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Talking Combat 053: 525,600 Dice Rolls

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 053: Conga Line of Death.

As foreshadowed in last week’s Talking, I’m pretty much going to blow off the episode this week (there was a fight, we won… yay, us!) and reflect on our one-year anniversary here at Roll For Combat, which technically happened yesterday. It’s going to be a bit of a free-for-all: I’ll primarily be talking about the main Dead Suns game and the Starfinder system as a whole, but don’t get too mad if I cross the streams a little and dip into our Society games or the Pathfinder Playtest a little bit as well. We’re in “free-form jazz odyssey” territory here.

My first thought is actually a bit of a guilty confession: I am forced to admit I was a little reluctant to try Starfinder, though I never really told anyone else. When the group started talking about playing, I could tell everyone else was excited, but me? I don’t know if it was bad experiences with Gamma World as a kid, worried about whether it would be different enough to be something other than re-skinned Pathfinder, or just feeling like swords-and-sorcery was my sweet spot in life. Whatever the reason, I must admit I was a little uneasy.

That’s the kind way of saying I was worried it would suck.

Well, a year later, I can freely admit that Starfinder does not, in fact, suck. In fact, I really like it quite a bit. I think I’m still a sword-and-sorcery man at heart – you can have my Tolkien when you pry it from my cold, dead, fingers – but I think Paizo did a pretty good job with the system. If they were shooting for “familiar, but different” they really stuck the landing. They’ve made a lot of the right things a little easier without sacrificing too much of the tactical complexity that makes the game enjoyable; overall, it’s a fun world to play around in so far.

Playing Tuttle (and CHDRR) has been a large part of that fun, of course. For one thing, the mechanic-drone dynamic has been interesting, even before CHDRR became 6% goblin and acquired THE BUTTON. You don’t really have an equivalent class in Pathfinder – I suppose ranger pets or summoners have shades of it, but it feels just different enough to be its own thing.

But a lot of the fun is in seeing how the story changes the way your character develops. You have this idea of how your character is going to be and how he’s going to respond to things, but then things start happening and that idea adapts as you go.

To pick one example, let’s look at party dynamics. When we originally rolled up our characters, I assumed Tuttle would see Mo as his major foil, as something of a polar opposite – the tech guy who doesn’t like the dumb jock, sees Mo as competition for CHDRR as the “muscle of the party”, etc. But as we’ve been playing, you have Rusty bossing everyone else around and Hirogi being kind of a loose cannon… Tuttle has actually come around to have a certain fondness for Mo because at least he’s reliable – he knows what he’s there to do and he does it well. (OK, that’s still a fairly condescending view of the big lunk, but one that’s somewhat more appreciative of what he brings to the table.)

I also envisioned Tuttle being something of a “mad bomber” mechanic when we first started this – that I was going to put a lot of his abilities into damage-dealing abilities. But as we’ve played, I’ve gotten more comfortable with Tuttle as more of a problem-solver and pure skills monkey, and a lot of his choices – abilities, gear, etc. – have been geared more toward versatility and solving problems. Even when he addresses combat skills, it’s tended to be more about defense and self-preservation than blowing stuff up. So he’s become less of the “Doctor Destructo” type I thought he’d be and more McGuyver.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I lament Tuttle’s lack of firepower. Watching Mo hit for 20 or 25 points of damage, and then having Tuttle plunk an enemy for 3 or 4 is kind of humbling. Sometimes playing a support is tremendously frustrating. Which is why it’s been nice to occasionally blow off steam in Society with Nala. This just in: Solarians hit hard.

Speaking of which, I think one of the things that really stands out for me is how Society play seems like such a good fit for Starfinder. I don’t know if it’s something about associating sci-fi with TV (Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc.)  but there’s something about the episodic nature of Society that really fits well in a sci-fi setting. Meanwhile, fantasy always felt like it was best suited to the long-form epics of adventure paths, so running “errands” in the Society setting never quite took off in the same way for me. In Starfinder, it fits like a glove.

Our first year hasn’t been all daffodils and sunshine, though. There have been a few things that vexed me a bit as we’ve gone through this first year.

Some of it is rulebook stuff, but most of that is a minor inconvenience. It’s frustrating that you only get 10% back when you sell stuff. The economy on healing serums seems off. I’m still getting the hang of weapon fusions. Things like that.

As a system, starship combat came out of the gate strong, but the bloom came off the rose a little after repeated viewings. First, some fights just feel like they go on too long, though some of that may have been crappy dice rolls. But I also feel like the roles aren’t equally interesting, and that could be something that needs to be addressed. Pilot is almost always fun and engaging, and I usually had fun doing Engineering/Science with Tuttle. On the other hand, shooting a gun is kind of static, and I have to admit my one stint as captain (an in-person game at my local game store) felt comparatively boring as well. It feels like the roles don’t always have equally interesting choices, and maybe something could be tweaked to help with that.

(I would also concede that maybe this gets more interesting when you get into more powerful ships and ship upgrades. If you get to drive Galactica and launch a fleet of Vipers when you hit Level 15 or 20… that could change my tune.)

I think the other meta-complaint is not exactly a negative, but more of a “room for growth” thing – the first batch of content feels a little… “conventional” for the setting. Sci-fi seems like it’s all about possibilities, but it feels like the core rules and the first few adventures have been just scratching the surface of that – a lot of fights against humanoids with guns. And I can sort of understand – if you have to write the first few adventures while you’re still writing the system itself, you probably have to keep some things simple by necessity. But I hope as they grow and expand the game, I hope they get a little more freaky and “embrace the strange” a little more. I suppose you’re already starting to see some of that with the first few supplements and some of the more unorthodox Society adventures (Star Sugar Heartlove! Zo!), so I hope that’s a trend that continues.

We’ve talked about the game, but I also wanted to talk about the first year of the podcast itself.

Going into this, I had low expectations and probably envisioned this as kind of a fire-and-forget thing: we do what we’ve been doing, but we hit RECORD and howl into the void by throwing it on the Internet… maybe people listen, maybe people don’t. But it’s been really interesting to see how much more it’s become.

First, and absolutely foremost, it’s been gratifying and humbling to know that all of you are out there listening. I’m not blowing smoke here, I really mean it – I’m a fairly low-ego guy, so there are times where I simply don’t know how to process that. I relish the fact that I can go on Discord on Tuesdays and see people talking about the most recent episode. And the funny thing is it doesn’t even have to be POSITIVE feedback – I’m equally amused that people care enough to tell us we’ve been doing a rule wrong for five episodes, or how we missed an obvious solution to a problem. For the record – it’s totally an “us” thing, not a “me” thing; it’s feeling like we created this little something that has value within the larger gaming community.

(Personal highlight: the Discord contest to come up with other cheese-related acronyms in case I ever wanted to change CHDRR’s name. Great stuff.)

It’s also been neat to have all these special guests come on and join us, but not in the way you’d think. I compartmentalize it a little. When Steve does interviews with Paizo folks, that’s where I get my “PAIZO! GOSSIP! INSIDE DIRT!” fix, like the rest of you. When we have someone come on as guests on RFC, I’m far more into what they bring to the table as fellow gamers – the fact that they work for the Paizo Mothership is secondary to the fact that there’s this new person adding a completely new dynamic to our table. Five or six years playing with the same group of people has a lot of benefits, but it can be nice to have someone come in and shake it up a little.

(OK… If I’m being totally honest, the one exception was having John Compton re-do CHDRR. I did have a total “someone at Paizo customized my character” fanboi moment on that. Not gonna lie.)

Writing Talking Combat has been a pleasure as well. I don’t remember if I covered this anywhere else (bio, another Talking, etc.) but I used to write for my college newspaper, so doing this column scratches that writing itch a little bit. I’ll admit there’s good and bad weeks – sometimes I’m rushed for time in real life, sometimes the episode doesn’t give me a lot of hooks to write about, sometimes it’s plain old writer’s block – but overall I like having the platform to carry on about a topic I really enjoy, and some days I get on a roll and the column flows right out. If I had to pick a favorite column, it’s probably “Odo’s Nose”, where I managed to fit in a high-concept discussion about making “flawed” characters work in a roleplay setting AND goofed off by fitting all the DS9 characters into Starfinder classes and themes.

Then there are also the “tangibles”, which… OK, they’re selfish, but they’re still cool. Getting to go to PaizoCon for the first time. Actually taking part in a panel at PaizoCon. Having actual professionally-done artwork for characters and having them on a T-shirt. For the record, I’m still holding out for a Tuttle and CHDRR set of Funko POP!s, but that’s not bad for Year One.

Doing all of this hasn’t been without some minor challenges. I’m not some foul-mouthed monster, but I do have to watch my language and not swear as much. We do aim to be family-friendly. As I said in our PaizoCon panel, there’s a real need to be “up” and to participate – when we were just playing for ourselves it was OK if I half-assed a session (cough-or-even-fell-asleep-cough), but it’s important to be present when the “tape” is rolling. Just as a logistical matter, a couple of the weeks where we had to pull double duty (Dead Suns and Society) got a little hairy. But all in all, the few minor impositions have been well worth the adventure.

OK… enough staring off into the distance accompanied by angsty piano music. Self-reflection time over: next week we get back to bashing some cultist skulls. Fiiiine (sigh)… as soon as we can find out where the door to their lair is. (You just HAD to bring that up, didn’t you.) With all sincerity, it’s been a great first year, and thanks so much for listening and reading along with us and being such an important part of it. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts over on our Discord channel or other social media, and we’ll be back to our usual low-gravity, sifting-through-space-dust hijinks next week.

SP05: Interview with Paizo Pathfinder Creative Director James Jacobs

If you enjoyed this interview make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where we’re playing through the Starfinder Dead Sun’s Adventure Path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure!

We kick off the start of Year Two of the Roll For Combat Podcast with a special interview edition! Today we sit down and talk with Paizo Pathfinder Creative Director James Jacobs about all things Pathfinder.

With the release of the new Pathfinder Adventure Path, Return of the Runelords, we discuss the history of the Runelords and the first book in this Adventure Path, Secrets of Roderic’s Cove. We also discuss several other topics from James’s long career including the creation of the Adventure Path concept from his days at Dungeon magazine, his work on Age of Worms, Red Hand of Doom, Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, Burnt Offerings, what to expect from the upcoming Pathfinder Adventure Path The Tyrant’s Grasp and even a little bit about the first Adventure Path for Pathfinder v2. Check it out!

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Dead Suns 053: Conga Line of Death

This week we celebrate our one year anniversary of Roll For Combat, and we start Year Two the same way we started Year One… with combat! We also take a look at the past year, how the podcast has grown, and what to expect in the future!

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 052: Weight Watchers

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 052: Too Much of a Good Thing.

I debated the merits of how far to dive into the whole one-year anniversary. On one hand, it’s kind of a milestone; on the other hand, we don’t really hit one year until next week.

After going back and forth – I had about 500 words of Year One reflections written – I decided I’d mostly cover that next week, but I will jump in and answer Steve’s question from the mini-contest: what was my favorite moment of the last year? Selfishly, I should probably say John Compton’s re-design of CHDRR; it turned my whole character on its ear and made playing him a completely different experience. On the other hand, that was also a gradual thing that played out over multiple sessions as we figured out just what CHDRR had turned into. For a single moment, even though it was a complete fail, I actually have to go with rolling the natural 1 while attempting to drop a grenade at my own feet. Even now I crack up a little thinking about it.

Expect a more robust look at the past year next week. For now, let’s talk about this week’s show, and we’ll start with the main theme… encumbrance.

Overall, I don’t have a problem with Steve enforcing encumbrance. There’s always going to be some push and pull between realism and busywork. On one hand, you want a game like this to have some sense of plausibility, but there’s a point past which micro-managing the finest of details a) takes impractically long and b) just isn’t that fun.

Take material components for spells. I have to confess that I’ve NEVER played at a table that did material components by-the-book. (Unless you count Ultima IV). Steve’s take on it has traditionally been to hand-wave the routine stuff but you have to come up with the rare or expensive stuff – if the spell calls for berries, you have those; if it calls for a 1000gp diamond, you have to buy or otherwise acquire that.

I suppose his approach to encumbrance is similar. Keeping players from running around a dungeon with an entire armoire full of stuff on their back makes a certain amount of sense – you do want to create interesting choices about what the players take with them and leave behind – but Steve has sometimes left us “outs” to avoid getting into serious binds. In this case, it’s taking stuff back to the Sunrise Maiden. In one of our Pathfinder campaigns, we were allowed to leave caches of treasure around that remained undisturbed until the end of the adventure. There are other times where I suspect he adjusts under the hood and makes the loot lighter on the fly – fewer items that are more valuable, replace a bunch of non-magical swords and armor with a gem of equivalent value, make the boss loot better to compensate for whatever we had to leave behind… that sort of thing.

I will also say I do like the Starfinder bulk system as a replacement for Pathfinder’s “gold pieces” – light bulk feels like a way of enforcing “number of pockets/number of things you can hang on your belt” in addition to sheer weight. And it’s just easier to track – digging down to the level of “hold on, I have to dump 4 gold pieces to get back to medium” was kind of a pain in the ass. Now, you have a few major inflection points, you can see them coming, and plan around them.

The one thing that muddies the waters here is the low-gravity environment. In the short term, it means we can carry more, but what if we enter the cultist lair and they’ve got regular gravity there? Deep in my meta-gamer heart, I don’t think Paizo would do that because they don’t want a bunch of players screaming at them because they had to throw away all their hard-won loot, but I suppose we can’t be sure. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.

In the meantime, we can run loads of inventory back to the ship, but that gets to Steve’s GM tip about keeping the game on some sort of clock.

The management of time, and long rests in particular, have always struck me as an awkward mechanic. You need a way to reset spells and create some differentiation between short-term abilities and long-term abilities, and so the rest is the game mechanism that accomplishes that. Only it doesn’t always work from a story perspective, and sometimes feels downright ridiculous. “The Big Bad is going to kill the princess at dawn, but hey… let’s break out the S’mores and do the crossword. SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM.” (Meanwhile, those orcs in the next room that you can hear through the door will never once over the course of 8 hours stop and wonder why their buddies in the next room – the ones that you killed – never checked in.)

In this case, it feels weird that we’ve got cultists who could ambush us at any moment, but we’re going to take 10 minutes to run a load of gear back to our ship. Something seems… off… about that. But whatever. Them’s the rules.

On the other hand, what’s the alternative? Throwing away all realism, just letting the players do whatever? Carry what you want, recharge after every fight? Then you’ve got a broken game because nothing is truly challenging. My frame of reference for the latter is the Neverwinter/Baldur’s Gate computer games. Pass-fail, I LOVED those games, but they had one huge hole – you could take a rest after almost every fight. So your party was healed, your casters had all their spells, and so except for boss-type fights, things became pretty trivial and there wasn’t much challenge past a certain point.

I suppose the real answer comes in the writing and design of the adventure itself. “Right-sizing” the content so the breaks flow naturally.

Society games tend to have this down to a science – everything fits in a single session. They either go with a grab-bag of discrete missions where they throw the kitchen sink at you on each individual mission but let you rest up after each one, or they write an adventure where the plot precludes long rests (ship has an autodestruct and is going to blow up in 2 hours or some such thing), but the content is just the right amount to push the party to its limits (2 or 3 fights, plus some social encounters or other “soft” challenges to round things out), unless they run through it REALLY inefficiently.

Adventure paths, on the other hand, are far more open-ended, and that creates uncertainty. This environment we’re in has to be as long enough to satisfy all the story points, and a lot of times, it can branch off in multiple directions that can be tackled in any order. As the player – how far do you push? Do you do that one more room? What if that one last room is the boss battle? I think you do eventually develop a feel for that – even if it verges on meta-gaming – and I also think Steve and the writers of the adventure paths drop little hints that you ignore at your peril. It’s not quite a neon REST HERE sign, but you find that room with a bunch of beds that’s off in a corner of the complex and only has a single door to defend… someone might just be trying to tell you something.

In this case (Meta-Gaming Hat… ON!) I’m feeling like maybe we take care of business outside, exhaust all those possibilities, and then find the lair, and then maybe we’re able to rest up once we’re in the lair (or go back to the ship and rest before going in).

The last little thing that stuck out about this episode was that I got to use Tuttle’s (limited) Technomancer abilities for the first time. I didn’t necessarily expect to use it on slapstick comedy, throwing disembodied limbs around, but things never go as expected. Tuttle’s dream case is the chasm scene from Star Wars – he would’ve recognized the bridge controls as something important you don’t just start shooting like a doofus, and used his mage hand to extend the bridge. And they let this kid go to Tosche Station to pick up power converters without adult supervision?

Withering assessments of Luke Skywalker’s STEM potential aside, we end Episode 52 as we started Episode 1… about to wade into combat. For a barren asteroid, there sure are a lot of weird critters running around – are we sure this isn’t some sort of wildlife annex of the Diaspora Zoo? After the acid-bath fight, I’m initially underwhelmed by a few flying lizards, but I guess we’ll find out what sort of secret nastiness they have in store for us. And hey, maybe we’ll even find some cultists to fight eventually.

Happy Year One; we’ll see you on the other side!

Dead Suns 052: Too Much of a Good Thing

This week Hirogi learns that carrying two dozen weapons has a heavy price. Plus, when is it searching a massive pile of corpses on a dark asteroid not a good idea? Oh right, always…

Also for this week’s GM/PC Tip, Stephen discusses why you should always put your PCs on the clock.

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 051: Big Hero CHDRR

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 051: Bad Acid Trip.

I apologize in advance, but you’re going to get a pretty half-assed Talking Combat this week. I’ll try to make it up to you next week, promise. I don’t want to throw the curtains wide open on my personal business, but I had to get my daughter on a plane to England for grad school this week. So I’ve been in a bit of a whirlwind, both logistically and emotionally, and the Adventures of Tuttle and His Dumber Companions have been on a low simmer on the back burner. To say more would turn this into some sort of personal therapy session, and I’m not going to subject you that, but… there you have it.

As a brief aside, my daughter never caught the RPG bug like my son has, though maybe that’s my fault for waiting too long and introducing her to The Life when she was in the contrarian teen years. She played a few sessions of 4E, but she didn’t take it seriously and was one of those “pee in the punchbowl” players. Wanted to play an evil character, demanded all the treasure, would only begrudgingly help other party members… you know the type. She is more of a general gamer – had a WoW phase, plays an impressively cut-throat game of Ticket To Ride, we’d do family board game nights here and there. But roleplaying games never quite took hold with her.

Since I’m starting to feel the presence of an invisible man in a tweed jacket saying “Annnnnd I see that our time has expired”, let’s talk about acid.

I think the thing that stands out to me this episode is that for once, I was the dumbass who ran in without getting the lay of the land. I usually play a pretty cautious game – it’s usually John or Chris who are the ones boldly rushing in and setting off traps. OK, let’s be honest… it’s always Chris. I tend to hold back and see what’s up before I jump in. (Ezrik from Iron Gods being the one noteworthy exception; he was always the first one into the pool, because… chainsaw.) But this time… I don’t know if it was feeling useless from the last fight, feeling impatient about finding the entrance to the villain lair, or what… but I really wanted to get in there and start looking around. I think it was the presence of the corpse: I think my thought process was that the corpse represented someone trying to get in or out of the lair, so it represented a bread-crumb toward an entrance.

But I forgot the more common use of corpses: to warn parties that there’s something nearby that wants to eat your face. In this case, a tentacle-beast with mind control. And the fight gets off to a bad start. Tuttle and Mo suddenly think this guy’s their best friend, and Mo, in particular, has to deal with the Joy of Grappling (Bob Ross’ lesser-known field of expertise).

But then we catch two lucky breaks. The first is that Tuttle rolls the lesser of two evils and only dips a paw in the acid. A single die of damage in exchange for breaking the mind control? I’ll take that trade any day of the week. The next is that Tuttle gets lucky on THE BUTTON and rolls… (wait for it)… DAMAGE RESISTANCE. So, of course, that’s going to be acid, though I didn’t realize how enormously useful that would become. I figured maybe CHDRR would get splashed or he might fall in during the course of the battle.

What I didn’t expect (no, not the Spanish Inquisition) was that the opportunity for a “BIG HERO CHDRR” MOVE would arise. I realize I’m skipping a bunch of the fight, but Mo gets dunked into the acid. And stays in. And… yeah, he’s about to die – literally, one more round of even fairly minimal damage would do it. Meanwhile, I did some quick math on the fly, and… it’s really close, but it looks like, with the extra acid resistance, CHDRR would survive at least one round in the acid, even if Steve rolled max damage. Not much wiggle room for a) missing a roll to get back out, or b) the creature attacking or otherwise holding him in there for another round, but… we’ll jump off that cliff if we come to it. (Tuttle also could’ve survived the round of damage, but with his low strength, I thought the odds of him successfully pulling a full-grown vesk out were far riskier. And if Tuttle failed, half our party would then be in the acid.)

So in goes CHDRR, and one blast of the jump-jets later, we have our vesk back, while Hirogi and Rusty do the remaining work on the creature. Whew! Look for CHDRR, with a half-dead Mo draped on his back, to appear on a Wheaties box sometime in the near future.

This nicely folds into Steve’s GM tip about the application of damage. As he points out, moving the damage to the player’s turn is technically wrong – ongoing damage is technically supposed to happen on the creature’s turn. Steve’s point is that he wants to give the player a chance to do… SOMETHING… to avoid or mitigate such a situation, and moving the damage to the player’s turn (and specifically, to the END of the player’s turn) is a way to allow that to happen.

Thinking about it as impartially as I can, I think that’s a fair way to do things, as long as it’s consistent. My thinking is that combat represents six-second slices, happing semi-contemporaneously, anyway, so does it really matter SO much if you move stuff around a little bit within the round? Initiative should definitely be preserved because there’s real value to going first that someone earned by rolling high. But a DoT “tick” effect? Where that gets placed feels fairly arbitrary anyway.

As a lesser point, it’s a question of discrete vs. incremental damage. If you swing a sword, the damage happens when that sword strikes flesh. If you’re immersed in an ongoing effect… it’s not like the “tick” is a real thing where you take zero damage for five seconds and then on the 6th second… OW! It’s a game mechanic that’s already meant to be a summary of the previous six seconds, so if that “summary damage” slips a little bit in favor of giving the player options, I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over that.

I did want to dip back into the podcast just to share a chuckle at Mo landing the knowledge roll when everyone else failed. There’s a tendency to think of Mo is the mindless muscle of the group, but Mysticism is one area where he’s really no worse off than anyone else. Now Tuttle is going to have to keep pumping Mysticism at every level because he’s not going to risk being second-best to Mo at anything knowledge-related.

(As far as real names of members of the Legion of Superheroes: somehow I still remember Garth Ranzz is Lightning Lad. And Mon-El is just Mon-El. Saturn Girl is… Irma, but I don’t remember a maiden name. Can I cheat and use Irma Ranzz since they were married most of the time anyway? So… guess I’ve got some homework to do.)

Annnnnd I see that our time is up. For real this time. Next week we continue our search for the cultist base – we’ll find it one of these times, I swear – and maybe I’ll try to whip up something PLUS-ULTRA for the end of our first year. Haikus? Dirty limericks? An audio supercut of every time Steve gloats when the enemies crit? This will take some thinking. In the meantime, pop by Discord or other social media and feel free to give us your questions, comments, or other feedback. (OK, maybe not a stream of incoherent profanity. But anything else is fair game.)

Dead Suns 051: Bad Acid Trip

What self-respecting evil cultist hideout wouldn’t be complete without an acid pool guarded by a mind-controlling squid-beast? A few of the team end up going for a rather painful swim, but what’s a few chemical burns amongst friends?

Also for this week’s GM/PC Tip, Stephen mixes things up and discusses rules that he might have gotten wrong and asks for some help from the audience!

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 050: Spy vs. Spy

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 050: Never Tell Me The Odds.

You guys don’t realize it, but you dodged a bullet. As I’m sitting down to write this week’s Talking, we just wrapped up our fantasy football draft, and you were this close to getting a full column on THAT because I’m tired and want to go to bed. It’s not officially an RFC league, but all five members of RFC are in the league, as are two guys who have been part of our gaming group over the years but have not (yet) appeared on the show. So RFC at least has a quorum, which means I could’ve found a paper-thin rationalization to talk your ear off on that, but… nope. As the DEFENDING CHAMPION, I shall be magnanimous and move on.

(And yes, I threw that last bit in just so Steve would have to read that when he edits this. He knows he’d do the same.)

As Steve mentions, it’s Episode 50 of RFC, but I have to admit that doesn’t mean as much to me as the time-based milestones do. I think it’s because of the way the editing process works: as we’re going back and listening now it’s a milestone event, but at the time it was just another session. It’s like the M. Bison “it was a Tuesday” scene from Street Fighter – it means something now, but it didn’t while we were putting it on “tape”. At least when we hit the one-year mark in a week or two, we’ll know it as it happens and maybe we’ll break out the party hats in quasi-real-time.

The above having been said, if we have any amateur goldsmiths in the crowd that WANT to commission a solid gold statue of Tuttle and CHDRR to mark the occasion, I won’t stop you. Just don’t ask where it is a few weeks from now when I’m posting pictures of my new Tesla on the Discord channel.

In-game, it’s a combat episode and a rough one as it’s basically Operative vs. Operative, both with the exact same cloaking effect. I won’t lie: as it first started, it was pretty amusing to realize that the enemy was pretty much working from the exact same toolbox Hirogi was. But the novelty wore off as the combat dragged on, and it became kind of frustrating. First, because it was so hard to land hits with the 50% miss chance. It really sucks to land a hit and then have it wiped off the board. (And Steve was maybe a touch TOO gleeful about erasing Mo’s crit… no, you really don’t need to tell us it would’ve been 38 points of damage.) The other half of the equation is that the enemy only took the penalty if he attacked Hirogi; if he … hypothetically… dropped a bunch of grenades on the rest of us, we weren’t nearly as lucky. For us, it was Operative vs. Operative; for the bad guy, it was Operative vs. Fish In A Barrel.

As an aside, I loved the moment when the big semi-sentient hunk of metal hit its reflex save and the supposedly racially-nimble mouse-creature did not. Fannnnnntastic. That was the grenade that hit for almost minimum damage, but I still thought it was funny. Images of CHDRR busting out his best parkour moves or doing Matrix-esque bullet-time flashed through my mind for a few seconds.

On the bright side, the riding saddle got its first real use, and while it wasn’t the game-changer I thought it would be, it was fairly handy, and at least saved me some of the two-step shuffle. I think it’ll get even better if I can add some movement improvements to CHDRR at future levels to leverage it better – upgrade those jump jets to full flight, greater ground speed, something like that. (So what I’m saying is Level 20 CHDRR will have his own drift engine.) If you were listening closely, I thought about kicking in the jump jets at one point early in the fight, but I realized it wouldn’t cover the vertical distance anyway and would leave me halfway up the cliff wall with a big target painted on my back. So I decided to go around the long way, even if it cost me a few rounds.

This fight did underscore the feeling that I need an offensive upgrade soon. The first time we went shopping, I went armor because it was like a +3 or +4 to both ACs. The next big shopping trip was mostly about utility; making Tuttle a little more versatile. In both cases, going from a d4 to a d6 on a primary weapon was all I could afford on the gun side, which didn’t seem like good bang for the buck (pun fully intended).

But when Mo is thumping guys for double digits on every hit and Hirogi has his trick attack (when he lands it), it’s a little awkward to still be chipping away with the cheapest gun in the game. Even applying Overcharge only adds an extra d6, and since (at least temporarily) I’m not wearing the recharge upgrade in my armor slot, I have to pick my spots with that move. (There’s an improved Overcharge, but I don’t think that’s even available for a few more levels.)

Truth told, I’m a little envious of that fancy sniper rifle we pulled off the enemy. Not envious enough to take sniper rifle proficiency as a feat, but envious. Long arms on the other hand? Maybe. I’ve always felt “Tuttle With A Shotgun” has some serious comedic potential, even if half of it is having recoil toss him across the room in zero or low gravity situations like a cartoon character.

The X-Factor on the weapon front is CHDRR. Steve has been keeping the specifics of CHDRR secret to preserve the surprise, but he has said that some of CHDRR’s abilities scale as he levels up. So I’m torn – I could upgrade CHDRR and have it be a “waste” of money if he gets something next level that renders it moot. Or I could leave him as is waiting for the goblin upgrades to kick in, and continue to be underpowered until that happens. Best of both worlds would be to find a weapon that I could use as a free upgrade.

It’s halfway between show notes and Steve’s GM tip, but I found the ongoing gamesmanship involved with the d100 roles kind of amusing on re-listen. I get that for all our debate, there’s no “right” answer. (Next week’s Etiquette Corner: we debate the pronunciation of GIF – “gif” or “jif”?) Personally, I’m a classic “high is good, low is bad” guy – keep it consistent with everything else. But I can respect John’s stubbornness on sticking with low numbers (maybe that’s how they do it in WoW?), and Bob’s decision to go for the middle was an inspired bit of lunacy that should please fans of the standard normal distribution everywhere. On the other hand, such tomfoolery clearly displeased the Dice Gods, who rewarded him with that insultingly close 77.

Getting to Steve’s point, it’s weird. That little bit of choice and agency – choosing low, high, or ridiculous – doesn’t feel like it should matter that much. It’s not even real physical dice in this case. Steve could literally put a rock in one hand and have us say “left” or “right” and the net effect would be the same. But it still feels like you’re doing something to choose the outcome when you pick the range you want to use. I guess the phenomenon is similar to the slot machines in a casino – they’re going to land where they’re going to land, they technically don’t even need to put buttons on the thing and could just resolve the spin when you put your money in. But putting buttons or a handle on the machine gives you an illusionary veneer of control – “I chose to stop the machine right here”.

So basically, we’re all just filthy degenerate gamblers, is what I’m saying.

In other news, the hint-dropping on Rusty’s condition continues, and it’s a little awkward because here’s where I have to embrace roleplay and split my duties of Jason, Writer of Paizo Book Reviews vs. Jason, Player of Tuttle. Having reviewed the Armory (mild spoiler), there’s something in there that sounds a WHOLE lot like what Rusty is going through, but in the context of this game, there’s no way Tuttle would know that without making some skill rolls (Life Science, Medicine, maybe Mysticism), and I haven’t really pushed too hard on that front. Though I suppose it’s also a partial attempt on my part to embrace the idea that being undead isn’t THAT big a deal in the Starfinder universe. I as the player still think undead are creepy and are going to turn on us at a moment’s notice, but Tuttle lives in a world where they’re normal. (As are talking rats, for that matter.) Just as long as Rusty doesn’t turn full demon in the middle of a fight, we’re cool.

I think that’s about it for this week: tune in next time when we continue to bounce around low-gravity, flop around in the space dust, and try to find the cultists’ base of operations. Well, we’ll try to, anyway. We haven’t seen the last of trouble, and trouble hasn’t seen the last of us. In the meantime, feel free to drop by the Discord and join the fun happenings there.

Dead Suns 050: Never Tell Me The Odds

Witness our extra special 50th episode of Roll For Combat! Watch what happens when one Ghost Operative fights another Ghost Operative! See the gang stand right next to the enemy and miss countless times! Astound as Hirogi fails his Trick Attack rolls over and over again!

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll kiss 90 minutes goodbye! Don’t miss this week’s spectacular Roll For Combat!

Also for this week’s GM/PC Tip, Stephen explains how to make even the most annoying RPG mechanics fun for everyone!

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!