Talking Circus S1|09: The Variable Length Arm of the Law - Roll For Combat

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Talking Circus S1|09: The Variable Length Arm of the Law

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|09: Bring Out Your Dead.

To start things off… a weird, random observation. I found myself listening on the YouTube feed for the first time this week. And it is decidedly weird to have the festive circus music intro playing behind an image of undead creatures swarming a guy and stabbing him with a spear. INCONGRUENT VISUALS! Maybe ease into that with a few seconds of puppies or something.

We enter this week in the aftermath of the almost-TPK, and the whole party except for Ateran is in varying states of unconsciousness, disease, and general unpleasantness. And the meta-discussion of the week is the difficulty of the fights in this adventure. Here’s my take on things – I don’t think the party was doing a bad job with teamwork; they did a decent job choosing abilities that supported each other. I think the problem was really twofold.

First, Second Edition, particularly at low levels, is just that tough. In First Edition, you’d almost never see a TPK at low levels, and I can count on a small number of fingers how many times we even had a character drop. And I’m not being all smug and saying it’s because we’re such fantastic players… I just think the math on low-level encounters, with a few exceptions, tended to skew in the players’ favor. Here, for a variety of reasons I’ve already written about and Steve already discussed – but largely because of the new three-action economy – low-level encounters are pretty punishing; if anything it gets BETTER and you get a few levels under your belt and slightly better tools at your disposal.

The other thing that I think was at play here was unorthodox pacing. I don’t know if it’s the way these adventures are written or the way Steve chooses to pace them, but there tends to be a cycle of building challenge level after each long rest. Not 100 percent of the time, but it’s more often the case than not.  So if you have a rest and enter a new area, there usually tends to be at least one easy encounter to ease back into things, and then you build into more difficult ones. And I do wonder if as a player, you maybe start to play to that expectation a little. You think “the first fight after a rest; this should be a warm-up” and maybe you get a little casual on tactics and you’re reluctant to blow all your best spells right out of the gate.

Only while you’re doing that, the Level 4 demon (in this case) is punching your head off.

OK, and the smaller third thing is they don’t have a LOT of tools for dealing with undead/demonic type critters, unless they wanted to use their healing spells as attacks. They have the cold-iron pick, and fire is almost always decent against those sorts of monsters, but they don’t have a lot of Radiant Good-Guy Damage. To contrast, we had a fight over on the Black Lodge side of the house where between my druid’s Shillelagh and two people casting three-action heals, the bonus damage helped make quick work of a bunch of zombies. So party composition might play a little bit of a role here too.

But anyway, the team survived… just barely… and we get a little deeper into the story. The team finds the local priest trapped and/or hiding for his life (arguably, a little bit of both – I’m not feeling like he was THAT eager to escape), he takes care of a few of their diseases, and he offers them additional healing in exchange for tracking down some books the demon’s accomplices stole. Which means ANOTHER fairly tough fight right after the team blew a bunch of resources. Damn, the pace of this adventure is pretty hairy!

While we’re talking about this, I thought the question about the town guards was worth a few thoughts. On one hand, presumably, this town has some sort of law, and they ought to be able to handle some level of trouble. Heck, if you’re also listening to our Black Lodge adventure, we’re currently running a scenario where we’ve been explicitly told “if you start a fight with the town guards, they WILL kill you”. But here it’s widely implied the guards would be useless even if they were around. So which is it? NPC Guards: cannon fodder or formidable force?

I know the brute force answer is “whatever the plot requires it to be”, but let’s dig just a little bit deeper. Personally, I actually jump genres and look to the superhero genre for my answer to this. I figure even a Level 1 Hero (aka: a party member) is going to be some sort of badass compared to a city guard; it’s like assuming the lamest Avenger (cough-Hawkeye-cough) is still more talented than a normal non-metahuman cop or soldier. But if you need to square the circle, you can assume a large city can afford some hero-level cops, but a small village like this wouldn’t be able to. So… Xin Edasseril (from the Black Lodge adventure) is the isle of Genosha is what I’m saying, I guess.

So we have the second fairly major fight in a row, though this one seems like it’s more tolerable, and SOME of the difficulty comes from the general beat-up state of the party – and the fact that Hap used a bunch of her Level 1 spells to heal the party earlier. I feel like if this had been the first fight of the day and they’d hit it fresh, it probably would’ve been fairly easy. The bad news: these guys don’t have the book(s) the party was tasked to find, so the chase continues and that probably means there’s going to be a third fight in this whole sequence. As my man Winnie The Pooh says, “oh bother”.

Also, I don’t know where to put this, but the roleplaying moment of the day was Hap just blowing off Alhara in the middle of her freakout about her facial scars. Looking for a tender moment between the two where Hap comforted her and reassured her it would be OK? Nooooope. Ice cold… but come on… also a little funny.

So next week, the chase will continue, and hopefully, these poor folks will finally get some rest and healing. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for them. Me. The guy who got beaten to death’s door by shrubbery. While you’re waiting for next week’s show, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.