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The Sideshow S1|10: Heroics are More of a Hobby

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|10: Disadvantage Sucks.

I have to admit my biggest amusement this week is that we’ve “crossed the streams” a little on Roll For Combat, as end up dipping our toes into what amounts to the 5th Edition “disadvantage” mechanic.

Now I know it’s unlikely, but just in case there’s someone listening to this show who has never touched 5th Edition and didn’t get the reference, let me explain. In 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, instead of having a bunch of one-off modifiers, they choose to resolve a LOT of situational modifiers with the mechanics of “advantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the higher one) and “disadvantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the lower one). So no “plus-this” for flanking and “minus-that” for flat-footed; something just gives you advantage, disadvantage, or neither. So these pugwampis the party fights basically have an “unluck aura” effect that accomplishes the same thing as the disadvantage mechanic – if you fail your save, you have to roll twice on checks and take the lower one.

The thing about “roll two, take one” mechanics is that they’re sneaky-powerful because of the multiplicative effect. I’m not going to put you through an entry-level stats class (at least partially because my college stats class was at 8 am and I got a C because I tended to oversleep it), but to put some numbers to it: I think at one point during the fight, I heard Steve mentioning that someone needed a 15 to make a roll, which is a 30% chance. Stats 101 – to succeed under those conditions, you have to hit 15 or higher on both rolls, which is (0.3 x 0.3 = 0.09), so… a 9% chance of success. If you were to convert that back to a single d20, that 15 – even rounding in the party’s favor – would turn into a 19. So it’s basically a virtual -4. In a game where the math is as tight as it is in Second Edition… a -4 is kinda brutal.

(And if you were wondering, a corresponding “luck aura” would turn that 30% into a 51% chance. Rounding and compressing to a single die, that 15 becomes an 11.)

OK, Math Nerd Digression over.

I think the thing that pleased me about this fight is that for once in recent memory, it felt like the team finally had one under control from wire to wire. I’ve been frustrated from afar that the team has been flirting with disaster the last several sessions – particularly the fight in the church, which basically came down to one roll – so it was nice to see a fight where they weren’t really with their backs up against death’s door. Granted, some of that also came from getting rid of all their disease effects – thanks to the healer at the church, this was ALMOST like the first fight after a long rest – so it makes some amount of sense that it was a little calmer.

I found myself a little quizzical about the decision Steve made to basically let the party swap out the magic dog statue for a +1 crossbow. I’m curious about what went into that decision. Did he misread the loot? Or did he just take pity on the party for taking such a thumping and coming out with a magic item whose benefit was mostly cosmetic? I have to admit I’ve kind of tuned out magic item drops recently since we’re playing Society and have to hand them back in at the end of the adventure, but for how hard that fight in the church was, it’s nice to see the party get something they can use out of it.

Speaking of magic items, I have to admit I did not realize that the economics of heal scrolls vs. potions were so favorable to scrolls. The flexibility of use makes sense – a scroll is an actual cast of the equivalent heal spell, whereas a potion locks in the single-target version when it’s created. I think what caught me off guard is that I had it in my head that scrolls cost more money than potions. I suppose the trade-off is that a potion can be used by anyone whereas a scroll has to be used by someone who can already cast spells (or someone who has the Trick Magic Item feat, I imagine). If your caster goes down, people can still pull potions off their dead body, but those scrolls would potentially be useless. Also, I suppose there’s also a little bit of action economy flexibility in favor of a bottle you can pull out and open with one hand, over a scroll that you probably have to drop or put away all your other stuff to use. That said, over on the Black Lodge side of the house, I think I’m going to go buy Nella a few scrolls (at least for after-heals) now that I know they cost the same as potions. Learn something new every day.

This week, I’m giving my tip of the roleplaying cap to… GM Steve, for the priest getting all chippy with Alhara and making her clean up the broken glass left over from her heroics. The idea of NPCs who are mildly ungrateful at having their lives saved just cracks me up. Though Hap telling Alhara to “stop being a bitch” to Ateran also cracked me up a little.

One other roleplaying thing I liked… the party actually questioning whether anyone else is available to do the heroic part of the job. I liked it because it challenged our usual assumptions about these sorts of games but in a realistic way. We tend to assume a party of adventurers is revved up and ready to meet any challenge the universe can throw at them. Our Black Lodge game, and Society play in general, assumes your adventurers WANT to make names for themselves and get rich while unraveling mysteries. You’re basically signing up to join the Scooby-Doo gang voluntarily. But with THIS story, it’s actually fairly plausible that a group of circus-folk would rather get back to their day job rather than cleaning up the town’s messes. In the context of THIS campaign, I think reluctant heroes actually make a little bit of sense, so it was refreshing for the party to allow themselves to express that reluctance a little.

As far as plot advancement… well, the quasit with the books got away. For the moment, the team’s giving up the chase, but will that resurface as a plot point later? There are additional bread crumbs leading toward the druid enclave, but it’s a gray area whether the druid cloak found with the monsters they just killed represents an alliance between druids and demons, or just a convenient fashion choice. But it seems like the druid enclave is the next place to go, especially since the town’s mayor is headed there, and might be walking into a trap if the worst is true.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. I do have some thoughts on our PaizoCon announcement, but I’ll probably address that in the next Black Lodge column since that’s the one that I’m explicitly writing from a player perspective. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode 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|10: Disadvantage Sucks

The team is slowly starting to realize that they are going to require battle tactics if they are to survive past the week. Of course, putting theory into practice is another story.

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!

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Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 4, The Gang’s All Here

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 4: The C-Team.

So much for this being a non-combat adventure, huh?

I guess technically Steve said we shouldn’t get into it with the city guard, but that didn’t rule out meeting someone nasty in our travels. At first, I was assuming it might be something creepy-crawly down in the sewers, but I suppose one of our extractions being complicated by the customer being kidnapped also works.

But backing up a little: yeah, we split the party, which is something you’re Never Supposed To Do. Now, the main reason (as Steve mentioned in the intro) is that combat encounters are balanced for a full party and if you only have part of your group, you’re probably going to get your butts handed to you. Going in, I wasn’t so worried about that BECAUSE Steve had been presenting this as a mostly non-combat mission. More importantly, when it comes right down to it, we kinda had to. At the first split (leaving John and Seth behind), we needed those rafts to be built so SOMEONE had to stay behind to build them. As far as the second split (me breaking off from the dwarves), if we waited for Themolin all day, we’d run out of time on Option 1 and basically be committing to taking the family out through the gates. I’d rather have us choose our own course of action than having it dictated to us.

Personally I was more worried about splitting the party as a fairness issue. Splitting the party for 5 or 10 minutes is one thing. But splitting the party for an hour or longer? That can be kind of a drag for the people who aren’t in the spotlight. It’s nice that both John and Seth seemed to enjoy the action from afar and said they were cool with it, but still… it’s kind of a drag to give up your whole evening and NOT play. Doubly so in this online environment – in an in-person game, you’re still at least “at the table”; with this setup, you’re sitting in a room with a headset on, listening to other people do all the fun stuff.

Nothing to be done about it though. Party split, let’s go.

On the Themolin side, it’s mostly a matter of navigating bureaucracy, followed by overcoming Themolin’s natural cowardice. (For now.) But the Dwarf “Brothers” finally get in to see him, go to work on him, and finally get him over the hump. He says he’ll meet us later at a warehouse. I thought Chris was maybe a little too obvious with the “LOOK AT THIS VERY IMPORTANT NOTE THAT YOU’D BETTER NOT READ” but whatever… a) I wasn’t there and b) Lawful Good characters aren’t supposed to be great at deception.

Meanwhile, I take on making contact with the teacher and her family at the school. I go in assuming it’s a fairly easy encounter – it’s a pretty easy cover story to just say you heard about the school and wanted to register for classes or something — and for the most part it is. Here the big problem is the revelation that the two kids can’t keep their mouths shut – it’s hard to imagine these two going out the front gates, so it starts to feel like the family has to go on the boat. (I also don’t see scenarios where we split the family up; they’re probably a package deal.) I do like the nickname “Prunelord”, though.

The other big problem… I don’t know if it’s a problem or an opportunity, but it’s LITERALLY “big”… is that we pick up a giant as part of our extended entourage. I have to admit my first instinct was to tell him he was on his own. If the boat’s got limited space, he probably wouldn’t fit well or might cost us multiple normal-sized passenger slots, and it also doesn’t seem likely we’d get him out the front gate very easily. But then the analysis kicked in. It sounds like he has some useful skills that could help us. Swimming could come in very useful if the plan with the rafts doesn’t work. Stealth might play as well, though I still don’t think his stealth is good enough to waltz onto the dock without some sort of distraction. The other issue was quite simply that I didn’t want to make a unilateral decision for the group. So I kicked it down the road and told him to come along. We’ll sort it out later, though there’s still a 10% chance we tell him we can’t help him.

And OK… to metagame a little, this seems like one of those alternate/secondary objectives where you get extra fame and reputation if you can get the giant out too. But I’m saying that after the fact. Not part of my analysis at the time.

So I meet back up with the dwarves and we head to the meetup with Themolin. The good news is Wild Shape actually turns out to be useful for once, as I’m able to turn into a cat and recon the warehouse and sniff out the ambush that’s waiting for us. Pest Form is pretty much useless for combat, but for infiltrations, being able to turn into a completely innocuous creature you’d see wandering around the back alleys of a city… can’t be beat.

The bad news is that the plan we come up with to turn the tables doesn’t quite go off as planned. “Set a fire to distract them, sneak out the door and meet back up and take them out separately!” Ummm… about that. First, the door I planned to use to make my escape is locked, and I don’t have thieving skills or tools. So I’m basically stuck in the bottom corner of the warehouse with the bad guys between me and the dwarves. Second, I didn’t anticipate the bad guys had a caster, and my beautiful fire distraction lasts all of one round. WHOOP-DE-DOO! So now I have to hide amongst the goods (aided by a hero point) and wait for Thorgrim and Thorodin to wade in and start the combat that was always going to happen.

The fight itself actually goes well – I think part of it was luck, part of it was Steve getting fancy with the caster, and part of it was maybe us knuckling down and taking it seriously. I think knowing that we were operating short-handed made us take it more seriously and we didn’t try to get fancy. As I’m sitting here after the fact, I am wondering if Steve might have adjusted the encounter to account for splitting the party, but you’d have to ask him that. But the net effect is that Thorodin takes a bit of a beating, but we survive and rescue Themolin. We have now officially made contact with all of our customers.

So we hand-wave travel time and get back to the inn. Theoretically, it was 2 hours to get back and we went to the warehouse an hour before curfew, but we’ll let it slide. We’re back at the inn. Raft building continues (going better than the previous attempts), and we have to actually start finalizing the plans for who’s going with which batch. For the moment, it looks like we’re going to go with the family (wouldn’t want to split them up and kids can’t keep their mouths shut) and the accountant (highly visible target) on the boat. It’s not finalized, but that’s how we’re leaning. We still don’t have a plan for the giant, but the general consensus seems to be that we’re going to try to help him. The plan to disguise him as a statue seems… well… a little silly, but I don’t have anything better at the moment.

Also, we learn that the accountant and the guard may be somewhat connected – the guard mentioned in Garrla’s journal MAY be the source of the bookkeeping error Themolin found, as he might have sold the Prunelord… err… Runelord a forged painting. It’s TBD whether it was intentional or not, but I’m not sure it matters. Either he’s corrupt or he’s incompetent, but either way, it’s a lever we might be able to exploit now that we understand it better.

So that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. The plans are all starting to come together, and when we return, we’ll finally get our first batch of people out of this crazy town. As long as our rafts hold up and nothing unforeseen happens. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel 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 4: The C-Team

With time running out, the Black Lodge crew has only one option available … the option that everyone is told to never do, no matter what the circumstances. It’s time to split the party!

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|09: The Variable Length Arm of the Law

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|09: Bring Out Your Dead.

To start things off… a weird, random observation. I found myself listening on the YouTube feed for the first time this week. And it is decidedly weird to have the festive circus music intro playing behind an image of undead creatures swarming a guy and stabbing him with a spear. INCONGRUENT VISUALS! Maybe ease into that with a few seconds of puppies or something.

We enter this week in the aftermath of the almost-TPK, and the whole party except for Ateran is in varying states of unconsciousness, disease, and general unpleasantness. And the meta-discussion of the week is the difficulty of the fights in this adventure. Here’s my take on things – I don’t think the party was doing a bad job with teamwork; they did a decent job choosing abilities that supported each other. I think the problem was really twofold.

First, Second Edition, particularly at low levels, is just that tough. In First Edition, you’d almost never see a TPK at low levels, and I can count on a small number of fingers how many times we even had a character drop. And I’m not being all smug and saying it’s because we’re such fantastic players… I just think the math on low-level encounters, with a few exceptions, tended to skew in the players’ favor. Here, for a variety of reasons I’ve already written about and Steve already discussed – but largely because of the new three-action economy – low-level encounters are pretty punishing; if anything it gets BETTER and you get a few levels under your belt and slightly better tools at your disposal.

The other thing that I think was at play here was unorthodox pacing. I don’t know if it’s the way these adventures are written or the way Steve chooses to pace them, but there tends to be a cycle of building challenge level after each long rest. Not 100 percent of the time, but it’s more often the case than not.  So if you have a rest and enter a new area, there usually tends to be at least one easy encounter to ease back into things, and then you build into more difficult ones. And I do wonder if as a player, you maybe start to play to that expectation a little. You think “the first fight after a rest; this should be a warm-up” and maybe you get a little casual on tactics and you’re reluctant to blow all your best spells right out of the gate.

Only while you’re doing that, the Level 4 demon (in this case) is punching your head off.

OK, and the smaller third thing is they don’t have a LOT of tools for dealing with undead/demonic type critters, unless they wanted to use their healing spells as attacks. They have the cold-iron pick, and fire is almost always decent against those sorts of monsters, but they don’t have a lot of Radiant Good-Guy Damage. To contrast, we had a fight over on the Black Lodge side of the house where between my druid’s Shillelagh and two people casting three-action heals, the bonus damage helped make quick work of a bunch of zombies. So party composition might play a little bit of a role here too.

But anyway, the team survived… just barely… and we get a little deeper into the story. The team finds the local priest trapped and/or hiding for his life (arguably, a little bit of both – I’m not feeling like he was THAT eager to escape), he takes care of a few of their diseases, and he offers them additional healing in exchange for tracking down some books the demon’s accomplices stole. Which means ANOTHER fairly tough fight right after the team blew a bunch of resources. Damn, the pace of this adventure is pretty hairy!

While we’re talking about this, I thought the question about the town guards was worth a few thoughts. On one hand, presumably, this town has some sort of law, and they ought to be able to handle some level of trouble. Heck, if you’re also listening to our Black Lodge adventure, we’re currently running a scenario where we’ve been explicitly told “if you start a fight with the town guards, they WILL kill you”. But here it’s widely implied the guards would be useless even if they were around. So which is it? NPC Guards: cannon fodder or formidable force?

I know the brute force answer is “whatever the plot requires it to be”, but let’s dig just a little bit deeper. Personally, I actually jump genres and look to the superhero genre for my answer to this. I figure even a Level 1 Hero (aka: a party member) is going to be some sort of badass compared to a city guard; it’s like assuming the lamest Avenger (cough-Hawkeye-cough) is still more talented than a normal non-metahuman cop or soldier. But if you need to square the circle, you can assume a large city can afford some hero-level cops, but a small village like this wouldn’t be able to. So… Xin Edasseril (from the Black Lodge adventure) is the isle of Genosha is what I’m saying, I guess.

So we have the second fairly major fight in a row, though this one seems like it’s more tolerable, and SOME of the difficulty comes from the general beat-up state of the party – and the fact that Hap used a bunch of her Level 1 spells to heal the party earlier. I feel like if this had been the first fight of the day and they’d hit it fresh, it probably would’ve been fairly easy. The bad news: these guys don’t have the book(s) the party was tasked to find, so the chase continues and that probably means there’s going to be a third fight in this whole sequence. As my man Winnie The Pooh says, “oh bother”.

Also, I don’t know where to put this, but the roleplaying moment of the day was Hap just blowing off Alhara in the middle of her freakout about her facial scars. Looking for a tender moment between the two where Hap comforted her and reassured her it would be OK? Nooooope. Ice cold… but come on… also a little funny.

So next week, the chase will continue, and hopefully, these poor folks will finally get some rest and healing. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for them. Me. The guy who got beaten to death’s door by shrubbery. While you’re waiting for next week’s show, 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|09: Bring Out Your Dead

After several near-death experiences perhaps it’s time to invest in some additional healing potions? Or better weapons? Or both?

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 3, The Gang That Couldn’t Spy Straight

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 3: Old MacGyver Bloodhammer.

Welcome to Roll For Combat: Failures In Espionage! This week our crew of combat-optimal characters bumble through a social encounter and somehow come through unscathed. And not for a lack of trying.

We enter the session having made contact with two of our five contacts. The challenge this week is making contact with the guard Garrla. To be fair, this is likely to be the single riskiest client on the list because she’s a member of the city guard (high potential to land ourselves in jail) and there’s no real intel on her. Nobody has ever actually met her (so much so that we didn’t even know it was a “her” going in) and even her passage out of town was negotiated indirectly through Flitch, the thief. And it also turns out the Emerald Guardhouse isn’t some shack with a handful of guards; it’s a fairly major barracks with dozens of guards milling about. So we’ve got our work cut out for us on this one.

I’m gonna be honest – I kinda checked out on this one and let the rest of the group handle it for the most part. First and foremost, Nella isn’t really built for this sort of encounter – as a druid, she’s built for healer duties and outdoorsy stuff, and even as a roleplay thing, I envision her as more of a country type who’s not necessarily comfortable in the Big City. A social encounter that revolves around bluff, stealth, and society checks? NOT her cup of tea.

As a Champion, Thorgrim should have decent charisma and should be able to handle the smooth-talking. He does a little OK with it, though if we’re being honest, I don’t think Chris really planned out what he was going to say and got caught a little flat-footed on some of Garrla’s questions. But he navigated his way through finding the right guard and establishing first contact. It might still be a trap, but this is the right person and she does (on the surface) seem like she wants to leave town. She even gives us a lead on another guard who might be able to help and tries to slip Chris a journal.

And there we reveal the first hole in our skillset – Thorgrim botches the pass and another guard sees him pick up Garrla’s journal. Oops. Garrla is able to cover for him well enough that he doesn’t end up getting hauled off to jail, but still. We’re left with an incomplete encounter.

Now here I’m going to indulge in just a little bit of second-guessing. We had already established the main facts of the meetup – Chris had gotten across that Garrla should come to the Rockfish Inn two days from now. Thinking back, it seems like we could’ve walked away and hoped Garrla would just bring the book with her to the meet. But Seth decides to take another crack at it anyway. Second time around, Nixnox is clearly a little more polished than Thorgrim, and ends up being JUST stealthier enough to get out of there with the journal. The contents of which we’ll get to in a moment.

But then… Mister Peepers decides to give us a performance of the World’s Most Unsubtle Rogue. PARDON ME, COULD I HAVE THOSE SECRET DOCUMENTS YOU’RE HOLDING? As the Young People say, “I can’t even”. Look… John’s allowed to play his character the way he wants, but there’s reckless and there’s just jaw-droppingly stupid, and this seemed like it crossed the line into the latter. But again, Garrla covers for us and we retire the field victorious. An ugly win is still a win.

Briefly about the book: it details that one of the guards bought a painting on behalf of the Runelord herself. On the surface, I’m not sure what the significance of that is going to be, but it feels like something that might give us leverage over the guard when we have to leave on the final day. I feel like MAYBE since one of our other clients is an accountant, it’s going to tie into the money the guard used to buy the painting being dirty or something. But for the moment, we’ll just put it in our list of assets with our wheelbarrow, Holocaust cloak, and dead albino.

Now here, it would be nice to take a stab at one of the last two tasks but we’re running out of daylight and as Mister Peepers demonstrated last night, we don’t want to get caught out after dark. Both places are two hours away, but that’s also how long we have until curfew, so there wouldn’t be time to go out and get back. Now, the accountant was definitely a no-go – we only have his place of business, so he’s probably not even there anymore. But again indulging in 20/20 hindsight, a school for mage-types might have boarding for the students, so we PROBABLY could’ve risked going out to the school and seeing if there was somewhere on the grounds to spend the night. But whatever, we have enough time, so we head back to the inn and call it a day. Mostly.

Our final task of the evening – for everyone except Nella, who is back on healer duties – is attempting to turn the barrels into rafts. And our grasp of carpentry seems to be about as good as our espionage skills, as we turn half the barrels into wood chips. We still have some barrels left to try again, but we’ll just have to hope the rolls are better tomorrow. Oh, and the innkeeper’s daughter is still asking WAY too many questions about our escape plan. Need to know, lady. Need. To. Know.

So as of the end of day two, we’re still positioned pretty well. We’ve made contact with three of our five clients, for a total of four people. And we’ve also established a source of materials to make rafts, even if we’re still getting over the hump of actually making them. Next up will be to go after the accountant and the teacher – but that will be tomorrow in-game, and next week on the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 3: Old MacGyver Bloodhammer

Now the RFC Crew has a handle on the job, it’s just a matter of finding the rest of the subjects and convincing them to join the ragtag gang. Shame none of them put any ranks into social skills.

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!