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Dead Suns 019: The Darkness Strikes Back

attacking the darkness

“Attacking the darkness” stops being funny when the darkness hits back, as the team crosses paths with an old adversary. The boys get their first taste of zero-G combat, Hirogi is torn between loyalty to the team and professional courtesy, while Mo suffers a bit of a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, the goblins continue to have a grand old time.

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses the responsibilities expected from PCs and GMs.

Plus, another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 018: Dude, Where’s My Starship?


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 018: Nuthin’ But a ‘Zero-G’ Thang.

As Paul Harvey says (and boy, I’m dating myself with that reference), “now you know the rest of the story” on CHDRR’s rebuild.

I talked an awful lot about CHDRR last week, so I want to be careful about not just regurgitating last week’s column. After all, we do have other things to discuss and I don’t want to get obsessive about it. But now that we’ve had the reveal of his character sheet (well, part of it, anyway), we’ve got actual details, and… he’s awesome, right? I mean, he’s not game-breakingly powerful, but he’s got some fun new stuff to play with. The tactical razor-bat and junk cannon feel more like incremental upgrades – same basic damage, they just have a cooler crit now – but the chainsaw wings definitely seem useful, and darkvision will probably be handy at some point. Though if you’re going to ask me how CHDRR gets a vision upgrade from goblin ears… you’ve got me stumped on that one.

And then there’s THE BUTTON. Obviously Steve didn’t give me/us much new information in order to preserve the surprise but there’s one thing that can be meta-gamed out of the details we did get: if it can be used multiple times per day (up to INT modifier), that PROBABLY means the effects are smaller in scale – I would think something with BIG swings in outcomes would be a once-per-day thing. So I don’t feel like THE BUTTON is going to be some 10d6 portable supernova or anything. Glass half full, that probably also means a lower chance of wiping the party. I still think I want to be cautious with it, though. Given my luck with grenades, I’m sure that if there’s one disastrous outcome, I’ll find a way to roll it.

At any rate, back to game action, and we’re leaving the ship and heading to the Drift Rock, and our biggest challenges of this episode are environmental.

First, darkness. For once, in a refreshing change of pace, it’s not actually a problem for me since I have darkvision. To give a little bit of history, I tend to run humans or half-elves (Announcer: “Half-Elf – for when you want to be generically exotic, but don’t want to put a lot of effort into your character concept.”) so I’ve traditionally been the one bumbling around blind. It’s kind of nice to be the one that can actually see this time. Well, me and the goblins, anyway.

Zero-G on the other hand… yeah, that’s going to be a pain. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the idea from the standpoint of embracing what’s different about a sci-fi setting. Yes, there are environmental combat rules in Pathfinder/old-school D&D/etc. but they tend to not get used very often. Last time I remember doing anything like that was an underwater combat session, like…. 2, 3 years ago?

In terms of actually gaming in this environment? Ugh. This is gonna suuuuuuuuck. No guarded steps. Movement is pretty much “go in a straight line until you hit something”. And if you do hit something, straightening yourself out is based on a skill Tuttle isn’t particularly good at. And we‘re too low-level (cough-and-poor-cough) to have any sort of equipment solution, though maybe we might find something as loot. Maybe the remaining Arceon crew out on the Drift Rock have grav-boots or something like that. Just as long as they don’t have feet smaller than my sister. (Never a wrong time for a Die Hard reference.)

And ohbytheway, at least for the moment, we don’t have a ship anymore. Bye-bye Hippocampus! I’d been fixating so much on the goblins, I didn’t stop to consider the far more likely possibility that Gevalarsk Nor had some sort of auto-pilot that would return the ship to Absalom once he got his stuff. (At least I assume that’s what happened.) Should’ve done a computers check, I guess. I suppose there’s a small chance that the crate itself contained a stowaway (any chance it’s a young Famke Janssen?) and that person stole our ship, but even that would still just be a variation on the “Nor screwed us over” theme.

I’m annoyed we got caught with our pants down, and a little worried I might have to eat a little bit of “we were right” crow from Rusty and Mo about not opening the crate. Losing the ship itself doesn’t bother me that much… yet. For one thing, even if it is Nor, maybe he’s going to send the ship back after offloading the crate. I’m willing to hold out hope that he’s a net-positive guy but REALLY wants/needs the contents of the crate. There’s also the option of calling the Starfinder Society and seeing if they could arrange extraction — like… a space Uber or something. And if push really comes to shove, we have the Arceon itself – we’d have to break quarantine, we might have to cut it loose from the Drift Rock… but at some point, if it’s a choice between starving to death in space or racking up a few fines, I’ll take the fines. For the moment, I’m actually more worried that all our loot was on that ship – I had most of my gear on me, but we’ll be out an awful lot of Dog Metal Nuggets if we don’t get it back.

So no ship, no gravity, no light, dead Arceon crew members… and we end the episode with the ever-popular sound of combat. I guess next week we see how this zero-G stuff works when the bullets start flying. In the meantime, feel free to visit us on social media and let us know what you think about the adventure so far.

Dead Suns 018: Nuthin’ But a ‘Zero-G’ Thang

We start our episode with a partial look at the official character sheet for John Compton’s FrankenCHDRR rebuild. Chainsaw wings? Junk cannon? Tactical razor-bat? Yes, please!

Getting back to the game, the team follows the trail of clues out to the Drift Rock, but their plans hit an unforeseen snag. Once on the Drift Rock, we get our first taste of Starfinder’s Zero-G rules, as well as a more conventional problem – it’s really dark in space. We can’t see and we’re floating around bumping into things… what could possibly go wrong?

This week GM Stephen discusses how to handle really difficult RPG rules (darkness in Zero-G anyone?).

Plus, another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 017: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Your Weirder


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 017: He’s Only Mostly Dead.

So… CHDRR got his upgrades, and this is shaping up to be well worth breaking character.

In particular… THE BUTTON. (Yes, I’m going to use all-caps every time I say it.)

Color me intrigued, but with some hesitation. It sounds like it could do some really cool things (our goblin friends specifically mentioned explosions and acid breath), but I have to believe that it’s also meant as a device of last resort. Not to be too meta-gamey, but I assume if it JUST did good things, it would be too overpowered, so it probably does some bad things too. Also… these goblins don’t seem like the sharpest knives in the drawer, so even from a roleplay standpoint, it wouldn’t be surprising if there are a few bugs in the system.

So as much curiosity is gnawing at me to hit THE BUTTON the first time we enter combat, I don’t want to either kill CHDRR and force a 24-hour rebuild or accidentally wipe the party. You know what they say – “curiosity kills the party”. So it’s killing me to say it, but I’ll have to save THE BUTTON for the rainiest of rainy days. Just know that I want to see what it does just as badly as you do, and I’ll be looking for the right moment.

And yes, I was actually half-serious about keeping it in my cheek pouch and using it like a cyanide capsule.

But hey, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, even without THE BUTTON, we’ve also got chainsaw wings and an extra-spikey bat for a melee weapon! (Does this mean CHDRR now has a Negan Subroutine and is going to start swearing a lot more? Even if not, I might have to roleplay it that way.) I don’t know yet what those translate to damage-wise, but they certainly sound impressive. Some of the other stuff is a little more ambiguous — not sure if the “Murgle parts” or the “laser eye” are going to have any real effect, or if that’s just John adding flavor/aesthetics to his roleplay.

The other major plotline of this particular episode was Rusty’s ongoing battle with Space Rabies. I’m not going to belabor the point about disease… it sucks. I’m more interested in the broader gaming questions raised by the situation.

Being candid, the Eoxian healing packs felt a little bit like Steve throwing us a bit of a life-line, so Rusty didn’t die. I somehow doubt the adventure was written that way, and it felt pretty ad-libbed. (If that WAS in the adventure, that’s some pretty impressive contingency planning on Paizo’s part.)

The first question is a more philosophical “should he have done that, or should he have potentially let Rusty die?” and I think I’m OK with Steve’s choice. Here’s my attitude both as a player and occasional GM. I don’t like giving or accepting outright freebies – it robs the players of achievement and cheapens the experience. On the other hand, it’s an interactive story, and sometimes the GM’s job is to serve the story, not the dice. Hand-in-hand with that, I don’t think the GM is responsible for bailing the players out of their own stupidity, but I sometimes think when the players are making the right calls, and the rolls just go wrong, the GM can serve the greater good by offering at least a CHANCE at Door #2… if he can do it in a way that serves the story well.

But that brings up the second question – “what’s it going to cost us?” Knowing Steve, I know that if he DID throw us a life-line, there’s going to be a price to pay. As with CHDRR’s mods, when you get any sort of special boon, there’s going to be some sort of negative to balance the ledger. Reward and risk go hand in hand. Gotta pay the iron price. So I find myself thinking that either the “cost” of the packs will be some sort of additional questing, or that there might be some side effects and Rusty might end up not-fully-human after all is said and done. (Given Steve’s obvious enthusiasm for turning someone undead in his interview with Erik Mona a few weeks back, I think we all know what the answer is going to be. Cue RustyZombie in 3… 2… 1…)

Those were the big themes about the episode, but I also had a couple of smaller things to touch on.

First, I was surprised just how paranoid Hirogi was about the goblins. I mean, they’re goblins. They’re just about the definition of cannon fodder, to begin with, we disarmed them… how much trouble could they really be? I suppose some of that is reflective of how beat up we were, and maybe there are some “goblins are bad guys in Pathfinder” mental residue in his thinking, but I thought he was being unreasonably cautious. I DO think we want to make sure they don’t steal our ship or Gevalarsk’s crate or anything like that (which is why I suggested locking out access to the bridge), but locking them in a room like prisoners seemed excessive. Then again, maybe I’m biased. Because “chainsaw wings”.

The debate about opening Nor’s package continues, and we’re still without resolution. I’m sticking with my guns on this one – while, yes, there’s a chance we’re getting played, we’re supposed to be representing ourselves as professionals, and how would professional couriers in the real world handle it? FedEx might take reasonable precautions (X-ray your package), but they wouldn’t actually open it and examine the contents. It just feels like we should do the same unless there was compelling evidence that the package had been tampered with. A side data point is that we’ve generally been siding with the Hardscrabble Collective, and if the HC guys were OK having this cargo on their ship, we probably ought to be OK with it too.

My last point is not even a gaming observation, but a life observation. Ever say something that sounded completely logical to you, right up until the point when someone says it back to you, at which point it sounds like the stupidest idea in the world? Yeeeeeah…. that was my conversation with Gevarlarsk Nor. “So, we’re on a ship under quarantine where most of the crew probably died, two of our people contracted the same illness that probably killed the crew, and we’d like to bring them back to home-base – KNOWING THEY’RE INFECTED – for treatment.” Yeah, I’m an idiot sometimes.

So this episode was a bit transitional – getting Rusty, CHDRR, and Mo (to a lesser extent) back in fighting shape; checking in with the homefront. Next week, we begin actually to lay out our next steps, and – at the risk of throwing you a spoiler – we actually get to see the full extent of John Compton’s madness with the reveal of CHDRR’s new character sheet. If you’re a CHDRR fan, you’re gonna want to catch that one.

Dead Suns 017: He’s Only Mostly Dead

SPECIAL GUEST ALERT! Paizo Organized Play Lead Developer John Compton joins us again this week and unleashes to the Starfinder Universe the Combat Drone/Goblin monstrosity CHDRR Mk 3! (Nothing will ever be the same again.) John also provides instructions on how to win a free Starfinder Skittermander Race Boon! Listen to the show for details!

Also this week, Rusty also finds an unorthodox cure for space rabies… but at what cost? And GM Stephen discusses the craziest GM topic to date – how to kill off a PC without them knowing that they died!

Plus, another winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 016: Say Yes To The Stress


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 016: Straight Outta (John) Compton.

I want to spend most of my time talking about John Compton’s brief-but-memorable stint playing the Goblin-Twins, Zan and Jayna… oh wait, Lursk and Torsa. But I did want to pull out one brief section from the “interview” portion of the show – the thread about evil characters.

I absolutely agree with John’s take – I think evil can be done well in the hands of experienced, capable players. I had a Top Secret game in my non-Steve gaming life where one of our guys played a double agent with a completely different agenda from the rest of the team, and it was really cool. But in the hands of novices, it reminds me a lot of the Monty Python “Argument Sketch” – you’re not being evil, you’re just contradicting. (Chorus: NO I’M NOT!)

“I’m going to steal all the loot.”

“I insult the duke who’s supposed to be giving us the quest.”

“The whole party says they want to open the door on the left, I’ll open the one on the right.”

There’s no compelling reason or character motivation for it. The evil character isn’t doing it to advance any sort of plan or agenda. They’re basically just peeing in the punchbowl because… “I’m EEEEEEEEVIL!” (feel free to imaging shining a flashlight under your chin to appear more ominous when saying it). At that point, it becomes one player putting his or her fun in front of everyone else’s, and it can end up wasting everyone’s time. Full disclosure: this was my too-cool-for-it daughter, the one time she agreed to sit down and play with us, so I know this pain all too well.

But let’s get to Dr. Compton’s Roleplaying 101. That was unexpected. Fun, certainly. But unexpected.

Steve had mentioned before the episode that we’d be having a special guest – he doesn’t necessarily tell us who it is or what they’ll be doing, but he wants us to put pants on and use our inside voices when we have guests. And based on the fact that there weren’t really any other NPCs around, the fact that John Compton would be playing the goblins wasn’t too hard to piece together.

But dammmmn John dialed it up to 11 with the roleplaying, didn’t he? I don’t know if you can tell from the podcast, but on a couple of occasions, I was legitimately flustered and at a loss for words. That did NOT go as expected. In a good way.

I will concede that part of it is I’m just not that heavy of a roleplayer. I come up with a general backstory and an idea of how my character will think and react to situations, and I try to color inside the lines when making decisions, but I have to admit I don’t really get deep into “being” Tuttle. In short – no voices. But after “watching” John’s performance, I’m kind of inspired to up my roleplaying game.

What was really impressive to me is that that he squeezed so much out of what ought to have been two fairly minor characters. You hear “goblins”, and you figure they’re fairly cannon-fodder-y and aren’t going to have any real weight to them – they’re basically something there to fight or negotiate with and move on to the next thing. Somehow John managed to bring them to life in a way I would never have expected.

The other reason I was a little flustered was the central dilemma of the session: whether to let the goblins “operate” on CHDRR or not.

You see, from a fully logical roleplaying standpoint, I recognized it was the “wrong” roleplaying choice to let the goblins help reassemble CHDRR. I’ve been portraying Tuttle as both protective of his technology and aloof toward people he holds as lesser than himself. If Tuttle is going to “collaborate” with someone, it’s going to be other dudes in lab coats, not these guys. The idea that Tuttle would say “sure, go ahead, muck around in there” – in general, much less to a pair of goblins he never met before – strains credibility. “Defense will stipulate”, as the courtroom dramas are fond of saying.

So why did I say yes?

First, let me explain the inside joke about chainsaws. In our Iron Gods campaign, I play a warpriest (Ezrik) who worships Gorum – if you think “Klingon warrior”, you’re not too far off the mark. Qapla’! Since Iron Gods is a tech-flavored campaign (in some ways, it’s almost Starfinder’s father or sibling or disreputable uncle who spends all his time at the dog track), Ezrik picked up a chainsaw as his primary weapon somewhere in his travels. So when Steve mentions that I love chainsaws… he knows me, man!

But back to this campaign.

The first reason I said yes is purely selfish – it was a little bit gratifying to the ego to have one of the bigwigs at Paizo personally give my character a facelift. The idea that CHDRR gets to become to be this custom creation, unique within the Starfinder multiverse, and I get the keys? That’s pretty freakin’ cool. It may not be “Tuttle Blacktail Funko Pop!” levels of cool (someday…), but it’s definitely somewhere on the Continuum of Coolness. I’ll grant those bragging rights are totally useless in a gaming sense – to steal one of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, “bragging rights and an empty sack is worth the sack” – but I’m pretty intrigued to see where this goes.

The one gameplay reason I agreed to do it is that they said the magic word… literally and figuratively. Magic. The goblins did drop a few mentions of having magic powers – is one of them a mystic, maybe?  – and our team has NO access to magic at this time. So I thought maybe if their tinkerings gave us access to some magic abilities, maybe it was worth the risk to add something new to the toolbox.

But I think the most compelling reason is that sometimes you just have to say “yes” to the thing that’s going to create interesting story moments. Because at the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun, and even if it breaks character just a little bit, maybe the entertainment value is worth it.

Are the goblins going to make CHDRR turn on us? Will he blow up the first time Tuttle tries to issue commands? Will they make him extra-awesome and CHDRR will become the most valuable member of the party? (Some would say he already is.) These are much more interesting questions and may create more enduring story moments than just fighting the goblins or keeping them locked in the room they were in for the rest of the trip. If the price of admission to that particular carnival ride is that Tuttle has to break character and lean into implausible ideas about “exchanging knowledge” with goblins? So be it.

Also, there’s also the cowardly-but-true answer: if they REALLY screw CHDRR up, I assume I can probably go back and rebuild him to factory specs. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking that even as the word “sure” was leaving my mouth.

So join us next week when we find out what sort of Frankenstein creation the Goblin-Twins come up with, and we further unravel the mysteries of the Driftrock. Any items on your wishlist for CHDRR 3.0? Have any experiences with roleplaying “evil” players in your personal games? Want Lursk and Torsa to have their own show? (Not sure we can arrange that, but I understand the sentiment…) Feel free to give us a holler on social media and join the conversation.

Dead Suns 016: Straight Outta (John) Compton

SPECIAL GUEST ALERT! Paizo Organized Play Lead Developer John Compton joins us this week for a sit-down interview about his role at Paizo and what the organized play program is all about… and then we continue our game, with John injecting new role-playing life into those pesky Space Goblins! John also provides instructions on how to win a free Starfinder Skittermander Race Boon! Listen to the show for details!

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses what happens if you “say yes” as the GM… crazy stuff! (Thanks to John for proving this to be true!)

Plus, we have the results of the closing tagline contest and the first winner of the weekly $100 Amazon gift card giveaway! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 015: Natural 1 is the Loneliest Number

starfinder explosion

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 015: Take It To The Bridge.

What, oh what, should we talk about this week?

Oh, right. That. I guess we finally identified the space equivalent of being unable to hit water falling out of a boat.

I still think the general idea was a good one. The space dogs had taken a lot of damage, so it seemed like one lucky damage roll could’ve taken multiple enemies out. Meanwhile, Tuttle had only taken a few points of stamina damage, so even if the grenade hit for 5 or 6 damage, it wasn’t going to be a huge problem. And in one of life’s little ironies, I didn’t want to risk throwing the grenade and missing some of them. So I figured I’d take one for the team, but possibly have a little hero moment in the process.

(Aside: for the record, Tuttle is proficient in grenades. I’ve just been rolling like crap – a 1, a 2, a 5, and something like an 11 or 12 – and the fact that it’s STR rather than DEX-based doesn’t help matters.)

I did think about just holding the grenade in my hand, but I have to admit I was worried Steve might tack on extra damage – I was worried the difference between “near the blast” and “literally holding the thing in your hand” might have been an extra d6 of damage. Maybe I should’ve explicitly asked, but the flip side is that I didn’t want to put the idea in his head if it wasn’t already there.

So I figured I could just drop it, and… yeah, natural 1.

And that’s where we get into the theology portion of the discussion. Should I really have had to roll to literally drop something at my feet?

I have to admit that my initial reaction was that Steve was being a little unfair. I mean… come on. It’s literally opening your hand and dropping something. How hard is that? If you drop a weapon in the middle of a fight to switch weapons, you don’t have to roll to see if the gun goes off.

And let me be honest – I wasn’t totally sold by the “risk/reward” argument Steve was offering. I know the argument – if there’s a chance of a critical hit, there should be a chance of a critical fail… and OK, that makes some logical sense. But the flip side is: I associate combat rolls with something that requires extraordinary effort, and the possibility of a crit doesn’t make the action inherently difficult. And the “risk” Tuttle was assuming was that if the grenade DID score a crit, Tuttle would be caught in it too.

On the other hand (mentally, I always say this as Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof), the more compelling argument is to break down what a round of combat actually represents. It’s six seconds, and even though it’s taken in turns to make the game flow smoothly, the actual actions are happening semi-contemporaneously. So yeah, I can drop something… but that’s the first half-second. What happens in the other 5.5 seconds, while the the akatas and the other players are taking their turns and moving around? It’s not that hard to “what-if” something that fits – Tuttle drops the grenade, but one of the dogs makes an aggressive move that startles Tuttle; he tries to move out of the way and accidentally kicks the grenade back down the hall.

Also? Weird, fluky stuff happens in real life. If there can be YouTube videos of people flipping water bottles and landing them perfectly on tables, I guess you can drop a grenade and kick it backwards into your own team. I grant it doesn’t happen often – maybe 5%  is too high, and I should’ve lobbied for a roll to confirm the critical fail – but it does happen.

Besides, at the end of the day, we survived, and it was a fun story moment. If someone had died, I might have been singing a different tune.

Speaking of dying, the other major event was saying farewell to CHDRR 2.0. I have to admit losing CHDRR is easier the second time around. The first time, I was legitimately bummed out; this time, I’m starting to reach a comfort level with the idea that drones sometimes have to eat it for the greater good. That doesn’t mean I want to be careless with CHDRR 3 and beyond – I’ve become attached to the little guy. But if you look at the situation, there really wasn’t any other call – Mo was starting to take a lot of damage, CHDRR was the one party member who couldn’t get space rabies, so it was in all of our best interests to let CHDRR hang in there and take as many hits as possible. What are you gonna do? I just hope we’ll get an opportunity to rebuild him soon – I don’t relish the idea of tackling too many fights without him.

On the other hand, once we reach the bridge, we seem to be at a lull in the story anyway, so maybe it won’t be a problem. Yeah, we’ve got the goblins to deal with, but unless there have been remarkable advancements in goblin physiology since the Starfinder days, I have to think we can handle them even without CHDRR. Now that the ship is clear, do we go back to Absalom? Go somewhere else? I suspect the computer holds the clues, but it’ll take some better rolls to figure it out.

There’s already a lively discussion afoot on Discord about Tuttle’s defeat at the hands of… well… gravity, but if you’d like to talk about that or anything else in the episode, feel free to drop us a line. Next week, hopefully, we can crack the ship’s computer and figure out what to do about our uninvited guests.

Dead Suns 015: Take It To The Bridge

The team continues their investigation and finally reaches the Acreon’s bridge, but it’s a bad day for Tuttle – CHDRR 2.0 ends up in a bad spot, and the team’s grenade-throwing skills reach new lows.

Also this week, GM Stephen discusses the why there should almost always be a roll when something risky is attempted – for both PCs and GMs.

Plus the launch of a brand new contest where we will be giving away $100 every week! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!