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Dead Suns 112: Nice Planet You Got There…

Now that the RFC Crew is back together, it’s time to get back to dreaming big and double-crossing bigger!

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Talking Plaguestone 18: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 18: Country Rogue, Take Me Home.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving here in the US, so I guess I’d better bang out a column before the turkey coma takes me for the day.

Here in Microbrewery Simulator… errr… Talking Plaguestone, we have another week of mostly working on side quests. At first, I was kind of impatient with the side quests and kind of wanted to get on with the main story, but I have to admit they’re growing on me. Especially now that Brixley gets to be a cult leader, AND gets another encounter with my nemesis, Old Woody.

Old Woody was a throwback to our (pre-podcast) Iron Gods campaign, though I don’t know if it’s something written into the adventure or something Steve made up. My recollection of the story is that we needed information from the townspeople and could only gain their trust by winning a drinking contest. In addition to having the best CON of the party, my character (Ezrik – I’ve talked about him before; the guy who became a mutant) had also permanently lost his sense of taste. So either the Fortitude save I was supposed to do was either nullified entirely or was at least made a lot easier. (I think I could still smell it and it looked disgusting, so I believe I still had to roll a save…)

See, that’s the thing. Steve makes it sound like I’m some kind of reckless thrill-seeker who will drink anything put in front of his character, but it’s really not like that. In the case of Ezrik, OK maybe a little, but there was still some roleplay method to my madness. The first time I did it as part of a religious ceremony, and then… OK, I kinda decided to keep doing it as a tribute to Gorum every time I leveled. So that was maybe a little reckless, but still within the confines of “thanking Gorum for my new abilities”. In the case of Tuttle becoming an aeon, that was a boss fight where I was struggling to even hit against the big bad’s armor class, so I decided to pop my Loot Box of Wonder to try to get something that would make me more effective. Here, let the record reflect that I passed when Steve wanted me to just start chugging the cave-water, but drinking Old Woody as a means of consecrating Brixley’s new church seems like a totally in-character and story-relevant thing to do.

So what I’m saying is that Steve needs to come up with flimsy STORY reasons to make me do these things.

Going back to the start of the episode, I thought the mechanic of training with Noala was interesting, but the actual skills she was going to teach us ended up not being worth the trouble for me. I thought I might get trained in Nature or at least get an additional Lore skill; instead, it’s a Ranger ability that I only get IF I multi-class into Ranger, which doesn’t seem like much of a fit with Brixley’s character. Works pretty well for Cade, though, so it’s nice to see him take it. In general, it’s a neat little mechanism to add new abilities to your character.

In Side-Quest Land, Prue’s quest seems to be pretty much done, but the rest of us get some development in.

In Brixley’s case, I actually have the beginnings of a functioning church-bar, and now have a chosen beverage supplier. When I opened up negotiations with Tamil, I just thought I’d be asking for the raw ingredients and we’d have to figure out how to brew ourselves. (Not me personally – I figured the dwarves would take the lead there). Instead, it turns out Tamil secretly dabbles in brewing, so she’s already got multiple drinks we can serve. I figure the main two will be the backbone of the operation, but we’ll save Old Woody for special occasions… ordaining new clerics, baptisms, stuff like that.

A couple of side notes on starting my own brew-pub. I do feel a little guilty in that we’re going into quasi-competition with the Feedmill, but then again, it’s more of a social club rather than a competing business. It’s not like we’re going to be inviting the entire town; just the people who want to join The Cayden Club! Also, the choice of “Betrayer’s Blood” as the brew name was meant to be defiant rather than ghoulish – going for the attitude of “this guy screwed over the town, so we’ll be toasting his defeat every time we hold services” (and soon, hopefully the restoration of the town). After the fact I thought about naming it something more genteel like “Bort’s Brew” – maybe that can be the purple one.

Lastly, we get to Celes’ interaction with the demon, and I have to give Steve credit… I had forgotten how creepy he played that. I didn’t expect to really have a strong reaction to it – especially since we’d already played it live – but I was legitimately impressed at the ambiance he created. The one thing that struck me as interesting is that it’s a side quest that could last for the life of her character if Steve wanted it to. It’s possible it’s a self-contained thing and we might find the way to break the curse in our travels. OR maybe it’s something Celes doesn’t figure out until Level 10 or even Level 20.

Though I suppose ALL of the quests contain a glimmer of such possibilities; Celes’ quest is just a little more self-contained and fundamental to her character. In Cade and Prue’s case, it’s the introduction of NPCs (Pari and Sir Kent) that we could encounter in future adventures. In mine, it’s the church itself – though perhaps one of the dwarves could eventually go out into the world as a new representative of Cayden. Really, any of these could leave lingering effects, now that I think about it. Then again, the rest of us don’t have to do a cost-benefit analysis on whether we can use our spells or not.

Next week, I think there might be a LITTLE more side-quest stuff to take care of, but probably not a full episode’s worth. I’m pretty sure we’re back in the field soon. I hope you’ll be back to join us; in the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing discussion of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Plaguestone 18: Country Rogue, Take Me Home

This week the RFC Gang decides to skip the adventure of killing monsters and instead go on the adventure of working on themselves!

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Talking Combat 111: Getting The Band Back Together

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 111: Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

So now you know!

I have to admit, I’ve been excited, and even a little relieved, to finally reach the Big Reveal. The relief is that I didn’t slip up and tip off the return of Hirogi in some way – either here or over in Talking Plaguestone. I’m not oblivious enough to mention Seth by name, but a “five” party members instead of “four” or a “Hirogi” instead of “Akiro” could’ve slipped past the copy editors. (Which… when I turn my column in at 11 pm on the night it’s due, basically amounts to “running it through a spell-checker”. Maybe.)

I do feel like I should be honest and admit something: if we’re being totally honest, I got a little bit of accidental advance warning, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. A few nights earlier, we were playing Plaguestone, and I had logged in a little early. While waiting for that game to start, I saw Seth’s user handle (which I happen to recognize from Facebook) and Steve talking in a separate channel. So I actually knew Steve was doing something that was going to involve Seth. BUT… given we were about to play Plaguestone, I assumed he was going to be a Plaguestone NPC. And when he didn’t show up, I just assumed either we didn’t hit that part of the story yet and either filed it away for the following week, or I just forgot about it entirely. Little of both, probably. It never dawned on me that he could be getting Seth ready for a Dead Suns appearance, so in that sense, I was as surprised as everyone else.

But I suppose I should’ve been a little more prepared. In general, Steve has been teasing big things as we finish up the adventure path, so new guests and/or a return of Hirogi (or at least finding out his fate) should’ve both been somewhere in the list of possibilities. I know one of you listeners suggested doing a bottle episode with Hirogi and that always appealed to Steve; it was just a matter of logistics not coming together to write something and play it. And yes, Steve HAD been priming us for a return of Meats and Lasko (the Jay and Silent Bob of our entourage) – seven schedules get hard to coordinate, so he has to pull back the curtain a bit on stuff like that. But this was definitely not on the radar.

As Steve mentioned, I don’t personally know Seth… mostly just through the gaming anecdotes, the other guys have told about him. I used to travel for work, and sometimes when in NYC, I would join these guys for D&D. So while yes, I can technically claim I’d gamed with Seth a non-zero number of times before this, I’d be lying if I said I know him prior to this.

That’s OK though because I know Chris, and Seth’s doing an EXCELLENT job of replicating Chris, isn’t he? Almost a little scary. As Steve is going back and giving you all the history of this, and I’m hearing how little advance prep Seth did… I’m even more amazed that Seth is pretty much playing Hirogi almost exactly as Chris would’ve played him. Greedy… arrogant… self-preservation streak… that’s our boy! I find myself wondering if I could replicate anyone in the party that well. Maybe Mo… just get impatient and start opening doors and running into rooms, and then complain when all the creatures in those rooms attack me and I start taking damage.

(Kidding. Sorta.)

Moving forward, I’ll admit I’m a little curious how this will affect the party dynamic. First, you’ve got Seth playing a character that used to belong to Chris. Is that going to stoke any rivalry between the two? (Oh who are we kidding… of course, it will.) Is Seth going to rub Chris’ nose in his success after Chris grew frustrated with the character? Is Chris going to still try to take credit for anything good Hirogi does? How will that play out?

More generally – as Steve alluded to with his “poor Jason” comment — it’s another layer of pre-existing relationships being thrown into the mix. I want to be careful not to overstate it I don’t feel “left out”, I don’t resent Seth’s presence… none of that clique-y teenage drama. The next five Talkings aren’t going to be me writing bad, pouty poetry. But it is true that I’m already the George (Harrison, not Costanza) of the group, and now we have another extrovert rules-lawyer joining the fray, and one with a bunch of pre-existing history and in-jokes with everyone else but me. It’s all positive and I look forward to it, but I do think I might have to up my game and play my character a little more aggressively to keep up as we bring this adventure path to its conclusion.

I also feel like mentioning that at this point, I REALLY don’t care about sharing loot or anything that mundane. Right now, I want to finish the story. If an extra body gets us to the finish line alive, the more the merrier. I’m a little worried we may have another member of Team “Sell The Stellar Degenerator For A Profit” which may turn the endgame into a Mexican standoff within our own party, but we’ll jump off that cliff when we come to it.

Of course, lost in all of this was a fairly perfunctory combat session before our rescue. Four on one, no particular special abilities; between Bob handing us a surprise round and Mo rolling well on damage rolls, it was an express-aisle butt-whipping. Not much to be said about it except “nice hammer for Mo”. As a flavor thing, I love the idea of the suffocation chamber.

Hirogi’s rescue kind of swallowed up the rest of the episode, so next week we pick it facing roughly the same predicament we were facing last time. I think we’ve established we need to get to the command deck to do whatever it is we’re going to do, but we still need to figure out how to get there and still need to get some better degree of computer access so we can access maps, remove countermeasures, and such. But now we’ve got one more guy to help us do it! Feel free to drop by the Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of all of this, and we’ll see you back here next week. Thanks for listening!

Dead Suns 111: Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

The RFC Crew continue their adventures through The Empire of Bones when they discover a horrible secret….

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Talking Plaguestone 17: “GM” Stands For Gratuitous Mockery

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 17: The Dragon & The Thief.

After a couple of weeks of tough fights, things slow down… way down… this week.

First, the other rule “mistake” which I put in quotes because I don’t think Prue really had a chance to do it wrong anyway. At least not more than once or twice. I do think one common theme we’re seeing in our mistakes is that we’re sometimes assuming things work the way they did in First Edition, forgetting that the three-action economy necessitates some changes, and I think this is one of those. I have to admit I don’t KNOW because it’s been a long, long while since I’ve played a barbarian, but it does seem to be the recurring theme of our mistakes.

Main plot? Pretty much at a standstill. We find a tainted pool of water, but it’s not THE tainted pool of water, so we’re no closer to resolution. If only we had a modern-day geologist’s understanding of how the water table works. Instead, we’re going to turn the legwork over to Noala for a few days; in the meantime… back to town for a little more R&R.

I had a little bit of a “are we sure we trust Noala?” vibe creep through my brain this episode. On the surface she helps the town, Dalma vouches for her, so I guess she’s a good guy. On the other hand, you could argue she kinda led us right into a trap, and one that didn’t shed a LOT more light on the situation. And conveniently, she was off “searching the perimeter” while we were getting our asses kicked. Also, skipping ahead to later in the episode, Uncle Targy doesn’t trust her, even though Dalma does. I mean, I’m PROBABLY just being paranoid, but something to keep at least one eye on.

I do also still wonder what role – if any – that empty pillar in the town square plays. Was there a rock there that keeps the plague at bay? Is that where the water to the town is getting corrupted? It feels like it might be significant in some way, but we haven’t really found any clues pointing that direction. Ah well, file it away for now.

Side quests? Not much better. I guess some of us make a little progress, but nothing really reaches a final resolution. In Brixley’s case, it means giving an impromptu TED Talk on Cayden Cailean. Now, I’d like to point out that I did try and study up a little between episodes – I went back to the First Edition books and read up on the Cayden Cailean lore, and then… oops, most of it went right out of my head the minute I actually had to do it in-character.

All of this is a little weird to me because I don’t tend to play high-religion characters, so my knowledge of the Pathfinder gods is kinda spotty in general. I know the names and the general themes (alignment, what they’re the gods of, etc.), but that’s usually about it. So having to do a book report mid-game is a bit of a double-whammy. But I got through it I suppose.

After a check-in with Cade and Celes, Prue’s sidequest takes us on a detour into the low-stakes world of game-within-a-game gambling. It’s the Thief and the Dragon! As Steve and I alluded to, our group did play this game back once in the pre-podcast days, but I have to admit I don’t remember it well. It’s basically a 5% chance of a big win, a 20% chance of a loss, and then the rest is situational depending on whether there’s already a coin there or not. I guess it’s fun to have games like that available because they add some flavor, but at some point, I’m compartmentalized in my entertainment. I’m here to play Pathfinder. If I want to gamble, I’ll go drive to the casino or something.

I suppose the highlight of the episode was the out-of-character ribbing – mostly at Steve’s expense – at the end. It’s not so much that the jokes were SO hilarious as much as it represented another step forward in our coming together as a group. The Dead Suns group has been together a while, so there’s always been a fairly easy rapport between us, and we talk smack freely. With this group, we’re getting there (witness the various jokes about Brixley’s fashion sense) but this week took it to a new level, which was kind of fun to listen to after the fact. It’s not like I’m overtly trying to turn that group into this one, but trying to meet in the middle is, to me, a welcome goal.

It’s also weird to consider that in the Dead Suns group, we’re all basically the same age (cough-old-cough), and I am (by a few months) the baby of the group. In this group, we’ve got Vanessa and Loren both representing the Young People. Each has its merits – on one hand, being in a group where everyone has the same cultural shorthand is nice; then again, we sometimes get in a rut where we make the same joke 18 times BECAUSE we’re all on that same page and have been on it for a while. Having some different perspectives in the group can be refreshing too – sometimes familiar can be a little TOO familiar in a long-running group.

Also, it’s good to get in some group abuse of the GM every now and then. The GM gets to hold so much power over the players that sometimes it’s good to take them down a peg or two to remind them of the power of democracy in action. You know… by making a bunch of jokes about how old they are. Tread lightly because they still have the power to throw wandering monsters at the party, but get your shots in when you can.

Anyhow, don’t hold me to it because I never know how Steve edits the episodes, but I think next week we return to the wild to further our investigations and hopefully get a little closer to finding Vilree and solving this mystery of what’s plaguing Plaguestone. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Starfinder Character Operations Manual Review: Classing Up The Joint

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.

It’s been over two years since the launch of the Starfinder game system. In that time, Paizo has released a lot of supplemental material – three bestiaries, a world lore book, a loot compendium – but the one thing we haven’t gotten yet are new character classes.

Well, get ready, because the Starfinder Character Operations Manual is here, and it’s bringing three brand new character classes with it. To be fair, that’s not ALL it’s bringing, but by general importance and page count, the new classes do tend to hog the spotlight. Also, since the classes also had a formal playtest, it’s the part of the book players may also have some existing familiarity with. So… we’ll get to the other stuff, but classes are where we start.

At first glance, there’s going to be a tendency to view these new classes through a Pathfinder lens and say we got an alchemist, a paladin, and a sorcerer. And look, that’s a convenient shorthand, especially when talking to people who have played both systems, and the similarities are there. But that also does these classes a disservice because if there’s some common DNA in there, the folks at Paizo have done a lot to make sure these new classes definitely have a sci-fi feel that’s different than their swords-and-sorcery counterparts.

First, there’s the biohacker. If mechanics make the world safer through building things, biohackers make the world safer by injecting people with weird chemicals. The class has the spirit, if not the exact functionality, of the alchemist from Pathfinder – you have the ability to craft chemical compounds on the fly that you can inject into a friend (boosters) or foe (inhibitors). The bad news is that like spells, there’s a daily limit for how big a batch of raw ingredients you can brew up each day; the good news is you don’t have to choose your toys in advance, you can whip up what you need in the heat of the moment. There are both general-purpose buffs and debuffs, but a biohacker also gets access to “fields of study” at 1st, 7th, and 13th level that come with more specialized effects. There are also “theorems”: more general class abilities, such as the ability to do limited healing, a poison skin that sickens enemies that hit you, and so on.

If there’s a caveat to this class, it’s that the inhibitors, at least, are pretty dependent on being good at combat in general. If you miss with a ranged attack, you waste the biohack that you had equipped, and if you don’t do enough damage to overcome any resistances, the biohack fails as well (assume it didn’t break the skin or something). If a melee attack misses, you still have the biohack for your next attack, but I’m not sure how much of a front-line melee class this is supposed to be. Boosters don’t suffer the same problem because there are mechanisms to hit your allies without even having to perform an attack roll.

Here’s the one thing that concerns me. I love the idea of the biohacker. I love the general concept of a guy who runs around and shoots weird chemicals and nanites into friend and foe alike. It’s definitely got a sci-fi feel – arguably it fits a sci-fi setting better than the alchemist fits in Pathfinder. Now here comes the “BUT”. It’s a low-offense support character, and while it’s got great lore and storytelling possibilities I’m not sure I see the “hook” on the gameplay side. Envoys have low offense but you’re a master of social situations. Mechanics have low offense, but you have a drone to play around with. (Or an exocortex… if you missed the point of the whole class.) Biohacker? I’m not sure what the gameplay “thing” is that makes you want to roll one. “Nice robotic sidekick, Mr. Mechanic. You think that’s cool? I can… (checks character sheet) cure the dazzled condition (stares at the camera like Jim Halpert in The Office).”

The next class is the vanguard. At first glance, it feels like Starfinder’s attempt to create a true defensive “tank” class, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s definitely a melee class – a vanguard gets access to both heavy armor and shields; one of its key powers, the Entropic Strike, only operates at melee range; and a lot of the defensive abilities assume you’re upfront taking hits for your team. Many of the class powers operate on “Entropy Points” which are generated largely by giving or RECEIVING damage, so while yes, there are damage mitigation and damage avoidance abilities in the vanguard toolkit, there are times when it will be strategically advantageous to actually take some damage to power your abilities. So this is NOT an “in the rear with the gear class”. I mean, the name “vanguard” gives it away.

It does seem like a class that’s going to require some subtlety to really get the most out of. Yes, one can go the easy route and play it for full offense, just storing up points and then releasing Entropic Strike “lather-rinse-repeat” style. At that point, it starts to feel like a Solarian that’s trying to compromise between the armor and weapon builds at the same time. But the total toolkit does allow for some pretty versatile stuff – you can pump Entropy Points into your movement, use them to reduce the damage, take damage intended for an ally… all sorts of things. I particularly like “Dampen” which lets you spend an entropy point to halve the damage of an area effect if you’re in the blast radius – a one-man grenade disposal unit. It also has “aspects” which teach you bonus combat maneuvers and let you get entropy points from additional sources such as receiving healing or doing damage to multiple foes. My general vibe from this is “easy to learn, hard to master” but definitely something new and unique to the Starfinder setting.

The last of the three classes is the witchwarper. I have to admit I’m rather fond of this one – at first it comes across as kind of randomly thrown together until you realize that’s the point: it has a flavor, and the flavor is harnessing chaos.

At a nuts and bolts level, if you’re looking for a Pathfinder analogy to frame the discussion, the witchwarper is to the technomancer what the sorcerer is to the wizard: the spontaneous caster vs. the book-smart one. Compared to the technomancer, a witchwarper gets fewer total spells, but they don’t have to prepare them beforehand and can cast anything in their arsenal at any time. However, there is more to it than that, which comes with the “warper” part of the name. The witchwarper has the ability to tweak reality itself to create unexpected effects.

There are generally two main mechanisms for this. First, all witchwarpers have the “Infinite Worlds” ability where they can drop a spell slot of a given level to create a bubble of an alternative universe; mechanically, either an environmental or an instant effect for that level (or multiple effects, if they use a higher-level spell to do lower-level effects). For example, dropping a level 1 spell can be used to either create a patch of difficult terrain (environmental) or a flash of light (instant) that can inflict the dazzled condition (or even blinded on a critical failure).

The other main mechanism is through class abilities called “paradigm shifts”. The bad news is these tend to either be limited use or cost a resolve point to use; the good news is you can get some pretty powerful effects from them. The general themes tend to be movement (speed enhancement, teleports, etc.), inflicting or removing mind-altering effects, or messing around with damage types (increasing or decreasing resistances, or even changing the damage type of an attack – “surprise, your acid attack is now fire, which I am immune to… sucks to be you”). I think my personal favorite is Substitute Mind, which lets you free an ally of mind-altering effects by (essentially) copying part of their mind from an alternate reality where they weren’t affected.

So those are the new classes, and I recognize that some portion of you will stop reading here. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

Going back to a more “order of the book” view, the book starts with new themes (can we go back and retroactively give Rusty the “Grifter” theme?) and racial abilities. Most of the core Starfinder races now have a few alternate stat setups (vesk that get a bonus to Dexterity from extended time acclimating to low gravity, “mind forward” lashunta who give up Constitution to improve their Intelligence) and there is now a selection of race-based feats to take. The surprise here is that in addition to the Starfinder core races, the Pathfinder core races (elves, dwarves, etc.) get semi-equal billing in a way they hadn’t before. In the Core Rulebook, they were kind of buried in the back in a section about converting Pathfinder characters, right before the glossary. They still don’t get a LOT of real estate compared to Starfinder races, but at least they’re invited to the party. Start rolling that halfling solarian, I guess!

After we hop over the new classes, the book presents some additional options for the existing Core Rulebook classes. I’m not going to be exhaustive, but there were a few that jumped out at me. First, there was a new “Advanced Prototype” mechanic build that lets the mechanic use a weapon or armor as the vehicle for his upgrades (the idea that instead of developing a drone or exocortex, he or she just builds a BFG). Solarians get a little more versatile with options for a ranged weapon or shield as their solar manifestation instead of just weapon or armor; also, higher-level solarians can give up one of their zenith powers to be able to have a second manifestation. Also, I’m not as familiar with the soldier, but it looked like the soldier had an unarmed combat build, almost like a monk.

Next up, we have archetypes, of which there are ten. These represent ways to add a little bit of flavor to your character without a fundamental overhaul, as well as a way to add some roleplay feel. One thing I noticed is that in Pathfinder they tend to be formal well-defined organizations, while in Starfinder they tend to be more generic roles like “medic” or “instructor”: that’s neither good nor bad, just an observation. The level of definition also varies a little bit – something like the Esotericist (casters who reject technology and seek out the purer roots of magic) is a fairly well-defined set of modifications for caster classes, whereas the Free Trader is “well, you get some bonuses to skill checks when it comes to buying and selling things”. I think my personal favorite is the Fixer archetype, which gives you class skills such as cleaning a crime scene of evidence and maintaining a network of contacts in the criminal underworld. Just in case you want to be the Pact Worlds version of Winston Wolfe.

I’m going to gloss over a few sections because they’re fairly “list-y” and I’m not sure what people would find interesting, but I’ll mention their existence. New general feats. Cool. New gear, but a lot of it seems oriented toward injection weapons and shields, to create some biohacker and vanguard loot drops. And spell lists; again, most of the chapter features the new witchwarper spells, though there are also some new mystic and technomancer spells as well.

The part I wanted to get to is the “New Rules” section because there’s a couple of potentially interesting things here.

The first is that they seem to have heard some of the frustrations with starship combat and tried to create a few more ways for players to participate. Primarily, this was through the creation of two new roles, though they’ve also added “open actions”, which we’ll come back to. The first of the new roles is the Chief Mate – think of this is a dedicated generalist that can give bonuses to any other station. So, they can help coax more speed out of the engines to get more speed or help the science officer execute scans to get more information, or they can poke around in an access panel to enhance an engineer’s attempt to divert power to a system. Interestingly, the chief mate’s checks run on Acrobatics or Athletics, which gives a more combat-oriented/low-skill character something to do.

The other role is the Magic Officer, which I like because of the open-ended possibilities. A Magic Officer can do things like performing the Science Officer’s scan activity with magic instead of computers, obscure the enemy’s targeting computers to increase your armor class, add magical damage to weapons, fold space to decrease the turning radius of the ship, and things like that. The Magic Officer abilities run off Mysticism. In addition to liking the flavor of the Magic Officer, I think it’s a smart thing that they’ve given a role to characters and skills that didn’t really fit into the existing Pilot/Captain/Sci-Eng/Gunner framework.

They’ve also added “open actions” which feel like responses to the problem of either having too many people in the party, or circumstance-based inactivity (the battle changed in such a way that manning my current station is unproductive, leaving me nothing meaningful to do). Open actions require a single skill rank to perform and don’t require being at a particular station, but they also have pretty limited benefits – for example, you can perform “Range Finding” which gives a +1 to a single attack roll. They tend to be summarized as “not very exciting, but better than sitting around doing nothing”. They also added a few additional “minor” crew actions, which already existed in the Core Rulebook and solve the opposite problem of too few people to man all the stations.

I’ll say this. I don’t know if these are the right specific changes, I but I respect that they’re listening to the player base on this. One of the persistent complaints about starship combat is that a) all roles aren’t created equal, and b) some character builds get left behind with not much to do. This feels like it TRIES to address that, which I’ll give them credit for.

The final section of the Character Operation Manual provides some fleshed-out rules for downtime activities. We’ve all had games where the party gets a couple of days off, and sometimes it’s unclear what people should be doing. Or even if they do have an idea what to do, there aren’t really any rules for how to do it. Well… now there are. Some of the activities are very rubber-meets-the-road, such as Convalesce: if you do LITERALLY nothing for 24 hours, you regain 2 hit points per level (and reduce two points of ability score damage). Others are more situational and esoteric, such as Work Out, which (if successful) lets you bank a free re-roll on a failed Athletics or Acrobatics for up to a week. It’s not earth-shattering stuff, but it’s nice to have both some suggestions for things to do, and some mechanisms for actually doing them.

So that’s the Starfinder Character Operations Manual in a nutshell. Ultimately, it’s going to sink or swim based on the new character classes, and I’m pretty pleased with what we got. I love the witchwarper and I’m probably rolling one as my next character (though at least one other member of our group feels the same way, so it may be pistols at dawn for the honor of doing so). The vanguard seems like a cool and unique and interesting concept, but I’m a little worried about the learning curve. The biohacker is the only one that leaves me a little less enthused – I love the lore and the general idea of a space alchemist; I’m still stuck on finding the hook that makes me want to roll one. (If you’re wanting to play one, don’t let me stop you.) The rest of the content isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s what you’d expect from a player-oriented volume, and the starship combat in particular shows they’ve been listening to the player base. If you’re playing Starfinder, this one’s a keeper, so off to the local gaming store with you. Or maybe just the Internet; that works too.

Plaguestone 17: The Dragon & The Thief

After another week of fighting the RFC Gang take a rest with a little turnip mead and gambling!

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Talking Combat 110: They Locked That Door For A Reason

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 110: Tuttle Mnemonic.

Under the heading of “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”, we are now on the enemy flagship. You know, the battle cruiser the size of Manhattan, potentially manned by hundreds, if not thousands of undead troops. Our assets? Tuttle’s brains, Mo’s strength, and Akiro’s steel. With CHDRR as playing the part of a really complicated wheelbarrow. THE DREAD PIRATE RUSTY IS HERE FOR YOUR SOULS! (Except undead don’t really have souls, so… so much for that analogy.)

I fully admit I don’t know where we go from here. I think our only real chance is to do some sort of decapitation strike on the bridge. With capital ships, the guns and engine room are manned by dozens or hundreds of people, so taking over an individual system seems like a losing proposition. But if we can get to the bridge or the captain’s cabin, perhaps we can take control and give fake orders that will be taken seriously because they’re coming from the bridge. Or something. Still figuring it all out. Though even the bridge on the Enterprise (TNG) had a dozen or so crew if you count those stations scattered along the perimeter.

The first part of our plan actually goes better than expected, as Rusty actually uses all those fancy bluff tricks on someone other than his own teammates, and cons that hangar guard into letting us pass. I know Steve said in the show notes that there was supposed to be a vehicle fight in there, but I’m just as content to not do it. Having said that, if we DID have to fight it, I probably would’ve just fired up my jetpack and gone vertical. It is a big hangar, after all, so… high ceilings. I thought my Disguise roll (I think I rolled an 8 and it bumped up into the teens) was going to leave us hung out to dry, but a) maybe Steve used Rusty’s roll or an average of the group and b) if I was playing the role of a prisoner perhaps my disguise didn’t have to be all that good anyway.

Our initial checks provide us with bread crumbs on where to go next (in the form of conveniently unscannable rooms on the area map), but not much else. This led to our first minor strategy quarrel – John and Chris were definitely in sweep-and-clear mode, but I was trying to prioritize our limited resources. Based on things Steve said back on Moon 2 and en route, it sounds like we MAYBE get one or two long rests, so we simply can’t be taking EVERY fight, and rooms like “gravel pit” don’t seem like they get us anywhere productive. (Unless it’s special experience-doubling gravel? Magic gravel? STAR GRAVEL!) Better to prioritize those high-security areas that are more likely to have tools we need to reach the command center, which still feels like the ultimate play for now.

Also – and this gets more into metagaming – sweep-and-clear tends to be good for the parts of the campaign where leveling and loot matter more. At this point, we’re on final approach. We’re pretty much done leveling (MAYBE we get one or two more before the endgame, but I’m not counting on it) and it’s hard to imagine a loot-drop that’s going to be a difference-maker. So how much do we want to put ourselves out and expend resources for… an extra d4 of damage on our guns or a +2 to EAC?

Some of it is as simple as admitting that John gets a little impatient as a player because he wants to keep things moving. John is all about making things happen, and the combat engine is the most interesting part of the game to him; I don’t think I’m giving away any state secret by saying that. In fact, he gushed about that Pathfinder quest one-shot because there was a minimum of screwing around – it got right into the action. That’s where he’s happiest. So some of it was John wanted to open a door because John wanted to open a door, and the door to the slime cell a) was closer and b) didn’t involve any sort of fancy-man computer check to open.

I did see a comment on the Discord boards that we’re not really taking advantage of our X-ray vision resources, and that’s a fair criticism. Tuttle has the Stinkeye, and I think Akiro had an X-ray vision helmet (unless I’m thinking of Hirogi and that item went poof back on Istamak). I can’t speak for Chris, but I’ll break that into equal parts “I kinda forgot about the Stinkeye because it had been a while between sessions” and “I’ve been assuming starship bulkheads are made of thick enough metal or have energy shielding such that it’s gonna get blocked anyway”. So… yeah, guilty as charged. Moving forward, I’ll try to remember to use that a little more, but in the short term, I’m going to miss a few opportunities.

The next bit of fun is the death… errrr… anti-life ray we stumble across as we attempt to leave the hangar and enter the secure area. Ow. If we don’t come up with a solution for detecting or deactivating that, this adventure’s going to come to an end a long time before we reach the bridge. Our best hope is that maybe it’s only for sensitive areas of the ship, and we’ll only have to deal with it one or two more times. Or that there’s a way to turn it off in one of the red rooms on the map.

Though it did send me off on a whole mental digression while re-listening: what do they do if they’re taking on living passengers for some legit diplomatic reason? (Same with the lack of atmosphere, now that I think about it…) Do they have more of a “diplomatic quarters” area the living can stay in that doesn’t have, well, DEATH RAYS? Do they have an entirely different ship? (Yes, now I’m imagining an undead equivalent of a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, with Zo! Providing nightly entertainment.) Then again, it’s worth remembering this is a Corpse Fleet vessel, not the main Eoxian fleet — yes, they’re related, but these guys probably run lean and mean on purpose. Diplomatic missions probably aren’t a high priority to a separatist faction that wants to kill eradicate the living.

OK… end of digression. Moving along.

As we return to action, I finally win the argument about which room to open, but it may not be the “win” I thought it was: what we’re looking at is some sort of execution or interrogation chamber, with a sub-boss guy who is clearly NOT buying our supposed disguise. So… shoulda gone with the gravel pit, right? I guess we’ll find that out next week. While you’re waiting, duck by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Dead Suns 110: Tuttle Mnemonic

Is there anything Tuttle can’t do? Half-god, computer genius, owner of CHDRR – Tuttle has it all! And it’s a good thing too as this week he’ll put his skills to the utmost test … infiltrating the Corpse Fleet’s command ship!

Also this week, GM Stephen explains when is the best time for a GM to eat their combat encounters.

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