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Agents of Edgewatch S3|23: The Bomb Squad

It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and the Agents are all out of gum.

Roll For Combat, Agents of Edgewatch Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Agents of Edgewatch, and the third book, All or Nothing.

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 S3|32: A New Foe Has Appeared!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|32: Fizzy Lifting Drinks.

First off the bat, subterranean stinkers have “schemes”, not “plots”. Possibly even “sordid schemes”.

So this week, you know what they say about what happens when you assume… This is the week where we find out we’ve been getting quite a few things wrong this whole time. I don’t know if I should say “we” or just “me”, but it felt like some pieces of this came as news to the players too. Or maybe I’m just a dumbass. Always a possibility.

First and foremost, we gradually come to the realization (started last week, confirmed this week) that Thessekka wasn’t necessarily the big boss of this book. To be fair, that was something the Turpin Rowe distillery folks said and we just kind of ran with it, but it starts to feel like the real big bad is this white-eyed dwarf that we first learn about from Snake Lady, and then I’m assuming it’s the dwarf that shoots the crossbow bolt right at the end of the episode. (And at a meta level anyone who can do 57 points of damage with a crossbow bolt is probably a boss.)

We also learn that all the nasal-themed horror we’ve encountered around the Swardlands is in fact related to the xulgaths. Truth be told, I’d been thinking it was some unrelated secondary quest. I suppose this alarm bell should’ve gone off when we learned that the xulgaths could fast-travel between the aeon towers – it really did explain a lot – but I will concede I was a little slow on the uptake and didn’t catch it until it was spelled out with jars of pituitary goop. But now we know; we just don’t know how it fits into the larger puzzle. It is genetic material for the mutants they’re creating? Is there some OTHER plan that requires the harvesting of specimens? Is this dwarf just a weirdo?

(And OK, there’s a small degree to which this all feels like it belongs in our Edgewatch adventure. We’re the ones dealing with the body-horror nutjobs… stay in your lane!)

But I’ve gone a little bit out of order, as a lot of this stuff gets revealed later in the episode. I’m literally getting ahead of myself.

First up, we have another new version of xulgath – the resin-seep xulgath. The good news… and I mean the ONLY good news… is that they don’t stink like their other xulgath buddies, so you don’t have to worry about the usual sickened rolls. The tradeoff is the aforementioned resin. There’s resin crust (part of this nutritious breakfast!) which adds poison and a slowing effect to its jaw and claw attacks, and there’s resin spray, which is a poisonous breath weapon. So… I think I’d rather have to deal with the sickened, all things being equal.

In the middle of this, we uncover a bit of a gray area, the difference between “knocked back” and “shoved”, specifically in relation to Darius’ mountain stance. Mountain Stance specifically protects against being shoved and tripped which are both defined actions. But the description of the xulgath’s resin spray uses the terminology “knocked back”, which does not appear to be formally defined, except as a form of forced movement. (To be fair, “knocked back” is also used in other spells like hydraulic push; it’s not just something that got chucked into this monster statblock.) If Paizo wanted to communicate something different, why not define “knocked back” a little more formally? It’s a little confusing, and this particular case, I’m with Rob – in the moment, it sure felt like Darius was being shoved.

So you know what? I asked Mark Seifter… now that he’s part of the team, I figured I might as well. He did confirm that’s working as intended: Shove is specifically the Athletics feat, whereas there are other forms of forced movement. (An easier way to see the distinction would be a spell that alters gravity and forces someone to “fall” a different direction. There’s no attack there to muddy the waters… they just move in a different direction because of altered physics.) Additionally, there are abilities – he mentioned the rock dwarf heritage – that are effective against ALL forced movement. So the distinction is intentional, even if it might be hard to articulate in any particular case.

For the tiebreak, I’d actually look at the flavor text. Mountain Stance is described as “a technique first discovered by dwarven monks – allowing you to strike with the weight of an avalanche”. To me, that suggests that mountain stance was first and foremost designed for its offensive benefits, and its resistance to Shoves and Trips was a Bob Ross “happy little accident”. That’s what I’m going with, anyway.

OK, we’ve beaten this in to the ground, and soon enough the party does the same to Captain Resin Crust. Next up, it’s time to explore the rest of the tower. As they’re exploring, they hear the clinking of chains, and for a brief moment Hap forgets the lessons of Turpin Rowe and starts warming up another fireball in the bullpen. But the rest of the party stops her, and it turns out to be a good thing as it’s a prisoner… yeah, I’m not even trying to spell that name. (Alinka Quink?) Snake Lady it is. So not only do they save a life, and gain some valuable intel… they have another recruit for the circus. If they make it out of here alive.

After the prisoner is freed, the exploration continues. First, the party finds… for lack of a better description… the lab, where we learn that the xulgaths were basically behind all the brain-scrapings, and that they just saved Snake Lady from being next on the list. Then they find what’s likely to be the stage for the finale… a big central chamber with light (presumably aeon stone light) coming down from above and being scattered around the room by mirrors.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose. First, Darius starts floating. Meaning he’s no longer in contact with the ground, which means no mountain stance. Yeah, that’s bad. Then we get the entry of the muscle: big four-armed steroid xulgath with a little tiny head. (If any of you played any of the older games in the Ultima series, this guy reminded me of the Headless, one of their cannon-fodder bad guys.) And then just when we were starting to wrap our brains around that, we get the aforementioned extra-nasty crossbow bolt (shadow damage, poison damage, and bears… oh my!) that announces the arrival of… well, I’m assuming it’s going to be a white-eyed dwarf, based on what we learned earlier in the episode. And I’m betting he or she is trouble.

How will our heroes fare in this fight? Hard to say, but we’ll find out (or START to find out, at least) 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.

Three Ring Adventure S3|32: Fizzy Lifting Drinks

Flying should be fun, unless you are a monk whose powers are based on standing on the earth.

Roll For Combat, Three Ring Adventure Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Extinction Curse, and the third book, Life’s Long Shadows.

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 S3|22: Catch Me If You Can

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|22: Flurry of Misses.

We have a lot to unpack this week, but first, the absolute briefest of movie reviews.

Everything Everywhere All At Once. Go see it. That’s the review. (Among other reasons, because it’s really hard to review without spoilers.)

As we get into the action of this week’s episode, you can really sense the tone shift a new week brings – both for the party as a whole, and for me in particular. It’s almost like one of those Snickers commercials: toward the end of the previous session, I was ready to throw my computer out a window. This week, I’m much more my normal mostly-unflappable self.

Part of it was just starting fresh in a new week, but part of it was seeing the tactics start to come together. The thing is, last week, I had reached the conclusion that our melees (Dougie and Lo Mang) needed to start grappling to change the dynamics of the fight, but they hadn’t gotten there yet. And I didn’t want to come right out and TELL them to do that, because being told what to do is one of my pet peeves. As we get into this session, they’re finally starting to put it into effect and it’s starting to feel like progress.

In an unexpected turn of events, Gomez gets in on the action as well, summoning his arboreal reaper, which also goes after her Fortitude saves. If you find a weak spot, might as well make the most of it: Franca can dodge everything we throw at her, but she’s just not THAT strong, and the dice finally start to lock in on that advantage. So the reaper can drain her vitality every few rounds, and that proves to be remarkably effective for a summoned creature. PROGRESS IS BEING MADE.

The thing with the staff was a little weird. It almost feels like Steve wanted to give us some of the encounter loot so that we could use it against Franca, but then realized you can’t use staffs without attuning them first, so a staff drop would be useless in this fight anyway. Skipping ahead to the end, it does turn out to be the next level of fire staff, which was on my purchase list anyway, so that’s nice. But for this fight and the upcoming boss battle… we missed our chance.

So the fight continues on for a while, with the balance of things slowly shifting in our favor. At first, we’re landing the grapples but not the damage, which at least starts to restrict her offensive options a bit because she can’t do anything that involves movement. Once we’re landing grapples AND damage, the path to victory starts to emerge out of this mess… it just takes a little while to get there.

And then finally… she’s down. After a little bit of wound-licking, we do a brief interrogation, and she’s more than happy to tell us where the bomb is. I wasn’t surprised she didn’t have it on her, but I assumed it might be a search or chase mechanic to find it before it went off. CUT THE BLUE WIRE! But no. It’s actually much worse than that. Oggvurm, the gladiator champion is working with her, and has the device. So if we want it, we’ll have to (as the saying goes) pry it from his cold dead fingers.

So yeah, we’ve got one more fight in front of us, and it’s against someone who feels like he’s going to be even more powerful than Franca. I mean… I don’t have his statblock in front of me, but come on. A gladiator champion? That’s not going to be some Level 10 you roll over in three rounds.

And that’s why – let’s take a little bit of a swim in the deeper waters – I decided to put the Evil Nasty Poison in my sword cane.

We had a discussion about this on our Discord channel. Some people offered me the “out” that the badge would convert it to non-lethal damage, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I’m willing to assume my actions were taken with the full knowledge that it could be lethal.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a kind of morally ambiguous move, and I will say I’m a little disappointed my tone was so cavalier at the time. I kinda wish I wasn’t so happy-go-lucky about committing a potential war crime of my own in trying to stop this guy.

However, here’s my argument in favor of doing it.

The first argument is a little meta-gamey – I highly suspected the poison I had (DC 19 cytillesh oil) would’ve basically been useless against a boss-level foe. Basil might not know the specific numbers, but I feel like he’d know his tools well enough to realize that cytillesh oil wouldn’t be enough to bring this guy down. And the second related argument is that equipping it is not the same as using it; at this point, I’m just giving myself options in a situation where we’re already running low on resources. I don’t want to decide halfway through the fight that I need the bigger guns and try to put the poison in my cane up while this guy is actively whomping on me. Now, it’s ready to go, even if I get a bout of conscience and never use it.

And OK, it EVEN popped into my head that if there’s an antidote to this stuff, maybe us having it and using it as weapon might be a way to tease that out a bit. Maybe he’s not afraid of the poison when he’s in control of how it’s released, but maybe if he knows WE have some of it, that changes his tune.

But I think the big thing is exigent circumstances. This guy is going to try and set off a catastrophic event that will kill hundreds or even thousands of people. To my way of thinking, we’re in “you stop him, HOWEVER you have to do it” territory. The simple fact is the poison has a better chance of landing, and if it does, it’ll do some significant damage. So this one time, I’m telling the badge to shut it and going with the morally-gray choice. At the risk of being overly serious about a game, if they took Basil’s badge for this, he could live with it.

But as we’re summoned forth to the fight, I’m almost immediately realizing it may not get reach that point anyway. As we arrive back in the arena, we see a few things that ALL favor me hanging back and plonking with the bow anyway. First, the battlefield is a wide open area with clear sightlines. Second, Oggvurm has bodyguards, so it may be best to stay out of flanking situations. Lastly, and probably most importantly, it turns out the device is pumping out clouds of poison in aerosol form. SOMEONE will probably have to enter melee range at some point, but… “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first”. Add all of that together, and that poison may stay in its cane anyway if I never get close enough to use it.

So the table is set, next week we’ll see if we can save the city of Absalom yet again. 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 S3|22: Flurry of Misses

When you can’t hit the broadside of a barn, just remember to embrace the ineptitude.

Roll For Combat, Agents of Edgewatch Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Agents of Edgewatch, and the third book, All or Nothing.

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 S3|31: Bored With the Board

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|31: 69, Dudes!.

This is one of those weeks where I’ll probably dwell on the show notes as much as the episode because I think there’s a lot of good stuff there.

First, I was there when Steve and Chris got in the argument he mentions. It was a bit of a “perfect storm” situation. You had the ghost of a wizard, which was supposed to have the intelligence it had when it was alive, so Steve decided to use a humanoid understanding of tactics. We were low-level characters, so there wasn’t a lot of spare coin floating around yet to buy a solution. To be fair, I think the writers of the adventure included a ghost touch magic item (scroll, elixir, don’t remember what exactly) in a different room but we hadn’t found it. So you had the magic user popping out of the floor, casting a spell or attacking, and dropping back into the ground. And while we were able to prepare SOME ready actions to attack, it was just slow going we kept having to retreat over and over. And we couldn’t really go do something else because that was the critical path through the adventure. It’s all stuff you can justify, but it absolutely WASN’T fun gaming.

With that as backdrop, I actually agree with Steve that environmental dynamics can be a really interesting way to spice up a game when done right. If you think about it, a lot of these scenarios involve fighting multiple instances of the same (or close to the same) enemy. If we need proof, let’s have a drinking game where we take a sip every time someone says xulgath. Similarly, your characters only get new abilities when they level, so they stay pretty much the same and fight most battles the same way. So… same bad guys, same characters… even the best campaigns can get a little “lather, rinse, repeat” after a while. So that’s when changing the battlefield can be so effective, because it’s the thing you expect to change least of all.

(Let’s also acknowledge that it’s a concept that’s been borrowed from or influenced by MMORPG raid mechanics. Here’s your fight… now, 30 percent of the way through, we’re going to turn the floor to bees, and you have to execute this movement pattern we came up with to avoid getting stung to death.)

HOWEVER. I think it works best when it’s a mixed bag that has good or bad possibilities, or that both the party AND the enemies can make use of the change. If you create an environmental change and then give the bad guy the tools to bypass it entirely (for example: chunks of the floor drop out, but all the enemies have flying), than it’s ONLY a nuisance to the party and that’s just difficulty for the sake of difficulty. If it’s an environmental change that can also be used to the party’s benefit – even if they have to do some brainwork to make it happen – I think that’s where things get interesting.

Skipping ahead a little, that sort of applies here. Yes, the wall Thessekka lays down cuts Ateran off from the rest of the fight, and since they’re the main healer, that’s certainly not nothing. On the other hand, the wall also creates a potential defensive formation for the party as well, as we see when Ateran gets knocked down to their last hit points and can duck down behind it to stay alive. Mixed bag… interesting. One-sided… not interesting (unless it’s to beef up an encounter with a group of weaker foes.)

Now that we’re talking about the fight itself, we start this week with a lucky blow, as Hap’s chain lightning basically wipes the rest of the adds off the board and reduces the fight to Thessekka against the party. I’m not sure how manageable this fight would’ve been if the adds had lingered another round or two. But one good zap and a bunch of crappy saving throws (including the boss herself), and this is back in the realm of possibility.

In the unlucky blow category, we had Darius ALMOST getting knocked over the edge halfway through the fight. I don’t think the fall would’ve killed Darius outright, but if it took him multiple rounds to climb back up, having him not there to take blows and create flanking would’ve made the fight a LOT more hairy. And actually this dovetails nicely with Steve’s earlier point: if Steve was really a “killer GM” and treated the players in an adversarial fashion, he could’ve easily attacked Darius and tried to knock him off; without a second reaction, Darius wouldn’t be able to grab an edge again and would just fall. When Steve talks about not trying to “win D&D”, it’s stuff like that. Yeah you could… but is it something you’d feel good about if it becomes the reason a player leaves the group?

Luckily Darius stays in the fight, gets back up on the platform, and the battle continues. As it does, we see some smart tactics start to emerge, as the party (except for Darius) switches away from raw physical damage and moves to forms of damage that would stand a better chance of bypassing Thessekka’s defenses. In some cases (Hap) it was a 50-50 between a coherent plan and “that’s what spells were left”, but you did also see Alhara try to focus her attacks on generating bleed damage, and you saw Ateran move away from telekinetic projectile and toward to his less physically-oriented spells. Granted, those other spells came with save DCs and Thessekka made most of her saves, but the tactical thought was sound.

And eventually, it all comes together and Thessekka is downed. Once it’s the entire party beating on one bad guy, it’s a short journey to victory lane. So that’s it, right? The Big Bad is vanquished, the towers are clear… oh wait a second. Thessekka left some notes behind. And those notes suggest that she experimented on her troops and created some mutant xulgaths that don’t sound like anything we’ve seen yet. You’d like to believe she wouldn’t create minions more powerful than herself – that’s not accepted best practices in the Evil HR Handbook — but even something close to her power could make for a nasty fight yet to come. (And lest we forget, we haven’t even gotten to some of the other side issues like the dead people with nosebleeds.) So despite the party running a little low on resources, we may not be QUITE done with this book of the AP just yet. Onward!

As always, we’ll pick it up next week with more smelly xulgaths (definitely), more good news and bad news that really just turns out to be bad news (probably), more gratuitous references to Darius’ buttocks (50-50 chance), and the usual hijinks you expect from the Circus of Wayward Wonders. 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.

Three Ring Adventure S3|31: 69, Dudes!

The RFC Crew faces the big bad xulgath boss on the edge of a ziggurat tower, and it’s a long way down.

Roll For Combat, Three Ring Adventure Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Extinction Curse, and the third book, Life’s Long Shadows.

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 S3|21: Rage Against the RNG

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|21: Catch Me If You Can.

As I said in a joking-but-not-joking fashion on our Discord channel: you know this fight is rough when I’m the one who gets angry.

I was kidding, but not really. After all, if you’ve been listening to our exploits for any amount of time, you’d probably recognize that I’m usually the calm one who just lets the game wash over me. In fact, you sometimes have to double-check to make sure I’m still awake. (A truer statement than you think: in our pre-podcast days I actually dozed off during a session once.) So when I say this Franca Laurentz fight was annoying enough for me to lose my temper, I feel like that’s saying something.

Please don’t get me wrong. Challenging fights don’t bother me as long as they’re also interesting. In fact, I LOVE it when a new enemy emerges halfway through the fight, or when the boss rolls out some ability you’ve never seen before and it completely disrupts the flow of the fight. Challenging and interesting is fine. I’ve got as much a sense of the theatrical as anyone else. Challenging in ways that are just tedious and annoying, on the other hand, is where I start to lose interest and question my dedication to the game.

And that’s largely what this fight was: mostly a tedious war of attrition. Franca wasn’t doing a LOT of damage to us, though we’ll come back to that either later in this session, or next week when the fight continues. But the fact is she was frustratingly hard to hit, and it got even worse when she backed herself into a corner and removed flanking from the equation. So while she wasn’t doing much damage to us, we were doing almost ZERO damage to her.

I suppose I will amend that statement a little bit. I thought Franca’s reaction that allowed her to redirect attacks was a pretty cool ability. My reference was that it felt like something out of a Jackie Chan movie; I could see Jackie grabbing a guy’s jacket and spinning him around, redirecting Thug #1’s attack so it hits Thug #2. In lighter moments, it would’ve probably been a fun little quirk of the fight. I just found it hard to find the joy in it when I was the one who kept getting hit by it. But if they ever offer it as a character feat, I am there.

And OK, let’s also acknowledge that I got the double-whammy this session, because my dice luck was just crap all night. So this was already a difficult opponent, but the added turn of the screws was that prior to my final attack of the night that finally hit, my high roll of the night had been a 10 or 11. Part of the reason I was getting so aggravated was that Steve was dropping hints about changing our tactics, and I’m thinking “there’s not a tactic in the world that lets you hit when you roll a 3 on-die”.

And… I think we WERE thinking about changing our tactics, we just hadn’t gotten there yet. I think there’s a natural “calibration” period in most fights where you just do your usual thing – particularly in ways that don’t consume resources – until you figure out how strong or weak the opponent is. Then once you have a sense of the level of the threat, then you start taking tactics to the next level. So some of our reluctance to changing tactics was the natural flow of feeling her out and figuring out what we were dealing with. I think that in particular, once Franca moved into the corner and there was NO way we could get flanking the old-fashioned way, that was kind of the big wake-up call that we needed to try something different than we’d been doing for the previous 2.9 books of the AP.

I think that “something” needs to be strength-based, so… pushes, grapples, something like that. If you reverse-engineer saving throws, you get a three-legged stool model where an enemy can be quick and elusive (Reflex), strong and hard-hitting (Fort), or resistant to magic (Will), and it usually only gets two of the three at most (and for easier fights, only one of the three). So I feel like if Franca is strong in Reflex, it MAY be possible to just overpower her with Strength. Granted, Basil is not the one to do it, but that’s right up Lo Mang and Dougie’s collective alley.

I do want to quibble with Steve’s interpretation of the grapple rules. He’s KINDA right in that you have to re-do your grapple check every round, and you can increase an existing grapple to restrained through repeated success. But I’m also kinda right that if you critically succeed on your grapple, it goes right to restrained, the worse of the two conditions. For the record, both generate flat-footed and immobilized; the main difference between the two is that you can’t attack or manipulate items while restrained (except to try and escape), while you can attack without penalty and can manipulate items with a DC 5 flat check while grappled. For the sports-nerd crowd, grappled has the quarterback’s legs, but he can still throw the ball; restrained has his throwing arm wrapped up as well. So bringing it back to this fight… if we could get her restrained, that would be a game-changer, and even grappled would be pretty good.

Or… we could just shove her ass into the furnace. It’s not a very “cop” move, but it’d work.

Now, I’m going to give you a little spoiler, as it may come into play next week. Remember when I said she wasn’t doing much damage? Once the fight was over, I went back and looked at her stat block, and there’s some sneaky-serious stuff baked in there that you wouldn’t catch at first glance. Remember the bleed ability? If that CRITS, it also imparts flat-footed, and she gets additional precision damage until the start of her next turn. So that CAN be extra nasty as a setup attack; it’s just that she hasn’t had a chance to use it that way yet.

That’s not meant as a cliff-hanger: I honestly forget whether she lands one of those later in the fight or not. But I figured I’d throw it out there as a teaser for next time. Can we turn this fight around and land some hits? Will I roll double-digits? Come back next week and find out. 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 S3|21: Catch Me If You Can

Could it be that the Agents are losing this combat?

Roll For Combat, Agents of Edgewatch Podcast is a playthrough of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, Agents of Edgewatch, and the third book, All or Nothing.

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 S3|30: Curtain Brawl

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|30: Loot Pinatas.

Some of you who read both columns already know this, but early-to-mid April tends to be a mess for me. There’s a fantasy baseball draft where even though I’m not in the league anymore, multiple life-long friends (including Steve) descend on Pittsburgh and hang out for the weekend. There’s also my kids’ birthdays, including the Big 1-8 for The Boy. And of course there’s doing taxes. Or more accurately, procrastinating about doing my taxes. So sorry I’m running a bit behind this week.

I thought the discussion in the show notes about gold vs. magical items was kind of interesting, and since it involves a direct comparison between the two shows, it felt like I couldn’t stay on the sidelines. It is absolutely true we Edgewatch types almost always have more cash-in-hand than the circus-folk (though at the risk of a mild spoiler, there was a recent shopping spree where Basil ended up with ONE gold piece left). As Steve said, he converts a good amount of the treasure directly to “bounties” or “rewards” and just hands us cash because the moral ambiguity of cops shaking people down for their treasure directly would send a really weird message.

Having said that, I still think actual treasure has a place in this game, and here’s why. Loot can be a driver of character change in a way gold cannot. There’s that phenomenon of “you didn’t know something was missing until you found it” that’s very much at play, and it can actually cause you to take your characters in new directions because of the toys you get along the way. Look at Basil and his bow: archery wasn’t even on the radar when I initially built Basil, but once I was gifted a bow (a NAMED bow, no less) by the loot gods, I HAD to start playing around with it. Now, it’s pretty fundamental to how I play. Closer to home, Riley isn’t “loot”, but being able to rescue and adopt an animal companion created a major change in Loren’s concept of what Hap was going to be (though the love of animals was always there), and it’s been fun to watch that unfold. Even the water-based Aroden boon drove a conversation about how committed Hap was to her fire magic. I think you risk losing that spontaneity if you just convert everything to an Amazon gift card, even if it’s much easier to administer.

And sure, it sucks when you sometimes get a really cool piece of loot that absolutely NO ONE in the party can use, but I think the good outweighs the bad of keeping at least SOME real loot in the mix. Besides, in my case, missing out on cool loot just drives the NEXT character I create: I can neither confirm nor deny I once decided to roll a reach-weapon fighter solely based on my current character’s party getting a fancy magic halberd no one could use.

Now, all of this discussion of loot feeds into our discussion of “prison wallets” and cloacas, and… yeah, I’m not going anywhere near that. My first thought is that this is actually a guerilla marketing campaign for the Battlezoo monster parts system: “if we make conventional looting disgusting enough, perhaps players will choose something else!” I will say Rob P.’s “prayer beads” comment was the star of the show. First, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Vanessa laugh so hard she was out of breath before, but she was pretty close here. Second, if we ever launch a more mature line of T-shirts (RFNC-17?), “those look like prayer beads… ohhh!” will undoubtedly have to be the first one off the line.

At any rate… back to the action. We rejoin our team as the previous battle winds down. There’s healing to do and a little bit of waiting until the fires die down, but it’s now time to storm the tower itself. The sequence does create a bit of incongruity where the alarm has been raised, but nobody comes to check on the xulgaths at the guard post for 20… 30… 40 minutes? One can imagine the xulgaths inside:

“Boy, looks like something’s going on out there. Should we check it out?”

“You first.”

“No, you first.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure if they need us they’ll come get us.”

And then the return to… banging rocks together, or whatever it is that xulgaths do when they’re just waiting for adventurers to arrive.

So the party gets ready, Alhara steals up to the main chamber, and it’s time for another fight. At first glance, it’s shaping up as another fairly easy battle. The xulgaths do have numbers, but they don’t seem to be able to hit all that well or do that much damage in the first round.

But then things get a little more interesting in the second round, as the battle starts to split into two major fronts. Darius and Alhara are doing fine against the ones they’re fighting, but a group breaks off and attacks Ateran and Hap, and “xulgaths plus squishy casters plus better dice luck” puts the casters on the defensive a bit.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Thessekka, the big boss of the third book, makes her dramatic entrance. (From behind a curtain, no less. Who knew xulgaths loved theater so much?) She’s much bigger than the average xulgath, visibly stony (stoneskin or something like it) and has extra pointy bits sticking out of her body. And the parts that don’t have pointy bits are covered with all sorts of alchemical flasks. So this was probably to be expected, but the little guys were just appetizers and the main course has been served.

(As an aside, I find myself wondering if one could attack the alchemical items on her body, forcibly detonating them and causing her damage. But to counter my own argument, I feel like the fact that she has Quick Bomber means the materials are safely stored and can’t be targeted. Besides, if you could do that to enemies, then the GM could do that to you, and nobody would ever play an alchemist again.)

The Varus siblings charge up to deal with Thessekka, with mixed results. Alhara gets one of her patented trips in, but she’s not strong enough to shove the xulgath over the edge, and Darius misses entirely. Meanwhile, the one attack that lands hints at some pretty strong damage reduction. Whether that’s a spell-like/alchemical ability, or a native damage resistance is TBD.

Meanwhile, the results are equally mixed down in Caster-Town. The good news about Darius and Alhara moving forward to take on the boss is that Ateran and Hap can start using area damage, and Riley jumps out of his Pokeball to create some flanking possibilities. Unfortunately, the bad dice luck is still hanging around, as the xulgaths make most of their saves on the area damage (and in Hap’s case, the damage from her fireball was underwhelming to begin with). And Thessekka used her first around of alchemical attacks to put some acid damage on the back line, so there’s that too.

Now… you might be thinking. “All of that sounds impressive, but what if the boss also had a devastating area attack too?” If that was your thought… congratulations, you can become a Paizo adventure path writer, because Thessekka’s next move is a little thing called Earthen Torrent. It’s a cone effect that does 10d10 of damage, so Darius and Alhara also have to deal with a mini-avalanche right out of the gate.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time. On one hand, you expect the final fight of a book to be pretty tough. On the other hand, I’m looking at the stat block for this Thessekka and… I’ll admit I’m a little worried. She’s looking like a pretty tough customer, and half the party is still dealing with the adds.

Will they make it through? Will we be seeing a party wipe, followed by a circus B-team of Evora (and Gigi), Matchstick Flynn, the Aquamancer, and Booralu tackle Book 4? Guess you’ll have to come back next week and find out. 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.