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

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Talking Combat 097: Whine & Crackers

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 097: Cheese & Crackers.

There are times when I sometimes feel a little bit guilty about being The Quiet One on Roll For Combat. Then there are episodes like this one where I feel like Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap… they’re like fire and ice, and I’m lukewarm water.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. Chris wanted to kick doors, but was so impatient that he was generally being antagonistic and basically ignoring the lore dump. John wanted to kick doors, but didn’t want to be the one do the kicking because he didn’t want the umpteenth trap going off in his face, and was probably getting pissed at Chris calling him a coward. And Bob wanted to make sure we got everything we needed from the lore dump and was getting pissed that John and Chris weren’t listening to varying degrees, especially when he is our long-suffering note-taker. (Also, since there were 10 minutes left and Bob likes hard stops, I also suspect Bob wanted to end at the lore dump and pick it up the following week.)

Me? I was just playing with my new space-dog, man.

This is one of those times when I’m reminded that I’m a LITTLE bit of the outsider in the group. I don’t mean this as a mopey emo thing… just acknowledging that I came a little later to the party. As a reminder of the history, I met Steve in college; he moved to NYC and met the other guys and started gaming with them, and then I joined their group and we all started gaming together online more recently (7 or 8 years, maybe?). So “the New Yorkers” (to oversimplify) have a shared history and rapport with each other that I don’t quite share. One way that manifests is that I have a little bit of Rust Belt discomfort telling any of them they’re being a dick. Especially with a hot mic in the room.

Which is not to say I haven’t had my chippy moments as well. In a game before we started the podcast, we had a situation where somebody was getting really bossy and basically telling me what I should do… EVERY… SINGLE… ROUND. Not suggesting. Not asking. Pretty much just giving orders. I believe that ended with me suggesting XYZ could just run my character for me, dropping an f-bomb or two, and leaving the session 10 minutes early. So I don’t want to hold myself as some enlightened Paragon of Proper Gaming Etiquette who’s above such outbursts… just saying these guys have a particular dynamic where sometimes there are another 15-20 years of subtext that’s above my pay grade. In moments like that, I just poke aimlessly at my phone until it blows over.

(It’s also small beer compared to how angry the board game RISK makes me, but that’s a story for another time.)

And like Steve said, these incidents are almost always forgotten by the next session anyway. Maybe there’s a little Airing of the Grievances over group chat and things are back to normal. Welcome to life in a long-running gaming group.

Getting away from the gossip and returning to the game, I’d like to footnote my references on my choice of pet names. “Crackers”? Total tip of the cap to Wallace & Gromit – I was thinking “cheese” and “sci-fi”, and the episode where they went to the moon because they ran out of cheese just popped into my brain. Particularly the scene where they’re literally about to launch into space and Wallace’s biggest concern is… wait for it… “We’ve forgotten the crackers!”. And there it was. It’s like an onion – it’s got layers!

So, the actual “action” this week was mostly just a short lore dump. In case it was unclear with all the background noise of our squabbling, there’s a good AI and a bad AI fighting it out in the complex we’re in. The bad AI currently has the upper hand – it locked the good AI away and is trying to help the cultists. The good AI is walled off by the same security protocols that used to protect it but is trying to at least slow the cultists down from acquiring the weapon and will help us if it can. It’s unclear how this will manifest – traps seem likely, possibly Tuttle having to deal with some electronic counter-measures, possibly even security robots to fight? – but our immediate next step is to get to the computer core to undo things and put the good AI back in charge.

Confession: 2% of me doesn’t trust this machine. How do we know this isn’t the malevolent entity and we’d be doing its dirty work by releasing it. For the moment, the computer core seems like a good place to go anyway, but once we get there, I might want to see if there’s any way to verify its story before releasing it.

As Steve mentions, this is one of those times we have to balance meta-gaming against good roleplay. Meta-gaming, it probably would be good to clear the complex room by room. Get a little more experience, find some loot, possibly even level up. But on a roleplay level, if you know a malevolent entity has control of the computers and the bad guys still have an indeterminate lead on you, going directly to the core (do not pass GO, do not collect 200 credits) seems like the “proper” response. Why would you pack in a bunch of extra fights you theoretically don’t need to face? I suppose “clear everything behind you so they can’t ambush you later” could pass muster as legit reasoning, but when push comes to shove, I guess I’d rather get to the core and see what we’re up against there first.

But that’ll be a task for next week. Come back next week as the kinder, gentler Roll For Combat crew (promise) try to get the right AI back in charge. In the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and 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 096: Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 096: Altered Coward.

This has been a little bit of a weird week in Talking Combat. Like a TV show moving to a new time, the Dead Suns show moves to a new night to accommodate the new Plaguestone podcast, so that means that Talking moves as well. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment, and I’m still playing around with the writing schedule a little bit (as well as it just happening to be a busy weekend). We’ll get it squared away though.

This week on Roll For Combat, it’s an unintentional homage to the John Wick movies, as we kick a bunch of Cultist ass in the name of avenging animal cruelty. I don’t think I can write an entire column just about the Alien Puppy (despite Bob throwing down the challenge to do so) but it’s tempting. I have to admit (bouncing around to one of the show notes here) I had forgotten about the third pet until Steve mentioned it just now. I remembered the squox because that was fairly recent, but I had forgotten that WAAAAAAY back in the early episodes of Book 1, the dwarf that got killed welcoming us to Absalom had a pet cat in his quarters that we had kinda-sorta adopted. Geez, I hope somebody is stopping by and feeding it or John Wick is going to be coming to pay us a visit.

In general, it is nice to get off the Sunrise Maiden and get things moving forward again. I mean, the fight on the ship wasn’t boring, but it can only advance the plot so much in comparison to arriving at a destination where story points will be revealed. Having said that, it’s pretty obvious that this first fight is going to be more of a tune-up fight than a serious challenge. The bad guys’ swords did OK damage the few times they hit, I guess, but they never really seemed like that much of a threat, and that was even before it turned out that Aeon Tuttle was basically invincible to their incendiary grenades.

Speaking of which, between shrugging off the grenade damage and being able to communicate with Alien Puppy, this was a good week for Tuttle’s aeon powers – aka ”Hippie Telepathy”. The good outsider (Azata) gets you actual Truespeech, but this turns out to work just as well – being able to “converse” using nonvisual concepts beamed into the head of the other… I was going to say “person” but “entity”. Arguably even better for an animal-level intellect that doesn’t really have complex language. Still… works better than “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”, I suppose. A few games of Psychic Pictionary and a healing serum later, Tuttle’s entourage gets a little bit larger. The real trick will be resisting the urge to perform some lab experiments on the little critter later… Tuttle’s first love is still science, after all.

I’m trying to remember if this was the first use of the Upgraded Button or not. This is where one of the times where the gap between recording and air-date is working against me a little. I know the wider range of possibilities kicked in after the rebuild at Istamak, and I don’t recall using the button during the fight on the Sunrise Maiden, so for the moment I’m saying yes. (Feel free to point out if I’m wrong – my kids do it all the time.) Of course, the Button tends to be anti-climactic in this case – a heal when CHDRR is already at full health. Oh well.

While we’re talking about CHDRR, you’ll note that here is where I really start to make a more conscious decision to use CHDRR’s line effect. Somewhere around the tail end of Istamak or the first fight on the way to the Gate of the 12 Suns, it dawned on me that I had almost never gotten full value out of CHDRR’s line weapon for whatever reason – enemies weren’t bunched close enough, friendlies were in the way… whatever. (Cough-CHDRR-gets-destroyed-cough). This book is where I start getting into a newfound commitment to be tactical and make use of that. You should see more of it in the coming episodes.

I also have to admit that I got a minor kick out of the fact that while Bob and Chris were having their back and forth about the value of kill shots versus total damage, Tuttle kind of snuck in the back door and ended up with more kill shots than either. (At least if you count the Tuttle/CHDRR combo as a united entity). I figured I’d keep quiet and let them do their thing though – it has a little bit of that “Legolas and Gimli at Helm’s Deep” energy to it and either way, the bad guys end up dead.

Besides. I got the puppy, so by definition, I won the session anyway. And yes, I do eventually think of a name for it, though if that’s where Steve chose to cut the episode, I guess you’ll find out next week. (Rampant speculation in the meantime is encouraged.)

And I suppose that’s also where I’ll wrap up for the week. Next week, we penetrate the alien complex where we assume the Cultists are in some stage of attempting to open the gate and retrieve the superweapon. According to that log we took off the ship that attacked us, they were having some technical difficulties, but no way to tell if those are still an issue or if they’ve made progress since then. Join us back here next week to find out, and in the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and other social media and discuss the show. We’ll see you next week, and thanks for listening.

Talking Combat 095: Permission to Come Aboard

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 095: Blowin’ Up Is Hard To Do.

Welcome to an eventful week here at Roll For Combat. Some of us are at GenCon, though not me personally. The shroud of secrecy has been lifted from Pathfinder Second Edition, and we’ve got lots of content on that, including my written reviews of the Core Rulebook and Bestiary. Annnnd… we’re also launching a second actual-play show to kick the tires on the new system. (And out-of-channel on all of this, don’t get me started on Fire Emblem Three Houses or we’ll be here all day.)

My only addition to Steve’s “show notes”: for the moment, the plan is to write separate Talking Combats for each show, though I don’t yet know which days of the week they’ll go up Aon the site. For one thing, the shows are distinct in setting (sci-fi vs. fantasy) and tone (loose and informal vs. “serious” and heavier on the roleplaying). So while there may (hopefully) be people who listen to both, they really are separate entities I want to give both equal due. For another, specifically for the Pathfinder show, the fact that the game system is brand new makes it feel like it will need its own platform for a while as we tackle the new and unfamiliar aspects. You know… kinda like we did with Starfinder two-ish years ago.

So for now, that’s all you’ll hear about Pathfinder Second Edition in this column. Put a pin in it for now.

Now… back to deepest space, where the attack on the Sunrise Maiden has been thwarted but we have to board the enemy ship to disable the alarm system that will bring even more cultists down on us. Overall, I thought this was a nice way to extend the encounter and get us some extra loot in a slightly more organic way than having a boarding party bring a bunch of extra stuff with them. (I AM INVADING AN ENEMY SHIP, BUT I WILL BRING ALL MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS WITH ME BECAUSE THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE.) My one minor complaint was that the handling of the countdown was a little fuzzy around the edges – it felt like the countdown was stuck on “however much time you need to Greyhawk the ship” for a while there.

(Insert stock movie trope of tapping a gauge and watching it suddenly drop to a critical level.)

I was also sort of expecting a second fight that never came, but then again… I’m not sure it would’ve worked to have combat AND a timer. If there was a second heavy hitter, there’s the risk it could take too long and the ship could blow up while we’re still fighting; if it’s a couple of grunts… it would feel like just… busywork. Nah… one existential danger is enough for one day.

So we clear the ship of loot and valuable information and move on. We learn from the captain’s log that technical difficulties have served as the great equalizer between us and the Cultists – they arrived before us, but have squandered some portion of that advantage dealing with equipment failures. (As an IT guy, I salute this adventure for its commitment to realism. If only they had to send a ship back to Absalom because someone forgot to bring a compatible video connector.) We also get a hint that the guy we fought at the start of the adventure (the “inevitable”) was at some point a good guy, but seemed to have malfunctioned in the window between encountering the cultists and battling us. It’s good to know we still have a chance to stop them, but it does imply we’re on a clock because repairs to the control system for the super-weapon are underway.

On a personal level, I’m glad to learn there’s brother-and-sister bad guy ysoki mechanics! BIZARRO TUTTLES. I’m torn between “Tuttle can’t wait to meet fellow ysoki scientists”, and “they’re psychopaths who give good ysoki a bad name and we have to kill them”. On the other hand, playing ALL the percentages, Tuttle’s still going to iron his lab coat, groom his fur, and pop a breath mint… because “lady ysoki”.

Interestingly, still no mention of the Corpse Fleet or what role they might play in the endgame. It’s a little surprising that we haven’t heard a peep from them since our visit to Eox. I have two theories here. First is that I’ve been misreading the situation and they were a MacGuffin to move the plot along that has since been discarded. Maybe their involvement was just those two books, and then we never hear from them again. The second is that they’re still out there playing the long game, waiting for the Cultists to take do the heavy lifting, and they’ll sweep in at the last minute to claim the prize. (I guess a third choice could be that they joined forces, which would explain why Cultists have their little Shadow Buddies working for them.) For now, I’m going to assume the worst, that there’s still another shoe waiting to drop.

Back to the action. We arrive at the system, and looking at the layout of the system, they made it pretty clear which of the planetoids we have to go to – 11 dead rocks, one Project Genesis planet with a building that didn’t have a neon sign but might as well have. If there was a surprise to be had, it was the 26 points of hull damage we ate on the flight in (not even hitting the shields first!). Ouch. We have enough hull points to take another hit or two (and/or if we absolutely have to and the adventure gives us the time to do it, we can hole up and do repairs), but that was… unpleasant.

And… that’s basically where we break for this week, and that’s fine because, between two book reviews and a second column, I’ve done a lot of typing this week. Next time, we finally arrive at Planet 6 and see if we can stop the Cultists from activating the weapon and destroying large swaths of life throughout the universe. In the meantime, if you’re at GenCon, have a great weekend of gaming; even if you’re not, drop by the Discord channel or our other social media outlets and check out all the new content we’re putting up. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 094: Game, Cube

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 094: Akiro The Zero.

This is going to be one of those weeks where I’m going to go off the beaten path a little. The fight itself mostly circles the same themes we’ve talked about before – space combat is kind of a slog, we don’t like the way Resolve points work in boss fights (but this is prior to discovering that we’ve been doing it wrong and Coup De Grace does actually exist). It was kind of fun to see an enemy Envoy in action (BIZARRO RUSTY), but not sure I can pull a whole column out of that.

I suppose I will spare a moment to apologize for the quality of my mic for the next few sessions, as – I kid you not – my dog ate my mic and I was using a backup I borrowed from work. Cliff’s Notes: son borrowed headset, left it on a low table, and I have a dog that’s chewy when it comes to home electronics. Debated killing one or both; settled on buying my son his own (lesser) headset and declaring mine off limits from now on.

Anyhow… moving on. This week, I think I’ll go for a Talking Combat first and write my first column that focuses (at least indirectly) on the show notes. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I can mention that yes, we’re doing Pathfinder Second Edition, and yes, I’m part of the crossover cast.

I’m not going to deep-dive on the new show itself because I’ve got to save some material to write about when those episodes start airing. SPOILERS! But it drives toward the interesting question of “how much gaming is too much?”.

You see… this will, at least for a time, be my third concurrent game, and there are times when I stop and ask myself if this is a good idea. Truth be told, I considered sitting out PF2, but I have to admit I’m psyched to explore the new rules and couldn’t say no. But it’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

First, there’s Roll For Combat: Starfinder. I’m pretty sure you’re all familiar with that one. If you’re somehow reading this column and not listening to the show… you’ve got some odd reading habits, that’s all I’ll say.

Next is my Dads-N-Kids in-person game that I’ve sometimes mentioned, which took a hiatus for about a year, but restarted about a month ago. (With one less kid, but that particular kid spent most of the sessions looking at his phone anyway.) It’s a 5E campaign, kind of a hybrid of homebrew and off-the-shelf – our GM uses existing modules as a starting point but tweaks them to his liking. Or he’ll use the maps from an existing module as the setting but write the story himself. In that game, I’m playing a Warlock – my initial thinking was to go with a melee bladelock lean, but I may be chickening out and becoming more of a pure spell-slinger.

And now we have Pathfinder Second Edition. New game, new game SYSTEM, and… we’ll say “new-ish”… players. Rob has made multiple appearances on our show and Loren was a guest on one of the Society episodes. This is my first time playing with Vanessa, but she was our contest winner and played with Steve at PaizoCon.

I think the thing I’m already digging more than I expected is that each table is its own entity with its own flavor. And most importantly, each is fun in its own way.

The Starfinder table is probably the most power-gamer-y table of the three – we tend to be highly focused on getting from fight to fight, roleplaying is fairly light… the atmosphere is almost more like a WoW raid, but with a more engaging story. But it also has the ease of familiarity going for it – the in-jokes and stories from other campaigns that have accumulated over the years, we know each other as players and know what to expect, we can even step outside the game and talk fantasy football for 10 or 15 minutes.

It’s early yet, but the Pathfinder 2 table is a little less… intense?… which is a nice change of pace. I don’t know if because we’re comparative strangers and maybe more focused on being polite and not stepping on each other’s toes (or maybe it’s just fewer New Yorkers), but it’s definitely got a more mellow vibe. On the other hand, it’s also more oriented toward roleplaying which… I’m not generally great at, but I’m willing to give it a go. (Sorry, I’m really bad with voices. Know your own limits.)

The 5E game? Supremely casual. I’d almost say that’s more of a social gathering that happens to have a roleplaying game dropped on top of it. We’re dealing with newer players – in addition to the kids, our GM’s sister-in-law is an RPG novice who decided to join us – so we sometimes miss or fudge rules. We go slow. We crack jokes and screw around. If someone dies, we just get a new character sheet ready. (Suffice it to say it would probably make for a TERRIBLE podcast.) And… of course, the single biggest difference is that it’s a live game. It’s totally cool that the technology exists to play with people hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away, but nothing totally replaces rolling real dice at a real table.

Aside from the flavors of the tables, different is good just for difference’s sake. Play one character for… holy crap, coming up on two years… it’s good to mix in a little something else to break it up a little. We briefly played around with that when we were doing the Society shows; PF2 will be another way to freshen things up a bit.

So what’s the downside of three different games? Well, the first one, which you can surely guess, is simple scheduling logistics. If you add up the people (setting aside Steve and myself as duplicates), there are up to 14 different schedules to accommodate in a given week. (And that’s even without considering spouses, significant others, and other people outside the immediate bubble of the games.) It can be tricky to make that work week after week.

I have to admit there’s also a little bit of “which game am I playing?” confusion that sometimes creeps in at the edges. Not so much the characters – I haven’t yet mistaken Tuttle for a melee character and charged into battle – but three different systems (one of which is brand new) creates the occasional synaptic misfire on the rules. Advantage in the 5E game tends to be a big one – I’ll often forget what does and doesn’t give advantage for a few turns until someone reminds me or the light switch flips.

And, OK, there are weeks when 8-10 hours of gaming is a lot of time to be committing to any hobby. Not quite full-blown “burnout”, but in that direction. That one doesn’t hit me OFTEN, but I’d be lying if I said it NEVER happened. There have been one or two nights I’d rather futz around with my NHL19 expansion team or make a dent in my Netflix queue than roll dice.

If there’s one safety net to all of this, it’s that it’s likely to be a short-term arrangement. Dead Suns is meandering toward a conclusion, and the Pathfinder Second Edition adventure is supposedly fairly short. And even with the Dads-N-Kids game, that might become a less frequent thing when the kids go back to school in the fall. So if this somehow proves too much, I guess there will be opportunities to re-evaluate. In the meantime… anyone running a 4th Edition game I can get in on? (Kidding, kidding).

Well, that’s about all I have for this week. Next week should be an eventful one. Back in the Dead Suns world, our intrepid team has to go find the cultist mothership and hit the “Hey, Come On Over And Kick Our Asses” snooze bar. For the show as a whole, we’ve got GenCon and the official release of Second Edition, which should mean some bonus content – book reviews, bonus podcasts, and such. Some of that is on Steve to do before he gets on the plane to Indy, but some of that is my bailiwick, so I guess I’d better get to it. We’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Combat 093: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 093: Akiro The Hero.

It’s another week of Not Ship Combat on Roll For Combat, though as Steve points out, last week’s encounter was actually supposed to go the way it went and this week was the one that was significantly different from the way it was written in the book. This week we get to REPEL BOARDERS!

I get what John was trying to say about the fact that the enemy ship was able to sneak up on us, but at the end of the day, you can’t have it both ways. We were all fairly unanimous that we didn’t want to do ship combat, so Steve accommodated us and gave us something different to work with. If you ask the chef to make something that’s not on the menu, you don’t turn around and complain about it. So if that means the enemy vessel gets Plot Armor when it comes to being detected on sensors… whatever. As the guy on the sensors, it makes Tuttle look a little bad at his job, but I’ll get over that.

(Aside: I know there’s a minority of people on our Discord channel who like space combat, and if you do… cool. I don’t exactly HATE it, but I do think it’s a little under-baked and could use a little more fleshing out in future supplements.)

In Steve’s defense, I think part of the problem is that this is one of those grey areas in the rules. There are a few scattered mentions of boarding enemy ships scattered throughout the rules, and there’s even a transporter upgrade you can put on a ship. But they don’t really tell you how to manage that seamlessly. It’s a little unclear how you transition between the two modes – if you’re in ship combat and the crew of one ship or the other leaves their stations to board the other vessel, who’s running the ship? Or does it just fly in a straight line and you can take free shots at it. Or, at least for the bad guys, do you assume an army of red-shirts to keep the lights on while the boarding party comes over? But then what do the players do if THEY want to board a ship?

All of this kind of strikes me as fuzzy, so I can understand why Steve just did a hand-wave and let them sneak up on us. Blame it on the nebula, I guess. SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE, MISTER SAAVIK. So now we have an enemy vessel “parked” in our cargo hold and intruders on board. Yay! Specifically, one humanoid boss-type NPC, who appears to have some sort of mind-altering effects, and a bunch of minions who, ohbytheyway, are incorporeal.

Would. You. Look. At. That. Somebody put the Ghostkiller Fusion on his weapon! SERENDIPITY.

Now I swear on a mint-edition copy of Detective Comics #27 that I had no idea what was coming, but it’s quite the handy break. Incorporeal has always been one of my pet peeves, and we’ve run into ghostly enemies at other points in this adventure, so I just thought it would be a handy thing to have. The closest thing to meta-gaming was the consideration that it would also make my weapon magical (since we’re getting toward the levels where some creatures can’t be damaged by conventional weapons) but I could’ve done something trivial like Called and gotten that same effect. Ghostkiller was just a lucky bit of happenstance.

Just to set the stage in case it’s unclear, this fight is being held at a four-way intersection. Using the bridge as north, we came in from the north, the bulk of the minions came in from the west, and the boss is down the hall 30 or 40 feet in a room to the west (the aforementioned cargo hold). The bonus surprise minions came out of the wall into the south passage – we’re not totally flanked, but it did mess up my positioning in particular, as I had hidden in the south passage where I thought I was safe. Now I had two minions in striking distance when I had Mo, Akiro, and CHDRR between me and the other bad guys.

So battle starts, and my Ghostkiller gun draws a few oohs and ahs, but then it gets pushed off the stage by Akiro and his ridiculously powerful electrical attack. It’s exciting to finally see Chris cut loose a little. We’ve seen a few of his tricks back at Istamak (blowing up a battery, your garden-variety fireball), but it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe we should’ve had a magic-user in the party all along. Then again, maybe Chris should be casting something other than mirror image all this time, too. Door swings both ways.

The good news about this fight is that the minions don’t seem to have a lot of hit points, so if you can put damage on them, they go down quickly. Also, knowing the layout of our own ship, they’re boxed into a dead-end, so once we get down into the room, it’s Pinata Party Time. On the other hand, the damage rules for incorporeal creatures are going to slow things down AND there’s the fact that they can control the battlefield better than we can by going through walls. And there’s also the fact that the boss can play Whack-a-Mole with relative impunity. Yes, we did put a little damage on him early, but he seems to have the ability to hop in and out of the doorway – possibly aided by a Haste Circuit – so there are rounds where he can just take a shot at us and move so we can’t hit back. So… this doesn’t feel like a LETHAL encounter, but it does have the potential to be highly annoying.

OF course, that’s assuming we’ve seen all the tricks the boss can throw at us. If he’s got something worse, I may choose to revise my remarks at a later date. Or… next week, since that’s when the battle continues.

Before I close, one general show note: Steve mentioned I might be making it out to GenCon this year. I’d say that’s about 50-50 for now. I’d certainly LIKE to, but without throwing my personal life WIDE open to the world, there are moving parts regarding the fate of my dogs and how those I leave behind would fare without a car for a few days. I’m still rolling ideas around my brain, but… TBD. If it works out, it’d be cool to see y’all there. (And a fine opportunity to con a few new RFC T-shirts out of Steve by claiming I “forgot” the ones I already have. Shhhh!)

So, next week we should conclude the Battle Of The Sunrise Maiden – I don’t remember it being a three-episode sort of fight. How will it turn out? I guess you’ll just have to come back next week and find out. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord server and other social media and join the ongoing merriment. We’ll see you next week, and thanks for listening and reading.

Talking Combat 092: Ship Combat, Now With 100% Less Ships!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 092: The Power of Tuttle Compels You!

Here we go, off to Books 5 and 6! (I prefer to think of it in the same manner as Infinity War and Endgame – it’s really one story, just divided into two different chapters).

And we start with… NOT starship combat. I hate to beat the dead horse, but I’m firmly on the record agreeing with Steve on starship combat. There’s the beginnings of a good system there, and maybe it could be expanded into something more robust and fun, but as written, it’s kind of shallow and plays itself out after the first two or three ship combats.

My main complaint is there aren’t enough disruptive events. If you think about player combat, it can sometimes be susceptible to the same “lather, rinse, repeat” ennui, but the reason it generally doesn’t is that unexpected things happen to disrupt the routine. The enemy trots out a spell they hadn’t used before that changes the battle. The players come up with some creative use of their powers to turn the tables. Something changes about the environment – the room starts to flood, artificial gravity fails, whatever. I think those sorts of things are under-developed in ship combat – yes, you have crits, but that’s really about it. Maybe those will be developed in future releases; maybe the enterprising (pun semi-intended) GM can homebrew their own, but I think a little controlled chaos would add a lot to the system.

My other complaint has always been that some roles are more dynamic than others. Science is a fairly active role (especially if you pair it with Engineer and hop between the two roles), pilot is the most overtly tactical, but the other gigs can get stale fairly quickly. If you’re the Captain or firing a gun, there’s just not that much to do.

Parenthetically, my favorite “system-within-a-system” was the hand-to-hand combat rules from Top Secret. You had different attacks and defenses, chosen from across different martial arts (boxing, judo, karate, etc.) and the interactions between those attacks and defenses determined how the combat was going to go. If you choose a low block and I do flying face kick… you get kicked in the face. It had its flaws – there were a few super-moves that only had one or two defenses – but it was a clever little system.

So the fight itself… this struck me as one of those battles where the flavor of it was more alarming than the actual battle ended up being. You hear “swarm of nanites” and you envision this guy having resistances and being a lot tougher to put damage on. And I guess he did have some of that since CHDRR’s junk cannon didn’t really do anything to him. On the other hand, Mo and Akiro were both landing pretty solid shots throughout the fight, and it never felt like we were in that much danger. Though I suppose the attempted takeover of CHDRR was a big swing that could’ve caused the battle to go dramatically differently. What’s the worst case there… he takes over CHDRR, we have to kill CHDRR (90 points of damage, so several additional rounds of combat), and then we still have to finish off whatever’s left of Nanite Boy on the other end, without CHDRR’s help. If you put THAT fight in the script… well, we probably still would’ve won, but it would’ve been a much more interesting fight. Especially if I had roleplayed Tuttle as ambivalent toward attacking his own drone. Which I might have.

But nope. Tuttle comes through as a computer genius and saves CHDRR from hostile invasion, and the rest of the fight was relatively easy.

I did think it was a little odd that Steve would simultaneously play up the possibility of parlay, yet still attack us first. I guess I’d expect that an enemy that’s willing to talk would show that willingness by… you know… not attacking right away. But Nanite Boy started swinging in Round One, rendering most of the conversation moot. I guess they do things differently in this part of the galaxy.

Since Steve did a “show about the show” with his GM tip, I’ll also jump in with some “how the sausage gets made” comments from the player side, and as the person who writes Talking each week.

I will say first and foremost, the other players and I don’t have anywhere near the responsibility Steve does. As players, our commitment is basically the 3 hours a week we’re playing, and sometimes we might have some homework between sessions, particularly when we level up or when there’s a new version of the D20Pro software. But none of us get involved in the editing process… that’s ALL Steve.

Do we censor ourselves? I don’t know how the other guys feel, but for me, I think “compartmentalize” might be a better way to put it. We have a bit of a bullshit session before Steve starts recording that can be anywhere from five minutes to (on one or two occasions) an hour or longer, and we kind of get all the other stuff out of our system during that pre-session chat, so when we do roll, we’re ready to focus on the game. But once we get going… no, not really. I generally play the game I’m going to play and rely on Steve’s judgment to edit wisely when we get too far off in the weeds or start acting like jerks to each other. I suppose the ONE concession is I try not to swear because maybe we have some kids listening and I don’t want “The Guy Who Plays The Science Rat On The Internet” to be who taught them to launch the F-bomb. “What is a legacy? Teaching F-bombs to pre-teens that you never see?

When it comes to writing Talking, I usually remember the “Spark Notes” summary of the week’s episode just from memory and can often start writing just based on what I remember (I know where we left off the previous week, so Steve just has to tell me where the new episode stops, and I can extrapolate). If it’s a Tuttle-centric episode and I mostly just want to talk about that (Aeon Tuttle, for instance), I can put most of the column to bed just based on that. Having said that, I do go back and listen to the whole show, both to catch the finer details (as Steve said, we’re doing these a month or two after they actually happened) and to listen to the intro and outro to see if the GM/PC tip or any of the “other” stuff has any hooks to play off.

The trick is always to find that balance – I don’t want it to just be a dry regurgitation of what you just listened to. That would be pointless. On the other hand, I don’t want to be so far in the weeds that I’m going onto 2000 characters about what I had for lunch three days ago. (For the record: Chinese takeout – beef and broccoli.) I suppose what I’m shooting for is something like the “director commentary” on DVDs: here’s what I was thinking when I chose to do this. Here’s where I briefly considered doing THIS, which could have been cool, but then I realized it would probably wipe the whole party. Here’s what Bob did three years ago that makes this line funny. Here’s where Steve edited out the two minutes of dead air where I forgot it was my turn because I was trying to multitask and play Overwatch in the background because there was a Symmetra skin I really wanted. “Allegedly”.

The GM/PC tip can be hit and miss because if I’m being totally honest, I don’t GM a whole lot. Occasionally for my Dads-n-Kids game, but not regularly. Some weeks, the general topic can still be a fertile one and I can still counter or add to Steve’s GM perspective with a player perspective. Other times, it’s something I really don’t have much of an opinion on and I just let it sail on by. Like… the “packing for PaizoCon” one… if I’m wearing pants and have a dice bag with me when I get on the plane, that’s about all you can expect from me.

I caught myself nodding along with Steve when he mentioned getting the sense of déjà vu, or making the same comment twice on re-listen. I have that happen a lot, right down to the specific wording. Though sometimes it’s the other way around and I get mad that I didn’t think of something at the time. Example: when we were talking about “Rusty’s Daily Affirmations” in last week’s episode, I could’ve sworn I went for a Stuart Smalley SNL reference there, but either I didn’t think of it, or perhaps Steve edited it out. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I’m much more aware of the other guys’ banter the second time around – I don’t know I miss stuff at the time because I’m locked in on what Tuttle is going to do next, but some of the things they said the first time, I barely remember them saying. So it can be like hearing it for the first time when I go back and listen.

Anyway, this is getting long-winded, so I’m going to wrap it up for now. Next week, since Steve already spoilered it just a bit, we’re going to have some more NOT SHIP COMBAT, so you’ll have to come back and see how that goes. In the meantime, drop by our Discord channel or other social media, let us know what you think of the show (as well as check out the community), and we’ll see you next week.

 

Talking Combat 091: In Rusty We Trust

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 091: Be The Best Rusty You Can Be!

July 4th. A day to celebrate freedom. I’m not sure the Founding Fathers realized they were going to bat for the freedom to pretend to be a space mouse once a week, but I assume they’d approve. Of course, for any of our listeners outside the US, it’s just Thursday, and hey… that’s cool too.

Aside: George Washington is a classic Envoy, Ben Franklin is clearly a Mechanic, Thomas Jefferson could also be a Mechanic, but we’ll put him down as a Mystic since he was the most esoteric of the Founding Fathers. John Adams, a Technomancer who infuriates his party-mates by taking nothing but utility spells. Hamilton’s probably a little too much of a hothead to be a second Envoy, so let’s put him down as a Solarian (with a curiously in-depth knowledge of financial systems).

Sorry, where was I?

So, welcome to both book five and Level 9. We start this week with… well, call it what it is… Rusty’s new and improved attempts to brainwash the rest of the party. So basically he can re-roll his Diplomacy roll if he wants, and we have to roll our Sense Motive twice and take the lower result for a chance to lie with impunity. We tend to think of combat as the engine that makes the whole game go, but that’s possibly overpowered. Then again (skipping ahead a bit) we forget there are people out there with high enough Sense Motive scores to see through Rusty’s cons… just none on THIS ship.

As I mentioned, as a roleplaying thing, I seriously considered dipping into Technomancer or Mystic as an extension of Tuttle gaining the Aeon subtype. “Tuttle’s awakening to the Call of the Universe turns him away from science and more toward the magical”… would’ve been neat to play around with that. And even though it would send me to Suboptimal Character Hell, I would’ve preferred to go Mystic rather than Technomancer – both to get access to heals, as well as to make Tuttle different from Akiro Jr.

So why didn’t I do it? I think it’s because of where we are in the adventure path. If this had happened in Book 3, and there was time to shape Tuttle’s character in the new direction, I absolutely would’ve done it. Take a few caster levels, buy different ability crystals, maybe a mnemonic editor… you could make it work. But when we’re about to enter the third act, with no real way to return… I just didn’t see the benefit of having a couple of first level spells, even heals.

Also, it would mean CHDRR would stop growing, and… as weird as it is, I felt a little guilty about that. Yes, Tuttle is “the character”, but at the end of the day, we’re a package deal and it feels unfair to sell his development out entirely.

So, mechanic level it is… even if it’s kind of a boring one. I get to move through difficult terrain; CHDRR gets to move faster, period.

I don’t usually worry too much about what the other guys are doing with their characters, but the back and forth between John and Chris about who’s going to be the tank and who’s going to get the good armor upgrades was pretty amusing. To summarize: John has the classic “tank” profile, but nine levels of being used as a piñata have stretched him to his breaking point. Chris wants the armor upgrades, but half his spells are about damage avoidance. Including invisibility – YOU CAN’T BE A TANK IF NO ONE CAN SEE YOU.

In terms of gear, I feel like I say this every level, but I thought about a melee weapon upgrade, since I’m still using my starter knife, but the cost-benefit just isn’t there. Truthfully I’d like to upgrade to advanced melee weapons and get Tuttle a lightsaber (or whatever they’re called in this universe), but I don’t have that option at this level.

So… JETPACK MOUSE! I think I said this last week, but there have been a few occasions where CHDRR’s jump jets have been Not Quite Good Enough for a given task, so I thought moving the game into three dimensions might help a bit. Besides, the mere imagery of Tuttle flying around like a goofball makes me smile.

Having my own null space felt like a bit of an indulgence at first glance, but there’s a method to the madness. That dragon drake pistol uses petrol as ammo. Well, two problems with that: first, petrol cells have a Bulk of 1 instead of L; second, they can’t be recharged off my suit or the ship like batteries can. So I’m going to probably have to carry a supply of four or five petrol cells on my person… you know, with my completely ordinary strength. And I don’t think having to run over to Mo to reload is practical either. Also, it’s just extra party storage, which never hurts.

The Ghost Killer fusion… the main thing was just making at least one of my guns a magic weapon by putting SOME sort of magic on it. The specific choice of Ghost Killer was more about longstanding pet peeves, even going back to Pathfinder. Incorporeal creatures just piss me off. If there was any real thought process to it, it was that we’re dealing with a long-dead civilization and the Corpse Fleet, both of which might have a ghost on their team. So screw it: I’M COMING FOR YOU, GHOSTS!

Speaking of equipment purchases. I do share some of John’s frustration with the Starfinder economy; it does seem like the market for weapons and armor is a little broken. Accessories, personal upgrades, and such… those are situational enough that you’re better off buying what you need rather than hoping it drops. But armor and weapons… there’s almost NO use case for buying the stuff, and that’s a little weird. Especially not with a 10% sellback price.

Speaking of potentially broken things, I loved the collective groan that swept through the team when I mentioned upgrading the Sunrise Maiden. At a meta-game level, new books tend to start with a ship battle, so I thought we should be prepared. More generally, we leveled up three times since the last time we did this, so we actually had enough build points to afford some decent weapons. But it sounds like Steve admitted he’s going to do starship combat a little differently going forward, so… never mind I guess.

Next week, off to the Gate of the Twelve Suns, where the endgame begins in earnest. We will probably NOT be fighting another ship, but I’m sure interesting things will be happening. Until then, I’m off to exercise my “freedom” to binge-watch Season 3 of Stranger Things in one sitting while eating as many Sweet Spicy Doritos as possible. So feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 090: Stop And Smell The Flowers

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 090: Stop & Shop.

I think the moral of this week’s episode is “stop and smell the flowers”. And not just because the Sunrise Maiden has a cargo hold full of them. (Or the Kish equivalent.)

I think sometimes we get so involved with getting from Point A to Point B that sometimes we short-change the “story” side of the game. Not so much “we = Team RFC” (though that’s also true to an extent) but “we = players of role-playing games”. Where’s the next bread crumb? Who do we kill next? This episode – or at least the first 20 or 30 minutes – was more about storytelling and the relaxed banter of the table, and you need a little of that in a campaign.

Which is also a nice dove-tail with Steve’s point about introducing kids to the game, now that I think of it. One of the cool things about bringing kids into this world of roleplaying tomfoolery is that they DON’T see it the same way we do. They don’t immediately reach for that mental manila folder marked BEST PRACTICES every time a situation arises. Yes, sometimes that means that they do “stupid” things from a tactical point of view that make the experienced player in me grind my teeth in frustration (cough-flying 40 feet in the air at Level 1 when there are archers around, and now we know falls from that height are fatal, don’t we?-cough), but they also do stuff that’s FUN because they’re doing it for the pure exuberance of the game. Which is why you don’t want to kill that by focusing too much on the rules.

Which brings me to “Oppressive Snail”. Yes, a potential band name if I ever practice my guitar enough to get any good, but oh so much more. When my son was MUCH younger… probably five or six… we were playing a 4E game, and he was playing a dragonborn fighter named (fitting, for a little kid) “Burns”. He just wanted to hit stuff with a sword and breath fire. But somewhere along the way, he decided for himself that Burns should have a spell called “Oppressive Snail”. Apparently, Oppressive Snail could summon a snail that could attack for him. BEHOLD THE SIX-YEAR-OLD MIND IN ACTION. Now I could’ve sat there and said “the fighter doesn’t have spells and doesn’t work that way”, but when the universe gives you shit like that to work with, you run with it. So basically, we turned it into some minor damage spell on par with his breath weapon, so basically, he could just use that or his breath weapon.

More generally, I agree with Steve about sanding some of the rough edges off the learning curve until they’re definitely hooked. In my Dads-n-Kids game, I’ve sometimes discussed, we don’t sweat encumbrance, or material components for spells, or even memorizing specific spells – we actually use more of an MMO mana system where you have mana cards that you can use to cast whatever spell you want. Yeah, purists will be angry that we gave wizards all the benefits of a sorcerer or arcane caster, but the point here is to get the kids to dig the game, so if letting them just cast Magic Missile 3 or 4 times does that… cool. As they get used to it, we do start to say… “hey, if you ever sit down at someone else’s table, the actual rule is THIS” so they don’t get caught unaware, but in the short term, get them to love the game first, and then focus on the nitty-gritty of rules.

SON, TODAY YOU ARE A MAN. (Pulls out a copy of 3.5 grappling rules.)

So, back to this week’s show. We party down with the Kish for a while. Hirogi gets sainted (for the love of FSM, WHY are you people saying “All Hail Hirogi” on the Discord? That’ll just go to Chris’ head…), Rusty has a harem waiting for him if he ever comes back (also assuming we save the universe and there’s a planet to come back to), and Tuttle at least gets acknowledged as a supernatural being (though I’d like to register a complaint that they spent their time hailing Talavet instead of Tuttle himself). Mo? Good at kids’ birthday parties. Which… the way John has played him, he’s a simple, uncomplicated, little-bit-world-weary guy… that’s probably a fitting legacy for the big lunk.

Now we have to decide whether we have time to go back to Absalom. I think the right answer here is yes.

There are two forces at work here, but they’re pulling in opposite directions. On one hand, yes the cultists have a head start on us. (As does the Corpse Fleet… have we heard from them recently?) That head start could be days, weeks… probably not months, but… “defense will stipulate” as the courtroom shows say. On the other hand, they have to figure everything out when they get where they’re going whereas we have to just show up and beat some ass. To use an analogy from academia (Tuttle would approve), the cultists have to actually do experiments and write a dissertation; we just have to show up and read the finished paper. That gets back SOME of the time we lost on the front end.

Also, detouring to Absalom is only a couple of days. This had always seemed silly and counter-intuitive to me, but then I had the sort of epiphany only an IT guy would have. Imagine a tangle of identical network cables, and you have to follow ONE of those cables end-to-end and untangle it. An annoying, possibly impossible task depending on how many cables we’re talking about. Now imagine all those cables are identical, except one that’s a high-contrast color like yellow or red. Still not easy, but becomes more doable. To me, outbound voyages or point-to-point travel are the random gray cables and returning to Absalom is the red one. Because… “magic-n-stuff”.

So we decide to go back to Absalom.

Character build? Sounds like we get into that next week, so I’ll do so then. I think Level 9 is a drone level, so it’s probably going to be anti-climactic compared to adding an ability crystal AND becoming a demi-god. Consider yourself warned.

Gear? I’m kind of settling on a jetpack and some sort of weapon fusion as the big-ticket purchases.

The jetpack because added mobility is nice and I’ve been frustrated at the number of times CHDRR’s jump jets were “right idea, but not quite good enough to do what I want”. I’d have to sacrifice one of my existing upgrades, but the environmental control is pretty situational anyway, and it can always be re-installed on short notice (I forget whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but either way… it’s pretty unlikely we’d get dropped into a desert by surprise.)

The weapon fusion… it’s this feeling that I can’t really afford a full upgrade, but I want to be a little more dynamic in my offensive capabilities. After poking the Armory with a stick, the Ghost Killer fusion starts to have some appeal. Incorporeal is one of those things I’m not sure we have a great answer for, and it’s always been one of my personal pet peeves. (After that battle at the security center, something that would affect swarms would also be tempting, but grenades can probably handle that.)

And then there’s poking the bear… upgrading the Sunrise Maiden. Our last outbound voyage sucked because we were seriously outgunned, and we now have two or three more levels’ worth of build points to play around with. Also at a metagame level, the writers of these adventure paths seem to love to kick things off with space combat. So… yeah, we probably ought to do that. Unless Steve were to do something crazy like re-write the beginning of the next module or something.

So we’ll come back next week and finish up the leveling process and get back out on the road. In the meantime, feel free to stop by the Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment (sigh… fine, you can say “All Hail Hirogi” if you feel strongly about it). Go out there and roll some 20s at your own tables, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 089: I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again…

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 089: He Says He’s Not Dead!.

Short episode, but a surprising amount to discuss this week.

The basics of the situation – we’re into Xavra’s resolve points, so we keep knocking him down and he keeps getting back up until someone can hit him again. Lather, rinse, repeat… and eventually, he dies.

(Pardon me while I sigh and rub my temples in frustration for a few minutes.)

It’s not that I think it’s unfair overall. If it’s a humanoid enemy with a character class, it ought to have all the same character tools we have, including, yes, resolve points. If we can get back up a certain number of times after being knocked out, so can the bad guys. On that level, fair’s fair.

Here’s the thing. There were probably two avenues for short-cutting this encounter, both of which we missed.

The first is that it’s technically GM prerogative whether to even use resolve points when the bad guy drops. In short, Steve could’ve just skipped to the end if he’d wanted to. I feel like the decision points there would be whether a) there are other enemies keeping the encounter going, and/or b) whether the overall fight is close enough that the bad guy could turn things around by using resolve points. In this case, the first wouldn’t be true, but you can make a case for the latter – Rusty was already down, Mo and I were pretty low on health, and Akiro, while healthy, had burned through his best spells. So all in all, I can see a case to be made for continuing. IF Xavra could’ve gotten back on his feet, he could’ve still been formidable.

The other thing is on us as the players – coup de grace does actually exist in Starfinder. Ummm… oops. You make a full attack that’s an automatic hit and an automatic crit, and the victim has to Fort save against instant death.

So… yeah, we kinda whiffed on that.

What we ended up with… well, it wasn’t difficult, but it was kind of a storytelling and logistical failing.

First, the storytelling front. Sitting there whomping on an unconscious character to finish it off doesn’t feel very… heroic. They might bury it in the appendices of the Starfinder Society Handbook, but I’m pretty sure borderline corpse desecration is still a no-no within the Pact Worlds. Gleefully hacking corpses to pieces dice roll by dice roll! You know… because we’re the good guys.

Then there’s the logistics of it. If you don’t use CdG, it’s kinda goofy that you can whomp away and they’re still “alive” because you can’t reach their negative hit points threshold for insta-death, but if you wake them up and lightly tap them, they catch the vapors and fall down again. It’s just such a weird little dance.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to lean into the absurdity of the game mechanics, this is where grenades come in really handy. If the bad guy springs right back up with one hit point, the to-hit is against the area and even a Level 1 grenade (as long as it’s typed to avoid damage resistance) can put him back down. Oh, you made your reflex save? Well, hate to break it to you, but half of death is still death. If one wanted to be a joyless min-maxer (not that I’m recommending such a course of action, but I’m not not recommending it), it’s almost worth keeping a cache of Level 1 grenades of various damage types around for just such an occasion.

Which leads into Chris’ mini-freakout the first time I hit him with what turned out to be a phantom grenade blast. First of all, it turns out I didn’t even do it wrong – Steve just put down a wider template by accident. So let the record reflect that I eye-balled it correctly. But honestly, so what if I did? Half the party is teetering on the brink of death, Chris has an almost full health bar, and he’s complaining about 1d6 of damage. I SPECIFICALLY used a Mark 1 grenade a) to not be wasteful of our better resources and b) to mitigate the effects of friendly fire if I somehow missed. I get that friendly fire offends his sensibilities as a player, but we were well past the “style points” portion of the encounter – I was just trying to get the guy to stay down.

And then there’s Mo, basically sitting out the post-credits scene entirely. I mean, yes, I get that he was pretty close to death – we don’t see each other’s exact hit points, but I’m pretty sure he was in single digits or close to it. But given that Mo generally has the best chance to hit if the encounter restarted in earnest, I kinda wish he would’ve jumped back in to help finish things up. Especially since he had reach with his pike – I had something like 15 or 20 points left, so I would’ve been more than willing to reverse roles for a round or two and be the meat shield while Mo poked him to death with the pike.

That strategy became even more relevant once Xavra had been relieved of his melee weapon and could only hit me with the gun that couldn’t do any damage. It was a shame this didn’t come into play earlier, but it was still gratifying for Aeon Tuttle’s new abilities to finally come into play in a combat-relevant way. I was a teensy bit worried it was actually going to be necrotic damage instead of cold or some such nonsense, but nope… full blast to the face, zero damage. Imagine a Nelson Muntz “HA HA!” there if you like.

At any rate, we FINALLY get Xavra down. The first reward is loot: if I wanted to be selfish, his gun and armor would both represent minor upgrades for Tuttle, but given that I just got the ability crystal upgrade and a new pistol, I don’t really feel like I HAVE to have either. Truth told I wish I could use the sword, but it’s an advanced melee weapon, and I never got past simple melee weapons. (There’s a wonderful bit of mental disconnect about Tuttle being able to resolve matters of quantum physics but not being able to figure out how to stab someone with a sword, but we’ll let it pass for now. Apparently, none of the aeons he’s now communing with ever got the “stick ‘em with the pointy end” pep talk Arya Stark got.

We also get a lore dump which fills in some blanks and sets up the sprint to the finish. Apparently, the grand destroyer of worlds we’ve been chasing is a superweapon created by the Kish’s ancestors that’s capable of rendering stars inert (GET IT? GET IT?… DEAD SUNS!), which naturally eradicates life on any planets that rely on those stars. It was used once during a war in the distant past and then sealed away in a pocket dimension, the gate to which is the cluster of identically spaced stars we first heard about back on Castrovel. Easy to see why the Cult of the Devourer (general nihilism) OR the Corpse Fleet (revenge against the living; a quick means of creating more undead) would want to get their hands on such a thing. Sooooo… guess we’d better try to stop them.

But we’ll get to that next week. We definitely get to level up to Level 9 (huzzah!), we might have some sort of close-out with the Kish villagers, and then we have to decide whether to spin back past Absalom Station or just keep going to the final destination. (Given the Sunrise Maiden is back to being held together with duct tape… maybe the latter?) While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and other social media and give us your thoughts on the now-complete Book 4 of the adventure path, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Combat 088: Down Goes Xavra! Down Goes Xavra!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 088: God Things Come in Small Packages.

This is a bit of a rushed Talking this week because I’m in the midst of packing for the annual family beach vacation. Part of me would prefer to be packing for – or at least planning a day trip to – Origins, but for something like the fourth or fifth year in a row, we have a schedule overlap. While Origins is fun (especially now that John and Bob are close enough for an in-person meetup) it’s not “Losing A Day At The Beach, Turning 10 Hours In The Car Into 16, And Spending All My Beer Money On Dice And Minis” levels of fun.

On the other hand, while I’m missing Origins, my good non-RFC news is that my Dads-N-Kids game is finally getting up and running again after being on extended hiatus. I won’t go into a deep-dive because it’s ultimately a side game you don’t care about – very basics: 5E homebrew, starting at Level 1, I’m playing a Warlock – but it might come up from time to time in a “compare and contrast” fashion.

Back in the world of RFC, the boss fight continues. It’s kinda grindy, but there are enough little moments to keep it interesting. In general, this hasn’t been quite as painful as, say, the sniper fight on Castrovel. Whether that’s because of the lack of difficult terrain or Tuttle turning into a demi-god, I leave as an exercise for the discerning reader.

The first bit of fun is that I get to make use of my Miracle Worker class skill. Frankly, I wish I’d thought of it earlier, but the truth is this fight ran multiple sessions, and this was a between-sessions inspiration. I started looking for… something… to increase my offense between sessions (since Aeon Tuttle, while very cool, doesn’t help my damage-dealing at all) and the act of re-reading my character sheet dug that up. A +2 to hit and damage doesn’t do a LOT to improve my chances, but every little bit helps.

I was incorrect about a few of the minor details. First, just as a matter of nomenclature, it’s a class skill, not a mechanic trick – every Mechanic gets it automatically at Level 7. Second, I think on the podcast I said something about it taking a resolve point, and that’s not actually the case – it just has limited uses (once per day, plus once for every 4 additional Mechanic levels). I must’ve been confusing it with the Scoutbot or something else.

Tactically, I was thinking that if I wasn’t dealing with being slowed, the smart play would’ve been to put it on Akiro’s weapon instead of my own. For one thing, it he seems like he already has a little better native chance to hit, but more importantly, hitting with that 1d20 rifle is probably worth more than me hitting with my 1d8 sonic pistol. But it would’ve taken two turns to do it AND it would’ve bunched us up more for his Solarian abilities. So… I go with the self-buff, even though it’s sub-optimal.

Second, I had almost completely forgotten about Rusty’s call for the phantom reinforcements. That was a bit of an inspired play by Bob. This is one of those cases where I credit Steve with letting a goofy idea go through when he didn’t have to. He could’ve said it was too implausible to be believed or even just made it a lesser effect where Xavra was confused for a round and stood where he was, but no… Steve let him buy it hook, line, and sinker. Tactically, it gave us a round or two to serum up and get some readied attacks going, but I enjoyed it most as a storytelling moment. It also confirms that whatever MacGuffin we need is in the records room since he did seem pretty intent on protecting whatever was in there.

So Xavra finally comes back out, and we end up moving the fight back into the cube farm where we fought the previous sub-boss. The best thing about this is it gives us some room to spread out. The lower level of the records room was maybe 40 or 50 feet in each direction, and the cube farm is closer to double that in width. It also has cover (the undestroyed cubes) which may or may not be useful against his Solarian blast.

Somewhere along the line, we also decide to start using more grenades. The damage ceiling is lower, but it means you only have to hit a square instead of hitting his armor, and I don’t get the sense he has the evasion skill that would let him take zero damage. I don’t think we could burn him ALL the way down this way, but if it comes down to the last 10 or 15 points, that might be how to do it.

So the fight continues. Rusty even drops (and turns into a pile of creepy goo… what’s up with that?), everyone’s getting pretty low on hit points… and Xavra finally drops! Whew.

OR DOES HE? Cue ominous music.

Without getting into it in great detail – and believe me: next week I’ll have THOUGHTS – Xavra has resolve points, so he’s not QUITE done yet. And with a few of us teetering at death’s door, finishing him off isn’t necessarily the slam dunk you’d normally expect it to be. But that’ll be next week. For now… time for me to get ready for sun, sand, and seafood. Feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the fun, and we’ll see you back here next time.