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

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The Sideshow S2|22: So, Your Parent Is An Elemental Being

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|22: Geniealogy.

I’d like to start with a quick re-visit of last week’s episode. In last week’s column, I mentioned how impressed I was that Vanessa was so calm in the face of Alhara’s possible demise. Well… turns out I spoke a little too soon. Vanessa actually reached out and burst my bubble a bit: it turns out her demeanor was not so much “cool and collected”, but rather that she’d resigned herself to dying, and was chatting with our Patreon live listeners about what kind of character she might make if she had to re-roll. Well… calm is still calm, no matter what kind of calm it is.

Steve then asked how he sounded, and my glib answer was “disturbingly gleeful”, but I thought about that, and felt like clarifying a little bit. Sometimes we grumble about Steve being a little too excited during combat episodes, but having played with him for well over a decade, I don’t think his excitement is malicious as much as he appreciates a good story moment. If he lands two crits in a row, OK, maybe there’s an initial excitement that he got such good die rolls, but I think his REAL excitement is to see how this changes the dynamic of the fight, and how the party responds to it. If anything, I think it’s a backwards way of believing in us players and wanting to see how we’re going to pull the situation out of the fire.

Believe me, I’ve played with adversarial GMs who just wanted to “beat” the party. You can tell the difference.

As a player, none of this means it’s not INFURIATING in the moment when Steve gets two crits in a row and he starts cackling like a maniac. But if you take a moment to understand where it’s coming from, you can usually get through it. Or… that’s why we have push-to-talk. Take a few seconds to get the profanity out of the system and move on.

This week, the main storyline and discussion topic is the revelation of Hap’s ancestry. Those of you who had “ifrit” can stop by the window and pick up your winnings.

I have to admit, the minute I saw the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, I assumed this is the way Steve was going to go with it. At the risk of oversimplifying, heritages are a way of injecting “half-X” into a character, so the ifrit as “half-fire-elemental” really fit Hap like a glove. I just didn’t know how complete of a retcon it was going to be – whether Steve was going to rebuild Hap from Level 1 as an ifrit to clean things up and make her RAW-compliant, or whether he was just going to drop Ifrit in moving forward.

There’s also the general question of whether you’d be willing to surrender control of your character to the GM like that. I have to admit, my attitude toward that has traditionally been one of reluctance. It’s not that I have some great master plan for most of my characters or that I plan them out from Level 1 through Level 20 in advance. But I do like the flexibility and control to write my own story. Look at Plaguestone: I was pretty much locked in on the Blade Ally as Brixley’s champion boon, and the story dropped the coolest steed in the world into my lap. If I had Steve controlling part of my character, would I have had the flexibility to make that choice?

That said, I have to admit Hap’s development has opened my eyes to the possibilities a little bit. Now I find myself at least a little intrigued about the idea of having things you don’t know about your own character and may give it a try in a future campaign. If nothing else, it’s more. We all start out wanting to be star athletes or astronauts, and then life has a way of telling you what you’d actually be good at. Why wouldn’t it be that way in a fantasy world as well?

Now, I do think this ought to have some boundaries. I think core class abilities ought to always be chosen by the player. I think it’s one thing to add “flavor” to a character; I think it’s another to just give someone else control of how your character functions in the core game. (By which I mean combat, mostly.) When it comes to feats… maybe. Ancestry feats are a solid choice because those are things you got from your parents and it really isn’t under your control. General and skill feats are more hit-and-miss because a lot of feats are learned as you go, and it would be weird to add a feat you LITERALLY never worked on or thought about taking. “We’ve literally NEVER been near a body of water, but I decided your character became an Olympic swimmer”.

On the other hand, you CAN throw it all to the wind. Let me briefly tell you about Nim, Bob Markee’s character in the Iron Gods campaign (pre-podcast days). Nim was some sort of techno-magical construct – humanoid in appearance, but an empty vessel when we found him. When Chris and I found his… pod, I guess… NIM decided our characters were his “parents” so he literally took his cues for developing his character – feats, spells, EVERYTHING – from things Chris and I expressed as we played. It started with alignment, choice of god, etc., and just snowballed from there. So if we said we needed more healing, he’d take a healing spell at his next level. If we expressed concern about his social skills, he’d train in Diplomacy. He pretty much let the party drive almost his ENTIRE character build and played the character that resulted. He chose the class (Sorcerer) and there were a few times where if we didn’t express a preference, he chose something for himself, but it was one of the more impressive displays of “committing to the bit” I’ve ever seen.

Now, I realize the Hap reveal kinda dominated the episode this week, but I did want to briefly tip the cap to Vanessa’s roleplaying of Alhara’s confidence crisis. We’re so used to Alhara as the ultra-competitive “oh yeah, not if I kill him first!” attitude that it was an interesting change of pace to hear her sound discouraged and even aware of her mortality. It’ll be interesting to see if this is going to be “short-term pep talk” territory or if Vanessa will play around with that and make Alhara more cautious in future battles.

Also, I’d like to go on record as being with Team “Hat Or No Hat, Gibzip Can Die In A Fire”. There’s NO circus act that’s worth continuing to put up with that whiny little…

Sorry, where was I?

Next week… it feels like confronting Mistress Dusklight before the Celestial Menagerie skips town might be the next thing to do, especially now that we know all these new truths about Hap. Although there is still that one room in the temple they didn’t go into. Do we go back for one more round?  Or is it time to get back to circus-ing? I guess we’ll find out next week. While you wait, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|06: All Roads Lead to Loans

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|06: I’m Mary Poppins Y’all.

I’d like to start this week’s column by thanking Steve for ruining simulation gaming for me forever.

OK, not really. But he raises an interesting point in his pre-show notes, one I wanted to dwell on for a few minutes, and it’s the ability of gaming to “dress up” the rather mundane tasks people do on a day-to-day basis and repackage them as something different and entertaining. Particularly when it comes to simulation-based gaming. Put me in front of an Excel spreadsheet of random numbers, I’ll doze off in five minutes. But if those numbers represent, say, the salary and scoring numbers for free agent left wings for my fictional hockey team, I can spend an hour rolling them around my brain and possibly even dream about them in my sleep.

Think about the granddaddy of them all… Civilization. In its premise, you’re a world leader building your people up from the Stone Age all the way to space travel. I AM CAESAR. WITNESS THE POWER OF THE WHEEL! But if you really boil down the essence of what you’re doing, you’re mostly managing resources and queuing jobs: time, money, and other build resources. That’s right… Sid Meier managed to put a really fancy front-end onto Microsoft Project. (OK, Sid gets some credit for doing this before Project even existed, so props for that, but still… at the end of the day, he built an entire genre around making busy-work engaging.)

And so we come to the first part of this week’s episode. In moments of calm, one could quibble that in a high-fantasy medieval setting, a police station probably wouldn’t have an hours-long queue to get information on a prisoner. Heck, the modern service-oriented economy hadn’t been invented yet, so they probably wouldn’t even have desk sergeants and file clerks waiting to deal with requests from the public. It would probably just be a bunch of random soldiers in a glorified barracks with some cells in the basement and you’d just go tackle whichever guard was free at the moment.

But this being a game, we’re gonna play with the premise of modern bureaucracy. In return, we actually get something cool and amusing out of it, as poor Lo Mang wastes an entire day to find out the Token Guard let Quidley the goblin go. Don’t get me wrong… I wanted to find that goblin because he represented our best chance to firm up the Penny and Sphinx as the target of the robbery. But maybe the fact that he already got sprung implies he had friends – dare I say “accomplices” — come get him… even if it’s to keep him from talking. In a sense, maybe the fact that he got sprung so quickly reinforces the idea that this is our guy.

Meanwhile, the other major thrust of this episode involves pretty much ruling out Ovingott’s as the target. We finally decide to suck it up and pull an all-nighter, and it turns out the vandalism is just a couple of kids who were paid to do it by… wait for it… Chadaxa. After a little poop-related humor, we come to find out that the banker’s son got in over his head with a loan and hasn’t paid it back, and so they’re sending the son a message.

First… I have to admit I kinda forgot the banker had a son. Or perhaps, I got confused because the Penny and Sphinx guy ALSO has a (step-)son. Nepotism, man. Maybe I mixed up the two in my head. Or maybe we just got a little bit of tunnel vision and locked in on the institution of the bank rather than the people that worked there. But I’ll admit I hadn’t considered the son as the source of the hijinx so it’s good to have that resolved.

As an adventure design thing, this kind of illustrates the “most roads lead to Rome” approach. If you think about the six leads we were originally given, #5 was Chadaxa herself, and #1 (vandalism at Ovingott’s) and #6 (dealing with the smuggling ring) would’ve led back to her anyway. So fully half the leads wound up at the same basic place, and if a party had decided to tackle them in a different order, they still would’ve wound up in roughly the same place.

So now the question is how should we handle the Ovingott situation. It’s a little more of a grey area because we’re not actually the officers with jurisdiction here. We were hired because THOSE guys didn’t do their job. In this context, we’re almost more like private investigators, just ones that also happen to be real cops. And at its heart, the crimes being committed are minor and the REAL issue is a family matter between the father and son.

Turning it over to the Token Guard would accomplish nothing; at most, they’d focus on the vandalism and cause trouble for Chadaxa and the kids while doing nothing about the core issue of the son’s debt. We can honor our deal with the father and tell him what’s going on. Or we can let the whole matter slide and hope the son pays Chadaxa back. Right now I’m leaning toward just telling the dad, though maybe that’s more Basil talking than Jason. Basil’s about the law and you can’t really run a bank and have an embezzlement risk working for you. Also, some of it is just impatience to get it off the books once and for all, and we can get on to protecting the Penny and Sphinx.

(As a reminder: the whole point of the visit to the third bank was to show that it had badass security and was pretty much impervious to attack. If they can stop creatures that can plane-shift, pretty sure grunt-level humanoids won’t pose much of a threat to them.)

So next week, we’ll clean up the situation at Ovingott’s and get ready for the final heist. I have to admit I’m excited… you just get the feeling this is going to be another big set-piece with lots of weird twists and turns to it. They stole an elevator, they have access to weird demon shit… pretty sure it’s not just going to be three guys in trench coats running in and saying “gimme all your money!”.

But we’ll find out for real next week. (Or MAYBE the week after… at the risk of giving a minor spoiler, there may or may not be a full episode of material before the heist starts, depending on how Steve edits things.) While you’re waiting, feel free to come 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|21: Running on Empty

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|21: We’re Fine With Being Stupid.

In this week’s visit to the circus, we have a bit of a rarity for our show. I’m not going to say a “unique” situation, because it’s PROBABLY happened before; I just can’t remember the last time. What I’m speaking of, of course, is Alhara’s brush with death due to multiple stacking damage-over-time effects and cutting the healing so close that they had to stay in rounds while the party put together enough healing resources to keep Alhara on her feet. How close was it? If it was the NFL, we were this close to a 20-minute replay review.

Over the last few months/years, both of our shows have gotten kinda cozy with the Handwave Heal. The battle ends, assume healing occurs, move on. And that model works 80, 90 percent of the time. But a situation like this has always been a possibility that’s been lurking just over the horizon. Poisons and diseases in Second Edition have some teeth to them, so it’s always been a statistical possibility that someone might end a combat with multiple DOTs on them and close to death’s door. (And in this case, we had the added dimension that Alhara had already used her Hero Point, so Dying 4 would’ve been a one-way ticket.)

I can certainly remember people dropping without a Hero Point, but without extra damage sources ticking: heck, that’s our bread and butter. We’ve even had some messy poisons and diseases to deal with across our various games; Darius, in particular, seems to be a magnet for them. But this was legit “brush with death” territory – I didn’t sit down and map out every die roll, but there was a window there where high damage rolls and low heal rolls could have very easily spelled the end of poor Alhara.

(And OK… I was surprised by how calm Vanessa was about the whole thing. I’d have been freaking out, but Vanessa was either unmoved or doing a VERY good job of hiding it.)

The first knee-jerk reaction would be to blame the decision to push through one more room with limited resources, but I don’t think that’s particularly fair. Or at least it’s certainly not the whole story. It is true that when you go for one more room like that, it’s easier to sustain party damage (cantrips still go boom) whereas healing and support resources can’t be replenished as easily. So if you’re looking for a reason there wasn’t more healing available… yeah, I guess you can point to that. But if we’re being honest, MOST of the team’s struggles against the spiders came from rolling like crap for the first 2/3rds of the fight… for attack rolls AND saving throws against the various effects. This could’ve been the first fight of a new day, with a brand new stock of spells and consumables, and if you roll a bunch of single-digit rolls, it’s gonna be a bad day at the office. And it wasn’t like they had ZERO healing at the end; they collectively had some potions, and there was the option to push the wand past its limit.

I think the worst I can say on the tactics front is that they should’ve initially approached the body more carefully, but even that’s one of those things that’s easy to say with 20/20 hindsight. And heck, if we’re doing this same scenario in Edgewatch, you KNOW Dougie’s grabbing that body too.

Speaking of the spiders… like Ateran, I did remember that these were the same sorts of spiders they fought in the original Aroden temple at the end of Book 1. One thing I noticed is that the spiders from Book 1 didn’t seem to have the crystal effect; I find myself wondering if it was just dumb luck that they didn’t land it, or if those were less mature versions of the creature that didn’t have that power in their stat block yet. I suppose it could’ve been a “lesser” vs. “adult” spider thing because I don’t even especially remember Steve asking people to make saves. On the other hand, I also vaguely recall that battle being the reverse of this one, where the party front-loaded a bunch of crits and took them out quickly. So we may not have seen that ability just because they weren’t alive long enough to use it.

(Also, were these the same spiders we fought in the bank vault in Edgewatch? Those were babies, and were further prevented from phasing by a magic barrier, so they were almost just regular spiders, but still… I guess those spiders are pretty popular back at the Paizo mothership.)

It’s actually that phasing ability that intrigues me more. Theoretically, those spiders can grab a victim and phase back to their home plane with them. How do you deal with THAT? It’s a pretty powerful “divide and conquer” move to begin with, and as Vanessa points out, even if you win on their home turf, how do you get home again? So even as beat-to-crap as Alhara got, it’s actually not that hard to envision a scenario where this fight goes a lot worse.

Luckily for our heroes, the dice luck finally comes around in the final third of the fight, as Darius performs some of his trademark destructions, and even good old Riley lands a crit. GOOD BOI! And then it’s the race against time to keep Alhara from dropping. Like I said earlier, a forensic reconstruction of the individual die rolls is more effort than I care to put into things, but if those crystals had the potential to hit for 2d10… she HAD to be right on the edge for a round or two.

Through a combination of dumb luck and skillful use of their remaining resources, Alhara survives and is reunited with her bo staff (and OK, Ateran as well), but she’s beat to a pulp (my go-to imagery here is Dark Helmet after performing the emergency stop from Ludicrous Speed) and now the party is really-REALLY out of resources for the day. So time to go back to the tents and heal up for next week, I assume. I’m a little fuzzy on the next steps here. Confront Mistress Dusklight? Go back to the sages? Another visit to Hamlin’s Hots? (PLEASE… yes.) I guess we’ll find out next time. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|05: We Make Holes In Thieves

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|05: They Never Miss…

Is Steve calling us stupid? I think he’s calling us stupid.

To be fair, he’s not totally wrong. Collectively as a group, we’re very much about moving the plot from A to Z, and sometimes we kinda get impatient and blow through the exposition scenes. To borrow the appropriate Seinfeld reference, we “yada yada yada” a bit more than we should. Guilty as charged. The part about showing up at a final boss fight not really remembering why we’re supposed to be there… yes, that has totally happened before.

To be fair, part of the issue is that Bob Markee was traditionally our dedicated scribe and Plot Summarizer, so I’ve been pushed into a new role on the fly here. Bob was meticulously on the ball and could often summarize the action better than Steve could. Me… not so much. So at the risk of sounding defensive, I would like to say that I DO take notes; I feel like it dovetails with Basil’s role of “investigator” to do so. However, I think there have been times where maybe I haven’t latched on to what’s important about a particular conversation, so sometimes my notes are a little incomplete or focus on the wrong things. Also, as a secondary logistical thing, sometimes Steve just dumps stuff in the “handouts” channel in Discord, and rather than copy them to my Word doc, I just leave them there, which works… but there’s a delay while I realize that was one of the Discord notes instead of Word-Doc notes and I have to go looking for it.

So… yes we’re idiots. But we’re also trying to do better. Like Mr. Data, I’m attempting to evolve beyond my programming. Honest.

This week’s episode gives us the continuation of the warehouse fight. One of the main things that frustrates me about this episode was Pierson Droan being able to destroy the evidence before we reached him. But the reason I was frustrated when I was playing and the reason I was frustrated when listening were totally different.

When we were playing, I’ll admit that I felt like we should’ve gotten the evidence, and not doing so was at least a partial failure. But going back and thinking about it, I think I’m more frustrated at the mission design; that there wasn’t really a good chance to even GET the journals the way the encounter was set up. MAYBE if we’d gone in one of the side doors and gotten directly to Droan’s office, we could’ve done it, but with a frontal assault, there was just too much to fight. Also, an off-handed clue about “check out the globe in this dude’s office” kinda undersold the importance of the evidence; “hey, he keeps two sets of books and if we could recover those, dude would pretty much go away for life” might have put more of a spotlight on the books and suggested a totally different tactical approach.

Let’s say we know more explicitly that there’s evidence we want to preserve. If that’s the case, maybe we look for one of the doors that’s not guarded and try to sneak in that way. Or Dougie goes in as part of a stealth mission or Gomez goes in as part of a schmooze mission (Bluff/Intimidate/etc.) and tries to figure out where Droan’s office is before we rush the joint. So part of this is the guard captain’s fault for basically hiring us to be muscle instead of explaining it as a finesse job.

At the end of the day, we did the job we were contracted to do. We knocked some heads. It’s just the job itself could’ve been defined more clearly.

When it came to Seth’s line of interrogation… I can see both sides of this one, and it really comes down to whether this is a regular business that happens to be run by crooks, or more of an organized crime operation that happens to have some civilians working there. If it’s more of a business operation… people have shit to do and they’re not always where you think they’re going to be. To pick an example, at my job, I have an intern bullpen and a makerspace near my office, but I couldn’t tell you how many people were in either place. On the other hand, if it’s got more of an organized military bearing, yes, I’d expect Delta Team to know that Alpha Team has the docks tonight, Echo is patrolling the exterior, and Bravo is out on a delivery. And yeah, they’d probably know if their boss was in the building.

That said, I could’ve done without Seth throwing us under the bus with the “you guys aren’t coming up with any questions” when Steve overruled his line of questioning. For me, it got back to our role as muscle; we were there to arrest bad guys, so other than “where are the bad guys?” I didn’t really have any questions. Figured the guard captain would handle that stuff once we cleared the place out.

The remaining fights themselves weren’t that rough, especially once we healed back up to full. Droan was a little tough to hit, but he didn’t seem to have the same corresponding nastiness on offense. (I mean, yeah, he hit well, but no lightning or acid or crap like that.) So… numbers ultimately win out and it’s a pinata party. With the fight on the docks, the surprise appearance of the bunyip was really the only thing that added a wrinkle; otherwise, it was just another round of the grunt-level smugglers we’d dealt with fairly effectively up to that point. Though, OK, I love the fact that the bunyip was also named “Dougie”. It clearly needs to replace Sharky as the group mascot.

So we finish our task with aplomb, and even though Droan burns the books, we still get full credit for the assignment. Chadaxa is going to get her clean slate to work the festival, and hopefully, she’ll give us some information that will prove useful to our investigation of the bank job. (See. I DO pay attention.) But that… will be next week’s adventure. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|20: Magic is in the Air

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|20: Lizard Wizard!

I suppose the big development of this week’s episode is that Mistress Dusklight just graduated from lower-case “evil” to “Evil With A Capital E”. I mean, don’t get me wrong… she was always kind of an asshole and a recurring thorn in the collective paw of our group, but our major revelation of the week is that Mistress Dusklight was not only at the temple but was even working in league with the xulgaths. I mean… dude… they’re doing sacrifice rituals and infesting the pool with gibbering mouthers, and she’s breaking out the damn Chex Mix and playing cards with them.

The missing link – at least for the moment – is how deep this possible alliance runs. Is she literally working with the xulgaths insofar as she also wants to sabotage the protective stones? Or was she pursuing some other goal and working with the xulgaths happened to align with her short-term goals? Based on Givzib’s statement that she “tricked” the xulgaths, it doesn’t sound like they’re truly arm-in-arm, so was it something as banal as raising extra money? Or maybe the artifacts she took from the temple had some OTHER relevance that we have yet to figure out.

It’s a lot to think about. Meanwhile, we still have a couple of fights to plow through in this episode. First up, we have the rare caster opponent, with one of the brutes from the previous xulgath battle serving as a bodyguard and a quasit doing… well… nothing, really. This fight ends up being fairly easy for everyone except poor Hap (HAP GOES ZAP!): a crit on a 5d12 lightning bolt coupled with Hap’s own status as a squishy caster-type provides for a close call with a one-shot. (Feel free to imagine Hap’s skeleton lighting up like in a classic Warner Bros cartoon.) So Hap’s gotta play it safe for a while, but the rest of the team is still in good enough shape to go beat the tar out of the remaining enemies.

At the end of the fight, the quasit sees which way the wind is blowing and surrenders. First, we learn its name is Givzib. Repeatedly. It’s got the annoying habit of referring to itself in the third person. Givzib then provides us with the revelation about Mistress Dusklight – that she provided the xulgaths with humanoids for their demon-summoning. Toward the end of the exchange, we raise the possibility that Givzib may also end up as part of the circus act, and we go on a bit of a deep-dive on the evils of capitalism. (Mark Givzib down for the $15 minimum wage, clearly.)

We also have a new entry from our Department of Bespoke Magical Items… the Ringmaster Staff. Basically, it’s a staff where the spells have a common theme of showmanship. Its passive effect is to amplify the user’s voice, but it also has spells like dancing lights and feather fall that can be used as a budget CGI kit for enhancing circus performances. The spell mix isn’t exactly A-list for combat – no direct damage – but the schedule so far hasn’t really suggested that’ll be a problem. Attune to the Ringmaster Staff on performance day; attune to your combat staff other days.

(As an aside: I assume the voice effect can be turned off and on, right? It would really suck if it always amplified the user’s voice and monsters 300 feet away could hear Ateran whispering tactical plans. GET READY, TEAM, WE’LL KICK OPEN THIS DOOR AND SURPRISE THEM!)

After this brief interlude and some Handwave Healing, the party resumes their search of the temple and finds the second fight of the session. Four xulgaths: three grunts and a caster type, and Givzib’s inability to shut up costs them any chance at surprise. This time, the overall challenge was a little rougher, and it was Alhara’s turn in the grinder since most of the early attacks focused on her. You didn’t get a sense of fear exactly, but our heroes did get pretty loose with the hero points and even broke out a few big-gun spells, so it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either.

That does have its benefits, though. I suppose part of what made this fight fun is it wasn’t just another direct-damage beatdown: we saw some stuff we either hadn’t seen at all before or hadn’t seen in a while. This batch of xulgaths have an added ability where they can inject their stink as a poison, Ateran shows us what a heightened cast of magic missile can accomplish, both sides try to slip some blindness into the mix, and we get a (re)-appearance the old Karvasilon family favorite, Spiritual Weapon. It’s good to see the challenges growing and evolving, as opposed to fighting the same cannon-fodder for four levels, only now they get green helmets.

We also get an uncomfortably detailed description of Darius’ thighs, for some reason. HENCEFORTH ALL SHALL KNOW HIM AS THE THIGHMASTER. Beyond that, let us never speak of it again.

So the party emerges from the second fight fairly unscathed and gets a little more treasure and a little more lore dump. On the good side, we get another bespoke circus-themed magic item: a handkerchief that can transform into an invisible safety net. OK… circus aside, that one’s kinda cool. If Basil didn’t already have wings, I’d have to pick me up one of those. On the more ominous side, there was a human sacrifice in the room that had some sort of mark on it that dissipated on death, but it suggests that it was in the process of transforming into something worse. So the captain will be turning on the THAT CAN’T BE GOOD sign for the remainder of the temple exploration.

Next week… it seemed like there’s still more temple complex to explore, and Givzib’s headcount suggests there are still more xulgaths to find as well. And those spiders he mentioned. But I guess we’ll tackle all of that next time. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|04: Spray And Pray

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|04: Crit-O-Matic.

I suppose I have to start this week with a mild apology for the delays of the last few weeks. Last week was a bit of a technical glitch – I thought I had sent the column in but something went haywire and it didn’t send. So I spent all day thinking I sent it, and Steve was too polite to nag me. This week, it’s vaccine-related: I got my second vaccine last Thursday which slapped me around for a couple of days and then spent Sunday and Monday playing catchup on multiple fronts. (Though I did think about antagonizing Steve by claiming I was at the Mets game.) So… unless I disturbed some ancient burial grounds and this is a permanent state of affairs, hopefully we’ll get things back to normal in the coming weeks.

This week’s episode is one of my favorites: the Chaotic Running Battle, and as I go back and listen to this, what strikes me about this fight is the way in which Second Edition shines as opposed to First Edition. Remember how much Attacks of Opportunity just DOMINATED the conversation in First Edition? You have this big battlefield… characters with mobility feats… and in First Edition it all goes to waste because neither side wants to give up free attacks. So the two teams line up face to face – melees up front, casters in the back – and plink away until someone drops. If you’re lucky, MAYBE one or two characters slowly make their way around the edges of the fight to threaten the flanks, but not too often.

Meanwhile, put this same fight into Second Edition it’s just… glorious chaos. Bad guys fleeing in and out of different exits as they start taking damage, Lo Mang using all his leaping feats… it’s both sides are operating in “find someone and punch ‘em” bar-room brawl mode. Even as I’m focusing on ranged damage in this fight, with (likely) no Attacks of Opportunity to disrupt me, I can wander the battlefield finding better firing positions in a way I wouldn’t previously have done. In First Edition, the golden rule would ALWAYS have been to keep a meat shield between me and the bad guys.

It’s true that, yes, we’re entering the levels where Attacks Of Opportunity are starting to come into play of our opponents, but I remember doing a skim of one of the Bestiary books, and AoOs seem to operate similarly for monsters as they do for player characters. At level 6, it becomes a LITTLE more common, but still mostly for characters that were “tanky” and melee-forward. So when it comes to humanoids (or putting it in terms of this fight), the boss or sub-boss might have access to an Attack of Opportunity, but an archer or caster humanoid probably still won’t have them.

As the fight unfolds, the good news there’s still a distinct power advantage over the grunts: they’re getting lucky with their damage (particularly on Dougie), but even that’s just letting them keep things close; they’re not really in any danger of winning. Eventually, the dice luck starts to even out, and we clear the first room in pretty good shape.

So we decide to go for the next, larger room, and things get more interesting as the boss and his bugbear bodyguard join the fray. If you’re following the action, Dougie is basically toe-to-toe with Overseer Kepse, Lo Mang is basically dealing with goblin adds, and the boss is off to the north… at first, not doing THAT much beyond the initial smokestick. Speaking of which, the other issue is that between that smokestick and the shape of the room (with extensions that go off to the east and north), Gomez and I have to manage sightline issues to stay relevant in the fight. It never takes us out of the fight entirely but there were rounds where we didn’t have a lot of choices in terms of how we could help out.

Results are mixed at first. On the good side, Lo Mang is taking care of the adds pretty easily, and they’re not putting much damage on him. On the flip side, Dougie not only gets dropped, but then I arguably play it too cautious and fail a flat check to apply Battle Medicine to him. We’re at a point where things could go either way: if we can get Dougie up, it mostly becomes a 4-v-1 pinata party, but if the bugbear can get into us squishies, we may need to send someone running for the theoretical cavalry waiting outside.

And then, I finally get a big round where all my tricks come together, and it almost singlehandedly takes Kepse out of the fight. My first ever cast of Color Spray puts Kepse on her heels (stunned and blind), and then a successful fight and a dose of spider venom applies a d10 of damage every round.. above-and-beyond making her flat-footed to everyone for the foreseeable future. Which is… however long it takes Dougie to get back onto his feet and smack her out of the fight for good.

At this point, the momentum swings for good. We go through another round of combat… and when the wheel comes back to me… I don’t know if it’s meta-gamey, or just acknowledging the swing in the action – consider that he just missed me three times and then I critted him —  but since Kepse was described in our mission briefing as the “bodyguard”, I figured maybe this “boss” isn’t that great a fighter and might surrender if we offer him the chance. So… offer made… and after a final encouraging zap from Gomez, he accepts. Victory!

That doesn’t mean the overall is totally over. There are several rooms that haven’t been explored yet, and this guy isn’t the named boss (Pierson Droan) with the “interesting globe” in his office. Nor have we found any proof of the smuggling that’s going on… if you want to get technical. But this fight was at least taxing enough we’ll take a real short rest before tackling the rest of the complex. Gotta at least slap some duct tape on Dougie’s wounds.

And I guess that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|19: You Can’t Handle The Krooth!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|19: Puff the Magic Krooth.

OK, I’m gonna start this Talking with a note of personal bragging. By the time you read this (like, literally… my appointment is today), I should probably have a second dose of Moderna in my arm. One step closer to whatever normal looks like, right? I suppose it’s at least show-related in the sense that it’s a step closer to getting back to in-person conventions and maybe restarting my in-person home game and all that goodness. I don’t know. Progress feels good and I’m excited, so I hope you aren’t rolling your eyes too much that I feel like shouting it from the rooftops a little.

While we’re talking about in-person conventions, the president of GenCon posted an update regarding how they’re planning to handle things so far. With the caveat “there’s still five months for things to change”, you can read it here. Cliff’s Notes: capped attendance, more spaces between exhibits, halls closed for 24-hour gaming so they can do overnight cleaning, but still planning on holding it. Also, they lose the Lucas Oil Stadium space just because moving to September conflicts with football season.

I’m going to actually start with the end of the episode because it was mentioned FIRST in the show notes, and Loren’s been low-key fretting in our group chat about what my reaction is likely to be… the “fight”. We’re calling that a fight? Really? I mean, if one person doesn’t threaten to quit, it hardly even counts, does it?

First, as Steve alluded to in the show notes, “our” group (the original Dead Suns/Edgewatch group) has had MUCH bigger blow-ups than that. Now, I tend to not be the center of many of our dust-ups – I’m the quiet Beatle, after all – but even I have gotten salty once or twice. I’ll just say my big personal red-line is people being too aggressive about telling me what to do. I don’t mind a suggestion like “delay until after me so I can buff” but if you’re basically playing my character for me, that’s when I get a little ornery.

When it comes to the Bag of Holding “fight”, I think there were two different arguments here, but the first was mostly just a rules clarification. At one point it SOUNDED like Steve was saying some spells cast into the bag affected everyone and other spells only affected one pocket dimension, but that wasn’t really what he was saying. First, at least when it came to the fireballs, I think he was just generally joking. But even for the other spells, it was more like “if you buff yourself before you enter, yeah, that buff stays with you, but if you cast a spell on someone already inside, it’s a crapshoot whether you can actually target them”. So I think that one cleared itself up once Steve explained it better.

The more big-picture question is whether the idea of using the bag as transportation itself was tactically sound or cheesy. Setting aside the “Did That Ever Happen On T.J. Hooker?” test, I can see why Loren felt it was sketchy, but I do ultimately side with Steve.

The game has a pretty rich history of using extra-dimensional space in weird ways. It was only a month ago Ateran made a magical freakin’ candy house, and we didn’t hear any complaints about that. Heck, for a more apples-to-apples comparison, I’d point to the spell Rope Trick. It’s a 4th level spell (2nd-level back in First Edition) that creates an extradimensional space at the top of a rope. You climb up the rope and there’s a little space you can hang out in and take your long rest in safety. So other than the fact that the bag of holding is a smaller space, there’s ample precedent that people can live in extra-dimensional space for short periods of time. If the GM wants to say there’s only a certain amount of air, so you can’t stay in there for long, that’s fair. But the tactic as a whole seems sound.

That said, when I was listening, my concerns were more related to the inconsistent definition of bulk. On one hand, the “general” rules on bulk start by saying one unit of bulk is 5-10 pounds. So that would put a 200-pound human at 20 bulk. On the other hand, there’s a later table that specifies that a Medium creature (aka most humanoids) are explicitly listed as 6 bulk. That’s a pretty large difference. And the bag’s capacity is 25 bulk.

So you see the problem. If you use the “humanoid = Medium creature = 6 Bulk” definition, it’s tight but everyone fits. If you use the “1 Bulk = 10lb” definition, there’s no way all three of those characters fit at the same time. Alhara and Ateran are each probably 1-something, and Darius is built like an NFL linebacker, and those guys are north of 200 pounds/20 Bulk. So it’s either a flat 18 bulk or “anywhere from 40-50”, depending on how you interpret the rule. So I can at least see why it might’ve made Loren’s Spider-Sense go off. Of course, you could also get around that by making multiple trips, but nobody mentioned that option at the time.

And OK… maybe the size of the aperture matters too. Is the Bag Of Holding a big ol’ potato sack, or is it more like a designer backpack? If the former… yeah, jump on in. If the latter… good luck entering and exiting through an aperture that’s probably narrower than the average set of humanoid shoulders.

I think at the end of the day, I’m OK with this as a tactic, as long as it doesn’t turn into a Get Out Of Circumstances Free card… that there’s SOME sort of cost or risk associated with it. If you’re putting your team in the bag and throwing them past hazards willy-nilly, yeah, it does start to get a little stupid. Which is why there should be SOME sort of downside to keep it in check. In this case, the cost was that Hap had to use a fairly powerful magical resource (the flight spell) to make the tactic work. If you’re going to put your friends in a bag and throw it to the other side of an uncrossable chasm, there ought to be a chance (even if it’s small) you short the throw and they fall in. Or maybe the consequence is that there’s an N percent chance the bag can’t handle the strain and permanently breaks. Things like that. I think it only becomes a problem if it becomes an “I Win” button with zero drawbacks or consequences.

Circling back around to the beginning of the episode, that fight with the krooth was kind of interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, I was a LITTLE surprised they bailed on the fight SO quickly. I thought they’d give it a few rounds before retreating. But to be fair, I guess it wasn’t so much a full Sir Robin “Run Away!” retreat as it was luring it to a place where the fight would be on more even terms, and then they happened to switch over to blocking the door when it was proving to be a nastier customer than expected. It’s totally valid that they wouldn’t don’t want to deal with the krooth and the effects of the extra-planar gas at the same time.

The other thing I wrestled with a little is “was it too meta-gamey on their part to let the summon spell expire”? And I’m going to say no for two reasons. First, they seemed relieved and surprised it worked. So either they didn’t realize it was going to expire and it was a surprise to them anyway, or they had the idea but weren’t quite sure it was going to work. In either case, it didn’t seem like they built their entire plan around surviving 10 rounds; they just lucked out. I’ll also give it to them BECAUSE you’ve got two casters in the party, and didn’t Hap used to have a summon spell at one point? (I seem to recall her summoning some useless creature that immediately got one-shotted.) It seems legit that if you can use something, you’d recognize it when it’s used against you.

The other major moving part in this episode is the guardian statue and the door. Based on another campaign with a similar puzzle, I kind of half-expected that one could disarm the statue by posing as a follower of Aroden. So other than some damage from unfortunate turn order, that part of the puzzle is solved. But how do they get past the door? Based on the broken door pieces scattered throughout the room, it looks like somehow breaking the door is the answer, but how do you do that without pissing off the statue again? Giving the statue a command to open the door didn’t seem to accomplish much, but maybe it’s a matter of having the right command. Or… to borrow from video games… is this a thing where you have to make the statue mad, stand in front of the door and taunt the statue, and then dodge the punch so he breaks the door for you? X, X, Triangle, Circle… win!

I guess we’ll find out the answer to all these questions next week, won’t we? 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|03: Basil Takes A Bow

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|03: Yak Shaving.

So I guess Basil’s an archer now! That’s… unexpected.

It’s not that I have anything against archery – beyond maybe a little bit of concern about encumbrance given Basil’s low strength – but there were two dynamics at work that made me a little hesitant to step up and claim it at first.

The first is I didn’t want to be greedy within the party. Basil just got Pratchett’s sword-cane, which was the single best piece of loot from the last adventure… a potency AND a striking rune, plus the ability to apply poison. Now we have a second magic weapon, and I’m going to take that too? It felt like a little bit much. Doubly so when I already have multiple (ammo-free) ranged options from magic: I’ve got Ray of Frost as my Wizard cantrip, Electric Arc as an ancestry ability, and Produce Flame as long as I have a hand free to use the Staff of Fire. That’s already a fair number of ammo-free options available to me.

(And OK… less altruistically, if an armor rune or a property rune for the sword-cane comes up later, it would be nice to be able to say “well, I haven’t gotten any new loot since the sword cane”. Always keep an eye on the long game.)

The other thing – and this is where we get into the more meta-conversation of the week – is it wasn’t particularly part of The Plan for Basil. When I see Basil in my brain, I see much closer to a brain-based swashbuckler, bobbing in and out of melee range, stabbing things with his sword cane, and that was going to be 90% of his job. Honestly, I’m not sure I really planned for a ranged attack beyond that Electric Arc I got from my ancestry feat. Even choosing to archetype into Wizard was a reluctant concession to the idea that we didn’t have much flexibility with three melee-dominant characters and only poor Gomez doing all the caster duties.

Thinking about my modus operandi in past gaming systems (First Edition, 5E, etc.), I don’t hard-plan every feat I’m going to take, but I do have a “mind’s eye” idea of the destination, and that tends to inform the choices en route. Now, rumor has it Chris Beemer will sometimes build his character from 1-20 before the adventure even starts, and I don’t go THAT far. But I do tend to “build backwards” from what I think the Level 20 character is “supposed” to look like. Endgame Basil wasn’t shooting arrows at people, so a bow didn’t seem “right” at first glance here at Level 5.

But I don’t know if it’s a function of Second Edition or I’m just changing as a gamer, but I’ve found myself to be far more flexible when it comes to 2E character builds. Back in Plaguestone, I was sure Brixley was going to go with the divine weapon option because it was the most immediately useful (free property rune…? Yes, please!) but then the adventure handed me the perfect steed in Ember (as long as I could handle the flames). Here… I didn’t think Basil would be shooting arrows at people, but the more I started thinking about it, it’s another damage option, and I am kind of the logical one to use it: Dougie and Lo Mang are supposed to be up front in melee and Gomez has slotted in as the healer and utility caster. That makes me DPS Guy, so how I apply that damage is kinda up to me. So I’ll at least take it for now; if it’s not helping, we can always transfer the rune and sell the bow.

The one other reason I decided to give it a try is that there are different types of ammo that can apply different statuses. They’re kind of expensive, and the DCs aren’t great, but keeping a few different “special” arrows in the quiver might be a way to pick up some added flexibility; think of them like scrolls that you don’t have to stop attacking to use. No giant boxing-glove arrow, though. Leave that one for the comics.

Now, skipping ahead to the end of the episode, I do realize we botch the rules on Devise A Stratagem at first. Basically, I stopped reading the text in parentheses a little too early. I got as far as “which must be agile or finesse”, got pouty, and didn’t finish reading out to “if it’s a melee weapon with the thrown trait”. So if you’re shooting a ranged weapon with ammo, Devise A Stratagem is fine (Bard v. Smaug is upheld); if you’re using something like a throwing axe or javelin, the weapon has to be agile/finesse. Don’t worry, though: if I remember out-of-game events correctly, I stew about it between sessions, re-read the passage, realize my mistake, whine at Steve, and we get it right going forward next week. (Spoilers!)

Meanwhile, more happened than JUST me getting a cool piece of loot. Honest.

The xill attack turns out to be a fairly easy fight just because we’ve got numbers. He doesn’t particularly have much in the way of special abilities, so it’s a slugfest, and while the xill’s attacks are no joke, Dougie’s maul tends to win those. The main takeaway of this fight is that we start to realize that this bank is PROBABLY not the one to get hit. If they have magical wards strong enough to keep extra-planar creatures from getting out of their vault, they’ve probably other equally nasty wards to take care of more pedestrian threats. It’s still a hunch for now, but we’re moving it down the list compared to the other two.

Our next task is tracking down the non-bank leads, starting with the (cue the Big Yellow Highlighter) WASTE OF TIME. And as we investigate, we get the “or so it seems” moment, where the fire was really designed to distract from the theft of a mechanical lift that was part of a float being stored there. (Said lift being too heavy for one person to move, which further rules out the ex.) It certainly sounds like such a lift COULD be incorporated into a bank heist, though it’s a little fuzzy exactly how it would work. Getting over the outer hedges at the second bank? An attack from the roof?

Now, the rest of the party seemed disinterested in sorting out the domestic situation and getting the husband to forgive his ex-wife, but that feels like Doing the Job instead of just playing Adventurers Who Are Also Cops. To me, convincing this guy to stop dumping his emotional baggage on his ex and local law enforcement seems like part of our responsibility, even if it doesn’t directly impact catching the bank robbers, whereas the others were mostly “got the info, let’s move on”. But we finally talk the guy down, he accepts that his ex didn’t REALLY burn down his barn, and we can move along.

The rest of the episode… Steve describes this as “Yak Shaving”. My analogy of choice is the Star Trek DS9 episode where Jake and Nog attempt to sell a case of self-sealing stembolts: they have to trade it to person A, but person A really wants something person B has, who really wants something person C has and so on. In this case, Chadaxa the money-lender is willing to help us out if we clear up some of her legal woes, but her legal woes are controlled by the same guard captain who needs our help with the smuggling ring (which was also Task #6 on our list anyway). So if we clear out the smuggler’s den, she’ll clear Chadaxa to operate during the festival, who will sort through our leads and give us some clearer guidance (we hope). It’s also another example of “all roads lead to Rome” by the game designers: if you somehow skipped Chadaxa and dealt with the smugglers first, you’d help disperse the smuggling ring, at which point the captain would owe you a favor; then when you went to Chadaxa, you’d already have the favor in-pocket and just need to call it in.

So of course we’re gonna go fight some smugglers. Even though “bugbear bodyguard” is one of those phrases you’d rather not hear in a mission brief. But hey… this is what we do. Only now one of us does it with arrows!

And that’s where we pick it up 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 S2|18: What if God Was One of Us?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|18: Ateran’s Pantheon.

Well… we got a whole truckload of lore on the loading docks this week, and we now have a sketch of the main conflict underlying the whole adventure path. Aroden “stole” the xulgaths’ magic rocks (according to them… though even the sages corroborate parts of that story) and gave them to the surface-dwellers, and the xulgaths are now using Aroden’s absence to extract some revenge. Which means the meta-adventure (when our crew is not circus-ing) will be to find the remaining towers and protect the aeon-stones-on-steroids.

First, the whole thing is just such a jarring change coming so close on the heels of Hamlin’s Hots. Let’s just put that out there. I mean, a week ago, and even briefly at the start of this episode, we were joking around about business models so preposterously rigid and family relationships so dysfunctional that no sane person would ever eat at ANY of these restaurants; this week, we’re talking about everyone’s favorite god possibly being kind of a dick and betraying underworld creatures for the benefit of humans and other surface-dwellers.

In fact, that’s one of the single most interesting dynamics of this week’s episode: the opportunity to consider things from the monsters’ perspective is a pretty rare thing. We tend to fall into the mode where adventurers represent good and monsters represent evil, and ne’er the twain shall meet. SOME adventure paths traffic in moral ambiguity, but not many. Certainly in the Edgewatch game, we didn’t stop to consider WHY the hotel manager was murdering his patrons; we just put a stop to it. And that’s USUALLY the default mode these games operate in.

In this case, we have to consider the possibility that “our” side might be in the wrong. If you think about Aroden, two important things to remember are that a) he was/is a man elevated to the status of godhood by his contact with the Starstone, so humanity is his “home team” and b) per alignment, he’s Lawful Neutral… so he’s not automatically “good”. So of course he’s going to use his powers for the benefit of his people and it’s entirely possible that grinding a bunch of under-dwellers between the gears is just part of the cost of doing business to him. So there may be more than a little truth to the xulgaths’ side of the story.

To quote Mitchell and Ness… “are we the baddies?” And if so, how will our party navigate those waters when they get there?

The other thing that set me off down a bit of a rabbit hole was something Hap said when she questioned the purpose of the gods. I realize this is deeper waters than I usually swim in, but it got me thinking about “faith” in the context of these sorts of games. What role does “faith” play when evidence of “miracles” is everywhere around you… possibly even commonplace?

In many religions, there’s this concept of the “leap of faith”. Your logical brain can’t prove something is true, but you give yourself over to it and believe it anyway. But here in Golarion, the most faithful adherents of a faith have almost godlike powers, and the gods themselves (in some cases) walk the mortal world. There’s nothing to “believe” because it’s self-evident. I mean, if we woke up tomorrow here in the real world and Catholic priests could fling fireballs at people… I suspect a lot of people would convert to Catholicism, but then would it be “faith” anymore or just accepting what is evident?

But then again, flip that argument back around on itself. Yeah, the agents of your faith can perform these amazing “miracles”, but then again, so can a lot of other people that DON’T believe in the same god you do. As can dumb monsters that don’t believe in anything. Or you can buy a “miracle” at a store in wand or scroll form. Or have a bunch of people come over and cast a ritual like you were calling a plumber. What sort of effects would that have on people’s faith? What’s the value-add there? “You’re telling me I spent 20 years living this life, and a guy can go buy a freakin’ STICK that can do the same things I can? I’m outta here… at least Cayden Cailean will let me have a beer.”

It’s almost a different flavor of Clarke’s Third Law. Of course, Clarke’s Third Law was (paraphrasing) that advanced technology would appear to be magic to people who didn’t have that level of technology. Similarly, the proof that something is “divine” is their ability to do things that mortals can’t, so how much does their divinity diminish when mortals CAN do the same sorts of things they can? Is there some point at which “gods” risk becoming just the next most powerful listing in the Bestiary? WHAT USE DOES GOD HAVE FOR A STARSHIP?

And, OK, flipping all of that around and coming back to our story, wouldn’t the REAL faithful be the people who are still sticking with Aroden even through his diminishment? In the background lore, Aroden’s power is fading, many of his clerics have lost their ability to use magic, and a lot of his followers have defected to other gods (Iomedae being the main beneficiary). In that context, isn’t that where a true “act of faith” comes in? Sticking with the god whose existence you can no longer prove seems like a braver act than “I’m going with these guys because their Searing Light spells do an extra d6”.

Speaking of which: no, I am not volunteering to play a de-powered cleric of Aroden. At least not as a native class. MAYBE a melee class who USED to be a disciple of Aroden and learned to fight when his magical skills diminished, but a divine caster without spells to cast? Ummm… no. It might be tremendously interesting to roleplay, but the math in Second Edition is just too unforgiving for such a character to be viable. Might as well roll two characters… the low-wattage Aroden worshipper and the character you’ll be playing after that character gets pancaked.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s too deep a rabbit hole to venture into based on one throwaway comment, or maybe I’ll come back to it if PA ever legalizes weed (kidding, kidding… don’t do drugs, kids). But it’s interesting that I found myself thinking about these things that honestly, I’d never really reflected on before.

Or maybe we just need to get back to Hamlin’s Hots. Speaking of which… I’m with Rob. The bit only works if the brothers are 100% committed to the absurdity of their horrible business plans and dysfunctional family dynamics. The minute it becomes a marketing gimmick, it doesn’t have legs anymore, and it’s time to cut to the Terry Gilliam animation.

Anyway, sorry if this week’s entry was a little too esoteric. Next week we’ll get back to our ordinary shenanigans. 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 Bird’s Eye View S2|02: Three-Bank Monte

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|02: The Game’s Afoot!

My first reaction to this week’s episode is one of logistical amusement: specifically, at my off-hand remark that this was the first session of 2021. I was thinking about it, and this may be the furthest ahead we’ve ever gotten in terms of the difference between the record date and air date. For most of Dead Suns, and pretty much all of Black Lodge, it felt like 4-6 weeks was the sweet spot but here we are three… almost FOUR… months ahead. (I cheated and looked in my email, and I sent my Level 5 Basil to Steve on the 18th of January. Yes, that’s late in the month to be a “first” session, but to be fair, Steve and Seth both took vacations one right after the other).

Were we better about playing regularly because COVID took other options off the table? Has Steve gotten better on the post-production side in terms of turning raw footage into usable show content? Or is it just one of these “you flip a coin sometimes, every once in a while you still get 8 heads” coincidences?  Still… I knew we were out ahead a little ways, but I didn’t realize the gap had grown this large.

I suppose that explains why I’ve started to forget some pieces of these shows. Including the fact that Steve just gave us Level 5 for free. He doesn’t say this in his show notes, but I think it came down to re-establishing the flow of the show after the holidays. If you think about it, we were coming back off an almost month-long break from recording. We were PROBABLY only one or two encounters from leveling anyway, and when we level, it sometimes means we have to end that session early so we can do our N+1 characters. So I assume Steve probably decided that getting back into the rhythm was worth the “freebie” of making the next one or two encounters a little easier than they were originally going to be.

So we get Level 5, which is a big level… depending on how you define “big”. If you’re into major changes that redefine how your character plays, it’s actually not that dramatic – I’m looking at Basil, and his changes were an “only” skill feat and an ancestry feat. On the other hand, the cool thing about Level 5 is that the fundamentals all get stronger: you get your first set of ability score bumps, I think it’s the level at which you can start taking skills to Expert, and in Basil’s case, he gets an extra die of precision damage on Devise A Stratagem. (Also, casters get access to third-level spells, but since Basil is an archetype caster instead of it being his base class, his spells come later.) So everything still plays roughly the same; you’re just generally better at doing stuff across the board.

(Speaking of which, if there’s one thing I’ve been secretly excited for, it’s that a 12 Strength lets Basil wear better armor. When crits are so important to determining battle outcomes, every little bit of AC helps. Though on a fashion level, it’s a little disappointing to leave Pratchett’s tailored leather armor behind in favor of the Kirkland brand Chain Shirt.)

So we begin the detective work that’s going to shape the next several episodes. This is one of those things that – getting back to Steve’s show notes – I’m interested to see how it’s going to unfold. The Dreaming Palace was MOSTLY linear: Clue A led to Clue B which led to the hotel, which was a dungeon crawl. This mystery is a lot more open-ended and it’s more on us to choose which way to go and what questions to ask. Now… on a meta-level, there’s a sense that the game can’t afford to have us miss the clues entirely, so my Meta-Game Spidey-Sense thinks “all roads lead to Rome” eventually. On the other hand, when the whole backbone of the adventure path is an investigation, you can’t just hand-feed the answers to the party either because that’s an unsatisfying outcome. (Especially for me personally, as the Investigator… this is what my character was built for.)

Lacking any real sense that one clue was more important than the other, we decide to visit the banks in the order suggested by our boss. (If nothing else, it makes it easier to remember where we are across session breaks… just keep moving down the list.) So first we have Orvington Moneychangers, which is currently besieged by giant bees when we arrive. (AKA The encounter that might have leveled us up anyway.) This has all the feel of a classic warm-up fight. New book? Potentially new level? Start with a warm-up fight so you can get used to the new versions of your characters.

Now, I’ve made a few comments in this space in the past about teasing fellow players at the table, and here, we basically all crap on Chris for running away. So… does that make me a big hypocrite? And I’ll start by saying “maybe just a little”. But I’ll also offer a twofold partial defense. First, this is a long-running thing going back many campaigns and many characters – Chris has ALWAYS had a bit of a “self-preservation streak”, and we’ve ALWAYS teased him about it a little. I’d argue that a gaming group defines its own acceptable behavior over time, and Chris has had DECADES to say something if he’s bothered by it. (If anything, he usually laughs along with it and offers some variation of “of course I’m going to save myself”.) Second, I think it’s fair when it’s about Chris’ character actions, not about him as a person. Lo Mang is supposed to be this brave, tough monk, and Chris literally has him peace out mid-fight… I think that’s fair game for some gentle ribbing. I think if it crossed the line into attacks on Chris himself, that would be inappropriate, but commenting on the choices his character makes is just part of the game.

Having said all of that, I do think one still has to be careful… especially when bringing someone new into a group that might react differently than you expect… but I think in this case, given this is a group that’s been playing together a while and knows it’s all in jest, we’re on the safe side of whatever that line is.

Sorry… back to the bees. With the bees dealt with, we talk to the owner of the bank, and… it’s kinda hard to see this as the target of our investigation. The things going on here sound like petty vandalism, and if you were going to rob a bank, would you REALLY attract the attention of the authorities by vandalizing it first? It still might be worth further investigation to rule it out – or maybe the vandalism was a way of probing the bank’s defenses — but probably worth checking out the other two banks first.

Bank #2 is the Penny & Sphinx Trust, and here we stumble on something that seems like more of a clue, as they had a thwarted break-in fairly recently. Multiple people tried to break into the employee entrance, and a goblin named Quidley was even caught. I mean… THAT’S a lead worth following up on. If that’s not enough, there’s a ladder left lying around, which… OK, it could’ve been left by the gardener, but may have also been a way to get over the walls. Just eyeballing it, this feels like the stronger lead of the first two. On to the third.

The Stonesworn Savings And Loan seems pretty badass. In fact, you can almost talk yourself into the idea that the encounter with the spiders was designed to show off the magical wards and at least suggest this bank shouldn’t have any problem defending itself. However, just when we’re patting ourselves on the back for our ability to use a Comprehend Languages scroll well, we trip the second part of the encounter… an angry xill. I have vague memories of fighting a xill in one of our Starfinder Society games, and my recollection is that it wasn’t much fun.

How will the PF2 xill compare with the Starfinder one? Which bank should we focus our energy on? What about these other three leads? All good questions… but all questions we’ll have to come back to next week. While you wait, 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.