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

Make sure to follow our upcoming RPG Superstar Battlezoo Bestiary Kickstarter!

The Bird’s Eye View S2|29: Flank Me? No, Flank You

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|29: Violetta, You’re Turning Violet!

Well, this week on Roll For Combat, we’re done with the Big Fight, but not done fighting. That’s right, we decide to take one more room, and it’s almost the death of us.

I will say, even going back and listening weeks later, the decision to continue feels defensible. On multiple levels.

The first is that there’s someone screaming and we’re cops, and if we retreat to rest, that person may be dead by the time we get back. (And even if not, they spend 8 more hours enduring pretty horrible suffering.) At the end of the day, helping people is part of the gig, and if someone’s in need, we should act. And OK, it’s not one of the Graycloaks because they’re all accounted for at this point, but should we pass on helping someone because it doesn’t check a box on the quest list? I don’t think so.

The second reason, as I briefly mention, is a feeling that if there were enemies to the north, they would’ve come down and joined the Big Fight. Now, as one of those 20/20 hindsight things, maybe we should’ve factored in the possibility that the screams drowned out the alarm and the bad guys in there didn’t hear it. (Later on in the fight, we notice they’re wearing moss earplugs, so there’s your answer.) But let’s be honest: we were thinking that since nobody came out of that room during the fight, this would just be cleanup and freeing a prisoner or two.

And that’s the other thing: we also know from Dannicus’ map that the room with the screams is basically all that’s left on this floor. I think if we clear this room there’s ONE other room we hadn’t visited, and it seemed fairly unimportant (the room marked “Processing” if you have access to our Discord and look at the map he gave us). So we knock this out, that’s an entire level cleared. (I’m also not counting going “up-river” and dealing with whatever is polluting the stream.) Is that just a touch metagamey in assuming that everyone stays in their rooms and doesn’t wander around and that nobody from the lower level would ever visit the upper level to see what’s going on? OK, maybe just a touch. But it did seem like finishing the level would represent a good solid place to end the infiltration for the day.

However, the one thing we DIDN’T count on was that the person in this room was one of the sub-bosses. To be fair, there was nothing on the map that would’ve given it away in advance – it wasn’t labeled “Violetta’s Lab” or something handy like that. But once the battle-map was revealed, the name of the NPC and the creature chained to the wall gave it away, because Dannicus had described Violetta as a) the second-in-command, and b) the person in charge of making the weird flayed creatures.

So yay. Our “stretch goal” fight is against a sub-boss. That’s fun.

Now, I notice one of the single biggest things that determined the flow of the fight was who controlled flanking at any given time. Lo Mang got himself up into the far north-east corner of the room, so he was the one person who could never be flanked, but the dice turned him into a non-factor: he didn’t hit much, but he didn’t get hit much.

Now here’s where it gets problematic. The “safe” place for Dougie would’ve been up against the north wall on the other side of Violetta. However, that’s right where the monstrosity was chained up to the wall, and nobody really wanted to risk standing right next to it. So instead of taking the straight flank along the wall, he took the diagonal flank; however, that left him exposed out in the middle of the room. So one of the two cultists was able to get in flanking on him. In my case, the room was too small for my bow to be very effective; I would’ve been eating a -2 unless I positioned myself WAY down in the far corner and ONLY shot at Violetta no matter what the adds were doing. So I tried to position myself between the two adds, so that if I missed Strategem on one, I could just switch targets to the other one.

So the early flow of the fight is that Lo Mang and the boss mostly missed each other, and while Dougie and I did beat down one of the cultists, Dougie took a beating that then dropped him. I moved up to take his place and keep the flank alive, but then that put me in the Flanking Box as well, and pretty much the same thing happened to me – only we didn’t put nearly as much (well… ANY) damage on the second cultist in the meantime. So Dougie is still JUST getting back on his feet and I drop.

And keep in mind, as a meta-game interlude, I think I had JUST listened to the Three-Ring Adventure show where Darius had momentarily died. So I was REALLY nervous about going down WITH persistent damage ticking on me because that’s ultimately what “killed” Rob. Unlike Darius, I still had my Hero Point, so I did have a do-over he didn’t have, but it was still a tense situation because that was all still in the back of my mind. And I believe I might have even started discussing what my next character should be with the Patreon chat.

And then a funny thing happened… in the form of a giant mushroom summoned by Gomez. This REALLY shouldn’t have worked, but it did… marvelously so. First, and most immediately, it reset the flanking dynamics – it provided an extra source of flanking for us, and took up the square that would be most useful for them to flank anyone. But then – the REALLY unexpected thing – it actually managed to crit Violetta, which… I don’t know how what percentage of her damage it did, but emotionally, it changed the tone of the fight and made it feel winnable again.

And from there, the corner was turned. The mushroom blocker bought us the time we needed to re-orient and heal up (a little), and we were able to grind down both the remaining cultist and Violetta fairly shortly after that. And FINALLY, this level of the dungeon is clear. All that’s left is to dispose of the poor monstrosity on the wall; I wished there was something we could have done for it, but it was one of those situations where Steve USUALLY tries to say yes, so if he’s giving you flat “no, that won’t work” answers, you know it’s not meant to be.

So that’s the upper level of the cultist lair. I don’t feel like I’m revealing any great state secret by admitting that we’re DEFINITELY getting out of here and resting up. We’re basically out of resources, and to do ANYTHING more would mean going down to the lower level where the big boss is. In the words of Simon Cowell, “that’s a no from me”. So next week, we rest, regroup, and hit it again.

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

The Sideshow S3|04: Shovel Knights

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|04: Stuck in the Middle With You.

Welcome back to the conclusion of the fight against the…. BU-LETTE, BU-LAY… yeah, we’re gonna get into this a little. Part of me says this is a lot of effort to expand on something so trivial; another part of me feels like exploring minutiae like this is EXACTLY why this column exists.

So, there’s a video – if you Google search “Tim Kask bulette”, it’s likely to be the first hit – where Tim Kask discusses the original creation. (And it’s only like 3 minutes long, so not much of a commitment.) And throughout the video, Tim pronounces it BOO-LEY. So if your worldview starts and ends with the artist’s intent… well, there you go. Skip down a paragraph or two; we’re done here.

Having said that, I’m pulling out my “I Took French V In High School” card and dissecting this a bit. I think Kask is just wrong on the French. First, it sounds like he half-assed the name as a bit of a joke. The creature started out as “the bullet” in the early play sessions because it just charged at people and knocked them over. But then they decided to class it up the same way some people refer to Target (the department store) as TAR-JAY. So I get the feeling is he didn’t think about the actual French, he just went for “fancy and French-sounding”.

So here’s the thing. The double-T construction “-ette” represents the hard T sound. As in “baguette”. Or “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”. (That’s right, I’m dragging Edith Piaf into this. Rolling out the big guns.) The “ay” sound is generally represented as “-et”. As in “bidet” or “Robert Goulet”. (And as a lesser observation, one of the main uses of “ette” is to denote a SMALL version of something, and one thing you’d never describe a landshark as is “small”).

So yeah. I’m sticking with BU-LETTE, because I didn’t read the entirety of the goddamn Little Prince in French for nothing. And Tim Kask can m’attraper à l’extérieur if he doesn’t like it.

So anyway, as this episode started, things were looking a little dicey for our friends, but one also got the sense the party was approaching this fight with one hand behind their collective back. So the theme of Part Two was of taking this fight more seriously and rolling out the big guns: Ateran and Hap start dropping the big spells on the remaining bulettes while Darius and Alhara are busy handing out piggyback rides.

This is at least a minor pet peeve for me, insofar as even a small creature is still a substantial entity. For comparison, try to imagine running and fighting and whatnot wearing an 8-year-old kid as a backpack. I guess you could do it, but it seems like it would be tougher than it’s being sold as here. Though, I suppose it generally passes the Rule of Cool; Alhara doing her wuxia wire-work with a passenger and Darius chucking pug-people into trees is literally Things You Don’t See Every Day. So might as well just roll with it. Embrace the strange.

Besides, a bulette can apparently jump 50 feet in the air now, so that kinda evens out. I have to admit I was a little irked on Loren’s behalf on that one; if I’m reading the bulette’s stat block, it doesn’t seem like the bulette should’ve been able to get anywhere near her. The base vertical leap is 3 feet, and you can get that up to 10 feet with High Jump, and then the bulette has “powerful leaper” which can get it to 20 feet on a critical success, but that’s still WAY short of how high Hap was. It was only one attack and the party lived, but still. Think Steve got that one wrong.

Meanwhile, courtesy of Ateran, we finally see our first ever (unless I’m missing something) death effect in Second Edition. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, death effects were a lot more common in earlier editions of Pathfinder and D&D; hell, our boy Gygax LOVED them. But that’s the thing. They’ve been de-emphasized for a reason, and that reason is it’s a lot to risk on one roll of the dice.  One bad die roll and your day is ruined; no further discussion. Even on the GM side of the screen; one successful death effect and your encounter you meticulously planned out is in tatters. Personally, I like having a fighting chance to cheat death. Though I will say, Hero Points didn’t exist in First Edition, and those do represent a possible balancing force for death effects… as long as you still have one.

However, in this case, the bulette’s saving throw is WAY too high. But that’s OK because even the failed version of the spell does a bunch of damage and basically terrifies it out of the fight.

Eventually, our heroes win the battle, and it’s time to wind down. Only two of the five original shooneys survived, but the remaining two are sufficiently grateful and give our team a magic shovel as part of their payment for saving 40 percent of them. I’m torn: Min-Maxer Me immediately wrote the shovel off as “can’t use in combat, sell it”, but Roleplayer Me kinda likes items that fill niches and add interesting flavor to the game. But hey…. we’re dealing with ghosts and graveyards, maybe they’ll have to dig up a body or two before this is all over, and who’s gonna be happy they have a magic shovel then?

Oh, and indirectly, part of their reward will be packing the house the next time the circus performs, so that’ll be handy. (Right. The circus. Almost forgot about that.) Perhaps Darius’ pug-flinging can be part of the show as well.

So our party arrives at Matten Cleave and settles in, and… gather information? Rest and recover? Head right to the Currew Farm? No, IT’S TIME TO ADD TO GOLARION’S RICH RESTAURANT LORE. And look, I genuinely like the creativity that goes into all of this, but do they all have to be alliteration-based? Can we mix in some Bob’s Burgers-esque puns or double-entendres? Creative misspellings that add a different meaning? Parodies of real-life restaurants? Or is this alliteration thing an edict passed down from Wynsal Starborne himself?

“Your name is Samuel? I hereby decree that your restaurant will serve either STEAKS, SALADS or SAUSAGES.”

“Well… what if I want to serve fresh fish?”

“TO THE DUNGEON WITH YOU!”

(And then an advisor whispers in his ear that salmon is also a fish, and lo, a compromise is reached. And Franklin’s Fresh Fish quietly removes salmon from the menu, just to be safe.)

As we reach the end of the episode, I assume we’ll head out to the Currew Farm, though I’ve got a little birdie telling me there may be a little more hobnobbing and information gathering to do. And it may even involve singing. So you’re gonna want to come back next week for that. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|28: Bring Me Everyone!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|28: Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

It’s Week 3 of Fightageddon, and the big boys have finally come out to play. That’s right: the ceustodaemons and the golem from the front porch finally arrive.

It does dawn on me that in terms of time, we probably could’ve packed this fight into two episodes, but I do think in this case, the editing and the shorter episodes flow better. If you think about it, Steve managed to break this into three distinct phases – main room, reinforcements from the sleeping quarters, and now the guys from the porch. If he’d tried to make two longer episodes, it probably would’ve been hard to make the episode break fall at a convenient place. It probably would’ve dropped right in the middle of the round or something.

As always, when dealing with golems, you have to be careful with your magic. With all golems, one damage type is extra-effective, one damage type heals it, and a third usually slows it – it’s just a question of which is which for any particular golem. In this case, those are fire, electricity, and cold respectively. I’d also add to the pattern that there’s usually one other individual spell (in this case, flesh to stone) that can be used fairly normally as well. They’re immune to every other form of magic and highly resistant to most melee damage.

The ceustodaemons? They’re tough customers, but they’re built for offense; nothing special about their defenses, not even their armor class. Their big thing is a fire breath weapon, but it turns out (reading the stat block after the fact) that it has a recharge timer, so they can only use it every 1d4 rounds.

As for the fight, the first ceustodaemon busts in, but then… don’t look now, we’re doing tactics! Lo Mang moves forward and locks the door, and then I’m able to get a fortunate crit on the last remaining cultist who tries to open the door. The gist of it is that the locked door buys us a few rounds to work on the first guy before his buddies arrive. I have to admit, if we ever had a virtual highlight reel for this show, that shot would probably go on my personal one.

And here’s where the tactics kick into high gear. One thing I’ve noticed is that we don’t have a conventional attack of opportunity in our party, but we have stuff that’s almost as good. Lo Mang has his crane flutter (aka the Chicken Dance) where he can counter-attack when an enemy misses him. That’s pretty handy. But now Dougie has opportune backstab, which basically lets him add a free attack when one of us hits.

Now, if there’s a drawback to that opportune backstab ability, it’s that it doesn’t confer flat-footed on its own. This means Dougie doesn’t automatically get that bonus damage and that free attack isn’t quite as effective. BUT… everyone welcomes Basil’s shared stratagem to the party! Now I can give one person (cough-Dougie-cough) flat-footed for their next attack. Now, strictly speaking, the opportune backstab has to chain off a melee attack, so my bow attacks can’t directly chain into it, but I can either a) set it up with my sword-cane or b) I can at least prime the pump and then let Lo Mang’s attacks set it off at a later date or just let him use it on his own turn: it’s good until the start of MY next turn, not his.

Of course, there’s also the simple solution: Dougie and Lo Mang just stay together and “Parkour Pals” the creature down by staying in flanking as much as possible. That way they can both chain their abilities off each other and either any damage I add is just gravy, or I can concentrate on secondary targets.

Now we do briefly get in some hot water here, courtesy of the ceustodaemon’s at-will dimension door ability. We had a good defensive perimeter set up, and then the big boy just leaps behind them and hits me and Gomez with the breath weapon. It’s not terrible for me, but poor Gomez ends up with a slight pan-sear for his trouble.

On the other hand, we return the favor when it comes to the golem: we’ve got all our flame spells locked and loaded, so the minute he shows his ugly mug, we just KILL IT WITH FIRE. The classics never truly go out of style.

And finally, with both daemons and the golem dealt with… the end of combat sound is played. Whew.

One thing I noticed… everyone except Basil had a brush with death at SOME point during this fight, but we were able to spread it out enough to keep going. Lo Mang took an early beating, but retreated back to Gomez and healed while Dougie held the line. Then the second round opened up, and Dougie took some hits dealing with the remnants of the first wave while Lo Mang was holding off the reinforcements from the west. Eventually, Dougie was able to maneuver his way out of the fight for a bit and potion up. Even Gomez took some late hits when the ceustodaemons warped into the back-line, and OK, the fight was over before he healed, but he was able to get himself out of danger before it really reached emergency status. Basil didn’t escape unscathed, but I do think I only got down to about half health before badging up, so I’m not going to pretend I had an equally hairy time. The flower in my lapel might have been dislodged; that’s about it.

The real question is do we even DARE to press on? On one hand, those screams sound bad and sound like something we should deal with. I don’t know that any of the remaining prisoners are VIPs/quest targets (I guess maybe Gubs is still around here somewhere?), but we’re still the cops: rescuing citizens is part of the job description. And OK, looking at the map Dannicus gave us, cleaning out the scream room would PRETTY MUCH clear this floor… there would MAYBE be one or two more rooms after that. On the other hand, we did just have one HELL of a fight, and our resources are a little tapped. Let’s be honest: it would be a real shame if we got through the last three episodes and then dropped to something comparatively wimpy trying to stretch one room too far.

But it would make for quite a story.

I guess we’ll find out what decision we make 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 Sideshow S3|03: Bulette Buffet

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|03: The Everlasting Fastball Special

There are certain episodes… and this one is one of them… where I feel like Talking Combat missed its calling and could’ve been a Rifftrax-esque live reaction thing. For every time I can bang out a thousand words of deep-dive, there are a dozen little jokes and comments that don’t get included here because they don’t amount to fully-formed thoughts, but I hate that they’re lost to the ether… and this was one of those episodes. For a fairly short episode where I didn’t think a lot was going to happen, this is one of those episodes where I was texting various smart-ass commentary to the group chat every few minutes.

Hell, maybe we steal some ideas from MST3K and make it a Thanksgiving special.

First of all, Steve really buried the lede here with the shoonies. We’re talking about PUG-PEOPLE, and they’re kind of adorable. It’s also worth mentioning that the adventure path actually supplies the data for a shoony ancestry in case you want to play one – some of their noted skills are being accomplished diggers (eventually even being able to move through earth) and being able to move around the battlefield without generating attacks of opportunity. And did I mention they’re freakin’ pugs? NEXT CHARACTER… DECIDED.

Now Steve’s pregame discussion takes on the prospect of groups taking fights lightly, with this week’s battle being an example. And yeah, you did kinda see that at the start of the fight, where our heroes just waded in with their usual tactics and basic attacks, until they realized they were in for a real battle. Hell, Darius didn’t even attack, just decided to play hero and move shoonies around the battle map.

I think one reason that’s a little metagamey is that these adventure paths USUALLY start with a low-stakes warm-up fight, and it can be easy to fall into the pattern of thinking that’ll always be the case. I don’t know if there’s a design assumption that the characters will have recently leveled, or thinking maybe there could be a real-world time gap between ending the previous book and starting the new one; whatever the reason, the authors tend to assume you need a fight to test new powers and possibly shake off the rust, and the first fight of each book is usually a cakewalk.

The captain has turned on the “let’s make sure you remember how to play your character” light. Here’s some orcs with clubs… knock yourselves (or preferably them) out.

It doesn’t apply here, but as Steve mentioned, it is kinda funny that there’s also this suspension of disbelief you have to work with when dealing with humanoid enemies. We’re dealing with that in the Edgewatch campaign right now as well. In our case, we’re fighting these “entry-level” gang members, but since it’s the “entry level” of Book Three, they’re probably like level 7 or 8 adversaries. So in their spare time when not killing adolescent dragons, they roll people in an alley for 3 silver. For that matter, they end up having better base stats than the BOSSES of book 1 or book 2. (Though granted, they lack all the special abilities and magical gear a boss comes with.) You don’t really have that same problem with monsters because no one really comes in with a predefined sense of how tough an ooze or an owlbear “should” be.

As we get into the battle, this is one of those fights where I have to admit Steve was having one of those “bit too gleeful” sessions. Maybe I’m just being oversensitive, but he seemed uncomfortably jolly when the bulettes one-shotted the first shoony: I’m still a little worried PETA is going to protest us for cruelty to virtual animals. But I’d also like to go on record that at some point, Steve is going to ask “Does a [IMPOSSIBLY LARGE NUMBER] hit?” once too often and someone’s gonna power-bomb him through a table WWE-style. YES STEVE, A 394 HITS. I KNOW THAT COMES AS A GREAT SURPRISE TO OUR LISTENERS (mutters strings of profanity under breath, squeezing the life out of a stress-relief ball).

And OK, in the heat of the moment, I may have threatened to quit the show entirely if the bulettes ate Riley. Fortunately, Loren headed that one off at the pass (for now) by tucking our Goodboi-In-Chief in her extradimensional space.

Meanwhile, as agitated as I was getting, I could visibly hear Vanessa lose all interest in gaming in real-time every time she rolled a 27 (one less than the number she needed to hit). And I don’t know if Loren had a death wish or is just a comic artist for the ages, but “at least you didn’t roll a 27” after her crit fail was just PERFECT. (She also had a pretty good line in our group chat, folding Vanessa’s pain into the single best knock-knock joke of all time: “Orange you glad I didn’t roll a 27?”. WELL PLAYED.)

Ateran, on the other hand, got to erase their bad luck, going from a natural 1 to a natural 20 on a hero point. I mention it because it actually made me think of a possible house rule: if you get a Nat-20 on a Hero Point role, you should get to retain the hero point for free. So basically a 5% chance for a little bit of extra “luck of the gods”. I make no claims as to whether this rule is balanced or whether there’s any game rationale to pin it on… I just thought it might be neat. The other suggestion we had amongst the group was to create an equivalent of Assurance for Hero Points: that you could automatically take a 10 and see if that helped… maybe at least change a crit-fail to a fail.

The interesting thing is, this really isn’t THAT tough a fight if the party gets better dice luck. I wasn’t paying attention to exact hit point totals, but I remember being surprised how fast the first bulette went down once the team started landing some rolls and putting some real damage on it. So this may be a thing but they hit hard and are hard to hit when in the ground, but they make up for it by being soft if you ever get them out of the ground and into open space.

Lost in the shuffle, we had a couple of fun little X-Men references, though one of the two is solely in my head. The first – the Everlasting Fastball Special – you know about because it appeared in the show. (I realize there’s probably a good-sized overlap and most of you know this, but the original “Fastball Special” was Colossus throwing Wolverine at an enemy in the X-Men comics.) Not only do I think Darius and Alhara ought to try and do this during one of the circus performances and see how long they can stay in motion, but I think it should be a demonstration sport at the next Olympics. The other X-Men reference, the one kicking around my brain, is that Darius is now informally dubbed “Beefy Nightcrawler” when he uses his Abundant Step power. (Waitasec… didn’t Kurt Wagner escape from a circus?)

So as we end the episode, we’ve lost a few shoonies, one bulette is down, and hopefully, our party is starting to pull out of early doldrums and put on their ass-kicking shoes. I guess next week we’ll see how many shoonies they can save, and maybe make it to their destination(s) of the farm and the aeon tower. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|27: They’re Everywhere, Man!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|27: Whenever I Think of You I Touch Myself

Welcome to Dungeon Pull 2: The Gomez Show. I say that because the focus of this week’s portion of the battle seems to be our resident sorcerer: both getting some solid use out of his existing spells but also breaking out a new one that probably knocked a round or two off the fight all by itself.

Before we get into that, I wanted to revisit Steve’s show notes, and the idea of Steve “helping” us by managing the flow of the fight a little. I’ve probably at least touched on this in other columns, but I actually think this is the way GM’ing SHOULD be done, and that more GMs should view their role this way.

Sometimes I think the word “game” in “roleplaying game” should come with sarcastic finger quotes because it implies a more adversarial relationship between player and GM than should really exist. I know there’s inertia in that direction: the GM controls the bad guys, which pushes them into a position of opposition to the players at times, so it certainly can feel at times like the GM is “against us”. (And OK, Steve has a knack for leaning into that when he gets aggressively happy about critting us twice in a row. Just Sayin’.)

But if that’s the relationship you want… play RISK or something, I don’t know. Everyone turns into a bastard when they play RISK.

What we’re REALLY doing here is telling a story, and in some ways, the true purpose served by the game elements is to create a random influence on the story that NEITHER side can totally control. And that gets to one of the “dirty little secrets” of this hobby: most GMs (at least the good ones) like to deal with surprises just as much as players do. For a good GM, part of the fun is to have random things happen that they DIDN’T expect, and to have to figure out how to deal with them in real-time. Sometimes that’s the actions of the players; other times, it’s a lucky (or unlucky) roll of the dice that alters the trajectory the story was previously on.

Seen through that light, “killing the players” should not be the primary goal of the GM. Telling a story that sits right in that sweet spot between success and failure and makes the choices of BOTH “sides” interesting feels like the better goal to shoot for. If that means massaging the flow of a fight to make the action a little more “theatrical” and exciting, maybe that’s what it SHOULD be.

Having said that, I also don’t think it’s a GM’s job to keep players alive until the end of the story either. I think it’s one of those “partial credit for showing your work” things. If the players are being aggressively stupid or not communicating well as a party*, failure up to and including a TPK can be a price for that failure. But if the players are engaging with the story, they’re making reasonable decisions, and their actions are moving the story in a compelling direction, it’s not the worst thing in the world to use the GM’s powers to keep the good times rolling.

*I meant this statement at the encounter/tactical level. At an overall “gaming table” level, I do think a GM can mediate communication issues between party members who are at odds: in that case, they can serve as a neutral party who wants the game to succeed and wants both players to enjoy the game. But within the tactics of a session, if your players are getting their asses kicked because the players are playing dysfunctionally and not sharing toys with the other children… that’s not the GM’s job to fix, and a near-TPK ass-kicking can actually be a pretty good teacher in that respect.

And OK, Steve also makes a point which I’ll amplify. When it takes a full 2-3 hour session to run a combat, it’s easy to forget that a round is supposed to represent six seconds of fighting, so even a LONG combat is supposed to represent… a minute? two minutes?… of real-time. Applying that to this fight, it means that from the moment the cultist sets off the alarm, we’re actually talking about it taking 20 or 30 seconds for the cultists to get their shit together and launch Maverick on Alert-5. That actually doesn’t seem unreasonable. If anything, having reinforcements POUR into the room 12 seconds after the fight started would be the unrealistic play.

And that circles us back to this week’s live-action. To take up Steve’s point about ebb and flow… this week is the valley between the two peaks. Last week started fast – we didn’t look where we were throwing our fireballs and pulled six or seven bad guys on us, TWO of whom were the Skinstiches that were also full of bugs. (Can’t believe I forgot to give kudos to the Oogie Boogie reference!) So that came out of the gates flying.

As we enter this episode, we had gotten the cultists down to a manageable number and even had one of the two swarms dealt with. So… lull in the action. Among other things, we finally get to put Gomez’s touch-heal to use. It’s not the FIRST time we’ve ever taken advantage of it, but it’s arguably the BEST use we’ve made of it. Once we’ve done some healing, we’re left with a fairly straightforward fight (except for the remaining swarm) against a bunch of melees with no particular extra talents.

We’ve got this, right?

And then that’s when Steve deploys the next wave of baddies. Again, these guys aren’t tough, but there are a lot of them, and they’re also coming from a COMPLETELY different direction: if not for Lo Mang coming up at the right point in the initiative and “putting the cork in the bottle”, they could’ve easily swarmed me and Gomez in the back ranks. And that WOULD have made things pretty hairy. But even then, that leaves Dougie kind of out on an island against the remnants of the first wave because we’re all up top dealing with the new threat.

At least until Gomez deploys hydraulic torrent. Here we see a line-effect spell at its most beautiful. When enemies are able to come at you from multiple directions, it pales in comparison to a cone or area effect, which lets you be a little more loosey-goosey. Line effects require some precision to get full value. But when you get that rare moment where four guys are forced to charge at you through a straight corridor and funnel themselves into the killbox for you? DAAAAAAMMMN. (Even moreso when two of the four crit-fail their saves.)

So Gomez’s spell ALMOST singlehandedly rips apart Wave 2, and Lo Mang and Basil clean up the remnants.

NOW we’ve got this, right?

And then the door far to the southwest opens. At the risk of offering a mild spoiler, the door to the front porch where the big uglies were hanging out. Wave 3, locked and loaded for next week. If you’ve stuck around for the cannon fodder, I assume you’re gonna want to see how it goes against the big guns.

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

The Sideshow S3|02: Jinkies! Looks Like We’ve Got Another Mystery on Our Hands

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|02: So, Come Up to the Lab, and See What’s on the Slab!

First, a brief confession. I almost accused Steve unjustly. I thought the name of this area was the “Swordlands” and Steve was doing some obnoxious “Whil Wheaton” thing with his pronunciation. I was prepared to jump all over him for mispronouncing words again… and then I saw the map, and it’s actually “Swardlands”. A “sward” being an expanse of grass. So… OK. The mildest of mental apologies for the false accusation I JUST stopped myself from making.

This is one of those transitional episodes that’s a little hard to write about. It’s nobody’s fault, and it’s not even a bad episode. It’s just all transition… we’ve got to tee up a bunch of stuff that’s going to be important to the plot moving forward, and there’s no other way to do that except to have the characters grind through a bunch of talk-y stuff that takes as long as it takes to make their rolls.

It’s still entertaining, but it’s held together almost entirely by the banter between the players, and that can be tough to really comment on. It’s one thing to bring back one funny line that stood out. It’s another thing to just regurgitate 10 or 12 of them and have that be the whole column.

So as we join the episode, we learn that YES, Opper Vandy has ulterior motives for being so outgoing with our heroes, but it’s not as dire as we might have imagined. He’s not evil (as far as we know) and he doesn’t have a basement full of zombies we need to clear out (again, as far as we know)… he’s just been haunted by a ghost for the past 14 months and there’s been a string of… maybe-mysterious deaths? One might argue that hauntings would be an occupational hazard for a mortician, and maybe he’d be a little more prepared for weird undead shenanigans, but whatever… Vandy wants our crew’s help.

(For the record, a chunk of our Discord channel STILL thinks Opper Vandy is the Big Bad Evil Guy. For the moment, I’m cautiously disagreeing – he feels like a catalyst character that gets the plot going and then steps off to the side. But I’m emotionally prepared to be wrong on this one.)

I also couldn’t help notice that the Scooby-Doo parallels are thickening by the minute. I forget the exact context, but I mentioned that comparison back when Riley first joined the party, but now we’re doubling down on it. We already had our four-person crew plus a dog, now we’re going to have an actual haunted manor house to investigate. I suppose we just need to figure out who the fantasy equivalent is for Old Man Weatherby, who wants to knock the funeral parlor down to build condominiums. Slap an ascot on Darius, and we’re halfway to a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Brothers. Or a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters.

And OK, Gibzip can be the Scrappy Doo character that they put in the show to appeal to small children, but everyone not-so-secretly hates.

While we’re on this, can Ateran summon a magical conveyance? A machine that carries our team to their investigation of mysteries, perhaps? We might even call it a [REDACTED BY WARNER BROS LEGAL COUNSEL].

The team’s investigations don’t really offer up a smoking gun. There’s no horrific story of a young girl who fell down Vandy’s well and died and he’s been drinking lemonade from her corpse-water or something like that. After a bunch of digging, the best we came up with was investigating the death that marked the FIRST appearance of the ghost – a farmer named Currew, who lived up the coast to the northeast. Coincidentally, this is ALSO in the direction of the first tower AND an area of stronger corruption. So there might be a two-fer involved here. Knock out a tower AND solve Opper Vandy’s problems for him.

I guess the other clue is Ateran finding the receipt for Vandy’s FIRST funeral. Off the top of my head, I don’t see how that fits the puzzle since the haunting came WAY later, but it’s also hard to totally ignore because Paizo tends to stick to things that are plot-relevant; they don’t tend to include a LOT of extraneous stuff. Especially if you have to do a search to find it. And OK… it’s hard to imaging a guy JUST starting his business in a new town and giving a funeral away for free.

As the team looks at the clues and decides how to proceed, there’s a bit of a dilemma in how to sequence things. Because oh right, there’s still the circus to tend to. Does our team want to have a show first, or do we want to get right into the investigation? Particularly when it comes to doing the advertising, which has a shelf life – if you don’t do the show within a week of promoting it, that effort goes to waste. For the moment the team goes with a few days of investigating, which totally makes sense… might as well get a sense of the scope of the problem before committing in any particular direction. But they ultimately decide to head on up to Matten Cleave (only 8-10 miles away) and see what’s what.

(As an aside: now that they absorbed a bunch of extra acts from the Celestial Menagerie, would they have the option of just designating other performers to do all the other acts and just put the circus in passive mode? I’m not saying they SHOULD do it that way, but COULD they? Kind of a “we got promoted to management” thing.)

Now… regarding travel distance. I don’t want to be too nitpicky, but I was briefly into running, and some of this sits in my craw a little. Even something like 3mph is a fairly casual pace… I could walk 3 mph and not even break a sweat. Even 4 or 4.5 mph is still more of a fast walk than a run, and I’d say jogging starts around 5mph. Now, OK, maybe our team moves a LITTLE slower if they’ve got to carry gear, but the point is STILL that they should be able to make it there in a few hours; it really shouldn’t be an all-day thing. And we didn’t even get into hiring a coach or having Ateran summoning the [REDACTED].

Though as an aside, the idea of Darius and Alhara giving Hap and Ateran a ten-mile piggyback ride is pretty hilarious and I’m all for it. Honestly, I’m making that canon, whether they actually go through with it or not. Hap would probably get a kick out of it, but I suspect Ateran would probably find the whole thing undignified and awkward.

But we’ll actually get around to DOING that next week. This week, it’s just milling around the town collecting rumors. Something about… a circus being in town and crop yields being disappointing?

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

The Bird’s Eye View S2|26: Cultists, Cultists Everywhere

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|26: Do You Want Ants? Because That’s How You Get Ants

Well… that was inevitable. We managed to pull half the dungeon down on our heads.

Not that this is new territory for us. We’ve got a bit of a nasty habit of opening one more door, or “retreating” into a new room while an existing fight was going on. But a lot of that was directly attributable to Mister Peepers’ lack of impulse control, and we were trying to be on our best behavior this time… I swear.

Now, if you have access to our Discord channel, this is a lot easier to follow: the map is posted to the “edgewatch-images” channel. After we start the episode screwing around with the iron maiden (EXCELLENT!) and looting, we move from the “Torture Chamber” to the “Bloodletting Hall”.

If this were a mall, the Bloodletting Hall would be the food court – it’s at the center of everything. It’s got doors and passages breaking off in almost EVERY direction. If you don’t have Discord, let’s treat the map as a clock face – we came in at 4 o’clock, and there are exits at 6 (Armory), 7:30 (Hangout), 9 (Sleeping Area), 11 (Screaming Cell), 12 (doesn’t DIRECTLY connect to anything goes to another T passage), and 1:30 (Processing). Worse, many of those exits are just open passages – a few are blocked by doors, but the majority offer free access to the next room.

So the long and short of it is that this was ALWAYS a situation ripe for bleeding encounters. We just arguably pushed it over the edge by getting a little greedy.

I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle how CREEPY this place is turning out to be. We kinda ho-hummed a corridor full of body parts earlier, but here we’ve got a room where victims are literally drained of their blood which is flowing into a pool below. It’s official – I think we’ve finally passed the Murder Hotel for the horror factor.

After exploring the room, we had to decide which direction to proceed in next, and this is a bit of good news/bad news thing. We could hear noises coming from the “Hangout”, but it’s also one of the most open-ended rooms. If you look at something like the Sleeping Area, it’s a single room. But the “Hangout” continues on into the distance – out of visual distance even for the people with darkvision – and eventually meets up with the front porch area where the golem and the ceustodaemons are.

Can’t imagine why I’d be mentioning that little factoid.

So the “safe” move probably would’ve been to tackle the smaller, finite rooms first before going toward the big sprawling area. Pick off the close-ended fights first, MAYBE even retreat and rest depending on how those go. But I think we got a little too enamored with the idea of getting the drop on a large number of guys with area attacks, so instead of playing it by the book, we decide to chuck a couple of fireballs down the hall to get the fight off to a good start. Though because of the lighting and fog of war, we don’t REALLY know what’s down there. Hey, as long as it’s flammable… am I right?

And that’s the beginning of all hell breaking loose. And look… spoiler alert… this is NOT going to be a single-episode fight. It may not even be done in two.

At first, this doesn’t really look too bad for us. The minions are minions. These ones are a little more hardy than usual and have a few extra hit points, but at least they’re not sewing pieces of cloth to us. Shouldn’t be too tough. Now, the Skinstiches SHOULD be similar to the one we fought at the bank, and that wasn’t that tough of a fight either. Especially since we already know they’re vulnerable to fire.

But then things get interesting. First, THESE Skinstitches have been enhanced with special Pinata Powers. That’s right… when you kill these guys, they bust open and become a swarm of ants. Ants that apply a bleed effect to you that lingers even after you’ve left the square.

Lovely.

As an aside, my general frustration with swarms is they have a lot of the advantages of oozes (immunity to all sorts of “extra” damage, take up extra space, etc.) but their “swarminess” is represented by a decent armor class, so they’re still hard to hit and put damage on. At least with an ooze, every attack hits and it’s just a sprint to kill it before it kills you. Having said all that, swarms still aren’t as bad as in First Edition, where if you didn’t have AoE you were REALLY screwed, but they’re still pretty unpleasant.

Where things REALLY go sideways is that at least one of the cultists DOESN’T just charge mindlessly to his doom, but hangs back out of combat range and sounds an alarm. So who KNOWS what’s going to happen with that? One would assume they wouldn’t have installed an alarm that no one else in the complex can hear, and we can’t possibly have gotten so lucky that it ONLY goes to the rooms we already cleared. Cliff’s Notes: assume we’re on the clock for more guys showing up.

So I think we can assume this is going to get worse before it gets better. And at the tail end of the episode, it does EXACTLY that, as the first batch of reinforcements arrives. Still just grunts, but we’re in the thick of it now. The good news is we haven’t used a lot of resources, and there’s still no ONE enemy that poses a serious threat. But of course, with all those guys, it doesn’t take more than a crit or two and we’re on our heels. And even that assumes those reinforcements are the end of it. Not sure what happens if there’s more beyond that.

Oh, who am I kidding… of COURSE there’s more beyond that. But 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 (and hey, you can check out the map). Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|01: It’s Hard To Find Good Help

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|01: Temperature Is Not My Mistress.

I wanted to start this week with a brief re-visit of last week’s column, to provide a little bit of “yes, but…” clarification.

In last week’s column, I mentioned that I found the “post-game” of the Mistress Dusklight fight a bit rushed. And it turned out (per texts from Steve) there was a good reason for that. This was actually the very last session before people left on vacation and they weren’t going to be able to play for over a month, and it was the tail end of an already longer-than-usual session so they could go on vacation at a clean breakpoint. So… like I said… “yes, but…” Wanted to mention it to provide that added context.

So this week, we start a whole new book, travel to a whole new location, with… okay, not whole new characters, but slightly different characters, thanks to a level-up and the retroactive addition of the Free Archetype variant rule.

I won’t go over the rule again in any great detail: it is what it sounds like. You get a free archetype, and enough extra feats to level it and develop it fully. Like Loren, I love this rule, and for much the same reasons. It’s not so much that it makes your character that much more POWERFUL – the three-action economy keeps things from ever getting too crazy – but it does make your character more FLEXIBLE by giving you more choices at any given level. And it’s also a great way to further develop the “story” of your character because you already start at Level 1 with some sort of wrinkle you wouldn’t have otherwise had. The ABCs of Ancestry, Background, and Class now get… D(amn, I Got A Free Archetype!) so that your Level 1 character is even more of a unique creation right out of the gates. That’s pretty cool.

My one personal quirk is that I prefer to NOT use it for a multi-class archetype. Don’t get me wrong: the rule absolutely says you can; it’s just my personal vibe that if you’re gonna add a whole second class to your build, you should have to work for that one. I prefer that the free archetype be more about general flavor. But that’s just me and is not meant as a criticism of anyone else’s choices.

I try to stick to the show at hand with these columns, but I will mention that we added free archetypes to our Plaguestone/Malevolence characters, so you’ll see that in action when that show starts airing. As far as Edgewatch… we kinda caught an in-between hop on that one: we had JUST leveled to 9 when Steve decided to add free archetypes to the mix, so we’ll probably get ours at Level 10 instead. (And yes, I realize that’s a mild spoiler that we’re still alive and some of us have reached Level 9, but the devil’s in the details, isn’t it? And hey, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re playing the same characters, does it?)

But back in the present… in THIS show, it’s time to bid farewell to Escadar and move on. We start with a little farewell levity to both Hamlin’s Hots and Darius’ whirlwind not-quite-a-romance with Kat. I hate to say it, but Steve actually made a fairly compelling case for Larry’s Lukewarms as the preferred food of ocean-going travelers; on the other hand, Hamlin makes a good point that being stuck at sea with days upon days of lettuce wraps sounds like a dreary existence. We’ll call that one a tie. As far as Kat, I love that Darius is literally fleeing to a new landmass to get away from this woman. There’s also something amusing about how much the rest of the party hates Kat since… you know… THEY originally role-played her during the date episode.

The real question this episode leaves us with is: who’s the bigger stalker – Hamlin or Kat? Kat followed Darius to the docks and bought a big floppy hat for the occasion, and probably would’ve boarded the ship if allowed, but she did ultimately let Darius go. Meanwhile, Hamlin is the one leaving passive-aggressive notes INSIDE a bag of holding. Who’s the real stalker here?

Our intrepid team arrives at their new digs on the Isle of Cortos, in the port town of Kerrick. The island hosts three of the remaining aeon towers, and there are several small villages scattered around the island, so the likely gameplan is to circus their way around the island (yes, I made “circus” into a verb… deal with it) and visit the towers along the way.

And they’re immediately greeted by a WAY-too-enthusiastic gravedigger by the name of Opper Vandy. Look, I appreciate that the guy shops at the same tailor Basil does, and even that his artwork looks a little like Doctor Strange, but come on… NOBODY is THIS enthusiastic about a circus coming to their town. Something’s up with this dude.

For the moment though, Vandy is a big help, inviting our crew to dinner at his home, which doubles as the town’s funeral home. Makes the after-dinner drinks in the parlor awkward when there’s a freakin’ corpse in the room, but hey… they do things differently out here. Vandy gives them a bit of a “lay of the land” briefing *geography, history, etc.) before asking them to help him with a “problem of a personal nature” right as the episode ends. Now MAYBE he wants their help in forming a flash mob so he can ask his girlfriend to prom, but since the dude’s a mortician and there’s a dead body one room over, I’m putting my 20 bucks on something to do with the undead.

So next week, we’ll have the formalities out of the way and we’ll get back to adventuring. And let’s be honest; fighting something would not be a huge surprise either – they usually toss a warm-up fight into the beginning of a book just so you can shake the rust off early. So see you back here next week for that. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|25: A Sew-Sew First Fight

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|25: So This Is Paradise?

Well, it took a while, but we finally found the cultist lair toward the end of last week’s episode. This week, we actually get to fight our first cultists.

But first, we actually get to level up to Level 8. It’s not a huge level for Basil, but there are a couple of nice little additions.

First, we have an expansion of our spells. With normal casters, you get your new spell levels at the odd character levels; with multiclass archetype casters, you get your spells at the even levels. So at Level 8, I get my first Level 3 spell, and it’s a fun one… Invisibility Sphere. Again, I’m sticking with utility spells as my primary focus: I’m not saying I’ll NEVER take an offensive spell, but for now, I’m sticking with “bang for the buck”. I had considered taking single-target invisibility at Level 2, but this is much better since it targets the whole group. It doesn’t really specify a maximum move speed; it basically works out to “when in explore mode, you can move as a party and stay inside the sphere; in combat, you have to manage it more carefully.

The other get here is Arcane Breadth, which is more of a long-term play, since it will add spell slots as I level. It’s basically a second slot for whatever your N-2 spell level is. So for now, it’s just a second Level 1 spell, but it’ll grow along with me all the way to Level 20, so that’ll be nice. Add in staffs and wands, and I may actually be able to become a reasonable approximation of a caster before this is all over.

The one I stumbled into by accident was the six-second magic item identification. I took Quick Identification just because it seemed handier than anything else I could take from the list of skill feats, but also taking Arcana as my master-level skill made it so Identity now takes three actions (aka six seconds). So that ended up being a nice little bonus.

Of course, Dougie probably gets the most combat-useful ability, with his reaction-based attack. It’s not immediately obvious at low levels, but as you gain levels and move into more powerful abilities, it’s becoming clear that reactions are a real game-changer in 2nd Edition. When three actions are all you get, anything you can do to squeeze out extra actions is great. Especially if you can mitigate damage to yourself or (even better) do damage on the enemy’s turn. It’s also dawning on me that using my Shared Stratagem with Dougie’s reaction could be a deadly combination.

Now, at the end of the last episode, we were talking about taking on Tyrroicese and rescuing the Graycloak captain, but I think enthusiasm for that plan faded between episodes. I don’t think anyone came right out and said it, but I think once we found the cultist lair and reached the parts of the map Dannicus gave us, I think we wanted to dig into that sooner rather than later, rather than risk losing another day to what was likely to be a tough encounter. Also (this I did mention), there was a little bit of a sensation that maybe exploring the cultist lair would open up some opportunity or tool for dealing with Tyrroicese. At the risk of meta-gaming, sometimes Paizo’s adventure authors do put the solution to the problem somewhere else in the dungeon. So if the thing is vulnerable to good damage, maybe there’s a source of good damage somewhere in the cultist rooms or something.

So into the lair we go. We have two basic choices. If we go west from the safe room, we end up on the front porch with the two daemons and the flesh golem. We’d be dealing with some serious enemies right off the bat… boss-level, even… but the upside is it would likely be a self-contained fight since they’re basically outside the main complex. If we go north and/or east, we’re heading into the heart of the complex. The upside there is we’re likely to be dealing with normal cultists instead of big-bads, and the first few rooms (“lookout”, “torture room”) seem like they’ll be populated with grunt-level cultists. The downside is the rooms are packed together with lots of connections between rooms, and some of them don’t even have doors. So it MIGHT be a challenge to take one room at a time without bleeding encounters. If there’s a tiebreaker, it’s that it also feels like MAYBE the rank-and-file cultists would be more likely to fall for our disguises, so maybe we can infiltrate without fighting. I’m almost SURE the daemons would probably “smell good on us” or something and attack right away.

So north we go, into the area marked as “Lookout”. But first, we send Dougie climbing along the outside wall to do a little recon and get a little element of surprise by coming in through the lookout “window”. The rest of us take the door, and for the moment, it’s a fight against a single cultist. That’s a positive start, right? It doesn’t last, as a few reinforcements come down from the north (labeled as “Torture Chamber”), but the fight itself is still manageable because these guys just aren’t that tough. Also, we do catch a break because the rooms in this area are sound-proofed, so at least the fight shouldn’t spill too far beyond these two rooms. So OK, it’s a warm-up fight. Cool.

We do get a reminder of the nastiness and horror themes at play with the appearance of the Seamers, literally SEWING THINGS TO DOUGIE’S FACE while they’re fighting. And the fact that they’re torturing people for jollies. OK, maybe it’s not bad-bad like some of the heaviest stuff that was going on in the murder hotel (redcap, anyone?), but it’s still a little creepy around the edges. And OK, if we’re already getting into stuff like this in the first room, one wonders what’s waiting for us further in.

I suppose we’ll find out more next week as we continue our exploration of the cultist lair and find some more cultists to kill. 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|40: It’s Hard To Find Good Help

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|40: The Circus of Wayward Blunders.

Well, it’s finally time. Mistress Dusklight FINALLY gets the comeuppance she’s earned over the last two books. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time: certainly ever since they killed Bardolph, probably even going back to the point where we found out she was in league with the xulgaths.

Only when it finally arrived, it was a little underwhelming. Sort of.

Allow me to clarify. I think it was a fine ending in a narrative sense. There was something compelling about having all of Mistress Dusklight’s cruelty come back to haunt her in the form of underlings who wouldn’t stand and fight for her. A superficially powerful villain who turns out to be a paper tiger because she’s fostered no real loyalty… that’s actually pretty solid storytelling, and even makes for a nice break from bloodthirsty cultists or mindless undead who will fight to the last man. Heck, it was an especially nice twist of the knife to have the Tin Can Boy Toy™ back away from her at the end as well.

(Though… as an aside, there’s at least two cases where someone said “Mazael” and I thought I heard “Basil”, and I was thinking “don’t go dragging me into this”. May need to schedule an appointment with an ear doctor.)

But when it comes to the X’s and O’s of combat… I guess I was expecting a little more from the final boss of an entire book. Usually, final boss encounters break out the big guns… spells and abilities that make you go digging into the deep back pages of the rules, because you haven’t seen anything like that recently. In short, win or lose, one expects to See Some Shit.

Only in this fight… we really didn’t get to see much of that. Maybe some of that was a byproduct of the bodyguard deciding to sit out the final battle, but even so, Dusklight’s kit was pretty pedestrian. Though OK, making Ateran think they were a bird was pretty funny.

That’s not to say there was NO depth to the fight, but it was more in the “mind games” side of the house than the dice-rolling. First, she reveals she has Papa Varus as a hostage (not actually true, but good enough to inject some drama into the pre-fight banter), and then she tries to sow a little unrest within the Varuses by revealing that Papa Varus was actually ALSO a Red Mantis… and in fact, was their mother’s instructor. So he may have been an even bigger deal within the Mantises than their mom was. Furthermore, Dusklight also lays down the suggestion that their combat training was part of preparing them to go into the family business, rather than to groom them as circus performers.

Of course, some of this is in a gray area… how much of this is true, and how much of this was performative… either just to mess with our heroes, or laying down her backstory for Mazael’s benefit? Because her next move is to call for help from her bodyguard, the (neutral good) champion Mazael, claiming that our group are bloodthirsty assassins there to kill her and destroy her law-abiding business.

Now… I do have to admit… my realism hackles were raised a little bit by all of this, simply because how blind does this dude have to be to keep company with Mistress Dusklight for weeks/months and never notice how she treats the people around her? But you know what they say… love is blind.

Fortunately, Mazael’s arrival presents another opportunity for diplomacy to win the day, and the team comes up big. After a false start on the first roll, Darius finally breaks through and convinces Mazael to sit out the fight, and now Dusklight is on her own to face her fate. And in a finish that would make the Edgewatch proud, they even manage to take her alive. Without the special badges, even!

With Dusklight dealt with, it’s basically the end of the second book, though there’s a bit of aftermath to deal with. I don’t want to get too whiny, but I thought some of this end-of-book stuff went by a LITTLE quickly. Steve gave the conversation with Papa Varus (Marcel… Enzo… whatever his name is now) a little time to breathe, but some of the other things felt a little rushed. The Aroden scholars, finalizing the temple, Darricus’ betrayal, a walkthrough cameo by Kalkek, and a bunch of other stuff just kinda got jammed into the final five minutes or so.

I’ll carve out one exception to all of this because I assume it will be the topic of a future episode – what happens to the circus from here? The first question is “will the circus continue or will that fall by the wayside and our team will just be adventurers from here on out?”. I feel like the metagame answer to that is that the circus will continue to serve a purpose: they wouldn’t give us a bunch of new acts just in time to shelve the circus premise. And realistically, our heroes would need traveling money to go from aeon tower to aeon tower, which the circus performances would provide.

Assuming the circus continues, I do want to walk through the future of the show in greater depth though. Which acts from the Celestial Menagerie will formally be joining? Is there an upper limit on the number of performers… in which case, will they have to cut any acts? The circus system has always focused on revenue, but never really dealt with expenses out: are these new acts going to cost more money, in which case does the circus have to draw bigger crowds to turn a profit? These are all things I’m ASSUMING we’ll get into once Book 3 formally starts.

And of course, next time, our heroes will level up to Level 9. That should be an interesting one – you get an ancestry feat, casters get their next spell level… at the risk of a mild spoiler, we had some impressive changes when Edgewatch did our Level 9 level-up, so I’ll be interested to see what happens there. (I’ve also heard there’s an additional treat, but I’ll let that be revealed when it actually happens.)

So… two books, 80 episodes, and our heroes are FINALLY the best circus in the land. Now they just have to go save the world so there’s a land left to perform for. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.