Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 33

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The Bird’s Eye View S2|13: All Or Nothing At All

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|13: Bring Me a Shrubbery!

Surprise, guys! Frontal assault’s canceled!

Up until the last minute, I REALLY thought we were eventually going to have to slug our way through this mess. That’s pretty much the way it goes with these adventure paths. At its core, Pathfinder is best when it’s a combat simulator, so I figured simulating combat was going to be inevitable. And OK, the part of me that likes combat best of all feels just a LITTLE bit cheated that we’re not going to get to square off with all those enemies. I got fresh doses of poison for the sword-cane and everything!

On the other hand, when you step back and look at it through a lens of “work smarter, not harder” isn’t this solution EXACTLY the sort of way we should be handling problems? In the context of this story, stopping a handful of low-rent pickpockets is nothing compared to stopping a murder cult that’s harvesting citizens for body parts. In cop dramas on TV and in movies, throwing away a little fish to get the dirt on a bigger fish is a CLASSIC technique. And then you add on top a layer that the Skinsaws may decide to kill the Copper Hands for screwing up the bank heist, which makes the Skinsaws a danger to the Copper Hands… The conclusion is logical to a degree that would impress Mister Spock; of course, we cut them a deal to get their information on the Skinsaws.

If there’s ONE thing we didn’t do right here, it’s that MAYBE we should’ve gathered a little more evidence of a crime so we had a little more direct leverage going in. We never really caught them “in the act”, we don’t really have any sort of proof the mechanic is being held against his will (though we strongly suspect it), nor did we mark the goods we turned over, so we can’t even really hit Fayati with “handling of stolen property” or whatever. So maybe we should’ve let things played out a LITTLE further until we had witnessed a specific crime to hold over them. Right now, all we have is a couple of low-level grunts talking shit, claiming they’re big-time robbers. They could easily claim they were just joking.

I think that’s where grabbing the hostage first might have helped, but with 20/20 hindsight I think we made the right call there. Yes, it probably would’ve been pretty easy to get him. We could’ve come in for a general hangout session, I could’ve grabbed the mechanic and cast invisibility on him, and then jetted out the door. If you wanted to make it a little more foolproof, I could’ve brought a scroll with a second cast of invisibility so we BOTH could’ve left the hideout unseen. So yeah… grabbing him would’ve been pretty easy, and then we’d be able to go in with a confession. But then… once someone stole the mechanic out from under them, their base would’ve been on high alert and we probably never would’ve gotten in front of the boss to negotiate. Then we’re back to slugging our way through the building. So maybe it’s best we just went right to negotiation.

As an aside, I’m constantly amused by how much of my thinking is colored by “modern” ideas of police work that probably don’t really carry weight in a fantasy medieval setting. “Does the presence of undead constitute probable cause?” “Did you read him his Miranda rights in Common or Aklo?” “Does the department have a ‘Use of Fireball’ policy for caster officers?” It’s easy to forget that a lot of the nuance and layers of “doing the job right” just wouldn’t exist in a world like this. In a setting like this, it would be more like “see bad guy, drag him or her in, and cast some sort of truth spell on them to fill in the pieces you don’t have direct witnesses to”. But you have to have SOME model for thinking about all of this, so the one we live in day to day is at least a good starting point.

Back to the action. As we sit down to negotiate, the real question is “does the deal make sense to Fayati?” and I think the answer there is yes as well. On one hand, deep down, we absolutely don’t have anything concrete on her, and even what we have on the gang is kind of flimsy so far. But what are her choices here? EVERY cop in the district now knows where their hideout is, has a rough layout, and knows their strength (even down to the weretigers). If the worst should happen and she kills us, the Absalom equivalent of the SWAT team is coming next. We’re just four cadets and the city is FULL of cops. Even if she just refuses the deal and lets us walk out, we’re going to go into “clingy ex mode”… we’ll focus ONLY on her gang, making sure her people can’t earn a dime during the Radiant Festival. And then there’s the Skinsaws – now she’s got someone volunteering to take care of the Skinsaws for her… and they’ll be doing it as law enforcement so it can’t be traced back to her if it fails. If we win, they’re gone entirely; even if we lose, we’re keeping them busy and thinning their numbers to the point where maybe whoever’s left will be too busy to worry about them anymore. And what’s the price of all of this? Giving up some short-term earnings that she’ll have MOST of 90 days to make up, and the mechanic who had MOSTLY stopped being useful after the bank heist went sideways.

And I do think it’s a “tough but fair” position that we’d have to leave her enough to save face with the rest of her gang. Here’s why… and it’s something I don’t think we mentioned at the time. Yeah, Fayati will give us the information we want either way at this point, but if she loses control and it’s everyone for themselves… all it takes is ONE of her members deciding to save their hide by ratting us out to the Skinsaws. Then the psycho-murder cult knows we’re coming and either THAT battle gets a lot more deadly, or they pick up and move to a new hideout and we have to start over from square one. So yes, leaving her with enough of a functioning gang to keep her people in line makes a fair amount of sense.

Now if you want to get all fussy, it’s SUCH an obvious win for her that, I suppose there would’ve been nothing preventing the Copper Hand gang from anonymously tipping the law off to the location of the Skinsaws themselves before we were ever part of the story. But maybe that anonymous piece is what makes the logic of the story work – if that tip had just come in off the street, maybe it gets ignored; if it’s the head of the gang telling the now-famed Red Squad to our faces as part of a bargaining session, it’s pretty solid actionable intel.

Even with all that logic staring down at us from above, I have to admit I was still on pins and needles as we were going through it. It was probably the most we’d EVER had riding on a single social check, even dating back to the pre-podcast days. Succeed, and we basically solve an entire section of the adventure path without unsheathing a weapon; fail or crit fail, and we might be facing a multi-episode building crawl, STARTING with the Big Bad.

But success it is. We now know where the Skinsaws are hiding, we get back the money we borrowed to join the gang, we rescue the hostage, and ohbytheway we bypass an entire level. Oops. Granted, we still have to run all this past Captain Melipdra and make sure he’s OK with only getting a couple of hundred gold and a single hostage while the remnants of the Copper Hand continue running around stealing stuff. But I suspect if he’s smart he’ll go for it.

Next week, I guess you’ll meet our new characters, and we’ll start to take the fight directly to the Skinsaw Cult! Let’s do this! 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|28: Better Living Through Exorcise

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|28: It’s Been Ateran All Along!

First up this week, I feel like I want to clarify the “Silly Steve” comment from last week since it feels relevant again this week. It’s not that Steve is NEVER silly with us on the Edgewatch side of the house; I think it’s that we tend to compartmentalize things a little more. We kinda “get it out of our system” in the pre-game, and then we’re FAIRLY goal-oriented (except for the occasional pop culture reference) once we start rolling for the evening. With this group, they weave in and out of it a little more as the game unfolds, so there’s more room for Silly Steve to operate. I don’t know if that makes sense at all, but I found myself thinking about it a bit more between sessions, so I thought I’d mention it.

So this week’s dominant theme… sympathy for poor Rob P. for getting struck down by the Bad Dice Gods. You play this game long enough, it happens to everyone eventually, but this week was definitely Ateran’s turn in the barrel. Ateran, the group’s Resident Smart Person, pretty much reduced to the village idiot (at least for this episode) by bad dice.

I think what struck me in particular about this sequence was the inability to escape the spotlight. When you’re on a critical path and HAVE to hit a roll to move the story along, it can feel like an eternity trying to make that roll. It’s like… if you roll a bunch of 2s in combat, eventually the turn passes and you have some time to lick your wounds before you have to try again. If you’re just trying and failing on a single critical-path skill check, as Ateran was doing here, you’re pretty much stuck up on the stage with a  big spotlight on you, failing over and over again with everyone watching. In some ways that’s psychologically worse, even if the in-game consequences of the individual rolls aren’t nearly as dire.

I also think Steve raises an interesting question: when, if ever, do you step in as GM and overrule ridiculous dice luck? On one hand, the dice are supposed to be fairly close to absolute. On the other hand, you’re still trying to serve a story, and at some point, bad dice luck can really screw up the story side of things. One or two bad rolls can be kind of funny, but at some point, if it just keeps going, it honestly gets boring and detracts from the action. It’s not advancing the plot, it’s not creating an interesting moment, it’s just generating busy work.

First, I don’t think the GM should ever do it in the “house’s” favor. If players get a hot streak or the monsters get a cold streak, just let them have it, and if you need to balance things out, add a little to the next encounter to compensate. It’s one of those things where you as the GM control the game, so there are places where you have to be the bigger person. In the case of the players getting bad luck… I still don’t think you want to fudge the dice often – players do count on the dice to “tell the truth” and there can even be fun found in salvaging a bad situation – but I do think if you’re starting to lose the table and the story is starting to grind to a halt, I do think fudging a roll for the sake of getting things moving again can be the lesser of the two evils.

Meanwhile, I’m also salty this week because of the appearance of the redcaps.

Now, it wasn’t the voice. I actually enjoyed Steve’s redcap voice. (Especially listening to the show on 1.5 speed. Took on a whole new life that way.) I even enjoyed the Redcap Voice contest at the end of the show, and kinda wish the Robs had participated as well.

No, my salt comes from bad memories from the Edgewatch campaign. As Loren (I think) mentioned, our Edgewatch group faced ONE of these guys, and it nearly tore us to pieces, even with us figuring out the trick with the hat fairly early in the fight. Then again, the circus crew also had four levels on us – we faced ours at the tail end of Level 3, and here they are at Level 7. I mean, that’s a 20% edge in getting and avoiding crits, and that’s even before adding any additional bonuses from four levels of improved gear. You’ll note that the redcaps still hit pretty hard, but they either never or rarely critted; I think our redcap critted us two or three times. That absolutely makes a difference – the difference between “mortal threat” and “mild enough nuisance that the GM can give it a cute voice”.

On the other hand, the fact that we faced it first means for once we’re in the rare position where I have inside knowledge the circus group didn’t have. In this case, I’d like to point out that removing the redcap’s hat has TWO benefits. The first, which WAS mentioned, is that the hat grants the redcap fast healing, so taking the hat away prevents that hit point recovery. What wasn’t mentioned was that the hat ALSO increases their damage, so they take a -4 penalty to damage rolls if you get the hat off their head. (Not to be smug, but Basil got that off an Expeditious Inspection in Round 1, and Lo Mang grabbed the hat in round 2 or round 3.)

(Also: quick rulebook detour. The main difference between “fast healing” and “regeneration” – both heal hit points at the start of the round, but regeneration also keeps the dying condition from going past dying 3 while it’s active.)

Eventually, the redcaps are dealt with (OK, one got away, but that’s not a huge problem) and Ateran FINALLY gets some good rolls and finishes consecrating the graves. Now it’s decision time. There’s at least one more door in the section of the temple they’re in, and there’s actually a whole section unchecked. But the various fights drained the party’s resources, so we decide to wrap it up and head back to the circus. We have brief reunions with “Dad” (yay!) and Gibzip (boo!), and it looks like we’re going to get some Level 8 characters next time we meet.

(BTW, I think I figured out what bothers me about Gibzip. If any of you have watched the show Big Mouth, Gibzip reminds me of Tyler, the incompetent hormone monster who replaces Maurice for a few episodes. SOOOO annoying. Both of them.)

So next week, I assume we’ll get to meet our Level 8 cast, and they’ll go kick down that last door that Steve seems WAY too excited about. 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|12: The Enemy of My Enemy

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|12: Just Call Me Fancy Dan.

Welcome to Flying Without A Net, Week 3. The good news is we’re finally managing to make some progress infiltrating the Copper Hand Gang. The bad news is the path forward is still a little murky, but by the end of the episode, we’re starting to see some lights at the end of the tunnel.

I think Steve captured the essence of this well in his show notes. In a way, this whole part of the story is a negotiation between the party and the GM. We have the broad strokes of what we want to do, but since it’s not combat, it’s a little unclear how that fits under the umbrella of the rule: both the Paizo rulebook and the rules of being an Edgewatch officer. On a rulebook level, a lot of it comes down to when do you use actual skill rolls vs. when is it just a couple of people talking. On the Edgewatch side, the most relevant question seems to be how far we’re allowed to go astray from being law enforcement officers to get into the gang. It all comes down to throwing ideas at Steve (in character) and seeing what things he’ll let us do, and what other places we’ll have to find a different way to come at the problem.

Before we get into all of that, we do get a nice little moment of levity when Gomez uses Intimidate (successfully) against our boss. At first, I thought this was a little cheesy, but the more I thought about it, not every social context is built the same, and not every Intimidate roll has to be making someone run away in terror. I suppose getting a person in a superior position to soften their tone a little could also be a legit use of the skill. Still, at the moment it was happening, I thought Seth was out of his damn mind, and I was just hoping we wouldn’t get dragged into latrine duty along with him.

Speaking of moments of levity, let me talk about “Fancy Dan” for just a moment. I’m willing to admit that’s about 30% me just screwing around and being silly. Confession time: me entertaining you listeners starts with me entertaining myself first. It got an internal laugh in my brain, so I rolled with it. Having said that, I also felt like a) Basil would’ve learned his lesson about using his real name when we went to the party Jeremin Hoff was throwing (especially if his name got into the papers because of the bank heist), and b) the best lies contain just enough to make it easier to stay in character. Basil comes from money, so playing a pretentious elitist thief is easier to pull off than playing a down-on-his-luck ragamuffin type. Hence, “Fancy Dan”.

So we’ve been recruited to steal or otherwise procure 50 gp worth of loot. Just to put that in perspective, 1 g was the day-labor rate in that one Society game where we rebuilt the keep, and can also be a good day of Earn Income. So using $10/hour (to work in round numbers), they’re basically asking us to swipe about $4000 each. That actually seems like a reasonable amount in the context of a big tourist event. If I were to try to steal $4000 in some random shopping mall, that would be one thing, but if I were to try and steal $4000 during Mardi Gras or Super Bowl weekend, or in Times Square… there’s a lot of full wallets to grab in a setting like that.

Still, we’d rather not ACTUALLY steal citizens’ real money, so we ask the department for help. The good news is they’re willing to “loan” us the funds from the fantasy equivalent of the evidence locker; the bad news is we’re on the hook for it, so we’re technically operating at a loss for the moment unless we can recover it later. But hey, it’s good enough to get us into the gang, and that sheds some light on a few things.

First and foremost, a frontal assault is going to be VERY dangerous. The first level, it’s just grunts. But that second level, we’ve got a basilisk, weretigers, and elite guards, and a high probability to bleed encounters. We could end up in a running fight where we don’t even have time to take a 10-minute rest, much less a full rest. And then if we get to the top level, that’s a total unknown: who knows WHAT sort of threat the boss poses or how many bodyguards she has? So what we’ve learned so far is that “frontal assault” looks like an even worse idea than we originally thought.

Second, we gain further information about the hostage that explains the clockwork resources used in the bank heist. The hostage they mentioned earlier turns out to be some sort of tinkerer who makes mechanical devices and presumably made the construct with the drill and the keys. One major question resolved. The good news there is he’s near the door, so he’s actually fairly low-hanging fruit if we want to get an easy win. If we could create a distraction, I could slip in there, hit him with invisibility, and walk him right out the door. Of course, if the hostage disappears, security tightens and we might blow our cover, so we have to pick our spot to do it.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, we uncover a rift between the Copper Hand and the Skinsaw Cult. It turns out the Copper Hand is almost as scared of the Skinsaws as they are of the police at this point. (Among other things, that’s why they’ve hired extra were-tiger muscle.) The alliance has always been an uneasy one, and now that the bank robbery went sideways, it’s possible the Skinsaws may get rid of the Copper Hand as allies and turn them into parts for more of their undead creations.

But this may be the opportunity that we were looking for. If they’re afraid of the Skinsaws, get in good with the gang by offering to take on the Skinsaws for them. Think about it. As… Ollo, I think said… the gang is the little fish here; we want the murderous cult, and I’m sure the gang wouldn’t mind throwing a few disposable newcomers who just joined at the problem. So maybe we offer to deal with the Skinsaws for them – it feels like a win-win. We get their intel on the cult (location, numbers, etc.) and curry favor with them; they get someone who’s willing to take on the fight for them without losing any more people, and they can even deny we were members if we lose.

And as an added bonus, we get to stay on the right side of the law because we’re attacking the cultists rather than robbing innocent civilians.

Well, I think that’s what we’re going to be selling anyway. The trick now will be getting it in front of the boss and selling it, and that’s what we’ll look at doing next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|27: Rock, Paper, Fireball

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|27: Between a Vrock and a Hard Place.

Welcome to Roll For Combat, Beach-Bum Edition. That’s right, I’m writing from vacation this week. (The Patreons who stopped by for our Malevolence game already know this.)

The bad news is you might get a rather fragmented column this week, as this is getting written between trips to the beer cooler. The good news is you get a book recommendation as bonus content: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (the guy who did The Martian). I can’t give you a plot description because the whole plot is an unfolding mystery where our protagonist doesn’t even know their own name at first, but both space and science (both are right on the cover, so no big spoiler there) hijinx are involved.

Sorry, where was I? (Other than getting another beer.) Right, this week’s episode.

First, we have the occasional emergence of Silly Steve, which we don’t see very often; or at least not in extended bursts. Now, Steve’s not a humorless person by nature, but for whatever reason, he tends to run a pretty tight ship when running his games. If I were to hazard a guess, I think it’s more just a function of having the game, the recording tools, possible stuff going on in the background at home, and everything else to keep an eye on, so he usually doesn’t have the TIME for frivolity. But here we get jokes, silly voices… the whole nine yards. Savor these moments, listeners. They don’t come around too often. Though I have to say that is one of the nerdiest earth elementals I have ever heard. I expect a gravelly Vin Diesel voice from a creature made of living dirt; I don’t expect our party to be beaten to death by something that sounds like my 11th-grade math teacher.

Speaking of which, I loved the implied theme of this battle, with Darius squaring off against his own evolved Pokemon form. Rock-based powers vs. actual rock! (Or is Darius a Machop/Machoke who happened to be given some stone-themed TM’s? Needs more awkwardly nerdy research.) But the stone-vs.-stone theme of the fight was carried off quite nicely.

Unless you’re poor Alhara, of course. I’m starting to feel bad for poor Vanessa… she’s just been a magnet for creature attacks these last few fights, as Alhara gets dropped once again. To some degree, it’s nature of the beast: out of four people you’ve got two squishes who have no business being on the front lines, so of course, Alhara is going to be targeted quite a bit. But it would be nice if a few of them missed and she came out of a fight with more than 10 hit points left.

I realize we’re out of order since the shawl was loot from the previous room, but I have to admit I’m with Loren on the Azlanti shawl. SELL, SELL, SELL! I’ll concede Comprehend Languages is a valuable tool to have, and I even think Rob/Ateran is right that they’re GOING to run into Azlanti at some point down the road. However, with 700 gold pieces, you could buy DOZENS of scrolls of Comprehend Languages and still have plenty of change left over. Just sayin’.

Unless… and I literally just had this thought as I’m writing it… if the plan is to keep the shawl long enough to LEARN Azlanti through the Multilingual feat (can be any language you “have access to”) and then sell it… I can get down with that. Best of both worlds – money AND fluency – as long as you don’t have other plans for the feat.

Note that I’m kinda handwaving the temporary hit points, but I feel like a) Ateran shouldn’t be taking a lot of hits anyway, and b) most of the creatures at this point of the game are gonna blow through those hit points in one shot.

The exploration of the hall continues, and we find an abandoned xulgath encampment. That’s a bit alarming. Could there really still be hundreds of xulgaths lurking around, waiting to attack the town? Or was this more of an excavation party, and once they got into the Moonstone Hall, the bulk of them left. Either way, it’s a little unsettling that Escadar now has an express lane to the Underdark right in its town square.

It’s almost TOO MUCH room to digest at once – though I assume they’ll have to return at some point and investigate further – so the party moves on to the next room.

Next, we have a minor rules question, and I have to admit I’m siding with Vanessa on this one. For someone who relies on leaping into the fray as her go-to opener, I think checking the area in front of the door should’ve been part of the action of opening the door. If you still want to apply line-of-sight and lighting effects to that and saying she couldn’t see what was lower in the room, that’s fine, but literally looking down at the floor five feet in front of you shouldn’t be a separate action when it’s part of a signature move you do almost every combat. I look at it as “we open a door; 90 percent of the people would look straight ahead at eye level, a swashbuckler will look at the terrain immediately in front of the door in case they gotta leap into action”.

Completely random thought: three disturbed graves, three babaus. Coincidence, or is that where the xulgaths got the raw materials? (Or did I count wrong… also possible. We are talking about almost six weeks’ worth of footage now.)

So Alhara leaps into action, bounces off a triceratops flank, and… proceeds to trip it. That was a little unexpected. I’m not going to argue the feat itself – at the risk of giving away a mild Plaguestone/Malevolence spoiler, I think I gave Brixley that same feat, so I have a vested interest in legitimizing it – but I do wonder if maybe a quadruped should’ve received a bonus compared to a biped. I mean, four legs are more stable than two. Even the good people of IKEA know this. (This is not an invitation for you people to come at me with your three-legged FNURDSSONs. I’ll hear none of it.)

Nevertheless, the captain turns off the Suspension of Disbelief light, Alhara trips the triceratops (also sending the rider off to the corner of the room), leaps back out, and Hap nukes the whole room. JUST LIKE COACH DREW IT UP ON THE BLACKBOARD. Seriously, although there was some serious dumb luck getting from A to Z, they kinda ended up landing on perfect tactics. Not only that but at least one xulgath crit-fails and dies immediately.

Now the fight is really on. I did appreciate the moment of levity of “if it’s got artwork, of course it’s a boss”. Though… lots of stuff has artwork and lots of stuff hits hard. Really, it’s more like: “does the artwork contain unsettling amounts of green and/or black miasma, possibly forming skull shapes?” or “does the artwork depict the creature actually killing Pathfinder iconics?” or… OK, ”does the artwork depict the creature riding a triceratops?” is pretty legit. We’ll allow it.

But the fight itself actually proves to be a little easier than the fight against the earth elemental – in part because the caster nukes his own mount – and soon enough, one more room has been cleansed. And then we wrap up with the minor cliff-hanger of the week: that one of these bespoiled graves belongs to Uthadar himself, and that’s why he’s so insistent that there be a cleansing.

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.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|11: Smooth Criminals

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|11: Ol’ Jack Always Says… What the Hell?

Welcome to Week 2 of fumbling around in the dark for the plot hook here on Roll For Combat. We know WHERE the bad guys are and we know the rough shape of what we need to do. But our favorite option – kicking in doors and killing stuff – has been removed from the menu (for now), so we need to find a new way to crack this nut. And that puts us in kind of an unfamiliar place where we have to roleplay our way to a solution.

I think Steve makes a good point in his show notes. It’s not that anyone in this game CAN’T roleplay. I just think the group as a whole is very goal-oriented, and if we can’t see how something ties directly to moving the story forward, we don’t have much patience for it. I think that’s a fair assessment of us as players. There would probably be no room for an extended “Hamlin’s Hots” segment on our show.

The one exception here is Seth. I feel like Seth doesn’t mind jumping the tracks and going for a roleplay wander. Look at the food-festival escapades with Sharky, just to pick an example. Since I mentioned Hamlin’s Hots, if you traded one of us to the Extinction Curse cast, I suspect Seth would probably fit in best as a roleplayer because he embraces the weird a little better than the rest of us do.

And while we’re at it… I know sometimes I oversimplify the circus people as “the roleplaying show”. But that’s not to imply the Extinction Curse people are better at the combat/tactics side – at most, we’re just more efficient. Loren has a show where she talks in-depth about the rules with Luis Loza of Paizo. Vanessa’s written content for Paizo. Push comes to shove, they can math with the best of them. So if I ever sounded like I was suggesting otherwise, consider this a formal acknowledgment to the contrary.

So here we are, swimming in the deep end of the roleplay pool, and investigating the flophouse. The front desk clerk is surprisingly straightforward that the Copper Hand gang uses his establishment as a base of operations, but this isn’t like the murder hotel – he doesn’t seem to be an active participant in their schemes. He just takes whatever they pay him in rent and keeps his mouth shut. (Sorta… he did come right out and tell us they own the upper floors.)

It seems like our cover story waffles back and forth a little on being adventurers vs. potential recruits, although Seth drops Percen Droan’s name, which seems to commit us to the recruiting path – random adventurers wouldn’t know to drop that name. But after going back and forth, Seth settles on being, basically, Jack Burton from Big Trouble In Little China. Not metaphorically… literally, right down to lines from the movie. Despite the presence of a sentry presumably warning people upstairs that we’re coming, Gomez plows his way toward the upstairs to get in on “the action”. Whatever that is.

And surprisingly, it works. Or maybe unsurprisingly. Some of this is my baggage because it’s still a little hard to process a goblin as the “face of the party”. But Gomez does have a high charisma and access to most of the social skills, so going off the printed page, he’s the best person for the job. (Basil has Diplomacy and Society on his side, but not Bluff and Intimidate.)

I will admit my one contribution was motivated by some combination of boredom and annoyance that my suggestions were mostly being ignored. When the guard looks at the paper and it’s about the bank heist, and I threw in that we were recruited for that and passed… yeah, that was just a fit of wanting to do SOMETHING. Though like I said, mentioning Percen Droan seemed to commit us to the “recruit” story, so I was trying to enhance that.

So we get in, and we play various games of chance for a while, and then it’s time to make a decision. Do we try to expand our foothold by snooping around, or do we take what we got and come back another day? We gained some basic trust from the gang members, and we know that the 2nd floor is for the troops and the upper floors are for the bosses and VIPs.

I was firmly in “don’t push our luck” territory on this one. There are SO many ways a stealth excursion could go sideways… even WITH invisibility. If you get another one of those guarded rooms and the door swings open on its own (because it was really invisible Dougie), that’s STILL going to attract attention. The worst-case here isn’t just “then a fight breaks out”, it’s “Dougie gets caught far enough away that we don’t know he gets caught. They outnumber Dougie, and then get the drop on us while we think he’s still safely stealthing around the place”. And either way, our cover is blown and we have to start from scratch.

Meanwhile, if we play the long game, we know they have to leave the hideout to earn, so there are a couple of ways we could exploit that. One is to go with them, help them (up to a point), and gain enough trust that they give us access to other parts of the building. The trick there is that we’d have to be careful what level of crimes we’d participate in: this whole thing comes undone if we get put in a position where they ask us to kill someone. Alternatively, if we watch the hideout and get a sense of when a large number of them are out, maybe we still attack, but we do it when we’ve got more of a numerical advantage. Maybe there’s a combination of the two strategies where we go with them to their jobs, arrest them to thin out their numbers, and then go with a frontal assault for the upper floors.

Ultimately it comes down to either screwing up and being forced to fight on whatever terms the dice give us, or choosing to fight on terms we dictate. And I think since time isn’t a HUGE factor here, I think we choose the latter. So I guess for the next few days, we get to be gangsters-in-training. Nobody tell the Lawgiver Badge. Or Basil’s mom, the judge. She already doesn’t know about law school; this would break her heart. So let’s let that be our little secret.

That’s all we have for this week; come back next week, and see how our efforts as hardened criminals turn out. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|26: The Charmed Arm Does Great Harm

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|26: Can You Smell What The Vrock Is Cooking?!

Sorry we’re running a little late here this week at Talking Combat. I’m getting ready to go on vacation Saturday, so between getting work tied down and packing, I’ve had a lot of stuff percolating.

As Steve mentioned in the show notes, I have an interesting relationship with spoilers on this show. I think I’ve mentioned before that I do TRY to avoid spoilers so I can have a close-to-pristine listening experience. I generally want to be as surprised as all of you. But that tends to be a goal that’s never going to be 100% reachable. For one thing, while each show has its own Discord channel for the game itself, the Patreon chat has a single channel that’s shared across all the shows. So sometimes I see the last few lines of what the Patreons were talking about the previous night: 90 percent of the time, it’s general chat, but every once in a while, there’ll be a plot point. Or, I’ll have to go look up an NPC name or reference a map, so I will duck my head into “their” channel. In which case, you try to put the blinders on and mind your business but it doesn’t always work. Or sometimes in a burst of general excitement stuff just slips out.

So I’ve known for a month or two that SOMETHING sinister and not-entirely-normal happens to Darius at some future point, and this incident feels like it might be the thing I heard about. The comments I saw basically hinted that Darius was going to end up turning evil and becoming the big bad of the whole story; I thought maybe he’d died and been brought back by some unnatural means (because there were also hints at a character death, but Steve teases that all the time). But this thing with Darius’ glowing rune certainly fits… it’s not Evil-With-A-Capital-E, but it certainly doesn’t seem as benevolent as it did before, did it? The vrock was DEFINITELY not afraid of Darius and Alhara’s mom; I’m pretty sure of that.

I will say that whole thing made for great radio, though. You’ve got this vrock which… I wouldn’t want to say it was a no-win, but it definitely felt like a fight that was going to push the party to its limits. Heck, you had Loren at least debating how soon it would be fair to run away without being meta-gamey. And then BOOM, the whole tone of the fight shifts as Darius breaks out a brand-new rune power. And the fear was a nice cherry on the sundae… Doubly impressive since the whole thing with the rune and Darius’ powers is stuff Steve’s adding on the side.

Loren’s question was an interesting one, by the way. On one hand, player characters shouldn’t be stupid or suicidal, and even a Level 1 adventurer has theoretically Seen Some Shit. They’d probably have SOME sense of how hard a fight is going to be, and even that if they misjudged and it’s harder, they should probably run away. On the other hand, when you start getting into things like “well, it’s +20 to hit so it’s going to crit something like 35 or 40 percent of the time”… that’s stuff your characters would have no way of knowing and you really shouldn’t be basing your “fight or run” decisions on.

Well, there is one exception: the equation becomes a little different if you’ve faced the creature before because in that case, the previous fight(s) become part of your standing knowledge of the creature. Over in the Edgewatch campaign we’ve run across multiple members of the ooze family – knowing that they’re resistant to precision damage, that some oozes split when hit with piercing or slashing, that they tend to be slow and really EASY to hit, but you lose almost every source of extra damage. Yeah, those are game mechanics, but if you’ve already seen them in action, they become the laws of the world you’re part of.

The other thing that stuck out for me is this: how is it they’re making WWE wrestling jokes and I’m not involved? As I texted to the group: “I expect this behavior from me. I don’t expect it from you.” Avatar The Last Airbender, yes. WWE, no. I’m not a huge wrestling fan or anything – never been to a live event or bought a pay-per-view, but I will admit I had phases where it was on my radar. Particularly when I was a road-warrior consultant during a different life and Monday nights were kinda dead anyway. I may have watched more of Hulk Hogan’s heel turn on WCW than I’m comfortable admitting publicly. (“Oh my God, it’s STING! Doing the same thing he’s done for the last seven weeks, but I’m still VERY SURPRISED BY THIS!”)

Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes, the vrock is eventually defeated, but not without the scare of Darius dropping and Hap eating an attack of opportunity getting her last spell off. I briefly thought this was going to be a two-episode fight because the thing seemed surprisingly healthy with 4 or 5 minutes left, until Hap came through with the finisher. Speaking of Darius dropping… we really need to refine our terminology for “party members dropping that represent a serious threat of a TPK” vs. “party members dropping where it’s just part of the cost of doing business”. Much like we came up with “Handwave Heal” to summarize using Treat Wounds and other out-of-combat healing; we need “Drop” and “Low-Calorie Drop” or something like that, to reflect those two different circumstances. “Drop” and “Drop Zero”?

And now we come to the “unanswered questions” portion of the show.

First, is that it or is there still more? The vrock feels like the big bad, and the caster xulgath that was with it was PROBABLY the person that summoned/controlled it, but is there still anyone else in here? What about Mistress Dusklight? When will the reckoning happen?

You kind of wonder what was the goal of the vrock? Was it to just run roughshod over the town? Was it designed to keep the players from learning about the role of the towers and Aroden’s mountain retreat? Was it just fairly random “these players are after us, let’s summon some muscle”? Though that one seems unlikely… it seems like the xulgaths have been here a lot longer than the players have been in town, so I don’t feel like the vrock was summoned JUST to deal with them. I could be wrong though.

Also, what’s with Darius and his uneasy feelings? Compared to rebooting the towers and saving the world, it’s probably small potatoes, but why does he feel like releasing the rune’s power the way he did make him feel disappointed and unworthy? You’d think a GOOD rune would be pleased as punch to smite a creature like the vrock, but evidently not. At some point we’ll have to unravel that as well.

For now, though, I’m off to do beachy things. 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|10: Plan A and Plan… A?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|10: Who is Doguieman?

We start this week with a recap of Steve’s announcement for the show as a whole, although since you’re reading this on Monday, it’s moved from the future tense to the present tense. The Plaguestone crew is indeed back. The Three-Ring Adventure show had some scheduling conflicts mostly centered around Rob P. – not to point a finger at the guy; more to explain how the show can have scheduling conflicts while three of the four players and the GM are still available for another game – so we decided to use that window to bring the Plaguestone Four out of semi-retirement. We even recorded our first episode(s) last night, so it’s formally moved from theoretical to actual! We’re just not yet sure when it will air, for a variety of reasons mostly on Steve’s side, so stay tuned for that.

I won’t bend your ear too much about a show that won’t even air for weeks, maybe months, except to say it was fun to slip Brixley’s boots back on, and I’m already excited to see where we go with it. The only thing I’ll mention is length, to set an expectation on that front – it’s a single-book adventure (we’re playing Malevolence, but with a few tweaks to incorporate Celes’ backstory), so it should be of a similar length to Plaguestone. Maybe shorter since it takes place in the middle of nowhere and there’s not as much “infrastructure” (NPCs, shopping, etc.) to interact with. No three-episode filler arc where the characters go on dates, and Hamlin’s Hots hasn’t opened a franchise there. As far as we know.

Turning back to THIS show, it’s a bit of a transition week, so not a lot actually happens. We get our next breadcrumb for tracking down the Copper Hand gang and spend an inordinately long amount of time planning our next move. And Gomez wants to pretend he’s Barack Obama, for some reason? Did I get that right?

First I briefly wanted to jump the fence and talk about an interesting set of Tweets from the Pathfinder Papa himself, Jason Bulmahn:

I wanted to jump in on this because it’s something I’d personally like to explore more in my characters going forward. Not necessarily loading your characters down with “flaws” exactly, but having a character’s backstory be more of an unfinished story than a destination. I think sometimes we see backstory as The Reason I Became A Level One Adventurer, and from there, it’s just time to start cracking whatever skulls the adventures put in front of us and forget about it. I really like the idea of having one’s characters continue an ongoing journey of personal development that pre-dates their life as an adventurer, and that they’ll fill in those blanks as well as leveling up and getting cooler spells.

Currently, I’m not as far along with this as Jason is, though I do like to have a broad personal motivation for my characters beyond getting rich and famous. Only the criminally insane engage in lethal combat against monsters for fun, and money only carries you so far as a motivation, so what’s driving the character when you peel that back? Sometimes I’ll share it with Steve; more often, I’ll just keep it under my hat, but use it as a compass to guide how my character would react in certain situations.

With Tuttle Blacktail (Dead Suns), it was discovering new knowledge that would get people to take him more seriously as a scientist. We only had one or two Starfinder Society games, but Nala Trienzi was a juvenile delinquent who recognized her current path was a dead-end, so she wanted to find a more productive path, but without sacrificing her sense of “fun”, and having the Starfinder Society pay her to explore sounded like a good option. In the case of Brixley Silverthorn (Plaguestone), I think there’s a sense that he KNOWS deep down he’s a bit of an “all hat, no cattle” lightweight going into Level 1, and wants to accomplish things that make him worthy of the external swagger he clothes himself in. Lastly, in the case of Basil Blackfeather, it’s finding the life that’s been laid out for him unsatisfying and wanting to do something that makes more of a direct difference in people’s lives. And heck, maybe that’s why I never really clicked with Nella Amberleaf (my druid from Pathfinder Society) – I never really got in her head and figured out WHY she was doing what she was doing. She was just… there because druid seemed like a cool class to try next.

Something to think about while we go over the plan for the THIRD time this episode, I guess.

Seriously. I got a little frustrated on this one, and I think the predominant issue is that Seth really sunk his teeth into the idea of using a disguise and just couldn’t let it go. The central choice was “pretend to be members of the Copper Hand” or “do initial recon as generic adventurers”, and I listened carefully… at some point, EVERY other member of the group says “let’s just be adventurers” and Seth just wouldn’t let it go.

And look… I get it. It’s fun when the planets align and that skill you never got to use before suddenly becomes useful. You want to Do The Thing because it may be your only chance ever. (See also: Tuttle saving the day with his teleportation puck in Dead Suns.) It’s human nature and I don’t really fault Seth for feeling that way. Especially when he built Gomez almost ENTIRELY around weird edge cases like that. (Let’s remember this is the same man who paid 50 gp for an anchor feather token on a dry-land adventure). I don’t even mind having the disguise kit as a plan B. If we fail to infiltrate as “adventurers”, our next step might have to be sending someone in as a member of the gang, and then… yeah, let’s do it. But he did get so locked in on it that it kind of sent the conversation around in circles a bit.

In other news, we gain a new level, and the big news for me is that Basil gets his first level 2 spells. Hooray! Basically, the multiclass archetypes lag the actual classes by three levels; so if a “real” wizard gets Level 2 spells at character Level 3, a Pocket Wizard gets them at Level 6. And it’s still only one slot per level, though there are some ways to raise that.

And yes, I fully admit I looked at Loren’s test paper and copied what Hap did with regards to Longstrider. Look… I get ONE spell at each level, so it’s all about bang for the buck. I might as well get something that has some duration. A 10-foot bonus to movement that lasts 8 hours… especially now that I’m screwing around with archery and might need to tweak my range… seems more useful than a lot of other things I could take.

Though for the record, I took Comprehend Languages and Invisibility as my free spells. With Comprehend Languages, I actually took it more with an eye for the heightened Level 3 version that lets you converse in other languages. I suspect we can take writings back to the lair to decipher them, but I want to be able to TALK to nasty creatures if necessary. Invisibility is invisibility. Its uses are obvious.

I also took Snare Crafting as a skill feat, though I’m already getting a feeling that may have been a case of “spending resources to solve the previous problem”. Here’s the thing: when we were preparing for the bank robbery, snares seemed so useful, and it was something nobody else in the party could do. But as I’m thinking about it, snares are FAR more useful when defending a fixed position, and our role as police officers almost always puts us in the role of aggressor, kicking down doors and invading bad guys’ spaces. Guarding the bank was the exception, not the rule. So I’m already feeling like Snare Crafting MIGHT not have been a good choice, and I may yet retrain out of it later.

In terms of actual plot development, our next lead takes us to the Foreign Quarter, where Captain Melipdra of the Sleepless Suns has our next lead. He’s got a rowhouse that serves as Copper Hand base, but he can’t infiltrate it because the local gang members know his guards too well, so he needs some outsiders to do it. So we shut down the gang, funnel some of the collars to him (“collars”… LOOK AT ME USING COP LINGO), and it’s a win-win. And he teaches Lo Mang to be a better monk.

(Aside: this is one of the cooler things about 2E we see occasionally: NPCs that can teach feats or even, in this case, entire archetypes that aren’t otherwise available. We saw one or two of these in our Society games, but I’d like to see more of them included going forward. The idea of learning from wizened experts is a pretty cool one.)

So join us next week when we… pose as adventurers? Let Gomez do his disguise? Hell, I don’t know anymore. However, we go about it, we’ll be looking for the Copper Hand gang so we can put a stop to their shenanigans. 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|25: Take a Look, It’s in a Book

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|25: Wonderous Feather Healing.

First things first: that’s right. We’re putting the Plaguestone band back together. I figure since that show includes three-fourths of this group (plus me), it’s more relevant to talk about here than in the Edgewatch column.

I don’t remember the exact genesis of the idea, though I know the first murmurings about doing a new show were a joking suggestion about doing an April Fool’s show with really goofy characters. (I was kicking around a pixie barbarian with anger management issues.) That didn’t really come together because it reached a point where we would’ve had to put the whole thing together on three days’ notice on a weekend where Steve had travel plans. But the idea of doing something else percolated for a little while, and over the course of another few weeks, coalesced around a return to the Plaguestone crew. I think from there, it was a question of Steve finding an adventure that would work and finding some time in the schedule. The story part I’ll leave for when the show starts airing, but the schedule part came together with Extinction Curse having to take a few weeks off anyway. Seemed like a good time to start recording.

I won’t say much about the show itself because I want most of it to be a surprise when it airs, but I’ll set the general expectation that it’ll be along the lines of a single adventure (30, 40 episodes maybe?) rather than another 6-book adventure path. When will it air? Not exactly sure… that’s probably more on Steve’s side… how fast we can put episodes in the can, how fast he can edit, is he going to bother with new artwork, and other logistical stuff like that.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Extinction Curse, we have a fairly straightforward combat, followed by a lore-gathering session in the Moonstone Temple’s library. Or at least what’s left of it after the xulgath caster sets off a fireball in the middle of it.

The first thing that jumped out at me about the combat is that it wasn’t that long ago that a babau was a spine-tingling threat; now, it’s basically a speed-bump. I suppose some of that comes from leveling up and being a little stronger, but also, part of it was being able to cut loose because it was the first fight of a new day and they had full resources. It seemed like Hap and Ateran, in particular, went right to their bigger guns early in the fight, including Ateran’s Enervation spell that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.

I do find myself wondering a little bit about that fireball. Is there a chance the xulgath was trying to destroy evidence or was it just about putting as much damage on the party as possible? I think it’s the latter, if for no other reason than if there was a breadcrumb that was needed to progress in the story, I doubt the writers of the adventure path would let it be anything that would be easily destroyed. “Well… sorry, Books 3 through 6 are canceled because a trash mob destroyed the map! I guess the world’s going to end.” Also… it’s a xulgath… it’s probably arrogant and thinks it can kill any surface-dweller. It probably wouldn’t worry about destroying evidence because it thinks it would win anyway.

The combat isn’t really the big thing this week, though. The big fish here is Ateran’s research.

To summarize, even the own accounts say that yeah, Aroden took the stones from the under-dwellers. (I’ll hold back on using the word “stole” for now. Three sides to every story – two sides, and the truth, which is usually something in the middle.) He did leave ONE stone in the underworld, as his show of mercy, but he spread the other five out around the land and infused them with his own power, which is part of what makes the land thrive. The book also reveals a mountain sanctuary Aroden ran the show from. And in terms of driving the story from here, the party can reset the stones by gathering the reflections, going to the mountain temple, and forming Voltron. (The one with the lions, not the one with all the cars and trucks.)

My glib thought is that each side has a base, and there are towers spread out around the country, so we’ve walked into a RP-heavy League of Legends game. Darius top, Ateran mid, Hap and Riley bot lane, and Alhara jungling!

My other thought is that the xulgaths may have figured out a way to do the evil Bizarro version of that same process. Maybe if THEY get the aspects and go to the temple, they can corrupt the stones, or something like that. The fine details remain to be worked out, but it kinda works out to two sides pursuing the same MacGuffin with opposite goals for it if they get it.

I did think it was a nice roleplaying touch that Hap still wanted to use this library to look up information on her elemental ancestry while all this was going on. Ateran’s already on the case for saving the world; why not do your own side research while you have all these books at your disposal? Of course, as a natural caster rather than a “book-learning” caster, it’s not necessarily up her alley… and asking Darius to help is probably about as useful as asking Riley, but it’s the thought that counts. But in the end, she does find Alternate Planes For Dummies, so that’s something to build upon.

Then we have the spell scrolls. Spell immunity is kind of nice, but it’s the rare spells that intrigue me most because they’ve both got circus applications. First, we have favorable review, which forces people to say nice things about a performance. The trick there would be to find the RIGHT people to cast it on; I doubt you can cast it on enough Joe/Jane Citizens to singlehandedly get the crowd to go nuts, but does Golarion have Instagram influencers? The pyrotechnics spell seems like it would be circus-useful as well, because it adds “flair” (for lack of a better word) to an existing fire act… can adding fireworks to Hap’s act or the Flambonis squeeze a few extra points out?

I assume there’s still a room or two to be cleared since Uthadar is still whining about how the temple isn’t cleansed yet, but I admit I’m a little fuzzy on the map at this point. The map is available on the Discord channel, and I can piece together what SOME of the rooms are – I THINK the upper right corner of the map is the part they haven’t visited yet – but getting fully re-oriented would involve going back and re-listening to the entire Moonstone Temple arc focusing almost entirely on compass directions, which… let’s be honest, sounds like a drag. At some point, this is a blog, not a research paper; I’ll just be comfortable with my wrongness.

So next week, we get back to the fighting, and one of these times they’ll finally clear this place out. Maybe it’ll be next time, maybe it won’t, but I guess we’ll find out together. 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|09: The Safe is Safe

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|09: A Penny Saved.

Welcome back to the conclusion of the great bank heist on Roll For Combat. We spent at least a month running down leads, and it finally comes down to beating down a droid…. errrrr… construct.

The first question I ask myself when playing through, and when going back and listening, is… why did this feel so (comparatively) unsatisfying? It’s like… we spent over a month figuring out the logistics of the bank robbery, we finally shut it down, and I still felt like it was kind of anticlimactic.

To answer my own question, I have two reasons.

First, not to get all Bernie Sanders on y’all, but there’s something that hits different about defending a bank vs. stopping a completely demented serial killer operating a murder hotel. I will grant that the banks of Absalom are not FDIC-insured, so a robbery could literally ruin the Penny and Sphinx, but protecting people’s lives will always feel more heroic than protecting people’s money. And the only lives at risk were arguably the customers that we put in danger by attacking before fully assessing the situation. So the Heroism Needle for this particular engagement dropped from a good solid 8 or 9 to maybe a 4 or a 5? If that makes sense.

The other thing is, these guys had some tech that was above their paygrade that made them a tough fight, but they weren’t the masterminds. The Big Bads of the Copper Hand gang AND the Skinsaw Cult are still out there. Yes, the skinstitcher and the construct were formidable opponents, but they were in the hands of a relatively minor threat… a few minions on par with the guys we beat at the docks, and the banker’s stepson. So while we beat the threat in front of us, the larger threat remains, and knowing that makes the whole thing feel like unfinished business, even as this part of the adventure draws to a close. Say what you will about the Pratchett encounter; tossing a guy into an ochre jelly definitely provides closure.

One thing I found myself struck by as we began this episode is that we probably made a bigger deal out of the caltrops than we needed to. It’s a 5-foot penalty to movement and ONE whopping point of bleed damage. That’s not going to kill anyone. And yet, here we are at the top of the steps in Tactical Analysis mode for… well, FAR longer than the threat really dictated.

Though in my case, I also wanted to clarify the rule for future use. My ancestral ability essentially works like Feather Fall: I can use my wings to fall slowly, with no real restriction on the vertical distance. But it was worth knowing whether my ability worked with a horizontal component – could I glide or just drop, but slowly? Physics 101 would suggest I should get a little bit of horizontal movement as I fell. But in this case, the fact that it was a set of stairs imposed additional considerations on the vertical side: if I fell too fast, I’d still land in caltrops, but if I fell too slowly, I’d smack my head against the descending ceiling above the stairs. (Heck, if you want to get technical, would there be enough room to fully extend my wings in a staircase?) So all in all, I think Steve’s ruling was fair – give a reflex save to account for those shifting conditions, but otherwise, give me the horizontal movement I would’ve gotten from a leap (plus maybe a little extra for the glide path).

So we get everyone downstairs, and we reveal the construct in all its glory. As expected, it hits HARD, and the ability to hold people down and drill into them is a nice cherry on the sundae. On the other hand, I guess I was a little surprised its defenses weren’t more formidable. I’d expect a construct made of metal to have some damage resistances, but no resistances and fairly easy to hit as well. The two sidekick rogues were easy pickings, and even Kolo wasn’t that tough once we got rid of some of the “noise” and were able to focus on him.

With all of the combat resolved, a picture of the full heist emerges. The crew upstairs were mostly diversionary, designed to stall any Token Guard that showed up later. The Skinstitcher held the stairs to the vault, while the machine took care of opening the vault. You figure if we hadn’t been there, either help wouldn’t have arrived at all, or it at least would’ve taken a WHILE to get there – someone would have to escape the bank and go get the Token Guard, come back, navigating through the float wreckage in both directions, and dealing with the guys upstairs.

There are still unanswered questions. First, what role did Kolo play? Is he actually a cultist, or just someone’s greedy Useful Idiot? I think it’s the latter, but you never know. I do wonder which attackers were cultists and which were Copper Hand, though that’s mostly about vindicating our handling of the upstairs. If they were Copper Hand, maybe we could’ve negotiated with them. If they were Skinsaw Cultists, they would’ve started killing as soon as they had what they needed anyway, so we just cut to the chase. And of course, the big question… who’s behind it all, and how do we find them?

As the post-game starts to unfold, one thing happens that I have to comment on: Seth paying 55 gp for a single feather token that PROBABLY has zero practical use… the anchor. It’s one thing to spend a little money trying out different gear (particularly consumables); I did so myself with a couple of magic arrows. But those were only 10 gp a pop, and you could immediately see how they’d be combat-relevant. To spend 55 gp on a boat anchor, when there’s absolutely NOTHING to suggest we’ll even be leaving Absalom, much less on a boat… I’m not sure whether he’s insane or just the most dedicated roleplayer I’ve ever seen. Maybe a bit of both.

Watch, I probably just reverse-jinxed it and the Skinsaw Cult has their own boat that they’ll use as a getaway craft. Make me eat my words.

So next week… it’s hard to say what happens. We level up, so that’s always nice, but in terms of the larger story, unless we can get something from the guys we captured during the heist, I’m not sure what the next move is. Maybe Kolo saw or heard something to point us in the right direction? Maybe the wreckage of the construct contains clues? (Do those things come with a “black box”?) I guess we’ll find out next time.

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|24: You Sit on a Throne of Lies

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|24: Death By Healing.

Sorry, this week’s Talking is a little late. Real-life intrudes in the form of… well, take your pick: a teenage son who’s a little behind on his assignments in school and needs a little help getting across the finish line, or sitting in a dark room pouting because my hometown hockey team’s been eliminated from the playoffs. Perhaps a bit of both.

Also, I have to admit I needed multiple listens to figure out exactly what was going on with the Hap and Darius “wish” scene at the end of the episode. I kept getting interrupted by other things and Loren was being a little cagey and leaning into the roleplay in her descriptions, so I couldn’t quite piece together what was happening at first. Just that it was weird and silly and… ok, maybe a little disturbing when Darius cradles Hap like a baby when making his wish.

I think I managed to piece it together, though. Both Vanessa and Loren mention using a 4th-level spell slot on this project, whatever it is. (The “nah, you don’t need that for healing” joke.) Going through the spell list, the spell creation, which creates a temporary object from eldritch energy, fits the bill. If you need some supporting evidence, I’d point out that since it’s on the primal spell list, the created object must be of vegetable matter – which would explain the detail of the plate being made of wood and the fact that it didn’t really taste like bacon.

Which misses the forest for the trees a bit. The hidden scandal of the episode. Hap tried to foist VEGAN BACON on Darius. That’s just wrong. Friendships have ended over less. If Darius defects to the Celestial Menagerie at some future point… this is the moment time travelers from the future will have to go back and undo.


But OK… all of this is me dancing around an uncomfortable conversation. For one of the few times ever for this space, I’m going to put on my Poindexter glasses, go full Rules Lawyer, and blow out the central premise of this week’s episode.

Ateran should not have been in any danger of being killed by their own healing spell.

Sorry. It brings me no joy to say it because it was “great radio” in the moment. As I write this, I feel like I’m telling a bunch of 10-year-olds Santa doesn’t exist. But the rules are pretty clear, and I guess I’m a little surprised both Steve and Vanessa missed it since they both usually know this stuff inside and out. Reading the text of Spirit Link, it’s right there in the last sentence: “You can Dismiss this spell, and if you’re ever at 0 Hit Points, spirit link ends automatically”. “You” in this case, is the caster.

That’s not the least bit ambiguous. It’s true that Spirit Link is a fire-and-forget, rather than a sustain. (Can you imagine if Ateran had to give up one of their actions every turn to let people heal?) But Spirit Link does end if/when the caster gets knocked out. So yeah… there it is, me peeing in the punchbowl. Feel free to boo. Internally, I’m booing myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still an exciting fight. It’s good to see the party tested, and anytime someone reaches Dying 3 and has to seriously think about breaking out the Hero Points, it’s an important moment. Personally, I also liked the synergy of going from one babau in the first fight to two babaus the second time around, and now three in the finale (even though one of those was the runner from the previous fight). But I’m afraid the dark-comedy self-inflicted demise underpinning the whole thing was a mistake.

Of course, one side effect of Ateran’s brush with death, however it came about, is that it cuts the exploration a little bit short for the day. We still have unexplored rooms to clear, and the mysteries connected to Ulthadar remain to be untangled for at least another episode. Also, I had to go back and check, but there was that handwritten note that I BET contains a whole lot of plot dump; in the aftermath of making sure Ateran didn’t die, the party forgot to really look at that. Since xulgaths aren’t known for their beautiful penmanship and I’d think anything “original” would’ve been destroyed by age or the xulgaths trashing the place… I’m actually going to put $5 that Mistress Dusklight is either the author or the recipient and it explains more about her role in all of this. That’s my thinking for now, and I stand ready to be proven wrong next episode, or whenever they get back to looking at it.

So yeah… kind of a “short” episode this week – yeah, still an hour-forty, but when you spend most of it fighting, it doesn’t leave as much to write about. I assume the gang will return tomorrow to take another swing at the pinata since we haven’t really heard anything circus-related recently and since this seems to be the main plot focus.

Speaking of which, I thought it was an interesting point Steve made about having the circus itself exist as a ready-made pool of party members ready to go if someone DOES die. The snake-lady could be upgraded to a druid or ranger, you could make a rogue out of a member of the Feather Fall Five or the Dwarven Throwers; we don’t know what the “real” Jellico can do, but maybe he turns out to be a much better mage than he was a clown or something. And then there’s the new characters who just joined – the ysoki alchemist and Aives, the guy who defected from the Celestial Menagerie mid-fight. Of course, one could write in a brand-new character pretty easily – traveler hears about the newly successful circus and wants to join up and use their talents – but they don’t come with the pre-existing awareness of the backstory that those other characters do. Heck, with the new Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, maybe Riley can get a field promotion to Beastkin.

Just not Gibzip. If Gibzip ever joins the party permanently, I’m outta here. (And based on her reaction, I suspect Vanessa would be too. She seems to share my loathing.)

But that’s all speculation. For this week, rest, relax, and… I’m assuming… get ready to go back in 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.