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Talking Combat 105: It’s A Dead Man’s Potty

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 105: Do NOT Go In There!

If you remember a few episodes back when we leveled and divvied up treasure, I dropped a hint that a couple of things would become relevant in later episodes and I’d circle back when we reached that part of the story, right?

Well, this week’s episode is one of those. After merciless ribbing about Akiro’s cowardice for taking his teleportation spell, it turns out that Chris’ “cowardly” teleportation spell ends up saving Tuttle’s life this week.

Well… don’t I feel like an asshole?

I feel like the audio didn’t really convey the full gravity of the situation Tuttle found himself in. The fight began at the door of the bathroom, which was about 15 feet down a blind corridor, and if the creature had stepped out into the hall, Tuttle would’ve ended up basically trapped in a dead-end with the Marooned One between him and the exit. So not only was he going to have to break a grapple (a fairly monumental task as is given the strength disparity), but he was about one round from having some really awful choices. Even if he got free before the creature moved into the hall, he’d have to run past and eat an attack of opportunity. If the creature got into the hall, there would literally have been no escape and his only other option would’ve been to run deeper into the dead-end and find somewhere to hide. Which not only might have been futile but could’ve even caused encounters to bleed, which would just hasten his demise.

So yeah, I was looking at being pretty screwed for a few moments there.

But then, Chris saves the day with the perfect tool for the job. Not only was I free of the grapple, but we ended up nice and save a good 50 or 60 feet away (and with Mo in between to run interference). I mean, he’s gonna be insufferable about it and I may come to wish the Marooned One had killed me before it’s all over, but for now, Tuttle lives to fight another day.

Once we got the creature out of the cul-de-sac and were able to fight it in the open, it actually became a fairly easy fight through a combination of luck and sensible tactics. Certainly, the luck was in Mo landing almost 100 points of damage – half the creature’s health – in a single round of attacks. The tactics were as Steve described, playing a game of “keep-away” – staying far enough away that it became difficult for the Marooned One to do a full attack of re-establish the grapple. Without that, it was mostly hitting with its comparatively wimpy knife. To be fair, I think Steve probably gives us more credit than we deserve for Ender’s Game-level tactical thinking – I don’t know that it was a coordinated tactic as much as it was four selfish people practicing self-preservation and trying to pawn the problem off on someone else in the group in a way that happened to resemble a strategy. But if Steve wants to give us credit… ummm… yeah! Just like we drew it up on the chalkboard!

I also think we were helped by the fact that it was an almost entirely offense-oriented fight. I did notice the Marooned One didn’t seem to have much in the way of resistances (or we got lucky and didn’t have those damage types) and wasn’t that hard to hit with Bob’s Envoy bonuses. So it was really just an all-offense slugfest, which tends to favor the side that has more total attacks. I’ve noticed that it tends to be when resistances or fight logistics take damage off the table that things get their messiest. (See also: the boss on Istamak, who was on an elevated catwalk for the first half of the fight, and also hitting us with a slow effect.)

I was a little surprised Steve let you all in on the dirty little secret of this week’s episode. Yes, Steve basically “steered us” to take that fight and put the remainder of the compound on hold for a week so we could get the author of this book on the show next week. Guilty as charged. As he said, it’s a function of having special guests – it would be weird to start an encounter in one voice and end it in another. It is what it is.

Now I know some people would argue that by the letter of the law, it’s not the GM’s job description to be steering the game to the desired outcome. There’s a little bit of “Want to be run through your session on rails? Play a JRPG” sentiment, that players ought to be making these sorts of calls for themselves. On the other hand, what absolutely IS in the GM’s job description – doubly so when we’re packaging this for a podcast, and especially when we’ve only got three hours once a week – is time management. The GM is the one person who has at least a rough sense of where the logical breaks are, and massaging the flow of the game into the available timeslot so you get a satisfying session is something of a greater good that should be considered.

It’s something that’s explicitly accepted in convention settings. You have a two or three-hour window, so the GM will figure out ways to slow down or speed up to fit the game in the window as best as he or she can. I think if there’s a difference here, I think that time management is usually something that’s done more subtly, and not explicitly spelled out. A GM might speed things up by removing an encounter to get the party to the next major plot point before wrapping up for the night; they might also slow things down by making a locked door or the search of a room take a little longer. NPCs can give out information quickly or slowly. The GM might add or remove a few hit points to make a fight longer or shorter. It might even be as subtle as making the description of Door A more enticing that Door B to get people to pick the one they want the party to choose.

Here? OK, Steve said, “don’t go south yet because I have something in mind for that part of the book”. But does that really spoil anything important? We still don’t know what we’ll be facing… in either direction. We don’t know if the “surprise guest” is the boss, a friendly NPC, an inexplicable reappearance of Meats and Lasko, it could still be pretty much anything. As long as the essence of the encounter is not being spoiled, I see no problem with doing a little air traffic control on the session to make things fit together more seamlessly. We’re all adults here.

So yeah, next week we’ll get to see what that big surprise actually is, and hopefully, continue to work our way toward the capture or destruction of the Stellar Degenerator. Still got a universe to save, after all. I hope you’re enjoying the adventure so far, and hope you’ve had a chance to drop by Discord and join the ongoing conversation. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Dead Suns 105: Do NOT Go In There!

This week the RFC Crew stumble upon a barricaded and locked bathroom that has been sealed up for hundreds of thousands of years. What could possibly go wrong?

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Talking Plaguestone 11: Celes Karvasalon, Mother of Turnips

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 11: Gather Information For Old Men.

This is a little bit of a tough episode to write because it’s already a bit of a short one, and then most of the action is the Celes and Uncle Targie Show, and I was mostly reduced to cracking jokes from the wings. Which… that’s fine, it’s what I do, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of fertile material to discuss.

Our progress on the main questline is to find the drop point shown on Hallod’s map. Yep. That’s pretty much it. Uncle Targie is able to point us in the right direction, and we eventually make our way there. The bad news is there’s nothing new to be found there – nothing that really drives the story forward and… channeling my inner Chris Beemer… no loot. I suppose I was hoping his final payment was still there waiting to be found, or that maybe we’d find another bread-crumb to the location of the evil mastermind V, but… nope. Just your average hollow tree you’d find out in the wilderness.

The more interesting plot development was finding out that Celes is actually related to Targen and Dalma somewhere several generations down the family tree. Celes Karvasalon, Mother of Turnips.

Now, I was not sure how I felt about side-quests when the possibility first raised its head. There’s something a little MMO-ey about the whole thing. I DO NOT WISH TO GO COLLECT EIGHT SPIDER LEGS. If we’re being honest, I was worried it might be some combination of immersion-breaking and/or tedious.

As it’s unfolded though, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed this little detour from the main story.

The biggest reason, hands down, is Vanessa’s roleplaying of the situation. She’s KILLING IT with Celes’ reactions to all of this. In another set of hands… OK, I’ll be honest, even in my hands… it might be “OK, I’m the Lost Scion of Turnip-Town, gimme my loot, moving along”. But Vanessa has been really bringing it to life and pulling it off the page. And I admit that’s drawn me further into it as well – if she’s gonna bring her A-game, I figure I ought to at least get in there and work off of it a little as well. My take on Brixley’s reaction so far has been “benevolent troublemaker” – he likes Celes and wouldn’t say anything truly mean, but he also thinks it’s high comedy to watch buttoned-up, aristocratic Celes come to grips with being a distant relative of the Turnip Bumpkins, so he’s going to LIGHTLY push a few buttons for now. Cayden Cailean, Shit-Poster of the Gods.

I think another reason this side quest has come alive has been the sense of personalization. I don’t know how much is written into the adventure path and how much was ad-libbed by Steve, but there’s a difference between generic side quests for the sake of busy-work (oh, hi, Mankrik’s Wife!) and side-quests that are written to be specifically tailored to the party and write their stories deeper into the fabric of the main plot. There’s a difference between “go to the run-down mansion and find a magic item” and “go find proof that Celes may actually be distantly related to all of this”, and I do think that difference draws you in and engages you. You also see shades of that in Prue’s interaction with Sir Kent – since they were both at Lastwall, it’s a little more powerful than “some guy thinks he saw undead, send Car 17 to check it out”.

I also mentioned “immersion-breaking”, but I think that can swing both ways – it can be a positive or a negative. Yeah, there are times where you want to put your head down and plow through the main story to reach the next plot point, and it wouldn’t make much sense to go crawling off into the weeds. Look at our Dead Suns Starfinder game. Most of that game has unfolded on a tight clock chasing the bad guys to a common destination, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to go wandering off to investigate someone’s family history in that one. But there are other times where you’re stuck beating your head against the same obstacle or flat-out don’t even KNOW where to go next, and it can be nice to step outside that for a session or two and do something else just to freshen things up. (See also: the “Return of Meats and Lasko” side mission from Istamak.)

This brings me to a little bit of a digression – how to find that balance between the main plot vs. side missions and general completionism. In other words… how much of a hurry to be in. There’s a temptation to be a completionist in games like these – wring every last point of experience and coin of loot out of a section of the story before you move on. And that’s a compulsion that video game RPGs have doubled down on over the years. Be Link! Break every vase! But there are times when that doesn’t make a lot of sense from the roleplaying side of the house. When Pippin knocked the bucket into the well in Moria, Tolkien didn’t have the Fellowship of the Ring clear three or four more rooms before yeeting out of there. Sometimes the plot tells you to move, so you move.

(Yes, “yeeting”. I speak teenager.)

It’s a question we recently wrestled with on the Dead Suns side of the house as well, as we literally bypassed a sub-boss because the story dictates the bad guys are ahead of us and we decided we didn’t have time to waste taking out the trash. But there, we had visible indicators that the bad guys were ahead of us (we could get partial statuses from computer systems and logs, an NPC AI was TELLING us how far ahead they were), and the consequences were truly dire – like “snuff out all the life on multiple planets” dire.

Here in Plaguestone, it’s a little harder to tell. On one hand, Hallod’s note mentions a “final shipment” which is somewhat suggestive of impending badness – it hints that V. has enough corpse blood to complete her plan, whatever that is. On the other hand, all we know about her plan so far is “well, things get progressively more crappy, and the animals around town get a little more aggressive and spit acid”. It’s not exactly Ozymandias dropping a fake space alien into Times Square to murder thousands. (Unless that’s the endgame on all of this: Colour Out of Space in the town square, roll initiative.) And frankly we also don’t really have a firm next step – we have a few soft leads, but no big neon arrow directing us to the next destination.

I do think this is one of those places – both generally and specific to our group – where the GM can put a subtle hand on the wheel and steer things where he or she wants the story to go. That’s definitely how Steve has handled us over the years. If there’s time to spare, Steve will practically shove side-quests in our faces, but it’s still our choice whether to do them or not. If we’re running behind, Steve will start to sound increasingly incredulous when we want to spend our third day in a row shopping. (He’s particularly fond of the phrase “Now I WILL tell you…” as a doppleganger for “maybe you should be doing something else now”). It doesn’t have to be quite so overt though; one could always have weird atmospheric effects (mild tremors, sudden storm) or an NPC soothsayer proclaiming the end of the world to hint to the players that they need to get things moving again. Or on the other side, the NPC with the side-quest could look progressively more distraught or bounty signs could start popping up around town.

Well, that’s all theory. Here in the actual game, we’ll continue to grind out the side quests and see how things shape up. More turnip jokes for Brixley, more low-grade indignity for Celes, and let the wind in our sails carry us to our next port of call. Until next time, we hope you’re enjoying the show, and you’re welcome to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.


Plaguestone 11: Gather Information For Old Men

After leveling up the gang decides to “work on themselves” this week – Celes undergoes a spiritual journey, Cade tests out his skills, Prue gets bored, and Brixley finds some lucky charms!

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Talking Combat 104: Pleased To Meet Me

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 104: Bizarro Tuttle.

First and foremost, I feel like I have to mention that it is taking all (and I mean ALL) of my willpower not to demand Steve do an episode where he runs us through a session of Wendy’s Feast of Legends. Cynically, there’s probably a few free burgers for us if we do it, and I would love to see someone really go all-out roleplaying “the Order of the Baked Potato”. Also… imagine the T-shirts! Then again, it probably doesn’t work with D20Pro. Pity.

Let’s start this week with a bit of a “show note”. I’m still deciding how I’m going to handle The Sandstone Secret special episode. Part of me feels like it would be fun to listen and offer some thoughts from the 100% listener perspective for the first time since for once I’m not playing and don’t know what happens. On the other hand, I also think that would be more fun for me than it would be for you… ergo, a little self-indulgent. Part of the value of these Talkings is to give a perspective from the player side of the table, and… I wasn’t a player for that one. (Originally, I WAS going to be in that episode – had a monk rolled and everything – but I had scheduling conflicts arise and didn’t want to push the already-busy Paizo folks back just to accommodate me.) And I also have a couple of book reviews to get cracking on as well. If I do write it, I don’t know if I’ll give it a separate by-line, or just make Talking Plaguestone super-sized this week (“Talking Stones, Plague And/Or Sand”). I guess we’ll see.

Either way, the space side of the house will be business as usual, and this week, we battle against Bizarro Tuttle.

The first thing that dawns on me is that we basically forgot about Zaz’s sister Xix somewhere along the line. If you remember a few episodes ago, the female ysoki Xix was one of the encounters that we elected to bypass back on Moon Six. (All those Six/Xix puns. Lost… like tears in the rain…) And frankly, there were so many gaps in the recording schedule that at one point I actually forget that and speculate about finding her somewhere else in this complex (unless Steve edited it out). Listening to the episodes now, I kind of realize, but as we were recording, I totally forgot.

It struck me as a neat little touch that they used the twins as a way to showcase the two mechanic types – I believe the scans suggested Xix had a Drone, and Zaz has the Exocortex build, so you would’ve had a chance to see both in action. It also means that technically, Xix would’ve been the true Bizzaro fight because we would’ve also had a Bizzaro CHDRR. Dang it… maybe we should’ve taken that fight after all! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!

The fight didn’t really last long enough to showcase it well, but the Exocortex Mechanic plays much more like a soldier or operative. If you’re new to Starfinder, the Exocortex build is more like the “Mister Hyde” Alchemist build from Pathfinder. Instead of upgrading your drone and having it fight for you, your upgrades buff you into a more formidable fighter. You immediately get an additional weapon or armor proficiencies at Level 1, you have a “Combat Tracking” skill that bumps your base attack bonus against a specifically-marked foe, and after Level 7, you can even start putting a subset of drone mods onto yourself. I briefly thought about going that direction with Tuttle, but a) I thought the drone mechanic looked more interesting, and b) if I wanted to play a front-line fighter, I probably would’ve done Solarian.

Having said that, the concept sounds pretty badass, but we kinda beat him down so quick Zaz basically turned into Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. A couple of lucky max-damage (or close to it) dice rolls, and things mostly became a walk in the park. But then, after a brief interlude to start questioning Zaz, it turns into Murder Hobos 2, The Sequel, as we kill our second surrendered prisoner of the adventure path.

(Take a few seconds to imagine me rubbing my temples in exasperation if you like.)

Going back and listening, the first thing I noticed is how UN-flustered we all were compared to when Hirogi murdered that other guy back on Castrovel. Back then, it divided the party a bit – harsh words were exchanged and some of us felt legitimately bad. This time, it was far closer to a collective group shrug. I don’t know if it’s that we’re coming closer to the end and just want to keep things moving, or maybe it’s that our naivete has worn off and we know the cultists better, but it just wasn’t that big a deal.

As a roleplaying decision, non-committal seemed like the right way to play Tuttle on this one. Tuttle is Lawful Neutral so he’s not obligated to be a complete goody-two-shoes in a situation like, but I’d still see him a little squeamish about actually executing people. Even deranged cultists. In addition to the general “I didn’t sign up for this” vibes, Zaz is still a fellow ysoki and nominally a Man of Science, so he’d probably feel at least some sense of kinship with the guy. Not crazy about the biker bar fashion sense though. THAT’S NOT HOW A RESPECTABLE SCIENTIST DRESSES.

The other missed opportunity here was the chance to have a Flying Rodent Slap Fight. I haven’t really had a chance to use my jetpack, so when Zaz went airborne, I thought long and hard about it. It would’ve been great theater. If anything held me back, it was actually the residue of my Dads-and-Kids game, where one of the kids flew up 40 feet in the air, took a critical arrow hit that knocked him unconscious in midair, and the resulting fall killed him. Granted, those were level 1 characters, but that misfortune was still fresh in my mind.

And frankly, though it wasn’t a deciding factor at the time, I’m realizing now that if I went up against an exocortex mechanic in any sort of melee fight, I’d probably get stomped. So it’s probably just as well I kept both my feet… paws… whatever… on the ground.

So there you have it. One more sub-boss down and the search continues. I suppose if you want to look for signs of progress, we’ve dealt with their best technical people – one dead, the other abandoned back on Moon Six – but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. Could be others, could be they already did the “hard part” of the job. But… we’ll find the answer to that question next week.

As usual, feel free to stop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show and join in the ongoing festivities. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Pathfinder Society Quest #1: The Sandstone Secret

We are proud to announce our new show, Roll For Combat Pathfinder Society! For our inaugural show, we are playing The Sandstone Secret by Linda Zayas-Palmer. Joining us we have Mark Seifter & Linda Zayas-Palmer from Paizo, John Staats & Chris Beemer from Roll For Combat, as well as Stephen Glicker GMing the adventure.

Best of all, you can listen to the entire adventure in one episode! According to Linda, this adventure should be a straightforward adventure, designed to introduce people to Pathfinder Society and shouldn’t be too deadly.

Oh, how wrong she was … so so wrong. Enjoy!

And don’t forget to join our Discord channel, where you can play games, talk with the cast, and hang out with other fans of the show!

Become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

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Dead Suns 104: Bizarro Tuttle

This week Tuttle meets his Mirror Universe doppelganger and worlds collide! Also, a sneak preview of our new podcast next week, the Pathfinder Society Quest The Sandstone Secret.

And don’t forget to join our Discord channel, where you can play games, talk with the cast, and hang out with other fans of the show!

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!

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Talking Plaguestone 10: It’s-A Me, Brixley!

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 10: Shopping Spree!

First, my apologies that this is somewhat late and somewhat short. Hockey season starts tonight, and if there’s one thing I love almost as much as roleplaying games, it’s hockey.

For an episode where not much happens, I had a lot of fun with this episode because it was silly. Even if a good portion of the humor came at Brixley’s expense.

For better, worse, or indifferent, Plaguestone has had a different vibe than Dead Suns. It leans more heavily into roleplaying. It takes itself a little more seriously. I don’t mean to suggest that’s a bad thing, but I’m a goofball by nature, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment.

So to just clown around and trade jokes for a little bit… it was a nice change of pace. Even if the latest indignation is to be compared to beloved videogame characters. (For the record, Rob, Loren, and Vanessa are all funny people in real life when the tape’s not rolling; we just mostly play it straight on this version of the show.)

As far as Brixley’s decision to take Quick Jump, thereby turning him into the third Mario Brother… I went back and took another look at the available choices, and I’m sticking with my guns on this one. The Level 2 skill feats are largely not that powerful anyway, and “things that enhance mobility” seemed like a good way to go with it. At the time, I did briefly consider just going with an extra five feet of foot speed (Fleet), but something about jumping seemed handy. The way it works is that horizontal and vertical leaps usually require a running start – 10 feet of run-up and (perhaps more importantly) an action, making the total leap a two-action move if you do it in combat. Quick Jump doesn’t add any distance to your jump (that’s Powerful Leap) but you can do your normal jump from a standstill; the whole jump takes a single action and you don’t need the extra 10 feet.

If we’re being truly honest, the most practical skill feat choice would’ve been one I couldn’t take: Quick Repair. Quick Repair lets you repair an item by spending one minute working on it (and at later skill levels, you can even do it in combat), which… for a guy who lives and dies by the durability of his shield, it would be a pretty smart thing to be able to do. But alas, I’m not trained in Crafting, so I guess I’ll file that away for some future level. Besides, for the moment, I can always mooch off Prue.

My class feat, Divine Grace, was an easier choice and one that’s more immediately obvious in its uses. At this level, an extra 10% chance to make a save can be huge. If I seemed lukewarm on it, it’s just because I’m an instant gratification guy and get more excited by active abilities than passive ones. Give me flying swords of light, angelic wings… I want my dump-truck full of JRPG special effects, is what I’m saying. Also, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it does take a reaction to use, so it may at times come down to having to choose between the Divine Grace or blocking an attack.

The other Level 2 choices here were more situational – you basically have a choice of “oaths” against dragons, fiends, or the undead that would increase the damage on your Retributive Strike against those enemies. Useful if we knew we’d be facing that particular enemy (dragons at Level 2… boy I hope not!), but this adventure mostly has a “humanoids and corrupted woodland critters” vibe to it so far, so none of those leap out.

Speaking of class abilities and Retributive Strike, in particular, it also dawns on me I probably missed a chance or two to use Retributive Strike in the fight against Hallod. Basically, if an ally within 15 feet takes damage, as a reaction I can give my ally resistance to that type of damage (2 + level, so not a huge amount) and take a melee attack. I’m forgetting how the fight played out without going back and listening, but I suspect I lost a free attack or two. We certainly took the damage, the question is whether I was within 15 feet when it happened. I was probably too far away to help Cade when he got dropped, but I probably missed at least one chance to use that when Hallod hit Prue.

The other main change from leveling – Lay On Hands is a flat six HP per level, so it heals for 12 instead of six. I don’t get a second cast yet – you don’t get to add focus points until higher levels.

There’s not a lot of plot meat to be dispensed this episode, but we do get a little bit, as we learn the likely identity of “V” – the witch who cursed the town all those years ago had a daughter that went missing and was largely forgotten. I don’t know if they mean “witch” figuratively or literally, but either way, that certainly sounds like someone who might know a thing or two about alchemy. And if her daughter learned her tricks and is out for revenge… there you go.

So we’ve got that to follow up on, and we still have a few of our side mysteries – Celes’ possible relation to the mayor and Sir Kent’s haunted house remain on the to-do list. And somewhere in our travels, we have some magic runes that we need to transfer to different equipment if we can find someone capable of doing it. And now we get to do all of that as Level 2 characters!

Buuuuuut we’ll have to save it for next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel to discuss the show, partake of the general frivolity, and of course post your Super Brixley Bros Photoshops! Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

Starfinder Alien Archive 3 Review – Now With 100% More Space Otters

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path, as well as our Pathfinder Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone Actual Play Podcast.

Sorry if we’re a little late getting around to it because of the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, but let’s not forget Starfinder, which has been our bread and butter these past two years at Roll For Combat. In fact, Paizo just recently released another truck-load of creatures in the form of the Alien Archive 3.

First things first. PAIZO GAVE ME MY SCIENCE OTTERS. To paraphrase Teri Hatcher in Seinfeld: they’re the Brenneri and they’re fabulous!

Review over. Great book. Must buy. 10/10. Thanks for reading.

OK, got that out of my system. But seriously… back in my review of Alien Archive 2, I asked for otters as a playable race, and Paizo delivered. I’m not going to be so egotistical as to think they did that specifically FOR me (lots of people think otters are cute), but I certainly know what my next character is going to be. The real question is whether that’ll be next adventure, or whether I’ll get reckless and get Tuttle semi-intentionally killed coming down the backstretch of Dead Suns so a heretofore unmentioned Brenneri colleague can finish his research.

Back to the review. There’s something about this book that’s a little… esoteric?… this time around. The first Alien Archive was the bootstrap for the game system… there were certain monsters that kinda HAD to be there. Staples of sci-fi, carryovers from Pathfinder, playable races that filled holes in the world-building. The second book had a couple of broad themes that tied the book together – it was heavy on sci-fi versions of common beasts and it also put a lot of pages into fleshing out (pun intended) the world of undead creatures.

With Alien Archive 3, it’s a bit more of a free-for-all, for better and for worse. This collection of creatures feels a little more improvisational and… weird. It doesn’t really have an overarching “theme” or anything like that. It’s not like “we’re gonna focus on this one Pact Worlds planet” or “we’re doing fire creatures this time; tell the printer to stock up on red and orange ink”. So… my internal grump feels like it’s a little haphazard and thrown together. On the other hand, it’s more fun and weird – they let their freak flag fly a little more on this one.

As someone who rarely GMs, playable races tend to draw my eye first. I already mentioned the otters, but we’ve also got camelfolk (Dromada), birdfolk (Espraksa – not to be confused with Bird-Person from Rick and Morty), turtlefolk (Telia) and walrusfolk (the Morlamaw – where they first appeared in a Society adventure and were available as a boon). Getting out into the weirder end of the pool, we also have the Raxilites, little radish-people that look like Pokemon and will give the skittermanders a run for their money in a Cute-Off; there’s also sentient squids (the Ijtikri) and sentient velociraptors (Hanakan), complete with short little arms. I think my favorite just on a “how would that even work” level is the Spathinae: a “humanoid” race that’s basically a swarm of insects that can take humanoid form. Not only that but they supply us with our second Rick and Morty reference of the piece – It’s One-Million Ants!

There’s good stuff in the non-playable category as well. There’s a Stridermander, which is a natural predator of the Skittermanders – imagine a larger, meaner, centaur version of the Skittermander and you’re in the ballpark. There’s a high-level entity called the Time Dimensional that can play all sorts of weird tricks with time – always has a Nat-20 during initiative, can Dimension Door mid-round and resume its actions in the new place, and it has powers where it can either freeze an individual creature or stop time on the entire battlefield (but it can’t take offensive actions during the freeze). The Oracle of Oras is a giant tree which doesn’t sound all that imposing, except that has followers that live in treehouses in its branches, and it can cast a lot of crazy buffs on those followers. And ohbytheway, it’s also a travel mechanic because an Oracle of Oras can teleport up to six creatures to any OTHER Oracle of Oras in the same star system. Also, you know tardigrades, right? Those little microscopic critters that have been around since the dawn of time? Well, AA3 gives us the Giant Space Tardigrade, which a) is exactly what it sounds like and b) can be used as a spaceship.

Believe it or not, it gets weirder. Someone decided to create the concept of the Weaponized Toy. The lore plays around with the idea of arms dealers disguising combat drones as toys to get them past Pact Worlds security, so… it’s basically killer jack-in-the-boxes or killer game systems. Also, there’s the kami – spirits that merge with objects and become anthropomorphic versions of that object. Think Transformers. There’s a diminutive version (the tsukumogami) which is a kind of cute nuisance and the gargantuan version (the chinjugami) which will wreck your day.

As with previous volumes, the creature descriptions also intermingle general world-building, and also provide items, feats, spells, and other player-relevant features. The Yithians are a good example on both fronts – in one of the more dark-but-cool pieces of world-building, the Yithians escaped their dying homeworld by mindswapping with other creatures in the galaxy, leaving random strangers trapped in their former bodies on their about-to-be-dead planet. The Yithians also come with a spell-block for a spell called Mind Swap, which lets you… well… swap minds with a target for an hour per caster level.

It seems to be a staple that every book has a “crunch” part where they introduce some sort of extension to the ruleset, and AA3 is no exception. For this volume, Paizo is introducing companion creatures to the Starfinder system. Starfinder didn’t really have to deal with this out of the box since they don’t have a Druid or Ranger class, but I suppose it’s natural that eventually, people would want to have pets. So Alien Archive 3 has an appendix which sets up a rules framework and gives some sample pets you can add to your games. The good news is it’s not class-specific; anyone can have a companion creature as long as you have ranks in Survival. And one of the options is a pet ooze, and… come on, who wouldn’t want that? The bad news that pets are fairly limited, functionally. It looks like it operates on similar principles as a mechanic-drone dynamic – you have to give up some of your actions to give a companion creature the ability to do things – but you pretty much have to take feats to unlock anything but the most basic interactions. (Example: it requires a separate feat just to enable the companion creature to take an attack of opportunity.)

The remaining appendixes are the “usual” stuff – creatures by CR, creatures by type, creatures by terrain. The one new entry here is a breakdown by Pact World planet, so if you’re planning an adventure on, say, Verces, you can immediately grab a list of some of the most common creatures on that planet.

In closing, I’m not sure what to make of the Alien Archive 3. My reaction is generally positive – it certainly delivers another volume that follows a fairly successful recipe; “more of the same” is fine when “the same” is already pretty good. But the specific creature selection is maybe a little on the goofy side and might not fit equally well in every game. If you’re cool with that – and particularly if you feel a strong need to make an otter PC who wanders around with an ooze buddy – definitely check it out. If you’re just getting started, it’s probably okay to start your game with the first Alien Archive and work your way up to this one.

And just in case Paizo IS listening: three words for Alien Archive 4. “Red Panda Solarian”.

Plaguestone 10: Shopping Spree!

After nearly dying (several times) the RFC Crew emerged victoriously, reached level two, and found a ton of sweet loot. Which means it’s time to head back to town for a good ole shopping spree!

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