Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 1: We Be Goblins!
Finally, we can take the wraps off our new podcast, with a bit of combined Episode Zero/Episode One recap for “Tales From The Black Lodge”. This one might be a little longer than usual, so you may want to refresh your beverage of choice before reading this.
This came about from a couple of different forces surrounding the “what do we do next?” conversation when wrapping up Dead Suns. The initial impulse was that we wanted to do something with Society play – it’s something not a lot of other podcasts are doing, but also, it seems like it’s something you the listeners seemed interested in. We only ended up doing two or three Starfinder Society shows because it got overtaken by Pathfinder Second Edition, but people really liked those shows and clamored for more – “when are you guys doing another Society game?” was one of our most-asked questions for a while there. We also thought it would make for a GREAT platform to bring special guests on, since making it easier for strangers to sit down and play together is a large part of what Society is all about. And OK, it would be easier for new listeners to jump in and out if you don’t feel like you have to jump on a train that’s been moving for months or even years.
Lastly, it’s not a big thing, but it’s also a format where we PLAYERS could take a break if we wanted – if life intrudes on an adventure path, the whole operation has to shut down. If someone has to step away from this for a week or two, their character can be off on “another mission” for a few episodes and jump back in later.
But the problem with Society play (at least in a podcast format) is the relative lack of “connective tissue” between stories: watching the team grow and develop and solve the Overarching Mystery is part of the journey, and a bunch of disconnected one-shots might be lacking in that department. Yes, each “season” of Society has an overarching story, but it’s not always evident in any individual adventure, and we wanted something a little more explicit.
So the Black Lodge is our attempt to create a little bit of that “connective tissue”. We’ll still be playing the individual adventures straight up per Society rules, but Steve is filling in the gaps with some story and lore of his own devising. The hope is that creates a happy medium where we’re playing Society the way it was intended, but there’s also a sense of building toward something larger.
Having said all that, there are two things about the show itself that came as news to me when listening to the first episode. First, it seems from the theme music and artwork like there’s a little bit of a suspense/horror vibe to what Steve’s creating. I didn’t realize that, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of that. More interesting was the revelation that we might cross back and forth between the Pathfinder and Starfinder universes. I’m not opposed… just surprised… and curious to understand the nuts and bolts of how all that will work. Do we somehow use the same characters (will there be a Starfinder-compatible Mystic named Nella?) or are we going to play different people? Is it a “parallel stories” thing where the two paths converge later and the Starfinder team working for a future iteration of the Black Lodge will find clues left by the exploits of the Pathfinder team? Or is it more of a straightforward “we find a time portal and can go back and forth between the two”? And most importantly, is Rick Sanchez involved in any way?
So that’s the background of the show. Next up… the cast of characters. As Steve mentioned, the core group is going to be me, Seth, Chris, and John, and we’ll usually have one or more “special guests” in each episode. This time out, it’s Vanessa Hoskins from Know Direction, who has been part of the core cast in our Plaguestone and Three-Ring Adventure shows. Bob is taking a little break, but we’re hoping to induce him to return at some point. So make sure to stroke his ego by saying nice things about Rusty Carter on our Discord channel.
I’ll look at the other characters more as we get into the gameplay, but for now, I’ll start with myself. I’m playing Nella Amberleaf, a half-elf druid of the Wild Order (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one). As far as her character/roleplay notes, she’s kind of a less pretentious version of Brixley – she’s got some of that same naïve trusting nature, but less flashy and ostentatious. Raised on the edge of civilization, so she’s not going to navigate high society and big cities well. Rural, but more “practical ranch-hand who speaks in analogies about birthing animals” than “what’re you lookin’ at, city slicker?”.
I ended up on druid by the process of elimination, to be honest. I knew I didn’t want to play a pet class since Tuttle (intentionally) and Brixley (as a product of circumstance) ended up as pet people. Also… not a class thing, but for the same reason, I didn’t want to be short. I had already rolled a monk for a previous Society game, but I was also playing a monk in my home 5E game so I didn’t really want to double up on monk-y business (groan). I wanted to play around with spells, but not necessarily as a cloth caster. So it kind of came down to bard or druid, and druid won out as a bit of a throwback to my druid from the Carrion Crown adventure path in First Edition. (The one who was nicknamed “Windy” because he spent most of his time in air elemental form). I recognize that at Level 1, it’s going to be a little rough – I’ll mostly have to lay back and chuck Produce Flame at people, and my Wild Shape is limited to Pest Form, which is basically the sorts of animals you can get at pet shops – cats, lizards, rats, and such. But we’ll see how it goes.
(One observation: I clearly need to work on my character names a little. Now I’ve got a “Nella”, and my Starfinder Society character was “Nala”. Which could get even more confusing if THAT’s the character we use for the Starfinder portion of the program.)
With the podcast and my character introduced, let the adventure begin!
We start with a plot setup via exploding Black Lodge raven, a with a little tip of the cap to Mission Impossible. Our mission is to help the goblins and investigate the sewers below the playhouse they’re using as a base of operations. After a bit of social-encounter wrangling, we have our first challenge… to put on a play for the theater-enamored goblins. Thanks mostly to Seth figuring out where the writers were going there and getting there first.
Look, I like Seth. And I think he’s doing some great roleplay as Nix Nox (and as Hirogi back in Dead Suns). But he does have a tendency to try to analyze and deconstruct the action that borders on metagaming. I don’t always know where that line is – we all let our “outside” knowledge of the game system color our actions within the game a little. But sometimes Seth just gets out the big yellow highlighter and says “yeah, we’re going to do this because the writer probably wanted us to do XYZ”. Which… OK, I like my metagaming a little more IMPLIED.
It’s not like he was wrong. Society games are written with conventions and other public play sessions in mind, so they assume the players may be strangers to each other in real life. Which means they often include a little bit of a low-stakes “icebreaker” activity early in the game to give people a chance to interact with the training wheels on before doing it under combat conditions. But still…
So we do our play-within-a-play, and I have to agree with the sentiment that the star here was Vanessa as Millicent. Playing the human, but clearly annoyed and embarrassed the entire time – either at the representation of humans as stupid and cowardly or at the bad writing in general. (Millicent’s got NOTES, y’all.) It also wasn’t lost on me that “We Be Heroes” is also still the story of organizing a retreat, so I guess goblins set the bar a little lower for heroism than the rest of us. But whatever… we all do our best goblin voices and win the right to go down to the monster-infested basement.
Where after a little bit of snooping around… croc fight!
The first thing that jumped out at me about this fight was how, at least at Level 1, Nixnox and I are playing functionally similar characters. We both lean on Produce Flame and have access to heals (I think Nixnox is a primal sorcerer, so… makes sense). I suppose the difference is that I can risk melee in certain situations since I can use a shield and have Shillelagh, but I still don’t really want to be going toe-to-toe with stuff for multiple rounds. At least for this fight, I was willing to let other people stand in front and take the beating.
And oh what a beating it was, at least fairly early in the fight. After a messy first round where pretty much no one hit, poor Thorgrim gets one-shotted on a crit for 30 points of damage. It even got within hailing distance of invoking the “massive damage” instant-death rules. These first few levels can get pretty deadly, as we learned all about in Plaguestone. But hey, at least getting killed by a giant crocodile is manly; try being beaten to death by shrubbery.
The debate about the croc’s death roll and the Grab ability spawned a little bit of conversation over on our Discord channel, some of which was captured in the game, some of which we found later. To re-summarize: Grab normally costs one action, but the text of Grab is ambiguous and makes it sound like the grab was part of the attack action (“the monster automatically grabs the target”). We eventually found out that the thing that “fills in the blanks” and makes it all make sense is Improved Grab. Grab still takes one action; Improved Grab makes it a free action as part of the attack. So the “automatically” more likely refers to the target not getting a saving throw.
Now that does mean that theoretically, the croc shouldn’t have been able to move, attack, AND grab in a single turn, but I’m willing to accept Steve’s retcon of “well if I would’ve known that the croc would’ve just skipped on the grab entirely”. No real harm done. Beyond the 30 points of damage, of course.
The good news about big nasty “brute” creatures like this is they tend to be pretty easy to hit, which also means we’ll get our fair share of crits too. So messy start aside, we soon begin to take the fight in hand, and it’s a race to get the beast down before it crits again. Luckily we do so, and our first combat ends in victory!
Which is where we’ll pick it up next week. The Beast is dead, but we’ve still got some splorin’ to do. First episode in the can – you know what to do. Drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think so far: Okay, one episode isn’t a LOT to go on, but all feedback is welcome. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.