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The Bird’s Eye View S3|25: Double Your Treasure, Double Your Fun

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S4|01: Would You Like the Rest on a Gift Certificate?.

This week’s episode is really two episodes in one, but I can understand Steve combining them to squeeze a full show out of it. In particular, the shopping piece isn’t QUITE long enough to carry an episode on its own. But then if you put the shopping and the WHOLE combat together, we’re breaking that two-hour mark that you listeners have said you’re not crazy about.

So half-shopping, half-fighting it shall be.

Interestingly, the shopping half generated some interesting discussions on our Discord channel because we made a few mistakes along the way.

The first was an incorrect interpretation of the rules. Steve was actually incorrect when he said you have to have the same tier of potency and striking (or potency and resilience for armor) before you can go to the next tier of potency. There’s a table that IMPLIES that that’s the natural order of things, but it’s not actually required. It’s just that the costs and level restrictions of the various runes (and presumably the runes being given out as loot) drive it that direction pretty strongly. If you think about it, the jump from a +1 weapon to a +2 weapon is 900 gold, but that striking rune is only 65g. So there’s a pretty strong “why not take an extra die of damage while you’re waiting?” vibe going on there. (It’s similar with armor and resilience runes, though the price points are different.) But if you somehow make it to 900 gold and the right level (10) for a +2 potency rune, and don’t have your striking rune yet, you can still apply the +2 and you just have a +2 weapon that might not do enough damage to get past the damage resistance all the creatures at this level seem to have. Good luck with that.

The other error was not a rules interpretation, but more of a mental lapse on our part. As a couple of our listeners pointed out, Dougie basically wasted 900g by bumping both his weapons to +2 because we still have the doubling rings. If you remember, doubling rings take the fundamental runes from one weapon and copy them to a second weapon: perfect for a dual-wielder. Dougie didn’t bother with it at the time we got it because both his weapons were already +1 striking, but we did keep it and put it in storage. So now that he’s graduating to +2 potency and greater striking, he really should’ve just saved his money and started equipping the doubling rings instead.

(Note: there’s two versions of the doubling rings. The lesser version that we have just duplicates the fundamental runes. The more expensive/higher-level version also transfers the property runes as well. That’s if they’re appropriate: for example, wounding is slashing/piercing only, so you can’t transfer it to a bludgeoning weapon.)

So… definite mistake on Dougie’s part for not remembering he had those. Is it a mistake on Steve’s part, though? On one hand, it’s not his job to remember everything about our characters for us. On the other hand, everything is so tight in PF2 that 900g is a lot of money to waste; maybe a hint would’ve been in order. But back on the first hand… it also wasn’t Steve’s job to stop Gomez from buying every feather token or Lo Mang to invest in consumables. Sometimes you gotta just let people do what they’re gonna do. If one forced me to play arbiter in this situation, I’d say it’s not Steve’s responsibility to know what’s in Dougie’s inventory. Having said that, it’s the sort of thing that individual GMs might choose a path of forgiveness on to avoid tension or hurt feelings later when the player eventually figures it out.

Of course, the even hotter take is that Dougie wasting 900g is just karma coming back at him for cheating at the casino. The universe decided to reclaim ill-gotten gains.

And OK, there’s a third mistake I made, but I caught mine in real-time and it was fairly easy to fix. In my eagerness to deploy my +2 rune, I decided to put it on my bow, since I’ve been using that more often lately. However, when it came time to add ghost touch, I forgot that a) that I’d put the +2 on the bow and the sword-cane already has a wounding rune, as well as b) ghost touch also can’t go on a ranged weapon. So my two choices were either to move the +2 to the sword-cane or just tuck the ghost touch rune into the backpack for now and wait until I can afford another +2. Or another one drops, of course. In the short term, I believe I moved the +2 to the sword-cane to resolve the issue.

I noticed we didn’t really talk about our Level 12 builds, and I guess that’s OK. My memory is we never really came back to it, so I’ll do a quick version of it now. One big change, two small ones for Basil.

The big one is that as an archetype caster, Expert Spellcasting gives me my first Level 4 spells — well… “spell” since I only get one slot — and gain an additional Level 2 slot from Arcane Breadth. My starting choices for Level 4 were Stoneskin (protect the melees) and Blink (protect myself): remember that as an archetype caster with fewer slots to work with, I tend to choose spells that offer multi-round bang for the buck rather than big splashy damage spells. While we’re talking magic, I also went back and got scrolls so I could learn air bubble and Chris Beemer’s favorite, mirror image.

For the smaller changes, first we have the Quick Unlock feat, so I can pick locks with a single action instead of two. I feel like it might come in handy. The class feat I took is Foresee Danger, which lets me use my Perception DC instead of my AC as a reaction to an attack – it’s an edge case, but I think the big benefit would be to nullify the -2 for flanking (though it doesn’t nullify the flat-footed condition itself, just the -2 for that attack). It’s kinda like Assurance that way: it’s more for mitigating a bad situation by defusing a minus than a positive benefit.

So with all of that accomplished, we start book four… with a COLD OPEN. Surprise. Welcome to the session, roll for initiative. OK, there’s a LITTLE bit of a backstory. This was an informant who was going to point us toward the next member of the Twilight Four, Father Infector, until he caught a crossbow bolt in the neck. Was this guy followed? Did someone infiltrate the Starwatch? Both good questions… but right now, we fight.

You don’t see a lot of this, and I wouldn’t want to start EVERY session this way, but I have to admit it was a welcome change. You get into patterns with this stuff, so when you start a new book, you’re thinking either “low-stakes warm-up encounter designed to refresh your memory on how to play your character” or “20 minutes of background before you do anything of consequence”.

With this, we avoid both those pitfalls. We’re jumping right into the action; and it’s a real, legit fight, not some warm-up. The grunts are grunts, but their use of poison makes them at least somewhat formidable and they seem to have a frustratingly large supply of hit points. And flying demons that shoot bees out of their mouths are self-explanatory in their awesomeness. (Don’t come at me with your “they’re flies, not bees”… I’m adding an extra pinch of awesome in my head-canon.)

Having said that, the episode winds down right when things are starting to get good. So I suspect we’ll talk more about the fight when we’re back here 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 Sideshow S3|34: You Dropped a Mom On Me

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|34: A Hairy Male

OK, so this is kinda turning out to be a wild ride as we come down the final stretch of this third book.

First, it’s got more false endings than Return of the King. Thessekka felt like the final boss, and it seemed like it was time to break out the party hats when she was defeated. Then there was the dero (Ginjana) that seemed like maybe SHE was the final boss. This time, after killing Ginjana, our group even manages to check the box of visiting the stone and getting the inspiration, so… we’re REALLY done now, right? But then, at the last minute, Ateran goes through Ginjana’s notes and realizes that there’s a THIRD entity – the night hag — unrelated to the xulgaths and Ginjana, and she’s been behind the deaths Opper Vandy originally wanted the group’s help with.

Among other wrinkles, it comes as a bit of a left turn because it SEEMED like the mysteries were starting to converge into a single entity. The room with the brain jars in particular suggested that it was all related: it seemed like the xulgaths are just modifying their tactics or moving into a new phase where they’re attacking civilians in addition to just taking the towers, and they allied themselves with the dero to do that. But now it’s all diverged again, and it turns out we actually have COMPETING serial killers running around here. Ginjana is killing people to further her goal of finding a way to withstand sunlight, and the night hag is doing her own thing, and we’re back to the two mysteries not being related at all.

And we didn’t even get into the possibility that the night hag might be Ateran’s mom! I assume this was just a retcon by Steve: my assumption is that a night hag was always the big bad of this book, and since Ateran is a witch anyway, they decided to make the story a little more personal by folding Ateran’s backstory into it. The only thing I don’t know is where the creative balance lies between Steve, Rob, or a collaboration of the two. I mean, I guess unless Rob P. cheated and read ahead in the adventure, it probably had to start with Steve, but based on how he’s run our other games, I doubt he would’ve made a change like that without SOME level of input from Rob.

Philosophically I like that they went that way with it. You can be cynical and say “well, that’s just too much of a coincidence” or complain about how it’s not what the original writers intended, but this is ultimately supposed to be YOUR (GM and players) story. I feel like it’s setting a nice balance of still respecting the work the original writers did, while still making it your own and personalizing it in ways that put your characters more at the heart of it. If anything, that’s part of what makes a tabletop RPG more dynamic than a static video game. If we all play a Final Fantasy game, we’re all having the same basic experience, though maybe there’s that one weirdo who really LOVES blitzball. In a TTRPG, we can each have our own version of the story that can be dramatically different, and comparing the notes about how we did it differently is part of the fun. And not just the players, the GMs should be allowed to savor the twists they added to THEIR version of the story too.

If you disagree, just think of it as a multiverse. Since I’ve just seen both Everything Everywhere All At Once AND Doctor Strange: Multiverse Of Madness in consecutive weekends, I’ve got multiverses on the brain right now. Just think of Roll For Combat as Golarion-616, where the night hag terrorizing the good people of the Swardlands HAPPENS to be Ateran’s mom. In your Golarion-3210, it can be Generic Night Hag Who’s Not Related To Anyone. Heck, in Golarion-1284, it’s not a night hag at all, it’s actually a hairy male running around killing people.

Sorry, Vanessa… “hail mary”, “hairy male” is gonna stick around for a while.

There was some other action in between. First, we had another new variant of xulgaths. It’s getting to the point where it’s like different flavors of Mountain Dew… how many do you really need?  This fight wasn’t too rough overall, though it got a little messy once one of the xulgaths got into the backline and put a whuppin’ on Hap. Doubly so when she tried to stand back up and got hit with an attack of opportunity and dropped again. But our crew pushed through and ultimately prevailed.

Next up, our team got to visit the aeon stone and formally check the blessing box, though this time, they’re rewarded with arguably the most useful boon yet. Full-time darkvision is already a huge win. Darkvision with COLOR is even better: the one drawback of darkvision is that it’s black and white, so one might be losing some finer details in some situations. This feels like best of both worlds. And if that wasn’t enough… they get a CYCLOPS BLAST as the daily power. Stoneskin was a pretty good one. Raising and lowering the level of ambient water in an area… meh overall, but I have a suspicion there’s gonna be some Lara Croft puzzle later that requires it. But FACE FULL OF DEATH RAY excites me to no end, even if it is just once a day. Just as long as it doesn’t come with Scott Summers’ dickish personality too.

Then our team goes back down for a somewhat frustrating encounter with the golem in the vegetation-clogged passage. First, trying to burn off the vegetation sets off explosions, which is actually kinda cool… a little trap action to mix things up is always welcome. But then they’re facing off against a golem when a) they gave back the water flask, so they lose their best damage source against golems, and b) the golem decides to play the long game and force the party to come to it. (Or, perhaps it’s just defending the area it’s been assigned to, and won’t go outside a boundary.) Unfortunately, the situation settles into a stalemate, and given their depleted resources, the party decides to leave the situation alone and call it a day.

Now, I’m not going to criticize the decision to not go in. Close quarters, difficult terrain, depleted resources: that’s a lot of negatives for what feels like a fairly optional encounter. But I can’t help but feel a little bit curious about what have been on the other side of the golem, ESPECIALLY if it was actually assigned to guard something. Vegetation doesn’t really fit any of the themes: it’s nothing I’d associate with the xulgaths or with Ginjana, so I’ve got some natural curiosity what’s behind that door. But not enough that I’d want them to wipe the party finding out.

So next week, I imagine the team has to return to Kerrick and fight the night hag. The good news is they’ll be able to rest up and tackle it with full resources. The bad news is… well… pretty much everything else. It’s a big bad (does it really have Level 9 spells?), it will probably have a nightmare as a pet, and if it turns out to be Ater-Mom, there may a layer of weird emotional baggage on top of everything else going on. If this is FINALLY the real end of the book, it’s gonna be a doozy.

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 S3|24: Bad To The Last Drop

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|24: Are You Not Entertained?.

Well, we made it to the finish line in one piece, even if it got a little hairy there for a minute.

As I go back and listen, the boss was never a huge worry to me once he went down the first time. He’s easy to hit, and even if he’s got fast healing, we can PROBABLY outdamage it. To borrow from Chumbawumba (remember them?) “I get knocked down… but I get up again… until I reach Dying 4”. I felt pretty confident we would ultimately get him down in a way where he’d stay down. Just might take a few tries.

It was all the other stuff that worried me. The two adds. Whatever amount of time it would take to destroy or disable the device. The cloud growing every turn (soon rendering it impossible to avoid). Even Brave Buckshuck was a bit of a wildcard: yeah, he was running away, but if the confusion component of the poison triggered, we could find ourselves getting thumped by a giant. It’s like… we can SEE the finish line, but getting there may be a bit of a challenge.

However, Oggvurm’s regeneration briefly threw a wrench into the plans. That’s right, regeneration is not just fast healing, but it literally means you can’t go past Dying 3 while it’s active. I still trust our ability to put him down every round (going back and looking at the stat block, the healing component was 20 points, which we can power through), but the real cost is in actions spent. (And OK, he can still hit hard if he’s up long enough to get an attack off.)

Fortunately however, fire is pretty much the great regeneration disabler, and it works in this case, and Oggvurm stays down the second time we knock him out. That’s one problem dealt with. And with Oggvurm dealt with, the sidekicks aren’t even that difficult. Their biggest utility was creating flanking; with Oggvurm gone, they’re no worse than the guys we made quick work of in the bathhouse. A few timely crits, and they’re off the board too.

I do feel a LITTLE bad that Brave Buckshuck came to an unfortunate end, but there are limits to that. At the point he died, he had already run halfway across the arena to get away from the cloud, and ignored all our attempts to work together. So… yes, I wish it had gone differently, but how far to you go to save one person compared to saving hundreds or thousands? Staying on the device was the right call… sorry buddy.

So we (though primarily Dougie) go to work on the device. The good news is that a couple of rounds into that, we finally get the thing turned off. If you think about it, that’s the point at which The Day Is Saved and whoever survives gets to go onto Book 4. The bad news is that three out of the four of us are now poisoned with Blackfinger Blight. I’ll fully admit Basil is in the least danger of the three: I took almost no damage during the fight itself, so honestly, I probably could’ve powered through even if I’d failed some saves. And sure enough, I make both my saves and get rid of it before it’s much of an issue.

Dougie and Lo Mang are in a bit of danger, though. They’ve both taken a beating, and Dougie in particular has already dropped once. So if he drops again, he starts at Dying 2… and I think he was out of hero points, so if he gets to Dying 4, there’s no escape hatch waiting. This puts us into a position where we can’t just hand-wave the aftermath like we sometimes do, we really have to get into it round-by-round. (Also keep in mind, I listen to both shows, so what happened to Darius was fairly fresh in my mind when this was happening.)

So I spring into action and it’s one of those things where I made the right choice, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I was mostly responding to Dougie being further on the wounded/dying track, but the real special sauce is that Lo Mang has a BIG advantage in this situation. His monkish fortitude bonus makes it so that all successes on fortitude saves automatically become critical successes. In other words, the whole virulent thing isn’t NEARLY as big an issue for him because any successful save will drop the severity of the poison by a step. So Dougie was definitely the right person to give assistance to, even though I didn’t quite put two and two together in the moment.

That certainly doesn’t make the situation easy, though. It’s a situation where we have to try and help treat the poison (the item bonus from the antidote and the circumstance bonus from Treat Poison stack, so we can get a +6 or even +8 total), but we also can’t let up on healing him because one set of “good” damage rolls could put him down again. And we’re also out of our big heals for the day, so we’re reduced to chaining together little heals and hoping it’s enough. I know there was an easy-going vibe to the whole thing because we’d basically won, but still… scratch the surface just a little bit, and there’s some real danger there.

But then the one thing we didn’t count on bails us out: the poison hits its six-round duration and expires. Dougie is saved, and we can OFFICIALLY declare victory. Granted, Pendantic Me wonders why the poison didn’t expire on the zoo animals back in the first encounter, but you can create a rationale for that if you need to: maybe the ingested form was more concentrated than the airborne version, or the zoo animals had been eating it for a longer period of time and were more deeply affected.

So… we win. The gamesmaster gives us our own little Star Wars medal ceremony, we hear some vague promises about Starwatch doing some interrogations which will presumably set up Book 4, and we’re officially putting this chapter of the adventure to bed. And oh yeah, we’ll also get to level up to 12 for next time.

WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

So next week, I guess we see what our fellow lawmen turn up for our next lead, and we meet the new Level 12 versions of the party. 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 S3|33: Touching Me Touching You

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|33: Hulk Smash!

First things first… literally. What do we think of the “cold open”?

I’m going to give it a few weeks before I render a FINAL verdict, but my knee-jerk, first-listen reaction was that I missed having an intro. First is simply the abruptness of it: here’s the theme music… and now we’re rolling dice. I kinda like having that minute or two to “settle in” before the action starts. If I’m being honest, I also sometimes forget exactly where we were, and having that brief recap before we jump right in can be handy. (Especially if it’s Vanessa doing it in her carnival barker/40s radio announcer voice.) I also have to say Steve’s show notes were often interesting as a player who doesn’t always think about how things look on the other side of the screen. And on a purely self-interested level, the show notes have sometimes given me something to write about when I was spinning my wheels on the episode itself.

But I can certainly see the other side of the coin too. I don’t want this to come across as throwing shade at Steve, but sometimes the pre-show got a little long and meandering, or the shownotes would sometimes be something he’s already talked about several times before. Three or four minutes of pre-game? Sure. But I’ve seen a couple hit the 10-minute mark, and that seems a little excessive. And… OK… I haven’t done any polling, but it’s possible there are listeners who are here for the podcast and the Battlezoo stuff may not be a huge priority to them. (Again, not throwing shade at Battlezoo as a product line, but I feel like you could get that information in other places – now including Steve and Mark’s new YouTube shows — and one wouldn’t necessarily listen to a loosely-related podcast JUST to get that info.)

So I guess we’ll try this out and see how it goes, but my instant reaction is that I miss having that bit of a buffer zone at the start of the show.

This week, we’re back at it with the fight against the probable boss encounter, and one thing that immediately struck me about this episode is it’s a much more defensive/tactical fight than I’m used to seeing from this group. It’s not that they don’t practice tactics in other fights, but it was particularly noticeable this time. I think it was two rounds before they actually made an attack, because they were dealing with buffs and debuffs, and trying to get Alhara out of the big guy’s grab. Usually SOMEONE is taking the offensive earlier than that.

Speaking of the grab, we got an interesting quirk of the rules this week, with the interactions between grapple and reach. Specifically, we had a case where Alhara was grabbed, but couldn’t attack the creature grabbing her because the xulgath had a reach advantage over her.  Now… on some basic intuitive level that seems wrong: if something’s grabbing you, that implies there ought to be some piece of it you can attack. But I guess this is one of those places where you have to use roleplaying flavor to fill in the gaps in math: the dice deal with hits and misses, but somewhere in your brain, you can chalk it up as “yeah, you can attack the limb that’s holding you but you don’t have the leverage to do any meaningful damage”.

Now, there are SOME creatures – the roper leaps to mind, since we fought one in the Edgewatch game – that solve this problem by making appendages have their own armor class and hit points. That’s a good solution for specific non-humanoid cases, but I’m not sure you’d want to make that a general rule for ANY creature that can grab, or it makes things REALLY complicated in the long haul. Do we want to have separate attack profiles for any enemy before and after it’s had limbs chopped off? And even if we wanted to create such a system for enemies, wouldn’t fairness dictate that such a system apply equally to the players? It might be “realistic” but it feels like it’d be a mess for playability.

And OK, I’m not sure “game where you can hack off people’s limbs in the name of pseudo-realistic combat” is the sort of thing you want on the marketing brochure if you’re trying to reach a general audience.

So Alhara remains grabbed, and gets smashed into the floor a few times. (CHOKESLAM. I’m assuming this ability name means there’s a fellow wrestling afficionado somewhere in the bowels of Paizo.) So things aren’t looking great for Alhara for a little while. However, the good news is, as hard as this guy hits, he’s got the curse of bigguns everywhere, insofar as he has a low armor class, making crits a little easier to attain. And sure enough, the party is able to wear him down pretty quickly and turn it into a one-on-four (five if you count Riley) against the boss.

At least, I’m assuming it’s the boss. She’s certainly hitting like a boss, since between all of her extra damage sources, she does something like 40, 50 points on a normal hit. There’s a little discrepancy, insofar as the Tarren Mill folk described her as a “white-eyed dwarf” but now Steve describes her as more like a gnome. On the other hand, looking at the artwork… definitely white eyes, so… there can’t be two, can there? So maybe the Tarren Mill people are just country bumpkins who can’t tell the difference between a dwarf and a gnome. Though also to be fair, between the white eyes and greenish skin, she’s not a normal… whatever she is. (OK, I cheated and read the stat block. Dero. So… neither.)

It’s funny… once it’s a single-target fight, things seem a lot more under control. When the big fella was knocking the stuffing out of Alhara, I thought we might have a potential party wipe on our hands. Especially with Darius disadvantaged by the hover effect that meant he couldn’t take mountain stance. But once the big guy was down, everything kinda slowed down a little and it never felt like our team was in danger after that.

Speaking of that hover effect, I also find myself thinking about the moment she cancelled the gravity effect and fell. I find myself wondering whether that was something the baddie put in place, or whether it was an environmental effect that was already there, but she happened to have figured out how to use it to her advantage. At a meta level, she doesn’t seem like a caster build, so it feels like the latter explanation is closer to the mark. Which also means this may be a puzzle the players will have to work through after the fight is over. And we still have to figure out how this brain-scraping weirdo factors into the xulgaths’ larger plans.

I guess we’ll find that out next time, though. The battle is won, time to move on and claim the aeon stone. Hopefully. 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 S3|23: Cloudy With a Chance of Lethal

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|23: The Bomb Squad.

OK, so welcome to the REAL final boss fight. We thought that was what the last two weeks were, but nope… it’s Oggvurm The Merciless.

This is an interesting fight because it absolutely earns its difficulty rating in some respects, and is atypical in other ways.

The boss himself is tough, and the fact that melees have to enter a really nasty poison cloud to engage with him is certainly tough on its own. The poison being virulent doesn’t help matters either – two saves to reduce the level is rough. The boss also has two supports, but those guys weren’t that bad in prior combats: they feel like they’re there mostly to enable flanking opportunities. I don’t know if the overall challenge rating also includes the fact that we’re hitting this encounter at the end of a full day when our resources are somewhat depleted, but that’s also going to make this fight tricky.

And above and beyond all of that, there’s still the device to disable. Do you try and destroy it? Disable it? And whichever direction you go with it, do you do that WHILE fighting, or get the boss down first and THEN do it while he’s still pounding on us?

On the other hand, we’ve got a few things in our favor as well. First and foremost is the boss’ armor class: after feeling it out for a round or two, it looks like 24 is the magic number. Which means we ALMOST can’t miss (beyond the concealment flat check) and even have a decent chance to crit. (I don’t know the whole party’s attack bonuses, but just to throw a number at it, a +20 would mean we can crit on a 14 or higher). We’re also a lot faster than him in terms of base foot speed, and we have vertical mobility (flight) that he lacks.

The X-factor here is the giant, Brave Buckshuck. He’s supposed to be Oggvurm’s opponent, so on paper he could be an ally. And immediately, I’m seeing him as an opportunity to attack the device, if we can get him on our side. Bet he could smash through a lot of hardness. However, he may also think this is just some three-way fight and think we’re another set of opponents that got thrown in at the last minute. Especially since our whole cover is that we’re a fellow team of gladiatiors.

So all of that sets the stage as combat kicks off.

My first impression is that air bubble, or something like it, would’ve been enormously useful. I will admit, I was thinking it was more of a contact poison than a breathable, but maybe we should’ve seen this one coming a little better than we did.

I also wanted to mention: the spray isn’t a constant thing where it leaves a trail; it actually ticks at the end of each round so there’s a cloud at the first place he stops, a cloud at the second place he stops, etc. Now, when Oggvurm stays in one place for a full round, the diameter of the current cloud gets bigger, but in the early rounds, there are gaps in the cloud… it’s not a continuous wall of poison. Thought I should mention that.

Round 1 is mostly about positioning, though we get our first hints that Oggvurm isn’t that hard to hit, as I think I land a 26 or 27. I don’t know about the rest of the party, but that immediately adjusts my personal tactics. I’m already not likely to do much damage to the device itself (since I lose crits and precision) so I might as well try to slow the big guy down. Best case, if I can land a crit with Devise a Stratagem, that could be 50, 60 damage in one hit, and if I get a crit, I can add mental damage too.

On the other hand, I make a mistake here which is infuriating on re-listen: I forget to do my reaction to share my stratagem. It’s forgivable this round because nobody was really in melee range anyway, but I do it next round too when I don’t have that excuse to fall back on. Can’t afford unforced errors at a time like this.

Things start to get a little more serious in round 2, as everyone gets within melee range. At this point, Oggvurm is still going for the crowd and ignoring us, so we just pile on another batch of damage. On the other hand, Tree Boy decides to be a pain in the ass and swing indiscriminately at everyone, so he’s not going to be the easy ally we hoped he’d be, and we may have to fight him down to unconsciousness.

But then things get really messy, as we do enough damage for Oggvurm to take notice of us, and he immediately unloads both barrels on Dougie, knocking him out in one round. Damn! As Steve would say, “that’s not good”. We’ve halted his progress toward the crowd, but one round of attacks took out a quarter of our party. And as I said earlier, staying in one place means the cloud in that area starts to grow.

And here’s why that’s a problem. It dawns on me that one way to approach this fight would be hit-and-run tactics. It’s a bit meta-gamey, but if the cloud is still small, you can run in and take one shot (maybe two with haste or other special abilities), and then get back out of the cloud and not be affected by the poison at all. But if the cloud keeps growing, it will eventually reach a point where stick-and-move won’t work anymore and the melees will HAVE to stay in the cloud to fight him. AND to stop the device, when we get to that point.

And oh by the way, Oggvurm also heals for an unknown amount. So however many hit points he has… he’s getting some of them back. Possibly each turn if it’s a constant effect and not a one-off.

The fight continues. Oggvurm takes it easy on us by moving for a round, during which Lo Mang and I load damage on him while Gomez gets Dougie back in the fight. (Oddly… over his protests.) Another round ticks, and we FINALLY get him down, though the giant fails his save and gets poisoned while all that is going on.

So now all we have to do is clear the adds, maybe deal with the giant, and disable the device, and we’ve saved the city again. Should be easy, right? Right?

I guess we’ll find out how easy 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 back here next week.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.