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

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The Sideshow S2|11: A New Circus Performer Emerges!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|11: They Blinded Me With Science!

Well that was a bit of a tone shift, wasn’t it?

At the end of the last episode, I was worried for our merry band. I did have a sense that the battle would stop short of lethal damage because, at the end of the day, the Celestial Menagerie has a good thing going and doesn’t want to get run out of town by committing multiple homicides in front of a full tent of witnesses. But even with that mental safety net, our team was in kind of a worrisome place and I thought they might be facing the prospect of having to rebuild from a place of utter humiliation. I mean, come on… they had only gotten ONE hit on Delamar up to the point where the previous episode ended, and the third guy, Aives, hadn’t really even joined the battle yet.

But what a difference a week makes. A little bit of outside-the-box thinking later, and we’ve got a Zoolander walk-off (“Old school rules. First model walks. Second model duplicates, then elaborates.”), a fan club for Darius, and a surprising defection that turns the tide of the fight and ends up delivering a smashingly good show.

This particular episode is more of a “moments” episode. Sometimes, there’s one big moment or rules question I like to deep-dive on and that pretty much takes up the entire column; other times, it’s just an episode that fills my head with a lot of little stuff. This one’s the latter. So I’ll be bouncing around a bit… stay with me.

First, there’s Ateran. Maybe I’m easily amused but I thought it was kinda funny that they were kinda slow on the uptake – while Darius and Alhara had already shifted to “pretend it’s all part of the act” mode, Ateran’s still firing off Blistering Invective and ranting about killing people. But they get it together in the end and get to use their original act by the time it’s all over.

The Darius fan club is funny in the short term but prompts some interesting questions. There’s this whole interesting idea of exploring the idea of celebrity within an RPG context, and which party members are equipped for it and which ones aren’t. Big picture, that could lead to some interesting roleplay material. Darius and Hap seem like they’re wired to roll with it: I think Darius will be fine as long as bacon is part of the perks package, and Hap will think it’s all great fun as long as she has some sort of safe place to decompress when she has to. Alhara has conflicting elements in her personality… she’s a bit of a showoff and an extrovert, but I feel like she still likes that to be on her terms where SHE chooses the degree of extraversion and FORCED fame might rub her the wrong way. And Ateran… I suspect they’d much rather hide in Kalkek’s cave than be “famous”. So it’ll be interesting to see what might come of that.

Most immediately, I’m just worried about people taking Prestidigitation to places it was never meant to go. Yes, folks. The Darius Beefcake Firefighter Calendar is now officially in play.

Speaking of fandom: don’t be mocking science fandom, people, or we’re gonna fight. Easy to see who did and didn’t have kids who were into Bill Nye growing up. BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL! (Yes, that included a DAoC character named “Bilnai Silentsky” where not NEARLY enough people got the joke of saying it out loud.)

The next thing that stuck out for me as funny when Steve basically just said “screw it” and threw out the nat-1 and re-rolled Aives’ skill check. Look, he’s the GM, he can do what he wants, but just do it behind the screen and lie about it, man! Overall though, I thought the “face turn” by Aives was well done, even if it was a bit reminiscent of wrestling. The only thing that would’ve been better would be to have Aives hit Delamar with a steel folding chair and then tear off a Celestial Menagerie T-shirt to reveal a Wayward Wonders T-shirt underneath.

The most immediate concern in the aftermath is the fate of Jellico Bounce-Bounce. How much of his performing ability was him, and how much was the ghost? Is he even going to BE an act any more, or did his skill disappear with the ghost’s demise? (In which case, maybe that’s a meta-game reason for swapping Aives out for him. One-for-one trade so the players don’t cry foul.) Of course, Dark Cynical Me mentally joked that no one’s considered the possibility that the “real” Jellico was actually a serial killer in his pre-ghost life. Perhaps the spirit is the only thing that kept him distracted from killing MORE people by channeling it into performance.

Our second most immediate concern was that Hap would go get herself eaten by Kalkek by rushing up to rescue Riley without any backup and that we’d never see her Level 6 character. But for the moment, Kalkek honored his deal and things are good if still lacking an ultimate resolution, on that front.

Now, about those Level 6 characters… Ateran gets a CAR at Level 6? (Wads up current character, starts rolling a Witch.)

OK, maybe not. It sounds like we’ll be going through most of that next episode, so I won’t say too much about it for now. The only thing that stands out at this point is a personal note that Darius seems to be taking the same basic package of healing feats my character in Edgewatch is taking; just in a different order. I took Ward Medic first, Continual Recovery at Level 4, and was looking at Assurance at Level 6. But we’ll get into it deeper next week.

Back in the wrap-up, the circus performance makes a nice chunk of change (93g, even after-tax), and we get a stern-but-fair warning that the law is watching both sides, so there hopefully won’t be any overt shenanigans from the Celestial Menagerie crew going forward. So we actually end this week’s show on a fairly positive note… money in the bank, new level one night’s sleep away, all is well. The overall beef with the Menagerie needs to be squashed, the Varus kids still need to meet their father, and our troupe may be doing their next performance for free because of all the comps the CM may have handed out, but that’s just life in show business, right?

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.

Pathfinder Lost Omens Ancestry Guide Review: You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Character Binder

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, Pathfinder Lost Omens: Legends, Pathfinder World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Gamemastery Guide, and Bestiary 2.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Agents of Edgewatch Podcast and our Tales from the Black Lodge Podcast.

I’ll start this review with a personal confession: I am an alt-aholic.

Yes, I leveled one of every class to max level in World of Warcraft. I may have even done so for Alliance and Horde.

Yes, I have an entire SuperFriends-level roster of standard character builds I make in pretty much every game system I encounter. If you run across a (usually-human) mage named “Jerryx” or a dwarf named “Gryzba” in any random system, even money says it’s me. Full disclosure: Gryz has been known to be a fighter or a paladin, depending on my mood.

So when it came time to sit down with the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, it’s really kind of a slam dunk: the question isn’t whether I’ll like it, but how much I’ll like it, and which things I’ll turn into character concepts first. Because this is one of Paizo’s most straightforward supplements in that it’s just new ancestry and heritage options to use when building characters. Cover to cover.

First, let’s do a brief rules primer on the difference between “ancestry” and “heritage”, just in case you’ve stumbled onto this review while missing some of the intervening books. An ancestry is a core group of people; a heritage represents more of a subtype of people. In the Core Rulebook, most heritages were fairly minor flavor tweaks – to pick an example, a cavern elf would get darkvision while a woodland elf could climb (trees) faster. The one interesting exception was that half-elves and half-orcs were considered human heritages rather than full ancestries, and could take ancestry feats from either of their core ancestries. (Although when Second Edition first came out, the “orc” ancestry wasn’t yet a separate entity.)

It turns out the half-elf and half-orc were a sneak preview of bigger, better things to come for heritages. Paizo expanded on them in later rulebooks with the concept of the “versatile heritage”. Versatile heritages were much more well-defined variants that offered almost as many choices as full ancestries and weren’t restricted to a particular ancestry the way half-elves and half-orcs were. At the risk of oversimplifying, a versatile heritage was a way of representing “half-X” where the other half of the X could be ANYTHING, not just human. So to use a real example from our Edgewatch campaign, Chris Beemer plays an orc (ancestry) tiefling (demonic heritage).

Crossing genres, another way to look at it would be the difference between Data and the Borg. On the surface, they both represent people with technological components, right? Data (or more generically, a “Soong-type android”) would represent an ancestry. He was designed from the ground up as a synthetic lifeform; it’s what he is. The Borg, on the other hand, would be more like a heritage. Borg come from a lot of different underlying species, but the Borgification process adds the common technological elements that make them a people. But under the hood, you could have a Klingon Borg or a Romulan Borg.

So that’s ancestries and heritages in a nutshell. I wanted to make sure everyone has the terminology down before we continue. Now let’s take a look at the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide in more detail.

At a high level, the book has two major sections that are about the same size. The first section presents expanded choices for the ancestries and heritages that have already been added since the Core Rulebook: primarily the Advanced Players’ Guide, but there are other sources as well. The second half of the book presents 14 new ancestries and heritages that are completely new to Second Edition. There’s also a VERY small section of ancestral gear, but it’s literally just two pages.

Now…. I’m going to cheat a little and go out of order and do the new stuff first. Why? Because new stuff is more fun, of course! And there’s generally more to say about them. That’s not to say that it’s not fun to speculate about duck-based tengus, which are now A Thing, but let’s embrace the new, shall we? Within that, I’ll probably talk about ancestries first and heritages second, so we’re staying in general areas.

We have six new ancestries to unpack here:

First, we have Androids, which are half-organic, half-machine beings introduced to Golarion by the crash of a starship back in the First Edition timeline. As a physical “look” thing, they tend to have circuitry patterns on their skin that resemble tattoos. They tend to be fairly flexible people, as their technological components can confer various physical or mental benefits. Most have a reduced understanding of humanoid emotions, which is reflected by Charisma being their flaw stat. (Also, I’ll say it… if you’ve been playing any Starfinder, you’ll see some similarities to the Starfinder Android here.)

Fetchlings are creatures from the Shadow Plane whose feats revolve around manipulating shadows. To pick a few sample feats, Clever Shadow lets you interact with objects using your shadow (like opening a door) while Hefting Shadow lets you store up to 2 bulk of gear in your shadow as if it were a container. Also… their look is about as goth as it gets.

Fleshwarps are the result of magical mutation and are probably the most unusual ancestry in the book. The specific origin can be anything from a magical accident to deliberate torture (the drow are reportedly fond of turning captured enemies into fleshwarps), but the general theme is “magic does weird crap to your body”. The feats tend to be a grab bag of limb alterations and augmentation of senses. And yes, at higher levels, tentacles are in play.

Kitsune are shapechanging fox-people who tend to have two forms: a fox form and a humanoid form. They can be in either form indefinitely, but the fox form counts as their true form and the humanoid form is considered a disguise in social situations. Kitsune feats tend to revolve around animal attacks, limited magical abilities, or an emphasis on disguises (using their own AND seeing through others’) and navigating social situations.

Sprites give us something we’ve never had in Second Edition. A TINY character ancestry. That’s right, your gear scales down, and you use the combat rules for Tiny creatures, which means your weapons have zero reach and you have to enter the same square as an enemy to attack them. And needless to say, Strength is ABSOLUTELY your flaw stat. On the bright side, you can use your fellow PCs as a mount, or – in the statement that will launch a thousand pieces of adorable fan-art – take a feat to ride a corgi mount. (Technically, you can take the Pixie heritage and remain Small-sized, but why on earth would you spoil the moment like that? DID I NOT MENTION THE BATTLE CORGI?)

And lastly, we have the Strix. I tend to think of them as the inverse of tengu… tengu are avian humanoids who are mostly bird; strix are avian humanoids who are mostly human, though they tend to have bird-claw feet and wings. A lot of their feats tend to revolve around using their wings more effectively; they start using their wings to leap more effectively but can add attacks and other status effects, and eventually gain full flight.

On the heritage side, there are basically eight, but five of them are the geniekin, which share a lot of common elements (pun semi-intended).

The aphorite (law) and ganzi (chaos) are entities of law and chaos the same way aasimars and tieflings represent good and evil. Aphorites have a metallic complexion, and a lot of their feats increase skills or make combat more effective by “understanding the workings of the universe”. Ganzi go the opposite direction and emphasize their uniqueness… many have distinct coloration patterns or feathers, some even have tails or vestigial wings. One of the interesting features of a ganzi is energy resistance which is determined randomly at the start of each day, so one day it might be fire and the next day it might be acid.

The beastkin are humanoids who had a werecreature somewhere in their family tree, so they have a mix of their original ancestry and beast traits. They usually have a “normal” humanoid form and a hybrid form that is still humanoid but the beast features become more prominent. The really interesting thing here is the choice of “inherent animal” (i.e. the animal you’re crossed with) is pretty much up to the player – the rules recommend six or seven forms, but they’re just examples. So if you want your inherent animal to be a poodle or a giant ant or a panda… it’s all good. (Also, it dawns on me that since this is a heritage, you could apply it over top of a catfolk or tengu, so you could have an animal that turns into a different animal. It’s a furry’s paradise!)

Now we get to the geniekin, which are humanoids with some sort of elemental ancestry. We have the Ifrit (fire), Oread (earth), Slyph (air), and Undine (water), and then there’s the Suli, a geniekin that has a mix of all four elements (which I’m dubbing the “Quad-Core Geniekin”). There are a few common feats available to all geniekin (darkvision, familiarity with geniekin weapons, a tail), and then each “flavor” of geniekin has specific feats that tie into their source element. Well, most of them do. The Suli, by being a mix of all four, get powers that are less about raw power and more about flexibility. For example, “Elemental Bulwark”… it’s “only” DR5 protection, but it can be ANY of the four primary elements and can be declared when the attack is made. An Ifrit might get a more powerful equivalent ability, but it’s ONLY good for fire.

I’ve tended to focus on what sort of cool tricks these new options offer, but I should mention that it’s not all focused on combat. As with previous books, there’s also a fair chunk of world-building for each ancestry or heritage, explaining things like what parts of Golarion they live in, how they structure their societies, their interactions with other various humanoids, and things like that. I know I get lost in “look at the cool toys” mode at times, but I did want to acknowledge and appreciate the level of detail that Paizo puts into making these various new people part of the larger world.

On the pre-existing side, I’ll probably not dive as deep, but just give some of the highlights. On the ancestry side, we get new options for the azerketi, catfolk, hobgoblin, kobold, leshy, lizardfolk, orc, ratfolk, and tengu. On the heritage side, it covers the aasimar, changeling, dhampir, duskwalker, and tiefling.

Now there’s one oddball here. I’m not looking to kick anyone in the jimmies, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out something that could be confusing in the short term. You’ll note that one of the “expanded” ancestries is the azerketi, an aquatic people with ties to the Azlanti empire. They’ve got kind of the full Aquaman feat package – water-based spells, water movement and combat feats, communication with sea beasties… all that good stuff. The problem is, they were supposed to debut in the Absalom, City of Lost Omens sourcebook… which isn’t out yet. So the “good” news is that they feel more like a new ancestry than an “updated” one, BUT as I’m reviewing this, their base information (hit points, bonus and flaw attributes, etc.) doesn’t exist anywhere. We reached out to Paizo, and they will be making that content available on the web, but I wanted to be honest about it in case readers find it confusing. Not a show-stopper, but it’s something you might need to be aware of.

Looking at the updated content, I’m just going to skim a few favorites. Since I’m already playing a tengu, I’m excited about the fact that tengu get a chain of feats that involve creating a magical tengu feather fan out of their own feathers. They can then imbue it with magic consisting of progressively more powerful storm-themed spells. Similarly, orcs gain a similar feat chain built around the concept of a “warmask” that can provide various combat and a few non-combat benefits. But it’s orcs so… let’s be honest… mostly combat. One of my favorites that I want to run out and try is a new leshy heritage… the Fruit Leshy. It’s a leshy that creates some sort of berry or other fruit every day that can be plucked and eaten to serve as a healing potion based on the character’s level. (The fruit only lasts for a day, so no, you can’t store them up.) The dhampir gain an undead companion option (yes… I’m singing “My Little Zombie” to the “My Little Pony” theme song), and as I hinted at earlier, tengu can now be waterfowl-based. (The endgame here inevitably being a Darkwing Duck build. Just Sayin’.) There’s lots of interesting little things here, but I figure you can discover those at your own pace.

As I mentioned, there’s a very short gear section, but it’s mostly just weapons for the new ancestries and heritages contained in this book. They do also have an interesting mechanism for a “resonant” weapon trait. If you have a resonant weapon and can also cast spells or take other actions with elemental typing, you can use a reaction to channel a little bit of that energy into your weapon as bonus damage. From there, there’s also a “Conducting” rune that can take that small bit of damage and make it a full damage die of typed damage. This feels like it’s tailor-made for the quad-core geniekin (the Suli)… give your weapon typed damage, on the fly!… but could be useful to other character builds as well.

In closing, if you’re someone who loves playing around with new characters like I do, you’re going to want to make a Kool-Aid man-sized hole in the wall of your gaming shop grabbing this book. It offers TONS of new character ideas to play around with. I probably started rolling four or five new alts in my head just during the process of writing this review. Obviously, everyone’s got different tastes of what their favorite might be, and maybe there’s even the odd build or two you just don’t care about, but taken as a whole, there’s so much in here that I feel pretty confident saying “there’s something for everyone”.  So there it is… the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide. Please Alt Responsibly.

The Sideshow S2|10: Two Circuses Enter, One Circus Leaves

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|10: The Laugh Factory.

OK, I have to admit this week’s episode genuinely caught me off guard.

When I saw Steve’s episode writeup about things “going from bad to worse”, I was just assuming the circus would be having a “death by 1000 paper cuts” performance… like we’d be seeing a bunch of natural 1s on rolls or something, the sick animals would vomit on someone, something like that. Or… OK… 1% chance of the situation with Kalkek somehow going nuclear during the show. (I guess that could still happen… the show’s not over yet. Jinx.)

I did NOT expect a full-out attack from the Celestial Menagerie mid-performance. I thought the pre-show sabotage was as far as they were going to take it for now and we’d deal with them between performances.

Before we get into that, I have to give Loren credit for coming up with an entire act for the ysoki siblings to do, though I did flat out accuse her of using cheese-related puns to try and curry favor with me to get a good review. (I did create CHDRR back in the Starfinder days, after all.) Well… it worked. It was edam fine performance. Then we had an average performance by Team Varus (though I enjoyed Darius’ Hulkamania reference) before things really kicked into high gear.

For half a second, when Jellico first took the stage uninvited, I thought he was playing the long game and had been a double agent this whole time; now that the Wayward Wonders crew had reached Escadar, it was time to spring the trap. I figured he was going to attack the crowd, or even just offend and scare them so that no one would ever come back. Back when he joined up, it did seem a little suspicious he wanted to go to a LESS prominent circus. Though if you think about it, the presence of the spirit would explain that – if it created a compulsion to perform and the Celestial Menagerie was not giving him enough of a spotlight, maybe he would take less money to go somewhere where he was one of the starring acts.

But whatever his reason for taking the stage, it does seem clear the Celestial Menagerie people knew about the Muse Phantom and knew how to trigger it, as they blanketed the stage in darkness and let the creature’s own need for attention take care of the rest.

First, cool monster that Steve came up with. Though it seems a little situational, given that you’d have to write some sort of performer into your backstory to make it relevant. But it was neat, it had good flavor, and I thought the notion that it could apply either comedic or dramatic effects was a nice touch.

I also felt bad for poor Alhara, trying for the big hero pounce and basically turning into Wyle E. Coyote splattering on the ground right next to the Roadrunner. And then getting put under the effect of demonic laughter for the rest of the fight for good measure. And to think she went through all of this for Jellico… a character she basically hates to begin with.

Now, I think Steve actually mentioned this LAST week, but technically the Muse Phantom should’ve stuck around a little longer. When you use a heal spell to harm undead creatures, you don’t get the “plus” damage… that’s ONLY for using healing as healing. So that heal-bomb that went off for 41 damage really only should’ve done about half of that. Then again, the way the fight went, that probably only would’ve let it stick around for one more round, so I don’t think we missed out on too much there.

But then, the minute one problem is solved, the next one emerges, as Delamar and his crew launch their attack from the wings. In general, I like a good party fight. So much of Pathfinder is made up of fights against either a single “big bad” or a gang of identical faceless minions that it’s nice when a group goes up against an enemy with a diversity of skills. It adds an interesting layer of tactics that are usually lacking. Instead of “I’ll hit the one that’s taken the most damage” you start thinking in terms of “who’s the caster?” or “can we get this guy down before the healer can heal them”? It’s a much more dynamic battlefield. And in this case, the combatants even come with some personality sprinkled in, which you usually don’t get from Xulgath #4.

My first impression of the fight was that the whole thing reminded me of the old Peter O’Toole movie My Favorite Year, where (skimming the relevant portion of the plot) the mob attacks a sketch comedy show that had been making fun of the mob boss, and the audience laughs along because they think it’s all part of the show. My second thought that it was actually kinda clever for our team to try and turn this into a marketing opportunity. I mean, if Team Wayward Wonders wins this brawl, it kinda gives them a shot of instant credibility with the audience, right?

Except… the other group seems to be doing the same thing. And they might be better at it. In fact, Delamar is confident enough to start tossing around comp tickets to the Celestial Menagerie WHILE FIGHTING, and what’s worse, he can get away with it because it’s turning out to be REALLY hard to hit him. And his buddy Ruanna stole Chris Beemer’s trick and made a bunch of mirror images of herself, only unlike Chris, she didn’t roll a 1 like he always did. After a round or two of fighting, our team is kinda flailing, and that’s with one of the three intruders (Aives) not even fully engaged yet. (Though he did get a heartwarming lecture about changing his ways from Hap.)

I briefly found myself worried about whether they’re fighting with lethal or non-lethal damage, but I ASSUME they’re doing non-lethal. First, if they want to lure acts back to their circus, those acts have to still be alive. But if they want to still have a circus, it would also negatively impact their business model to be on the run for murder. Having a muse phantom “accident” kill someone is one thing; having your performers show up and straight-up murder-hobo your competitor’s performers… I’m not an expert on Golarion’s laws, but… seems like they’d get put out of business for that. So I’m assuming we’re fighting more for pride than lives here.

Still… hope our team wins.

Unfortunately, we won’t get the resolution to that question until next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|22: More Red, Less Cap

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|22: Crit Fishing.

This week on The Bird’s Eye View, it’s REDCAP 2: MORE RED, LESS CAP. And we finally find Ralso, the orc from the front desk, playing with her dolls. Which isn’t nearly as heartwarming as it sounds.

Since this whole exploration of the Dreaming Palace has been one long dungeon slog, we begin this week’s episode already in mid-combat, though hopefully, the tide of the battle has turned. If you remember, at the tail end of last week, Lo Mang stole the little bastard’s hat, which turns off his fast healing and saps away a bit of his damage. So from here on out, it’s pretty much a straight race to zero hit points. (Unless he gets the hat back, of course.)

The real trick is managing the redcap’s attacks. Without the hat, the redcap has a tolerable number of hit points (60… I cheated and read the stat block for this write-up), but even with the reduced damage from stealing his hat, he still hits hard and his crits could still create serious problems. And the fact that he can kick on the move gives him an action efficiency that reduces the effectiveness of “spread out and make him come to us” as a tactic.

The real answer here lies in Gomez and I getting more involved and maybe eating an attack or two to get him off Dougie and Lo Mang, but that’s a double-edged… scythe. Gomez is (best I remember) unharmed, and I took one kick early in the fight but am otherwise fresh. So if we could get him to attack us once or twice, that might keep the fight going long enough for the heavy hitters to drop him. But, we also tend to have lower armor classes and fewer hit points, so if he crits us, there’s a real possibility of a one-shot. And if Gomez in particular drops, there go our heals.

And ohbytheway, even if I were to try and backfill by pulling scrolls out of Gomez’s bandolier while he’s down; as an arcane caster, I technically can’t use healing scrolls since they’re divine/primal. I’d need something like the Trick Magic Item feat for that. So all of Gomez’s scroll-based healing… which is to say most of it… would do me no good.

So Gomez hangs back, but I see what I can do to get in there and make myself a bit more of a target. My two goals were either to provide flanking or if an opportunity presented itself to block the hall and keep the redcap from advancing at all, I’d take it and serve as a human speed bump. It’s a bit meta-gamey, but I’ve got my badge, I’ve got a hero point to stave off permadeath, so worst-case, maybe it can waste a round killing me while Dougie and Lo Mang regroup. If he doesn’t crit, MAYBE I even hold out for two rounds! However, the opportunity to block the hall entirely never comes together because of the various hard corners – the best I can do is stay close and offer flanking to others.

On the other hand, the net of all of this is that I do get the unlikely kill shot after everyone else does the hard work of whittling him down. Yay me!

We do a little healing, some handwaved and some not. I figure once you hit this level, after-heals are easy enough that the only time you shouldn’t hand-wave it is if the patient’s hit points are low enough that a botched heal could actually drop them. (Or if time is EXPLICITLY important to the story – you have two hours to explore a building, so every 10-minute rest becomes relevant.) Otherwise… you’re probably going to succeed eventually, so might as well just say “OK, a half-hour passes and everyone’s healed.

Now… I have a confession to make that might be a little awkward, but this is supposed to be an honest, uncensored reaction to the show. I have to admit the guys (but John in particular) making jokes about Basil eating the pinkie fingers bothered me just a bit. Both as we were playing, and even listening to it now, I have to admit I felt this wave of “you guys are kinda being dicks”. Not enough to stop the game or even say anything… but it was there. And I’m not even sure I can totally articulate why.

I mean, I can see the joke sitting there. “Birds eat worms, fingers look like worms”. It’s pretty low-hanging fruit, comedically, and in a different scenario, it might have been ME making that joke. To pick a different example, I still laugh whenever Legolas offers Gimli a box to stand on at Helm’s Deep. It’s also not like I should be able to take teasing about a fictional character personally – I’m not Basil; Basil’s not me, so why would I care? But even with all of that, there was a brief flicker both feeling attacked, and of cringey discomfort, like “boy, I hope our listeners will understand we’re just being racist within fictional boundaries.”

I think some of it is just our different personalities. I have a thinner skin and quieter disposition than “The New Yorkers” (yeah, I call them New Yorkers even though John and Bob now live in Ohio). On the good side, it sometimes lets me play peacemaker within the group, but it sometimes manifests as “The Quiet Beatle” where they’re on a roll and I go 30 minutes without saying anything. But the point is that these guys really pour it on each other at times in a way that’s beyond my normal way of interacting. Even earlier in the episode, you hear John and Seth YELLING at each other, and then 30 seconds later it’s totally forgotten. So maybe part of my reaction is as simple as I hadn’t been in the crosshairs of their mockery in a while and forgot what it felt like.

But I also find myself thinking about these things in the larger context of our hobby, and people who feel like they aren’t welcome at the gaming table. Here in this game, I take that joke and let it roll off my back because I’ve known these guys for years, but does someone else make that joke at a different table where the players don’t know each other as well and someone quits the game because they’re being made to feel unwelcome? I don’t know.

Look, I know it’s rambly and I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say but the feeling was there, and there was a flicker of time where I felt a little picked on and it was unpleasant, and then it passed. But I believe exploring feelings like that are part of why I write this column.

Back to the slog. We’ve finally got the second floor narrowed down to the last few rooms. The Zon Kuthon room is all bark and no bite (or maybe we had disabled the bite and didn’t realize it). And then we find the final room on the floor, where our old pal Ralso is waiting, with a pair of creepy animated Golarion Girl dolls. Who can cast spells. Lovely.

At first, we struggle a little, at least partly due to the Heal/Harm mistake Steve mentions in the show notes. Since they were using Harm as a damage spell, the two-action version doesn’t get the “extra” damage – only when healing undead. But the fight quickly turns, as Dougie is able to box Ralso into a corner (or, in hindsight, maybe she was protecting the door she eventually escaped through), and the dolls turn out to be pretty weak once you get into melee range – they don’t have many hit points, and their melee attacks suck. We get rid of the adds, and then start whittling Ralso down, at which point she escapes through the door and up the stairs.

And that’s basically where we’re going to leave it after Basil takes a quick peek up the stairs to see what we might be facing. It’s Ralso and an additional skeleton, and there seems to be some general fear effect on the whole area. So Basil retreats down the stairs and we have a decision to make – charge up immediately, or do some more healing first, even though that might also give Ralso more time to get ready?

And that is where we 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 Sideshow S2|08: A Birthday To Remember

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|08: The Frog Leg Incident.

Welcome to week two of the Great Silliness here at Three-Ring Adventure!

Of course, the real in-game reason for this is that nothing of game significance – literally NOTHING – can happen until the circus crew clears the plot of land they’ve been assigned. All the threats have been cleared except the barghest, and that’s kind of at a stalemate. They can’t even start building anticipation because that can only happen within a week of the performance. Presumably, if they started building anticipation too early, it would dissipate and go to waste… maybe the townspeople would even be pissed off. “SHADDAP ABOUT YER CIRCUS!”

In our Edgewatch show, we would literally just skip ahead. That’s how we do things in the big city of Absalom. Out here, these simple country folk do things differently, I guess. (Kidding. Mostly.)

Last week, Alhara and Ateran’s relationship and a heart-to-heart between Hap and the Professor took center stage for the most part. This week, Alhara’s birthday celebration kicks into high gear, and Hap’s concern about performing gets revisited in front of the whole team. Toward the end of the episode, we finally get back to business with a little excitement-drumming, but they actually do that a little TOO well, and it looks like we may have a few more days of merry-making yet to come. Especially now that we also have a birthday for Hap on the horizon.

To me, the gift choices for Alhara’s birthday were one of the highlights. In Darius’ case, I find myself wondering how intentional that choice was on Rob T’s part. Did Darius sense that Alhara is low-key jealous that he has this cosmic connection with their mother and she doesn’t, so that’s why he went with the earring? Was that a specific roleplaying choice by Rob, or just one of Bob Ross’ “Happy Little Accidents”? Hap’s choice… whimsical and practical, and yet in some ways, Alhara almost more pleased by her choice than by Darius’. And then Ateran… IS… A… PLAYER! WHO KNEW? Bone-carving with emotional significance? Given their awkwardness so far, I didn’t necessarily know they had it in them. Still, waters run deep, I guess. Really the only thing missing was the Professor giving Alhara something boring and practical like socks. (Which then suggests the possible existence of +2 flaming greater striking socks. Which I expect to see on the next artwork iteration of SOMEONE’S character.)

It’s a short interlude, but we do have a little forward progress on the barghest issue. The captain of the town guard stops by and, for now, declares the site fit for use. TBD whether we’re sweeping Kalkek under the table or dealing with it later (and what she and the Professor might have talked about), but for now, the circus gets the green light to perform. Longer-term, the Professor hints that HE might actually be able to talk the barghest into leaving since they have a prior relationship. (And OK, Steve kinda drops some breadcrumbs in the direction of helping get it back to its home plane.) Then again, there’s always Hap’s plan to make it docile with food. The Pacifying Power Of Bacon. (The title of Darius’ new TED Talk, by the way.) Just as long as Hap herself doesn’t become the main course, no harm in trying.

Next up, Hap mentions her concerns about performing and (given her past) attracting the attention of Madame Dusklight. Annnnd the team, as kindly as possible, votes in favor of “screw that, you’re performing”. Put me down on the side of letting her perform. They’re going to have to confront this issue at SOME point: why not just pull the Band-Aid off now and also put on the best possible show, rather than trying to hide Hap’s existence as long as possible? Though I did like Hap’s idea of staying undercover and trying to choreograph a miniature kaiju fight between Bardolf and Riley. WHY NOT BOTH?

We also dip briefly into the side mission of the lost engraved compass, as Hap takes it to the local jeweler to see if they recognize it. Nothing really comes of it except the merchant offering to buy it from her, but Steve drops a few hints that this mystery may take a little while to unlock, both between the general age of the locket, and hinting that the holder may not be the original owner and may even not be from around these parts.

After that, we finally roll the first (only?) dice of the episode, as the gang hits the town to go generate some excitement. The highlights here are twofold. The first is the general exasperation of Steve at a bunch of good dice rolls by the players. I’m mostly tongue-in-cheek when it comes to “competitiveness” with the GM, but not totally: Steve gets a little gleeful when he rolls well, so it’s nice to see that shoe on the other foot every so often. (Even better when it happens in combat.) The other is Loren’s imitation of Csillagos, and more generally, the fact that Csillagos can speak Common in a pinch. DO YOU REALIZE WHAT THIS MEANS? The public demands an expanded role for Csillagos! My personal vision for the role: Bad Relationship Advice Csillagos. We come to find out the bird is jealous of Alhara and tries to sabotage Ateran’s romantic efforts. “Yeah, the ladies really like it when you eat a whole onion right before a date!”

But then again… beware of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Flash-forward six months and Ateran has fully embraced pickup artist culture, and their next artwork update sports 13 gold chains and a purple leopard-print Dr. Seuss hat. Ew. Never mind.

Of course, the good rolls for generating anticipation create an unexpected problem… the team actually generates enough anticipation that using the remaining days to generate more would probably go to waste. So it looks like there’s more downtime ahead, and a birthday for Hap to plan.

You know what that means? Week Three of Silliness… full steam ahead! Are we destined to complete an entire Silliness MONTH? Only time will tell. Just be prepared for the possibility of Graham Chapman returning from the afterlife in the role of The Colonel to shut the whole podcast down. You’ve been warned.

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 S1|20: Between A Rock And Hardness

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|20: Welcome to the Party, Pal!

I think I’m just gonna start this week’s episode by speaking my truth, and saying what I feel like Steve was sneaking up on but never quite got to.

Hardness is an EASY way to balance an encounter. But hardness is also a BORING way to balance an encounter.

There. I said it.

As I was listening to the fight with the statues… I have to admit I was getting a little bored, and that’s me speaking as someone who was an active participant. I think the problem is that damage resistance makes the fight take a few extra rounds, but it doesn’t add any “wrinkles”. A poison or a spell effect might make you readjust your tactics. A battlefield obstacle might create some interesting movement dynamics. But damage resistance… all it does is add a numeric drag. And what’s worse, it does so in a way that makes the heroes feel less heroic. You get these inflection points in character development where standard melee damage doesn’t keep up with hardness and you basically need to crit to do anything at all. That’s definitely the zone Basil was living in for this fight – unless I critted, I was AT BEST doing 2-3 points of damage per hit. Oof.

I mean, think about it. At one point, the LITERAL best thing I could do for the party was to go stand in melee range and give the statues someone else to swing at so they wouldn’t be hitting Dougie and Lo Mang as often. Basil, The Human Pinata! How fun is that?

Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m complaining a lot, but I do understand that EVERY campaign has certain ebbs and flows. There are moments where you’re the star of the show because you have the right tool for the job, and there are moments where your character is basically useless. I’m sure John and Chris probably get a little frustrated during the parts of the story where Basil is “That’s Odd”-ing everything in sight. Over the long haul of a full campaign, it absolutely evens out. But when you’re in the middle of one of those dry spells… boy, it’s a rough way to spend an almost hour-long combat.

Speaking of those ebbs and flows, it did give Lo Mang the chance to make the fullest use of Flurry of Blows. You see, one of the 2E benefits of Flurry of Blows is that if you hit with multiple hits, you get to combine their damage for the purposes of overcoming hardness. For this sort of fight, that’s absolutely perfect. Add it to Dougie’s always-effective maul, and we were able to grind our way through this fight and come out the other side in one piece.

While we were fighting, I did notice I made at least one rule mistake. At one point early in the fight, I cast Ray of Frost using Devise A Stratagem. That’s technically incorrect – DaS only works on melee and ranged attacks; and even then, an agile/finesse weapon is usually required. Spell attacks are NOT eligible for Strategizing. I’m pretty sure we get the rule right most of the time, but this one time, we kinda forgot. Chalk it up to picking up Wizard spells at Level 3 and not having as much practice with them. Oops.

So we drag ourselves through the statue fight and emerge victorious. As Steve alluded to, not DIFFICULT exactly… just tedious and resource-taxing. If you think about it, we got through the mimic and the guillotine blade MOSTLY with after-heals, so we were probably due for a tougher fight. From there, it’s time to continue our search. Keep in mind we’re basically going door-to-door on the left/west side of the hotel. After a few more rooms (including another murder-chute), we eventually stumble on what looks like a personal office and living quarters for the staff – it’s unclear whether it’s Ralso or Pratchett that lives there, but I’m not sure the distinction matters for the moment.

A thorough search of the room uncovers a few goodies, including that neat amulet that makes one conditionally invisible to the undead, but the biggest find is the secret staircase going down… presumably to the basement. I’m saying that based on architecture: we didn’t see these stairs on the first floor and there were a few structural dead spots that would be explained pretty well by secret stairs that bypass the first floor entirely. So it’s a guess, but a pretty solid one.

In a larger story sense, between the murder-chutes, the weird fireplace configuration, and the general lack of anywhere else to search, it just FEELS the answers we’re looking for are going to be down there. Big picture, that’s our destination. On the other hand, we still have the entire east/right wing of the second floor left to search – it’s a bit meta-gamey, but there’s that whole spirit of “clearing the rear” before you proceed to a new level. And thanks to the statue fight, resources are also starting to become a little bit of an issue. And if you REALLY want to get meta-gamey, we’re probably due to level soon, though I don’t know how you’d justify an 8-hour rest during an active pursuit.

So we’re at a bit of a crossroads as we come to the end of this week’s episode. The logical thing to do is go downstairs and see what’s what, but it may be worth thinking about a little further. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord server or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

 

Pathfinder Beginner Box Review: Roll Out The Welcome Mat

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, Pathfinder Lost Omens: Legends, Pathfinder World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Gamemastery Guide, and Bestiary 2.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Agents of Edgewatch Podcast and our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Three Ring Adventure.

It kinda got lost in the shuffle, but I received a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box under my Christmas tree this year. Now, a week of that “shuffle” was it getting physically lost, as my son snuck it off to his room for a week so he could decide whether to play it with his 5E friends; the rest was more metaphorically lost, between getting back to work after the holidays and the near-meltdown of democracy. But now that things have settled down and my possessions have been returned, let’s open this thing up and see what we’ve got.

I don’t think it’s going to be any big surprise what to expect from a Beginner Box at a high level: it’s an introduction to the game that’s not going to break the bank and in single-box packaging that can sit on a shelf in a gaming store next to Ticket To Ride and Settlers Of Catan. (First action, I pick up a brick. Second action, I throw a brick at your sheep. Third action, Perception check to spot the Robber). It’s designed to draw the interest of the person who has never tried a roleplaying game before and goes to their gaming store asking for “a cup of D&D” because that Matt Mercer fellow is a charming rapscallion.

So even prior to opening the box, I assume you’d get a truncated version of the rules, a (basic) adventure to run, dice, minis, or creature tokens, and I assume pre-gen characters because you’d want to place an emphasis on getting started QUICKLY. Well… there’s that, plus nothing kills enthusiasm for a new game as quickly as the party dying on the second encounter because everyone wanted to be Gandalf.

Oh, and with just enough hint of what the full system could do, to try and encourage players to graduate to the “real” thing if they liked their first experience.

“So how did I do?” he said, opening the box to take a look…

The characters are EXACTLY what I expected. The Beginner Box goes back to Gygaxian basics, providing Level 1 character sheets for the most fundamental Pathfinder iconics: you get a choice of fighter (Valeros), wizard (Ezren), cleric (Kyra), and rogue (Merisel). Their equipment is already bought, the casters’ spells are picked, and the character sheets have a half-page of annotations to help players navigate the sheet (“Hit points? That’s section E”). To be fair, they do also include six blank character sheets in case you have a player feeling bold enough to roll their own (or if you have more than four players), but the pre-gens let you dive in immediately if you like.

The rules are mostly a subset tailored to running the provided adventure, plus a little extra to hint at the possibilities if one chooses to take it further. When I say that – don’t get me wrong. Nothing is changed or simplified… these are the real Pathfinder Second Edition rules. If there’s slimming down, it comes in the form of narrowing the number of choices to make getting started a little less daunting. These are the real Second EditionSpecifically, the Beginner Box divides this into two slimmed-down rulebooks – the Hero’s Handbook for the players and the Game Master’s Guide for (big surprise here) the GM. They’re both in the 70-90 page range (72 for the players, 88 for the GM).

The player book only covers the four Gygaxian classes (fighter, wizard, cleric, rogue) and only as far as Level 3. So, sorry, but no gnome monks on your maiden voyage. Even within that space, they slimmed down the choices so as not to overwhelm the new player, so you don’t get the WHOLE rulebook – there are fewer ancestries, backgrounds, spells, etc. On the GM side, MOST of the book is geared toward running the adventure – 30 or so pages are running the adventure itself and then there’s an equally large section dedicated to monster stat blocks. I didn’t do a one-for-one, but I assume most of these creatures were used directly in the adventure, but again, there’s probably also a few “extras” for the GM who wants to try and create their own content. There’s also a little bit of content about how to adjudicate the rules and even a few pages about how to design your own content, but I feel like they’re MOSTLY expecting people to graduate to the full rules for that.

The adventure itself (“Menace Under Otari”) is a fairly basic starter adventure: just a generic two-level cave complex full of stuff to fight and treasure to find. Kinda reminiscent of the classic Keep On The Borderlands, but on a smaller scale. And yes, the Beginner Box includes a two-sided flip-mat AND cardboard creature tokens for running it. There is some general setting information about Otari, but it’s largely optional: a GM could just drop players off at the mouth of the cave and be playing inside of five minutes if they wanted. On the other hand, not only is the setting information for Otari there; if you DO continue on to full Pathfinder, there’s a 4th level adventure called “The Troubles In Otari” where you can level up and use your characters from the Beginner’s Box directly in the next adventure.

Something that I have to admit I didn’t expect: the Hero’s Handbook has a section that basically amounts to GM-less play for the starter adventure. It gives a solo player the option to run the adventure in the style of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. You go to a numbered entry, read the description (which is the text the GM would normally read), possibly fight a monster, and then choose from available options that send you to the next entry in the chain. “Open the chest, go to #32. Put the amulet on the altar, go to #41.” I didn’t have time to do it for the purposes of this review, but at some point, I might try and run through it just to see how it goes.

One thing I found kinda handy – and may steal for our regular game – is a set of reference cards for the players. The front contains information that an experienced player would already know (what the symbols for the various actions look like, rules reminders of the consequences for rolling a 1 or a 20, etc.) but the back contains descriptions for many of the most common statuses, which is pretty evergreen stuff. My only complaint is the text on the back is kinda small because they had to fit a lot of info, but Paizo is not responsible for my Old Man Eyes.

And yes, you get a starter set of dice. Not much to say here, except that they eliminated the d100 (which I’ve noticed rarely gets used in 2E anyway), and they’re mercifully color-coded. As someone who even now occasionally reaches for a d8 instead of a d10 or vice versa, being able to tell your novice player “no, the BLUE one” makes things a lot easier. In fact, a little bird told me this is one of those “why did no one think of this before?” moves, as dice confusion is cited fairly often as a complaint of new players.

There was one extra-credit question I asked myself. The default assumption here is that the “beginner” is someone who has never played a roleplaying game before. But I also asked myself whether “beginner” would be useful for people who had played other role-playing games but this was their first exposure to Second Edition. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I think someone who was already into roleplaying games and knew the basics would rather have the full set of rules available to them out of the gate. My feeling is that they’d find playing three levels of four classes limiting and start bumping their head on the ceiling pretty quickly. The Beginner Box is a LITTLE cheaper than a Core Rulebook, but you’d get more longevity out of the latter.

Let’s briefly be gauche and talk price. I normally don’t dwell on this sort of thing, but since the Beginner Box competes in a broader space as a gaming product, I figured I’d mention it. The Beginner Box retails on Paizo’s website for $40. Personally, I think that’s tremendous value when compared to some of these hardcore German board games that are running $100 or more. You’re going to be able to squeeze multiple multi-hour play sessions out of it, and that’s before you get into its value as a gateway to a whole new style of gaming. It’s even pretty good value just evaluated as a Paizo product – you’re getting pieces of the Core Rulebook AND Bestiary 1; and the flipmat, creature tokens, and such are all reusable. It’s really just a question of how quickly you’d bump your head on the ceiling. Which is why I go back to what I said earlier: if you KNOW you’re committing to 2E for the long haul, or if you’re going to play a LOT and burn through the content in a few weeks, skip it and go straight to the full rulebooks. But if you’re dipping your toes or are likely to play at a more casual pace, it’s a pretty good way to start.

In closing, if you’re a longtime fan of tabletop roleplaying games, how could you NOT love the Beginner Box? I mean, if you think back to old-school red box D&D in the 80s, that was basically a beginner’s box before we had the terminology, and it drove people like me into a lifelong appreciation for this game. If the Second Edition Beginner’s Box captures even a fraction of that energy and bring some new faces to the table, it’s a worthy addition to Paizo’s product line.

The Sideshow S2|07: It’s Hap’s World, The Rest of Us Just Live In It

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|07: Path & Body Works.

Consider yourself warned. The next few weeks are gonna get weird.

Here’s the thing. I don’t get a lot of spoilers for Three-Ring Adventure; in fact, I actively try to avoid them when possible. I want my listening experience to be as pure and close to yours as it can be. But the two RFC teams don’t operate in a vacuum from each other, things slip from time to time, and from what I understand, birthdays are about to become a Bit Of A Thing. So the tone of this episode, as well as the focus on what would normally be considered side content, is probably going to carry on for the next several episodes. For better, for worse… maybe a little bit of both.

For this week, at least, we’re off to a solid start, with an episode that hits on a little bit of everything. Ridiculous comedy hijinks? Tune in for the Darius and Hap Show! Want to explore an unfolding mystery? We’ve got Hap learning more about her mysterious origins, and the possible danger Madame Dusklight might represent to her. Romance? Somehow we manage to drop Ateran and Alhara’s first (and second) kiss in there. And yeah, we even throw in a few cheap dick jokes for good measure.

As an aside before we get into it, this is one of those shows that illustrates the difference between the two Roll For Combat podcasts. Over in the Edgewatch show, if we had a week to kill, we’d pretty much just declare it killed and move on to the next real action point in the story. So an episode like this… I’m not going to say it would NEVER happen, but the odds would be against it. We might do free-form silliness for 5 or 10 minutes, but never an entire episode. And I sometimes wonder if we’re missing out. Truth told, as much as I’m an accomplishment-driven gamer at heart (clear the dungeon, get the loot… lather, rinse, repeat), sometimes I wish we made a little more room in our schedule for stuff like this.

Nevertheless, I’ll vent frustration about my own show on my own time. Back in Escadar, the team’s got time to kill while the campsite is cleared, and Alhara’s birthday to plan.

If there was a single highlight that crystalized the whole episode, it wasn’t anything the players did. To my mind, it was actually Steve just giving up halfway through, and letting the players just take it wherever they were going to go with it. I don’t mean that in a gloating “Hah! They broke the GM!” way. It’s just impressive when the GM abandons whatever he had planned the session just because he wants to be a listener and see where you’re going with it.

And credit due here: Loren did the lion’s share of the work this week. Yes, everyone had their chances to shine, but Loren was really on fire. On the spot ghost stories, a dramatic heart-to-heart with Dad, hitting some great comedy beats with Rob T. trying to get the mortician to carve free weights instead of a gravestone, and she even gets credit for some out-of-the-box thinking on the greater barghest problem. It took material that could’ve amounted to tedious wheel-spinning and made it far more interesting than I would’ve thought it could be.

In terms of things that impact the greater plot, it’ll be interesting to see if Hap’s efforts with the barghest bear any fruit. And, OK, getting him a suit of clothes and inviting him to be part of the camp was something I NEVER saw coming. But at the same time… incredibly in character. OF COURSE a teenager who sometimes feels like a bit of an outsider and who feels a kinship with animals is still going to try and befriend the “animal” that’s been mistreated. Is it going to work, though? Going by the Bestiary, barghests are chaotic evil, but still… does Chaotic Evil mean you’re not allowed to have friends? Even the Joker has Harley Quinn. Especially when that friend suffered at the hands of a common oppressor?

Heck, maybe Kalkek can become the Drizzt Do’Urden of greater barghests who turns out to be good at heart. Note to self: it’s clearly time to start on a franchise of 42 “Hap and Kalkek” books, so I can be as well-known as R.A. Salvatore. Including one book that delves entirely into barghest politics back on their home plane.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Hap’s origin story changes the dynamic of the circus performances. Can she still risk performing now that she’s got this “escaped specimen” shadow hovering over her? No pressure, but she’s one of the circus’ best acts… can they even afford to sideline her? Or does she find the confidence to just say “screw it” and perform anyway? Does revealing Hap’s powers trigger some larger conflict between the two circuses, and if so, what does that look like? (Please oh please let it involve dance-fighting like the “rumble” scene in West Side Story). This is all so intriguing. And on top of that, we still want to learn what, exactly, she is. Somebody swab some DNA and rush it off to 23andme.

It does create a bit of a plot hole one could drive a truck through if one was so inclined. If you were the Professor, trying to protect Hap from Madame Dusklight trying to reclaim her, why would you draw attention to her abilities by training her to perform in the circus? Couldn’t she have just been a cook or something? JUST SAYIN’. Then again, as the old saying goes, the show must go on. If you’ve got a golden goose on your hands, it’d be pretty hard to keep eating tofu omelets.

And then ohbytheway, those crazy kids Ateran and Alhara finally got together. Say it in unison: AWWWWW. I don’t suppose it has any larger plot implications at the moment, but it’s still nice to see. As someone who felt the “will they or won’t they” dithering had gone on a little long, it’s nice to see them take their relationship to a new level, and it’ll be interesting to see where that takes things. Of course, even then, we had Loren sneaking in with a dick joke about Ateran being “stiff”. Don’t go changin’, Loren.

So… yeah. As odd as it is to say, nothing of great plot importance happened this week, but our intrepid band actually found a way to make it fun anyway. So let’s see what they can do with it 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 S1|19: I Spy With My Little Eye

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|19: The Dougie Shuffle.

Welcome back to the Bird’s Eye View. Sorry this is a day late, but as I mentioned in Discord, Monday was a bit of a bear at work, and then we had an Edgewatch play session in the evening, so my window for writing this just got swallowed up.

I was thinking about Steve’s comments about the rogue/thief class, and I think he’s covered a lot of the history pretty well. But I do have a few loose ends.

Part of what I would argue is that thanks to archetypes, the 2E system is flexible enough that not every class has to have a distinct role to fill out of the box. It’s OK that some of them are just roleplay variations on a higher role like “healer” or “agile melee fighter”. I think the choices you get to make – both within the class and through the use of Archetypes – let you define your own niche within the party as you go. If you don’t have a tight sense of purpose at Level 1, it’s OK because you find it as you go. (Also: if even one of you is humming “Purpose” from Avenue Q in your head now, my work here is done.)

If I have a frustration with rogues, it’s that it seemed like – at least in First Edition – their sneak attack ability, which was their signature class skill – was a little TOO situational. First was the battlefield itself. Between difficult terrain and attacks of opportunity, it often proved difficult – sometimes even impossible – to maneuver into position to make use of Sneak Attack. Then, after you went to all the trouble to do it, half the time the creature would have some ability that would render it immune to sneak attack damage anyway. The lower emphasis on Attacks of Opportunity in 2E helps with the first part of that; not sure about the second, though we’ve been running into a lot of oozes lately. Read into that what you will.

The other thing… and this is more of an idle thought than anything: I wonder how much (consciously or subconsciously) rogues got redefined by their treatment at the hands of MMOs. If you think about it, it’s really hard to implement traps and secret doors in an MMO setting, so MMOs compensated by giving them all sorts of additional combat skills (poison, stealth that basically amounted to invisibility) making them the main mobile two-weapon fighter. This often included redefining rangers as primarily a ranged DPS class to “clear the field” for rogues. I wonder if some of that seeped backwards into tabletop RPG thinking and people stopped including traps in adventures because MMO rogues might have been their first/main exposure to the class. Like I said: just an idle thought.

But this is all theory. Back in the world of the Dreaming Palace, Basil and Dougie have things pretty well covered on the trap front. I’m letting Dougie take the lead because he’s more tanky, but I took an Investigator feat that gives me the same change to auto-detect traps as well. (I can’t even imagine being in the Three-Ring Adventure crew and not having a trapfinder in the party. Oof.) As a result, this week’s episode ends up being unintentionally boring, and our moment of highest drama is arguing with the dwarven family about whether we can kick them out of the hotel.

This once again gets into the realm of “Artistic License Law Enforcement” (ALLE). I get where Seth is coming from and on some absolute level he’s correct: in a situation like this, you probably wouldn’t just release people on their own recognizance. We don’t know who might be working with the killers, or who might have been potential targets, or who just picked this place out of a hat and truly ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Heck, even if they’re 100% innocent, you’d want to get statements about anything they might have seen. But then again, if we were following proper law enforcement procedures, we’d have called for backup a LONG time ago and this place would be SWARMING with cops. At some point, you suspend enough belief to make the story work, so that we can continue to be the heroes of the story. In this case, that means hand-waving that these guests don’t represent a threat and sending them off to enjoy the fair. So… OK. Go have a funnel cake or something.

As we explore the hotel, we find some more potential evidence. The suitcase PROBABLY belongs to one of the stonemasons, if we had anyone who could read Tian Xia. (Ah, remember when smarties pretty much got a new language every level?) There’s a bucket of dried blood; presumably more than you’d normally have to clean up in the course of running a hotel. And if we could figure out how to use the recording device from the devil room, we’d probably have some snuff-film footage in our possession. And then there’s the peepholes. Like… a creepy amount of peepholes. Enough that this place probably ought to be closed down even if there hadn’t been a bunch of murders here and we were just dealing with garden-variety peeping toms.

At this point, our new destination will be to find the basement – between the chute that goes to Ochre Jelly Land and the weird gap in the fireplace, there’s clearly SOMETHING going on down below. It’s just a matter of finding the stairs that lead there. I do wonder if there’s any significance to the “old building vs. new building” distinction – if the fireplace is in the old part of the building, shouldn’t the stairs to the basement be as well? Or could John be right… could the entry be outside? (Though… if the entry to the basement was outside, that means whoever’s down there would have ample opportunity to just flee entirely.) Also, there ARE a few dead spots in the first-floor architecture; it’s at least POSSIBLE there’s a stairway or ladder that’s a passthrough from the upper level to the basement. So we’ve got a few options for exploration.

Lacking a definitive best choice, we decide to explore the second floor a little bit. Maybe find some more evidence, get any other remaining guests out of the hotel. The second floor is a bit more chaotic but appears to be all guest rooms. We find a +1 healer’s tools (nice!), another trapped room – this time a gas trap – and then we find a pretty nice room with a jacuzzi that turns into next week’s combat, as the statues near the fireplace come to life.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. 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 Sideshow S2|06: No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of This Podcast

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|06: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Hap Scorned.

For a short episode, this week had a fair amount of interesting stuff going on. A near-death experience for Riley, possible new additions to the circus… for an episode with a single, fairly easy fight, a decent amount of stuff going on.

First, put me down for a hearty HELL YEAH at the idea of Riley wielding a weapon in his mouth like Zoro from One Piece. In fact, go all the way with it and make it a katana.

At the front and back ends of the episode, we have the ongoing question about what to do about Kalkek, the greater barghest. One of the most interesting aspects of this is that Hap clearly has her own ideas that she’s choosing to not share with the rest of the party (as evidenced by delivering breakfast to the beast). For the moment I love it… but we’ll see where it ultimately leads.

It can be tricky to manage competing agendas within the party. On one side of the equation, it creates drama and generates interesting story moments above and beyond what’s already in the adventure. At the risk of being a little chippy, it’s also a way for the players to assert control even over the GM’s story… as long as it doesn’t reach the point of dysfunction, where it’s impeding the party’s ability to accomplish goals and/or just dragging the FUN of the game down a black hole. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think this group has earned the trust to see where they go with it.

At the end of the session, the overall plan on the barghest is to either kill it, convince it the townspeople would band together to kill it to try and scare it away, or try to convince I to relocate to the abandoned keep, which is even further away from human contact. Now, they’re welcome to try what they want, but personally, I don’t get the sense the townspeople scare it; if anything, they represent a nice little snack. However, I think Steve was dropping a hint – perhaps intentionally, perhaps not – about Madame Dusklight… that the beast is scared of her. Maybe you could leverage that against the barghest…. just tell Kalkek that Madame Dusklight figured out where he is and it’s time to go.

Of course, there’s also the 20/20 “full knowledge of the rules” answer which still exists: a barghest that’s manifested on the Material Plane generally just wants to get off this plane. So maybe help it do that. But in-game, they haven’t gotten that much information on barghests yet. Ateran got a LITTLE information during the fight, but they haven’t gone back and done a deep dive.

Next up, we have Riley’s brush with death, courtesy of the thunderstone trap.

The first thing is, it came perilously close to triggering the “massive damage” insta-death – Steve didn’t remember the exact number, but he said Riley had something like 50 hit points. If he had 40 or less, 80 would’ve been enough to kill him with no further interventions. It’s easy to forget that animal companions tend to be a little weaker than PCs – lower saves, fewer hit points – so that was a real bullet dodged.

For the record, we actually dealt with this during the Plaguestone campaign, but the various death rules DO apply to PCs “and their companions”. In that game, we had a moment where Ember dropped and we needed a ruling on whether she was just dead-dead or I could use Lay on Hands to bring her back, so we’ve done this research already. So yes, things like casting stabilize and the dying condition… all of that applies equally to Riley. Interestingly enough it’s GM discretion when it comes to bad guys and NPCs. I think that’s more story-based: “if it makes the story more interesting to let the NPC live, you can allow it, or if you want the NPC to be permadead and move on, that’s fine too”.

So Riley lives by the narrowest of margins, but he’s at least temporarily deaf, and he’s still pretty banged up even after some healing. So Hap is on the warpath when they soon encounter the people who likely set the trap – a trio of ysoki. At first, it looks like another fight might ensue, but the standoff turns when Darius mentions the circus that he can’t remember the name of, and it turns out the main ysoki, Fidget, is a juggler who uses fireworks as part of her act. This defuses the situation with three-fourths of the party – it turns out the ysoki were just protecting themselves from Kalkek – but for poor Hap, Fidget’s act just adds a layer of professional jealousy to her anger about Riley’s injury. At the other end of the spectrum, Ateran actually finds kindred spirits in Fidget’s brothers, who are both alchemists, and they spend some downtime talking shop.

The party then explores a little further on the way back to camp, which leads to… well… we’ll call it a fight, but really it ends up being a chance for Hap to blow off a little steam. Centipede swarms? Meet fireball. You lose. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Riley gets back in the game, helping to finish off the swarm that the fireball didn’t quite kill. GOOD DOG! Darius punches bugs, Alhara adds some AoE with alchemical fire, and Ateran finishes the fight off with a crit from Old Reliable (aka Telekinetic Projectile).

Ateran also hones their comedic talent with “turns out the log is not safe”. Well played, Rob.

After the centipede “battle”, the party returns to camp, spends a little while debating the Kalkek situation a little further, and that’s where we’re going to leave it for this week. Next episode, maybe we get back to circus business? Or do we finally resolve the Kalkek thing? Guess you’ll just have to come back next week to find out. 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.