Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts

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The Sideshow S2|27: Rock, Paper, Fireball

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|27: Between a Vrock and a Hard Place.

Welcome to Roll For Combat, Beach-Bum Edition. That’s right, I’m writing from vacation this week. (The Patreons who stopped by for our Malevolence game already know this.)

The bad news is you might get a rather fragmented column this week, as this is getting written between trips to the beer cooler. The good news is you get a book recommendation as bonus content: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (the guy who did The Martian). I can’t give you a plot description because the whole plot is an unfolding mystery where our protagonist doesn’t even know their own name at first, but both space and science (both are right on the cover, so no big spoiler there) hijinx are involved.

Sorry, where was I? (Other than getting another beer.) Right, this week’s episode.

First, we have the occasional emergence of Silly Steve, which we don’t see very often; or at least not in extended bursts. Now, Steve’s not a humorless person by nature, but for whatever reason, he tends to run a pretty tight ship when running his games. If I were to hazard a guess, I think it’s more just a function of having the game, the recording tools, possible stuff going on in the background at home, and everything else to keep an eye on, so he usually doesn’t have the TIME for frivolity. But here we get jokes, silly voices… the whole nine yards. Savor these moments, listeners. They don’t come around too often. Though I have to say that is one of the nerdiest earth elementals I have ever heard. I expect a gravelly Vin Diesel voice from a creature made of living dirt; I don’t expect our party to be beaten to death by something that sounds like my 11th-grade math teacher.

Speaking of which, I loved the implied theme of this battle, with Darius squaring off against his own evolved Pokemon form. Rock-based powers vs. actual rock! (Or is Darius a Machop/Machoke who happened to be given some stone-themed TM’s? Needs more awkwardly nerdy research.) But the stone-vs.-stone theme of the fight was carried off quite nicely.

Unless you’re poor Alhara, of course. I’m starting to feel bad for poor Vanessa… she’s just been a magnet for creature attacks these last few fights, as Alhara gets dropped once again. To some degree, it’s nature of the beast: out of four people you’ve got two squishes who have no business being on the front lines, so of course, Alhara is going to be targeted quite a bit. But it would be nice if a few of them missed and she came out of a fight with more than 10 hit points left.

I realize we’re out of order since the shawl was loot from the previous room, but I have to admit I’m with Loren on the Azlanti shawl. SELL, SELL, SELL! I’ll concede Comprehend Languages is a valuable tool to have, and I even think Rob/Ateran is right that they’re GOING to run into Azlanti at some point down the road. However, with 700 gold pieces, you could buy DOZENS of scrolls of Comprehend Languages and still have plenty of change left over. Just sayin’.

Unless… and I literally just had this thought as I’m writing it… if the plan is to keep the shawl long enough to LEARN Azlanti through the Multilingual feat (can be any language you “have access to”) and then sell it… I can get down with that. Best of both worlds – money AND fluency – as long as you don’t have other plans for the feat.

Note that I’m kinda handwaving the temporary hit points, but I feel like a) Ateran shouldn’t be taking a lot of hits anyway, and b) most of the creatures at this point of the game are gonna blow through those hit points in one shot.

The exploration of the hall continues, and we find an abandoned xulgath encampment. That’s a bit alarming. Could there really still be hundreds of xulgaths lurking around, waiting to attack the town? Or was this more of an excavation party, and once they got into the Moonstone Hall, the bulk of them left. Either way, it’s a little unsettling that Escadar now has an express lane to the Underdark right in its town square.

It’s almost TOO MUCH room to digest at once – though I assume they’ll have to return at some point and investigate further – so the party moves on to the next room.

Next, we have a minor rules question, and I have to admit I’m siding with Vanessa on this one. For someone who relies on leaping into the fray as her go-to opener, I think checking the area in front of the door should’ve been part of the action of opening the door. If you still want to apply line-of-sight and lighting effects to that and saying she couldn’t see what was lower in the room, that’s fine, but literally looking down at the floor five feet in front of you shouldn’t be a separate action when it’s part of a signature move you do almost every combat. I look at it as “we open a door; 90 percent of the people would look straight ahead at eye level, a swashbuckler will look at the terrain immediately in front of the door in case they gotta leap into action”.

Completely random thought: three disturbed graves, three babaus. Coincidence, or is that where the xulgaths got the raw materials? (Or did I count wrong… also possible. We are talking about almost six weeks’ worth of footage now.)

So Alhara leaps into action, bounces off a triceratops flank, and… proceeds to trip it. That was a little unexpected. I’m not going to argue the feat itself – at the risk of giving away a mild Plaguestone/Malevolence spoiler, I think I gave Brixley that same feat, so I have a vested interest in legitimizing it – but I do wonder if maybe a quadruped should’ve received a bonus compared to a biped. I mean, four legs are more stable than two. Even the good people of IKEA know this. (This is not an invitation for you people to come at me with your three-legged FNURDSSONs. I’ll hear none of it.)

Nevertheless, the captain turns off the Suspension of Disbelief light, Alhara trips the triceratops (also sending the rider off to the corner of the room), leaps back out, and Hap nukes the whole room. JUST LIKE COACH DREW IT UP ON THE BLACKBOARD. Seriously, although there was some serious dumb luck getting from A to Z, they kinda ended up landing on perfect tactics. Not only that but at least one xulgath crit-fails and dies immediately.

Now the fight is really on. I did appreciate the moment of levity of “if it’s got artwork, of course it’s a boss”. Though… lots of stuff has artwork and lots of stuff hits hard. Really, it’s more like: “does the artwork contain unsettling amounts of green and/or black miasma, possibly forming skull shapes?” or “does the artwork depict the creature actually killing Pathfinder iconics?” or… OK, ”does the artwork depict the creature riding a triceratops?” is pretty legit. We’ll allow it.

But the fight itself actually proves to be a little easier than the fight against the earth elemental – in part because the caster nukes his own mount – and soon enough, one more room has been cleansed. And then we wrap up with the minor cliff-hanger of the week: that one of these bespoiled graves belongs to Uthadar himself, and that’s why he’s so insistent that there be a cleansing.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up 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.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|11: Smooth Criminals

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|11: Ol’ Jack Always Says… What the Hell?

Welcome to Week 2 of fumbling around in the dark for the plot hook here on Roll For Combat. We know WHERE the bad guys are and we know the rough shape of what we need to do. But our favorite option – kicking in doors and killing stuff – has been removed from the menu (for now), so we need to find a new way to crack this nut. And that puts us in kind of an unfamiliar place where we have to roleplay our way to a solution.

I think Steve makes a good point in his show notes. It’s not that anyone in this game CAN’T roleplay. I just think the group as a whole is very goal-oriented, and if we can’t see how something ties directly to moving the story forward, we don’t have much patience for it. I think that’s a fair assessment of us as players. There would probably be no room for an extended “Hamlin’s Hots” segment on our show.

The one exception here is Seth. I feel like Seth doesn’t mind jumping the tracks and going for a roleplay wander. Look at the food-festival escapades with Sharky, just to pick an example. Since I mentioned Hamlin’s Hots, if you traded one of us to the Extinction Curse cast, I suspect Seth would probably fit in best as a roleplayer because he embraces the weird a little better than the rest of us do.

And while we’re at it… I know sometimes I oversimplify the circus people as “the roleplaying show”. But that’s not to imply the Extinction Curse people are better at the combat/tactics side – at most, we’re just more efficient. Loren has a show where she talks in-depth about the rules with Luis Loza of Paizo. Vanessa’s written content for Paizo. Push comes to shove, they can math with the best of them. So if I ever sounded like I was suggesting otherwise, consider this a formal acknowledgment to the contrary.

So here we are, swimming in the deep end of the roleplay pool, and investigating the flophouse. The front desk clerk is surprisingly straightforward that the Copper Hand gang uses his establishment as a base of operations, but this isn’t like the murder hotel – he doesn’t seem to be an active participant in their schemes. He just takes whatever they pay him in rent and keeps his mouth shut. (Sorta… he did come right out and tell us they own the upper floors.)

It seems like our cover story waffles back and forth a little on being adventurers vs. potential recruits, although Seth drops Percen Droan’s name, which seems to commit us to the recruiting path – random adventurers wouldn’t know to drop that name. But after going back and forth, Seth settles on being, basically, Jack Burton from Big Trouble In Little China. Not metaphorically… literally, right down to lines from the movie. Despite the presence of a sentry presumably warning people upstairs that we’re coming, Gomez plows his way toward the upstairs to get in on “the action”. Whatever that is.

And surprisingly, it works. Or maybe unsurprisingly. Some of this is my baggage because it’s still a little hard to process a goblin as the “face of the party”. But Gomez does have a high charisma and access to most of the social skills, so going off the printed page, he’s the best person for the job. (Basil has Diplomacy and Society on his side, but not Bluff and Intimidate.)

I will admit my one contribution was motivated by some combination of boredom and annoyance that my suggestions were mostly being ignored. When the guard looks at the paper and it’s about the bank heist, and I threw in that we were recruited for that and passed… yeah, that was just a fit of wanting to do SOMETHING. Though like I said, mentioning Percen Droan seemed to commit us to the “recruit” story, so I was trying to enhance that.

So we get in, and we play various games of chance for a while, and then it’s time to make a decision. Do we try to expand our foothold by snooping around, or do we take what we got and come back another day? We gained some basic trust from the gang members, and we know that the 2nd floor is for the troops and the upper floors are for the bosses and VIPs.

I was firmly in “don’t push our luck” territory on this one. There are SO many ways a stealth excursion could go sideways… even WITH invisibility. If you get another one of those guarded rooms and the door swings open on its own (because it was really invisible Dougie), that’s STILL going to attract attention. The worst-case here isn’t just “then a fight breaks out”, it’s “Dougie gets caught far enough away that we don’t know he gets caught. They outnumber Dougie, and then get the drop on us while we think he’s still safely stealthing around the place”. And either way, our cover is blown and we have to start from scratch.

Meanwhile, if we play the long game, we know they have to leave the hideout to earn, so there are a couple of ways we could exploit that. One is to go with them, help them (up to a point), and gain enough trust that they give us access to other parts of the building. The trick there is that we’d have to be careful what level of crimes we’d participate in: this whole thing comes undone if we get put in a position where they ask us to kill someone. Alternatively, if we watch the hideout and get a sense of when a large number of them are out, maybe we still attack, but we do it when we’ve got more of a numerical advantage. Maybe there’s a combination of the two strategies where we go with them to their jobs, arrest them to thin out their numbers, and then go with a frontal assault for the upper floors.

Ultimately it comes down to either screwing up and being forced to fight on whatever terms the dice give us, or choosing to fight on terms we dictate. And I think since time isn’t a HUGE factor here, I think we choose the latter. So I guess for the next few days, we get to be gangsters-in-training. Nobody tell the Lawgiver Badge. Or Basil’s mom, the judge. She already doesn’t know about law school; this would break her heart. So let’s let that be our little secret.

That’s all we have for this week; come back next week, and see how our efforts as hardened criminals turn out. In the meantime, 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.

The Sideshow S2|26: The Charmed Arm Does Great Harm

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|26: Can You Smell What The Vrock Is Cooking?!

Sorry we’re running a little late here this week at Talking Combat. I’m getting ready to go on vacation Saturday, so between getting work tied down and packing, I’ve had a lot of stuff percolating.

As Steve mentioned in the show notes, I have an interesting relationship with spoilers on this show. I think I’ve mentioned before that I do TRY to avoid spoilers so I can have a close-to-pristine listening experience. I generally want to be as surprised as all of you. But that tends to be a goal that’s never going to be 100% reachable. For one thing, while each show has its own Discord channel for the game itself, the Patreon chat has a single channel that’s shared across all the shows. So sometimes I see the last few lines of what the Patreons were talking about the previous night: 90 percent of the time, it’s general chat, but every once in a while, there’ll be a plot point. Or, I’ll have to go look up an NPC name or reference a map, so I will duck my head into “their” channel. In which case, you try to put the blinders on and mind your business but it doesn’t always work. Or sometimes in a burst of general excitement stuff just slips out.

So I’ve known for a month or two that SOMETHING sinister and not-entirely-normal happens to Darius at some future point, and this incident feels like it might be the thing I heard about. The comments I saw basically hinted that Darius was going to end up turning evil and becoming the big bad of the whole story; I thought maybe he’d died and been brought back by some unnatural means (because there were also hints at a character death, but Steve teases that all the time). But this thing with Darius’ glowing rune certainly fits… it’s not Evil-With-A-Capital-E, but it certainly doesn’t seem as benevolent as it did before, did it? The vrock was DEFINITELY not afraid of Darius and Alhara’s mom; I’m pretty sure of that.

I will say that whole thing made for great radio, though. You’ve got this vrock which… I wouldn’t want to say it was a no-win, but it definitely felt like a fight that was going to push the party to its limits. Heck, you had Loren at least debating how soon it would be fair to run away without being meta-gamey. And then BOOM, the whole tone of the fight shifts as Darius breaks out a brand-new rune power. And the fear was a nice cherry on the sundae… Doubly impressive since the whole thing with the rune and Darius’ powers is stuff Steve’s adding on the side.

Loren’s question was an interesting one, by the way. On one hand, player characters shouldn’t be stupid or suicidal, and even a Level 1 adventurer has theoretically Seen Some Shit. They’d probably have SOME sense of how hard a fight is going to be, and even that if they misjudged and it’s harder, they should probably run away. On the other hand, when you start getting into things like “well, it’s +20 to hit so it’s going to crit something like 35 or 40 percent of the time”… that’s stuff your characters would have no way of knowing and you really shouldn’t be basing your “fight or run” decisions on.

Well, there is one exception: the equation becomes a little different if you’ve faced the creature before because in that case, the previous fight(s) become part of your standing knowledge of the creature. Over in the Edgewatch campaign we’ve run across multiple members of the ooze family – knowing that they’re resistant to precision damage, that some oozes split when hit with piercing or slashing, that they tend to be slow and really EASY to hit, but you lose almost every source of extra damage. Yeah, those are game mechanics, but if you’ve already seen them in action, they become the laws of the world you’re part of.

The other thing that stuck out for me is this: how is it they’re making WWE wrestling jokes and I’m not involved? As I texted to the group: “I expect this behavior from me. I don’t expect it from you.” Avatar The Last Airbender, yes. WWE, no. I’m not a huge wrestling fan or anything – never been to a live event or bought a pay-per-view, but I will admit I had phases where it was on my radar. Particularly when I was a road-warrior consultant during a different life and Monday nights were kinda dead anyway. I may have watched more of Hulk Hogan’s heel turn on WCW than I’m comfortable admitting publicly. (“Oh my God, it’s STING! Doing the same thing he’s done for the last seven weeks, but I’m still VERY SURPRISED BY THIS!”)

Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes, the vrock is eventually defeated, but not without the scare of Darius dropping and Hap eating an attack of opportunity getting her last spell off. I briefly thought this was going to be a two-episode fight because the thing seemed surprisingly healthy with 4 or 5 minutes left, until Hap came through with the finisher. Speaking of Darius dropping… we really need to refine our terminology for “party members dropping that represent a serious threat of a TPK” vs. “party members dropping where it’s just part of the cost of doing business”. Much like we came up with “Handwave Heal” to summarize using Treat Wounds and other out-of-combat healing; we need “Drop” and “Low-Calorie Drop” or something like that, to reflect those two different circumstances. “Drop” and “Drop Zero”?

And now we come to the “unanswered questions” portion of the show.

First, is that it or is there still more? The vrock feels like the big bad, and the caster xulgath that was with it was PROBABLY the person that summoned/controlled it, but is there still anyone else in here? What about Mistress Dusklight? When will the reckoning happen?

You kind of wonder what was the goal of the vrock? Was it to just run roughshod over the town? Was it designed to keep the players from learning about the role of the towers and Aroden’s mountain retreat? Was it just fairly random “these players are after us, let’s summon some muscle”? Though that one seems unlikely… it seems like the xulgaths have been here a lot longer than the players have been in town, so I don’t feel like the vrock was summoned JUST to deal with them. I could be wrong though.

Also, what’s with Darius and his uneasy feelings? Compared to rebooting the towers and saving the world, it’s probably small potatoes, but why does he feel like releasing the rune’s power the way he did make him feel disappointed and unworthy? You’d think a GOOD rune would be pleased as punch to smite a creature like the vrock, but evidently not. At some point we’ll have to unravel that as well.

For now, though, I’m off to do beachy things. 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.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|10: Plan A and Plan… A?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|10: Who is Doguieman?

We start this week with a recap of Steve’s announcement for the show as a whole, although since you’re reading this on Monday, it’s moved from the future tense to the present tense. The Plaguestone crew is indeed back. The Three-Ring Adventure show had some scheduling conflicts mostly centered around Rob P. – not to point a finger at the guy; more to explain how the show can have scheduling conflicts while three of the four players and the GM are still available for another game – so we decided to use that window to bring the Plaguestone Four out of semi-retirement. We even recorded our first episode(s) last night, so it’s formally moved from theoretical to actual! We’re just not yet sure when it will air, for a variety of reasons mostly on Steve’s side, so stay tuned for that.

I won’t bend your ear too much about a show that won’t even air for weeks, maybe months, except to say it was fun to slip Brixley’s boots back on, and I’m already excited to see where we go with it. The only thing I’ll mention is length, to set an expectation on that front – it’s a single-book adventure (we’re playing Malevolence, but with a few tweaks to incorporate Celes’ backstory), so it should be of a similar length to Plaguestone. Maybe shorter since it takes place in the middle of nowhere and there’s not as much “infrastructure” (NPCs, shopping, etc.) to interact with. No three-episode filler arc where the characters go on dates, and Hamlin’s Hots hasn’t opened a franchise there. As far as we know.

Turning back to THIS show, it’s a bit of a transition week, so not a lot actually happens. We get our next breadcrumb for tracking down the Copper Hand gang and spend an inordinately long amount of time planning our next move. And Gomez wants to pretend he’s Barack Obama, for some reason? Did I get that right?

First I briefly wanted to jump the fence and talk about an interesting set of Tweets from the Pathfinder Papa himself, Jason Bulmahn:

I wanted to jump in on this because it’s something I’d personally like to explore more in my characters going forward. Not necessarily loading your characters down with “flaws” exactly, but having a character’s backstory be more of an unfinished story than a destination. I think sometimes we see backstory as The Reason I Became A Level One Adventurer, and from there, it’s just time to start cracking whatever skulls the adventures put in front of us and forget about it. I really like the idea of having one’s characters continue an ongoing journey of personal development that pre-dates their life as an adventurer, and that they’ll fill in those blanks as well as leveling up and getting cooler spells.

Currently, I’m not as far along with this as Jason is, though I do like to have a broad personal motivation for my characters beyond getting rich and famous. Only the criminally insane engage in lethal combat against monsters for fun, and money only carries you so far as a motivation, so what’s driving the character when you peel that back? Sometimes I’ll share it with Steve; more often, I’ll just keep it under my hat, but use it as a compass to guide how my character would react in certain situations.

With Tuttle Blacktail (Dead Suns), it was discovering new knowledge that would get people to take him more seriously as a scientist. We only had one or two Starfinder Society games, but Nala Trienzi was a juvenile delinquent who recognized her current path was a dead-end, so she wanted to find a more productive path, but without sacrificing her sense of “fun”, and having the Starfinder Society pay her to explore sounded like a good option. In the case of Brixley Silverthorn (Plaguestone), I think there’s a sense that he KNOWS deep down he’s a bit of an “all hat, no cattle” lightweight going into Level 1, and wants to accomplish things that make him worthy of the external swagger he clothes himself in. Lastly, in the case of Basil Blackfeather, it’s finding the life that’s been laid out for him unsatisfying and wanting to do something that makes more of a direct difference in people’s lives. And heck, maybe that’s why I never really clicked with Nella Amberleaf (my druid from Pathfinder Society) – I never really got in her head and figured out WHY she was doing what she was doing. She was just… there because druid seemed like a cool class to try next.

Something to think about while we go over the plan for the THIRD time this episode, I guess.

Seriously. I got a little frustrated on this one, and I think the predominant issue is that Seth really sunk his teeth into the idea of using a disguise and just couldn’t let it go. The central choice was “pretend to be members of the Copper Hand” or “do initial recon as generic adventurers”, and I listened carefully… at some point, EVERY other member of the group says “let’s just be adventurers” and Seth just wouldn’t let it go.

And look… I get it. It’s fun when the planets align and that skill you never got to use before suddenly becomes useful. You want to Do The Thing because it may be your only chance ever. (See also: Tuttle saving the day with his teleportation puck in Dead Suns.) It’s human nature and I don’t really fault Seth for feeling that way. Especially when he built Gomez almost ENTIRELY around weird edge cases like that. (Let’s remember this is the same man who paid 50 gp for an anchor feather token on a dry-land adventure). I don’t even mind having the disguise kit as a plan B. If we fail to infiltrate as “adventurers”, our next step might have to be sending someone in as a member of the gang, and then… yeah, let’s do it. But he did get so locked in on it that it kind of sent the conversation around in circles a bit.

In other news, we gain a new level, and the big news for me is that Basil gets his first level 2 spells. Hooray! Basically, the multiclass archetypes lag the actual classes by three levels; so if a “real” wizard gets Level 2 spells at character Level 3, a Pocket Wizard gets them at Level 6. And it’s still only one slot per level, though there are some ways to raise that.

And yes, I fully admit I looked at Loren’s test paper and copied what Hap did with regards to Longstrider. Look… I get ONE spell at each level, so it’s all about bang for the buck. I might as well get something that has some duration. A 10-foot bonus to movement that lasts 8 hours… especially now that I’m screwing around with archery and might need to tweak my range… seems more useful than a lot of other things I could take.

Though for the record, I took Comprehend Languages and Invisibility as my free spells. With Comprehend Languages, I actually took it more with an eye for the heightened Level 3 version that lets you converse in other languages. I suspect we can take writings back to the lair to decipher them, but I want to be able to TALK to nasty creatures if necessary. Invisibility is invisibility. Its uses are obvious.

I also took Snare Crafting as a skill feat, though I’m already getting a feeling that may have been a case of “spending resources to solve the previous problem”. Here’s the thing: when we were preparing for the bank robbery, snares seemed so useful, and it was something nobody else in the party could do. But as I’m thinking about it, snares are FAR more useful when defending a fixed position, and our role as police officers almost always puts us in the role of aggressor, kicking down doors and invading bad guys’ spaces. Guarding the bank was the exception, not the rule. So I’m already feeling like Snare Crafting MIGHT not have been a good choice, and I may yet retrain out of it later.

In terms of actual plot development, our next lead takes us to the Foreign Quarter, where Captain Melipdra of the Sleepless Suns has our next lead. He’s got a rowhouse that serves as Copper Hand base, but he can’t infiltrate it because the local gang members know his guards too well, so he needs some outsiders to do it. So we shut down the gang, funnel some of the collars to him (“collars”… LOOK AT ME USING COP LINGO), and it’s a win-win. And he teaches Lo Mang to be a better monk.

(Aside: this is one of the cooler things about 2E we see occasionally: NPCs that can teach feats or even, in this case, entire archetypes that aren’t otherwise available. We saw one or two of these in our Society games, but I’d like to see more of them included going forward. The idea of learning from wizened experts is a pretty cool one.)

So join us next week when we… pose as adventurers? Let Gomez do his disguise? Hell, I don’t know anymore. However, we go about it, we’ll be looking for the Copper Hand gang so we can put a stop to their shenanigans. 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.

The Sideshow S2|25: Take a Look, It’s in a Book

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|25: Wonderous Feather Healing.

First things first: that’s right. We’re putting the Plaguestone band back together. I figure since that show includes three-fourths of this group (plus me), it’s more relevant to talk about here than in the Edgewatch column.

I don’t remember the exact genesis of the idea, though I know the first murmurings about doing a new show were a joking suggestion about doing an April Fool’s show with really goofy characters. (I was kicking around a pixie barbarian with anger management issues.) That didn’t really come together because it reached a point where we would’ve had to put the whole thing together on three days’ notice on a weekend where Steve had travel plans. But the idea of doing something else percolated for a little while, and over the course of another few weeks, coalesced around a return to the Plaguestone crew. I think from there, it was a question of Steve finding an adventure that would work and finding some time in the schedule. The story part I’ll leave for when the show starts airing, but the schedule part came together with Extinction Curse having to take a few weeks off anyway. Seemed like a good time to start recording.

I won’t say much about the show itself because I want most of it to be a surprise when it airs, but I’ll set the general expectation that it’ll be along the lines of a single adventure (30, 40 episodes maybe?) rather than another 6-book adventure path. When will it air? Not exactly sure… that’s probably more on Steve’s side… how fast we can put episodes in the can, how fast he can edit, is he going to bother with new artwork, and other logistical stuff like that.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Extinction Curse, we have a fairly straightforward combat, followed by a lore-gathering session in the Moonstone Temple’s library. Or at least what’s left of it after the xulgath caster sets off a fireball in the middle of it.

The first thing that jumped out at me about the combat is that it wasn’t that long ago that a babau was a spine-tingling threat; now, it’s basically a speed-bump. I suppose some of that comes from leveling up and being a little stronger, but also, part of it was being able to cut loose because it was the first fight of a new day and they had full resources. It seemed like Hap and Ateran, in particular, went right to their bigger guns early in the fight, including Ateran’s Enervation spell that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.

I do find myself wondering a little bit about that fireball. Is there a chance the xulgath was trying to destroy evidence or was it just about putting as much damage on the party as possible? I think it’s the latter, if for no other reason than if there was a breadcrumb that was needed to progress in the story, I doubt the writers of the adventure path would let it be anything that would be easily destroyed. “Well… sorry, Books 3 through 6 are canceled because a trash mob destroyed the map! I guess the world’s going to end.” Also… it’s a xulgath… it’s probably arrogant and thinks it can kill any surface-dweller. It probably wouldn’t worry about destroying evidence because it thinks it would win anyway.

The combat isn’t really the big thing this week, though. The big fish here is Ateran’s research.

To summarize, even the own accounts say that yeah, Aroden took the stones from the under-dwellers. (I’ll hold back on using the word “stole” for now. Three sides to every story – two sides, and the truth, which is usually something in the middle.) He did leave ONE stone in the underworld, as his show of mercy, but he spread the other five out around the land and infused them with his own power, which is part of what makes the land thrive. The book also reveals a mountain sanctuary Aroden ran the show from. And in terms of driving the story from here, the party can reset the stones by gathering the reflections, going to the mountain temple, and forming Voltron. (The one with the lions, not the one with all the cars and trucks.)

My glib thought is that each side has a base, and there are towers spread out around the country, so we’ve walked into a RP-heavy League of Legends game. Darius top, Ateran mid, Hap and Riley bot lane, and Alhara jungling!

My other thought is that the xulgaths may have figured out a way to do the evil Bizarro version of that same process. Maybe if THEY get the aspects and go to the temple, they can corrupt the stones, or something like that. The fine details remain to be worked out, but it kinda works out to two sides pursuing the same MacGuffin with opposite goals for it if they get it.

I did think it was a nice roleplaying touch that Hap still wanted to use this library to look up information on her elemental ancestry while all this was going on. Ateran’s already on the case for saving the world; why not do your own side research while you have all these books at your disposal? Of course, as a natural caster rather than a “book-learning” caster, it’s not necessarily up her alley… and asking Darius to help is probably about as useful as asking Riley, but it’s the thought that counts. But in the end, she does find Alternate Planes For Dummies, so that’s something to build upon.

Then we have the spell scrolls. Spell immunity is kind of nice, but it’s the rare spells that intrigue me most because they’ve both got circus applications. First, we have favorable review, which forces people to say nice things about a performance. The trick there would be to find the RIGHT people to cast it on; I doubt you can cast it on enough Joe/Jane Citizens to singlehandedly get the crowd to go nuts, but does Golarion have Instagram influencers? The pyrotechnics spell seems like it would be circus-useful as well, because it adds “flair” (for lack of a better word) to an existing fire act… can adding fireworks to Hap’s act or the Flambonis squeeze a few extra points out?

I assume there’s still a room or two to be cleared since Uthadar is still whining about how the temple isn’t cleansed yet, but I admit I’m a little fuzzy on the map at this point. The map is available on the Discord channel, and I can piece together what SOME of the rooms are – I THINK the upper right corner of the map is the part they haven’t visited yet – but getting fully re-oriented would involve going back and re-listening to the entire Moonstone Temple arc focusing almost entirely on compass directions, which… let’s be honest, sounds like a drag. At some point, this is a blog, not a research paper; I’ll just be comfortable with my wrongness.

So next week, we get back to the fighting, and one of these times they’ll finally clear this place out. Maybe it’ll be next time, maybe it won’t, but I guess we’ll find out together. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|09: The Safe is Safe

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|09: A Penny Saved.

Welcome back to the conclusion of the great bank heist on Roll For Combat. We spent at least a month running down leads, and it finally comes down to beating down a droid…. errrrr… construct.

The first question I ask myself when playing through, and when going back and listening, is… why did this feel so (comparatively) unsatisfying? It’s like… we spent over a month figuring out the logistics of the bank robbery, we finally shut it down, and I still felt like it was kind of anticlimactic.

To answer my own question, I have two reasons.

First, not to get all Bernie Sanders on y’all, but there’s something that hits different about defending a bank vs. stopping a completely demented serial killer operating a murder hotel. I will grant that the banks of Absalom are not FDIC-insured, so a robbery could literally ruin the Penny and Sphinx, but protecting people’s lives will always feel more heroic than protecting people’s money. And the only lives at risk were arguably the customers that we put in danger by attacking before fully assessing the situation. So the Heroism Needle for this particular engagement dropped from a good solid 8 or 9 to maybe a 4 or a 5? If that makes sense.

The other thing is, these guys had some tech that was above their paygrade that made them a tough fight, but they weren’t the masterminds. The Big Bads of the Copper Hand gang AND the Skinsaw Cult are still out there. Yes, the skinstitcher and the construct were formidable opponents, but they were in the hands of a relatively minor threat… a few minions on par with the guys we beat at the docks, and the banker’s stepson. So while we beat the threat in front of us, the larger threat remains, and knowing that makes the whole thing feel like unfinished business, even as this part of the adventure draws to a close. Say what you will about the Pratchett encounter; tossing a guy into an ochre jelly definitely provides closure.

One thing I found myself struck by as we began this episode is that we probably made a bigger deal out of the caltrops than we needed to. It’s a 5-foot penalty to movement and ONE whopping point of bleed damage. That’s not going to kill anyone. And yet, here we are at the top of the steps in Tactical Analysis mode for… well, FAR longer than the threat really dictated.

Though in my case, I also wanted to clarify the rule for future use. My ancestral ability essentially works like Feather Fall: I can use my wings to fall slowly, with no real restriction on the vertical distance. But it was worth knowing whether my ability worked with a horizontal component – could I glide or just drop, but slowly? Physics 101 would suggest I should get a little bit of horizontal movement as I fell. But in this case, the fact that it was a set of stairs imposed additional considerations on the vertical side: if I fell too fast, I’d still land in caltrops, but if I fell too slowly, I’d smack my head against the descending ceiling above the stairs. (Heck, if you want to get technical, would there be enough room to fully extend my wings in a staircase?) So all in all, I think Steve’s ruling was fair – give a reflex save to account for those shifting conditions, but otherwise, give me the horizontal movement I would’ve gotten from a leap (plus maybe a little extra for the glide path).

So we get everyone downstairs, and we reveal the construct in all its glory. As expected, it hits HARD, and the ability to hold people down and drill into them is a nice cherry on the sundae. On the other hand, I guess I was a little surprised its defenses weren’t more formidable. I’d expect a construct made of metal to have some damage resistances, but no resistances and fairly easy to hit as well. The two sidekick rogues were easy pickings, and even Kolo wasn’t that tough once we got rid of some of the “noise” and were able to focus on him.

With all of the combat resolved, a picture of the full heist emerges. The crew upstairs were mostly diversionary, designed to stall any Token Guard that showed up later. The Skinstitcher held the stairs to the vault, while the machine took care of opening the vault. You figure if we hadn’t been there, either help wouldn’t have arrived at all, or it at least would’ve taken a WHILE to get there – someone would have to escape the bank and go get the Token Guard, come back, navigating through the float wreckage in both directions, and dealing with the guys upstairs.

There are still unanswered questions. First, what role did Kolo play? Is he actually a cultist, or just someone’s greedy Useful Idiot? I think it’s the latter, but you never know. I do wonder which attackers were cultists and which were Copper Hand, though that’s mostly about vindicating our handling of the upstairs. If they were Copper Hand, maybe we could’ve negotiated with them. If they were Skinsaw Cultists, they would’ve started killing as soon as they had what they needed anyway, so we just cut to the chase. And of course, the big question… who’s behind it all, and how do we find them?

As the post-game starts to unfold, one thing happens that I have to comment on: Seth paying 55 gp for a single feather token that PROBABLY has zero practical use… the anchor. It’s one thing to spend a little money trying out different gear (particularly consumables); I did so myself with a couple of magic arrows. But those were only 10 gp a pop, and you could immediately see how they’d be combat-relevant. To spend 55 gp on a boat anchor, when there’s absolutely NOTHING to suggest we’ll even be leaving Absalom, much less on a boat… I’m not sure whether he’s insane or just the most dedicated roleplayer I’ve ever seen. Maybe a bit of both.

Watch, I probably just reverse-jinxed it and the Skinsaw Cult has their own boat that they’ll use as a getaway craft. Make me eat my words.

So next week… it’s hard to say what happens. We level up, so that’s always nice, but in terms of the larger story, unless we can get something from the guys we captured during the heist, I’m not sure what the next move is. Maybe Kolo saw or heard something to point us in the right direction? Maybe the wreckage of the construct contains clues? (Do those things come with a “black box”?) I guess we’ll find out next time.

As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|24: You Sit on a Throne of Lies

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|24: Death By Healing.

Sorry, this week’s Talking is a little late. Real-life intrudes in the form of… well, take your pick: a teenage son who’s a little behind on his assignments in school and needs a little help getting across the finish line, or sitting in a dark room pouting because my hometown hockey team’s been eliminated from the playoffs. Perhaps a bit of both.

Also, I have to admit I needed multiple listens to figure out exactly what was going on with the Hap and Darius “wish” scene at the end of the episode. I kept getting interrupted by other things and Loren was being a little cagey and leaning into the roleplay in her descriptions, so I couldn’t quite piece together what was happening at first. Just that it was weird and silly and… ok, maybe a little disturbing when Darius cradles Hap like a baby when making his wish.

I think I managed to piece it together, though. Both Vanessa and Loren mention using a 4th-level spell slot on this project, whatever it is. (The “nah, you don’t need that for healing” joke.) Going through the spell list, the spell creation, which creates a temporary object from eldritch energy, fits the bill. If you need some supporting evidence, I’d point out that since it’s on the primal spell list, the created object must be of vegetable matter – which would explain the detail of the plate being made of wood and the fact that it didn’t really taste like bacon.

Which misses the forest for the trees a bit. The hidden scandal of the episode. Hap tried to foist VEGAN BACON on Darius. That’s just wrong. Friendships have ended over less. If Darius defects to the Celestial Menagerie at some future point… this is the moment time travelers from the future will have to go back and undo.

COME BACK WHEN YOU CAN MAKE REAL BACON FROM A PIG, GENIE-GIRL.

But OK… all of this is me dancing around an uncomfortable conversation. For one of the few times ever for this space, I’m going to put on my Poindexter glasses, go full Rules Lawyer, and blow out the central premise of this week’s episode.

Ateran should not have been in any danger of being killed by their own healing spell.

Sorry. It brings me no joy to say it because it was “great radio” in the moment. As I write this, I feel like I’m telling a bunch of 10-year-olds Santa doesn’t exist. But the rules are pretty clear, and I guess I’m a little surprised both Steve and Vanessa missed it since they both usually know this stuff inside and out. Reading the text of Spirit Link, it’s right there in the last sentence: “You can Dismiss this spell, and if you’re ever at 0 Hit Points, spirit link ends automatically”. “You” in this case, is the caster.

That’s not the least bit ambiguous. It’s true that Spirit Link is a fire-and-forget, rather than a sustain. (Can you imagine if Ateran had to give up one of their actions every turn to let people heal?) But Spirit Link does end if/when the caster gets knocked out. So yeah… there it is, me peeing in the punchbowl. Feel free to boo. Internally, I’m booing myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still an exciting fight. It’s good to see the party tested, and anytime someone reaches Dying 3 and has to seriously think about breaking out the Hero Points, it’s an important moment. Personally, I also liked the synergy of going from one babau in the first fight to two babaus the second time around, and now three in the finale (even though one of those was the runner from the previous fight). But I’m afraid the dark-comedy self-inflicted demise underpinning the whole thing was a mistake.

Of course, one side effect of Ateran’s brush with death, however it came about, is that it cuts the exploration a little bit short for the day. We still have unexplored rooms to clear, and the mysteries connected to Ulthadar remain to be untangled for at least another episode. Also, I had to go back and check, but there was that handwritten note that I BET contains a whole lot of plot dump; in the aftermath of making sure Ateran didn’t die, the party forgot to really look at that. Since xulgaths aren’t known for their beautiful penmanship and I’d think anything “original” would’ve been destroyed by age or the xulgaths trashing the place… I’m actually going to put $5 that Mistress Dusklight is either the author or the recipient and it explains more about her role in all of this. That’s my thinking for now, and I stand ready to be proven wrong next episode, or whenever they get back to looking at it.

So yeah… kind of a “short” episode this week – yeah, still an hour-forty, but when you spend most of it fighting, it doesn’t leave as much to write about. I assume the gang will return tomorrow to take another swing at the pinata since we haven’t really heard anything circus-related recently and since this seems to be the main plot focus.

Speaking of which, I thought it was an interesting point Steve made about having the circus itself exist as a ready-made pool of party members ready to go if someone DOES die. The snake-lady could be upgraded to a druid or ranger, you could make a rogue out of a member of the Feather Fall Five or the Dwarven Throwers; we don’t know what the “real” Jellico can do, but maybe he turns out to be a much better mage than he was a clown or something. And then there’s the new characters who just joined – the ysoki alchemist and Aives, the guy who defected from the Celestial Menagerie mid-fight. Of course, one could write in a brand-new character pretty easily – traveler hears about the newly successful circus and wants to join up and use their talents – but they don’t come with the pre-existing awareness of the backstory that those other characters do. Heck, with the new Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, maybe Riley can get a field promotion to Beastkin.

Just not Gibzip. If Gibzip ever joins the party permanently, I’m outta here. (And based on her reaction, I suspect Vanessa would be too. She seems to share my loathing.)

But that’s all speculation. For this week, rest, relax, and… I’m assuming… get ready to go back in next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|08: You No Take Hostage!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|08: All Right, Everybody Be Cool, This Is a Robbery!

Before we launch into the first part of the great bank heist, I figured I’d talk a little bit about the Role of the Mole.

So yeah, Steve will sometimes use one of us players to very lightly nudge things in the direction the plot needs things to go. He won’t give spoilers, and the FINAL decision is always up to us – if we WANT to dick around and waste three hours chasing things that don’t matter, he’d probably capitulate and let us. But we’re old and we want to be in our beds by midnight so we usually go along with it.

I think if there’s one thing that drives it more than anything, it’s that we’re all in our 50s and we can only get together for three hours once a week. If you’ve got the time to play an all-night session, bumbling around in the dark for an hour can be part of the merriment and make success all that much sweeter when you finally move forward. If you’ve only got three hours to play and have to get up for work the next morning, spending a third of it fumbling in the dark looking for the plot’s light switch sucks. I’d even add the online interface to the stew; it’s one thing to lose the plot a little when you’re at a table together BS-ing about other stuff while you do it; when you’re staring at a screen at people hundreds of miles away, that time starts to feel longer and yes… starts to feel a little wasted.

Anyhow, on to the bank heist. First, as a movie reference, this whole setup reminded me of the train station scene in The Untouchables. We know someone’s coming (in the case of the movie, they were trying to stop Al Capone’s bookkeeper from leaving town), but we don’t know when and we don’t know how many, and we have to stop them when they arrive. I mean, that, and the first five minutes of Speed where Dennis Hopper gets away because Keanu Reeves won’t shoot his partner in the leg. POP QUIZ, HOTSHOT.

We feel reasonably confident we have the right bank, we definitely know the day… so how do we deploy our forces?

First, let me set the stage using a clock face. Let’s put the main doors at 12. The employee entrance is at about 2 pm, but facing the front of the building. The “airlock” to the teller area is around 4:30 or 5, and the teller space goes across the bottom to about 7:30 or 8 where the stairs to the basement vault are.

One thought was to just wait in the vault room for them. “We know where they’re headed; wait for them there”. But that’s got a couple of problems. First, it ignores the potential risk to the rest of the bank and the innocent bystanders in the building. Working back from the solution, if these guys had taken hostages and started killing them while we sat in the basement playing cards, wouldn’t we have felt stupid? But it also negates the architecture of the bank as a tactical advantage… if we wait in the basement and confront them OK Corral-style when they come down the steps, that’s a BAD tactical situation for us. Imagine the initial band of robbers, the skinstitcher, and whoever’s in the basement drilling ALL coming at us at once, and they’re also between us and the only exit. That’s a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, by dispersing throughout the bank, we can use the features of the building to separate them and deal with them in pieces.

Which is roughly what happened, but it was a bit of a bumpy road getting there.

First, we get to see what happened to the missing lift that got stolen from the tannery. In this case, it elevates our “boarding party” so they can use the “accident” with the float to reach the door quickly, and in a manner that wouldn’t have attracted undue suspicion. If you think about it, if we weren’t there, any people outside would just assume it was an accident and make sure everyone in the courtyard was OK, and probably ignore the bank entirely.

Inside the bank, I have to admit, I thought we were going to take a round or two and assess our opponents before wading in – numbers, weaponry, etc. That’s actually why my first move was to retreat into the office I was using as a stakeout position. I didn’t think we’d immediately start attacking the minute they grabbed hostages, and frankly was a little caught off guard that we did so. Heck, maybe we the guys mixing in with the customers by lying on the ground wouldn’t have surprised us if we’d waited.

So now we attack and they respond by stabbing hostages and it’s on like Donkey Kong. And this is one of those fights where you can SAY “well, everyone lived” but it doesn’t feel like a huge success to me. I mean… three or four civilians got stabbed which I’m sure was really freakin’ traumatic even if they didn’t technically die. If this is an 80s cop movie, our protagonist’s captain will get called to the mayor’s office for a good chewing-out over that one.

But I say this fully admitting I don’t have a great idea what we should’ve done instead. It’s a month later, and I still can’t come up with a truly flawless Plan B. Also, I’m probably just frustrated because I was SO close to knocking that number down a couple if my sleep arrow had landed. I believe the one I shot was “the bloodthirsty one”, DC was 17, and that’s exactly what they rolled… So close. That’s where you need the reverse Hero Point where you can make an enemy re-roll, I suppose.

(Though, as I’m reading the spell, Level 1 sleep isn’t THAT great in combat, because the noise of combat allows the sleep-ee to make a Perception check to wake up, and it’s only at a -1 penalty. The Level 4 heightened version of sleep doesn’t allow for the Perception checks. So… maybe that’s kinda garbage.)

The good news is that Gomez does a FANTASTIC job keeping people alive. I give Seth a huge amount of credit for hanging in there and keeping civilians safe. The bad news is that to do so, he has to stand right out in the middle of the battlefield with a big neon STAB ME sign pointing right at him. And sure enough, the bandits take advantage of the situation and grind him down while we’re taking them out.

We finally get the first situation under control, when part two of the fight begins. We hear the drilling begin in the basement, start heading that way to investigate, and a Skinstitcher busts through the wall. Now, this feels ominous at first – it’s just a nasty looking undead abomination – but actually turns out to be a comparative pushover. First, it’s vulnerable to fire, so Gomez and I can just sit back and chuck fire at it and be fairly effective without burning (pun intended) any spell slots. Second, we generally get good dice luck, and being large, it’s fairly easy to hit, so we get a few crits to make it go down faster. So yes, it hits hard for the very brief time it exists, but we just pile the damage on and make quick work of it.

So now we’ve got noise in the basement, but we are a little roughed up, and Lo Mang discovers caltrops on the stairs. So as the session ends, we’re still in combat rounds and figuring out how we want to manage this. The good side is that the situation I described earlier has reversed itself – unless they have teleportation magic, we’re between them and the exit, so they gotta get through us to escape. But how much do we want to let them mess around down in the vault vs. getting down there and shutting this business down once and for all?

And that’s where we leave it. Next week we go down to the basement – though I’ll leave the specifics for then – and see if we can put a stop to this nonsense. 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.

The Sideshow S2|23: Ride the Lightning

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|23: The Darius 5.

Sorry the column is running a little late this week. NHL playoffs are happening, Mass Effect Legendary came out, and we actually played Edgewatch this Wednesday, which is when I usually write. Sorry about that.

For once, I have to admit I’ve been a little turned around the last few episodes. I thought the temple was pretty much done… that maybe there were one or two more rooms. I completely forgot about the big door with the statue guarding it, and, of course, we find out this week that behind that door is a whole new wing to explore. So I guess our dungeon delve is going to continue for another few weeks. Not a complaint… the fights have been exciting and the action has been moving the story forward as well, so it’s a win-win.

But before we really get into that, it’s time for a brief visit to city hall to meet with the head of the town guard and write another chapter of Darius’ on-again, off-again romance with Kat… this time played by Rob P. (As an aside, it’s almost a little unsettling to hear Rob P. without Ateran’s accent.)

Now, look. The logical part of me wants to quibble and say it hasn’t been THAT many days since their date so Kat shouldn’t be getting that mad. But it’s probably best not to delve too deeply there. First, it would involve going back and doing math, and that’s more work than I want to put in. But also, if you start deconstructing everything that’s illogical or grounded in modern conceptions you eventually have to admit that Hamlin’s Hots and Muscle Fancy magazine don’t make any sense either. If your fancy logic is going to take the fun out of something like Hamlin’s Hots… I don’t want to live in that world. So… OK… we’ll fudge the dates and let Kat be upset. Hey, she got a coupon book out of it.

The conversation with the guard captain was a little weird for me because it almost felt like we’d crossed the streams and wandered into the Edgewatch show. Circumstantial evidence? Not enough to prosecute? Lt. Ollo… is that you? Though… in this case, the plot conceit of having the adventuring party perform the investigation is even more jarring than it is in our game. At least in Edgewatch, our characters are part of the law enforcement; it’s only questionable whether you’d send fresh cadets or more experienced officers. Here we have the fantasy RPG equivalent of a SWAT team situation, and they’re sending in… random circus performers who rolled into town a week ago? I must’ve missed that lesson in police procedure.

(Then again… Commissioner Gordon had Batman; these guys have the Darius 5.)

Our party returns to Moonstone Hall and bypasses the door. While I like Hap’s idea of just blowing out the lock with the fireball and would’ve liked to see that play out, I guess I do have a question: who locked the door behind the people on the inside? Mistress Dusklight, maybe? Did they lock it from the inside? Granted, this may all be overthinking it – Paizo may have just included a locked door to let people use skills – but it’s a little odd that they would take such care to seal themselves in.

Before we get back to the fighting, we have the encounter with the restless spirit, Ulthadar. It’s hard to know what to make of him. I guess if he’s a servant of Aroden, he’s one of the good guys overall, but there’s something that doesn’t add up about him just letting the xulgaths and Mistress Dusklight waltz on in. Especially when it seemed like he was going to go nuclear when he found out Aroden was dead-I-mean-missing. You’d think defilers would get merit more of a reaction. And what was the deal with the trio of ghostly sidekick ladies that disappeared? Put a cautionary fiver on “maybe he’s really been corrupted and is actually evil and is going to attack the party later.” As part of that encounter, I do have to give Vanessa credit for firing off her Aroden blessing to draw the ghost back from the brink of a meltdown. Of course, it would suck if she needed that healing later, wouldn’t it?

So the party resumes their exploration and finds another batch of enemies. And this time, it’s a bit of a greatest-hits of previous fights, as we’ve got a babau, a xulgath caster, and a random powered-up stegosaurus. (OK, he’s new.)

My first reaction was “what a difference a level makes” as it seemed like the babau alone was a tough fight just a few episodes back, and now it’s just another piece of cannon-fodder. And it seemed like the party was rolling along, until the bad guys landed a one-two punch to even the odds a little. The stegosaurus charge was impressive, but the big story here was the caster’s lightning bolt… and Alhara’s heroic decision to take the hit for Hap.

Among other things, this is one of those moments that struck me as a “Rule of Cool” moment. I don’t know if it’s strictly legal to jump in front of a magic spell that was targeted at someone else. I mean… lightning moves REALLY fast and follows magnetic charge; I’m not sure dodging lightning is a thing you can actually do. But as a storytelling thing… heroic moments like that are the backbone of good storytelling, so if Alhara wants to do that, you figure out a way to let her do that. Though I think part of what makes it work is the difference between “moving the badness around” vs. “getting out of the badness entirely”. I think if the party is trying to do something that offers an appropriate TRADE of risk and reward, that’s one thing – in this case, SOMEONE was going to take some damage, it was just a question of who. I think if a party is trying to use “Rule of Cool” to get out consequences entirely (or if it’s a trade, but the motivations are transparently metagamey), then the GM would be right to shut it down.

Since neither was the case here… good job Alhara. Though I’m sure Vanessa felt a twinge of regret when the damage turned out to be 80 points. Ouch.

Luckily, the party used that act of heroism as a bit of a rallying point and managed to finish off the fight, and the day is saved. They’re pretty beat up at the moment, and Ateran blew heals on both Darius and Alhara, so we’re back to wondering how their resources are holding up, but since they JUST went back in, they’ve got to have a FEW more rooms in them, right?

Guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|07: Not Rules, More Like Guidelines

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|07: You Never Know When You Need a Boat.

I’m actually going to start this week with a comment from our Discord channel because it ties nicely into the start of this week’s episode. User “MartinG” left us the following comment:

“After listening to the last episode and reading Jason’s bird’s eye view on it, I wanted to say that I really liked the situation the PCs are put in in the last episode with the banker’s son, but also with the young goblins. Not that it is very complex or anything. But it’s one of the first time I remember where they have to take a moral decision that is not “railroaded” by the badge. I get why Stephen put the badge in place (IIUC that it is his idea and it was not in the AP), but I see the little moments when they are out of that umbrella as more revealing of the PC’s different take on their job.”

The interesting thing here is that I actually agree. There are times when, if we’re being honest, the law enforcement angle of this adventure path is a fairly thin veneer. When you have a serial killer offing hotel guests, the distinction between “cops” and “dungeon crawlers” is mostly one of semantics: it still boils down to “go room to room looking for the Big Bad, and then stop him”… only it’s been determined that we’ve got Nerf Swords so it doesn’t count as lethal damage. (I mean… unless you shove him into a pit with an ochre jelly… but who’s keeping track?)

But with something like this… these are the questions where you’re really flying without a net. In this situation, it’s unclear that the son even broke a law – being reckless with money and going to a loan shark to fix the problem is not, strictly speaking, illegal. But it’s resulted in a cascading sequence of events where laws (even if they’re misdemeanors rather than felonies) have been broken, and one can see a path where having a financially corrupted bank employee could be a gateway to future criminality if the son gets in deeper with Chadaxa.

All of which is prelude to admitting I – since I kind of fell into the role of lead investigator on this one – think I made a mistake. I think this is one of those cases where we made the right call per the letter of the law, but maybe missed the mark on the spirit of the law.

The thing that rankles me after the fact is that we never took the time to get the son’s side of the story or offer him a chance to clean up his mess. We never went and asked him WHY a guy who works for a reputable bank got into a situation where he goes to a loan shark for aid. I mean, maybe the answer is he’s a deadbeat who lives outside his means and blows his money on whatever the Absalom equivalent of cryptocurrency is or something. Entirely possible. But what if he borrowed the money to pay for someone’s resurrection or something? That’s the part we never bothered to understand. For that matter, maybe our collective Spider-Sense should’ve gone off about the fact that the son couldn’t just go to his dad… Ovingott’s supposedly a community leader and a big-wig who funds entire mercenary companies; I’m pretty sure the original 25g would’ve been a drop in his bucket. Maybe that should’ve given us a hint that there was friction between the father and son that we weren’t seeing and that we should at least tread cautiously.

And OK, let’s be honest. Some of this was just impatience imposed by the main story. Part of what was going on is that we were on the eve of the main bank heist we’ve been building toward, and this was the last thing on the to-do list before we could get into that. So we had tunnel vision toward our main goal and didn’t really give this situation its proper due. I think that’s at least part of the math here as well.

Letter of the law, our final choice was technically correct and even fairly defensible. You really don’t want a guy with financial problems working at a bank, and at the end of the day, we were working for the dad in this investigation. His relationship with his son isn’t REALLY our problem; we’re not family therapists. I’ll also go a step further and say that if we HAD gone to the son and he’d been unwilling to resolve the situation, I would’ve gone to the dad with a clear conscience because, at that point, the SON would have been equally guilty of abandoning his family responsibilities. At that point, family is out of the equation and it’s telling a bank owner who hired us that he has an employee with financial difficulties handling customers’ funds: he would need to know that. But with full 20/20 hindsight, I’m disappointed we didn’t at least hear the son out first.

On the other hand, we got a cool rune out of it. It’s not one Basil personally needs – I can just leave the sheath on the sword cane if I want to switch to bludgeoning – but it’s nice to be able to switch typed damage. Much as I love Dougie’s Hot Maul Action, Dougie’s Hot Greatsword Action would be equally entertaining and the crits would be just as massive.

Meanwhile, despite all that time I spent on the B-plot, we’ve got a robbery to plan for. A lot of the nuts-and-bolts of how we’ll set up will be in next week’s show, but the one thing that’s sticking out for me is we’re missing SOMETHING about the role the lift is going to be playing. It’s becoming clear that a direct attack through the roof would be pointless; so it’s not about getting the bad guys onto the roof. So what is it then?

Maybe opening the vault? The four keys are spread wide apart and some of them are off the floor. Could they be using the lift to reach all four keyholes at the same time? Maybe, but that would require bringing the lift hardware INTO the bank during the robbery, and it’s not like you can just sneak it in. So that feels like it would require a full-frontal assault by a LARGE group.

Or maybe the lift isn’t part of this at all? Maybe it’s a red herring after all.

You’ll also note I spend a lot of time reflecting on snares. I’m just thinking, there are four of us, at least two entrances to cover (and that’s assuming they don’t somehow make their own), and lots of building features that impede sightlines. I’m feeling like we can’t possibly monitor every inch of the bank, so snares would be a bit of an equalizer here. We don’t necessarily have to do big damage with them, but if we can use them to let us know if there are unseen enemies around, maybe apply some side effects that slow them down a little… that would be a big help.

However, snares require the specific feat of Snare Crafting, and none of us have that. I think kobolds get it as an ancestry perk, though I don’t remember if it’s automatic or one of their ancestry feats, and I’m pretty sure rangers can get it fairly easily as well. But for tomorrow, we’re out of luck unless we find a magic item that does the same basic thing.

The same thought process went into my arrow purchases. 10+ gold for a magic arrow is a bit steep, but the Sleep Arrow and Vine Arrow both have the capability to take an opponent almost completely out of the fight if they get bad luck on the save, so maybe it’s worth the spend. If you think of them as scrolls a non-caster can use, the price point makes a LITTLE more sense, but I’m not sure magic arrows will ever be more than situationally useful. Better to just beat them down with direct damage.

So next week, we should do our final planning, and the great heist will begin. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show (as you can see above, we do see your comments!). Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.