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

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The Bird’s Eye View S3|08: Everybody Wants to Be My Frenemy

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|08: Parlay?

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the sub-boss fight…

We pick up this week with Bloody Berleth, leader of the Diobel Sweepers, inviting us upstairs to chat. Now, OK, this could all be a trap, but I suppose there’s no real harm in finding out. Also, there’s a little pragmatic fatalism – if he’s got 10 more guys upstairs, we’re gonna have to fight them sooner or later anyway, so might as well just get to it. If Berleth’s deal turns out to be legit, it’ll be a nice little bonus. So up we go to potentially make a deal, or potentially put our own necks in a noose.

So we head upstairs, first noticing that the stairs are trapped. Would’ve made things interesting if we’d just charged up after him. (Though I’d note it will also make things equally interesting if this is a trap and we have to retreat with the trap re-armed.)

We get up to Berleth’s office, light refreshments are served, and the lay of the land becomes a little more clear. Both he and Maurrisa have keys to a lockbox in the Lucky Nimbus casino: Maurrisa never explicitly mentioned that the “something” she was going to give us was her key, but it seems pretty heavily implied now. That lockbox probably contains a WMD, which – skipping around a little – is a larger bomb version of the substance that was set loose in the menagerie back in our first episode(s). For the moment the device is “safe” because neither leader can actually go into the casino – they’re both banned because of the war between the factions. But when you’re talking about an unattended WMD in the middle of the city, “safe” is a really relative term.

So Berleth’s offer is his copy of the key, and his price is pretty much the same as hers: destroying his rival. Only his is a little more palatable insofar as he just wants the location of her gang and he’ll do the dirty work himself.

Essentially, they’re both offering the same bargain with roughly the same ramifications – other than one leads to combat here and now – and it’s a matter of which horse we want to back. There are pluses and minuses to both sides, they’re both kinda scummy, but at the end of the day, neither faction is the big fish and at some point, we just have to hold our nose and pick one and get on with the main quest.

We KNOW Maurrisa Jonne is the one who worked with the Skinner, and that immediately makes her suspect. It’s easy to say you didn’t want to work with them once their boss is dead and your involvement is public knowledge. On the other hand, if she wanted us dead, she could’ve just killed us when we returned Gord. She had a fairly clean opportunity to be rid of us and passed. We also know – from the general background – that she had mellowed out a little after the bust that led to Berleth’s imprisonment. So maybe there’s SOME truth to her being a less-than-fully-willing participant.

On the other hand, there’s Bloody Berleth. We can certainly assume he’d say just about anything to get rid of Maurrisa to get revenge for turning him in. Also, we sorta know (or can assume) that 10 years ago, the police considered him the bigger threat, since they were willing to cut Maurrisa a deal to put him away. You throw away the little fish to get the big one; that’s LITERALLY what we’re doing now. There’s also the nickname “Bloody”: I don’t know if Steve just made a mistake, or he was having Berleth lie and we were supposed to catch it, but his nickname was “Blessed Berleth” while he and Maurrisa were working together; “Bloody” was a reinvention AFTER he got out of prison. So fancy clothes and fruity drinks aside, this guy isn’t totally on the up-and-up.

There’s also the nature of their specific crimes, which seemed to sway Chris the most out of us. The Dogs’ crimes are simple and obvious stuff, literally assaulting and robbing people, and running protection rackets. The Sweepers’ crimes are a little more ambiguous in that way. What do recreational drugs mean in this context? Should we treat them as the local weed-man, or the Mexican cartels? And OK, I never raised this point, but that bomb in the lockbox was an alchemical device: are we absolutely sure the Sweepers weren’t ALSO working for the Skinner? Or perhaps the Twilight Four are puppetmasters, and a different member of the Four was working with Berleth.

I’ll put it this way: at a meta-level I don’t THINK the choice has any broader implications – I think the point within the flow of the adventure was to choose one and move on. But as I’m re-listening to these episodes, we didn’t REALLY scrutinize Berleth as much as maybe we should’ve.

Certainly, expedience says we should side with Berleth. First, it means we don’t have to fight anyone else. Second, it means he puts his copy of the lockbox key into our hand NOW, rather than having to jump through any more hoops.

And OK, killer alchemists who dress fashionably are still a more respectable gang than killer newsies. Purely from a fashion standpoint, Absalom is better off with the Sweepers winning the war.

You do see Seth and I (in particular) wrestling with alternate plans that admittedly sound pretty silly on re-listen. Seth tries to singlehandedly broker peace between two people who have had a decade to hate each other (and, as we’re learning for the first time, ex’es too). Meanwhile, I come up with some weird-ass plan that involves faking Berleth’s death to get Maurrisa to show her cards. To be honest, this plan is so confusing and stupid that even I don’t know what I was thinking in offering it. I wouldn’t presume to speak for Seth, but for me, it was a matter of feeling conflicted about helping EITHER gang destroy the other, even if it would probably be a net positive for the war to be over. Much like James Tiberius Kirk, that was me wrestling with the no-win scenario and trying to come up with a Kobayashi Maru alternative that hadn’t been considered.

But I think at the end of the day, we decided to take Berleth’s deal because it was on the table now and moved us forward. If there are consequences to be dealt with later… well, it sounds like one side or the other will be removed from play, and we can always come back and thump the winner later when we’re at a higher level.

Speaking of which… Level 10 is here! Needless to say, I’m excited – not only is 10 a big level on its own, but Steve is going to let us go back and retroactively apply the free archetype variant rule as he did for the Three-Ring Adventure show a couple of months ago. I have to admit, though, that the flow of the show was weird because we STARTED to talk about how we were going to level our characters but then stopped halfway through because we weren’t all equally prepared to follow through. So there was some good information about what we were thinking, but there was also a bunch of complaining about Hero Lab’s cost structure and giving John the link to Pathbuilder like… three separate times. So the last 10 minutes or so was a tough listen: some of the information there was definitely worth keeping, but I also don’t envy whoever had to edit around some of the chaff.

I’m probably going to save our Level 10 builds for next time, just to start fresh. But next time out, it’s a new level AND the adventure moves into a new phase, as apparently, we are going to have to pull off a casino heist. Because cops stealing things from casino vaults is totally a thing that happens all the time.

Is this where we turn to a life of crime and the Edgewatch spends the next three books chasing us? I guess we’ll find out next time. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|17: Where You From, You Rexy Thing?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|17: They Have a Cave Troll.

Welcome back to Roll For Combat, Serious People’s Edition. The fart jokes and cabbage-related humor get put back on the shelf for another day, as our heroes head off to the second of the three aeon towers, the Liferoot Stone. The world – or this corner of it – isn’t going to save itself.

One thing I was thinking about, more in relation to last week, but it kinda spilled over into this week, is how our two shows handle humor. It’s certainly not as binary as one show being “the funny show” and the one show being “the serious show”; both shows have their moments, and all the individual people in both shows are clever and can crack a joke when called on to do so. I think if there’s something that sets the shows apart, it’s that the Circus crew will really COMMIT to a bit and run with it for a good chunk of an episode. Over in Edgewatch, we’ll drop a few bon mots, a movie reference or two, and then get back to our business. We don’t get in the weeds as often because we want to kick in the next door and fight the next bad guy. Here… you want 20 minutes of cabbages, you got 20 minutes of cabbages.

I was also thinking about the overall story pacing this week, and in particular, how the towers have sped up a little bit. The first aeon tower was an ordeal that lasted 3 or 4 episodes and had multiple rooms and levels to it. So I’d been thinking the other towers would be similarly drawn out and we’d be dealing with one tower per chapter of the adventure path. But the last tower only took parts of two sessions, and at least at initial external examination, it looks like this tower may also be a shorter affair – since some of the tower crumbled, there’s just not that much to explore. So I guess I’ve found the shorter tower segments to be a LITTLE surprising, though not really… once three towers were packed together on the same island mere miles apart, I guess I did expect the pace to pick up somewhat. I guess that just means we have more content on the back end after all the towers have been sorted out.

On the approach, the team did some scouting and noticed that among other things, there were a lot of broken statues in the area. So the first question is whether that’s just ambiance or whether that’s meant to imply there’s something worse than golems out there. There’s a little back-and-forth on whether to start with the golems, the xulgaths, or bypass both and just drop right into the tower avoiding both, but the team decides – in what will later become a prescient and ironic decision — to minimize the risk of bleeding encounters by taking on the golem first since they specifically brought tools for that purpose.

The combat appears to be unfolding in a fairly straightforward fashion. And then there’s one huge… gargantuan if you want to get technical… twist. Our team went into battle expecting golems, brought all the tools to deal with those, and then somehow the xulgaths managed to hide a T-Rex somewhere on the battlefield. So halfway through a fairly by-the-book fight, things pretty much went sideways for our heroes.

On the bright side, the decanter of endless water did turn out to be just as good as advertised against the golem, as it’s a once-per-round cast of hydraulic push. Granted, that’s only a first level spell, but when one uses the damage type the golem is weak to, that ends up not mattering because it generates an additional spike of damage – 5d10 in this case. At that point, the base damage from the spell is almost gravy. As a secondary consideration, it’s also nice because it’s only a single-action attack, whereas casting the spell would be a two-action move. The only downside is it requires both hands to operate, so a GM who really wanted to micro-manage somatic components could argue that Hap can’t cast any other spells while operating it.

The less-bright side… that’s the T-Rex (and the other accompanying xulgaths, I suppose – they’re not that strong, but they still have to be dealt with at the end of the day). If you want to get technical, our scaly friend is 50 feet LONG, not 50 feet tall, but that’s not really the point: the point is it’s a nasty customer. The 20-foot reach, in particular, is something that could make for a miserable encounter, though you’ll be happy to hear that at least they don’t also get attacks of opportunity. Also, at the risk of MAYBE spoilering future content, the T-Rex also has an ability where it can swallow a person whole. So it’s possible we’ve got that to look forward to.

So even before Vanessa said it, the moment Alhara charged, I assumed she was going to try and trip it, and sure enough I was right. Except… impromptu rulebook refresher… she can’t actually do that as there is a size limit to tripping – the creature has to be no bigger than two size classes higher. So for Alhara, that means Huge is OK, Gargantuan (which the T-Rex is) is not. So OK… no trip. (Also, it’s a good argument against building a trip build based on a Small ancestry, because then you’d top out at Large.)

The real question is where did the T-Rex even come from? The team did do a recon of the area and didn’t see anything like that. The quick answer would be that it was inside the tower, but are the doors big enough to fit a creature that big? Steve joked/hinted that maybe they had a pet cache too, but that seems a little game-breaking if that’s the case.

So as we come to the end of the episode, there’s both good and bad news. The good is that the golem is hurting; the bad news is that so is Darius (in particular), having been the recipient of multiple crits as the fight unfolded. I still think it’s a winnable fight, but it’s certainly not going to be the divide-and-conquer cakewalk they were hoping for, and there’s still the interior of the tower yet to come.

Buuuut we’ll get into all of that 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|07: Chalky: The Quicker Fixer-Upper

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|07: Back to School.

We start this week with some overall news from the RFC Mothership, as Mark Seifter is now officially part of Team RFC. It’s a weird sensation because it certainly feels like big news – like a seismic shift from “a podcast whose GM decided to put a book together for grins” to “an actual RPG content creator that happens to also do a podcast”. That FEELS exciting to me on a visceral level. On the other hand, the honest truth is that the publishing side of the RFC/Battlezoo house is Steve’s baby and we (the players) don’t interact much with it. He’ll run an idea past us every once in a while to see what we think of it or show us a cool piece of artwork, but that’s about it. So it’s cool and I’m curious to see what cool places this takes RFC as a whole. But day to day, it doesn’t really change anything for what we do… unless Mark is also about to become the fifth member of the Edgewatch and Steve hasn’t told us yet.

The other (out-of-game) thing that excites me this week is we’re finally bringing my home game back out of mothballs in 2022. We’d pretty much been shut down during the pandemic, and we didn’t bother taking it online because part of the appeal was getting together in person. But the group text chat started showing signs of life around New Year’s, and we’re going to have a new Session Zero in a week or two. The only bad news is it’s no longer the “Dads and Kids” game because the kids have had two years to develop their own interests and decide their parents are weirdos. I think we’re gonna keep one party-controlled NPC in case a kid wants to drop in for a session, but otherwise… que sera, sera.

So on to this week’s episode, as we continue our infiltration of the Diobel Sweeper lair, which prominently features another golem encounter.

The first thing I’ll note is that the Three-Ring show just hit THEIR alchemical golem encounter a few weeks ago, so I was having some amusing flashbacks when they were doing battle. I believe the “you need to use sonic damage” was muttered with the same tone that Al Powell observed, “they’re shooting at the lights” at Nakatomi Tower.

Of course, the wrinkle of our encounter was that our golem, Chalky, was designed for heals and buffing rather than offense. And that posed quite an interesting dynamic. I’ve been thinking, but even dating back to First Edition, it’s actually REALLY rare for enemies to have a true party healer mechanic that matches the way players heal. You’ll see creatures with fast healing pretty regularly, there will be the occasional one-shot life-drain type ability that takes hit points from the players and gives it to the enemy, but it’s pretty rare that real tactical healing is an option. I don’t know if that’s because it makes the math difficult or makes too much work for the GM, but you just don’t see it too often. So it was kind of refreshing. Annoying… but refreshing.

The good news is that the minions are pretty low-level and kind of brittle, so the ones that can’t make it over to Chalky for healing either go down quickly or decide to get the hell out of Dodge. (Especially the ones that would have to run THROUGH the cloudkill to get to Chalky.) And I didn’t really process this at the time but I noticed on re-listen that Chalky NEVER attacks. It’s not like “it mostly heals and then attacks if it’s got actions left”… it NEVER swings at us once. Considering how bad alchemical golems pummeled the Three-Ring crew, we caught a bit of a break with that one: they can hit pretty hard.

Speaking of cloudkill, you’ll notice that we had a little bit of a rules question that never gets resolved. Gomez finally gets to cast his cloud kill, right? I think it was actually the first time he’s been able to use it. The description of the spell says it “moves 10 feet away from the caster” each round. So is that 10 feet away from where the caster currently is or 10 feet away from the point of emanation? Could the caster (slowly) chase things around the room with his cloud by repositioning himself, or is it fire-and-forget and keeps moving the same direction it was cast?

It’s probably not a huge point anyway because most NPCs are going to be able to outrun something that moves 10 feet per round. But the “fire-and-forget” interpretation where the caster can’t control it at all is almost TOO limiting because you’d fire it off, the enemies would run away in the opposite direction, and it would just drift off irrelevantly into a corner or whatever room you’re in. At that point it might as well just be a single-round burst, do damage once, and then one wouldn’t have to screw around with moving it at all.

Sorry, I realize this is a lot of effort to expend on a cloud that moves at a really slow walk. But why else does this column exist if not to dissect rules minutiae?

As the minions are starting to drop or flee, Bloody Berleth makes his first appearance at the top of the stairs. And at first glance, I thought we were going to be entering the “Shit Gets Real” phase of combat. (Additionally, I figured the golem was going to get more aggressive as part of that.) But no… for a guy whose nickname is “Bloody” Berleth, he’s both surprisingly well-dressed and polite. And he makes us an offer to come up to the office for a parlay. Now, not sure what we can get out of him at this point – the Washboard Dogs are the ones with the connections to the Skinner and the Twilight Four – but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to listen. And as a side, if we go upstairs, we’re further away from Chalky if there’s a round two to this battle. So up the stairs we go.

And as we go up… I notice something. Wait, I notice something? What do I notice? I honestly don’t remember. But I guess we’ll find out 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|16: I Fought the Slaw and the Slaw Won

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|16: The Cabbage Patch Kids.

Happy new year and welcome back to Roll For Combat, circa 2022. We’re back from the holidays and it does appear that the Circus show is recording again: I snooped on the Discord channel for the game sessions and it looks like there was some new content posted Sunday night.

Now, did I hear correctly that Steve says I’ve got writeups on “every show ever”? I might have to hold him to that, because boy, do I have some thoughts on David Tennant Does a Podcast With… THAT JODIE WHITTAKER’S A FIRECRACKER!

Oh wait, he just meant THIS podcast. Never mind.

This week, things just get weird and loopy, but we start with a small bit of “serious” gaming, as the team is briefly accosted by another fey creature that’s investigating the death of the satyr. Now, I feel like it’s a good thing a fight didn’t break out because if this thing slapped frightened 2 and doomed 2 on them right out of the gates, it’s probably kind of a badass. However, while Ateran failed their Recall Knowledge check to understand what the creature is, they got much better results on their Diplomacy roll and managed to convince the creature they were NOT the satyr-killers and avoided a possible butt-whipping.

Let’s talk about doomed for a second; it hasn’t really come up before (or if it has, I didn’t take particular note of it). Doomed is… in a word… awful. Because what it does is it lowers the amount of dying that causes character death. So if you have doomed 2, you’d die when you hit dying 2 (except for Darius who has the feat that gives him access to dying 5: he’d last until dying 3) and literally one crit could end your game. Even worse, if you stack enough points of doomed that your dying condition reaches 0, you die instantly, even if you have hit points.

Nevertheless, Ateran talks the party (and the circus at large) out of a sticky situation, and it’s crisis averted. For the moment. It feels like this stuff is meant to boomerang back around at some future date. Maybe it ties into the goings-on with the aeon towers or the mystery of the Night Lady. But you don’t just leave mutilated corpses tied to trees and not take it anywhere story-wise. It’s just not done.

So our troupe finally arrives at Castinlee, the closest town to the next aeon tower and the site of the next circus performance. And, apparently a haven for all manner of cabbage-related shenanigans. Did NOT see that coming. That’s right Steve’s all about cabbages tonight. The only real surprise is that the people who sing Secret Tunnel and/or greet people with “flameo, hotman” every other episode didn’t make an explicit reference to Cabbage Man from ATLA. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?

When not ruminating about the cabbages, the group does manage to score a little intel on the second aeon tower. Unfortunately the intel they get is that no one really goes there because a) there’s no reason to and b) because there are (clay) golems out that way. This time, Recall Knowledge is a little kinder to the party and they know they need to do water damage to be effective.

Now, there’s all sorts of interesting conversations that come out of this. The idea is floated to just use their new Aroden power, but that’s not really an ATTACK power, it just raises the level of an existing body of water. Are golems “Wicked Witch Of The West”-levels of sensitive to it, and pouring a cup on their heads would do damage to them, or does it need to be something with a little more oomph?

Then Alhara has the idea of filling a bag of holding – designed by Cabbage Klein — with lake water and dumping it on them in one shot. That’s closer to an actual plan… especially if dropped from above like a bomb… but still only one shot, and I feel like you probably want a more consistent source you can use multiple times like an oil or a weapon rune or something. Knowing how golems work, if you hit them with their weakness damage, you get a big damage spike, so you probably want to get that multiple times if possible.

The thing that would potentially be really interesting: is inviting the aquakineticist NPC along as an option? I don’t know if Steve wants to deal with that or not (Who would run the character? Do the NPC’s even have character sheets available?) and he might be kinda squishy and not effective in combat anyway. But it could make for an interesting dynamic. And OK… if Steve were to be open to taking the NPC characters into battle every once in a while, it would provide an avenue for bringing guests on the show. We used to do that more often – in fact, it was the guiding premise of the Black Lodge show – and haven’t really done it lately. (Worth mentioning: if you’re newer to the show, Rob Trimarco made his RFC debut as an NPC in the Dead Suns Starfinder show; he and Jason Keeley played a pair of recurring space cops.)

The group finally settles on a slightly different solution: a magic item called the decanter of endless water. It’s a glass pitcher that can supply water on demand, and yes, it even has an explicit attack mode that duplicates the effects of the hydraulic push spell (in addition to modes fit for polite society). So then the problem becomes where to get one of those – on one hand, it’s actually considered a common magic item; on the other hand, it is a Level 7 item, which don’t just grow on trees.

For this, Steve supplies us with an answer in the form of Alan’s Almonds. (Personally, I would’ve gone with “Armand” because then you’re hitting repetition on the beginnings AND ends of the words, and… what the hell is happening, I’m as bad as them, aren’t I?) I think almonds were one of the crops listed in the background for the area, and yes, it’s a real-world truth that almonds require a LOT of water, so it’s even sort of realistic that almond farmers would probably want to have a magical water supply available to them. So… the logic checks out. On the other hand, Steve manages to make Alan even more obnoxious than the cabbage-loving mayor, so negotiating the right price to borrow the item becomes a bit of a chore; so much so that I’m rooting for invisible forces to burn Alan’s almond crop to the ground. I may even go a step further and shed no tears if Alan is the Night Lady’s next victim.

Though OK… now per Rob’s suggestion, I want to see what “Fuck You” looks like in elvish script. I’m sure there’s some Tolkien fan that’s already gone there. GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH, DON’T FAIL ME.

So they’ve got a source of water damage. They’ve gotten rid of all the doom effects left over from the fey that jumped out at them. The circus will need a few days to set up anyway. So it’s off to kick clay golem ass and chew cabbage-flavored bubble gum. And cabbage-flavored bubble gum hasn’t been invented yet. (Mercifully.)

Well, after a few minutes of fart jokes at the end of the episode. Sigh. I mean, Steve’s not wrong… cabbage is known for that. Just a little surprised he went for it. Or maybe I’m not. We’re going into our second year of references to the “poop dagger”, after all.

Well, after our intrepid heroes pop some Gas-X, next week we get back to fighting, unraveling mysteries, and saving this little corner of the world. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show: we were a little scarce over the holidays, but we’re all drifting back in now. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|06: You Won’t See Me

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|06: The Main-Gauche Gambit.

Welcome to the first Talking Combat of 2022. I was all prepared to make a New Year’s resolution to get back to delivering my columns on a consistent day, and then my brother came through with tickets to Monday Night Football. What’s a guy to do?

Well, there are 51 weeks left in the year. We’ll get there.

In a very minor, and probably obvious, show-note to our Patreon live listeners, I expect we’ll get back to recording live shows this coming Monday. We took a nice little break over the holidays but we’re about ready to re-convene and address some new business. Just to supply some perspective, we’re quite a ways ahead in the actual show – I think these episodes you’re listening to now are from late September or early October. I know the Circus show has tightened up the gap a little but we’re still running at a bit of a surplus.

As we return to the show, we’re beginning our infiltration (Oh who are we kidding? It’ll turn into an assault soon enough) of the Diobel Sweepers’ alchemical lab. As you may remember Maurrisa Jonne of the Washboard Dogs promised us intel on the Twilight Four if we would resolve her blood feud with the Sweepers for her (and release her brother). On one hand, I trust Maurrisa as far as I can throw her since she used to work for the Skinner; on the other hand, it’s not like the Sweepers are upstanding citizens, so taking them out is still a net reduction in the number of bad guys.

As we arrive at the compound, the first part of the operation is actually a bit of a stealth operation, as there are guards in the outer courtyard to avoid. Fortunately, the spell I’ve had in my back pocket for a few levels now – invisibility sphere – finally gets an opportunity to see the light of day. Now, the open door feels a little too obvious, like it might be a trap, but since it’s far enough away from the guards and we’re invisible, there’s no harm in opening it and seeing if there are guards inside.

I’ll just quickly reiterate the rules since we debate them for a while and settle on a few wrong answers before getting to the right one. The group can move at normal walking speeds and take non-combat actions without disrupting the spell. If you try to move faster than that, or if anyone takes aggressive action, it ends. And an aggressive action by ANYONE under the effect of the spell ends it for everyone. Also, even if you don’t attack (so even if you just buff and cast defensive spells), it still ends the spell after the first round of combat. Also, if someone steps outside the sphere, it ends the spell for them – no jumping in and out of the sphere, appearing and disappearing. It’s a one-way ticket.

Now, there was one clarification Chris was asking that didn’t really get answered: if you jump out of the sphere and attack, does that end the spell for the rest of the party? I feel like the answer ought to be no: if leaving the sphere severs the effect permanently, that means you’re just not part of the spell anymore, and that should apply both positively and negatively. So you could have your rogue fly solo and run around backstabbing people while the rest of the party continued to explore. But that would seem to imply that the remaining invisible characters would not be able to join combat at all. So if you’re gonna have one character jump out and do a side mission, you have to really commit to that 100 percent.

As we reach the first encounter, we also arrive at one of my few Second Edition pet peeves: the loss of the surprise round. Don’t get me wrong… in the new three-action world, I can totally understand why they got rid of it. After all, if you could get surprised and load up a bunch of big attacks for the entire party, that could seriously mess up an opponent before they even drew a weapon. (Flipping things around, imagine if monsters got a surprise round against the party and landed a bunch of crits before the party even knew they were in a fight. Bad times all around.) But it does seem a little silly that – as in this case – two people playing chess can (essentially) sense a fight is coming against invisible people and beat them on the draw. I know Steve gives them some minuses on initiative, but that still feels a little hollow.

Then again, it’s always worth remembering Invisibility 101: invisibility doesn’t do anything about noises, or against interactions with objects in the environment. If you open a door or knock over a lamp, THAT’S still going to be quite visible even if the character themselves are invisible. If you get lucky, the guards may think the opening door was just a gust of wind, but maybe not. Also, they’re alchemists… they know magic exists. Also, they’re still in a war with a rival gang, so they’re going to be sort of alert even while enjoying their downtime. People are capable of multi-tasking even in fantasy settings.

The first room doesn’t go too badly for us. It’s four against two, and they’re not that powerful. The real danger is that right at the end, one of the two guards yells out for backup. We’ve got the guards out in the courtyard that we know about, and who knows how many guys are deeper within the building, so this could get a little ugly. But at least early on, nobody is coming, so maybe we dodged a bullet there.

Where will it go from here? I guess we’ll find out 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 – we were a little scarce over the holidays, but we’re back now. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|15: But Doctor, I am Pugliacci

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|15: Candlefingers!

I figured I’d give Steve a little surprise for the last Talking of 2021 and do it on time this week. HE’LL NEVER SEE IT COMING.

It is a bit of a short episode this week, so I may have to do a little tap-dancing to come up with a full column. I’m also a little thrown because I feel like a little bait-and-switch was perpetrated on us listeners. The episode writeup was all about a new performer joining the circus… and “auditions”, plural… but then Candlefingers was the title, so here I was thinking Candlefingers was going to be a new recruit. But nope… just Shoony Bennett. BOOOOOO.

So, our episode begins with the Candlefingers fight – or, as I’ve dubbed him, “Liber-ouchie”. (A third of you will get this reference, the rest… Google “Liberace” and meet me on the other side.) Not that I don’t appreciate Rob P’s rather apt Lumiere reference as well, but I gotta be true to myself. This has the classic markings of a “stretch your legs” fight. The team has recently leveled, so let’s give them an easy fight against a single opponent just to work through how their characters work at the new, more powerful level. I don’t know if that’s something Paizo AP authors explicitly include, or it just works out that way, but it does seem to be a pretty frequent occurrence.

Then again, as Ateran points out halfway through the fight… was it really attacking at all? The creature’s first move was to cast darkness, which was more of a defensive/escape spell, and then the whole party started whomping on it. I’ll grant, if you look at the picture it doesn’t LOOK very pleasant, but the truth of the matter is it never actually performed an aggressive move until the party did first. Then again, there’s probably some sort of golden rule that if you’re gonna jump out at people in a cemetery at night, you’re probably gonna catch some hands, whatever your intentions might have been. I’m sure once or twice a year a Halloween “scare house” employee gets knocked out, and that’s even when the guests know it’s fake.

So Liber-ouchie takes a quick beating and dimension doors out of the fight. We’ve dealt with this before back at the first aeon tower – it seems like the common monster build is to have the level 4 version of the spell for battlefield movement (often as an innate power it can use any time), but then have the heightened Level 5 spell as an escape hatch: you can teleport up to a mile away, but it has an hour-long cooldown. So… it’s potentially nearby, but it’s neutralized as a threat and certainly not likely to return until its escape spell is refreshed. (And let’s be honest, it’s probably not coming back at all; it served its purpose to the plot.)

When we get back, it’s time to add a new member to the circus, as the team gives Frank Shoonatra the sales pitch. Which lasts all of five seconds and he basically says yes.

There’s a little piece of me that thinks this whole thing is a little weird. If I’m doing my day job fixing computers, and some group of randos waltzes into my office and says “hey do you want to just leave your life behind and join a circus?”… I’m probably going to have questions and not just immediately say yes. Do you have dental? 401K? What’s the room-and-board situation: a trailer… a tent… sleeping on the ground? WHAT’S THE SALARY? And look… I know we don’t want this to degenerate into Roll For Human Resources, but it’s still a little strange that people just accept on the spot.

OK, I suppose it was a little less weird when they were recruiting Mistress Dusklight’s people because they were already circus performers and their current employer was a) torturing them and b) closing because she was embroiled in a scheme to kill their customers. So, if another circus offers you a gig doing what you’re already doing, in THAT situation I could see it being an easy “yes”. But if you’ve already got a day job, I’m not sure “circus performer” is really the upward career move it’s being portrayed as.

Then again, I think about all these reality shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” and they always show these LINES of people coming to the auditions because a) they want to be famous and b) performing for a living is more fun than whatever their day job is. So why would that dynamic be that different in the world of Pathfinder? Especially when your day job is burying corpses.

As a circus act, I do think Dog Dylan will have some good synergy with Hap… Hap can do some dancing and some fire violin and Pug McCartney can sing along… it’ll work well. Perhaps Ateran can even throw in some mojo from beyond the grave since he seems to be tweaking his build in that general direction.

Also, as a complete aside, I think we need a bottle episode where the NPC circus acts have their own little one-shot adventure. Even if it’s just so Gigi the mammoth can stomp some people.

Once the recruitment of Elvis Pugsley is complete, our party resumes the journey to Castinlee. After a little more walking, they find a bit of a gruesome sight… a satyr nailed to a tree with its pituitary gland having been pulled out of its head. Now… my first reaction was that maybe we’ve crossed the streams and the Skinsaw Cult from Edgewatch has opened a branch down here. But after that impulse subsided… I’m not sure what this represents. It doesn’t fit with anything the xulgaths have been doing before (and we’re still fairly far from the aeon tower anyway), and the Night Lady seems like her thing is more subtle, focused on fear and bad dreams. So is this just some sort of secondary road hazard like Kalkek? Or does it have larger ties that are yet to be revealed?

All of this we’ll dig into next week, in… (gulp)… 2022. I do hope you have a happy New Year if you’re into celebrating it; if not, lots of good stuff on various streaming services to fall asleep to on Friday. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show (though it’s a little quiet over the holidays). Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you both next week AND next year.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|05: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|05: Lawful Stupid Is My Alignment.

Welcome to the last Edgewatch summary of 2021. There should still be another Talking for Three-Ring, but the one wrinkle there is my brother is coming to town later in the week, and the final phase of my merrymaking may be in full swing by then.

I see Steve called me out a little in the show notes, and… eh, he’s right. I suppose the one biggest change is my son starting a new job, but not having a) well-defined hours or b) a driver’s license. So there are nights when it’s hard to get working on Talking because I have to go pick up The Boy, and that process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. Plays havoc with my ability to stay on a consistent schedule. Check back next week: maybe I’ll make it a New Year’s resolution to get back on schedule in 2022.

This week, we have one of our classic Paralysis By Analysis episodes where we spend a LOT of time going back and forth on the questions of whether to accept the meeting and whether to actually bring Gord or leave him behind as an insurance policy. The first one ends up being the easy one – what we REALLY need out of this is a face-to-face with Maurrisa Jonne, and this gets us that. It was the whole reason to snatch up Gord in the first place. If we turn around and refuse the meeting outright, we don’t really have a Plan B. So we quickly come around to the fact that we have to make some sort of appearance.

The real crux of the matter lies in the second question: the truly logical thing to do would be to leave Gord behind because if we bring him to the meeting, one possible outcome is her attacking us as revenge for going after her brother. Gord not being there would be our one piece of leverage because harming us doesn’t get him out of a Starwatch jail cell in another district where she has no base of power. If anything, it seals Gord’s fate AND makes her a higher priority target for law enforcement, if she graduates to openly attacking cops. Having said all that, it does seem like the easy/metagame storytelling answer is to just bring him and resolve this in one meeting because this is the resolution of the side-quest and we want to get on with finding the Twilight Four.

For me, it comes down to “do the right thing for your character, and let the GM tell you if it’s going to work or not”. As players, we should do what makes sense, and leaving Gord behind is what makes the most sense. If Steve doesn’t want it that way, he has the power to pull strings and create a scenario where Gord HAS to be there.

And OK… I was a little frustrated at Seth in this moment, because I felt like we’d come to a pretty strong agreement that we WEREN’T going to bring Gord, and then we’re on the way to the meeting and he just casually starts with the “well, I’m talking to Gord because I went ahead and brought him anyway”… despite the conclusion we’d reached as a group. I wasn’t going to interrupt the session at that point because we’d just spent 30-40 minutes on the “bringing Gord” question, and even I didn’t want to re-open that can of worms, much less do it to the listeners. Especially not for something that would be more out-of-character arguing than playing. But internally… I’ll admit I was a little annoyed.

But hey, with 20-20 hindsight, maybe it was the right call anyway. With Gomez working on Gord on the way to the meeting, we were actually able to get him kinda-sorta on our side, so he was willing to put in a good word with Maurrisa when the time came. So maybe Seth’s kinda crazy… crazy like a fox!

Once a working truce is established, we’re able to get some more information on the situation. Basically, Maurissa claims she was a reluctant participant in the Skinner’s schemes and didn’t REALLY want to help them. (That’s the second gang leader to make that claim if you’re scoring at home). So between Gomez’s charm and taking out the Skinner, we’ve actually earned enough goodwill points that she’s willing to overlook kidnapping her brother. The NEW deal she offers us is that if we disrupt the Diobel Sweepers’ operations and eliminate Bloody Berleth, she’ll give us some dirt on the Twilight Four. And she even knows where the Sweepers’ main alchemical lab is – she just doesn’t want to attack it directly because it could set off full-scale gang war, dragging in a bunch of other allied gangs we haven’t met yet. PLEASE LET THE BASEBALL FURIES BE INVOLVED IN SOME WAY!

I have to admit feeling a bit conflicted about this. On one level, I don’t like the idea that basically we’d be serving as a mercenary force for a gang leader. That doesn’t seem like something we should be doing as agents of the law. And OK, whatever she may say now, SHE’S the one who was cooperating with the Skinner – unless there’s a connection we haven’t seen yet, there’s no evidence the Sweepers were involved in that. REALLY the only thing that suggests the Sweepers are worse is that their boss is nicknamed “Bloody” Berleth: not a nickname you get for your formidable backgammon skills.

Misgivings aside, we’d still be disrupting the gang activities of another gang – it’s not like she’s hiring us to mug innocent civilians for her. So we’d still be reducing the overall crime level, AND we’d get a lead toward the Big Bad that threatens the whole city. So it’s a bit of a deal with the devil, but it’s JUST inside the envelope of “enforcing the law” so I guess we’ll be doing that.

One day later… that IS what we’re doing… but we’ll be doing it next episode. So come on back for the last episode of 2021 and see what happens. As always feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show (though we’re a little scarce around the holidays). Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next… well, for this column, next YEAR.

The Sideshow S3|14: Art Imitates Life

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|14: Are We the Bad Guys?

Hope everyone is having a good holiday season. Obviously, I took a few days off to make merry, but I haven’t forgotten my columnar duties entirely. Now that things are getting back toward normal, I’ll do my best to get caught up on the goings-on in RFCland.

As we return, it’s off to a new city… well… town. Well… hamlet? And a new set of abilities for our now Level 10 heroes. After dabbling in animal husbandry and new and interesting ways to light things on fire, Hap starts to get back to some of the original bardic flavor of her character with some performance abilities. Alhara gets another reaction-based feat, and as we’re coming to understand, reactions are really where it’s at in Second Edition: the more things you can do to disrupt opponents’ turns, the better. Darius gets a pretty cool monk ability, the One-Inch Punch, which lets him dial up the actions to dial up the damage. And Ateran… well, Ateran mostly just backs up a dump truck full of spells into Csillagos’ hungry beak. (Still my favorite way of learning new spells ever.)

Of course, one thing we had to deal with here that we haven’t really encountered before is the idea of scarcity, as the party has to wait three weeks to get their new toys. (That’s right: the supply chain crisis has even reached into the world of tabletop roleplaying games.) Second Edition brought forth the idea that magic items are organized by rarity, and that not all towns will have all rarities available. It’s always been part of the rules, but it’s not especially relevant at the low levels, because anything one could afford at low levels is fairly common anyway. Heck, in the Edgewatch game, we don’t deal with it at all: we’re right in the heart of Absalom, so it’s like living in Manhattan – you can DoorDash yourself a Hand of Vecna at 3 am, basically. But here, trying to get magic items out in the boonies… that’s more like, say, forgetting to buy dog food on your last grocery run, running out on Christmas Day, and having to find a Walgreen’s because that’s all that’s open so you can buy an overpriced bag of Rachel Ray dog food because that’s all they had available.

Hypothetically. I mean… that’s how I IMAGINE it would be if such a thing had ever happened to me. MOVING ON.

Darius’ One-Inch Punch, and the discussion about when to use it… one thing I’ve noticed about 2E is they have several abilities that work only on the next attack you make. I specifically thought of this in the context of Basil’s Shared Stratagem, which lets me give out flat-footed to an ally for one attack, but I dimly remember seeing a couple of other examples as well. I feel like it’s meant to put the brakes on some of these 1E scenarios where you’d get five or six attacks with a huge bonus on each one: now you can get the bonus, but it’s a one-shot. So I’m thinking One-Inch Punch would be great to pair with one of those one-attack abilities – if you get the buff, pour all three actions into a single attack; if you don’t have the buff, just attack as normal, or at least hedge your bets with a two-action punch and leave an action for something else.

We also speculate whether it’s a good or bad thing that Darius hasn’t had any new visions of Achakaek lately and whether he’s turning into a forebearer of Cave Johnson’s army of mantis-men. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the lawful evil god of assassination, who is also a giant bug, is probably NOT someone you want on the Christmas card list. But that’s just me.

On the other hand, speaking of visions, and things going on in people’s heads… we have the beginnings of a disconcerting situation arise as most of the party (except Ateran) is starting to have the sorts of bad dreams that presage the mysterious deaths. So take away one is that Opper Vandy’s little side problem may now have a clock on it, and may impact the party more directly. Heck, maybe it’s even tied to the overall xulgath problem. Takeaway two is a bit more metagamey, since to the party, Darius making his save and Ateran not even having to attempt one would be indistinguishable to the characters. But we as listeners have the mystery of trying to figure out why Ateran seems to be the only one unaffected. Are their studies of Aroden or their witchy abilities protecting them? Did their role in uncovering Vandy’s deception protect them? Did the rest of the party inhale vaporized skeletal horse dust while they were at the Currew farm? I will admit, I’m probably not going to go deep-dive the last 4-5 episodes to try and figure out what Ateran did differently that the others didn’t, but it would be an interesting exercise.

(As an aside, now we’ve got supply chain headaches AND we’re doing contact tracing. I thought this game was supposed to be escapism. I eagerly await a future loot cache that includes a +1 N95 mask.)

As the episode draws to a close, our party – full circus in tow – begins to make its way to the next town, and we meet our next possible circus addition, Booralu the Gravedigger, the singing shoony. First, I’ve already nicknamed him “Shoony Bennett” in my head, so deal with it. Second, I assume – as our players do – this will be another opportunity to add an act to the circus, once they resolve his boggle. Which appears to be imminent, as it’s combat time as the episode comes to a close.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. I’m sure a shoony that digs graves and sings to the dead can’t POSSIBLY have disturbed some undead power… that’s just crazy talk! 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|04: Daemons And Detainees

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|04: You Don’t Understand Superior Tactics.

Welcome to the Great Holiday Slowdown! We’re done recording shows for the year, though Steve’s already got the episodes edited and they’ll still be posting regularly. I don’t know about the other guys, but I work at a university, so my work’s done for the year… so I’ll be pulling myself away from my streaming and videogame backlog to write these wrapups. (Caught up on Wheel of Time, but Season 2 of The Witcher got temporarily delayed by a spur-of-the-moment desire to re-watch some Tennant-era Doctor Who.)

I don’t really have a lot to add to Steve’s show notes, but I’ll toss a few observations.

I mostly agree with Steve’s point about “scheduling your fun” with one slippery-slope admonition. You never want something you’re doing for fun to become TOO much of an obligation, to the point where it becomes more like a job. That hasn’t happened with this, but that spirit literally KILLED World of Warcraft for me. If you wanted to do anything in WoW, you had to commit to 3-4 hours, 2-3 specific nights a week, or you’d either (shitty guild) get kicked out of your guild entirely, or (good guild) fall way behind your friends and be unable to play with them until their alts were ready to do the dungeons. At that point, just keeping up the pace necessary to participate felt like having a second job instead of a way to enjoy downtime. So schedule your fun, yes, but if you’re so scheduled that your hobbies are starting to feel like work, you’re doing it wrong. Again, I don’t think we have that problem here – we’re good about taking the occasional week off if people need to recharge.

Ironically – and our live listeners know this – we almost have the opposite problem. Since ours is a group of friends who have known each other for years (in some cases, decades), we have an issue with getting sidetracked. We sometimes get too far into the “weeds” of the overall friendship, BSing about movies, fantasy football, and other stuff. Officially we start at 8 pm. I think our unofficial record for the latest start was something like 9:15 or 9:20, though that’s from memory… I don’t sit around with a logbook tracking this stuff.

Mondays became our day mostly by process of elimination. Even going back to pre-podcast, there’s never been much enthusiasm for playing on weekends, Chris traditionally raided in WoW two or three nights a week, I had a home game on Fridays, and I think (at least pre-COVID) John was going to an in-person board game night at his local gaming store, so Monday was just the day that worked for everyone. (I actually think it was Wednesdays for a while, and then Chris switched guilds and his raids were on different nights.) In the COVID era where everyone’s forced to be a hermit — and also now that Chris got tired of WoW — we have a bit more flexibility, but that usually only applies to short-notice re-schedules: we pretty much try to keep to the same day if at all possible.

So that’s it for Steve’s show notes; on to this week’s show.

Going in, it is interesting to watch Seth and I (in particular) wrestling with the issue of how to apply modern morality to a fantasy-themed police force, insofar as we don’t have any actual charges on Gord. Yeah, his sister’s a known criminal, and he may be indirectly involved if his sister is bankrolling his antiques fetish. But technically we don’t know he’s done anything wrong: in modern parlance, we don’t even have a WHIFF of probable cause on the guy. So it’s one thing to go ask Gord a few questions, but literally grabbing him and holding him in a cell to get his sister to come talk to us… that’s kinda like kidnapping, isn’t it? You can hand-wave it and just say “they didn’t have probable cause in the Dark Ages either” and I’m sure a lot of gaming groups do. But it’s also naïve to think that stuff like that might not still be happening in the real world, whether it’s parts of the US or in other countries. If the notion of the law snatching up someone’s relative to use as leverage is considered “the Dark Ages”… it’s not entirely clear that we’re not still there.

And this is why I felt like Paizo made the right call continuing to release this adventure path, even after the calls to cancel it, so close upon the real-world events regarding George Floyd. Taking a pause was a good call in the moment. Taking a second look at the content to make sure you weren’t glamorizing police excesses… totally a good call. But art and entertainment can illuminate and spark conversation and that can be constructive rather than destructive. Here we are talking about what constitutes justified detainment of civilians by law enforcement in between dice rolls to see if my made-up bird-person stabs stuff with his sword-cane. You don’t get that with backgammon.

So moral qualms aside, we’re gonna go grab Gord because that’s kinda what the story requires of us. Going into this encounter, I certainly expected we would face combat. I assumed either Gord’s sister would have assigned him some bodyguards, or the owner of the boat would turn out to be some sort of underworld tough… black-market antiques dealer or something. (Belloq from Raiders, perhaps?) Did not expect to have to fight a daemon, though.

The fight starts out tolerable at first… yeah, the daemon has greater mobility than we do, but it’s not that hard to hit, so we’re at least putting damage on it. But that fear effect really had the potential to alter the battlefield with two of us wasting multiple rounds running away and coming back, leaving Lo Mang and Gomez hung out to try. THAT could’ve gotten messy, but we caught some good luck on dice rolls and they were able to stay in the fight until Dougie and I returned.

But then I get turned aside again, as Basil notices Gord (presumably) trying to sneak away from the fight while invisible, in a boat. This left me with a quick decision to make: standard TTRPG logic suggests you never split the party, but we really HAVE to. If we leave the daemon to chase Gord, it’s either taking free shots at us while we chase him, or killing random dockworkers. If we let Gord run while we finish the daemon, it’s likely Gord gets away and this whole episode went for naught.

So I go after him. I’m a LITTLE worried a one-on-one encounter could get messy but then again, if this guy was a decent fighter, a) he’d probably be a more prominent member of his sister’s gang and b) he probably wouldn’t have felt a need to summon a daemon to cover for his escape. Also, at the risk of metagaming, we’ve had a few examples already of abstracted chase sequences, and this quickly began to feel like one of those.

So off we go, and it turns out I have the right skillset (including flight, to avoid ground-based obstacles) and luck (a natural 20) to end up capturing Gord. Now… full disclosure… I feel a little disappointed that I didn’t roleplay the encounter with the Cayden worshipers a little better. Hell, I PLAY a Cayden worshiper (Brixley) in our other game; I really should’ve just offered a free round to whoever captured Gord. Who at that point really WAS a wanted criminal, since… you know… setting a daemon loose on the docks is a crime and all.

With the daemon dealt with and Gord in custody, we retreat, but not to the Docks, but to Starwatch. We just got read chapter and verse about how corrupt the Docks district is and how they ignore everything that doesn’t directly impact commerce; we’re not holing up THERE with our prize prisoner. Better to retreat to relative safety and force Big Sis to come to us.

So OK… maybe the circumstances of his capture are a little suspect, but we’ve got Gord in custody and we’re safe back at the ranch. Next week, we either see if he himself can tell us anything or (even better) if holding him kicks over the rock his sister’s hiding under and we can get a sit-down with her. Hope you’ll be back here next week for that. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|13: Lean Mean Alchemical Machine

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|13: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

I’ve got a bit of a challenge. I got both my COVID booster and my seasonal flu vaccination Thursday, so I was pretty much flat on my back all of yesterday. I’m back in the saddle today, but I’ve got tickets to Spider-Man in a couple of hours. So can I slam out a column in that time? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

As we pick up the action, our heroes had struggled in their first encounter with the alchemical golems. Some of it was bad luck with the dice; some of it was not really having a tactical plan and charging ahead with “Alhara leaps into the room, eats a bunch of attacks, and gets pummeled almost to death”.

So for round two, the gang has a plan. First, Darius is going to stand in the doorway – you know, a natural chokepoint – and keep the golems from getting at the rest of the party as much as possible. Second, Alhara will use her staff to generate sonic damage, which the golems are vulnerable to.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, the first part of that plan goes almost flawlessly. Darius does his job as an attack sponge, as a fair number of attacks miss against his AC anyway, and the healers can stay ahead of the damage from the attacks that land. And our team also catches a break insofar as the golems hadn’t healed their damage from the first encounter so ONE of the two went down the first time it was struck, leaving just one enemy to fight.

About Alhara busting them up with that sonic damage though… oh dear. Alhara just whiffs, whiffs, and whiffs some more, the large majority of her attacks being single-digit rolls on-die. I think we saw Vanessa re-enact the whole “five stages of grief” thing and add a sixth – giving in to the absurdity and finding the whole thing hilarious.

Which was assisted by Steve’s Shit-Talking Golem. Move over HK-47 and GLaDOS… we’ve got a sassy new sheriff in town. Of course, part of what I found amusing was imagining the hypothetical backstory of such a creation. I’m some sort of master alchemist, I’m building this golem to help me with my work, and at the very end, I think to myself… “I could make it a friendly companion to help me pass the time, or imbue it with the knowledge to have deep philosophical discussions while we work… but why don’t we just make it a sarcastic asshole instead?”

The good news is, with only one enemy to fight, the party is eventually able to pull together and win, even despite Alhara’s dice woes. Though credit due, she does eventually get ONE hit in, and it’s as impressive as hoped, generating 5d8 sonic damage. So… note to future self: bring lots of different damage types along for dealing with golems.

Now we have the core mystery of the tower to unravel. It’s easy enough to fly up the shaft in the golem room and into the main chamber, and we gain a greater understanding of what’s going on. It turns out the xulgaths have built some sort of machine to drain the energy of the aeon stone powering the tower, and it will eventually destroy the stone. I have to admit, I thought the xulgaths’ plan was to steal the stones and take them back to the underworld; I didn’t think they were going full-on nihilist and destroying them. But now we know.

(As an aside, when they found the instructions for the machine, that seemed like a perfect time for an IKEA joke, and I’d like to register my disappointment that nobody made one. Is the machine made entirely of particle-board? Do they need to go back to town for an Allen wrench to disassemble it? Does it have a Nordically-spelled name like “JEMDRAANIR”? COME ON PEOPLE. If you can make Waldorf and Statler references, you can get this one.)

So with assistance from the instructions and a couple of solid crafting rolls from Ateran, the machine is disabled, and almost immediately… LET THE HEALING OF THE LAND BEGIN. Water gushes forth (albeit into a now corpse-infested waterway), signs of life begin to return, and our party gets a new boon. Swim speed, water breathing, and a daily cast of the control water spell which feels like it’s fairly situational, letting you raise or lower the level of an existing body of water. Honestly, it feels like something out of a Lara Croft/Uncharted-style game where the room is flooded and you need to lower the water level in the room to access the passage that leads to the next area. Only instead of activating gems or finding pulleys, you just cast a spell.

We’re also posed with an interesting dilemma as Loren wants to reject the boon as anathema to Hap’s character concept. Or at least wants time to think about how she could make it work. Basically, her point is that Hap’s character is so defined by her use of fire, that water abilities are just totally against what she’s been building toward. Now, if you want to metagame, I feel like ALL of these boons are going to get used at some future point in the adventure, so refusing one of them might end up being a bad idea. On the other hand, if Hap REALLY wants to reject a boon from Aroden, I’d say you go ahead and let her. And if they need to go on an extended swim at some future point, throw Hap into the bag of holding for a change.

With the second aeon tower cleaned up, it’s time to head back to Ferny for a well-earned Ewok moment, partying up with the shoonies. After that… maybe a circus performance, or maybe straight on to the second tower. And I suppose it might be worth checking back on Opper Vandy and seeing if there have been any further developments with his situation. On one hand, I still feel like that dude kinda deserves what he’s getting – he’s not evil with a capital E, but he is kind of a weasel — but it’s also on the way to the other towers and solving the mystery still benefits the town as a whole. Lastly, it sounds like our heroes are going to level between sessions, so next week, we’ll be introduced to more powerful versions of our gang.

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.