Talking Circus S1|10: Heroics are More of a Hobby - Roll For Combat

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Talking Circus S1|10: Heroics are More of a Hobby

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|10: Disadvantage Sucks.

I have to admit my biggest amusement this week is that we’ve “crossed the streams” a little on Roll For Combat, as end up dipping our toes into what amounts to the 5th Edition “disadvantage” mechanic.

Now I know it’s unlikely, but just in case there’s someone listening to this show who has never touched 5th Edition and didn’t get the reference, let me explain. In 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, instead of having a bunch of one-off modifiers, they choose to resolve a LOT of situational modifiers with the mechanics of “advantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the higher one) and “disadvantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the lower one). So no “plus-this” for flanking and “minus-that” for flat-footed; something just gives you advantage, disadvantage, or neither. So these pugwampis the party fights basically have an “unluck aura” effect that accomplishes the same thing as the disadvantage mechanic – if you fail your save, you have to roll twice on checks and take the lower one.

The thing about “roll two, take one” mechanics is that they’re sneaky-powerful because of the multiplicative effect. I’m not going to put you through an entry-level stats class (at least partially because my college stats class was at 8 am and I got a C because I tended to oversleep it), but to put some numbers to it: I think at one point during the fight, I heard Steve mentioning that someone needed a 15 to make a roll, which is a 30% chance. Stats 101 – to succeed under those conditions, you have to hit 15 or higher on both rolls, which is (0.3 x 0.3 = 0.09), so… a 9% chance of success. If you were to convert that back to a single d20, that 15 – even rounding in the party’s favor – would turn into a 19. So it’s basically a virtual -4. In a game where the math is as tight as it is in Second Edition… a -4 is kinda brutal.

(And if you were wondering, a corresponding “luck aura” would turn that 30% into a 51% chance. Rounding and compressing to a single die, that 15 becomes an 11.)

OK, Math Nerd Digression over.

I think the thing that pleased me about this fight is that for once in recent memory, it felt like the team finally had one under control from wire to wire. I’ve been frustrated from afar that the team has been flirting with disaster the last several sessions – particularly the fight in the church, which basically came down to one roll – so it was nice to see a fight where they weren’t really with their backs up against death’s door. Granted, some of that also came from getting rid of all their disease effects – thanks to the healer at the church, this was ALMOST like the first fight after a long rest – so it makes some amount of sense that it was a little calmer.

I found myself a little quizzical about the decision Steve made to basically let the party swap out the magic dog statue for a +1 crossbow. I’m curious about what went into that decision. Did he misread the loot? Or did he just take pity on the party for taking such a thumping and coming out with a magic item whose benefit was mostly cosmetic? I have to admit I’ve kind of tuned out magic item drops recently since we’re playing Society and have to hand them back in at the end of the adventure, but for how hard that fight in the church was, it’s nice to see the party get something they can use out of it.

Speaking of magic items, I have to admit I did not realize that the economics of heal scrolls vs. potions were so favorable to scrolls. The flexibility of use makes sense – a scroll is an actual cast of the equivalent heal spell, whereas a potion locks in the single-target version when it’s created. I think what caught me off guard is that I had it in my head that scrolls cost more money than potions. I suppose the trade-off is that a potion can be used by anyone whereas a scroll has to be used by someone who can already cast spells (or someone who has the Trick Magic Item feat, I imagine). If your caster goes down, people can still pull potions off their dead body, but those scrolls would potentially be useless. Also, I suppose there’s also a little bit of action economy flexibility in favor of a bottle you can pull out and open with one hand, over a scroll that you probably have to drop or put away all your other stuff to use. That said, over on the Black Lodge side of the house, I think I’m going to go buy Nella a few scrolls (at least for after-heals) now that I know they cost the same as potions. Learn something new every day.

This week, I’m giving my tip of the roleplaying cap to… GM Steve, for the priest getting all chippy with Alhara and making her clean up the broken glass left over from her heroics. The idea of NPCs who are mildly ungrateful at having their lives saved just cracks me up. Though Hap telling Alhara to “stop being a bitch” to Ateran also cracked me up a little.

One other roleplaying thing I liked… the party actually questioning whether anyone else is available to do the heroic part of the job. I liked it because it challenged our usual assumptions about these sorts of games but in a realistic way. We tend to assume a party of adventurers is revved up and ready to meet any challenge the universe can throw at them. Our Black Lodge game, and Society play in general, assumes your adventurers WANT to make names for themselves and get rich while unraveling mysteries. You’re basically signing up to join the Scooby-Doo gang voluntarily. But with THIS story, it’s actually fairly plausible that a group of circus-folk would rather get back to their day job rather than cleaning up the town’s messes. In the context of THIS campaign, I think reluctant heroes actually make a little bit of sense, so it was refreshing for the party to allow themselves to express that reluctance a little.

As far as plot advancement… well, the quasit with the books got away. For the moment, the team’s giving up the chase, but will that resurface as a plot point later? There are additional bread crumbs leading toward the druid enclave, but it’s a gray area whether the druid cloak found with the monsters they just killed represents an alliance between druids and demons, or just a convenient fashion choice. But it seems like the druid enclave is the next place to go, especially since the town’s mayor is headed there, and might be walking into a trap if the worst is true.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. I do have some thoughts on our PaizoCon announcement, but I’ll probably address that in the next Black Lodge column since that’s the one that I’m explicitly writing from a player perspective. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode to drop, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.