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The Sideshow S1|08: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Healer

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|08: Live, Die, Repeat.

T.P.K! T.P.K!

This week, we almost had to deal with the Great Unanswered Question. What actually happens if we have a T.P.K. here on Roll For Combat?

Because let’s be honest, it got REAL close this week – three party members down, and it’s not too hard to imagine Ateran getting absolutely WRECKED if that battle had continued another round. We’ve had some close calls with individual characters here and there – Rusty Carter dropped in the final boss fight on Istamak in Dead Suns; Brixley vs. Shrubbery in Plaguestone — but I’m pretty sure this is the closest we’ve been to a total wipe.

In general, there are two main schools of thought on how to deal with that sort of thing.

The first thing would be the full deus ex machina solution – have some heretofore-unmentioned high-level NPCs intervene on the party’s behalf. All of a sudden, the party wakes up in the hospital with a Level 10 cleric nursing them back to health. “The demon was about to finish you off when we saw the commotion and decided to intervene”. I did this with my Dads-N-Kids game once – it was a combination of “I didn’t scale the dungeon properly” and “they had a weird mix of classes with no front-line fighters”. Since they were just learning and part of the mistake was mine, I just had “another adventuring party” drag their bodies back to town and heal them for another attempt. The good side here is it lets you pretty much just pick up right where you left off. All the prior investment in the characters and story continues on. The problem is more emotional – there’s a Roger Maris asterisk hovering over the adventure because everyone knows the party died and got a do-over, and some people may feel robbed of some of their sense of accomplishment by basically having the GM save them.

Also, even if you go this route, you probably get ONE of those per adventure. After the second or third time random “other adventurers” start bailing out the party, one starts to wonder why the “other adventurers” don’t just cut out the middle-man and solve the problem at the core of the story.

The other major solution is to have the players roll new characters and pick up the adventure where the previous party left off. You still get most of the benefits of continuing the story, you don’t have that feeling of having cheated the system, but it’s still a little immersion-breaking and you lose the investment in characters you’ve gotten familiar with. (Unless people just roll the same character again and claim it’s a sibling of the previous character. “Blorf, brother of Florf. Yes, we’re both half-orc fighters… it’s pure coincidence!”) It’s also somewhat story-dependent, in that it requires the action to pause at a point where it would be plausible for new adventurers to jump on board. It might work for something like this — OK, maybe the circus hires some new acts and tries to continue, and the new circus acts decide to continue the investigation. But think about something like Dead Suns, where the party spent the last two books of the adventure path investigating a distant region of space that literally no one else is supposed to know about. How are you going to get a second party of adventurers just happen to show up in the literal middle of nowhere? (And… OK, there’s an answer for that: Chiskisk put a tracker on the team’s ship, and when the ship was destroyed and the signal was lost, they dispatched a new team of Starfinders to investigate.)

A variant of the second would be to elevate existing NPCs to PC status, if they are handy and if the players are comfortable playing them. Then it’s a LITTLE more seamless because those characters had at least been established as part of the story. Steve was actually considering this as a fallback option for our Plaguestone show – if our party had lost the final battle against Vilree, he was going to have us play the prominent townspeople with combat skills (Sir Kent, Pari, Dalma, etc.) and try to repel the final attack with THOSE characters. But that requires a level of players deferring to the story that some players might not be interested in – it’s almost like being “forced” to run a pre-gen. Going back to Plaguestone, I’d have done that for one final battle to see how the story ended. But if Brixley had died in the shrubbery battle, I’m not sure I would have had much enthusiasm for being “stuck” running a random townsperson for another 2-3 months. And OK… what if you pick an NPC that turns out to be an important story point later? “My character died? It’s cool… I’ll just run this Verbal Kint guy!”.

The other open question in any of these situations is whether the battle was relevant to “unlocking” the main story or not. If your characters die in a side battle, it sucks, but it’s not fatal to the campaign and you figure out how to move it along and do so. But if they were supposed to kill the bad guy who’s got the MacGuffin, and the bad guy wins, how do you get the MacGuffin back into the players’ hands? In this case, was this demon ransacking the church relevant to the sabotage of the circus, or was it just an obstacle to the party getting healed?

Of course, the final-resort option on all of this is they just lose. Put the adventure in a drawer and start the next one with new characters. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but depending on the circumstances of the death and where you are in the story, sometimes you just gotta walk away. Sometimes the good guys lose. That’d be hard to do in a case like this when we’ve got listeners who want to see how this story comes out, but there are cases where it’s the right call.

Luckily though, we don’t have to deal with any of that here. I know, I know… rendering the previous 900 words empty speculation… but still. I like to reflect on what COULD have been. Back in the reality of the game, Ateran’s last-ditch spell takes the demon down, and the team lives to fight another day. Whew!

I would observe generally, that it’s been a pretty brutal adventure for these guys so far. It’s kind of fitting that they can’t even make it to a healer without being attacked by SOMEBODY. I have to admit I’m a little frustrated on their collective behalf at the pace of the encounters, particularly given all the annoying status effects they’ve been forced to deal with.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Loren this week, for her vivid descriptions of Hap’s spells. Rob P. did some good work here with Ateran’s spells too, but Loren has the added degree of difficulty of incorporating fire into the theme of each of her spells. I just thought it was really clever the way she used fire to convey disparate concepts like attack spells, buffs (Guidance), and protective spells. (Quick: someone sneak Hydraulic Push onto her spell list to see how she does that one!)

So… party lives to fight another day. Just barely. Can we PLEASE give them an episode where they just sit around snacking on a cheese tray and doing the New York Times crossword? They need a day off. But I guess we’ll find that out next week. While you’re waiting for the next show to drop, 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!

Three Ring Adventure S1|08: Live, Die, Repeat

Time to head on over to the local temple for some free healing! Of course, you get what you pay for…

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!

Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 2, Live From New York… It’s Roll For Combat!

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 2: Mister Peeper’s Papers.

First of all, apologies for being late with the column this week. (I can almost imagine Steve grumbling “lat-ER!” somewhere over the Internet). I was intending to write it last night after our game session ended but our “1-2 hour” quest ended up taking almost four. (In a good way… we were having a lot of fun… but still…) By the time it ended, it was around midnight, and I wasn’t up for banging out a column. So… apologies for that.

Speaking of which, one of the things I wanted to touch on this week, as mentioned in Steve’s intro, is the fact that we’ve increased our live-play capabilities by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks. As you know, around the time when we started the new shows, we started out letting our $5 Patreon subscribers get the shows a week early. But somewhere around the time the episode you’re listening to is airing, we started letting $10 Patreon listeners actually listen to the show live. Which has since further been augmented by screencasting the game board and even having webcam feeds of the players themselves (for those who have them; mine is on back-order). So now we have the beginnings of a “live broadcast” side of Roll For Combat going on.

The point is not to put on the hard sell here. I’m not about telling anyone how they “should” spend their money, especially in times of uncertainty like we’re in. But I did want to reflect a little on how it feels to be “performing” live as opposed to recording these and then having them show up a month or two later.

The first observation is I’m still figuring out the sheer logistics of it. Our live listeners can listen but not speak – their way of interacting with us is through the Discord chat channel. But for the first few episodes, if I’m being totally honest, I got too zoned in on the game and forgot to check the chat channel. Similarly, the one time I tried to run the screen share, I forgot that if I tab away to a different browser window, the show feed also tabs away to whatever I’m looking up. Don’t worry… no embarrassingly NSFW snafus; but our viewers were occasionally left looking at the rules page for that spell I forgot how to use, instead of the game board. Add in the general “how to lay it all out on the monitor” tomfoolery, and there’s some learning curve to overcome there.

My bigger concern going in was the newfound awareness of the fourth wall. Am I going to play the game differently knowing there’s a LIVE audience to provide instant feedback if I do something stupid? Am I going to start measuring every word that comes out of my mouth, knowing that Steve can’t edit things to make us look more clever? But so far that really HASN’T been much of a problem. First, we have a pre-game “green room” where we get a lot of the non-game ranting out of our systems before the listeners arrive. But more to the point, it’s been a net positive having people listening live – I haven’t really caught myself thinking about it, and it’s been kind of fun to get those instant reactions to what’s going on in the game. (Among other things, you guys have a solid GIF game.)

At any rate, back to action. This week is a bit of a wild ride.

First, we have our meeting with Flitch down in the sewers. I think we had a couple of different things going on here. At first glance, we had yet ANOTHER round of overcomplicating things and trying to answer every question based on one interaction… yeah, there was some of that. OVERCOMPLICATORS… ASSEMBLE! But to be more charitable, I think there was some genuine feeling-out of whether Flitch should be treated as an accomplice or just as a customer. He’s a rogue, he’s got pre-existing knowledge of the town… there might be ways in which he might be useful to us. On the other hand, our benefactor didn’t trust him enough to give him information about the other contracts or the extraction plan, so it’s unclear we should put a LOT of faith in him. Also, if our skill checks on the quality of his forged papers were accurate, Flitch isn’t a very GOOD rogue.

Then again… keep in mind our current definition of a “good rogue” is a guy who tries breaking into an inn in broad daylight in front of city guards and gets hauled off to jail for his trouble. PEEPERRRRRSSS! (Imagine that with the same cadence of Superintendent Chalmers saying “SKINNNERRRRRR”!) And now our party is divided – the rest of the party is pretty much running a standard paint-by-numbers run through the adventure, while Peepers is doing a one-man adaptation of “Midnight Express”.

This gets into the ongoing meta-question that also got some play in the Discord chat, which Steve also sort of addressed in the intro: what makes good “chaotic” play? Should Mister Peepers really have so casually just gone along with his jailhouse adventure and taken it so far, or did we reach the point where Graham Chapman should’ve come in and proclaimed the whole thing far too silly?

I’m not sure what the “right” answer is. As a listener, it’s clearly the highlight of the episode: certainly far more entertaining than just listening to Nella roll heal checks. But as a player, if I’m going to have a chaotic character in the party, I like that chaos to be tied to some larger guiding character concept that can be understood – chaos in service of making money, chaos as a deep-seated hostility toward authority, whatever. John’s portrayal of Peepers is kind of all over the place… one minute he’s breaking into a building in front of guards; the next, he’s singing the virtues of the same police state that just threw him in jail. It borders on chaos for the sake of chaos (or at a meta-game level, chaos in service of throwing Steve curveballs and seeing how he’ll react), and that can be a little frustrating to get a read on. And I’m not even denying that people like that exist in the real world – Hello? Tiger King! – but it’s a little easier to play this game when you have teammates who react in predictable ways or AT LEAST ways that hew to some larger vision of the character.

But when all the dust clears the next morning, we’re really not in too bad a position. We’ve made contact with two of the five targets (three people, if you include the innkeeper’s daughter), and we’ve even established the inn as a base of operation for the rest of our adventure. That’s actually pretty good for one day’s work. On the other hand, those also seem like the “easy” targets – the guard and the bookkeeper, in particular, seem like they could get messy since they have ties to the government – so this could get tougher when we pick it up next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 2: Mister Peeper’s Papers

The Black Lodge is trapped in the Runelord-ruled city of Xin-Edasseril where everyone needs to follow the rules and stay in-line at all times. Mister Peeper’s and his chaotic personality should have no trouble whatsoever.

Roll For Combat, Tales from the Black Lodge Tale #2 is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Society Scenario #1-12 The Burden of Envy. Our guest-star is Rob Trimarco.

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|07: The Goth Kid Likes Cookies!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|07: Thunder is Down Under.

I’m going to start this week on a bit more of a “serious” note by nodding just a bit to this weird coronavirus landscape we find ourselves in – it’s not going to be some 20-page foam-at-the-mouth rant, just a few things that are adjacent to the Roll For Combat universe.

First I wanted to give a shout-out to a great piece Rob Pontius wrote for Know Direction about gaming in this weird reality we find ourselves in. When writing these blog posts, I’ve always been in a little mental tug-of-war about how much to acknowledge the reality we’re all swimming in, versus keeping the reindeer games light and keeping the escapism turned up to 11. Theoretically, part of why you’re here is to take a break from that other stuff. But since Rob wrote something that really resonated with me, I’m willing to throw in my two cents’ worth of endorsement and point you in its direction.

To the substance of what Rob wrote: for me, it’s not the isolation. I’m an introvert by nature, I still have work duties that give me remote interactions with people, and I also have my kids living under my roof. For me, it’s feeling like the ways I’m spending my time are trivial, and feeling like I “should” be doing things that are more morally redeeming. Creative. Helpful. Whatever. I go the opposite direction and sometimes feel guilty that I’m “just” sitting around playing games (Pathfinder, but also a shit-ton of Persona 5 Royal). You’ve got doctors and nurses out there saving lives, and I’ve almost got the theme from “Duck Tales” (ooo-OOO-ooo!) memorized. But I appreciated what Rob wrote, and I wanted to put it on your radar if you hadn’t seen it yet.

The other thing: I know this was recorded a while ago and no one intended it, but this is the week it reached critical mass and became a little weird that we had an in-game issue with characters being sick with multiple illnesses and figuring out how the circus was going to navigate that. At one point, I was worried they were going to break the circus into essential and non-essential acts and lock people in their trailers. I don’t want to dwell on it, but I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the weirdness of the whole thing.

But whatever… back to the lighter side. First, I’d like to file a formal protest against the group for coming up with 80s parody songs without me… that’s, like, my whole thing! TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT! Also, if you’re gonna go to all the trouble to cover the B-52s, you really gotta lean into that Fred Schneider part. Don’t do it halfway. (I’d like to lodge a second protest about the anti-druid sentiment expressed in the last few episodes, just because I’m playing one in Black Lodge. This non-stop druid hate has to stop!)

We start this week with an introduction to the team’s Level 2 characters. There end up being no major surprises here, since they started to get into some of this last episode. Darius… very by the book. Mostly the same with Alhara, though the ability to ‘rassle’ bigger opponents seems like a bit of an odd choice since it goes a little against the theme of a dexterity/finesse-based fighter. But we’ll see how it plays out in real life.

That brings us to the two out of four multi-classers – Hap takes a dip in bard to add some dance flavor to her casting skills while Ateran went with the sorcerer dedication. Ateran, in particular, feels like they’re pointing their boat a little bit toward “party healer” between the feat selections and the choice of the divine flavor for the sorcerer dip. I like that we have two different “takes” on multiclassing to look at here. Loren has had a really specific idea for her character since Level 1, and to enact that concept, she needs to add performance flourishes to her casting. Rob seems to be coming at it from the other direction, taking Ateran where the story wants them to go – the party has gone through a lot of fights, taken all this damage and all these diseases, and it’s exposed the need for some healing, so it feels like Rob took the sorcerer dip to try and fill that hole in the party (and storywise, Ateran wanting to help their new comrades) a little.

Personally, I’m still on the fence on multi-classing. The main argument in favor is that I don’t actually ever expect to run a character all the way up to Level 20, so getting hypnotized by level 20 skills I’ll never actually use seems kinda pointless. If you can get a more flexible character at the low to mid-levels, it’s probably worth doing. And multi-classing generally does seem more flexible and fun in Second Edition than in First. On the other hand, every time I think about multi-classing, regardless of system, I start having that knee-jerk “so I’m going to give up Level X abilities and get Level 1 abilities instead?” reaction. I guess I just like getting my core class toys as soon as possible, I guess.

As we finally get underway and start playing, I think the highlight of this week was the extended interaction between Hap and Ateran during their trip to town. First, it’s two characters who generally haven’t interacted with each other much – part of that is intentional since Rob is playing Ateran as a mysterious figure, but still… we’ve seen Ateran and Hap interact with other characters here and there, but not a lot between the two. And the specific interactions were a lot of fun. Hap trying to play matchmaker between Ateran and Alhara was so perfect, and the idea that Ateran has a secret sweet tooth was a wonderful little twist. We’ve gotten like… 20 words out of Ateran the entire adventure so far (most of them disparaging druids), but put a pie in front of them, and it’s like they’re a whole new character! Who knew? Also, while not directly Ateran-related, I love how little regard Hap has for money – whether it was paying the baker a 60% tip on the pies or dumping out her coin-purse to help Ateran afford alchemical components, it just reinforces her whimsical nature. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, it was also kind of entertaining to see the Varus siblings both exhibit various levels of stubbornness about just taking a break and resting. I mean, they’re both down with illness after a full day of fighting – you could forgive them for wanting to take a break, but neither was having it. You wonder how much of it recognizing that the circus needs leadership in this crisis situation, and how much of it is simple sibling rivalry – I’m not gonna rest because you’re not gonna rest. (And in Alhara’s case, how much of it is putting on a brave face for Ateran’s benefit?)

After everyone’s back at camp, the major items on the to-do list are arranging Thunder’s funeral and making their saves. I liked the home-grown funeral concepts the party came up with, like giving one of his “closing time” speeches from the show and the “book of deeds”… the latter in particularly sounded like sending his resume into the afterlife with him. The saves on the other hand… oh boy. That’s gotta be frustrating that ALL the NPCs succeeded and ALL the party members failed (even with burning a Hero Point). That’s probably the point at which I would’ve wanted to end the session for the night. Especially when the one magic item was revealed to be an anti-plague AFTER the party missed their saves for the day.

As Marvin’s funeral/pie-party is winding down, the circus gets a visit from the mayor of the town, which provides a path forward in the overall adventure, as well as possible salvation on the disease front. It turns out there’s a hermitage of nature lovers that may or may not be affiliated with the attacker, and the mayor would like the party to investigate and represent the town’s interests in the matter. The mayor can’t really think of a reason why they’d want to attack, but who knows if he’s telling the truth or not? In return, the mayor is willing to hook them up with his private doctor, which I assume means a few extra, and or better, saves to remove their disease conditions. Since the circus probably can’t perform again for a few days anyway, might as well take him up on the offer, though the NPC acts are going to spend a few days in town doing marketing and drumming up ticket sales.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Don’t get me wrong… I’m definitely curious to learn more about the Bearded Man and the Dog-Faced Dog, but I’ll save that for when we get to know them better. As always, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Three Ring Adventure S1|07: Thunder is Down Under

After a long night of performing and battling animals, the RFC Crew finally get a chance to rest, relax, and eat some delicious pie.

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!

Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 1, Paralysis by Analysis

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 1: Hey You Guys!

Welcome to Episode 5, where the Black Lodge premise finally finds its legs. Dead Suns, Plaguestone, Three-Ring Adventure? Lots of fun, but adventures that take months, if not years, to reach their payoff. Here in the world of Pathfinder Society, everything’s brand new again! New story, a new guest star, and another fairly short romp with the finish line already in sight. So let’s get into it.

First things first, we bid farewell (for now) to Vanessa Hoskins, the player, and Mama Millicent, the character. This time around, it’ll be fellow Three-Ring Adventure player and long-time friend of the show Rob Trimarco joining us as dwarven fighter Thorodin Bloodhammer. It’s an amusing choice on multiple levels. First, there’s something amusing about the fact that Vanessa and Rob both went with fighters – guess people are really starting to miss their attacks of opportunity in Second Edition. There’s also going to be some superficial amusement to be had from both Chris and Rob running dwarves with similar-sounding names. I’m sure that won’t get confusing at all.

The setup of this mission seems fairly simple at first glance – we’ve got a merchant of questionable nature (Guaril Karela) who made contracts to smuggle several citizens out of the city of Xin-Edasseril. Now, he’s become too hot to get into town and can no longer fulfill his deals, but the Pathfinder Society volunteered us up to finish his job for him. Presumably, the hook for the Society lies in the fact that Xin-Edasseril was frozen in time for thousands of years and just got thawed out, so its citizens represent a walking, talking history book. Karela has already arranged a boat to take five people out. So at first glance, this shouldn’t be that tough, right?

But things get immediately more complicated. Yes, the list is five names – Flitch (a thief of questionable talents), Themolin (a government accountant who found some questionable book-keeping), Yuleg (an innkeeper), Daffrid (sounds like a teacher of magic), and a city guard named Garrla. However, the innkeeper and teacher come with family attachments: Yuleg has a daughter and Daffrid has both a husband and kids. So now we’re up to nine people we’ve got to get out of town – more than will fit on the boat. And also, reading between the lines, Garrla is kind of a question mark, as Flitch put that deal together on the side based on an anonymous note left in a dead-drop. I can’t be the only one who sees “mediocre thief” and “city guard” and is at least a LITTLE worried someone’s onto Karela or Flitch and setting us up.

We also have more of a meta-problem, in the form of Steve telling us in multiple ways that getting into a fight against the city guard is going to be a BAD idea. We have multiple “if you fight the guards, you WILL lose” warnings. This is one of those “know your GM” moments – there are subtle hints, and there’s the GM telling you flat-out what the rules of engagement are. This is the latter – if we go swords-out against the guards, we lose. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be no combat at all – we may still have monsters or bandits or something – but it does mean that we need to play this smart.

What came next, I have to admit was a little frustrating… both as a player and going back to listen later, as we got hopelessly bogged down in pre-game paralysis by analysis. On one side, we had Seth (in particular) going meta and trying to walk through every possible outcome in advance. Who is this NPC? What are the 18 different things that could go wrong with their extraction? I understand a little bit of advance planning, but it reached a point where… come on, let’s just go there and see what the situation looks like. On the other hand, John… either he just wasn’t getting it, or he was impatient to get moving and just tuned out, or… something… because he seemed to be misunderstanding the basic points of the plan. THE BOAT HOLDS FIVE PEOPLE, JOHN.

But as long as we did all of that, what did we determine? The two biggest challenges here are likely to be the guard and the accountant – they’re people that are part of the infrastructure, people the guards would likely recognize if they went walking through the gates. “High-value targets”, so to speak. On the other hand, the fact that they’re part of the infrastructure means they might represent part of the solution, too – maybe they can find us extra papers or talk to other guards or know who to bribe or something. Being connected is a double-edged sword here. The families are low-value targets, but if we’re talking about getting actual children out, they’ll need an “easy” departure – can’t have them swim out to the boat or anything like overly physical. The thief is a question mark – he might also have skills but our benefactor seems unimpressed by his skills, so don’t know if we want to rely too heavily on him.

An hour later (real-time, not game time) we FINALLY get off the boat and get things started. We decide that Flitch seems to be the best starting point because he’s the guy who was in most direct contact with Karela – maybe he’s been working on the escape plan – but there’s basically nobody home at the address we were given. The flowerpot that was used as the message drop by Garrla is knocked over… that’s a little ominous… and then Peepers finds some graffiti that we can’t decipher because nobody bothered to train in Society. Chris decides to break that stalemate by busting the door down – just what you want to do on your first day as a visitor in a police state! Once inside, we find more graffiti – at first, we can’t decipher that either, but Thorodin eventually figures out that Flitch has gone into hiding into the sewers.

And that’s basically where we’ll pick it up next week. (Sewers again? Is this going to be a recurring theme for this show? Tales Of Municipal Waste Systems?) Hopefully next week we can get past the endless planning stage and actually do some townspeople-rescuing. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by social media and let us know what you think of the show and join in the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Behind The GM Screen: The Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide Review

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Lost Omens: World Guide Review, Pathfinder Lost Omens: Character Guide Review, Pathfinder Lost Omens: Gods & Magic Review.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Three Ring Adventure and our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast.

As a kid growing up, there was always a hint of “forbidden knowledge” about the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. There were books for the players, and books for the DM and ne’er the twain shall meet. Or maybe my older brother wanted me to believe that because he didn’t want his potato-head younger sibling to get peanut butter on the pages of his book.

Today, I take a broader view of gaming, and it’s not the worst thing in the world if the players understand how the moving parts work as well as the GM does. And besides, if I get peanut butter on my computer keyboard, that’s my own damn problem. So let’s delve into the not-so-forbidden world of the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide.

The Gamemastery Guide (which I’m going to be lazy and shorten to “GM Guide” for most of this) is, at its heart, a resource for the GM of your group, and I think the guiding force of the book is taking your game experience to the next level, whatever that level might be. At some level, it’s not that hard to run an adventure path from A to Z off the Core Rulebook. However, at some point, you’re going to run into challenges that aren’t on those printed pages. For the novice GM, it might be how to deal with a problem player, or social encounters that aren’t resonating with your party, or how you can rebound from a TPK without throwing out weeks of gaming and just starting over. For the advanced GM, maybe you want to go off the printed page entirely and create your own additional content. The GM Guide has you covered either way.

The first chapter, “Gamemastery Basics”, is your classic “GM 101” stuff, the sort of things Steve talks about in his “GM Tips” section on the show. It’s going to be most interesting to the novice GM who’s maybe GM’ed a couple of times and wants to improve, or intends to triage a specific issue they’re having in their campaign. An experienced GM might get a little bit of terminology refresher out of this section – “that concept you’ve been doing for 20 years… here’s what we call it in this system” – but has probably already seen most of this stuff before in the wild. And there are almost no hard rules contained in this section – the most “meaty” thing I remember seeing at first pass was a sidebar that amounted to “well, whether you treat all diagonals as 5’ or alternate between 5’ and 10’ is up to you”. To be clear, I’m not disrespecting that content or the need to include it. Roleplaying games are having a bit of a cultural moment, and that means new players are going to showing up on our doorstep, and they need that information too. But experienced players can PROBABLY just give this a quick skim and move on to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2, entitled “Tools”, is where GM 101 ends, and the real meat of the book begins. (And at almost 100 pages, it represents the single largest part of the book in terms of page-count). The thrust of this section is “how to roll your own”: creatures, hazards, magic items… even settings and deity pantheons if you want to homebrew your own content that leaves Golarion behind. If you’re a homebrewer, this is “The Good Shit”. And unlike Chapter 1, which floated along at an abstract level, this content is VERY rubber-meets-the-road.

We start with how to design new creatures (RPG Superstar contestants, take note). The level of detail is really solid here. If you’re going to give your creature regeneration, you’ll want to take off X hit points to compensate. If the encounter level is this, the level of the optimal magic item to have it drop is this. It even contains a section on designing your own creature abilities – how much damage they should do, what saves they should have, how to slot them appropriately into the three-action economy, and such. There’s still room for GM discretion and artistic interpretation – but this gives you a real sense of how to build creatures the Paizo Way, so they’ll fit into the existing system, both holistically, and when it comes to making the math work during encounters, so they don’t break your game. In either direction – you don’t want your fancy new critter to be a TPK OR an easy ATM run for your party.

Next is a similar section on creating hazards. I have to admit – I knew hazards were more complicated than in First Edition, but I didn’t realize THIS much went into creating them. They’re almost like stationary monsters in their level of detail – you define the mechanism, the sequence of actions, how and if it can be disabled, hit points hardness in case you need to destroy it rather than disabling it, and so on.

The next few sections are near and dear to my heart as a player – rules for creating customized loot. The first section is just a basic ruleset for creating simple magic items of your own device. The meaty stuff comes in when you get to armor and weapons, where you can forego rune slots in exchange for specific abilities to create truly customized gear. We then get into ways you can tweak your basic items to give them flavor – from the mostly cosmetic (quirks: your +1 sword can smell of fresh-cut pine), to things like intelligent items and cursed items.  We finish the section on magic items with relics and artifacts – relics are items that, to oversimplify, level and gain new abilities along with you; artifacts are generally end-game level items with extra abilities, for when you want to create your equivalent of Grabthar’s Hammer. (WHAT A SAVINGS!)

After a few smaller sections that flesh out “artwork and gems” and give the GM a lot more status afflictions to play around with (including addictive drugs), we get into the last “major” theme of the Tools chapter – the sections on worldbuilding. This part actually pulls back out from the concrete to the abstract and takes the shape mostly of questions you should be thinking about if you try to create your own content. It starts at the macro level and works inward, so we go from “let’s say you want to mess around with gravity on your planet; what ramifications does that have?” to “how many local cops should a hamlet of pig-farmers have?”. Though it does use examples from Golarion to illustrate the various concepts, so you do get some “crunch” by example.

Moving on, Chapter Three is “Subsystems”. There’s a theme here of fleshing out the non-combat parts of the game by creating mini-games with their own separate victory conditions. So to pick one example, instead of making a single Diplomacy roll to decide whether the Duke will let you use his personal boat to get to the island, you use the Influence subsystem and play through a sequence of interactions with points assigned to each one, and the players succeed if they reach whatever the target point value is. I would classify Influence, Research, Infiltration, and Chases as variations on this basic theme – take something that might otherwise be summarized by one or two rolls and make it its own mini-game.

In the second half of the chapter, there are more niche systems. There’s a leadership subsystem if the players run their own organization and want to play more of a “management” role in running things. There’s a system for conducting one-vs.-one duels. There’s “hexploration”, which amounts to a system for structuring “let’s go off in the woods for a week and fight stuff” play sessions. And there’s even an MMO-like Reputation system, where – to go back to that earlier example — maybe you can’t even get an audience with that Duke unless you’ve reached a point where people know who you are and what you’re about.

If Subsystems was about helping the GM run an otherwise normal game, Chapter 4 (“Variant Rules”) is more character-oriented and focuses more on changing the underlying assumptions of the game. These run the gamut from pretty minor to fairly major paradigm shifts. Want that point-buy system you’re missing from First Edition? We’ve got rules for bringing it forward into Second Edition and making the math work close to the same. Or maybe everyone starts as an unpowered Level 0 beet farmer and does an “origin story” where they feel the call to adventure and decide what kind of character they actually want to be. Tired of the old nine-box alignment? We can go either way with that: we have options to make more gradual spectrums that you can move along as you play, or you can do away with formal alignments entirely and switch everyone to high-level guiding beliefs. There are also instructions for using a “stamina point” system, which anyone who’s played Starfinder will recognize – stamina points come back after each rest, hit points have to be healed. At the crazier end of the pool, there are systems for untying skill proficiency from character level, or for creating FULL two-class characters (as in… all the abilities of both, not a main class with archetype dabbling in Class #2).

The last section is the NPC Gallery. It is precisely what it says it is – it’s a selection of common NPCs one might run into in adventure settings. Palace guards, back-alley thieves, apothecaries and such. These can either be used directly and dropped right into your campaign, or you can use them more as an idea factory or starting point for making your own more unique creations. Or maybe you make your own creations entirely and just use these to “check your work”. It’s not as groundbreaking as the rest of the material, but it’s a handy piece of the toolbox to have.

So there you have it… the Gamemastery Guide. If you’re into this hobby at all, it’s going to be an indispensable reference book for your table. There’s a TON of good information for novice GMs to grow their game, and even veterans can probably use a little help grooming their own homebrew content for the new system. If you’re out of the evaluation stage and making any sort of serious commitment to Second Edition, you’re gonna want to pick this one up.

The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 1: Hey You Guys!

The Black Lodge begins their second adventure on a ship heading towards a hostile land ruled by the relentless Belimarius, the Runelord of Envy. What could possibly go wrong?

Roll For Combat, Tales from the Black Lodge Tale #2 is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Society Scenario #1-12 The Burden of Envy. Our guest-star is Rob Trimarco.

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The Sideshow S1|06: Sick du Soleil

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|06: A Pox Upon Him!

We’re about a month into the Great Shutdown, and I’ve reached the point where I’m thinking things like “hey, if I ever wanted to shave my head and see what I’d look like if I was bald, now would be the perfect time to try it because I don’t have a webcam for my work meetings anyway”. Cabin fever: ain’t it grand? (But also, the answer is I’d probably look more like Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket than Patrick Stewart, so that’s gonna be a big no.)

Fortunately, we still have Roll For Combat to carry us along, and this week, we FINALLY meet the druid that’s at the heart of the circus’ woes.

Now, I have some minor complaints to voice. First, the overall setup is turning out to be a LITTLE like Plaguestone: we have a crazy person who wants to take revenge on a town of bumpkins – in that case, it was because of a 20-year-old wrong against Vilree’s mom; this time it’s more of an eco-terrorist out to punish the town for destroying the land. (Explanation forthcoming, I hope.) But that gets me to the second quibble – it seems odd to punish the townspeople by messing with a circus that just happens to be passing through. Wouldn’t you… you know?… (gestures at townspeople)…

The party briefly tries to talk the druid down from the ledge, but then there’s some combination of “let’s be honest, she was always gonna go down swinging” and “Hap kinda broke the stalemate by lighting her on fire” and it’s time to fight. There’s not only the druid herself to deal with, but also a swarm of rats, and a big King Rat. And as a reminder from last time, Darius is already slowed because of the encounter with the cockatrice, so he only gets two actions per round.

One observation I meant to make last week but forgot to mention – I love the flavor of Ateran including unique verbal incantations for each of his spells. It’s a nice little roleplaying touch by Rob. It also gives me a little bit of Old Man Nostalgia, reminding me of the old UItima games of my youth where each spell had a two or three symbol pseudo-Latin name – “An Nox” was Cure Poison, “In Lor” was a Light spell, and so on. Clearly we need to get a webcam on him and see if he’s also acting out the somatic components at home too.

As we get into the fight, one thing I’m noticing: I don’t know if “we” (including Plaguestone because it had a swarm attack as well) have been lucky with our rolls, but Swarms have (so far) not felt as threatening in Second Edition as they were in First Edition. I think part of it is that rather than flat “half damage” or “no damage”, it’s handled as a damage resistance, but the wider range for crits makes it easier to get over that hump. Just an observation; not sure if it’s borne out at higher levels or in larger data sets; maybe we just got lucky a couple of times.

On the other hand, we’re getting a real education in how bad status effects can suck in Second Edition. In First Edition, other than MAYBE CON damage, ailments tended to not be a big deal, and you tended to plow through and deal with them later. CON damage is the only thing that really stood out as something you had to navigate around. In Second Edition, status effects feel a lot more consequential and alter the flow of the fight a lot more.

I have to admit, it was neat feeling the presence of the “audience” for the first time. Black Lodge started a few weeks later, so we haven’t really hit that yet in that show. Though it does come across as Vanessa having some random non-sequitir pop into her head, and then you realize she’s responding to something mentioned in the Patreon channel. But it’s nice to have that extra dynamic of live feedback, which I’ll talk about more from the player perspective, when we hit that point in Black Lodge.

The battle progresses to an ultimately satisfying conclusion, but we’re left with unresolved issues. First, although we now know WHY Myron was killed and the other incidents happened, we don’t really know the truth of the druid’s accusation. Were the townspeople really “destroying the land” or was the druid just a nutjob? So we may need some further investigation of that next time.

But also – the rats managed to bite and sicken most of the NPC circus acts while the fight was going on, which might make it difficult to put on the next performance. Can people do their acts while they’re sick? Can – as either Loren or Vanessa suggested – new acts be recruited and integrated into the show? Can Ateran whip up some potions and make everyone better in time? It’ll be interesting to see how this folds back on the circus part of the adventure as things move forward.

Lastly, we get a sneak preview of everyone’s Level 2 characters – with a surprise shout-out to Brixley Silverthorn (my Plaguestone character, if you didn’t listen to that show), no less. Yeah, OK, they’re making fun of me taking a leaping ability I used a grand total of one time, but still… it’s nice to be remembered. As a listener, it’s nice to see people taking interesting roleplay choices rather than min-max choices – Hap’s going to throw a level of Bard in, and Vanessa is going to focus on leaping skills even if a defensive ability might be of more practical use. I feel like if I’m gonna ride shotgun with a show that’s going to continue for months or years, I’d rather listen to the adventures of a character that stands out as a unique creation, rather than Assembly Line Caster #493. Don’t get me wrong… you can make a fairly vanilla build come to life through roleplay, but an outside-the-box character makes the actual game action a little more unpredictable and interesting.

And as someone who’s played with Steve for several years, he really does reward – or at least not punish – outside the box character development. If you go for something a little weird, he’ll try to find a way to tweak the adventure around the edges so you get to use it and it doesn’t go to waste. He’s cool that way. The only time he’ll shoot something like that down is if it’s in danger of breaking the game, and even THAT, I can only remember him doing once or twice.

Since we’re talking about leveling, and Steve briefly mentioned it, the other thing to keep in mind about all of this is that at SOME future point, Ateran and Alhara will have to convert over from Playtest rules to live rules. They were originally built when they were still playtest classes, but my understanding is the live classes look a little different. So if things get out of whack in EITHER direction, there will be a bit of a “do-over” at some future point.

But that’s still down the road. Next week, we’ll get to kick the tires on the Level 2 characters and sort out the aftermath of the druid’s attack. While you’re waiting for that, 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.