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The Bird’s Eye View S3|20: Splish, Splash, Lo Mang’s Taking a Bath

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|20: Cone of Coal.

I apologize that this week’s column is arriving late: it’s been one of those weeks, both good (Steve actually visiting Pittsburgh along with several other long-time friends, kids’ birthdays falling this week) and bad (procrastinating on doing my taxes because I knew I owed for the first time in years, getting a little too obsessive about assembling my initial Diamond Dynasty squad in MLB The Show). But I finally added Jack Leiter last night as my missing fifth starter, and I knocked out my taxes this morning (grumble grumble), so I’m good to return to the world of Pathfinder minutiae.

(And yes, I know I lost some non-zero portion of you with the baseball talk, but I gotta be me. Can I win you back by pointing out that my team is the “Countryside Burninators” and I used the logo editor to make my team logo a picture of Trogdor? YES, I USED CONSUMMATE V’S.)

As an aside, Steve brought a copy of the Battlezoo Bestiary book with him on his trip into town because he figured I’d like to see it, and it’s BEAUTIFUL. I won’t be doing a formal review because that’s all sorts of conflict of interests, but it turned out really well.

This episode is a little weird because it’s almost like an episode of the circus show, as I’m ALMOST a spectator to the action. I talked about this a little last week, but it’s really on display this week: I was so busy shooting arrows from a safe distance last week, that the whole fight took a left turn and ran off to the north and left me all by myself back in the central bath chamber. Therefore, at least within the flow of this episode, I’m not doing a lot – I basically have to burn two whole rounds just to get back into a position where I’m even able to fight, and by that point, John and Chris have done most of the hard work. The first move got me onto a straight line with the fight, but there was an elevation change that prevented me from getting line of sight, so the second round was moving up to a point where I could see into the room to shoot. (But at that point I had to just move into the room and use my sword-cane anyway.)

I console myself by saying that it’s not cowardice, it’s just editing. This whole sequence is a running fight that spans the next 3 or 4 episodes (depending on whether the Franca fight becomes one big episode or two smaller ones). I was busy last week, I’ll be busy next week, but based on where Steve cut the action, this week I happen to just be along for the ride.

Meanwhile, Chris starts the action this week by providing us with some broad physical comedy, blowing through not one but TWO acid traps in his pursuit of the remaining lizardfolk. Now… part of me just wants to make fun of him for his hubris, but let’s be fair that some of that is built into his character. When you’ve got a metric ton of hit points and take feats that can turn saves into critical saves, maybe blowing through traps without a care in the world is just playing to the strengths of your build. Though let’s be honest, the comedic effect is still akin to the Cape Fear parody episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on rakes over and over.

For a good chunk of the episode, the battle remains a matter of cleanup. Yes, there’s a room where the lizardfolk are keeping more FBI Guys, but our melees are better than their melees, and we should be able to make fairly quick work of them. And then…

CONE OF COAL. And yes, I’m envious of John for coming up with that line. Yes, I tried to keep up with “Revenge is a dish best served coal”, but no… too wordy. John nailed it on the first take. Sometimes you take the L with grace and move on.

Turns out the cone of coal isn’t the real problem, though. It was a nasty little surprise — and made for a heck of an entrance — but the real danger is the EXPLODING crossbow bolts Franca is firing. A one-shot of area damage… eh, you can power through it. Multiple bursts of area damage every round? That’s going to be an issue.

Though don’t think Basil isn’t taking notes. Down the line, if Basil can put some area damage on his arrows… yeah, that’ll be a good time. But that’s an item for the Christmas list; for the moment, we gotta stop her and separate her from the bomb.

As an aside, I suspect the bomb isn’t down here directly – if it’s gotta disperse, setting it off underground BELOW all your victims doesn’t seem to make any sense. So I assume it’s more like we defeat her and she TELLS us where the bomb is.

So the boss fight is engaged. We don’t get very far into it before the episode break, but we start to at least do some feeling out. There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that once we close to within melee range, she drops the crossbow, so no more area damage. And her base melee attacks don’t hit especially hard. She may have other special abilities, so I’m not declaring victory just yet, but it’s a promising sign. The bad news is that she’s shaping up as hard to hit – I think it took a mid-30s roll to hit, and our attack bonuses are in the +20 neighborhood, so that’s looking like a 15, 16 on-die to hit, maybe even higher for some things like spell DCs and saving throws. So while it looks like we can survive whatever she’s going to throw at us, it may also be a little tough for us to score damage on her, and we’re pretty much only critting on a Nat-20. And it’s also picking at the back of my brain that I’m a little worried if she runs for it and this turns into a pursuit situation – she seems kind of rouge-ish in her build, so a bunch of chase mechanics may not favor us.

But that will be next week (and maybe the week after). For this week, we’ve found our target and it’s time to bring her to justice. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|29: Whack-a-Mole Whacks Back!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|29: Disco Inferno.

I have to knock out this week’s column quickly, as personal life intrudes in a good way this weekend. It’s Funageddon 2022! More accurately, the fantasy baseball league I used to be in is having their annual draft, so a bunch of lifelong friends (including Steve himself) descend on Pittsburgh for the weekend and hijinks ensue. I don’t play anymore – somewhere along the line, forgetting family members’ birthdays but being able to tell you who the fifth outfielder for the San Diego Padres is got a little weird – but I do generally hang out with everyone, and even serve as auctioneer as long as they buy me lunch.

So back in the world of the Extinction Curse, I realize I made a SMALL mistake last week. Nothing big: I just said the xulgaths raised the alarm intentionally, but really, it was Darius throwing the one xulgath through the fire and off the platform, which set off their trap. When a burning xulgath hits an oil trap (feel free to sing that phrase to the tune of “When A Man Loves A Woman”), predictably fiery things happen.

The net effect is the same regardless. Immediate short term, some saving throws need to be rolled to not fall into the fire. (Except for the poor xulgath who started it all and is pretty screwed.) Tactically, there’s now a huge environmental hazard serving as backdrop for the entire fight, with the fire itself, and obscuring smoke rising from it. And at a meta level, the entire xulgath crew now ought to know they’re coming, unless the xulgaths chose this exact moment to go visit an inexplicably-placed sensory deprivation tank.

As for our party, Darius is fine; he was safe up on the platform anyway. Never in any danger. Hap’s build pretty much protects her from the worst effects, between ancestral fire resistance and feather fall. So the ones in most immediate danger are Ateran and Alhara. Alhara manages to grab a ledge in a very Tina Belcher-inspired fashion, as we spend a curiously long time discussing Darius’ butt. We’ll unpack that another time. Ateran does fall, but they have flying available, so yeah… a little damage, but mostly a short term inconvenience. All in all, the trap ends up being not as horrible as it could’ve been. The way I see it, if Darius or Alhara (aka the people without flying) had fallen, THEN things would’ve gotten interesting.

What IS kind of horrible is the presence of stone maulers as additional muscle. Confession time: I assumed this was actually another new variant of xulgath on first listen, but as I was looking up stat blocks for reference… OK, they’re actually earth elementals. In addition to being a big punchy hit point sponge, they have two main powers. The first is the spikes they can emanate as an aura: it’s not a LOT of damage, but it does complicate battlefield movement on an already-small platform. On the other hand, you only take damage if you move, so if you just stand and trade swings with them, you can reduce its effectiveness somewhat. The second is the crumble ability where they can melt into the ground when they take a hit. (Though it’s worth mentioning they still take the damage.) Peeking behind the GM screen, the limiting factor for THAT ability is that it has a cooldown and can only be used every 1d4 rounds. But it does create a whack-a-mole scenario where they can go under and pop up somewhere new. So… Tremors, but less bitey.

The other meta comment is that BOTH those abilities require stone to operate, so if you can fight them somewhere other than a stone surface, it would neutralize both their abilities. But the wood bridge is the only nearby location that would work, and having the two characters who can’t fly battle on a narrow wood bridge with no guardrails feels like prime material for a winning entry in a “World’s Dumbest Character Deaths” essay contest. So… fighting them on their home turf it is.

So the battle rages, and in some ways, it’s a return to normal for the team. After a few weeks of “hey, Alhara had a great combat and didn’t die!” commentary, she’s back at death’s door for the first time in a few weeks. I’m not bashing Vanessa in the slightest; she’s playing her character exactly how it’s supposed to be played. But for a variety of reasons – the battlefield map limiting her movement options so she couldn’t make the most of her mobility, bad dice luck, whatever – we got back to the RFC tradition of the Alhara Pinata. And I don’t think we fully appreciate how close a call it was: dying 3 without a hero point available is not a place you want to be as a character. Fortunately, the rest of the team was able to keep her going, and it happened close enough to the end of the fight that the situation resolved itself.

Though this did lead to a fun little moment on our Discord channel where I joked that if she HAD died, the moment would’ve been immortalized by Steve speeding up Alhara’s death scene for comedic effect and carving it into sound bytes for the show. Which then prompted Vanessa to take matters into her own hands and record a sped-up Alhara death scene for the amusement of all. If you’re not on our Discord channel, you might want to head there to enjoy that.

One other thing I briefly wanted to touch on was the Juggernaut Mutagen. And no, not just because Rob’s initial delivery of the “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” line was way too casual and came across as the Smooth Jazz/NPR Juggernaut. I just like taking a look at magic items we don’t see too often. In this case, you get temporary hit points and a bonus to fortitude saves which vary based on the potency of the consumable, which trades off against a flat -2 penalty to will saves, perception checks and initiative rolls.

In this case, the temporary hitpoints were gone almost as soon as Darius got them, but the really interesting things kick in at the higher-level versions of the item. First, the duration goes up from a minute, to 10 minutes, and eventually to an hour. So now we’re talking about an item can help in multiple combats. Where that really helps is that the temporary hitpoints can regenerate if you’ve been at max hit points for one minute, so if you rest between fights and heal, you get a second or third dose of temporary HP. Also, the real good ones turn successes into critical successes and critical failures into regular failures on the fortitude saves.

So the battle eventually resolves itself and the party is still alive. One down… an entire aeon tower full of bad guys to go. Including the Big Boss. And that’s where we call halt for the session. 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.

P.S. – Who am I kidding?” It’s Jose Azocar. Fifth outfielder for the Padres. Sigh.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|19: Attack the Darkness!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|19: Danger Close.

It’s going to be a short column this week. It’s already a pretty short episode (under an hour) and it’s also one of those episodes where it’s all kinda up there on the “screen” – there’s not a lot of extra insight I can provide beyond pointing out that yes, three crits in a row is pretty dang cool. And unlikely to ever happen again. And yes, I did burn a hero point to try for a fourth, but at that point the session was ending in 5 or 10 minutes and I was going to lose it anyway.

I suppose that does mean I have time to take a brief detour into deeper RPG waters (and the show notes/discussions on the Battlezoo side of the house) and give my own thoughts on Paizo publishing a 5E conversion of Abomination Vaults.

Despite the fact that we’ve been doing this podcast for almost five years and part of that has involved rubbing elbows with Paizo types on occasion, I don’t consider myself any sort of “industry insider”. At best I’m like the “honorary captain” they send out for the coin toss at the start of a football game: you can put a jersey on me, but I’m not tackling Gronk in the open field. So all of this is just the perspective of a long-time player who has played and enjoyed both systems. (But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose one, I’d probably pick PF2E.)

To me, this is only a bad thing if you’re hard wired to view the edition wars as a zero-sum game where somebody has to win and someone has to lose. Look, whether it’s serendipity, the silky-smooth voice of Matt Mercer, or wheelbarrows of Hasbro marketing dollars, the reality is that D&D has reclaimed its place as the top dog in TTRPGs. If we’re being honest, they probably never really lost it, though 4E was enough of a misstep that it opened the door for Pathfinder’s existence in the first place. But it’s equally true that Paizo probably isn’t going anywhere even if the brand never penetrates like D&D does. The bigger positive for the industry as a whole is that the D&D nerds of the 70s and 80s a) aged into a demographic where we have disposable income and b) some of us became creatives that were able to go out into film and TV and sell the general public on the POSITIVES of our hobby instead of presenting it as the punchline of a joke. I mean, hell, if Henry Cavill can make videos of himself painting Warhammer minis and not lose his career, we’re living in the salad days. Overall, that’s the proverbial rising tide that raises all ships.

So rather than worry about a competition they can likely never really “win”, it strikes me that Paizo is trying to use their strengths to their advantage. They’ve done a lot of good work building out their Golarion setting, and as Steve has discussed on the Battlezoo side, going from comparatively rules-heavy (Pathfinder) to comparatively rules-light (5E) is an easier conversion than the other way around. So why not repurpose something you already made – I assume it’s cheaper and quicker-to-market than doing new content — and tap into a piece of that larger player base? At worst, it’s a little extra revenue stream coming in to keep funding Pathfinder and Starfinder; at best, maybe a few players become curious enough to give PF2 a try on its own merits.

Even just thinking about my 5E home game, I’m not sure there’s a lot of enthusiasm for learning a whole new system… YET. But if I can put Abomination Vaults in front of them and they like it, THEN you can sell that next step. Well, if you liked that… take the red pill, let me show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes, and you still have two actions left. So it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out; whether it’s a one-off or whether they keep releasing 5E conversions. But for now, I think it’s a generally positive move.

So anyway… I suppose I should say SOMETHING about the episode, shouldn’t I?

I guess I’ll talk about blind-fight a little bit. On one hand, I absolutely love blind-fight as a concept, and particularly in First Edition, blindness penalties sucked. But I have to admit, I also feel like it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

First, it feels like sometimes I’m fudging the distinction between a specific combat skill and generally ignoring conditions that should still create perception issues and Steve lets me get away with it. Like… yes, the rules say I don’t have to take the penalty for concealment, but if I walk into a room, the underlying environmental conditions still exist. Darkness, for example. If I walk into a pitch-black room, it’s one thing to say I can sense an attack and respond; it’s another thing to say “I know there are three enemies and I know exactly where in the room they are”. Feels like I ought to still make some sort of perception check to even know there’s an enemy there, but then be able to make the attack without penalty.

And that brings me to my more specific point. I feel like blind-fight maybe ought to apply only to melee attacks. I’ve read the rule, and it just says “attacks”, but I feel like the spirit of blind-fight is that you use your other senses to compensate, kinda like the comic-book character Daredevil. You can fight an opponent because you can hear their footsteps, feel wind currents when they move, smell their scent… all that jazz. But how do you use your other senses to compensate when you’re firing a bow from 50 or 100 feet away and they’re in a different room? (Speaking of which, how does Daredevil hear a freakin’ laser beam coming at him? IT’S LIGHT. LIGHT DOESN’T MAKE NOISE.) So, I’m not going to aggressively lobby Paizo to nerf my character, but if it ever DID happen, I’d probably be forced to admit it was a fair change.

The other thing I briefly wanted to touch on was the “cheat” at the end, where Chris moved into the next room, revealing more enemies, but then realized he didn’t have enough actions to move there and had to rescind his move. So now on some level, we know we’re going to run into a trap, but we still have to pretend we don’t know that.

I’m not really going to talk about that specifically – mistakes happen – but the more general question of how you deal with “spoilers” like that because they do come up from time to time. In my case, one of the major causes ends up being the circus show. Sometimes the circus crew will fight a monster, I’ll hear all the nasty abilities it has, and then we’ll fight that same monster a few weeks later, and I have knowledge I probably shouldn’t have. One example… not a monster, but a spell… was dimension door. The circus folks fought a succubus that had dimension door in its power-set, so as part of writing my piece, I looked up the spell and found out there’s two different version. The low-level one just moves it anywhere the caster can see within 120 feet… combat repositioning. The higher-level version is an escape spell: anywhere within a mile, but can’t be cast for an hour. So then WE fought a creature with dimension door, and it teleported out, and Jason the person knows that means the fight is likely over but Basil the character isn’t supposed to know that yet.

In general, this is going to sound corny, but the biggest thing is to remind yourself that you don’t want to win THAT way. Yes, you want to win the fights and follow the story to completion, but there’s a right way to do it, and do you want the story you tell about it later to be “well, I cheated because the GM slipped up and told us about the ambush and we went a different way”?

At least in the case of creatures and spells, it also makes a good case for solid note-taking. If you play this game enough, especially if you also GM, you’re going to reach a point where you know all the creatures and their abilities anyway. So it’s not the worst idea of making a list of the creatures and abilities your character has already seen, so you can be fair about how they would react in a given situation. A “fair” reaction would be like we had with oozes: the first time we fought one, we didn’t know they split when hit with slashing; the second time we fought them, we not only knew it, but used it to our advantage. (Split them, and then hit them with area damage.)

But that’s really all I got for this week. Next week we are, one way or another, going to trip that ambush that’s (wink-wink) totally not waiting for us in the next room. Though at the risk of being self-serving, it won’t have to be Basil, because I stayed behind to shoot arrows: I’m still a full round of movement away from the fight. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|28: The Clan With the Plan

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|28: Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I’m Hunting Xulgaths!!.

As I sit down to write about this week’s episode, it dawns on me that “they know we’re coming” is  a much more common trope in movies and TV than in the TTRPG world. There’s like… a whole John Wick movie about it. But in the TTRPG world, the normal mode of operation is that NPCs exist in suspended animation until the party stumbles into the room they’re in, at which point they spring to life and it’s time to fight. Even when the story positions them as guards, their “guard duty” tends to be physically occupying space the players need to move through, waiting for an initiative roll to kick them into gear.

For comparison’s sake, we just recently dealt with a similar situation in our Edgewatch game, where we were infiltrating a alchemical lab. There were guards around the exterior, but not patrolling: just enough of an inconvenience to require a Stealth roll, but no more than that. Once we got into the building, there were two NPCs who were playing chess in the room next to where we entered, but they didn’t notice our entry because they were playing chess.

So this week creates an interesting bit of strategy because our xulgath foes really do “know they’re coming”, in that they’re actively aware of the party’s efforts and have gone from passive protectors of the MacGuffin to an active security force.

But we’ll get there in a second. First up… Level 11 characters, though it’ll be brief because Level 11 tends to be one of those boring ones, at least for melees (casters at least get their level 6 spells). Well, maybe not boring, but 11’s biggest changes tend to be baked-in class abilities, so it’s a bit of a down level for player choice. That’s not meant as a criticism: there’s 20 levels, they can’t all be gems, and your character does get more powerful at the end of the day. But it is true that the part of the leveling where you get to pick out cool new stuff is… a skill feat, and a skill increase at a time where some classes don’t have a lot of skills to invest it in.

I do like the skill feat Loren took for Hap where she’s now a minor celebrity and can tap into that in any city the circus visits. It’s a neat little way to jump start information gathering in a new location, so it should fit the traveling circus theme well. I’m not sure how word of mouth gets around in a pre-technological world, but I’m sure magic will provide a way. I seem to recall that Starfinder has something similar, because I had a rolled a kasatha assassin/celebrity chef for Society play who either took or was thinking about taking the same feat. But it’s also been a while since I played him, so I might be remembering things wrong.

(As an aside, it’s kind of a shame I haven’t gone back to that character. Imagine Guy Fieri as a six-limbed contract killer who uses his equivalent of “Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins” as his cover story for traveling the galaxy murdering people, and you’ve got the gist. Really wanted to do more with him.)

We also had an interesting interlude about death, sparked by the realization that Ateran is close to being able to bring players back from the dead. That is interesting on its own merits, but doubly so when learning about Loren’s firm rule about, essentially, permadeath. That’s right: it turns out Hap has a DNR in place.

We’ve discussed this elsewhere, particularly back when Darius should’ve died, but when characters die, Steve tends to leave options unless you did something REALLY foolish to end up that way. And he tends to make the final choice of whether to come back or re-roll the player’s. So Loren’s saying she won’t take that off-ramp if it ever happens to Hap. Interesting.

I’m not sure I could ever be that absolute about things. I will admit I have some general sympathy for the position that if you die, you die, and pulling some rabbit out of the hat to stay alive feels a little too consequence-light. But I can’t QUITE bring myself to be as absolutist as Loren about it. If the worst should happen to one of my characters, it would honestly depend on how I felt about the character at the time. Part of it would be tactical, just because after playing a character for a year or two, sometimes it starts to get a little stale, and maybe trying something else would be liberating. But it’s also important how I’m feeling about my character’s journey at that point. We don’t roleplay AS heavily as the circus group does, but I do care about where my character’s overall journey ends up. There have been places in our story where I’ve felt “if we died here, I could live with it” and other places where I’d take ANY escape hatch because it didn’t feel like the right way to finish Basil’s story.

Anyhow, back to our story at hand. The group journeys forth to the last tower, and Ateran does a little Kirkland-brand Eye of Kilrogg scouting, and… this is going to be a challenge because the xulgaths really are prepared this time. They have a good defensive position with basically ONE point of entry, and the guards are actively patrolling. Specifically, they have to get up to a pair of raised platforms and then cross a bridge with no hand-rail, all of which is actively guarded. They probably can’t even do the bag of holding trick because the xulgaths will see it land and just… pick it up and toss it in a fire or something. (At that point, do they just wink out of existence immediately, or does their EXIT disappear, and they suffocate to death? ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.)

Fortunately, the party has another tool up their sleeve: invisibility sphere. Basil’s had this spell for a little while now, so I’m familiar with it. The various rules for what happens when people leave the sphere or attack from within it get a little crunchy, but the short answer is, if you stay close together and party-move as one, you can stay invisible for 10 minutes.

Doesn’t help with sounds or the possibility that the xulgaths will see the ladder reacting to the party’s weight on it, and Steve could get nitpicky about situations where they have to switch to single-file movement… but it’s a plan for now. So the party begins to ascend, until the point where the xulgaths seem like they might have noticed the party’s presence.

OK, so… change of plans. The new plan will be that Darius will go up first and establish a beachhead, and hold the first platform while everyone else gets up to the platform. And the first part of the plan goes like clockwork. Not only does Darius get up to the platform, but Hap gives him a wall of fire to throw people through, and Darius chucks one xulgath over the side. So far, so good… right?

Except that’s when the alarm goes up and all hell breaks loose. Specifically, two things happen. First, the xulgaths drop a torch on the lower grounds, creating a nice little bonfire down below the platforms. And then, the party learns the hard way that the ladder isn’t as secure as they thought, as the remaining xulgath pulls a pin that releases the whole thing into freefall!

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

The Bird’s Eye View S3|18: Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|18: Backstage at the Big Show.

I’m gonna start this week with the briefest of tabletop-adjacent reviews. You are hereby ordered… OK, more of a suggestion, maybe… to check out Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands if you’re also a video gamer. It’s a D&D/Skyrim-type game set inside the world of the Borderlands series (basically the premise is Borderlands characters playing a TTRPG to kill time after crashing their ship), and it’s a cheeky-but-affectionate send-up of all of our favorite TTRPG tropes. The only “bad” news is that it’s still ultimately a shooter with guns as the primary combat mechanism, but they managed to replicate most of the other TTRPG trappings, with magic filling the role that consumables might otherwise have played. It was enough fun that it ate up a good chunk of my weekend, so… my suggestion is to pick it up or at least watch a more complete review and see if it’s something you might be interested in. If nothing else, it’s far less frustrating than dying over and over in Elden Ring.

OK, that’s over with. On with the show.

I’m not going to go back and rehash last week’s battle too much more, except to mention one thing Steve touched on in his show notes. Flight. Steve mentioned that this battle could end up a lot different if we fought from the air, and… I should mention that I did consider it. Taking the fight vertical and plunking away with the bow from 50 feet in the air was certainly an option, but I rejected it for a few reasons.

First, this is going to be a single-day scenario, so I only get to use flight once. I have a general vibe that I want to save my flight for the final bomb encounter, especially if we get in a situation where emergency evac – ourselves, the bomb, victims — is involved. As frustrating as this fight is, it’s supposed to be non-lethal combat so let’s not waste one of our best hole cards.

Second, I’m not going to fully math out the numbers, but it’s iffy how effective it would’ve been. I get 5 minutes of flight, so… 50 rounds. Each round, I’d have to save one of my three actions just to stay in the air, so I’d have two actions to work with. Meaning two attacks that would do fairly minimal damage, or one Strategic Strike attack that might get precision damage if it hits, and probably only crits on a Nat-20. So, if the rest of the party starts falling, would I really be able to grind down four of them all by myself? And that’s the best case, assuming they don’t have any attacks that work at range. Or that they wouldn’t be clever enough to threaten to kill the rest of the party if I didn’t come down and fight. If they’re smart, they might also be ruthless too.

Also, Steve did give us that warning about playing to the crowd, and I figured flying up high and shooting arrows would’ve come across as cowardly and made for poor spectacle. I don’t know HOW losing the crowd might have hurt us, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

But whatever. What’s done is done. We lost, but it’s only a temporary inconvenience and a mild bruising of our collective pride. Time to get back to the meat-and-potatoes of our investigation.

I should mention, you’ll notice that some of my actions carry the assumption that we’re dealing with an airborne release. I have no special inside knowledge here, it just seems logical given the physics of the thing. If you set off a bomb that worked based on direct contact or ingestion, it would only affect the small number of people fairly close to the detonation, so I assume the general mechanism is to make it airborne to infect as many people as possible. So when I’m looking for places to get up high and let the wind carry it, it’s not like I cheated and read ahead in the adventure; it’s just a product of growing up in post-9/11 world where speculating about “dirty bombs” became dinner-table conversation for a few months there.

OK, that got a little dark there.

So we wander around… not having a lot of luck at first… until we get a possible sighting over at the animal pens. We arrive on the scene, and my first impression is “OK, something’s gonna break out of a cage and we’re going to have to fight some of these”. But fortunately that doesn’t happen.

What DOES happen is a big pile of poop. Because of course it does. It’s more evident on the circus side where they deal with animals more regularly, but this show has a track record: if Steve can make us interact with poop in some way, he will. This time, Gomez draws the short straw and has to help the head game-keeper dig through a bunch of dung to help her. But the payoff is a further lead: that Franca likes to hang out with a bunch of lizardfolk gladiators.

So we go look for those dudes. There’s another “OK, these cages are going to bust open” interaction with the trollhounds, but it’s another false alarm, and Basil finds a sorta-secret door that leads into the lower infrastructure of the stadium. And a Norgerber mark to give us a bread-crumb that we’re on the right trail. (I suppose that also firms up the theory that Franca is in league with them and not some rando who happened to stumble on the device.)

So we explore what amounts to the prehistoric locker rooms. For a long time there was little of note, though the various references to running water and hydraulics made me briefly consider that the device was going to involve a water-based release. But nope… it’s just part of the ambience; the pipes are old and out of service. Finally we stumble on a room with a standing pool of water, with a ring in the center. John briefly forgets he’s not playing Mister Peepers anymore and charges out into the middle of the room, and the proximity alarm goes off. Lizardfolk off the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow.

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 Sideshow S3|27: Slay It With Flowers

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|27: Flower Power.

I have to admit that my inner child is disappointed in this week’s episode.

Carnivorous plants were always such a cool thing to me growing up. Particularly the Venus flytrap – here’s this plant sitting around, minding its own business, a fly lands on it and CHOMP. Also just the fact that most plants make do with chlorophyl, but not this one. Why have SUN JUICE when you can have sweet tasty dissolved bug paste?

So I was really looking forward to seeing a Pathfinder take on a carnivorous plant, and you give me one that’s already dead? What the hell, Paizo!

At first, I was also a little angry on the party’s behalf because it seems like Audrey II being dead would’ve been something the party should’ve noticed… maybe even something that should’ve been obvious. But then I thought about it and I guess that’s the difference between starting with a Recall Knowledge instead of a Perception or Medicine roll. Now that I think about it (though it’s going back to last week’s episode), Ateran chose to lead off with a Recall Knowledge, so they got all the Encyclopedia Britannica info on the plant, but didn’t actually check for a pulse. And at the risk of being snotty with my backseat driving, they weren’t in rounds yet, so they would’ve had time to do both.

(We have an editorial clarification: we were talking about this later in group chat, and Steve mentioned that when Alhara was walking the perimeter, she did get a secret Nature check to notice whether the plant was dead, but she failed it.)

Nevertheless, the decision having been made, the party started sneaking around the dead plant in the middle of the clearing and ended up walking right into the real threat: the countefloras. Which, to my surprise, is not an Italian salad, but a form of evil dandelion. The interesting thing about these guys is that they basically have two modes: in their normal mode, their spore-spewing almost makes them the equivalent of a caster, or they can draw in their… petals, fronds, whatever… and it hardens up both their defenses and offense and turns them into more brute-like mode.

Among other things, their spores re-introduce us to the fascinate condition, which… unless I’m missing something… feels like the most useless status effect in the game. Basically, you just have to focus your attention on the creature that fascinated you. It doesn’t prevent you from attacking, so it’s almost totally useless against melee. It’s not even a berserk-like thing that prevents you from casting spells – it just makes it so that you can ONLY do so against the creature that fascinated you. And it’s broken if a creature takes a hostile action against the fascinated target OR its party-mates.

Really, thinking about it, there’s only a couple useful aspects to it. First, I suppose it can create a short-term lockout for attacks of opportunity or other reactions: if you’re fascinated by Creature #1, Creatures 2 through 4 can do whatever they want and you won’t be able to react to it. The other use case would be disrupting a party healer if there is one, since their utility relies primarily on being able to target other people. But even then… it only lasts until the next enemy attack.

One way to fix fascinate MIGHT be to make it so the target doesn’t become unfascinated until the creature that attacked it takes a hostile action. That is, if you’re SO fixated on Creature #1, you might not even notice Creatures 2 through 4 attacking your friends. Then maybe you could have the fascinator lock out the fascinatee (yep, I’m making up words now) while its allies work on the rest of the party. But even that doesn’t slow things down much because the fascinate target can still come over and start whomping on you with impunity, and if you fight back, the condition ends.

As the fight begins, we get another surprise… at least one of the distillery workers is still alive. I’d been assuming all of them were wiped out, but in a little touch of irony, the worker who fell closest to the carnivorous plant corpse is just hanging on. Interestingly enough, our party decides to stage an impromptu rescue mission, grabbing the downed worker and retreating from the grove. Residual guilt over the earlier incident at the distillery, maybe?

At first glance, it seems like it might be a full-blown retreat, but then the team regroups and decides to go back and fight. And once the initial surprise wears off, the killer flowers turn out to be not SO tough. The good news is that they’re vulnerable to both cold and fire; the bad news is Hap is trying to conserve spells, so she’s more in Poke-Trainer mode than spellslinger mode. Even so, the party is able to rally and dispose of the killer flowers fairly easily.

After the battle, the team revives the lone survivor of the distillery party and get a little more detail on the overall situation. It turns out the distillery workers had been skirmishing against the xulgaths for a while, and had learned a few interesting facts before the killer flowers got them. First, they’re aware of the players’ activities and are fortifying the last tower for an attack. Yeah, that’s not good. Second, we find out that the xulgath leader has some mechanism for transporting between the towers. (At a meta-game level, I suspect this was a way to handle it so that the players could tackle the towers in any order, and the boss would still be at the third one.)

The party considers doing an initial reconnaissance mission up to the tower, but between general depletion of resources and the fact that the xulgaths know they’re coming, the party decides to call it a day and take their survivor back to the distillery. Their return kicks off another round of shaming over Hap’s errant fireball, but good news arrives at the end of the session, as they’ll be levelling up before they take on the final tower next time.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. Our heroes will be more powerful, and – unless some other side mission crops up – they’ll be heading out for the last of the three towers. (And possibly closing in on the end of the book? We’re nearing the upper 20s on episode count, and that’s traditionally about how long a book takes….) Join us next time and find out, I guess. 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 S3|17: They Put the Fear of Dog Into Us

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|17: The Wayward Warriors.

It may surprise some of you to know this, but I have a soft spot in my heart for wrestling. I wouldn’t call it a “guilty pleasure” – I don’t go out of my way to hide it — but I’ll admit it kinda plateaued at a certain level. I never went to a show or ordered a PPV, but when I was travelling for my job it was always guaranteed to be on TV in whatever hotel I was in. I’d say I admired it in the same way one would admire stunt-work in movies: I never took the storylines all that seriously, but some of the athleticism required was (and still is, I suppose) pretty remarkable.

So we’re going to take a detour into wrestling terminology this week. Don’t worry… it’ll all come full circle and be relevant eventually.

First, there’s the concept of the “jobber”. The jobber is the wrestler you barely recognize who loses to the more famous wrestlers because they can’t have ALL the best wrestlers go head-to-head in a given show. The term came about from the days when wrestling was a smaller, more regional business: jobbers were LITERALLY local talent hired to augment the roster and lose to the stars brought in from out-of-town.

Related is the concept of the “squash match”. A squash match is a one-sided mismatch that ends really quickly, usually to establish the winner as a force to be reckoned with in future matches. These concepts are related because you usually want the loser of a squash match to be a jobber, or you’re wasting one performer’s credibility to enhance another’s.

So in this week’s episode, we’re entered into the Blood Games. And it turns out that we were ABSOLUTELY positioned as jobbers, and though it didn’t start out that way, we also got booked into what ended up being a squash match.

The central question of this episode is: were we always supposed to lose this fight, or was it just a case where some things went badly? I feel like it’s the former, and I’m not just trying to protect my own ego here.

On a pure math level, I’ll concede that there MAY have been a path to win. As I pointed out during the show, if you go by pure math, we were probably facing 1100 or so hit points, and the circus folk had just done an episode where they faced over 1400 hit points worth of baddies (though spread out over more, weaker creatures) and survived. And when I see Lo Mang putting up almost 100 points in a single round, it’s impossible for me to rule out that MAYBE there was a path to victory there.

And OK, it was a little point of personal joy to stymie the eberarks’ concealment by rolling out blind fight. I’ve had it for a few sessions now, but it’s never been relevant until now. As I said, I picked it up when we added free archetypes at Level 10; that opened up a few feats, and that was always one of my favorites in First Edition.

On the other hand, it did seem like things were stacked against us, like maybe we were supposed to lose just to get the games behind us and get on with the investigation.

The first guiding principle is the overall scope of our mission. We’ve been told we have one day to find Franca and the bomb. So that means no long rest, no going shopping mid-session… we’ve gotta make it through entirely on what resources we have, and I there’s an expectation that there’s PROBABLY going to be some sort of boss fight at the end when we find Franca. Meaning that if this OPENING fight consumes too many resources, you’re playing the whole scenario with one hand tied behind your back. At a meta level, it doesn’t seem like Paizo would do that to you.

The second reason I say that is the tactical analysis. One bruiser beast as part of a more well-rounded creature “party” could have been manageable. An entire group of bruisers feels like it’s meant to be overwhelming by design. Especially when one considers the battlefield: the fact that we’re fighting in an open arena means there’s no terrain we can use to manage movement, create choke points, etc. If anything, it’s even worse because the eberarks can use their fire trails to create defensive features (they’re immune to fire, we’d take 6d6 fire damage if we walk through it), but we don’t have anything like that unless we brought it with us.

And then there’s that fear effect. That basically steered the whole fight into a ditch we were never truly able to get back out of. Paralysis is one of the worst status effects in the game – you pretty much lose your whole turn except for mental skills like Recall Knowledge — and ALL FOUR of them conceivably had the ability to inflict it. The one saving grace (going back and reading the stat block later) is that once you get hit with this particular ability (Arrogant Taunts) once, you’re immune for 10 minutes. So it’s not like Steve could keep chain-paralyzing us; he basically got one shot at it. But for those of us who failed the save, that was really all he needed. Especially since Gomez – you know… the healer – was one of the ones who got it worst.

As a matter of technicality, I think Gomez could’ve sustained the mephit if he’d wanted. Yes, sustaining a spell takes an action, but it appears to be a mental-only action (no use of the manipulate trait), which would’ve been allowed even while paralyzed. Of course the mephit also failed its save would also have been paralyzed anyway, so sustaining a mephit that just lies there doing nothing would’ve been a pyrrhic victory at best. But it feels worth mentioning in case it’s relevant in some future fight down the road…

So it pretty much takes two rounds for the fight to completely go over a cliff, the party is half-dead, and our contact invokes the mercy rule and stops the fight. I could be petty and say Basil was mostly fine, but let’s be honest that once all four beasties turned their attention to me, that wasn’t going to last. If there’s a bit of silver lining to this cloud, it’s that we got our clocks cleaned SO thoroughly we really didn’t have time to waste any of our big guns. Better resource management through pummeling! So although the whole experience was a little humiliating, we ended up in a decent place tactically. At least it gives us credibility to hang out backstage and look for Franca and the bomb.

One idle thought I was thinking: it would have been interesting to see the Extinction Curse party play through this encounter. Heck, maybe that’s why “Wayward Warriors” popped into my head as a potential group name. When the game master talked about winning the crowd, I’d have been interested in seeing what that gang came up with, since they’ve been working performance into their characters from Day One. Also, more “rubber meets the road”, Hap’s inspire courage skill would’ve given them a slightly better shot of blowing through the paralysis and hanging in the fight a little longer. As it is, our big play to the crowd was Lo Mang somehow dodging an attack while basically out on his feet. Not the stuff of legend, exactly.

So next week, after we heal up and absorb the needling of our fellow gladiators, we get on with the reason we’re here, finding Franca and the bomb. Hope the rest of the fights won’t be as tough as this one was. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|26: Hapocalypse Now

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|26: Let’s Not Bicker and Argue Over Who Killed Who.

It’s a weird week on this week’s Roll For Combat. Normally, when an episode is combat-centric, that tends to drive the action: you want to see what sorts of cool things happen during the fight. In this episode, it was almost the complete opposite: you really wanted the combat to hurry up and end to see how the party would handle the can of worms opened up by Hap’s fireball misadventures last week.

It didn’t help that once the combat got going, it was pretty much a complete mismatch. I didn’t sit there and count, but I get a feeling the xulgaths were pretty low-level and navigating the hostage situation was supposed to be the big challenge of this encounter. Not only did they miss a surprising amount of attacks, but I don’t recall them landing a single crit the entire fight. As such, we ended up in a fight where you never got the sense our heroes were in much danger.

It wasn’t a total waste of a fight though, because we really got to see Alhara’s build shine this week, complete with a glorious dose of the “Attack of Opportunity” sound effect. (Note to self: if Alhara should ever die, Vanessa’s next character needs to be a sprite and Steve needs to figure out the audio tricks necessary to make that her full-time voice.) I’ve come to the conclusion that Alhara as a character gets hamstrung when she’s forced to fight defensively, and to get the most out of her, Vanessa needs to get her in situations where she can open up the throttle and go full offense. I feel like a lot of earlier fights followed a pattern where Alhara would leap in, take a bunch of damage as the first one into the breach, and then she’d spend the rest of the battle fighting defensively around that damage. In a fight like this, she’s really able to commit to the build and it’s something to behold.

Within a few rounds, the party has the battle mostly mopped up, and now it’s time for the moment of reckoning with the distillery workers. And… OK, it’s actually a bit anti-climactic. I was expecting anger and we got… mild peevishness, I guess? I sort of get it – this is one of those places where the adventure path probably forces you to color inside the lines, and there’s not a lot of room for the distillery workers to attack the party or flat-out refuse to help them. But their complaints about Hap barbequing their colleagues comes across at the same level of outrage as a restaurant telling a party of two they can’t be seated at a four-top.

On the other hand, Hap’s reaction made up the difference for being quite unexpected. Up until now, Loren has played Hap as not just a reluctant adventurer, but as someone who’s really been conflict-averse and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But this time… Hap has snapped and it’s the emergence of Dark Hap. (A lot of people are already making the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix comparison on our Discord channel.) It’s going to be interesting to see if this is just a short-term defense mechanism to having screwed up – that is, Hap knew she was wrong, but wasn’t going to admit it in the moment — or an actual new direction for Loren’s character.

This new version of Hap makes a good point that’s also a bad point. Her good point is that xulgaths aren’t known for taking prisoners, and probably would’ve just started killing the hostages as soon as the fight broke out anyway. And… she’s not wrong about that, up to a point.

But that raises the valid counter-point: WHY did these xulgaths go against type and take hostages? If it was to get the remaining distillery crew to come out… that implies they needed the distillery intact for some reason, doesn’t it? If they’d just wanted to go on a rampage, they could’ve just burnt it to the ground with the people inside. It feels like maybe there was some larger goal here, so what was that? This “larger goal theory” is also reinforced by the one xulgath having a crude map to the distillery… they didn’t just stumble on this place by accident; they were specifically sent here by someone.

Also, at a meta-game level, it raises the possibility that maybe there was a diplomatic solution to this encounter that got missed. I know the group has gotten in the habit of attacking on sight, but maybe there was a way to talk through this one.

Once the initial kerfuffle dies down, we learn a few interesting things from the townspeople. First, they’ve had a death similar to the ones back in Turpin Rowe – tied to a tree, bleeding from the nose, etc. We also learn that there are other members of the distillery crew missing in action. A messenger was sent to Turpin Rowe, and that person never arrived, which created some of the fog-of-war that led to the death of the hostages. But we also learn that a fairly large party of eight distillery workers left for the aeon tower – also unaccounted for.

Armed with that information, it seems like for the moment, all roads lead to the tower. However en route, our party gets a bit of a surprise, as they stumble upon the remains of the distillery force… apparently killed by killer plants. Did the xulgaths summon these plants? Is it related to the malevolent fey we’ve been seeing in these parts? Or was it just random bad luck that a killer venus flytrap happened to be on the route between the distillery and the tower?

Alhara begins to do a little recon of the situation, giving the flytrap a wide berth… but manages to stumble into range of a spore cloud, signalling the beginning of combat. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|16: Your Mass Murderer Is In Another Castle

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|16: My Eyes! The Goggles Do Nothing!.

Things slow down a bit this week, as the heist is over and we have to regroup a little bit. You see… we succeeded… but we also failed, because while we accomplished all the goals of the infiltration, our reward was that the lockbox was empty and the bomb had already been stolen.

Before we get to that though, I actually found myself wondering: what if we had failed? What if something had gone wrong and we’d never made it to the vault or hadn’t discovered Franca Laurentz’s identity? Does the adventure just end? Do we wake up a few days later to hear about how hundreds or thousands of people were killed by the bomb we couldn’t find? How does the adventure path account for that, and/or how would Steve have handled that?

So I flat-out asked Steve. I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers had expired, so why not? It turns out this is one of those places where “the rest of the force” would’ve bailed you out with some sort of lead. They’re already locating Franca’s hideout; if we had failed the heist, they would’ve actually pulled some strings, gotten a warrant, and gotten ALL the information in other ways. I guess if you want to hand-wave an in-universe explanation, they always could have done that, but us doing a covert op got the information faster or something.

Now, on one hand, there’s a little piece of me that finds that unsatisfying, insofar as it suggests that the heist was ultimately a fail-proof scenario. Sounds like we could’ve done almost ANYTHING and still ended up with Franca Laurentz as our next lead after a suitable amount of time passed. On the other hand, that’s the whole point: the joy is still in the execution, and in the desire of discovering the information yourself, and the path you take to get there. And be honest: would you really want an adventure path you’ve been playing for months to just grind to a halt because a few dice rolls went sideways? No self-respecting player wants their content to be COMPLETELY spoon-fed, but I suspect a lot of players would take the occasional light-touch helping hand over throwing out months of gaming and starting over.

So here we are. We’re back from the raid, and “the force” gets us a lead, which we proceed to investigate. We roll up on her apartment, and it’s CLASSIC murder-board “plot against the city” stuff. Back when we played, the Always Sunny meme was the go-to, but now we’ve got the Riddler’s hideout from The Batman as an even more on-point reference.

The first takeaway is that Franca almost HAS to be working with the Twilight Four in some capacity, right? First there’s the general “too much coincidence” sense that there can’t possibly be TWO cult-like organizations looking to commit mass murder. She was hatching a mass murder plot, didn’t have a weapon for it, but lucky her… she happened to stumble on one at work! But there’s also a fairly specific reason for thinking they’re connected: all the planning on her murder-board looks like it would’ve taken weeks to set up (same for rigging her apartment, for that matter), but she must’ve taken the device fairly recently if we could still detect the scent of the chemicals. So… she had to know it was there, and what it does, and have been sent into retrieve it. If she’d stumbled on the bomb and taken it on an impulse and THEN started plotting uses for it, her plan wouldn’t be nearly as far along. So I’m assuming until further notice that she’s someone the Twilight Four put on the case after Maurrisa Jonne got herself banned from the Lucky Nimbus.

As for the planning, it’s an absolute treasure trove of information, and it should let us figure out her plans… if we can save it (and ourselves) from the acid. That’s right… the room is booby-trapped, and acid starts releasing from vents around the room. Now, I don’t think anyone’s worried about dying in this encounter; we have a full day of spells, and if we really have to, we can just grab as much evidence as we can and hope it’s enough. But it would be good to preserve as much of this as possible, so once we stumble on the location of the acid dispenser, it feels like trying to shut it off is the right move. Lo Mang does the heavy lifting on breaking the wall, and then we’re able to get the device turned off. We’re a little worse for wear, and we lost some of the evidence, but we have enough of a lead to keep moving forward.

After analyzing the material, we find that the target is going to be the Blood Games. That’s right… we’re off to the gladiator games! And it looks like we might have to enter as contestants to have a look around. I think the thing that immediately concerns me is the idea that it’s hinted at being a single-day event. That means no long rest once we start. We’ll have to fight one or more arena combats AND potentially fight Franca once we find her, which sounds like we’re REALLY going to have to manage our resources carefully. It would suck to waste all our good spells on fake fights and have nothing left for the real one. And presumably on top of that, there will also be some non-combat stuff to actually find the device and disable it, but that’s not as urgent because those resources shouldn’t be drained by the combat.

The good news? Level 11. So we’ll be a little more powerful for the fight to come. Thank heavens for milestone experience, because I’m really doubting that disabling one trap would’ve pushed us over the top on its own. We’ll get into the leveling next week – I know Seth started talking about his spell choices, but I’ll keep it all under one roof and discuss it when we have final characters to present. (Though at first glance, Level 11 seemed like kind of a boring one for Basil.)

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

The Sideshow S3|25: Only You Can Prevent Friendly Fire

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|25: No, Sir…they’re Saying Boo-Urns.

I’m going to start this week by either providing a graphic demonstration of Steve’s point about forgetting session details, or by pointing out a bit of a continuity error. I don’t know if those “computer problems” Steve alluded to caused some lost data, but I can’t remember ANY conversation about the distillery crew not coming into town for the Stump Festival. Or Hap running into some weird guy, for that matter. I even went back and listened to last week’s episode to be sure, and it just wasn’t there. Last week’s episode ends with Darius experiencing all manner of stump-related cuisine.

OK, so either some of the session got lost amidst the “computer problems” Steve mentioned and didn’t get recorded, or perhaps it just ended up on the cutting-room floor because Steve was trying to knock out 364 episodes before going on vacation. The other possibility is maybe they were referencing rumors they heard all the way back at Kerrick and I’m just losing my mind. (Though that explanation doesn’t make sense because that was 2 or 3 weeks ago in game time, so presumably the distillery folk wouldn’t have been “missing” back then.)

It’s not the end of the world… it was still easy enough to fill in the gap and realize the distillery needed to be added to the itinerary. And in fact, it’s become the priority item — even above visiting the tower — since people are missing. But I will admit to being briefly throw for a loop. I mean… I listen to these shows largely while driving my morning and evening commute… I can’t POSSIBLY have fallen asleep while listening or I’d be writing this from an ICU bed.

Speaking of being thrown for a loop, both Alhara and Hap are a little bit distracted after their first exposure to the logging festival.

In Alhara’s case, it’s a case of competitive spirit with no outlet. Imagine: the devotee of Kurgess and general show-off, not being allowed to compete in an athletic competition! The TV sitcom solution would be for Alhara to disguise herself as a lumberjack to compete… except that Kurgess also has rules about competing fairly and respecting the rules. So… she’s just gotta sit and stew about the unfairness of it all. I do hope Alhara gets to compete at some point; the games sound like they could make for fun skills challenges.

In Hap’s case, she’s distracted, smitten… dare I say, in LURRRRRV… with Dingo (is that really his name?) the Lumberjack, a corn-fed mule of a man. While Hap desperately tries to get the adults to make themselves scarce, Ateran launches right into the sales pitch for the circus. This does prove to be an interesting encounter, because for arguably the first time, it’s not really clear if the circus is the right fit. You can kind of see a case for him joining the circus because he does have skills that would be unique anywhere OTHER than a town full of lumberjacks. (And OK, no one’s saying it, but having a master woodsman on staff will help with some of the grunt work associated with setting up the circus.) On the other hand, Dingo seems genuinely good where he is, and doesn’t seem like the showbiz life is really calling him the way it is with the other acts. Dude is too wholesome for this crew. And if Hap thinks her party-mates are getting in the way now, wait until Dingo starts bringing his DAD on dates.

Though I have to admit, I was sort of cracking up when Ateran was pitching Dingo on the idea that Hap would help introduce him to other women. Is Ateran that clueless, or is it a well-meaning (if awkwardly framed) double-cross to get Hap and Dingo to spend time together? All I know is that if this ends in Dingo joining the circus but ending up with the snake lady, I wouldn’t want to be in Ateran’s shoes. Watch their back, Csillagos.

Either way, my proposed title for the spin-off series: Hap and the Thirst Trap. T-shirts, anyone?

So, our crew decides to start with the distillery instead of going directly to the tower, and on arrival there are definitely signs SOMETHING is amiss. Javelin-riddled horse, signs of struggle… and lo and behold. XULGATH BUDDIES emerge from the trees! Hap gets the jump on initiative, then the xulgaths, and then everyone else. As an aside, I loved Rob P’s out-of-character deadpan: “Oh, I beat one person on initiative. The dead horse”. And… in the words of Dr. Sam Beckett, “oh boy”.

Hap fires a fireball at the xulgaths. As one does. Unfortunately, guess who else is in that fog of war? Hostages. The surviving xulgaths now have their choice of original (in the distillery) or extra-crispy (tied to trees).

First, I hope the Lumberjack Himbo doesn’t have any friends amongst the distillery workers. That’s gonna make for a really awkward date. “So, what do you do for fun?” “Oh, just light your friends on fire.”

Second, speaking on behalf of my Edgewatch brethren, any and all applications to join the force are hereby revoked. I’ll grant we’ve lightly dented a few bystanders in our travels, but we’ve never lit any on fire.

Though OK… amidst all the soul-searching, I did literally (not figuratively) laugh out loud when Loren said: “And after that, another fireball.” Gallows humor is great, people.

Could things get worse after that? Well… morally… no, of course not. But in terms of game mechanics, HELL YEAH, as now all the xulgaths go, and Steve gets the insane luck of three 20s in a row against Hap. (Remember math nerds: it’s not impossible, 1-in-8000 is just really improbable.)

So a huge wrench has been thrown into combat right from the start, but our team actually does a pretty good job pulling themselves together. Alhara in particular gets off some nice shots (complete with “Vanessa and the Chipmunks” sound effects), and things are starting to stabilize after the messy start.

But then as the session ends, the battlefield is thrown into upheaval once again, as the remaining distillery workers come out of hiding, armed. Now, I have to admit, when they first said “stop killing our friends”, I thought they meant the xulgaths. I thought this was going to be some peaceful coexistence twist. But no, they’re just mad at the party for lighting up their friends. Even so, they’re going to try and help defeat the xulgaths, but they’re also not really trained fighters and their first couple shots go wide.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up. How will the rest of the combat go? What will be the fallout of Hap’s “nuke the site from orbit” strategy? To borrow from Harry Shearer in This Is Spinal Tap, “will we still be doing a circus performance?”. And for extra credit: should we be worried that the supposedly dead horse is listed on the initiative? Come back next week and find out. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.