member (my son) decide to use Charisma, tell the evil cult the plan and suggest they make us a fake holy symbol to let us use instead. (This was after our supposedly good-aligned characters floated the idea of paying town drunks a few silver to have a bum fight in front of the cult’s hideout to serve as a distraction.) My son’s plan got surprisingly further than I thought it would because he rolled a nat 20 on his initial persuasion check, but UN-surprisingly, the plan unraveled and ended in combat, and just short of a TPK.

Luckily, we have no such problems with our computer and engineering checks, and it’s fairly smooth sailing. Though, to be fair, part of that smooth sailing was Steve taking out a fight that was supposed to happen on the moving trains. Which… not gonna lie, as a spectacle, it sounds GREAT – particularly if there would be jumping back and forth between the trains – but I’m just as happy to not do it because of the resource crunch we’re up against. It feels like we have either zero or MAYBE one long rest left (depends how much command deck there is), so burning a bunch of resources before we even reach the command deck would’ve been a little frustrating.

In between, we level up to 12, and I think this is one of those places where it’s underwhelming because the metagame tends to restrict choices. The thing is: we know we’re getting toward the end and that a final battle is coming, so optimizing for combat tends to dominate the conversation at this point. It’s hard to imagine a non-combat ability that would be much of a game-changer, but a lot of the combat options are underwhelming. Energy Shield, which was my selection, is basically worth about one hit, and that was probably the best choice I could make. Now, if the campaign was continuing, Energy Shield would lead to Improved Energy Shield, and that would at least be something, but I don’t see there being another two levels of progression either. So… one free hit it shall be, I suppose.

So we reach the destination station. The good news is that Tomb Robber did its work and most of the enemy forces have left. The bad news is they didn’t leave the place totally undefended. Which… OK, doing so would be pretty stupid, if we’re being honest. Instead, it’s not one but four of… well… something. Larger than humanoid, that’s all I’ll say for now.

I’m going to wrap things up for now – it’s been a little bit of a hectic week, getting back into the post-holiday routine. Hopefully, you’ll join us next week when we begin our assault on the command deck and fight the Undead of Unusual Size… after all, if you’ve been with us for two years, might as well stick around and see how it all turns out. In the meantime, feel free to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show; we’ve been a little absent over the holidays, but we’re starting to find our collective way back. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Combat 116: Ghast In Translation

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 116: Whip It Good.

Welcome to the last Talking Combat of the decade! I have nothing special planned to mark the occasion, I just want to milk the phrase “of the decade” while I can. You only get to do this once every 10 years, might as well make it count.

This week at least, it’s mostly Talking Coup de Grace, though, as Rusty getting paralyzed and critted to the brink of oblivion is probably the main moment of today’s episode.

But first, French 101. I’d like to point out a) I went all the way to French V in high school, b) I realize that public-school French V probably still sounds like French Forrest Gump to an actual native speaker and c) I’ve forgotten most of it, and mostly say nonsense things like je mange le bibliotheque. Full disclosure. But I AM at least qualified to Photoshop a beret, black turtleneck, and cigarette onto that Willem Dafoe meme and proclaim that “I’m something of a Frenchman myself”.

So with that understood, this turns out to be unintentionally interesting as I’ve been saying it wrong for years according to the dictionary. The “p” on “coup” is definitely silent and I got that part right – if you pronounce it like (chicken) “coop” I’m honor-bound to drive to your location and beat you with a baguette. But the “grace” is the tricky part – I have to admit I’ve been pronouncing it like “graw”, when the dictionary has the soft-c/”s” sound at the end. And I have to admit I’ve heard it (and said it) the incorrect way a lot over the years – I don’t know if maybe people confused it with “coup d’etat” and let the “s” sound drop over time or what, but now you know. Zut alors!

OK, French lesson over. Now that we’ve cleared up the pronunciation, let’s talk about the ability itself. Especially since Steve mis-explained it the first time and had to re-explain it on the fly. It’s on page 248 of the Core Rulebook, if you want to follow along.

As I hinted at last week, it is performed on “an adjacent creature” so while it doesn’t specify whether it’s a ranged or melee attack (see also: the Hollywood trope of shooting someone in the forehead to finish them off), you do have to be in melee range to perform it. So the first time we got paralyzed, it wasn’t as much of an emergency because the bad guys weren’t close enough to capitalize. From there, it’s an automatic hit and crit, and then a Fort save to not die. Which means in certain circumstances, it could be a two-fer because it could kill you on the massive damage rules OR the coup-de-grace rules. If Mo critted someone, the free crit could do it alone. Rusty’s crit? Not so much. Rusty luckily made his save, but that’s pretty nasty stuff.

I was selfishly comforted to learn (more for future reference, since we won this fight) that creatures that are immune to crits (hello, Aeon Tuttle) are also immune to the effects of coup de grace. So if I had been the one paralyzed and targeted, I would’ve actually shrugged the death save and the critical damage off, though I still would’ve taken the damage of a normal attack.

I’m still just a little bit grouchy about the prior boss fight(s) where we asked Steve if it was possible to coup de grace an enemy and he said no. This definitely happened with the final fight on Istamak because that’s when we finally caught this and addressed it, but maybe the Castrovel boss too. But to be fair to Steve, I should say a) it was a new system overall and there was going to be some learning curve, and b) we players have copies of the rules and we didn’t find it at the time, either. It’s not ALL on Steve to know the rules and dispense his wisdom on us. Still… being an entitled whiner and complaining to the GM because of your own lack of rules knowledge is a time-honored tradition. This is the way.

The other continuing dynamic of this episode is Chris watching Seth get to enjoy “his” character in a way he was never able to. I know it sounds like I’m enjoying Chris’ frustration, and… yeah a little, but it’s also more complicated than that.

I can’t lie that Chris is very competitive about getting the most out of his characters and talks a lot of shit when his character outshines everyone else and has the big hero moments. So he does invite a certain level of schadenfreude when he comes up short. I’d never actually root for his character to die, but a little low-grade comeuppance every now and then serves to bring balance to the Force.

But I do honestly sympathize with the fact that he wasn’t enjoying the Hirogi character… at the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun, and a two-year slog where you’re not enjoying the character you’re playing for WHATEVER reason is a tough thing to ask of someone. For all Chris’ attitude and trash-talk, he’s no less deserving of a fun, satisfying game experience.

And he’s not wrong on the math – to get the most out of an Operative, you basically have to hit your attack twice. If you land the Trick Attack, you hit like Mo; if you don’t, you hit like Rusty. And the basic probability isn’t too kind to that model – if you have to hit two 35% chances, your real chance of success is actually only about 12%. Having said that, I also think Chris had some craptastic luck on his dice rolls and you can make an argument he gave up too quickly and Seth just got to reap the benefits of the RNG Gods finally coming around.

The other thing is that switching to Akiro WORKED. OK, we mock him a little bit for always casting Mirror Image or teleporting out of trouble, but that’s just us doing what we do. As friends hoping to have a good gaming experience together, Chris does seem like he’s re-energized and having a lot of fun playing Akiro and that’s what’s important.

And on that group-hug moment, I’m going to call it a week, a year, and a decade. Next week we’ll hopefully be allowed to get on the train and get ourselves to the bridge. Though I’m doubting it’s going to be THAT easy – that’d be like the DC Metro putting a stop outside the Situation Room of the White House. There’s almost certainly more plot twists yet to come. Thanks for listening, have a safe and happy New Year’s, and we’ll see you back here next… time.

Talking Combat 115: The Paralyzer Express

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 115: I Bite My Thumb At You!

Ah, the holidays. The time of year to reconnect with friends and family, rest and recharge, recite lines along Die Hard like it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and answer eternal questions such as “where does it say in the Bible that you CAN’T wear sweatpants to Christmas dinner?” and “which video game can I buy my son which would be the least obvious I’m really buying for myself?”. Hey, we all celebrate differently.

In all seriousness, I hope you’re all having some good times with friends and family, and I’m weirdly honored you’d spend a little morsel of that time with us. That said, this is going to be kind of a short post: both because it IS the holidays and – more “rubber meets the road” — because combat episodes without resolution tend to be some of the toughest to write. To quote Messrs. Itchy And Scratchy… we fight and fight and fight. Boss fights become a little more interesting because the boss usually has nasty powers we haven’t seen before. Grunts? Not quite so much.

I did want to lay out the battlefield a little bit, just in case it was confusing. Start with the general concept of a train station. On the north side, it’s bounded by the train tracks. Then you have an open area with what look like benches/seating area on the east and west sides, and a central kiosk in the middle of that. Our door opened pretty much into the eastern benches. Below that to the south is a little bit more of an open area, and some additional doors leaving the area. (But we don’t care about those – we want to get on the train.) There’s also a raised catwalk around the perimeter of the room with a few ladders that serve as access points to those without alternate transport (flying, teleport, etc.). As the fight starts, there were either one or two guys out front, one sniper up top (we didn’t see him at the start of the fight, but he became apparent), and then additional grunts in the information booth.

Hey, remember when I just said grunts don’t have new mechanics? Guess I lied about that, as we get our first introduction to paralysis… and let me tell you, it sucks. Now, a lot of status effects in Starfinder have been harsher than their Pathfinder First Edition counterparts (and don’t even get me started about Second Edition), but most of them have still been in the realm of tolerable. Minus two to this? 50% miss chance? Ehhhh… rub some dirt in it and walk it off. Paralysis is an ass-kicker – can’t move at all, and open to coup de grace attacks. For the moment, we’re saved by the fact that CdG is done at melee range, and almost all the bad guys were halfway across the room, but still. That has the potential to be a SERIOUS problem.

The other problem is that as the fight develops, with us pinned against the east wall, they’re starting to catch us in a pincer move. We lose Hirogi to his Enemy At The Gates re-enactment: he’s off hunting the enemy sniper up on the catwalk. The baykok is holding most of the party in place up by the train tracks to the north; the ones who aren’t paralyzed outright still have to stay put to avoid attacks of opportunity. But that leaves grunts rolling up along the southern edge of the benches where there’s nothing but… well… me to hold the line, 20th Maine style. I had backed off to the south to spread out the AoE damage, but I’d left CHDRR behind to help out with the baykok, since he can’t be paralyzed. Unfortunately, that leaves me on a bit of an island with enemies headed my way. Eek! If there’s a silver lining to the position, it’s that the “benches” should provide some partial cover, at least for a few rounds.

My meta-feeling on this battle is it’s manageable IF we can make the paralysis saves. The baykok is tough, but the grunts are just grunts. And even with the baykok, the base damage doesn’t seem so horrible, unless the status effects make it worse (and the occasional crit, of course).

I have to close with something I found amusing, maybe you will too. I went and looked up “I bite my thumb at you” with the full intention of roasting Steve some more, and I actually think I owe him a partial apology. Not that Romeo And Juliet itself is “obscure” – anyone who’s had a junior-high English class in the United States has been exposed (figuratively and literally, since let’s be honest, most high school boys remember that the Zefferelli movie had naked breasts in it for like two seconds). But the actual line and the character that says it probably ARE a little more obscure. It’s from the first scene before ANY of the main characters enter – anonymous Montague and Capulet guardsmen are shit-taking each other and “Sampson” bites his thumb in the general direction of “Abraham”. Unless you actually PLAYED one of those parts in your high school production, I’m willing to allow that those are “obscure”. I’m not sure anything that happens pre-Benvolio even counts.

So anyway, I apologize that we’re a little light this week. Welcome to the holidays! Hopefully next week will be a little more eventful. In the meantime, instead of encouraging you to visit our Discord channel, I’ll just wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, or whatever else you might celebrate. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.