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

Talking Combat 047: Learning and Looting

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 047: Revenge of the Nerds.

The cultists are finally no more, Panellar has been dealt with – though my heart skipped a beat with the enthusiastic way Chris said “I walk right up to him…”; I swear I thought he was about to attack. Somehow we managed to convince our favorite undead elf we’re kindly scientists and not Lara Croft. Mercifully we negotiate the social minefield – despite the fact that our “face” doesn’t speak Elvish – and avoid a pummeling.

Skipping to Steve’s explanation at the end, I never really considered the possibility that Tahomen’s charm undead spell had a save he had to make to order the elf to attack. I had been assuming that either Bob had just gotten really lucky with his Bluff, or that maybe the elf was just designed to keep us from retreating – blocking off the Temple and the path leading back down the mountain. I guess we’re luckier than I thought.

The loot portion of the broadcast got a fair amount of discussion on the Discord channel. Some people were a little surprised Chris was so aggressive about claiming all the loot for himself, but this is another one of those… “that’s Chris” moments. Chris pretty much starts with the default position that he wants every piece of gear, but I should be fair and say that he does usually negotiate his way back down to something reasonable. I suppose it was a little off-putting the first couple times I played with him, but I’m used to it now. Me, I go the other direction – I pick the one or two pieces of gear I really want and pretty much make whatever concessions I need to get those. I have a bad poker face when it comes to intra-party loot negotiations.

I did miscalculate though – personally for Tuttle, I probably should’ve pushed for the gun instead of the D-Suit. I had forgotten that I had upgraded from an Estex Suit I to an Estex Suit II before we left Absalom (in fairness to me, quite a while ago). So the net gain on the suit is actually only a +1/+1 (and L instead of 1 bulk), but you’re losing upgrade slots in the process. It feels like even with the 15-foot range, the increased damage on the gun might have been a better play.

I was also amused by the inclusion of the armor upgrade that controls temperature. I’ve noticed Paizo seems to have a thing for giving you the exact tool you need AFTER you finish the challenge you would’ve needed it for. “During” would be OK too, ya know…

Next up, the mysteries of the transmitter. So we find out from the remaining emails that there’s a constellation of 12 stars that are too symmetrical to be a natural phenomenon, and it’s probably something bad – “portal to Hell” and “superweapon” are the leading candidates. Tahomen got a data dump and sent everything to a set of coordinates in the Diaspora, the lawless asteroid belt that divides the inner and outer Pact Worlds. That’s almost got to be our bread-crumb for Book Three – follow the data trail out to the Diaspora and try to disrupt the death cult before they can get any further with their plans.

And there’s money on the computer, which Chris almost erases. If you want to be a hardass, I suppose Chris’ roll should’ve counted and the money should’ve been deleted, but a) our rolls were pretty close to simultaneous (less than a second between them – his just happened to show up first in the tool), and b) if anything merits a one-time bailout, a natural 20 ought to do it. I’ll put it this way – I wouldn’t have lost any sleep if Steve had gone strict rules-as-written and taken the credits away, but I’m glad he chose not to.

I’ll pause to point out that I rolled really well this episode. Two natural 20s (the other being while we were sweet-talking Panellar), plus another fairly high roll on the initial computer check to access the emails. Science Rat to the rescue!

Once everything else is dealt with we reunite with Dr. Solstarni and Wahloss, but most of their knowledge dump just confirms Tahomen’s data about the Unspecified Destroyer of Worlds. From there, we formulate an escape plan – take the transmitter up to the top of the mountain so we can send off an evacuation request. I was a little surprised Steve punted on the cultist headcount and just told us we were done, but not really. I mean, my personal count was something like 10 or 11 out of the 15 – three at the Stargazer, three in the Temple of the Twelve, three in Tahomen’s crew, and then 1 or 2 others I can remember during creature encounters (and Solstarni was also one of the 15). So like John I assumed there could be a few left at the top, though I didn’t think it was all that likely. On the other hand, I was allowing for the possibility that the last two or three were guarding a ship so we’d have a more direct way to depart, so that was a little disappointing.

Turning to Steve’s GM tip about adding NPC’s to the party: I am generally OK with it. My only real concern is that the players still get to be the primary actors in moving the story along. The GM already has a fair amount of control of the story as it is; if the GM also takes a role on the player side and makes that character make a bunch of important decisions or gives that character a bunch of hero moments – it starts to feel like the players only exist to enable the GM’s good time. At that point… write some fanfic or something. The only NPC that even came close to that might have been Clara (the sniper from the Drift Rock), and you could sense it wasn’t intentional; she was just rolling much better than us in combat.

So next week, we get to take a look at our level 5 characters, and we should be getting back to civilization and on to book three. All I really know is Tuttle will be happy to never set foot in a jungle again. We’ll see you next week; in the meantime, feel free to pay us a visit on social media.

Talking Combat 046: Rumble in the Jungle

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 046: Caster Blaster.

I was going to preserve some limited suspense and play dumb about what’s left, but since Steve let the cat out of the bag… yeah, Tahomen is the Big Bad of Book 2 – by winning this fight, we’re basically done. Just a little bit of cleanup left next week.

And oddly, as we’ve alluded to, this is literally the first time we’re facing a bona fide caster. How did that happen? The Driftdead back on the Drift Rock had a spell-like ability or two, but that’s not really the same thing. And of course, we have no magic in our own party, so in the bigger picture, it’s pretty much our first major interaction with the magic system, period.

(At least in Dead Suns. We did get to muck around with magic in some of the Society games, but that’s a different corner of the multiverse.)

I have to admit, this is one of those times where Steve’s editing makes us sound calmer and in control than we really were. I want to pull back the curtain a little bit and share some behind-the-scenes stuff because Steve’s editing misses out on some of the extra suspense created by the recording schedule. There was actually a session break pretty much right after Tahomen throws his force disk for the first time. On the heels of that break, we actually had to take a break for a week or two because schedules weren’t working out. So basically, we had Tahomen unload for ridiculous damage, Panellar start creeping up on us from the corner of the battlefield… and then we had to stew in our own juices for an extra week or two. By the time we reconvened to play the rest of the fight, we were legitimately nervous about how things were going to go, and there was more than a grain of truth to the gallows-humor jokes about rolling new characters.

Specific to Tuttle, I didn’t really do a good job of mentioning it during the combat (I apologize; chalk it up to “fog of war”) – but CHDRR was only around half-health going into this fight, so I had that to worry about too. I don’t remember whether I just forgot to give him a rest, or whether I wanted to conserve Resolve points and chose not to do it, but CHDRR wasn’t in great shape. I wasn’t so worried about Tahomen and his goons, but I did want to keep him away from Panellar as long as possible since I figured he could probably one-shot CHDRR, or close to it. (And of course, it takes 24 hours to rebuild CHDRR, which… OK, not a huge deal once we know this is the final boss, but in the moment, it was a little worrisome.)

And then, getting back to our favorite undead elf, we caught our first break, as Panellar pretty much stayed put at the edge of the battle. I don’t know if Steve was feeling charitable if Rusty’s Bluff check really was that successful and at least made his loyalties conflicted, or maybe it’s a thing where his meta-game mission was just to keep us on the battlefield, so we couldn’t flee down the hill or back into the temple. Regardless of the details… take the undead elf out of the equation, this becomes a little more winnable fight. Now it’s just a boss fight with two squishy minions. (Note from Stephen: Tahomen failed his command roll when he ordered Panellar to attack the PCs.)

The goons go down quick – no problem there. To quote Angela Bassett’s character in the new Mission Impossible: “Yes. That’s… the job.” Then it’s just us and Mister Crazypants. It’s not easy, exactly – he still lands a Mind Thrust and another Super Happy Death Frisbee, but at some point, sheer 4.5-vs-1 numbers take over and we’re able to whittle him down. Yay us! But there are those ominous warnings about how we’re already too late… what does that mean?

Before we can get into that, we have to figure out what’s going on with Panellar, and good news… OK, he’s still not a barrel of laughs, but it’s also clear he was under some sort of mind control that’s now been removed. Yes, he’s still protective of the temple, but he downgrades from Violently Untrusting to mere Regular Untrusting. We leave it for next time to find out what that means in terms of getting Dr. Solstarni and Wahloss out of there in one piece, but for today, progress is progress.

Also on that to-do list: figuring out the communication rig they were carrying, possibly going up to the top of the hill to see what might be up there, and figuring out if there’s a way to get out of the jungle without another two-week slog.

I wanted to take a moment to tip the cap to a few role-play moments that made the final fight a little more fun. First, I thought Steve did a pretty good job injecting some crazy mustache-twirling evil into Tahomen’s personality – giving Hirogi (the only lashunta) an offer to join him; laughing at the destruction of his own guys. It almost makes me feel guilty for stealing his Wrath of Khan joke last week. Almost. But I also got a kick out of Rusty trying to bluffing Hirogi into fighting the battle instead of hiding up on the roof. Somehow that was a very fitting roleplay moment on both their parts. That’s the fun side of “Hirogi Being Hirogi” when you get little moments like that.

As far as Steve’s GM tip this week: “Preparation”? What’s that?

I kid… sort of. The fact is, at least in our online game, D20Pro takes care of most of the heavy lifting for us. In our Dads-and-Kids game, we did get in the habit of making up “flashcards” for the spells that listed all the relevant details – effect, duration, range, damage, etc. That way you don’t even need to dig in the book – just grab the card you need. I’d highly recommend something like that.

The thing about “play the character you like”: I certainly agree in general terms, but that almost deserves its own topic. Sometimes you think you’re going to like a character on paper, but then it doesn’t play the way you thought at the table. (Which is why I’m actually a fan of “you can rip up your character and re-roll anytime during first level” as a general table policy.) Sometimes you like your character at one spot on the leveling curve, but then as the character levels up and the game levels up around it, the character starts to feel different. Sometimes it’s a gear deficiency situation where your character starts to become frustrating because his or her gear isn’t keeping up – easy to remedy once you get some money and get back to a town, but in the middle of a continuous stretch of adventuring, you’re kinda stuck with it. You can even just have a bad session or a bad encounter within that session – I had a druid in Carrion Crown who was built entirely around fire and electricity spells, was a blast to play right up until we ran into a creature that was totally immune to one and resistant to the other.

None of that is to absolve the player of responsibility. Even if you’re struggling with your character not living up to its billing – temporarily OR permanently – I agree with Steve that you still have an obligation to the game and to your fellow players. In the moment, you still need to respect people’s time, be prepared, and know what your character does, and work with the GM and your fellow players to address the issue between sessions if it’s really not working out.

Next week, we hopefully unravel the remaining mysteries of the Temple of the Twelve and get back to civilization. Tuttle may need to treat himself to a spa day before all of this is over. What did Tahomen mean when he said we were already too late? Is there anything worth seeing at the top of the mountain? Will Panellar finally let us into the temple without punching us? Is emergency evac a thing that exists in this corner of the Pact Worlds? All great questions that we hope to unravel next week – hopefully you’ll join us.

Talking Combat 045: Raze The Roof

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 045: One Is The Loneliest Number.

Before I get started on this week’s recap, I have to admit to some lingering pangs of envy – as I’m writing this, Ye Olde Social Media is buzzing with posts from GenCon, and boy it would be cool to be there. Unfortunately, GenCon tends to fall at a bad time of year work-wise, so I’m usually not able to get away – last time I went was probably 5 or 6 years ago, and even then, I got a little stink-eye from my boss at the time. In one of life’s little ironies, my son is going to be there with his mom, so perhaps he can enact my lifelong dream of diving into the dice bin at the Chessex booth like it was the ball-pit at Chuck E. Cheese.

We start this week with an unintentionally anti-climactic cliffhanger as the leader of the cultists we’re fighting blows up the roof… and mostly just succeeds in killing herself. Oops. Honestly, that’s something that’s the sort of thing that usually happens to us, so it’s nice to see it happen to the bad guys for once.

I have to admit I remembered this battle a little differently – it tends to be a few weeks between recording and air date – and thought the explosion was the climax of the fight; I actually forgot the sidekicks were still alive and the battle continued. Still, we were able to make reasonably quick work of them and Tuttle even collected a rare kill-shot.

A few observations:

First, I’m going to have to figure out some way to inject more offense into Tuttle, if that’s possible. I don’t know if that’s a new weapon, or maybe even a new weapon proficiency (longarms, maybe?), but doing 1d4 with an entry-level azimuth laser pistol is kind of a drag, and even the Overcharge doesn’t really add much. Yes, I suppose CHDRR’s damage also goes into my overall “column”, but still… I want to feel more useful than I am.

Take it with a grain of salt though – some of this is the ebb and flow of the adventure, and the restrictions of this adventure in particular. In general, challenges increase as you go through a segment of the adventure path, while your character stays the same unless you level up or find items that improve you. So there’s a little bit of truth to the idea that you get comparatively weaker as the adventure goes. Specific to this adventure, there’s no way to go back to town to spend on upgrades even if you wanted to. Nor does Amazon deliver this far out into the jungles of Castrovel.

The other main thing I wanted to ruminate on was the bad guy using suicide tactics against us. I suppose it’s fine on a roleplaying level – it makes perfect sense that an evil death cultist would blow themselves up to take you with them, especially if this is an underling and not the final boss – but I keep feeling like there’s something a little cheap about it. It’s hard to put my finger on it, something about the fact that it’s easier for GM-controlled creatures to do because the GM has quasi-limitless resources (in terms of additional encounters) whereas we don’t. If we set off an explosion that damages everyone just to take out an enemy, we have to carry the consequences until we reach the next break in the action. If the GM does it, the next encounter gets to start with a fresh slate.

On the other hand, it’s not like we can’t do it at all – remember me trying to blow up the akatas by dropping a grenade on our own position? It’s still available as a tactic; we just have to pick our spots more carefully. I also suspect “one final blast” is baked into the calculations for the encounter as a whole, so it probably helps explain why they weren’t all that hard to kill. Also, more to be fair to Steve, he also sometimes has enemies surrender instead of forcing us to grind them down to zero, so I suppose it all comes out in the wash eventually.

After dealing with the rest of the cultists, things kind of settle into investigation mode. We finally begin to get Dr. Solstarni back to normal by getting her into some climate-controlled armor and letting her talk to Wahloss, so that’s good. She gives us a little info about the cultist leader, named Tahomen, and Solstarni drops quite a few hints that he’s not actually here; that we probably have to go up the hill to the northwest to find him.

I guess I was surprised we didn’t find more… something; I figured that the Temple of the Twelve itself was the final destination. I was kind of assuming the final boss would be here in the temple (I was expecting some sort of basement with a ritual chamber or something), or we’d find something more definitively useful in the library, or (my personal pet peeve) that Dr. Solstarni would have some sort of tools for dealing with Panelliar. Instead, we get a bunch of mostly empty rooms and a trip to the ancient elven equivalent of the Hayden Planetarium. The astronomy dump seems like information that will be useful getting to the next step – meta-gaming: these feel like links to Book 3 – but doesn’t do us any good in the here and now.

And we find a trap, which Hirogi fairly easily detects and defuses. Which is kind of funny, because during the cultist fight, I actually considered looping around – through the trap area – to try and get flanking on them. I didn’t do it because I figured it would take way too many rounds and the fight would end before I got there. But if I’d done that, I probably would’ve set the trap off and melted my face off or something. Bullet dodged, figuratively and perhaps literally.

Toward the end of the episode, the gameplan seems to be to leave Solstarni and Wahloss here to start doing some research while we go up to the northwest and deal with Tahomen, the cultist leader. Maybe the ritual chamber we were expecting to find is up at the top of the hill, I guess? I guess we’ll find out next time. We seem like we’re in pretty good shape for a fight, though CHDRR took a bit of a beating and is around half-health, even with a short rest. And that seems to be where we’ll pick that up next week.

I’m probably going to punt on Steve’s GM tip. I don’t GM much at all, so I’m not in much position to improve on the tips he offered. I’ll probably jump in next week when he talks about what the players need to do to prepare. (Step 1: put on pants. Maybe.) The one thing I will say is that I’ve always felt like the GM gets a bit of extra deference whenever a group is deciding scheduling matters, and when you hear what Steve has to do to get ready… that’s why. Steve’s the one that has to do all the heavy lifting; for the most part, we just have to show up. Wearing the aforementioned pants.

I’m going to wrap this one up early. Between getting the Starfinder Armory and Pathfinder Playtest reviews ready in time for GenCon, I did a lot of writing a lot this week. It’s not so much that Steve keeps me chained to a desk in his basement and I’m applying for martyrdom; I just have this feeling that this week’s Talking is going to get swallowed up by bigger and better things.

So… if you’re going to GenCon, have a fantastic time, and if you’re not, hop on our Discord channel and join me in pouting at all the photos people are likely to be posting. Beyond that, see you back here next week where we have to be closing in on the end of Book 2 of Dead Suns.

Talking Combat 044: I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 044: Dr. Solstarni, I Presume

Isn’t it nice when things actually go according to plan every once in a while?

After the rocky start with the goblin grenades, we made fairly short work of the sentry statues. They followed Hirogi up the stairs, right into a Mo-and-CHDRR meatgrinder. Mighty nice of them to be so cooperative. Even once we engaged the next batch of cultists, we were doing pretty well… at least right up until the cliffhanger ending.

Which is not to say it was an uneventful episode, just that the core combat was – for once – fairly manageable.

Going sort of chronologically, one thing that’s on full display this episode is that I’ve (finally) fully succumbed to BUTTON-Mania. As I sort of half-mumbled during the episode, now that we’ve sussed out that most of the effects are buffs, it feels like using it at the start of combat is the best way to go. And I was rewarded with fairly useful temporary weapons – a melee weapon against the statues, and then a ranged weapon against the cultists. The weapons don’t seem like they’re a LOT better than CHDRR’s native weaponry, but at least in the case of the pike, it’s a little more damage than the razor-bat and reach certainly doesn’t hurt. And selfishly, reach gives me the option of letting CHDRR attack and letting him hide behind Mo and let Mo take most of the hits. Heck, maybe I should look at upgrading CHDRR to a reach weapon permanently. Something to think about.

Skipping ahead a little: I don’t think CHDRR ever got in position to fire his temporary machine gun in the second fight, so we’ll find out later how useful that ends up being. One thing I will say is that we haven’t really gotten to see peak-efficiency Junk Cannon because we haven’t had a chance to take advantage of the weapon’s line effect. Either we’ve been fighting single targets, or they’ve been dispersed around the battlefield and I haven’t had a chance to set up a line-effect shot. But consider this your reminder that if CHDRR gets lucky and two or three bad guys form a conga line in front of him, he can put a hurtin’ on them.

Back to the statue battle, even though we ultimately won, poor Hirogi’s ongoing war with random numbers continues, even including a second less-dramatic heal of the enemy. Between this and his luck with holographic clones, it feels like he can’t buy his way into double-digits right now. Happens to us all eventually – at the risk of a minor Society spoiler, Nala gets her turn in the RNG Dunk Tank in the not-too-distant future. I’m still going on the record that it’s karmic retribution for shooting unarmed prisoners, even if most of the Discord channel is against me on this one.

After we polish off the sentries and move downstairs, we get to cross off one of our major objectives – we found Doctor Solstarni! First thing we notice is that she’s acting a little out of it. Not sure if she’s just engrossed in study, maybe the trek through the jungle was harder on her as a civilian, maybe she’s been tortured,… oh jeez, hopefully she hasn’t been brainwashed by the cultists and we’re going to have to kill her. It would suck to come all this way just for that, and I’m sure Wahloss would be devastated. No more omelets – just unbuttered toast, washed down with a glass of Wahloss’ tears.

But no… part of her weirdness is that she’s trying to tip us off that we still have company in the next wing of the temple.

Illinois Nazis. I hate Illinois Nazis. (OK, Cult of the Devourer minions. Basically the same thing.)

One thing that struck me as interesting was the degree to which Steve let the cultists have fairly legitimate tactical thinking in this fight. He actually made it look like the cultists were afraid of us and were retreating, and then they counter-attacked when we took the bait and got a little reckless chasing them. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been mostly fighting animals recently (and the other cultists we fought were trapped in a dead end which didn’t give them many options) but I wasn’t expecting that.

This is one of those things I always go back and forth on – how smart should opponents be? Certainly if you’re talking about animals or low-intelligence monsters, just have them charge in and take their pummeling. But when it comes to humanoid or otherwise intelligent foes? My personal take is that they should be smart, but not too smart. The GM already has a baked-in advantage by having perfect knowledge of the battlefield, so maybe he should dumb the bad guys down a little bit to compensate. It’s one of those things where, even if you don’t use that perfect knowledge of the encounter consciously, it might creep in subconsciously, so maybe give a little something back to account for that.

Meanwhile… what was up with Hirogi wanting to parlay? We do all remember a few episodes back where he put a bullet in the head of an unarmed captive prisoner, right? We’ve since found even more ample evidence these cultists swim in the evil end of the pool, this particular crew has a machine gun… and NOW he wants to talk? Did we accidentally step into Secret Wars and he’s been replaced with Skrull Hirogi? Or is “Hirogi Being Hirogi” just adding a pacifist streak?

“Can you take the blue from the sky? Can you put the wind in your pocket? Can you catch a rainbow? No! Such is Mango… err… Hirogi!

Hirogi’s tomfoolery aside, these guys just don’t seem all that tough. After a fairly short fight, it seems like we’ve got them on the ropes, and… oh crap… they’ve got a BUTTON of their own. Ruh roh, Raggy! (Oh god, don’t let it open the doors and pull in the undead elf from outside. Anything but that.) For the first time in a while, we end on an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger, and I guess you’re just going to have to come back next week and see what happens. In the meantime, stop by our Discord channel or visit us on other social media and let us know what you think of our ongoing antics.

Talking Combat 043: The Grenade Giveth, The Grenade Taketh Away

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 043: Stealth and Fitness.

The good news this week is that we were able to get into the temple without having to fight the Panelliar, aka the Elf On The Shelf. Given how Round One of that battle went, I’m glad we’re not doing that again anytime soon. On the other hand… he’s still there, and we still have to get out of here, so I have this sinking feeling that we still have to solve this problem at some point. I’m still holding out hope that we find something inside the temple that will cause the elf to stand down – some sort of password; special hat or robes that identify us as someone who’s allowed to be there; if this is the final area, maybe we can find Dr. Solstarni and she can use her scholarly ways to “defuse” him once we rescue her… something like that.

In the meantime though… lacking any other way to get into the temple, we’ve got to climb. Ohhhhh brother. For everyone else, it’s an Adam West “turn the camera sideways” walk in the park. Even for poor bookish Tuttle, it still shouldn’t be that hard – he’s the only one that can mathematically fail, but it’s still pretty hard to do so. Which is, of course, the cue for Murphy’s Law to come through with a series of single-digit dice rolls, including a natural 1 that almost sent the good Doctor plummeting to his death. Ugh.

(Add “climbing” to the list of problems to solve with technology purchases once we get out of this jungle. File it right next to “better environmental mitigation”.)

Despite the momentary drama of almost falling a few times, we do eventually reach the top, and we can get in through the observatory. Even better… we find more Loot Boxes of Wonder! (Putting Steve’s GM tip together with the game action, it sounds like these were supposed to be the reward for clearing this area, and we found them a little early. Sorry.) This time, we’ll learn our lesson and not “waste” them by using them right away – of the three we set off back on the Drift Rock, two seemed more directly applicable to combat.

Here’s where I’ll take a moment to discuss Steve’s GM point about doing things out of order. I don’t GM as often as Steve, but it seems to me like the decision point is whether you have to move story elements around to accommodate the players’ new solution to the problem. If it’s just a sweep-and-clear and you’re doing a few fights out of order because the players came in the wrong way… yeah, whatever. A-B-C and B-C-A will come out in the wash. If the players come up with something that starts displacing story elements – you bypassed the room where you get the key from the captain of the guard, and now you can’t set the Pixie Queen free because you skipped that room – maybe the GM has to find a way to (gently) disallow their actions and put them back on the rails a little.

As players, I don’t think it’s really a question of “don’t abuse it”: we still need to play innovatively and come up with creative ways to solve problems. Our job is to play and the GM decides if it’s “abuse” or not. But we do need to recognize that one of the GM’s jobs is to be a good steward of the story and that sometimes the story has to win. The world behind that GM screen looks totally different, they know what’s coming, and if they say “no” in the short term, it’s not because they want to be a dick or are too lazy to do it your way, but because they believe that making you solve the problem another way will make the overall story unfold in a more satisfying way.

At least that’s the case if you trust your GM. There are GMs who think their story is the only thing that matters and the players are just actors in their script. If you have that sort of GM, run far far away.

So Hirogi starts doing a little recon down below, and of course, there are guardians inside the temple as well. On the positive side, they seem like they aren’t going to be quite as tough as the guy outside. On the negative side, Hirogi’s stealth and the elf holo-disguise don’t seem to be fooling them, so we’re not going to be able to talk our way past them, either.

And here’s where I’m going to give Chris a compliment. For as many times as I’ve complained about “Hirogi being Hirogi” and gotten mad at him for going against the party, Chris actually comes up with a really solid plan here. Lure them up the stairs, blowing them up with grenades as they go, so they’re either dead or dying by the time they reach the top, and we set up a kill box at the top to deal with whatever’s left. Sounds good, right?

I mean, Chris is taking the initial risk luring them up the stairs, and Mo’s going to be the one holding the point at the top of the stairs, so it sounds like a great plan to Tuttle.

But then… in a more minor “Hirogi Being Hirogi” moment, Chris decides to use the goblin grenades for his plan.

Now… I don’t want to be too much of a backseat driver, and I recognize some of this is 20-20 hindsight, but I’m pretty sure we’d picked up several more conventional grenades during our travels. The cultists at the Plague Warden had a couple shock grenades on them if I remember correctly. Wouldn’t this plan have worked just as well with those? But to be fair, even though we expected some level of weirdness from goblin tech, I don’t think anyone really would’ve expected what came next.

Yup. In a classic facepalm moment, the first grenade did a nice chunk of damage and then the next one healed them back up. In the words of that wise philosopher Winnie The Pooh, “Oh bother”.

Big picture, it’s one of those great gaming moments – one of those things we’ll remember and come back to months or even years later. Six months from now, Chris will go to throw a grenade and someone’s gonna say “make sure not to heal them”. In the short term, I’m feeling like save our laughs for after we’ve survived the encounter. Right now we have fully healed animated statues coming up the stairs at us, so let’s get to work on that.

Buuuuuut that’s a story for next time. Join us next week as we (hopefully) thump some statues and continue our reverse-order trek through the Temple of the Twelve. Will we find Dr. Solstarni? Is there a boss battle in our future? Can we get back out without having to fight Panelliar? Even if we get past all of that, how are we going to get back to civilization? Tune in next time and find out.

Lastly, since Steve has been discussing plans for GenCon, I should mention that I will unfortunately not be able to attend this year. Without airing too much of my personal business, early August is one of those busy times of year at work where we’re not officially prohibited from taking a vacation, but we get a little bit of stink-eye if we do. So I’ll be following along on the Discord channel, enjoying the photos and stories along with the rest of you… hope everyone who is going has a great time.

Talking Society #1-04: View To A Xill

Jason recaps the events from the Roll For Combat playthrough of Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-04: Cries From The Drift. Episodes of this complete scenario playthrough include Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Welcome to our second attempt at a Starfinder Society game: Cries From The Drift.

I suspect this write-up will be a little shorter than the last Society game for two main reasons. First, there’s a little less preamble and introducing the concept itself – with the exception of introducing our new players, we can jump right in. The second is that the adventure itself was either shorter or ended up playing faster – six of one, half-dozen of the other.

Speaking of those new faces: Loren and Rebecca. Both veterans of roleplaying games, but both first-time Starfinder players. The New York contingent already knew Rebecca, a friend from “the real world”, but this is my first time meeting either of them. I will admit it was a little hard to distinguish between their voices at first, but it got easier as we played.

Long-time listeners will notice that there’s no John/Big Sexy. Truth told, part of the raison d’etre of this episode was that John was out of commission for a week or two, so our Dead Suns campaign was going to have to go on the shelf anyway. That’s not the only time or reason we do these, but it’s a tremendously useful side benefit. Sometimes these Society shows are a great way to fill a hole in the schedule.

As far as Jess and Willit as characters? Initially, I’m a little concerned that Jess and Pollux are going to become the Lawful Good Wonder-Twins and Nala will have to smother one of them with a pillow, but we’ll see how it goes. The last thing Pollux needs is a fan club. At a nuts-and-bolts level, I’m excited to see Willit at work because we haven’t really gotten a good first-hand look at a technomancer yet – Steve played one at PaizoCon, but that’s about it. On the other hand, I’m generally creeped out by the concept of a hairless ysoki; my brain keeps jumping back to naked mole rats. Google them and enjoy your nightmares. Ew.

I should also elaborate more on one in-joke we referenced during the intros. When we mention Rob Trimarco’s luck with doors: some of that comes from our playthrough of The Half-Alive Streets where Lucan spent most of the zombie fight trying to unlock a door, but there’s actually another level to it.

When we were playing the Pathfinder Playtest at PaizoCon, we were attempting to enter a run-down shack: Rob tried to bust open the door and part of the shack collapsed, doing 1 or 2 points of damage to him. So… Doors 2, Rob 0. Just another level of context I thought you might enjoy.

We begin our adventure getting our marching orders from Zigvigix, and I have to admit I got a kick out of the fact that some of the window-dressing was recognizable to anyone who played #1-01 (The Commencement) – at the risk of a mild spoiler, the warehouse they’re busy renovating is a location for a mission Ziggy sends you on in #1-01. Obviously, all of these adventures stand alone, but it’s nice to see those little connections around the edges. So our mission (should we choose to accept it) is that a kasatha ship that was thought missing in the wake of the Scoured Stars incident has resurfaced, and we have to ascertain info about the ship and recover information about “The Bulwark” which is some sort of command base for the Exo-Guardians. Essentially, nobody knows the location of it because (take your pick) anyone who did know died in the Scoured Stars incident and anyone else who traveled there used encrypted navigation data, so they didn’t know how to get back.

The good news: STARSHIP TRAVEL! (And very likely, starship combat.) Since I built Nala’s entire backstory around being a pilot, I’m pretty excited to actually get behind the wheel of a ship.

But then… the bubble bursts:  it turns out Lucan is a better pilot than Nala. NOOOOOOOOO! (Cue the sad Charlie Brown music.)

I suppose I should’ve seen this coming, since Piloting is DEX-based, and Operatives are DEX machines, but… oops. My disappointment is half roleplay – Nala would see this as her big chance and Lucan stealing it out from under her wouldn’t sit well – and half is my frustration as a player that I’m not getting to use the main skill I built the character around. (And that I’ll probably have to do Science Officer, which I already do a lot of as Tuttle. Been there, done that.) You could make a case for Nala as Captain, since CHA is a class skill, but I didn’t train any of the skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate) so they’re only at the +3 for the ability score. (Note to self: start training those at Level 2). As a roleplay thing, Pollux jumped in there and had Jess backing him up, so I didn’t feel like Nala would be quite ready to challenge him. Next time might be a different story.

Our first encounter in deep space was a flavor encounter with the Manta Corps, the ship full of Kalo. First, I just want to say I LOVE the Kalo as a concept. That race stood out in the Alien Archive as one of my favorites; I kinda want to roll a Kalo character one of these days. More immediately, I feel like maybe there was a side quest we might have whiffed on. At the risk of meta-gaming, it seemed like a hook for a boon or some extra items, so I’m disappointed everyone else was so quick to shoot down the idea of meeting them.

But… whatever. Moving on. We arrive at the destination, and there’s another ship already here, so we have to do ship combat (HONORABLE ship combat, if such a thing exists) to decide who gets the salvage rights. I’m not sure that’s how intergalactic “maritime” law is supposed to work, but that’s the McGuffin that gets us fighting. Don’t target life support, don’t shoot ‘em in the ass… got it. And ohbytheway, there’s a minefield of asteroids that might come into play.

I’m not going to go round by round through combat, but I suppose the biggest highlight was the question of whether we fought honorably and the possibility of Pollux picking up an Infamy point. On one hand, we didn’t technically violate the terms of the combat – we never shot them in the back, we didn’t target life support – and personally, I don’t think just using the Captain’s Taunt ability should violate the terms of the fight. But yeah, a Lawful Good character probably shouldn’t go on a racist tirade about how the entire Vesk race lacks honor. As we’ve noted, Chris is still working on the whole Lawful Good thing.

I will admit, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to pilot, but setting up multiple crits on the weapon systems made for a nice consolation prize. I do think that going forward, I might have Nala invest in some of the social skills because in any group without an Envoy or other CHA-based character, Nala might have a decent shot at having the best Captain skills.

So to summarize: we win the battle, Pollux is taking his first steps toward an ANTI-Paladin build, and we arrive at the kasatha vessel.

(But first… oh hey! Voiceover Guy! We have intros for our Society characters now! Cool!)

So we arrive at the ship. Derelict vessel, signs of struggle, blood everywhere – lovely. And a space storm rolling in, which puts everything on a tight clock. That last bit is pretty normal for Society scenarios – they want to keep the action flowing and not bog down in camping for the night, so there’s usually some time constraint baked into a lot of these.

The first part of the adventure is just exploring the ship and figuring out what happened. It’s kind of a slow time for Nala as she’s not much of a skills-monkey, but that’s cool: I do enough of that stuff as Tuttle. Fortunately, the crew quarters supply a lot of the answers, as well as personal effects to take back – the secondary goal of our mission. To summarize what we learned:

  • Something happened at the Bulwark that had Yotto out of sorts.
  • Yotto dies during the incident that damaged the ship.
  • Yotto re-animates as a ghost; the crew drives it into the captain’s cabin with force batons and trap it with a force-field (but with the captain inside).
  • It sounds like there are at least six crew members. Teliu – the narrator who wrote the log entries. Yotto, who died and became the ghost. The captain, unnamed, trapped in the cabin with the ghost. The android Blue Sky-101 – dead, but unclear how it happened. Kela – the engineer who rigged batteries to amplify the field. Traska, whose mention was encrypting the ship’s log. There’s also a mention of “the pilot” – is that Traska or a 7th person?

The exploration continues. In the damaged weapon pod, we find the remains of the android Blue Sky-101 amidst the wreckage. Putting two and two together, it looks like maybe they were trying to blow the ghost into space, and Blue Sky-101 was the bait/someone had to operate the force field. Clearly, that didn’t go well for him. The dojo doesn’t reveal much in the way of new information… I think the dojo was an alternate way to gather information if a group did the rooms in a different order or somehow couldn’t get the datapad charged. On the other hand, the sparring robot supplies us with the battery which will eventually be useful in opening doors.

And, as it turns out, activating previously-dormant sentry turrets.

This fight was a little embarrassing for two reasons. First, I feel like a bit of a dumbass for running down into the killzone before realizing the turret was 15 feet off the ground. (Where are those falcon boots from the last adventure when you need them?) Even my secondary plan – wait until round 3 and set off Supernova – was flawed because it has a 10-foot radius and the turret is 15 feet up. So… yeah… drop prone and pew-pew-pew. The other was that the problem contained its own fairly obvious solution – just pull the battery. In fairness to Loren, Willit suggested this but never got around to doing it.

On the other hand, we got the turret down with no significant damage – just stamina (I think Jess dipped two points into “real” damage) – so no harm was done. At least figuring out the battery situation allows us to access the rest of the ship. And in doing so and reaching the dining hall, we get our first clue that there’s something other than the ghost on this ship – exploding spores, general viscera, and so on. I guess there’s a chance the ghost escaped and did this, but the Splodey-Spores Jess stumbled into don’t really jibe with a ghost. This… this is something else. But what?

The answer to that question awaits us on the bridge: oh look, a xill! I have to admit I felt bad for Becky and Loren – for their first Starfinder experience, this final battle ended up being not-very-fun for them. Willit didn’t even get to take part because she had to manage the Two-Step Battery Shuffle, and poor Jess got to be the recipient of all the xill-related nastiness. Paralysis. Implantation. Things You Cannot Unsee. Of course, Bob didn’t have a fun time for different reasons – three straight Spell Resistance whiffs on Mind Thrust. Ouch. Fortunately, for all its offensive ability, the xill wasn’t especially hard on the defensive side of the ledger – not especially hard to hit, no damage reduction, manageable hit points – so the rest of us were able to beat it down fairly quickly. Could’ve gotten messy, but we lived. Don’t look a gift xill in the implantation tube.

So after the fight, we search around and recover the nav data for the Bulwark. Break out the party hats, right? Well… that leaves us with a bit of a dilemma. We have the navigation logs for the Bulwark (our primary objective), we have the personal effects of the crew (our secondary objective), and we had found the captain’s keycard in the previous room. Do we stay and fight one more battle for the sake of saying we finished everything, or should we just declare victory and avoid the creature that’s likely to be tougher than the one that just drained most of our resources?

Now in general, I hate running from a fight and I’m a completionist at heart. When I play video games, I’m one of those people who gets lost in side quests for an extra 20 or 30 hours. And I’m just stubborn – ironically, we had a very similar conversation over in our Dead Suns game. And as a group, we’ve been known to get pretty aggressive from time to time. But being coldly analytical about it:

  • Willit would be the only person functioning at full capacity. Let’s say she was able to go with three full-attack Magic Missiles, that’s maybe… 25, 30 points of damage (depending on how the dice go)? Can the rest of us make up the rest?
  • Conversely, Quinn would have basically been useless. He’s out of spells. He could be a potion caddy, or maybe (as he did in Half-Alive Streets) he could take a hit to buy us some time, but that’s about it.
  • That leaves four of us and TWO force batons, so two of us would be able to do usable melee damage. Lucan feels more like he’s built for ranged fighting, so it feels like Pollux, Jess, and I would be the main candidates for that “honor”.
  • Jess either has zero or one resolve point left, so she’s got no margin for error. She drops, she dies, basically.
  • My solarian weapon has cool celestial flavor but is still ultimately bludgeoning damage, so that’s also useless. Supernova will still help some, but half damage every three rounds doesn’t sound that exciting, and if we’re in close quarters, friendly fire could do more damage to us than to the ghost.

So you see what we’re up against here. And for what? Bragging rights? A few extra credits? An item we will have to turn back into the Starfinder Lending Library anyway? Much as it wounds my pride to do it, I think there are times where you have to bend to reality and this is one of those times. We accomplished what we set out to do, so let’s get the hell out of Dodge. Either the storm will kill it, or it’ll be just another thing wandering the vast expanse of space. Or maybe we can come back and stomp it when we’re Level 20. Put the Yotto-Ghost on the menu for Starfinder Society: The Revenge Tour!

So we return home and settle up with Ziggy: Cries From The Drift is in the books. A pretty good adventure, even if walking away from the final fight was a little unsatisfying. In-game, even though I didn’t get to pilot, I got my moments: I held my own in the xill fight, got the kill shot on the turret, and my sciencing helped score some crits during the space battle. Out-of-game, we got to meet some new people and RFC served as their first introduction to Starfinder – can’t complain about that. Lastly, I’m also excited because Nala is on the cusp of leveling up – one more adventure should do it!

And as Steve hinted, that next time will be in Fugitive On The Red Planet (#1-02). It’s been played; we just have to figure out when we’re going to air it with GenCon and some other things coming up. Hopefully, it’ll be soon, and we hope you tune in to check that one out.

Talking Combat 042: Die Another Day

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 042: What We’ve Got Here Is Failure To Communicate.

Well, that was almost a barrel full of suck, wasn’t it?

In general, I tend to be stubborn as a player. Once I engage in a fight, I kind of want to see it through. To quote from The Magnificent Seven, “nobody throws me my own guns and tells me to run”. So as a general rule of thumb, I tend to flee reluctantly: part of me wanted to stay and try to slug it out with the temple guardian.

But in this case, I wasn’t going to protest.

First, I’m struck with the realization that Tuttle is not the character to be taking that stand. If I were one of the primary damage dealers, it might be easier for me to sit there and slug it out. As an “in the rear with the gear” guy who has to overload his gun just to sniff double-digit damage, I tend to leave the fight-or-flight decisions to the people who are in the front taking the big hits – mostly Mo, sometimes Hirogi.

Also, I’m not an idiot: it’s hard to ignore a mountain of evidence staring you in the face. The guy was hitting on single-digit rolls, +11 to damage meant he was starting around 15 damage on even fairly pedestrian rolls… yeah, I don’t think we would’ve lasted very long. Mo got off to a good start hitting on two attacks, but the rest of us might have done five points of damage combined. And at the risk of meta-gaming, the fact that he was a solarian meant that he had as-yet-untapped graviton and photon powers (which Steve reminded us of after the fight was over by having him fire his corona power).

This wanders into the territory of Steve’s GM tip, but I like the way Steve chose to handle this and thought he did everything a GM should do in a situation like that. I think we’ve brushed up against this topic in other Talking’s, but my position on the “no-win” encounter is this: all I ask is a fair chance to avoid it or choose a different path if possible. Give me a warning sign and let me choose. If I’m dumb and ignore the warning signs (or miss them entirely) and get killed, that’s on me; conversely, running into a complete meat-grinder of an encounter on rails because that’s what the story says is supposed to happen is kind of lame.

Having said that, I do recognize that sometimes stories funnel through a single point and there’s no real way to provide choice, especially when you’re approaching big boss-battle setpieces. I’m imagining Frodo and Sam reaching the foot of Mount Doom and then deciding they needed to take a detour for supplies. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and it’s important to acknowledge those times too. I do think this is verging on that – we’re not totally out of options, but you do get the sense that the Temple of the Twelve is a fairly pivotal location and we’ve got to get in there.

When we were first playing through this, my concern was that we missed something – like maybe there was a password or secret handshake we were supposed to learn back at the Plague Warden. But with the fresh ears that come from re-listening a few weeks later, I noticed that Steve used the word “compelled” three or four times (including having Wahloss chime in) and made references to the “Speaker for the Stareater”… leader of the cultists, maybe? So I think it’s more likely this guy would normally be more favorably inclined to let us in but has been influenced to keep us out. And here we are with no magic – what I wouldn’t give for a good old Level 1 Pathfinder cleric with Turn Undead right about now.

But all of that is academic. We don’t have the tools for a frontal assault, so it’s time to get clever. Turning back to the problem at hand, it’s frustrating we got rejected, but it does still seem like we have a few options. There are a few side buildings in the area – going back to the password theory, maybe there’s a hint as to how to get in somewhere else in the grounds. (The Moria “speak, friend, and enter” runes, or maybe the cultists left something behind.) I suppose we could look around for another way to get into the temple, though it seems unlikely at first glance. We could always skip the temple entirely and go up the hill – I think he said some of the cultists were still up there – but that feels wrong; it seems like the Temple of the Twelve is the key location to be dealt with at the moment. It feels like either the Temple is the final encounter and the summit is treasure/denouement, or maybe we get some info from the Temple and take it to the summit for whatever final encounter awaits.

Heck, maybe we still have to fight this guy, but we plan it a little smarter and not just launch right into a frontal assault. At the risk of meta-gaming, solarians tend to be more effective at melee than at range; maybe we try to make it a mobile fight and burn him down from a distance instead of going toe-to-toe.

The other fight against the eel was mostly non-descript; really, the tactics of getting people up the narrow steps and into position probably posed a bigger challenge than the creature itself. The one bit of excitement was that we almost got to see CHDRR crit with the chainsaw wings. Granted, a lot of the critical wounds are based on humanoid physiology – clearly, an eel doesn’t really have any arms or legs to chop off – but it still could’ve been cool. Maybe next time.

And OK, it was hilarious that Hirogi rolled yet another 1 for Holographic Clones. We’ve officially passed Coincidence and are into Running Joke territory.

As we end this week’s episode, we’ve been dealt a bit of a setback, but we’re still in the game. How are we going to get into the Temple of the Twelve? Do you think Steve handled the no-win battle appropriately? Feel free to drop by social media and let us know what you think, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Combat 041: Return to Ascender

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 041: Talk to the Hand.

I normally don’t go back to the well on a previous episode, but I was surprised to see how many people on social media were totally OK with Hirogi offing the sniper last week.

I’ll meet the vox populi halfway on this, insofar as I can’t tell you what my Plan B would’ve been for dealing with her if Hirogi hadn’t pulled the trigger. If we let her go, there’s a chance she could get in touch with the rest of her group or find another way to attack us (maybe she was shrewd enough to keep a backup weapons cache out there somewhere, or even just setting more wild animals on us). If we tied her up and left her behind – either at the temple or somewhere in the wilderness – isn’t that the same net effect as killing her, except we’d be trying to pretend we don’t have blood on our hands? And if we brought her with us as a prisoner, she represents an active threat we have to account for at all times. I’ll admit there were no good solutions there. So I’ll concede that maybe Hirogi just did what was going to become inevitable anyway. (Steve’s side commentary certainly made it sound that way.)

On the other hand, I’m sticking to my guns (puns semi-intended) that shooting a potential source of information without asking any questions at all was a bit… well… dumb. When it comes to the communication device, it might have been handy to ask questions about who was on the other end, whether there was a set schedule for contact, if there was any sort of code or handshake protocol involved, etc. Maybe she answers, maybe she doesn’t, but I still say it was shortsighted not to ask.

Also, as a roleplaying thing, Tuttle is Lawful Neutral, so I don’t think he’d be cool about executing a surrendered prisoner. Though Lawful Neutral would be that he’s less concerned with the killing itself, more concerned that the proper paperwork was not filed in advance. Tuttle is a very “due process” guy, to whatever extent such a thing exists within the Pact Worlds.

Getting back to current action, the moss-covered carvings gave me two insights – one which I actually mentioned during the episode, but one that occurred to me as I’m re-listening.

The one I mentioned during the show (the “they’re digging in the wrong place” moment) is that maybe we now have some information the cultists don’t have. Granted it’s in the form of alien runes we can’t read, but still: If the moss was undisturbed, that implies the possibility that their group didn’t see those carvings. I don’t think we can rely on that too much – they’re still holding Dr. Solstarni, they may have other sources of knowledge we don’t know about – but maybe we’ll reach a point later where we have something they don’t have.

The thought I’m just thinking now: I wonder if we should’ve tried pouring some of the water from the fountain at the entrance into those carvings. It just feels like the fountain should have had greater implications than alleviating a fairly minor debuff, and Steve did mention water collecting in the carvings. I wonder if there was a connection there we missed, or if I’m just reading too much into coincidental imagery. Or maybe I’ve played too much Tomb Raider over the years and am looking for the inevitable puzzle. I wish I’d thought of it at the time, though.

The plot to use the communicator to send misinformation back to the main group – it’s superficially intriguing, but I’m also not convinced it’s going to buy us all that much. First, if they’re professional enough to leave an ambush team behind, they’re probably not going to get caught with their pants completely down, even if we craft the most convincing fake dispatch ever written. Second, and probably more importantly is that we’re the pursuers – “catch up with them and fight them” is pretty much how this is going to play out at some point. Showing up a day early doesn’t really change the dynamic.

On the other hand, trying doesn’t seem like it would cause any great harm either. Let’s say we botch the message and they know the sniper failed and we’re close behind… it’s still not like they can airlift in more guys or more weapons. We’ve got what we’ve got; they’ve got what they’ve got. At most, knowing we’re coming would give them some advance warning to possibly hide or destroy information we would need, or maybe eliminate Dr. Solstarni when they’re done with her so we can’t benefit from her research.

I almost wish the communicator was enabled in the opposite direction – that we could get some insight into what was going to be awaiting us when we arrive. That would almost be more useful.

As we end the episode, the fake message part of the conversation seems to be mostly academic, as we reach the stairs described in Zan’s writings, which means we’re pretty close to catching up to them anyway. Well, after we fight this critter in the bushes, apparently.

As far as Steve’s GM tip this week: I have to say that playing in an online setting, the tools tend to spoil us a little. Discord provides us with lots of different chat feeds, and Bob has gravitated toward the role of notetaker over the year, so we tend to have a pretty decent summary of recent action at our fingertips whenever we need it. For me this is a good thing, as I’m much more of a memory guy than a notes guy – sometimes it’ll work out well because I’ll come up with some plot point while Bob and the others are scrolling through chat logs to find it; other times, I’ll whiff on pretty basic stuff. But as a group as a whole, we usually manage to keep the major plot points in focus and don’t get too far off into the weeds.

Speaking of “in the weeds”… time to fight whatever critter is waiting for us at the landing on the stairs. Tune in next week to see how it goes, and in the meantime, feel free to drop us a line and let us know what you think about all this.

Talking Combat 040: I Do Not Approve Of Your Methods

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 040: Good Cop, Bad Cop, Hirogi Cop.

Oh, Hirogi, what are we going to do with you?

If you’ve been listening to the show this far, you know that Chris is a bit impulsive. Returning Clara-247’s weapons while we were exploring the Drift Rock. Jumping through the Loot Box of Wonder portal while we were still discussing things. I’m sure there are other examples I’m not thinking of. Hirogi Being Hirogi. You know the drill. But this week we graduate to the cold-blooded murder of a prisoner who already surrendered.

What. The Actual. Fffffff…..

On one hand, we’re not a party of paladins, we’re not going to lose our powers if we don’t adhere to strict Lawful Good behavior. It’s not even a Society game, so there’s no risk of picking up an Infamy point. And who’s even going to say anything? Wahloss?

On the other hand, we are still supposed to be the good guys in this scenario and executing prisoners doesn’t seem to fit the definition. More pragmatically, as you can hear me arguing, I felt like there was still plenty of information to get from the sniper and Chris’ need to do… something… kind of robbed us of a chance to get that information.

I guess you can make an argument (and Chris was making some overtures in this direction) that it was a roleplaying decision, that he hates the bugs that much or that it’s part of his hunter code thing. But here’s the thing on that… for all times he resets that Starship Troopers quote, I think he’s getting his lore wrong – the Shirren and the Formians are different species. (Formians look more like ants that walk upright.) Oops. Also, while you can argue the overall fight was a worthy test, I’m not sure befits a “mighty hunter” to kill an unarmed prisoner. The Hirogen… and yes, forty episodes in, I JUST got it that Chris named his character after the hunter race from Star Trek: Voyager… would not approve of such behavior. It seems like a true hunter would’ve given her a knife and a 5-minute head start.

Steve is right that I was mad, though I didn’t think I sounded that bad; in fact, I thought I made some good logical points. Having said that, he’s right: this incident frustrated me because it was so unnecessary. With giving Clara her weapons, it was a 50-50 call, and I even started to move toward changing my vote, only to find out Chris had given her the guns anyway. With the portal, there was no real question we were going to use it; the real question was whether to use it before or after checking the rest of the alien complex. But with the sniper, it just feels like there was nothing positive to be gained and a lot to be lost.

I suppose this is a good time to take a little detour and talk about Steve’s GM tip a little bit. When does something become official? When do you “take your hand off the piece” at a virtual tabletop?

In combat, it’s pretty cut-and-dry because of the way the tool (D20Pro for us) is used creates the decision points. Whatever you say out loud is just thinking it over; even moving can be canceled and re-done if you think of a more efficient path; when you submit the attack in the tool, that’s when it becomes official. Similarly, if you’re not attacking and just taking actions, hitting the space bar to end your turn is the Regis Philibin-esque “final answer”.

Outside of combat is where it gets a little tricky. Steve mentioned his rules about free movement (you move until you see something or step on something) and getting a confirmation, and they’ve worked pretty well for us over the years. The one thing he didn’t explicitly mention is that rolling any sort of die also acts as a confirmation – if you roll that skill check, you’ve committed to it. What this incident revealed is that we don’t really have any sort of understanding amongst us players for deciding what we should be doing, or any way to stop someone from doing something. It doesn’t come up often, but maybe it’s something to consider going forward.

Nevertheless, Steve kind of let Chris off the hook retroactively with the “Sense Motive From Beyond The Grave”, with the revelation that we weren’t really going to get any further info anyway, so I guess there was no real harm done. Beyond yet another mild ding against group cohesion, of course.

After The Incident, you will notice some confusion and clarifying questions on my part. I had gotten a little confused because in the earlier episodes back in Qabar’at, it sounded like the people at the fort were describing a team of professional soldier types, not creepy death cultists. So I started thinking (probably mistakenly) that maybe there are two different factions out here – the soldiers are heading out with Dr. Solstarni, but there’s another faction – the cultists – who already live out here. I guess it could still be the same group and the cultists could’ve dressed in more “professional” disguise when they were in town and then put on their death gear once they got back out in the wild, but that’s why you heard me asking a lot of questions about the various earlier encounters. Trying to nail down who was who, and whether we were dealing with two teams or one.

For all the frustration with Hirogi, the interrogation wasn’t a total loss. We did get confirmation that this is the group that has been harrying our progress, including starting the stampede, and we got at least one-way access into their comms. I don’t know if it’s coming up in the next episode, or it ended up on the cutting room floor, but we did spend a little time figuring out if there was a way we could use that to our advantage by feeding the main group false information.

From the temple itself, we also got star charts (or something like it) from the temple walls and more samples of the alien writing, confirming we’re on the right track. None of it seems like it’s of immediate use – I was thinking maybe there would be a secret chamber or something — but maybe that stuff will come into play when we reach the final destination, or maybe the star maps are a guide to the next destination after Castrovel.

So next week, I guess we finally put difficult terrain behind us and resume the chase. I think we’re only like 2 or 3 days from the supposed final destination, so hopefully, we’ll be catching up to the rest of the group and resolving the mystery soon. In the meantime, feel free to pop on over to Discord or join us on social media and let us know how you feel about Roll For Cold-Blooded Murder.

Talking Combat 039: Cheesy and Chrome

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 039: The Great Indoors.

Well…. No more difficult terrain to deal with. What am I going to complain about now? Part of me finds surrender an unsatisfying way to win, but I suppose if the sniper had jumped down and started running across the difficult terrain and we had to chase it, I probably would’ve voluntarily poured Diet Coke on my own laptop to make the misery stop.

On the surface, we started this phase of the battle in pretty rough shape, as everyone except Tuttle was pretty dinged up. On the other hand, we’d gotten the two biggest challenges out of the way with, and what’s left didn’t feel that imposing. Two guys who just felt like cannon-fodder and a sniper whose weapon hits hard but fires slowly. Even in our current condition, I still felt like we could handle it, and that turned out to be correct.

In fact, I’m noticing a larger trend here. I find myself worrying when we face monsters – they tend to come with the sorts of nasty special abilities that really stretch our lack of magic and/or healing to the limits. Disease. Poison. Paralysis. Implanting of chest-bursters. General nastiness. But when we face humanoids? By and large, they tend to just be straight-up slugfests, and I usually put my money on our team in situations like that. Even in a situation like this where we enter pre-damaged, I’m able to retain a certain level of “we’ve got this” confidence.

You’ve got guns, we’ve got guns. You’ve got grenades, we’ve got grenades. Cue the Morpheus “bring it on” hand gesture.

I will admit part of that bravado is just dumb luck that we haven’t run into any humanoids with magic or other special abilities. So far it’s just been their firepower vs. our firepower. It’s possible we’ll eventually run into a humanoid caster and that might get uncomfortable. (See Also: PaizoCon, where we fought a technomancer NPC that definitely took a little bit of a toll on us.) But for the most part, it’s been battles of roughly equal tools.

And another part of that bravado is that in this particular battle, it’s easy for me to say that – I’m only into stamina damage.  Maybe I’d be feeling different if the StarJelly had spent the last 15 rounds chewing on me instead of Mo. I’ll accept some ribbing from the guys about that, but I can’t feel guilty about it. It’s a product of circumstance. As I pointed out last time, the game mechanics of moving the drone put me at a disadvantage. Unless the guys would’ve preferred I left CHDRR (and half my offense) to supervise Wahloss’ omelet-making, I was going to fall behind and there wasn’t much to be done about it. At least until Level 7 where CHDRR gets an AI upgrade.

I do think Steve gave us a bit of a hint how we could’ve handled this differently when he dropped the factoid into the conversation that the sniper didn’t start shooting until we reached 250 feet. The good folks at 20/20 Hindsight Farms would probably say Mo should’ve pulled back when the SpaceJelly hit him and we should’ve dealt with that outside the sniper’s range first, and then charged. But hey… you live, you learn.

Well, most people learn. Us? Not so much.

Speaking of living and learning, I would like to point out that this is the first episode where you can see me actively looking for chances to use THE BUTTON. (And for the record, this was recorded before we went to PaizoCon, so I hadn’t received my public shaming yet.) We reached a point where the sniper was cornered out on the statue’s hand, there was nowhere to run: full attacks from everyone involved to finish things quicker was clearly the smart play, but it seemed like a good moment to give the people what they want. I will admit to a faint glimmer of hubris that we’d still get Whirling Chainsaw Dervish and THE BUTTON would actually notch its first direct kill, but nope… instead, we get NASCAR CHDRR. He will ride eternal, cheesy and chrome!

I’m starting to gravitate toward the realization that most of THE BUTTON’s effects are buffs and heals, which means a) let’s start deploying it earlier in fights and b) let’s not worry so much about positioning CHDRR in front of bad guys before using it. If there’s a Whirling Chainsaw Dervish waiting to be found, it feels like it’s going to be a pretty extreme edge case, so it’s probably best to stop treating it as the most likely outcome.

Regarding Steve’s GM tip about the Pathfinder Playtest game modes, I think we stumbled on a lot of that organically by virtue of being a group that plays remotely (and in particular in different time zones). Even before we started podcasting, time was our most precious commodity – we had people in different time zones, three of us are parents, we ALL have various out-of-game obligations, we tend to not have a lot of wiggle room to start early or end late. Yes, it’s a leisure activity, but we are forced to keep to a schedule with some diligence.

Downtime mode was a natural extension of that schedule – do as much of possible out-of-channel so we could maximize our “productivity” (I hate the word – it conjures up images of PowerPoint slides – but it’s applicable here) when we actually got online to play. For us, “downtime” really meant DOWNtime. Leveling characters, going shopping, crafting, research, even some low-level NPC interactions were things we didn’t actually “play” but instead farmed out to email between sessions. Thumbing through the rulebook choosing feats might be moderately interesting when you’re face to face and can shoot the breeze while you’re doing it: when you’re disembodied voices on the other end of a headset, it starts to feel like an invitation to check out.

Exploration mode is similar though there’s really no way to do it out of channel. Looting/searching rooms after a battle is a prime example – dragging our characters around D20Pro square by square doing Perception checks may be the technically correct way to do it (“I look in the crate”, “I look behind the sofa”), and maybe there’s a way to make that flow sitting at a table. In an online setting, it feels more like turning 2 minutes of actual action into 15 minutes of busy-work. So there are a lot of times where Steve lets us exist in a perpetual “Take 20” bubble that functions a whole lot like “Exploration Mode”. The two exceptions are a) if there are specific things that need to be found, or devices that are binary in nature (you make them work or something bad happens) or b) if we’re in a section of the adventure where time is a factor and the time associated with a bunch of Take-10/Take-20 equivalents would be unfair.

I don’t to make this sound like it was an easy or obvious for Paizo to come up with, but it does seem like a useful way to structure and apply terminology and boundaries to something we already do. Like Steve said, sometimes there can be gray areas where you don’t know whether something should be hand-waved, and having a rule to fall back on could be very useful.

So next week, we’re done fighting, but we’re not necessarily done with the encounter as a whole. We still have to see what information the sniper might have, and we probably need to drag Wahloss up to the temple to see if there are any clues to be found. While we’re waiting for that to happen, feel free to drop into Downtime Mode and join us on social media. See you next week.