July 2021 - Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

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Agents of Edgewatch S2|18: This Hallway is Clean

Slowly but surely the Agents are running out of monsters to kill in the catacombs, but still plenty of mysteries to solve.

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!

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The Sideshow S2|33: Unbearable Aggression

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|33: Chicken Fried Alhara.

This week’s episode was a bit of a ride.

First, we had the run-in with the fake xulgaths, and OK… I thought it was low-key hilarious that they (Hap in particular) moved right to “how are we going to incorporate these guys into the circus act?” and skipped right over asking them what the hell was going on in the Moonstone Temple. PRIORITIES, PEOPLE. I actually thought they might have been members of the opposing faction that had been abandoned as traitors. If you remember, I think Mistress Dusklight’s letter mentioned that there was a xulgath faction that opposed Sarvel Ever-Hunger’s plan; I thought maybe these guys were them.

But no, the truth was more interesting… they were face-changers who planned to kill the party and replace them. Well, it was more interesting for, like, five seconds until Hap nuked them all from orbit. And I’m torn about that.

On one hand, there’s a visceral GLEE in watching stuff just blow up and get one-shotted. Not gonna lie. Both the initial fireball and then the Hapdouken that took out the final enemy. Casters doing ‘splodey things are well worth the price of admission. It’s got the same sort of vibe one used to get from David Letterman dropping random objects off the five-story tower.

On the other hand, this had the potential to be a much more interesting battle, and it feels like a bit of an opportunity missed. Imagine a flowing multi-round battle where people would actually have to keep things straight and make sure they were attacking the right people each round. Imagine if our heroes had to make Perception checks as people moved around the room to see if they kept up with the changes. THAT would’ve been a cool fight, one I haven’t really seen before.

Heck, if Steve wanted to get nasty, he could’ve waited until Ateran and Darius left, until the party truly WAS split, and then have them attack Hap and Alhara four-on-two. Of course, if Hap had deployed the fireball and rolled similar damage, even THAT wouldn’t have made the fight last longer than two rounds, but it does feel like a fight that had some possibilities that we missed out on.

Whatever. We got the fight we got, which was Hap just nuking everything. And that serves to officially clear the Moonstone Temple, which means Ulthadar coughs up the diadem and instructions for using it in the waters.

(And here’s where I had the unhealthy fixation with the circus. I found myself wondering if the pool could somehow be incorporated with the circus act. Have the entire audience hold hands, link telepathically to whoever was using the diadem, and show the entire audience the end of the world as part of the show!)

So the pool (aka the security cameras of the Moonstone Temple) finally gives us some of the answers we seek, though some of it is what we already suspected. MONTAGE TIME! The biggest revelation here is that Sarvel Ever-Hunger basically got his plan FROM the Moonstone Temple itself. He learned of the existence of the aeon orbs and the Seat of Aroden from the pool. So that’s a bit of an “oopsie”. More importantly, we learn that there’s a way to recharge the stones and prevent doom from befalling the land. Our heroes have to visit all five towers (one of which, of course, is already done), interface with all five orbs and claim their vestiges, and then go perform SOME sort of ceremony at the Seat of Aroden to re-charge the protective link.

Speaking of which, I know one of the last images they saw was of someone performing the recharge. The gang took that to mean someone else is working on the same project. I thought that was either a) showing Aroden initially charging them in the past so they could see how it was supposed to work or b) MAYBE that it was showing a predictive future of THEM doing it – that they couldn’t see who was doing it because it was them, in the future.

So we know what’s what, the Moonstone Temple is clean and can maybe even be rehabilitated – though maybe walling off the place where the xulgaths dug their way in would be a good idea – and we’re JUST about to retreat to Hamlin’s Hots for a victory meal when battle sounds and smoke spoil the victory.

The Circus of Wayward Wonders has been attacked by Mistress Dusklight’s thugs! Damage to the circus, performers injured. Worse yet, Bardolph the Bear is DEAD! (Or is he? Will we get a Red Mantis version of Bardolph next week?) Frustratingly, Jellico and Gibzip are completely unharmed and free to annoy the shit out of Vanessa… but Hap’s first real friend is gone, and she’s on the damn WARPATH. Like… character-arc changes levels of anger. I really felt her anger, and I can’t wait to see where she goes with this.

I mean… one obvious choice is for Hap to go have a talk with Kalkek and cash that chip in. Hap spent all this time trying to get on the good side of that barghest, leaving it plates of food… “we’re gonna go over there to that other circus and kill everyone who wronged you; you in?” seems like a sales pitch it might go for.

(Of course with Dark Darius, and now Kill ‘Em All Hap, I am starting to worry that by the end of Book Six, our party will actually be the bad guys and someone will have to stop them. Maybe their travels will lead them to Absalom and the Edgewatch will deal with them. I dunno though; we’re already neck-deep in murderhobos as it is.)

I assume the logical place this leads is to a final confrontation with Mistress Dusklight and her tin-can bodyguard next week, right? (Plus whatever members of her crew are left over from the dance-fight when they first arrived in Escadar.) It seems like Dusklight wouldn’t do something this overt unless her mission had changed and she’s decided she has to stop our heroes for good. (Also, narratively, it just seems like maybe she’s run her course, and “rival circus” doesn’t really matter much when the end of the world is on the table.)

So my sense of things is we’ll be doing a circus-vs.-circus showdown next week but for keeps rather than show this time. Our party had a tough time with them the first time, and that was even before Dusklight joined the fray directly… how will they fare in the rematch? As always, 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|33: Chicken Fried Alhara

The gang finally manages to clear lower moonstone hall and learn of a much greater threat.

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!

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The Bird’s Eye View S2|17: Catch And Release

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|17: A Tomb of Horrors.

So I started this week by taking on a little challenge. Steve was trying to figure out what the logic is behind making a roper so powerful, so I took a little bit of a deep dive into the stat block, and I think I figured things out. So let’s play “What Were The Designers Thinking?”

First, it turns out the tentacles are kinda weak. I know Dougie hit for something like 50 points of damage which makes them sound impressive, but that doesn’t mean they actually require 50 damage to destroy… it’s actually more like 18. So at the level we’re at, we should be able to take those out in one or two hits each. What’s worse. A boss beast with six minions that have 40 or 50 hit points, or a boss beast with six minions you might be able to one-shot?

And that gets us to the second part of the equation. The roper only has a movement speed of 10 feet. Meaning, once you get those tentacles down, kiting it becomes a trivial task if you’ve got ANY sort of open room for maneuverability.

And I suppose that’s the one thing complicating this battle… the fact that it’s hanging from the ceiling above a large drop. It would be one thing to kite this in a fairly open space where it was on the ground. But if you’ve got to fight it perilously close to a drop that could both inflict life-threatening damage and also split the party… that’s a bit more complicated. And frankly, if I was the roper and those annoying adventurers cut off two or three of my tentacles, I’d say screw it to collecting souvenirs and just start chucking them right into the chasm. Go down and collect trinkets from their corpses at your leisure.

Though… ALL of this could be wrong, because it’s possible this roper has a different stat block than the generic ones online. The reason I say this: generic ropers are vulnerable to electricity, not fire… so maybe this one’s a special Aroden-tainted roper or something. In which case, all of the above could be wrong. Maybe it’s also a really fast one with really strong tentacles and we’re just screwed if we try and fight it.

As far as the ruling that damaging roper tentacles don’t damage the creature. I have to admit that seems wrong to me in an “Anatomy 101” way, just based on how reality works. I mean, if you chop off one of my hands, yeah, I might be able to continue to function but I would suffer some pretty serious negative effects – shock, blood loss, you know the drill. Seems like the same should hold for roper tentacles. UNLESS you’re going to argue they’re dead cells, like sentient hair or something. Or unless the roper is like those lizards who just let their tail fall off and grow a new one if they’re caught. At the end of the day, it’s a fantasy environment so you can come up with a rationalization in either direction.

Now… I suppose I should mention that this “research” unintentionally makes me a very mild cheater. I got so interested in the academic puzzle of it that I didn’t connect the wiring in my head: as of where we CURRENTLY are, we haven’t beaten the roper yet. I don’t think it’s any great spoiler to say this, but there’s like 3 or 4 ways into the lower levels of this dungeon and we took a different way in, so we haven’t been back to visit our buddy. So… I guess technically I’ve looked at the stat block of a creature we haven’t reached a final resolution with yet. Bad Me… I hereby administer myself one slap on the wrist.

As for the “battle” itself, once again I end up in the back and am mocked for it. Sigh. I don’t know what to tell people… now that Basil has that bow, I’ve been feeling more comfortable hanging out in the rear with the gear. Seems like the smart play to take that first round and assess the situation before rushing in. If that makes me a coward, OK, though I’d also point out that at least I’m not running AWAY like Lo Mang.

I have to admit I’m a little surprised Steve let us talk our way out of this fight – especially with the language barrier – but I tend to forget how good Gomez is at the social skills, so maybe it’s legit. Or maybe the roper just doesn’t get a lot of visitors these days, and it’s lonely. Who knows? Though I like to think throwing a little fire near it helped out. I know that drew a skeptical reaction from my teammates, but that felt like the equivalent of firing a shot in the air. Think of it like the scene from Aliens where Ripley blasts the flamethrower NEAR the eggs just to let the alien queen what’s up. Gomez was the good cop; I wasn’t really a BAD cop… more of a neutral cop who just happened to have a source of fire on him… and wanted to remind the roper of that to ensure its cooperation.

Whether influence finally convinced the roper to let us go, we actually get out of the situation mostly unscathed… we lose a few trinkets from the lower end of our character sheets, but nothing that will harm us long-term. That said, I was a little miffed toward the end when we’d mostly extracted ourselves and Seth still wanted to lead it to the treasure room so it could grab a bunch of treasure that should otherwise be ours. WHY? THERE’S MONEY IN THE BANANA STAND, SETH.

So, OK… the path with the roper is closed off for now – even if we come back and fight it, we don’t have the key for the stairwell that lies beyond, and even though Dougie is re-embracing his status as a rogue, I’m not sure I trust him to pick that lock. But no big deal… that still leaves at least 3 or 4 unexplored pathways yet to explore. Granted the easiest choice would be to follow where all the tracks go, but our collective compulsive behavior means we’re going to clean out this level first and then explore elsewhere. It’s a thing we do.

We set off one more trap – cool, creepy hands coming out of the floor! – but it’s fairly easily dealt with, and that’s where we’ll leave things for next time. As always, 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.

Agents of Edgewatch S2|17: A Tomb of Horrors

The agents seem to be a magnet for monsters as they fall into the fire once again this week.

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|32: Nothing Brings a Family Together Like Murder

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|32: How I Met Your Mother.

It’s weird. I’m having a little trouble thinking of something to say about this week’s episode because compared to the last couple of weeks, it’s so… ordinary. We’re back to making up new restaurants (Livestock In Linens!) and engaging in scatological speculation about the mechanics of aeon stones: I certainly look forward to the official Paizo errata that explains whether you still have to poop when using an aeon stone.

I mean, yes, the shadow of what happened to Darius still hangs over everything, but at least for this week, it kinda receded into the background a little bit and felt like a more “normal” episode.

This week’s show notes amused me a little because Steve’s GM thoughts and my player thoughts (from last week) about cheating death were basically the same, from opposite sides of the GM screen. I swear we didn’t cheat off each other’s papers… though maybe when you play in the same group long enough, I suppose it’s possible you developed a shared sensibility about how the game “should” work.

I think if there’s one takeaway from all of this, it’s this: if you’re a player, always put something a little bit supernatural into your backstory, just to give your GM something to play around with if your character should happen to die. It doesn’t even have to be a big obvious glowing birthmark; even if it’s just something subtle like “well, there was an ancestor on my father’s side who was rumored to have become a lich”… just SOMETHING that gives your GM some wiggle room.

Confession time: in our Edgewatch game, I actually created something like this for Basil. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll just say there IS a supernatural hook in his backstory that Steve could use if he needs to save my life at some point down the road. The only minor problem is that Steve hasn’t really been able to introduce it in-story yet, so if Basil were to happen to die before that happens, it’ll lack the ample setup that Darius had with the mark and Steve will have to do some serious dancing to keep it from feeling too deus ex machina. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

As far as to whether to come back from the dead or not… I can see both sides of that coin. On one hand, being able to go on this journey with a character and watch them change and sometimes become something you didn’t even expect is one of the best things about this game. You tend to remember the journey more than you remember any one particular roll of the dice. So you hate to walk away from a character you’ve put a lot into.

On the other hand… for a full adventure path, at the pace we play, that’s a 2-3 year commitment to playing the same character every week, and sometimes you get into a bit of a rut. Trying something new can be a bit tempting. I will say that Steve’s path forward, in this case, seems like a “best of both worlds” solution – Rob’s character will still be Mostly Darius but will do enough new things to give him a bit of a fresh coat of paint.

Back in the show, Darius naturally has questions when he returns to the land of the living, and Papa Varus is the most likely source of answers, so the gang sets up a meeting at Louder’s Chowder. We learn a few interesting things from this meeting. The first was not that unexpected – it turns out that Darius and Alhara’s mom wasn’t just “hanging around with pirates” or whatever story they were told last time; it turns out she was a full-fledged member of the Red Mantis Assassins, and when she was away from the family, she was off killing people. It’s interesting… in our group chat, the Circus Folk thought this was some big revelation; I just ASSUMED that was the case once Achakaek was in play. Second – and this might be the biggest revelation – the nature of the connection to Darius’ mark suggests that their mom might not actually be dead. And whether she is or not, Papa Varus just told the kids that to avoid uncomfortable questions. Lastly, there was a bit of a self-serving info dump about how their dad knew Mistress Dusklight was bad news and tried to rein her in a little bit over the years.

And here’s where I have to give Vanessa a lot of credit for her roleplaying choices. It’s tempting to play our characters as heroic, emotionally stoic people who kinda rise above it all and be the bigger person in all circumstances. “I’m a HERO, therefore nothing should phase me, even the betrayal of a parent.” But you know what… Vanessa played it REAL and I give her credit for that. She allowed Alhara to be mad at her father and call him on his bullshit. Because lying to your kids about their mother being dead is kinda crappy, and given what Mistress Dusklight has done JUST since they got to Escadar, his “reining her in” doesn’t seem like it accomplished anything, did it? (If this was him reining her in, how awful would she have been WITHOUT his influence?) It would’ve been so easy to just shove that all under the rug in the name of “family togetherness” and “let’s all rally around Darius in his hour of need”, and I applaud Vanessa for taking it to a place that’s a little rougher, but also a little more authentic.

For that matter, give I should give Rob T. a cap tip as well. It’s hard to put a finger on, but he’s playing “the same but different” really well so far. There are moments where he seems like Business As Usual Darius, and then he’ll throw in a moment where he’s cold and distant and he really conveys this sense that he’s not all the way there. I really felt it in his interactions with Hap, in particular.

So as we approach the end of the episode, it’s time to go back into the temple and clear out those last few rooms. (Loved Loren’s joke about punching the time clock. Sometimes it does feel that way, doesn’t it?) I guess next week we’ll get to see what the New and Improved(?) Darius can do in combat; hopefully, he won’t go full Suirad and start chopping heads off. As always, 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|32: How I Met Your Mother

It’s time for Daddy Varius to spill the beans on the secret family history.

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|16: Gotta See a Man About a Horseman

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|16: He’s Kind Of A Big Deal.

We join this week’s episode just in time for the first real fight of the dungeon. The skeletons were more of a warmup, and the encounter with the temple guards was almost more of a trap: as long as you weren’t dumb enough to stay in the room with them, combat could be pretty much avoided entirely.

This time, though, we’ve got Christopher Walken’s character from Sleepy Hollow to deal with. The initial read of the fight is that the guy on the horse is the heavy hitter, but the horse itself isn’t that formidable – it just adds that smoke debuff and gives the guy more mobility than he’d have on foot. Halfway through the fight, Steve mentions that it does have some sort of trample ability that might make it a more powerful foe, but we never actually get to see that.

Now, I’m at the back when the fight starts, and if I’m being honest, half of that was by design – now that I use a bow, I like hanging back a little until I can assess the fight – and if I’m being honest, the other half was that I was being a little slow in moving my piece. John pretty much ran halfway across the map, and I was moving along in 30, 40-foot chunks. As one of Bob Ross’ “happy little accidents”, this did mean I was too far away to get the fear effect from the rider or the sickness from the smoke. So maybe “tactical cowardice” has its place in the world.

The opening act strikes me as “good radio” from an action standpoint, but highly implausible from a physics standpoint. First, critical hit or not, I’m not sure I see a gust of wind blowing over a horse that’s capable of carrying an armored rider. There really probably ought to be some size restriction on that. But the rules say what they say, so itty-bitty mephit huffs and puffs and blows the horse down.

Also, there’s the matter of the steed saving its master from the fall. I’m not going to break out my old college physics text and do the math, but even with everyone’s turns theoretically happening simultaneously, I’m not sure 6 seconds (one round) would be enough time to re-summon a steed and stop the fall in a way SAFELY slows down the rider. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO GWEN STACEY IN SPIDER-MAN? It’s far more likely the rider’s momentum would just pancake the horse and they’d both be dead. But whatever. Good radio. Moving on.

While the enemies are in freefall, we have to make a tactical decision, and for some reason, John wants to use this moment to run past the encounter and go further into the dungeon. I didn’t really get a chance to chime in as much as I wanted, but this struck me as a REALLY dumb idea. First, there’s bleeding encounters – what if we run into the next room, find another enemy who’s just as powerful, and then the headless horseman rejoins the fight as well. Even if that doesn’t happen… let’s say we go explore a while. Eventually – unless we find a PERMANENT base of operations – we’ll have to leave the dungeon to go rest up, and we’ll probably have to come back past this guy with far fewer resources to deal with him. So I was firmly of the mindset of “might as well take the fight now”.

Especially when you add in the POSSIBILITY of getting the temple guardians on our side. I have to admit I didn’t really think that would work, but it was worth a shot. I looked at it this way – if he’s a mindless “animal-instinct” level of undead, he probably wandered in there once before, got punched, and realized he shouldn’t go there again. If he’s got human-equivalent intelligence, he probably RECOGNIZES guardians of Aroden and knows to stay away from them. Either way, I do kinda doubt he’s going to charge right into the room. But it could still help us establish a defensive position, much the same way it helps to fight under your tower in League of Legends. If you stake out a position the enemy can’t or won’t enter, you can basically chip away with ranged attacks and then go in for the finishing blow on terms of your choosing.

That’s the theory anyway.

The one kinda-sorta problem was that Lo Mang and Dougie ran and hid behind pillars, which somewhat negated the purpose of trying to LURE the thing. For a lure to work, you gotta at least give the enemy some sort of target to chase, so unless it’s got supernatural radar of some sort, that means SOMEONE’s got to be in visible range. So that’s why I was standing out in the middle of the room like a dope at first – offering up a target. I’m not excessively brave, but I hadn’t taken any damage yet, so even if he’d gone full charge, I probably could’ve survived one round of attacks and then he’d be all the way into the killbox.

And wouldn’t you know it, once we start fighting with tactics instead of rushing blindly at things, it actually starts to go pretty well. We down the horse pretty easily, and while the boss is a little tougher, Gomez’s spells really make the difference here. One thing that was kind of exciting – though we really only got to SUCCESSFULLY use it once – was the Shared Strategem. Now that Dougie retrained into more of a traditional precision damage rogue, being able to use my bow to give Dougie flat-footed from anywhere in the room is going to be a big help.

So the horseman dies… but no cool loot, because he just disappears into mist. So I think there’s going to be some sort of “putting him to rest” side quest involved here. Given the theme of “corrupted catacombs”, I think maybe this guy was a former champion of Aroden, but either the Skinsaws activated him as a line of defense or the general corruption caused by Aroden’s absence turned him. Assuming that to be true, that sort of implies he’ll have his own burial chamber if he was a high-up muckety-muck, and maybe there’s where we’ll be able to figure out how to banish him permanently. And (cough) get his stuff (cough).

While searching around in the aftermath of the fight, we do find a tunnel leading to a different part of the dungeon, and there’s indications that this is how the Skinsaws are getting in and out. So if we want to go directly after them, that seems like the way to go. But between resolving the horseman issue and general “clear out the level” metagaming, we decide to investigate further along the horseman’s path to see if we can find clues about how to get rid of him permanently.

And OK.. we don’t find the horseman (unless his grave is behind that locked gate), but we do find another encounter. Which we’ll deal with next week. As always, 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.

Agents of Edgewatch S2|16: He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

The biggest question this week isn’t how the Agents going to survive a headless horseman riding a nightmare steed, rather how does he see and hear without a head?

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|31: Friend of the Devil

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|31: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In last week’s column, you might remember I played around with the whole “five stages of grief” thing. I’m pretty sure the real world is messier than that and grief doesn’t move in a straight line – you think you’re fine, the wrong song plays at the grocery store, and all of a sudden you’re tearing up while hugging a bag of frozen peas – but it made for a useful framing and did capture the different layers of shifting emotions about Darius’ death at the time.

Well, the funny thing is, over the weekend I had actually found my way to acceptance. Or at least I had managed to find some positives to introducing a new character. It would certainly have shaken up the roleplaying dynamic. What sort of character would Rob play, and how would the rest of the party react to this new person “filling Darius’ shoes”? It might have also freshened up the combat dynamics a little – I love Darius as a character, but his role in a fight is to stand in front of something and punch it. A new character might have introduced some new tactics. Maybe Rob would roll a TRUE non-human character – yeah, Darius and Alhara are half-elves, and now Hap has genie blood, but Rob could’ve really pulled out all the stops. (My suggestion: a boar-based beastkin who, to inject some irony, still loves bacon.) Also, out at the skinny end of the bell curve, part of me hoped Steve might let Rob brew a beta version of a Magus or Summoner since Secrets of Magic would be out by the time this aired (or close to it). Like he did with Alhara and the Swashbuckler when the show started.

So yeah, I had actually reached a point where I was willing to see the positives of a show that didn’t include Darius. Instead, the Reaper is cheated, and Darius lives to fight another day… but with a HUGE catch.

Now, let me step out of the story for a second and discuss “cheating death” as a general mechanism. My overall position is that the VAST majority of the time, death is death and shouldn’t be undone lightly, but I also think there ARE situations where you consider it, and maybe this was one of them.

Rule #1 is “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. If the player gets killed because they were being reckless or stupid, they don’t get any favors. The GM should NEVER reward downright bad play. In this case, they had no way to know about the curse, and once they used the first round to figure out the golem’s “pattern”, their kiting tactics were actually pretty clever. Trip, run away, lather, rinse, repeat. Other than metagaming that it was an optional encounter and avoiding it entirely, you can’t accuse anyone of being reckless here.

Rule #2 is that sometimes you cut the players a break if the dice are REALLY against them – to borrow a phrase from poker, sometimes as a GM, you find a way to let them walk away from a bad beat. If we’re being fair, Darius’ death was probably in the middle. On one hand, it was a powerful creature so it had a high DC, and nobody told them to spend all their hero points. On the other hand, they had like five or six chances where a 15 or 16 (estimated) would’ve solved the problem, and couldn’t hit it. Mr. “I Took Stats In College But Mostly Slept Through It Because It Was An 8 AM Class” ran the numbers and the chance of failing ALL those rolls was 10 or 15 percent. That starts to get into the territory of “maybe the dice are cursed”.

I’m adding a Rule #3 based on how Steve handled this situation: if it can fit within the story, the player should have some choice in the matter. Maybe the player is actually ready to make a new character and doesn’t WANT to come back, or maybe they love that first character and would do anything to keep it. If you’re going to upend that apple cart, it’s probably a good call to have the player be on board.

Rule #4 is the big one. If you’re going to overrule death itself, it can’t be for free; there has to be a cost. Now “free” doesn’t have to mean money or losing a level… it just has to mean there’s some consequence. Even if it’s just a story/roleplaying consequence, where maybe people react differently to the character because something unnatural happened to bring them back.

And hot damn, here’s where Steve really pulled the rabbit out of the hat. And where laying all the roleplaying groundwork with the mark paid off.

First was the voice itself. As I joked in our group chat, Steve did such a good job with the Achakaek voice I ALMOST forgive him for the existence of Gibzip. I’m still trying to figure out whether Steve added some effects to the voice in post. If he did, that’s pretty cool. If it’s not, it’s just a testament to how good a job he did that I convinced myself he did.

So it turns out that Darius and Alhara’s mom was, if not a full Red Mantis Assassin, certainly an adherent of Achakaek, and must have passed some sort of protective blessing/curse… blurse?… onto Darius. So when Darius “dies”, he gets a VIP meet-and-greet with the bug god himself and he’s offered a diabolical choice. He can die and move on, or he can be brought back to life by giving up more control over the mark. And he would be doing this knowing the mark is a product of malevolent power.

And I mean… come on. Darius is Darius. He’s going to protect his family, and he’s one of those people who REALLY believes they can overcome ANYTHING. This stuff is hard-wired into him. So of course he’s going to accept the consequences of the curse and come back. So now we have Darius, but now with 30 percent more stone-cold killer. It will be interesting to see how that manifests going forward. (And as a “rubber meets the road” thing, I’m kinda curious whether Darius will have access to the full Red Mantis archetype, or whether the status quo will continue and the mark will continue to provide a few select powers.)

Before we move on, I wanted to commend all THREE of the group-mates for their excellent roleplay in this moment. It had to be hard to “go there” and play real grief, but Vanessa and Loren really pulled it off; it was really heartbreaking there in the moment. That’s not to disrespect Rob P. either – he had to play it more subdued because Ateran is someone who guards their emotions more closely, but I thought Rob’s choices of working through the intellectual puzzle of Darius’ death, wondering what they might have done differently, while still trying to comfort Alhara were well done.

Now, Darius’ death and return cast a pretty long shadow over this episode, but we did get one more intriguing little bit of lore dump when the party FINALLY gets around to reading “the letter” they found several episodes back. And as I somewhat expected, the letter sheds more light on Mistress Dusklight’s role in this operation, formally and finally painting her as Evil-With-a-Capital-E. She wasn’t just tomb-robbing and happened to bump into them; she formally helped augment the power of their rituals and – most sinister of all – helped round up surface-dweller sacrifices (presumably various townspeople of Escadar) for the xulgaths. So, I don’t know how Achakaek will feel about all of it but sounds like Mistress Dusklight needs to die sooner rather than later if she hasn’t left for Absalom yet.

There is one small silver lining in all of this. The letter does also hint at a xulgath faction that was opposed to what this group is doing. I’m not even going to TRY to spell specific xulgath names, but Dusklight’s letter mentions a diadem being damaged when knocked off the leader’s head during a battle with a fellow xulgath. So that raises at least a possibility that humanity may have some… if not allies, at least people who can be reasoned with… amongst the xulgaths. It’s SOMETHING to hang one’s hat on.

So this week, Darius rests and recovers and we all eat our feelings. Next week, we get back to work, whether that’s clearing the last few rooms of the temple, confronting Mistress Dusklight… or maybe they’re the same thing and it’s just a race for the diadem at this point. As always, 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.

(Achakaek voice) OR ELSE…