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The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 1: We Be Goblins!

Deep in the heart of the River Kingdoms, lies an old Pathfinder lodge once thought lost. A lodge shrouded in secrecy and mystery, driving many to believe that its goals are not that of exploration… but of more nefarious purposes.

Recently an unknown Venture-Captain has reopened the lodge and recruited a new group of Pathfinder Agents to do its bidding. Whether their goals are to benefit the Society, or something much more sinister, is yet to be seen…

Welcome … to Tales from the Black Lodge!

Roll For Combat, Tales from the Black Lodge Tale #1 is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Society Scenario #1-07 Flooded King’s Court.

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!

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Plaguestone 34: The Final Countdown

Seven months later, the RFC Crew has finally reached the conclusion of The Fall of Plaguestone. Will they save the town in time? Will they all die a horrible death? Will just simply hightail it out of town? Find out in our final episode!

Also, GM Stephen discusses when you can expect to see RFC Plaguestone Crew again.

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!

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The Sideshow S1|01: A Death-Defying Debut

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e01: The Show Must Go On.

I mentioned this in my Plaguestone column as well, but I wanted to apologize for the delay getting this out – real-life intruded in the form of coronavirus planning at work, and this column ended up being one of the first things to end up on the back burner. So… sorry about that.

Which is a shame, because it’s pretty exciting to be debuting the third “feature-length” Roll For Combat podcast (we also dabbled a little with Starfinder Society and the Second Edition playtest, but those were closer to one-shots). Trying to fold “Pathfinder: Circus Simulator” in on top of the Pathfinder we all know and love seems like an interesting premise for an adventure path, and for me, yes, it’s exciting to set aside the foreknowledge of events unfold and just react to one of our shows from a listener perspective for once.

I’m pretty excited about the character concepts that Vanessa, Loren, and the Robs have given us. I think out of the gates, my knee-jerk early favorite is Hap – there’s something about teenage pyromania that stirs the soul. Ateran is a little hard to get a read on, but that’s partly because Rob is playing them as hard to get a read on. And I’m REALLY interested to see how Rob T. and Vanessa will explore the dynamic of playing as brother and sister. And doesn’t even scratch getting to see the Witch (Ateran) and Swashbuckler (Alhara) for the first time in the Second Edition setting.

I did want to take a brief detour based on a comment I made in the Dead Suns Discord channel. One of our listeners joked on Discord that they wanted a Netflix series based on the show. I said that I wouldn’t sign unless Paul Giamatti was going to do the voice of Tuttle. So now I have to cast the movie version of… well, probably all three of our shows eventually, but I guess this one now gets to go first. Consider it my treat for making you wait for this column.

Darius turns out to be the easiest casting call because the artwork almost immediately gives me big Jason Momoa vibes. Big strong gregarious guy, flowing locks, looks like a guy who would close a bar singlehandedly? Yeah, that’s Aquaman.  With Alhara, I feel like Trace Lysette is probably the call here – I thought about Jamie Clayton from Sense8, but she’s older than Momoa, and we need a younger sister. (Also: transgender character, transgender actress. There are plenty of other roles for Scarlett Johanssen to play.)  Ateran is giving me a little trouble – I got an initial Johnny Depp vibe off the artwork (I suppose it was the Burton-esque streak of white hair), but I need someone both younger and taller. Ateran is supposed to be tall and Jason Momoa is going to make a short person look even shorter. Alexander Skarsgard is a pretty good actor who checks in at 6’4” and I think his angular features could look pretty mysterious with the right costuming and makeup, so let’s sign him up. Hap gives me problems just because I’m not as familiar with actual teenage actors, so I’m just going to be somewhat uninventive and say Dafne Keen because I thought she was great in Logan. Or if we need to bow to the reality that Hollywood always casts young-looking 20-somethings as teenagers, there’s always Maisie Williams.

As a completely separate digression-within-a-digression (DIGRESSION INCEPTION!), I’ll also note that if any of you are playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Ateran is giving me Hubert vibes and Hap feels like a mirror-universe version of Lysithea. I am far too old to actually yell “where my Three Houses people at?” but consider yourselves acknowledged if you’re out there.

OK, “RFC Goes Hollywood” digression over. Back to our story…

We begin our first episode with a bang, as there’s a murder mystery unfolding on top of the group’s first show together as a circus. There’s not a lot of time to get into the murder itself beyond establishing that yes the ringmaster is dead, and making it apparent foul play is involved. This leaves our intrepid adventurers in the task of having to put together a show on the fly, since the guy who would normally do it is indisposed. Permanently. And as the show unfolds, it turns out the murder of the ringmaster may not be the only malfeasance as there’s evidence of sabotage directed at some of the acts.

I have to admit it’s going to take me an episode or two to really “get” the workings of the circus. I followed the broad strokes, but there were times I got a little lost in how it all fit together. But the three main levers of success are anticipation, excitement, and prestige.

Prestige feels like it’s a measure of overall success – almost like the circus is a character and prestige are the experience points for the circus as a whole. You have a good show, the circus gets more famous; you have a bad show, and it doesn’t go up as much (or even goes down). It doesn’t seem like you do much to manage prestige while the show is going on; just don’t roll a bunch of 1’s and suck.

Excitement is generated by doing the individual tricks successfully – though it turns out there are circumstances where even an unsuccessful trick could still be exciting. (Ask my teenage son and his friends, who treat “epic fail” videos as a form of currency.) For example, the aerial act partially failed, but in a way that still generated excitement. Same with the snakes getting loose in the tent and having to collect them up – even though it represents a negative outcome, the fans thought it was part of the show and found it interesting. Go figure.

“Anticipation” is the hardest one to get a handle on initially, since it seems to play off managing the flow between the acts. If you do all boring stuff, no anticipation (obviously). If you do all EXCITING stuff, it limits your anticipation because you eventually overload your fans and they’re numb to it. So it’s a balancing act of giving the fans some pauses to breathe to make the exciting moments pop even more… unless the tricks start to fail, in which case you may have to go all-out just to get their interest back.

My other question coming in was how the characters’ “circus powers” would interact with the things that a low-level Second Edition character can actually do. It seems the route the adventure path designers took is two-fold. The first is that the characters can do their act regardless of whether it’s technically on the list of things an adventurer can do – the DC roll might just be higher if the skills aren’t a proper match. The second thing they did was fill out the circus with a roster of NPC acts, so it’s not all on the players to generate the show content – you may not want a Level 1 druid or ranger to be able to control an army of birds in the adventure setting, but giving that ability to an NPC doesn’t unbalance anything.

This time out, we got to see three of our four characters’ acts in action. Darius and Alhara stage a somewhat Medieval Times-y mock battle between an adventurer (Alhara) and a monster (Darius) protecting its treasure, while Hap… well… makes stuff blow up. This time around, Ateran ended up working behind the scenes so we didn’t really get to see their act in action. Maybe next time.

We also didn’t get to see anything about the overall management of the circus. Understandable given where we enter the story, but it’ll be interesting to get further into that aspect in future episodes. Confession time: one of my other free-time pursuits is sports games that have a management/front-office simulator. I don’t really play the actual on-field games that much, but I love playing around building rosters, making trades, deciding which coaches should improve which players and such. It’s kind of neat playing around with those little alternate universes.

There’s something about this circus concept that’s similarly appealing – aside from actually executing the individual shows, there’s this idea of managing acts, playing around with the business side of the show, and such that’s going to be neat to watch unfold. I do worry it could get a little TOO crunchy – I swear if we have to refer to an Excel spreadsheet to understand what’s happening… I’ll lead the riot myself.

Overall though… a very interesting first episode. We meet our cast of characters, get to see the circus in action, and we’ve got a mystery for the players to sink their collective teeth into when the performance ends. It’ll be fun to see where things go next week in Episode Two. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord server or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Talking Combat 127: Roll For Combat: The Movie

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 127: Dancing On The Ceiling

Welcome to the penultimate episode of the journey we’ve been on for the past two-and-a-half years. I’m not going to dwell on that too much this week, because I’ll have nothing left for next week if I do, but it’s still pretty crazy.

Instead, I’m going to start by indulging something that arose in the Discord chat… the RFC Casting Call. Someone in the spoilers channel said they actually wanted to see our Dead Suns game turned into a Netflix series. At the time, I responded with a fairly throwaway joke about not being willing to sign unless Paul Giamatti is the voice of Tuttle, but that short interaction got the old mental hamster wheel turning. So at the risk of going off in the weeds for a few moments, let’s look at the casting for Roll For Combat Dead Suns: The Movie.

First, we’ve established that Paul Giamatti would have to be the voice of Tuttle. I realize Discord isn’t “etched in stone” but I’m gonna follow my initial instincts on that one. In chess terms, I took my hand off the piece. CHDRR? Well, we’ve established that most cinematic robots are British, so it’s really just what flavor of soothingly British voice we want to go with. In which case… screw it: Idris Elba it shall be. I thought about Cumberbatch but he’s already got enough voice work for one lifetime, let’s spread it around some.

Next up is Rusty Carter. Bradley Cooper has that same kind of rakish charm that Rusty has, so that’s been my internal picture of him pretty much since we started. It also opens up the option to gimmick-cast Lady Gaga as some sort of space alien to tap into some A Star Is Born nostalgia. And she can supply her own wardrobe, so that’s a plus.

With Mo, maybe I’m being easily influenced by recently rewatching Sons of Anarchy, but I’m getting a Ron Perlman vibe for him. It seems like he could do “world-weary soldier running from his past” pretty well. Perlman might be a little old, but CGI can clean most of that up. Clancy Brown also crossed my mind for similar reasons.

With Hirogi, my first silly thought was to gimmick cast the Hemsworth brothers, so it would be one Hemsworth before he vanishes on Istamak and one when he returns. That’s a long way to go for a joke, though. My second impulse was to make Hirogi more of a martial artist, just to give the combat more different flavors than just pew-pew-pew. (Operatives are theoretically good at melee; Hirogi has just never really done so.) If Donnie Yen was 5 or 10 years younger, he’d be my first choice, but now I’m feeling like Mark Dacascos (most recently the villain from the third John Wick movie, but perhaps more importantly, the Chairman from the American version of Iron Chef) is the way to go here.

That leaves Akiro. I had a little trouble with this one at first. I was looking for someone who was good at “morally ambiguous” since Akiro himself has a little bit of that. Also, someone who might fit the character art. Finally, on the bus home from work, it hit me – James Callis. Who did “morally ambiguous” better than Gaius Baltar? He could even make the beard work, as the later seasons of Galactica proved.

I know it’s a bit of an odd mix: you’ve got some Hollywood A-list at the top end, down to people who haven’t even been on TV in a few years. I thought about going a little more granular and having two versions — the summer blockbuster movie version and the TV version – but I kinda ran out of steam, so you just get one combined version.

Meanwhile… back in the game, the main thrust of this week’s adventure is getting off the ship, while dealing with the continuing weird gravity effects. We’re on the ceiling, we’re on the floor, then we’re floating in zero-G – it almost started to seem like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Meanwhile, Akiro’s gradual robotification (giving the casting choice above, is he revealing himself to be a Cylon?) finally ends, but he’s still hanging on at death’s door.

We do run into a few last-minute surprises, though. First, Hirogi decides to stay behind and finish the job, which… I mean… it seems unnecessary once we’re caught in the gravity well, but OK? I guess he’s got a plan to get out of there at the last minute, but I’m kinda confused about how he’s going to get back out of the demi-plane without a spaceship. Whatever. His character. If he’s got a death wish, I guess that’s his business.

Then we arrive at the escape pods, and we seem to be short one. I thought Steve was going to actually make us choose who to leave behind, but then he bailed us out by letting us double up. Part of me wonders if that was originally going to be the case, but Steve decided not to double up on the noble sacrifice once Hirogi decided to stay behind. I do wonder how long it takes for escape pods to make it back to Pact Worlds space, and if things might get a little ripe in that pod, but still… better than staying here.

Lastly, I have to admit I genuinely forgot about this, but Serovox didn’t actually leave! As we leave this episode, Hirogi gets hit with one final fireball. It’s probably too late to stop the collision, but it might make Hirogi’s escape plan a little dicey.

So… next week is it. We say goodbye to almost two-and-a-half years of this campaign. If you’ve lasted this long, I assume you’ve got one more in you, so we’ll see you next week.

Three Ring Adventure S1|02: Punch Drunk

Murder! Animal stampedes! Sick snakes! What more could possibly go wrong on the opening night of the Circus of Wayward Wonders?

More … much more!

Roll For Combat, Three Ring Adventure Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Extinction Curse starting with the first book, The Show Must Go On.

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 on 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 127: Dancing On The Ceiling

The penultimate episode! Ships destroyed! Enemies defeated! Gravity inverted! Will the heroes get off the ship in time? Or will they try one last time to take over the Stellar Degenerator?

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!

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 Plaguestone 33: The Villainous Vilree

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 33: Kill It With Fire!

I’m gonna start with a brief “show note” of my own. I recognize I still owe you guys an Episode 1 recap for the new podcast and a review of the Game Master’s Guide. They’re still coming. Unfortunately, it became a busy week in real life – I do IT work at a university that decided to move to distance learning because of COVID-19, so the relative quiet of spring break became a pretty hectic week and some of my writing slipped. I’ll try to get caught up shortly.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Plaguestone, it’s finally here: the final fight against Vilree. No more long rests, no more dungeon crawling… time to do battle for all the marbles. It may not make any difference if she’s REALLY put her plan in motion already – that’s what she CLAIMS, anyway – but that’s not gonna get her out of a butt-whuppin’.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a boss fight without a surprise… or two. The first was actually revealed at the tail end of the previous episode, in the form of another alchemical monstrosity: more of a Drudge On Steroids than the guy we fought the previous episode. But we also get a third rematch with Greytusk the Orc, the same archer who harassed us when we first stormed the gates, and then set off the fight with the water-sharks by shooting the statue. She’s been a thorn in our side for a while now. We’ve never formally been introduced, but Steve’s said her name enough, she feels like family.

The first thing that’s leaping out at me as I re-listen to this battle is that we FINALLY got all my powers right. I suppose that’s cheating a bit: since we didn’t take a rest, I didn’t actually have a Lay On Hands. But at this point, I knew the rule correctly, so I WOULD have done it correctly if I had. And I did get my champion ability correct and not take an extra attack. So hey… next-to-last episode and I finally know how to play my character correctly. Yay me!

The other thing that stands out to me is how little role I played in actually winning the fight. Other than the initial alchemical salvo we fired off in Round 1, my rolls were basically terrible the entire fight, and I also burned a lot of actions just on movement, between myself and controlling the cat. Ember made herself a bit of a nuisance in the Greytusk portion of the battle, but other people seemed to do most of the heavy lifting of killing Vilree and her creation. I guess the important thing is we won, but it’s always a bit of a hollow feeling when you beat the Big Bad and didn’t get a chance to contribute much.

I have to admit I had forgotten that crit Vilree landed from across the room. I get that the dice say what the dice say, but there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about that. First, there’s the distance aspect – maybe crits ought to be harder outside the range increment or something. But also, I suppose if I had to put my finger on it, it’s feeling like if you’re gonna get a ranged crit, there ought to be some sort of precision component to it. A sniper shooting a bow from yards away and getting a shot to a vital organ makes intuitive sense; chucking a bomb doesn’t immediately leap out as something where you could get extra damage by placing it just right. (Unless there’s either a tank of flammable materials where you land it or unless it’s a Michael Bay movie.)

It’s not the end of the world – the rules are the rules and I think that ended up being the only damage I took in the fight – but it’s just a little… “off” in my brain. I suppose it’s of a kindred spirit with “Alchemical flasks are martial weapons? Really?”

Another thing I don’t really want to obsess about but still felt kind of off was Greytusk using Orcish Ferocity to run away. Maybe I’m just imposing my own “fight ‘til you drop” value system on the situation, but I kinda figured it was like an out-of-control berserker rage thing and Greytusk would use the extra round to keep attacking. “Orcish Tactical Retreat” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Still though, there’s a little piece of me that likes the idea that she got away… unless of course, that means we have to fight Round 4 with her back at Plaguestone.

For extra credit, if she’s left as an unresolved thread, I now kinda want Steve to work Greytusk into Three-Ring Adventure. “You’re flying through the air on a trapeze, and arrows go whistling past your head. Roll for initiative!”

I suppose if there’s a high point to the fight, it was actually getting to use Ember as an honest-to-goodness mount for at least a few rounds. That was kind of exciting. Mounted combat is kinda frustrating at low levels – among other things if you’re mounted you share the same multi-attack penalty with your pet – but as a taxi service, giving up one move for two really can’t be beat. There’s probably some Ember/Uber joke dying to be made, but I’m not seeing it right now, so… consider it one of those things I’ll forget about for three weeks and then drop it in as a complete non-sequitur in a column about one of the other shows.

So we dispense with the golem fairly easily, we get Greytusk to run away… and we finally have Vilree cornered. Personally I felt like it might have been good to see if we could hold up and get more information out of her, and it seemed like Steve even dropped a little hint in that direction by giving her a last moment of monologue, but nope… not only did we finish the job, but Prue half-kidding/half-not dumps her body in the river. Which was funny, but not necessarily the wisest move if we’ve still got a town to save.

So next week is it. Without giving away too much, it seems like our clear course here is to hoof it back to Plaguestone and see what’s what. It seems like there are three main possible outcomes here. Option One is that Vilree was telling the truth, we’re too late to stop her plans, and we get to do a final “walk of shame” through the ruins of our fan club while we contemplate all those long rests we took. Option Two is that Vilree was TOTALLY lying, the last danger to the town is eliminated, and we get to go back for a big Turnip Party. Option Three is she was telling the truth that plans were in progress but was lying insofar as there’s still time to stop them. In which case, there’s going to be a FINAL encounter with whoever or whatever Vilree sent to destroy the town. (And Greytusk of course, because THAT’S not getting old at all.) So join us back here next week when we find out which page of the Choose Your Own Adventure book we flip to. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you’ve thought of the show, listen to the new Three-Ring Adventure podcast, and generally join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you… for the last time on this particular show… next week.

Plaguestone 33: Kill It With Fire!

After months of tracking, endless alchemical potions, and too many turnips, our heroes have finally tracked down Vilree once and for all. But will the heroes confront her … or join her side?

Also with just one episode left, GM Stephen discusses what is next for the RFC Plaguestone Crew!

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!

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!

The Sideshow S1|00: Let’s Go To The Circus!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e00: Welcome To Three Ring Adventure!

Welcome to “Talking Circus”, a weekly blog where I’ll be writing about the events of the Three Ring Adventure podcast. We haven’t yet decided on a final run schedule because we’re wrapping up two shows and starting two new ones, so EVENTUALLY, it’ll run the same day each week, but that day isn’t finalized yet.

If this is your first time listening to a Roll For Combat show, allow me to briefly introduce myself. I’m Jason McDonald and I was one of the players on the original Starfinder Dead Suns show (as Dr. Tuttle Blacktail), as well as the Pathfinder Second Edition Plaguestone game (Brixley Silverthorn) which featured most of this same group. And I will also be playing a character in the NEXT show that will be fully revealed soon. This time around, I’ll be the self-appointed chronicler (if that’s a word) of the action, going on deep dives on things they couldn’t stop the game to explain, occasionally second-guessing the players from the cheap seats, and sometimes going off on weird tangents about what 80s TV show a particular moment reminded me of. Just think of me as a one-man Waldorf and Statler. With more hair.

Now, I don’t want to be some diva acting like the show can’t go on without me, but since it’s a logical question some of our longer-time listeners might ask: why am I not playing this time? Honestly, it’s mostly a time constraint thing. We were doing two shows simultaneously because we wanted to jump on Pathfinder Second Edition while it was new, but two shows plus my home 5E game was a bit much. Absolutely nothing against these folks – they’re all great people and Plaguestone was a lot of fun – but the tiebreaker goes to the gaming group I’ve been playing with since before this was even a podcast. There’s also a little bit of “Steve really wanted to take the roleplaying to another level, and I’m more casual about that aspect of the game” but the time constraint is the main thing. That said, I still wanted to be involved in some fashion so, here I am writing about it.

So as I think about this adventure and listening to Episode Zero, what am I looking forward to? What excites me about this show as a listener?

First and foremost, it’s something the rest of you have taken for granted for two-plus years, but I’m going to enjoy listening and being surprised by what happens. I’ve listened to pretty much every episode of our shows, but because I was one of the players, I always knew what was going to happen. None of the plot twists surprised me, the jokes didn’t land the same… I had already lived it all at the time of recording. At best, there was an occasional veneer of “oh right I forgot that happened” surprise from the lag between when it recorded and when it aired, but I’m going to enjoy listening to one of our shows not knowing what’s around the next corner.

Of course, the flip side of that particular coin is it might be a little harder to write. Part of the “sizzle of the steak” of previous Talkings was that I was providing the inside scoop from the table. I had access to the stuff Steve cut, the banter before and after sessions, the non-game chat sessions. Part of what Talking has provided was the deep-dive stuff you literally couldn’t get from the show. This time, I’m gonna have to make do with mostly the same material everyone else has – heck, our Patreon supporters who listen live may end up knowing more than I do. It’s like the episode of TNG where Counselor Troi loses her empathic abilities and has to just get by with normal human intuition – though hopefully, I won’t get all salty with people like she did.

Back to what I’m looking forward to. I don’t want to load too many expectations onto one member of the party but I’m interested in seeing what Rob Pontious brings to the table. Both generally because he’s someone new that we’ve never played with, but also specifically based on his experience with Order Of The Amber Die. If this is your first time hearing of them, you’re in luck: Steve did an interview with them a while back and we did a joint appearance with them (but not Rob himself) at PaizoCon in our first year. Both are available in our archives. But the Order’s “thing” is that they do really immersive in-person games and write about them for Paizo. They’ll get their group together literally from across the country (though they operate out of the NY/NJ area) and play a whole scenario in a weekend. Full roleplaying, props, environmental effects (for example, roll in space heaters and turn the room into a sweatbox if the fight is supposed to be in a volcanic cavern). Even people who aren’t playing might show up to voice an NPC or even just act as “support staff” and prepare meals for the players who are. It’s a different thing than we do, but it sounds like a lot of fun, and if I can’t be a fly on their wall, I can at least be a fly on ours while he’s here. No pressure, Rob.

As an aside, we’ll have to figure out some sort of solution to the multi-Rob problem. I don’t want to go with Rob and “Other Rob” because that’s kind of insulting to whoever gets the “other”. PRob and TRob? In the short term, I might lean on character names until I inevitably come up with weird nicknames that only make sense to me. Or one of them will be “Rob” and the other will be “Garth” because that’s how Knight Rider handled it. Now, who’s gonna volunteer to grow the Van Dyke?

Getting back to things I’ll be listening for, we also have two of the four players playing brand-new (well, new to Second Edition) classes – Vanessa will be playing a Swashbuckler and… Bizarro Rob? (still working on it)… will be playing a Witch. If you’re unfamiliar, a Swashbuckler is sort of a mix of rogue and fighter – they’re a speed-and-finesse melee type like a rogue, but they ditch the sneaky elements and add a component of style and panache to their fighting. A witch is a caster class, but one that revolves around the mechanism of “hexes” – fewer Big-N-Splodey spells, more “oh hey, your arms turned into a swarm of bees” spells. Now as a gaming thing, this gets interesting because TECHNICALLY those classes are still in playtest and could change when they’re formally released into the wild. My understanding is that they’re going to run with the playtest versions and then Steve will allow them to tweak the characters to convert them from playtest to release. But in the here and now, we’re getting a taste of some new content, and it’ll be fun to see how they’ve carried over from First Edition.

Lastly, the circus theme intrigues me. How is a circus theme going to sit on top of what is, at its roots, a combat system?

At a conceptual level, there ought to be a way to make it work – after all, heroes are people with peak-level physical abilities, some of whom have magical powers. Sometimes when interacting with other fantastical elements, we forget it, but an 18 STR is supposed to represent Conan-era Schwarzenegger; an 18 DEX is Jackie Chan. And that’s before we get into magic – yeah, magic is a known thing in Golarion, but has the average farmer or merchant actually seen anyone cast Produce Flame, much less a fireball? Our characters are close to super-heroes when out mingling with the general public, so conducting a circus doesn’t seem like a stretch as an idea.

But at some levels, particularly low levels, I worry that might bump up against the rulebook.

Consider the real-circus example of a lion tamer. At first glance, you could simulate that as a ranger with an animal companion. But at least if you go by rules as written, a Level 1 ranger isn’t going to have access to a lion as a tameable creature and probably can’t teach it complex commands. So now you’re standing there like a doofus ordering a random housecat to do basic tricks like “stay” and “sit”, and all of the sudden, your Pathfinder campaign has become an absurdist Monty Python sketch. (But hopefully not “Ken Ewing And His Musical Mice”). Or you’re a trapeze artist who would probably fail most of their Athletics checks and… you know… die in the first performance. We present to you…. The Amazing… (THUMP)… Our next act…”

I assume that’s where the “extra rules” Steve is hinting at come into play. I’m thinking the AP will allow the players to develop tricks as part of their circus act that aren’t useful in the adventure setting but will be allowed to work within the context of the show. If you’re that aforementioned pancake/trapeze artist, you can learn a bunch of aerial maneuvers that you can use in your show, but if you run into a dungeon that happens to have a chandelier, you can’t swing on the chandelier with the same degree of success and your normal level 1 chances of success apply. Or maybe they DO apply and the world will be saved with circus skills! I swear to god, if CLOWNS save the world, I want my (non-existent) money back.

I could write more but I think I’m gonna wrap it up for now. I suspect we’re gonna have a lot of fun in the coming weeks, and I’m excited to experience it all with you. See you in the not-too-distant future, fe… fell.. (gulp)… fellow listeners.

Talking Combat 126: The Rogue Goes Rogue

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 126: Ramming Speed!

OK, so it turns out the secret to making ship combat in Starfinder entertaining is to just give your players command of a Level 20 capital ship and just let them leave smoking wreckage where their enemies used to be. WHO KNEW?

Seriously, I didn’t know while we were fighting, but I went back and looked at the stats of those ships (or similar) after the combat was over, and those two escort cruisers pretty much had NO chance. (Even before Seth decided to just go ahead and ram them.) We had something like 1000 hull points and they were just plinking away, 40 or 50 points at a time. Meanwhile, our main gun was putting out anywhere up to 400, 500 points if we got good rolls, and seemed to be settling in the 300s on average. And once the boss left, we could afford to put 2 or 3 people on guns at the same time.

There’s a little suspension of disbelief as far as getting the guns to shoot at other Corpse Fleet ships, but I suppose there are two rationalizations there. First, they shot at us first. Kinda easy to justify shooting BACK at somebody that already shot at you. But also, we’re (ironically) so far in the future that it’s probably all computerized – there’s probably no window they looking out to see who they’re firing at; they probably just respond to blips on the screen. The bridge tells them to shoot at the target at bearing 027-mark-351 and they do it. I suppose you could spend an hour in this rabbit-hole if you really wanted to – Do they have transponders on their ships? What’s the chain of command if Gunner’s Mate Third Class Poplinski realizes we’re shooting at friendlies?  But screw it. “Fog of war” it shall be.

Meanwhile, the boss makes a token effort to make a nuisance of himself, but doesn’t ever come out from behind his force wall, and then leaves. I suspect that means he’s getting low on spells, and almost certainly that he can’t go invisible again. On the one hand, it’s a little less than satisfying because I’m a completionist and really want to finish the job. On the other hand, a caster who is pretty much out of spells really might not want to go toe-to-toe with a party of five, even if one of them is teetering on death’s door. I suppose there’s still a chance he’s off getting reinforcements, or possibly that he’ll ambush us as we try to get off the ship, but for now… take the “W”, I guess. (It also sets up the possibility we’ll have an honest-to-God nemesis if he and us both escape. Just like Darth Vader’s TIE fighter flopping away into space at the end of Star Wars!)

And then we get to the heart of this episode, where Seth goes loose cannon on us.

Here’s my dilemma. Keep in mind, this isn’t “anger”… more like “70% amused, with a 30% undercurrent of frustration”.

On one hand, I absolutely respect that it made for a big, fun storytelling moment for Seth to ram the enemy ship and that in general, he’s going all-out for the event horizon to get us there quickly. We’re in the home stretch – swing for the fences! And I can’t really complain about him carrying forward the same plan I started without asking anyone’s permission – it was my idea to start moving the ship to get the boss to focus on me in the first place. On the other hand, the minute the boss left the bridge, the situation was at least temporarily under control – we’d already established that the escort ships weren’t going to be much of a threat – and a little bit of a pause to catch our collective breath would’ve probably been wise. Slow down… do a circle and go back around… whatever.

Instead, Seth goes ahead and rams the ship. It certainly solves the ship combat problem; I’ll give it that. But now we have a running clock to get off the ship, one party member who has to be dragged because he’s ping-ponging back and forth at death’s door, weird shifting gravity effects, and we don’t REALLY know for certain those doors at the “north” end of the bridge get us off the ship… we’re just kind of assuming that to be the case. Don’t get me wrong… it makes GREAT listening. But for someone like me who likes to take time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, it’s a little bit outside my comfort zone.

I do feel like Steve is the great equalizer here. I think Steve has a pretty good Spider-Sense for that sweet spot where he still indulges players’ choices up to a point, but he also won’t totally let one player take over the game and “ruin” it for everyone else. Let’s say something Seth was going to do would kill us outright. The ship blows up, we lose. That would pretty much flush two years of gaming down the drain, and deep down, I don’t think Steve would let that happen. I don’t feel like he would hard-veto it unless there was no other way: it’s more likely he’d soft-veto it by tweaking the script on the fly and giving the rest of us a chance to mitigate the situation. Don’t get me wrong: Steve is willing to let the group die if we AS A GROUP do something hideously stupid. But if one player goes rogue, I think Steve’s willing to covertly or overtly reel it back in if needed.

Based on his show notes, it doesn’t sound like his response to Seth’s actions was anything that drastic, though. If anything, he just moved up some things that were going to happen later to create some additional drama, and it sounds like we’re still basically in command of our own destinies here; we just have to get the heck off this ship.

Toward the end of the session, we catch a bit of a break as the Rewire Flesh effect on Akiro is set to expire; next time he drops will hopefully be the last time. He’ll still be at risk if we have to deal with more potential falling damage from the gravity shifts, but he has his flight spell to mitigate some most of that. Not gonna lie – I know we do a certain amount of messing with each other, but I was genuinely a little annoyed that Bob and John weren’t giving me a little more help getting Akiro back on his feet. Two main things: a) this would go faster if I stabilized him and a second person poured a healing serum into him and b) unless we get lucky with low or zero-G, there’s pretty much no way I’m going to be dragging him myself. You could argue a little selfishness is in-character for Rusty, but Mo is usually more helpful than that.

And that’s where we leave things for next time… it’s really just a race to get off the ship before big objects go BOOM. Do we make it? I guess you’ll have to tune in next time. Though, I mean, who’s gonna listen to a podcast for two years and then bail at the very final moments? So at the risk of being arrogant, we KNOW you’ll be back here next week… but thanks for listening all this time.