Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|27: Come up to the Lab and See What’s on the Slab.
It’s Big Bad Week on Roll For Combat, as we finally confront Hendrid Pratchett and put an end to his evil deeds! It’s rare that I really hate-hate-HATE an NPC – more often we’re fighting a guy because that’s what the story says we do – but the nature of this guy’s crimes got me there.
I wanted to start by briefly ducking into Steve’s pre-show notes to talk about other boss encounters, and suggest you check out the last… 4-ish episodes of the Dead Suns show if you want to see a boss fight with stages in action. If you somehow joined for Pathfinder and missed that show, the setup is that we’re infiltrating the bridge of an enemy flagship to stop the doomsday device. The BBEG boss is the captain of the ship: as a tactical note, I’ll mention he’s a caster who threw down greater invisibility while we were messing around in the antechamber. For the first “stage” he throws fairly passive spells that don’t give away his presence and lets his minions (and meat-shield second-in-command) do most of the work. Then when we start whittling away his minions, he becomes a more active participant and starts attacking us directly. Then in a third stage, gravity goes haywire in the ship, and we have to deal with changing gravity conditions each round while still managing combat. The in the fourth stage, we had to participate in a starship battle with the rest of the undead fleet. And then the final part is “get off the ship before it blows” where we aren’t worrying about combat at all anymore.
So… on to our CURRENT show and our first item of business: a new performer for Sharky this week. I didn’t mention Bob would be leaving because I wanted to keep things a surprise, but this week the Wonder-Mimic powers take the form of… VANESSA HOSKINS! Since Vanessa probably has the most airtime of anyone outside the original Dead Suns group (Celes in Plaguestone, Alhara in Three-Ring, Mama Millcent in Black Lodge) I assume a full introduction is superfluous. Heck, within the parameters of our show, she’s well on her way to one-name status like Prince and Madonna. She’s Vanessa!
As an aside, this was pretty much always the plan with Sharky. We figured it’s a mimic. If the creature itself can change, why can’t the person playing it? As a side benefit, it lets us capture some of that “special guest” energy from the Black Lodge show that we’d been missing a bit. (If you want to be cynical and a spoilsport, one could also argue that it was around the holidays and it was tough getting anyone to commit to multiple episodes.)
The thing you’ll immediately notice… and we’ve used this framing before… is the difference between first-person and third-person roleplay. Vanessa is very much a first-person roleplayer… she IS the character from the minute the mic goes hot and will only break character sparingly. Meanwhile, the rest of us… except maybe Seth, sometimes… are more third-person roleplayers: “Basil does X”, “Dougie says Y”. The character is its own thing, and the player is just piloting the mech. Seth is a bit more in the middle: sometimes he goes third-person, but other times he gets on a roll and goes completely into Gomez Mode and acts things out. Neither style is wrong… just different.
Vanessa’s take on Sharky is a bit more upbeat and friendly than Bob’s, a bit more filled with joie de vivre. Bob’s take felt like it always wanted to remind us that it was still an adversary to be taken seriously; Bob’s portrayal felt like there was a little resentment at being forced to fight, so his Sharky was a little passive-aggressive about things. Vanessa’s version wants to get out of this dungeon and go experience the world, and if fighting her former boss/owner is something she has to do to reach that goal, so be it. I don’t know how much of that is intentional choice versus how much was just their different personalities, but it’s fun to see two different takes on the same basic material… which is why we did it this way in the first place.
Meanwhile… Pratchett. The episode starts with a few revelations that make the fight a bit more of a dangerous proposition. First, he’s soaked the whole room with oil, which means it’s possible we could be roasting in a bonfire on short notice. It doesn’t hold us back on offense because no one in our group is all that reliant on fire attacks, but we’ll need to watch for it on defense. The other is the last (as far as I remember*) “oh shit” moment, as the experiment with the two twin children (alluded to in the room with the papers and the spellbooks) was successful, and he’s got an undead version of them serving him. (Numbly adds “infanticide” to the list of charges.)
*=I honestly don’t remember: it’s possible we discover one more horrific thing while cleaning up the aftermath next week, but I don’t THINK so. I think the fate of the twins is the last of the awfulness.
And that doesn’t even get into the fact that Pratchett himself is a tough customer. As a melee, he hits hard with his sword cane, doesn’t seem to get a penalty for multi-attacks, and also seems to be able to apply poison with it. He also has some sort of True Strike effect that he was able to use multiple times to reroll misses, though I don’t know if it’s an innate ability or just multiple casts of the spell. (The spell is one-and-done; you re-roll once and it’s gone.) Add in a full caster’s complement of spells, and we’re dealing with a tough customer.
I’m also at least briefly struck that selfishly, this guy is Evil Basil in terms of loot. Already have his spellbook, so I can learn all his spells. Now he has a sword-cane that’s better than mine? And maybe light armor too? I know we have the whole “cop vs. adventurer” thing to square away, but when the dust settles, I feel like Basil’s getting a major gear upgrade out of this fight.
The good news is although Pratchett hits hard, we’re actually holding our own against him by rotating out our melees and giving him a different target each time. I don’t think we planned it that way, I think that’s just the way it unfolded with Sharky charging in first, then retreating a little after taking some damage, followed by Lo Mang doing the same. We also make fairly quick work of the undead twins, so it’s down to us and Pratchett pretty quickly. The bad news is his base armor class is pretty high… it’s been a while, but I feel like it was taking something like a 23 or 25 to hit him, and we weren’t rolling that well.
Brief uncomfortable conversation time: I have to admit I didn’t notice it during the fight – probably too preoccupied with planning my next move – but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and amplify Vanessa’s frustration with the term “man up and stop crying” (said once and then repeated by another person). Because she’s 100% right. I’ll put it this way: I don’t think joking about a teammate’s bravery (or lack thereof) is the issue – that’s about a player’s actions, which are fair game for criticism, even couched in jokes. I do think we need to push back at the notion that being stoic in the face of danger is an inherently male trait and (by implication) that women get emotional/hysterical in difficult situations. I mean, can’t we all acknowledge that there would have been no Thanos Snap if Star-Lord kept his shit together? Just Sayin’.
I’m deflecting with a joke, because the other alternative is to go even deeper and write an entire thesis that goes eight miles deep about how the only emotions our society finds acceptable out of men are the aggressive ones (lust, anger, etc.), and I’m pretty sure that would suck the life out of the room. So let’s put a pin in this and get back to kicking Pratchett’s ass, shall we? But Vanessa in particular, and our female listeners in general… I see you.
We reach a bit of a stalemate in the fight, which is where Steve’s concept of phases comes in. (Under the hood, I suspect Pratchett might have been running low on spells.) So to shake things up, Pratchett does two major things: first, he kicks over the brazier, lighting the room on fire; second, he escapes (or “yeets”, as the Young People say) out a secret door in the back of the room. (Follow-up question: could we have discovered that door from the other side and bypassed two or three rooms, or was it a one-way ticket?)
This is where I have to give Seth credit. The fun of playing with Seth is he’s NOT a min-maxer; he’s the sort of player that tries to predict the unpredictable and has something in his pocket for every situation. When it hits, as it did with “use a water mephit to put out the fire”… it’s an absolute thing of beauty. Now, I’m still a LITTLE skeptical that water would put out an oil-based fire, but whatever: chalk it up to “magical water” and give in to the Rule Of Cool. Seth had the perfect tool for the job: give him the win. (Much like in the Dead Suns campaign where I had a Teleportation Puck sit unused in my inventory for three levels until I used us to get out of a trap room with no exit.)
So while Seth is putting out the fire, the melees – myself, Lo Mang, and Dougie (plus Sharky as fast as her mimic feet could carry her) continue the pursuit. The good news is our dice luck is getting better and we’re starting to land some damage; the bad news is we’re leaving our primary source of healing behind. I think at this point, some of us still had badges and potions, but that’s about it.
And then Steve gives us an opportunity by having Pratchett retreat into the ochre jelly room. And Dougie did EXACTLY what I hoped he’d do – a bull rush attack. Remember that I could’ve gone and delayed: I was thinking of doing exactly that, but I have a Strength of 10 and if it failed, Pratchett might’ve moved away from the pit or braced himself against future attacks. So I took the chance that either Dougie or Lo Mang was on the same wavelength, and sure enough, he was. Pratchett catches the edge, and it’s my turn and…
This is where it gets interesting.
The “adventurer” answer is to stab him in the face and into the pit he goes. The only thing that makes you think twice is how you’re going to get the loot later.
But it’s a bit more cloudy as an officer of the law. In the moment, I absolutely did what I thought was the right thing, but I’ll admit; after the fact, I found myself second-guessing a little bit. Even though this guy’s crimes were heinous and he was irredeemable, should we have still tried to accept his surrender and save him? In real-world terms, this is Jeffrey Dahmer, this is Ted Bundy… don’t you still want to take him alive so he can see justice for his crimes? Or is being eaten by his own jelly justice in and of itself? But what if we pull him out of the pit and he goes on to kill one (or more) of us? Is it worth taking THAT risk?
Steaming toward 11 pm at the end of a long gaming session, and closing in on the end of a chapter of the Adventure Path, kicking him in and finishing the fight felt like a no-brainer. Later on… I still think it was a defensible decision, but it left STUFF rattling around my brain. And this is where I think Paizo did the right thing by not just knee-jerk canceling this adventure path. Because of moments like this. The value of art, even entertainment, is that it can hold up a mirror for examining your own values. Good, bad, or indifferent, roleplaying through something like this makes you pause and think.
And on that Deep Thoughts note, that’s where we’ll leave it. Next week, we clean up the aftermath (let’s be honest: recover Basil’s new sword-cane) and see where the adventure takes us next. I actually DON’T think we level because we only just leveled before coming to the basement, but you never know. As always, please feel free to drop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.