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The Sideshow S2|22: So, Your Parent Is An Elemental Being

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|22: Geniealogy.

I’d like to start with a quick re-visit of last week’s episode. In last week’s column, I mentioned how impressed I was that Vanessa was so calm in the face of Alhara’s possible demise. Well… turns out I spoke a little too soon. Vanessa actually reached out and burst my bubble a bit: it turns out her demeanor was not so much “cool and collected”, but rather that she’d resigned herself to dying, and was chatting with our Patreon live listeners about what kind of character she might make if she had to re-roll. Well… calm is still calm, no matter what kind of calm it is.

Steve then asked how he sounded, and my glib answer was “disturbingly gleeful”, but I thought about that, and felt like clarifying a little bit. Sometimes we grumble about Steve being a little too excited during combat episodes, but having played with him for well over a decade, I don’t think his excitement is malicious as much as he appreciates a good story moment. If he lands two crits in a row, OK, maybe there’s an initial excitement that he got such good die rolls, but I think his REAL excitement is to see how this changes the dynamic of the fight, and how the party responds to it. If anything, I think it’s a backwards way of believing in us players and wanting to see how we’re going to pull the situation out of the fire.

Believe me, I’ve played with adversarial GMs who just wanted to “beat” the party. You can tell the difference.

As a player, none of this means it’s not INFURIATING in the moment when Steve gets two crits in a row and he starts cackling like a maniac. But if you take a moment to understand where it’s coming from, you can usually get through it. Or… that’s why we have push-to-talk. Take a few seconds to get the profanity out of the system and move on.

This week, the main storyline and discussion topic is the revelation of Hap’s ancestry. Those of you who had “ifrit” can stop by the window and pick up your winnings.

I have to admit, the minute I saw the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, I assumed this is the way Steve was going to go with it. At the risk of oversimplifying, heritages are a way of injecting “half-X” into a character, so the ifrit as “half-fire-elemental” really fit Hap like a glove. I just didn’t know how complete of a retcon it was going to be – whether Steve was going to rebuild Hap from Level 1 as an ifrit to clean things up and make her RAW-compliant, or whether he was just going to drop Ifrit in moving forward.

There’s also the general question of whether you’d be willing to surrender control of your character to the GM like that. I have to admit, my attitude toward that has traditionally been one of reluctance. It’s not that I have some great master plan for most of my characters or that I plan them out from Level 1 through Level 20 in advance. But I do like the flexibility and control to write my own story. Look at Plaguestone: I was pretty much locked in on the Blade Ally as Brixley’s champion boon, and the story dropped the coolest steed in the world into my lap. If I had Steve controlling part of my character, would I have had the flexibility to make that choice?

That said, I have to admit Hap’s development has opened my eyes to the possibilities a little bit. Now I find myself at least a little intrigued about the idea of having things you don’t know about your own character and may give it a try in a future campaign. If nothing else, it’s more. We all start out wanting to be star athletes or astronauts, and then life has a way of telling you what you’d actually be good at. Why wouldn’t it be that way in a fantasy world as well?

Now, I do think this ought to have some boundaries. I think core class abilities ought to always be chosen by the player. I think it’s one thing to add “flavor” to a character; I think it’s another to just give someone else control of how your character functions in the core game. (By which I mean combat, mostly.) When it comes to feats… maybe. Ancestry feats are a solid choice because those are things you got from your parents and it really isn’t under your control. General and skill feats are more hit-and-miss because a lot of feats are learned as you go, and it would be weird to add a feat you LITERALLY never worked on or thought about taking. “We’ve literally NEVER been near a body of water, but I decided your character became an Olympic swimmer”.

On the other hand, you CAN throw it all to the wind. Let me briefly tell you about Nim, Bob Markee’s character in the Iron Gods campaign (pre-podcast days). Nim was some sort of techno-magical construct – humanoid in appearance, but an empty vessel when we found him. When Chris and I found his… pod, I guess… NIM decided our characters were his “parents” so he literally took his cues for developing his character – feats, spells, EVERYTHING – from things Chris and I expressed as we played. It started with alignment, choice of god, etc., and just snowballed from there. So if we said we needed more healing, he’d take a healing spell at his next level. If we expressed concern about his social skills, he’d train in Diplomacy. He pretty much let the party drive almost his ENTIRE character build and played the character that resulted. He chose the class (Sorcerer) and there were a few times where if we didn’t express a preference, he chose something for himself, but it was one of the more impressive displays of “committing to the bit” I’ve ever seen.

Now, I realize the Hap reveal kinda dominated the episode this week, but I did want to briefly tip the cap to Vanessa’s roleplaying of Alhara’s confidence crisis. We’re so used to Alhara as the ultra-competitive “oh yeah, not if I kill him first!” attitude that it was an interesting change of pace to hear her sound discouraged and even aware of her mortality. It’ll be interesting to see if this is going to be “short-term pep talk” territory or if Vanessa will play around with that and make Alhara more cautious in future battles.

Also, I’d like to go on record as being with Team “Hat Or No Hat, Gibzip Can Die In A Fire”. There’s NO circus act that’s worth continuing to put up with that whiny little…

Sorry, where was I?

Next week… it feels like confronting Mistress Dusklight before the Celestial Menagerie skips town might be the next thing to do, especially now that we know all these new truths about Hap. Although there is still that one room in the temple they didn’t go into. Do we go back for one more round?  Or is it time to get back to circus-ing? I guess we’ll find out next week. While you wait, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Three Ring Adventure S2|22: Geniealogy

After a rough day, it’s time to rest and relax, and Hap explores her family tree.

Roll For Combat, Three Ring Adventure Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Extinction Curse, and the second book, Legacy of the Lost God.

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!

The Bird’s Eye View S2|06: All Roads Lead to Loans

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|06: I’m Mary Poppins Y’all.

I’d like to start this week’s column by thanking Steve for ruining simulation gaming for me forever.

OK, not really. But he raises an interesting point in his pre-show notes, one I wanted to dwell on for a few minutes, and it’s the ability of gaming to “dress up” the rather mundane tasks people do on a day-to-day basis and repackage them as something different and entertaining. Particularly when it comes to simulation-based gaming. Put me in front of an Excel spreadsheet of random numbers, I’ll doze off in five minutes. But if those numbers represent, say, the salary and scoring numbers for free agent left wings for my fictional hockey team, I can spend an hour rolling them around my brain and possibly even dream about them in my sleep.

Think about the granddaddy of them all… Civilization. In its premise, you’re a world leader building your people up from the Stone Age all the way to space travel. I AM CAESAR. WITNESS THE POWER OF THE WHEEL! But if you really boil down the essence of what you’re doing, you’re mostly managing resources and queuing jobs: time, money, and other build resources. That’s right… Sid Meier managed to put a really fancy front-end onto Microsoft Project. (OK, Sid gets some credit for doing this before Project even existed, so props for that, but still… at the end of the day, he built an entire genre around making busy-work engaging.)

And so we come to the first part of this week’s episode. In moments of calm, one could quibble that in a high-fantasy medieval setting, a police station probably wouldn’t have an hours-long queue to get information on a prisoner. Heck, the modern service-oriented economy hadn’t been invented yet, so they probably wouldn’t even have desk sergeants and file clerks waiting to deal with requests from the public. It would probably just be a bunch of random soldiers in a glorified barracks with some cells in the basement and you’d just go tackle whichever guard was free at the moment.

But this being a game, we’re gonna play with the premise of modern bureaucracy. In return, we actually get something cool and amusing out of it, as poor Lo Mang wastes an entire day to find out the Token Guard let Quidley the goblin go. Don’t get me wrong… I wanted to find that goblin because he represented our best chance to firm up the Penny and Sphinx as the target of the robbery. But maybe the fact that he already got sprung implies he had friends – dare I say “accomplices” — come get him… even if it’s to keep him from talking. In a sense, maybe the fact that he got sprung so quickly reinforces the idea that this is our guy.

Meanwhile, the other major thrust of this episode involves pretty much ruling out Ovingott’s as the target. We finally decide to suck it up and pull an all-nighter, and it turns out the vandalism is just a couple of kids who were paid to do it by… wait for it… Chadaxa. After a little poop-related humor, we come to find out that the banker’s son got in over his head with a loan and hasn’t paid it back, and so they’re sending the son a message.

First… I have to admit I kinda forgot the banker had a son. Or perhaps, I got confused because the Penny and Sphinx guy ALSO has a (step-)son. Nepotism, man. Maybe I mixed up the two in my head. Or maybe we just got a little bit of tunnel vision and locked in on the institution of the bank rather than the people that worked there. But I’ll admit I hadn’t considered the son as the source of the hijinx so it’s good to have that resolved.

As an adventure design thing, this kind of illustrates the “most roads lead to Rome” approach. If you think about the six leads we were originally given, #5 was Chadaxa herself, and #1 (vandalism at Ovingott’s) and #6 (dealing with the smuggling ring) would’ve led back to her anyway. So fully half the leads wound up at the same basic place, and if a party had decided to tackle them in a different order, they still would’ve wound up in roughly the same place.

So now the question is how should we handle the Ovingott situation. It’s a little more of a grey area because we’re not actually the officers with jurisdiction here. We were hired because THOSE guys didn’t do their job. In this context, we’re almost more like private investigators, just ones that also happen to be real cops. And at its heart, the crimes being committed are minor and the REAL issue is a family matter between the father and son.

Turning it over to the Token Guard would accomplish nothing; at most, they’d focus on the vandalism and cause trouble for Chadaxa and the kids while doing nothing about the core issue of the son’s debt. We can honor our deal with the father and tell him what’s going on. Or we can let the whole matter slide and hope the son pays Chadaxa back. Right now I’m leaning toward just telling the dad, though maybe that’s more Basil talking than Jason. Basil’s about the law and you can’t really run a bank and have an embezzlement risk working for you. Also, some of it is just impatience to get it off the books once and for all, and we can get on to protecting the Penny and Sphinx.

(As a reminder: the whole point of the visit to the third bank was to show that it had badass security and was pretty much impervious to attack. If they can stop creatures that can plane-shift, pretty sure grunt-level humanoids won’t pose much of a threat to them.)

So next week, we’ll clean up the situation at Ovingott’s and get ready for the final heist. I have to admit I’m excited… you just get the feeling this is going to be another big set-piece with lots of weird twists and turns to it. They stole an elevator, they have access to weird demon shit… pretty sure it’s not just going to be three guys in trench coats running in and saying “gimme all your money!”.

But we’ll find out for real next week. (Or MAYBE the week after… at the risk of giving a minor spoiler, there may or may not be a full episode of material before the heist starts, depending on how Steve edits things.) While you’re waiting, feel free to come 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.

Agents of Edgewatch S2|06: I’m Mary Poppins Y’all

This week the agents face their most frightening foe to date… bureaucracy!

Roll For Combat, Agents of Edgewatch Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Agents of Edgewatch, and the second book, Sixty Feet Under.

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!

The Sideshow S2|21: Running on Empty

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|21: We’re Fine With Being Stupid.

In this week’s visit to the circus, we have a bit of a rarity for our show. I’m not going to say a “unique” situation, because it’s PROBABLY happened before; I just can’t remember the last time. What I’m speaking of, of course, is Alhara’s brush with death due to multiple stacking damage-over-time effects and cutting the healing so close that they had to stay in rounds while the party put together enough healing resources to keep Alhara on her feet. How close was it? If it was the NFL, we were this close to a 20-minute replay review.

Over the last few months/years, both of our shows have gotten kinda cozy with the Handwave Heal. The battle ends, assume healing occurs, move on. And that model works 80, 90 percent of the time. But a situation like this has always been a possibility that’s been lurking just over the horizon. Poisons and diseases in Second Edition have some teeth to them, so it’s always been a statistical possibility that someone might end a combat with multiple DOTs on them and close to death’s door. (And in this case, we had the added dimension that Alhara had already used her Hero Point, so Dying 4 would’ve been a one-way ticket.)

I can certainly remember people dropping without a Hero Point, but without extra damage sources ticking: heck, that’s our bread and butter. We’ve even had some messy poisons and diseases to deal with across our various games; Darius, in particular, seems to be a magnet for them. But this was legit “brush with death” territory – I didn’t sit down and map out every die roll, but there was a window there where high damage rolls and low heal rolls could have very easily spelled the end of poor Alhara.

(And OK… I was surprised by how calm Vanessa was about the whole thing. I’d have been freaking out, but Vanessa was either unmoved or doing a VERY good job of hiding it.)

The first knee-jerk reaction would be to blame the decision to push through one more room with limited resources, but I don’t think that’s particularly fair. Or at least it’s certainly not the whole story. It is true that when you go for one more room like that, it’s easier to sustain party damage (cantrips still go boom) whereas healing and support resources can’t be replenished as easily. So if you’re looking for a reason there wasn’t more healing available… yeah, I guess you can point to that. But if we’re being honest, MOST of the team’s struggles against the spiders came from rolling like crap for the first 2/3rds of the fight… for attack rolls AND saving throws against the various effects. This could’ve been the first fight of a new day, with a brand new stock of spells and consumables, and if you roll a bunch of single-digit rolls, it’s gonna be a bad day at the office. And it wasn’t like they had ZERO healing at the end; they collectively had some potions, and there was the option to push the wand past its limit.

I think the worst I can say on the tactics front is that they should’ve initially approached the body more carefully, but even that’s one of those things that’s easy to say with 20/20 hindsight. And heck, if we’re doing this same scenario in Edgewatch, you KNOW Dougie’s grabbing that body too.

Speaking of the spiders… like Ateran, I did remember that these were the same sorts of spiders they fought in the original Aroden temple at the end of Book 1. One thing I noticed is that the spiders from Book 1 didn’t seem to have the crystal effect; I find myself wondering if it was just dumb luck that they didn’t land it, or if those were less mature versions of the creature that didn’t have that power in their stat block yet. I suppose it could’ve been a “lesser” vs. “adult” spider thing because I don’t even especially remember Steve asking people to make saves. On the other hand, I also vaguely recall that battle being the reverse of this one, where the party front-loaded a bunch of crits and took them out quickly. So we may not have seen that ability just because they weren’t alive long enough to use it.

(Also, were these the same spiders we fought in the bank vault in Edgewatch? Those were babies, and were further prevented from phasing by a magic barrier, so they were almost just regular spiders, but still… I guess those spiders are pretty popular back at the Paizo mothership.)

It’s actually that phasing ability that intrigues me more. Theoretically, those spiders can grab a victim and phase back to their home plane with them. How do you deal with THAT? It’s a pretty powerful “divide and conquer” move to begin with, and as Vanessa points out, even if you win on their home turf, how do you get home again? So even as beat-to-crap as Alhara got, it’s actually not that hard to envision a scenario where this fight goes a lot worse.

Luckily for our heroes, the dice luck finally comes around in the final third of the fight, as Darius performs some of his trademark destructions, and even good old Riley lands a crit. GOOD BOI! And then it’s the race against time to keep Alhara from dropping. Like I said earlier, a forensic reconstruction of the individual die rolls is more effort than I care to put into things, but if those crystals had the potential to hit for 2d10… she HAD to be right on the edge for a round or two.

Through a combination of dumb luck and skillful use of their remaining resources, Alhara survives and is reunited with her bo staff (and OK, Ateran as well), but she’s beat to a pulp (my go-to imagery here is Dark Helmet after performing the emergency stop from Ludicrous Speed) and now the party is really-REALLY out of resources for the day. So time to go back to the tents and heal up for next week, I assume. I’m a little fuzzy on the next steps here. Confront Mistress Dusklight? Go back to the sages? Another visit to Hamlin’s Hots? (PLEASE… yes.) I guess we’ll find out next time. While you’re waiting, 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 S2|21: We’re Fine With Being Stupid

The RFC crew are nearly out of spells and healing… but exploring one last room couldn’t possibly be a bad idea.

Roll For Combat, Three Ring Adventure Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Extinction Curse, and the second book, Legacy of the Lost God.

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!

The Bird’s Eye View S2|05: We Make Holes In Thieves

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|05: They Never Miss…

Is Steve calling us stupid? I think he’s calling us stupid.

To be fair, he’s not totally wrong. Collectively as a group, we’re very much about moving the plot from A to Z, and sometimes we kinda get impatient and blow through the exposition scenes. To borrow the appropriate Seinfeld reference, we “yada yada yada” a bit more than we should. Guilty as charged. The part about showing up at a final boss fight not really remembering why we’re supposed to be there… yes, that has totally happened before.

To be fair, part of the issue is that Bob Markee was traditionally our dedicated scribe and Plot Summarizer, so I’ve been pushed into a new role on the fly here. Bob was meticulously on the ball and could often summarize the action better than Steve could. Me… not so much. So at the risk of sounding defensive, I would like to say that I DO take notes; I feel like it dovetails with Basil’s role of “investigator” to do so. However, I think there have been times where maybe I haven’t latched on to what’s important about a particular conversation, so sometimes my notes are a little incomplete or focus on the wrong things. Also, as a secondary logistical thing, sometimes Steve just dumps stuff in the “handouts” channel in Discord, and rather than copy them to my Word doc, I just leave them there, which works… but there’s a delay while I realize that was one of the Discord notes instead of Word-Doc notes and I have to go looking for it.

So… yes we’re idiots. But we’re also trying to do better. Like Mr. Data, I’m attempting to evolve beyond my programming. Honest.

This week’s episode gives us the continuation of the warehouse fight. One of the main things that frustrates me about this episode was Pierson Droan being able to destroy the evidence before we reached him. But the reason I was frustrated when I was playing and the reason I was frustrated when listening were totally different.

When we were playing, I’ll admit that I felt like we should’ve gotten the evidence, and not doing so was at least a partial failure. But going back and thinking about it, I think I’m more frustrated at the mission design; that there wasn’t really a good chance to even GET the journals the way the encounter was set up. MAYBE if we’d gone in one of the side doors and gotten directly to Droan’s office, we could’ve done it, but with a frontal assault, there was just too much to fight. Also, an off-handed clue about “check out the globe in this dude’s office” kinda undersold the importance of the evidence; “hey, he keeps two sets of books and if we could recover those, dude would pretty much go away for life” might have put more of a spotlight on the books and suggested a totally different tactical approach.

Let’s say we know more explicitly that there’s evidence we want to preserve. If that’s the case, maybe we look for one of the doors that’s not guarded and try to sneak in that way. Or Dougie goes in as part of a stealth mission or Gomez goes in as part of a schmooze mission (Bluff/Intimidate/etc.) and tries to figure out where Droan’s office is before we rush the joint. So part of this is the guard captain’s fault for basically hiring us to be muscle instead of explaining it as a finesse job.

At the end of the day, we did the job we were contracted to do. We knocked some heads. It’s just the job itself could’ve been defined more clearly.

When it came to Seth’s line of interrogation… I can see both sides of this one, and it really comes down to whether this is a regular business that happens to be run by crooks, or more of an organized crime operation that happens to have some civilians working there. If it’s more of a business operation… people have shit to do and they’re not always where you think they’re going to be. To pick an example, at my job, I have an intern bullpen and a makerspace near my office, but I couldn’t tell you how many people were in either place. On the other hand, if it’s got more of an organized military bearing, yes, I’d expect Delta Team to know that Alpha Team has the docks tonight, Echo is patrolling the exterior, and Bravo is out on a delivery. And yeah, they’d probably know if their boss was in the building.

That said, I could’ve done without Seth throwing us under the bus with the “you guys aren’t coming up with any questions” when Steve overruled his line of questioning. For me, it got back to our role as muscle; we were there to arrest bad guys, so other than “where are the bad guys?” I didn’t really have any questions. Figured the guard captain would handle that stuff once we cleared the place out.

The remaining fights themselves weren’t that rough, especially once we healed back up to full. Droan was a little tough to hit, but he didn’t seem to have the same corresponding nastiness on offense. (I mean, yeah, he hit well, but no lightning or acid or crap like that.) So… numbers ultimately win out and it’s a pinata party. With the fight on the docks, the surprise appearance of the bunyip was really the only thing that added a wrinkle; otherwise, it was just another round of the grunt-level smugglers we’d dealt with fairly effectively up to that point. Though, OK, I love the fact that the bunyip was also named “Dougie”. It clearly needs to replace Sharky as the group mascot.

So we finish our task with aplomb, and even though Droan burns the books, we still get full credit for the assignment. Chadaxa is going to get her clean slate to work the festival, and hopefully, she’ll give us some information that will prove useful to our investigation of the bank job. (See. I DO pay attention.) But that… will be next week’s adventure. As always, feel free to stop 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.