Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 37

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The Bird’s Eye View S2|31: Let Me Be Blunt

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|31: I Have a Bad Feeling About This.

So it seems like this week, the main story is us doing something stupid. (I know, right? Big shock.) We managed to get through Tyrroicese, but we ultimately made the fight harder than it needed to be by not bringing our blunt weapons to the party and not optimizing our use of the one source of good damage we brought along: the aligned oil.

Well, OK, I made the mistake. Lo Mang has fists, Dougie has a shifting weapon, Gomez casts spells. So it’s me we’re talking about here.

So I’m going to go ahead and break down what happened there. There are parts of it that I’m absolutely willing to defend as “the right call”, and other parts where I’m quite willing to say “yeah, I screwed up”.

First and foremost was just the lag between doing the initial research on Tyrroicese and actually fighting it. One would have to go back and see EXACTLY when it was, but in real life, AT LEAST a month passed… maybe closer to two… between first doing our intel-gathering and actually fighting. (In addition to the episodes themselves, I think this was around GenCon/back-to-school/etc. so I believe there was a week or two where we didn’t play.) So “vulnerable to good” managed to stick in my brain all that time but “you have to use blunt weapons” did not. So, 20-20 hindsight… maybe we should’ve refreshed our research or taken more complete notes the first time. “Defense will stipulate” as the courtroom shows say.

I’ll also admit that there was a bit of an emotional reaction to John (in particular) grousing about the cost of the aligned oil. My attitude was “we’re cops, we’re supposed to save this person; if spending a little money wins the fight, that’s what we need to do”. In particular, the point at which I’d already said I would pay for it and John was still calling it a waste of money was the point at which my pride got in the way of my decision-making just a little bit. I decided inside my own head that I was going to do 800 good-aligned damage so I PERSONALLY could prove that it was a good idea, and at that point, the idea of buying it and giving it to someone else (Lo Mang) became a non-option. Though in truth, a hasted Lo Mang could’ve done more attacks (up to 5 if he doesn’t also have to move) than I could.

Now here’s the part I will defend as sound tactics. That thing hits HARD – and my armor class is a few points lower than theirs. It was going to hit us; it was going to CRIT us. So the general intent of putting the aligned oil on a ranged weapon was to create a consistent damage stream that wasn’t likely to need healing unless/until other things went wrong. Dougie and Lo Mang might have to disengage to heal, or they may lose a round or two if they got dropped, while I could stay out of the fray and just plink it down with arrows. At worst, I would lose one action each round tweaking my positioning for optimal range. I even had an expanded version of the plan where I got up onto the catwalk and shot at it from there, but that would’ve required losing a round or even two in transit.

So there’s a tactical level on which the plan was sound, if I’d just remembered to bring some blunt arrows. I did create “a consistent damage stream”… that consistency was just 10 damage per shot instead of 25 or 30.

And that’s the other thing. When you take out all the OTHER stuff the Tyrroicese was immune to (precision damage and crits, in particular), this fight was ALWAYS going to be a grind. Even if we’d put the oil on Lo Mang… maybe the fight ends a round earlier. But then that means my bow was COMPLETELY useless, and I would’ve had to wade into melee range, and how does THAT change the complexion of the fight.

The other big story of this battle is just how lucky we got. Relistening to it later, Tyrroicese missed all but one attack in its first round, and then missed multiple attacks in its second round as well. Given that it was able to hit on something like a 5-ish on-die (depending on who it’s attacking and such), and crit around a 16, missing that much was WAY out on the skinny end of the probability curve. You’ll notice once it started hitting consistently in Round 3 and beyond, things started turning bad pretty quick, and we were lucky it was on its last legs… pseudo-pods… whatever… by that point.

Speaking of luck: did ANYONE expect Chris to land five consecutive hits… ever?

Another thing that amused me about this fight was at the opposite spectrum: how comparatively EASY the ochre jelly has become. Remember when we literally had to leave the dungeon and send an abstracted Hazmat crew in to reclaim Hendrid Pratchett’s remains because doing it ourselves might be a TPK? Now, that same basic monster is dealt with in two rounds, and the only reason it took two is that we still had to finish off the boss first. If we’d focused fire on the ochre jelly from the second it showed up, we probably could’ve gotten it down in one.

Of course, the Tyrroicese battle was the big focus, but we also managed to check off one more side quest by putting the chain back on the statue and putting Frefferth’s spirit to rest (or at least imprisoning it again). I love the newly revealed backstory that the “hero” of the battle was basically just felled by a stray arrow, and his saltiness at his own death turned him evil. That’s wonderful. Almost wonderful enough to make up for their being no loot.

There is, however, experience. This isn’t all metagame – we genuinely need to get the captain to safety and I’m not sure we want to tackle the Skinner with anything less than a full tank – but between Frefferth and rescuing the captain, it feels like we ought to be close to leveling, doesn’t it? I’m torn. We could PROBABLY go back and start the final level, but… the Big Boss is basically the first room you enter when you go to the lower level. So I think we’ll probably bask in the glow of our slightly suboptimal victory and come back at it next time.

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

The Sideshow S3|06: The Dogs and Pony Show

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|06: Golarion Ninja Warrior.

OK, so it’s circus week. Did NOT expect that.

I thought “check in on the circus” was going to be a simple “stop by, give Marcel some orders, go back out on the road for a few days” thing. I didn’t realize we were actually going to put a performance together. And a performance under new rules, at that.

First, Steve said that going in, two people really wanted to do the circus and two wanted to move on. I am ABSOLUTELY 100% certain Loren was one of the ones who wanted to do it – she LOVES stuff like that — and I’m about 85% sure Rob T. was one of the move-ons. I just don’t know who the second enthusiastic one is. I feel like it might be Vanessa going in, but Rob P. kind of has a “still waters run deep” thing going on where it’s hard to get a read on what he’ll decide to dig deep on.

So let’s talk about the circus subsystem a little bit. Now I should caveat here: normally, I’m VERY much a “you shouldn’t complain unless you’re also going to offer a solution” person, but I don’t really have an answer here. But what I do have is a deadline and a word count, so I’m gonna wade in anyway.

It always struck me that there were two major issues with the existing system. First, the “secondary” activities tended to feel like busy-work and didn’t add a lot to the gaming experience – Roll… For… Buying A Larger Tent! The act of putting on the show has always been the sizzle on the steak. The second was that the system incentivized going all-out until you hit a certain point, at which point shifting gears and playing it safe became the smart play. Once you got the Anticipation and Excitement needles lined up where you wanted them, you were almost just better off just ending the show there than trying to do anything else. It seems to me that the ideal system should have you going all-out for the best performance possible; if you weren’t doing so, something was off about the incentives.

So I think Steve’s choices are a good first-pass at addressing those two concerns. No more secondary tasks was an easy obvious fix, and the circus performance is now basically pass-fail. The second problem could still be an issue if you have really good rolls for the first few acts and “run up the score”, but it’s a first attempt. Time will tell if those are the RIGHT fixes, but they do address those areas.

So we begin. First of all, I chuckled at Steve dropping them on the same map from the Escadar camp. In my brain, I started imagining a scenario where Kalkek snuck aboard their ship and followed them to Cortos. Wouldn’t that be entertaining?

I also love that Mistdancer turns out to be such a freakin’ diva and the whole back and forth with Darius. If you think about it, it was probably a little unrealistic that you could grab 4 or 5 acts from the other circus, drop them into the existing lineup, and NO ONE would have a problem with their stage time. So it seems fitting that somebody would’ve complained. That it was the FLYING HORSE is just the cherry on the sundae.

So we begin the show with a tent full of shoonies, and first up is Alhara’s obstacle course. (OK, this seems well-thought-out, maybe she’s the other one who wanted to go all-out.) Now, I realize Golarion is a world without ambulance chasers or medical waivers, but should we really be risking audience lives on this venture? Couldn’t the clowns do it or something? Or hell… send in The Artist Formerly Known As Jellico Bounce-Bounce: Vanessa’s looking for a reason to kill him off anyway.

And as the performance moves along, none of the audience members die, but we begin to establish the theme of the evening – good performance, weak finish. Not enough to ruin the whole show, but enough to be annoying.

Rob T. takes the helm as Matchstick Flynn, and manages to ad-lib a pretty good show, though again… botches the ending. And then Mistdancer ups the ante by failing entirely. Man, she’s going through a whole character arc, isn’t she? Will she experience growth and come back stronger next time? Will she have a Top Gun moment where she has to grip Goose’s dog-tags before she tries to perform again? Will Darius lift her spirits by proclaiming that he’d fly with her anytime?

So, the circus is beginning to come off the rails a little, and Hap’s up. Hap’s performance is a fun little thing where she starts to pull in some of her original bardic inspirations (haven’t seen that in a while), and it starts to lift the overall score up. We’re finally moving in a positive direction, just in time for the big finale.

Mammoth Lady actually seems to do pretty well. Dude. She can lift her mammoth. Who doesn’t want to see that?

Vanessa plays Namor and does pretty well also. As an aside, I think Vanessa should’ve had Fish-Boy perform Hap’s act IN ITS ENTIRETY, but using water. That would’ve been hilarious.

And now it’s Ateran’s turn, and OK… Rob P. is clearly the other person who was loaded for bear because he’s got a whole thing written out. NOBODY JUST AD-LIBS “CARDAMOM” OFF THE TOP OF THEIR HEAD. I love the visuals of his performance, with a smoky rendition of their adventures so far. Very imaginative. And then… again, botched ending… not enough for the audience to know it, but enough to Ateran off internally.

But when the smoke clears (literally and figuratively), it’s a successful performance. The mostly-shoony crowd leaves happy, our team will make some money, and their reputation will grow for next time. Good job!

Meanwhile, not much happens with the main storylines. The entity that’s been haunting Vandy doesn’t return, and we learn that maybe there’s a MILD connection to people who got in trouble with the law or people who were generally assholes, but it’s not really enough to call a lead. (Do we have a version of the Punisher that’s turned off by bad manners instead of crime?) So I guess we’ll get back to that next week after the tents are packed up for the next town.

(Also as an aside: during the part where they were talking about visiting four different cities, I proposed that the merch site needs a “Circus of Wayward Wonders” tour shirt with different cities and dates. Always loved tour shirts just because they were artifacts of THAT particular show; you could even point to it on the back of the shirt and say “yeah, I was at that one”. But we probably need to wait for a few more dates, because right now it would only have like, 3 or 4 entries.)

So next week, we’ll get back to our main mysteries. Maybe Vandy’s stalker will show, or maybe our team will head up to Matten Cleave and check out the first tower. Maybe both! I’ve given up trying to guess at this point. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|30: Cleanup, Aisle… Everywhere

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|30: Roomba of Blood.

This week’s a bit of a weird week on Roll For Combat because… I’ll be honest… I barely remember any of this happening. I had been under the impression we won the big fight and pretty much immediately retreated to safety, but clearly not; looks like we had almost 90 minutes of checking bodies and exploring the final room or two on this level. The Roomba Of The Damned? I LITERALLY forgot ever running into that thing, though once it actually started playing, the lightbulb went on in my head. I suppose I’ll just blame it on endorphins or something. We’d just had a running battle that stretched over multiple sessions; as you might have picked up, it was a little stressful.

The good news is we’ve now OFFICIALLY cleared the upper level. The last room has been explored – that turned out to be DoomRoomba – and nobody else responded to the alarm. The BETTER news is we got a little bit of advance scouting of the lower level done as well; partly thanks to the open grate over the blood pool, partly thanks to Gomez’s endless supply of mephits. We now know that the Skinner is in the central area, and the area to the west that the mephit explored holds a humanoid and a couple of Skinstiches. (Presumably, that’s the area marked as the Sewing Room on the map.)

Though, OK… pet peeve time. I feel like I have to point this out. A large part of the big running battle happened pretty close to the grate we just used for recon. You know… the grate with holes large enough to see through, and the grate that was enough of a walking hazard that Lo Mang had to roll a skill check to cross it. You’re telling me NOBODY down below heard the sounds of the battle… or of the alarm going off? That seems a LITTLE dubious. I guess she could’ve been out of the room during the battle and then come back in, but that would represent some pretty convenient timing. Though in my personal headcanon, I’m choosing to believe that the Skinner chooses to have some Enya playing in the background while she takes her blood baths, and that’s why she didn’t hear anything. Sure, she’s a remorseless serial killer… but she needs to decompress too. Murder and flaying are hard work.

As we proceed with the loot round-up, the most interesting prize is that we officially find Frefferth’s chain. So we should be able to cross that quest off the list; we just don’t know if there would be one more fight involved in doing so because one more fight might be one fight too much in our present condition. If all we gotta do is put the chain back on the statue, cool. If putting the chain summons Horse-Boy for one more battle… it’s dicey. So I think we’re going to have to defer, even if it might be really nice (and maybe lucrative) to get it taken care of.

On the other hand, as we gather up loot, we get a reminder – a heavy, bricky reminder – of the fact that we haven’t found Gubs yet, and now we have the realization hanging over our heads that we might have accidentally killed him in the Grand Melee. I mean, if the presence of his stuff means he hung out in this area with all the other cultists… that’s not a good sign, right? Thinking back to our conversation with Dannicus, the idea was that if we shouted for him, he might switch sides and join us, and we kinda forgot to do that. If you want to go meta, I didn’t see his name on any of the human NPC tokens, but then again, the guys that came out of the sleeping quarters didn’t even have names, they were just “cultists” or “initiates” or something. So it’s still possible Gubs was one of those guys. In which case… oops?

There’s still also the lower level, so maybe he’s down there and not all is lost. On the other hand, I also feel like joining a cult that chops people up to fill a blood pit for their boss is the definition of a “make your bed, lie in it” situation. I’ll feel bad at having not completed the task, but… 3 outta 10, 4 outta 10 max. Especially now that he dropped a pile of bricks on us from (maybe) beyond the grave.

The other thing we had to deal with this episode is the sheer amount of stuff we have to pull out of here. It’s actually pretty rare when you’re able to fill up an entire bag of holding — I’m actually impressed. My immediate frame of reference was the sled from The Grinch That Stole Christmas, so now I have this image of Lo Mang in a Santa suit (pantsless, of course!) carrying a huge bag with a Christmas tree sticking out the top. If we wish to further the imagery by tying a single antler to Gomez’s head, I wouldn’t complain much. (Also… if this isn’t the RFC Christmas card, we riot.)

So now, FINALLY, we get out of the dungeon, dragging our rescued prisoners along with us. Sure, we still have challenges to clear – rescuing the captain of the Graycloaks, dealing with the horseman, and clearing the lower level – but we definitely earned our paychecks today.

Though spending our paychecks is another matter. If there’s one thing I REALLY want, it’s a property rune to add some elemental damage to my bow. I’m starting to really love archery, and adding some additional damage and effects would take it to a whole new level. I’m probably leaning toward frost, because critical hits would apply slowed, and taking away even ONE enemy action per turn would be fantastic. Unfortunately, my gold tops out in the mid-300s, and all the elemental damage runes start at 500g. And it’s a little too much to borrow the difference – if I were 10g short, that’s one thing, but 100g short is a little too big a gap. So… next time.

Of course, there’s the other unspoken thing: will we level? We have to be getting pretty close since we took out an entire level – not just the Grand Melee, but the otyughs, the spider, and the initial batch of guards in the lookout post. Having said that, not only did I probably jinx it, but the Frefferth quest was the thing that made us come up short. But hey… can’t level if you’re dead.

So next week, we’ll come back, finish any shopping we might want to do, and figure out what order to attack these remaining tasks in. 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|05: The Haunt for Dead October

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|05: Breakfast, Period.

I feel like I should start this week’s column with a warning. I feel like this has the potential to become a little whiny, because this week’s episode happened to touch upon multiple pet peeves about this game in the same session. So apologies in advance if the tone is a bit too oppressive.

So… let’s get right into it.

Haunts. Ugh.

I will agree with what Steve said in his pre-game comments. I absolutely get what they were trying to do with haunts. Religion and Occultism are traditionally kind of under-used skills in the grand scheme. Every once in a while, you get to identify an object or recognize a name, but they can sit on the shelf for a while between uses. So haunts were an attempt to create a “puzzle” that could be solved with those particular skills; a supernatural thing that’s LIKE a trap, but not exactly a trap, because there’s no physical mechanism. So far I’m right there with Paizo – sounds like a really cool concept at first glance.

But the idea tends to fall on its ass in implementation, where haunts seem to combine the worst elements of both traps (the fact that it’s concealed or otherwise surprising, and the fact that it generally can’t be destroyed by conventional means) and combat (persistent damage over multiple rounds, something that keeps coming at you until it’s dealt with) into something that’s mostly just a pain in the ass, without providing nearly enough entertainment value.

A trap is generally finite. It triggers, does its damage… but then it’s generally served its purpose. MAYBE if it has charges, it’ll get a chance to do it twice before you get the hint. But if you get hit a second time by the same trap, that’s also you as the player paying the Stupidity Tax. Combat does a lot more damage and lasts until it’s dealt with, but you generally know what you have to do to beat it. And unless it’s immune to ALL the damage types you can throw at it, you’ve got SOMETHING in your toolbox that will get you there. Also, if you see or hear an enemy coming, it is POSSIBLE to avoid a fight, though in the words of T’Challa… “we don’t do that here”.

But that’s the thing about a haunt. Can’t see it coming. Can’t avoid it. Can’t damage it (usually). And you can’t stick around and figure it out because it’s beating down on you like a creature would while you’re thinking about it. So instead of being a fun puzzle, it becomes an annoying “no-fly zone” in the middle of your area map that you have to avoid until you stumble across some sort of hint for how to deal with it. (And frankly, if it’s not relevant to the main story, sometimes you just avoid it and move on entirely.)

Though OK, in the case of THIS haunt, “can’t see it coming” wasn’t really true. If there’s a lit candle in a triple-locked room in an abandoned farm that’s otherwise collapsing… maybe you don’t just go waltzing casually into the room? Just spitballing here.

So Darius entering the room sets off the haunt, and that summons a ghost, who starts ranting about… well… it’s kind of a word salad. And that brings me to my second pet peeve: Proper Name Vomit.

There’s this phenomenon – Vanessa kinda touches on it at one point – where a LOT of stuff gets thrown at you, particularly when you first reach a new section of the story. Here’s 15 NPC names and 8 location names; figure out which of these are important. And there will be a “quiz” later insofar as two or three of these will be mentioned four sessions later and you’ll have to remember why you kinda-sorta remember hearing that name.

Now, the dismissive “git gud” answer is “take notes”. And believe me – we generally try to. But a) sometimes the info dump is a firehose and it’s just too much to get down in its entirety, and b) even if you write it down, you never know which pieces are really going to be important. It is true the authors of these adventures usually leave a few bread crumbs for the single biggest “Next Item On The Agenda”, but they don’t necessarily do the same for secondary entities. So maybe “Brogdor The Unjust” SOUNDS really important at the time, so you write his name down, and it later turns out he’s the local cheese merchant, and the reason he got his nickname is the townspeople are WAY too dramatic about the price he charges for Havarti. Meanwhile, you didn’t really take any special note of Pig-Farmer Ted, and Pig-Farmer Ted happens to be the connection to the Big Bad because the Big Bad likes bacon almost as much as Darius does and Pig-Farmer Ted keeps him supplied.

To tie this back into the story we’re talking about here: this wealth of information to process means that even now, I’m STILL trying to sort out who screwed over who. There’s the angry ghost guy… and the Night Lady… and Minnesota Twins’ legend Rod Carew is involved somehow… but the real takeaway seems to be that Opper Vandy is a shady character because the ghost is ranting about him accepting “blood money”. So it’s back to town to talk to him some more.

I like how this encounter played out. In particular, the “give him enough rope to hang himself” approach of playing selectively dumb about what they had learned and seeing how Vandy reacted to the pieces they did know… that was a cool approach. I think it works better than a direct confrontation because it’s not as adversarial and maybe you get something you wouldn’t get if you go in swinging and they put the shields up right away. WE’LL MAKE COPS OUT OF YOU YET.

(And OK, I was amused that Darius has a “sitting casually, while still being ready to punch someone in the face” mode. He’s a man of contradictions, that one.)

Through this confrontation, we come to learn that Vandy is “shady” with a lowercase S, rather than “Shady” with an uppercase S. The good news is he’s not murdering people to bump up his numbers for the funeral business, which was the original concern. On the other hand, he did take out a loan and slow-walked paying it back until there was no one left to pay it back to. I feel like maybe it’s still TBD how hard he REALLY tried to find an heir – that part seemed a little too convenient/self-serving – but still, we’re firmly in white-collar financial crimes here, not the sort of evil the xulgaths represent (or the sort of evil we’re dealing with over on the Edgewatch side of the house). And certainly, even if you still think Vandy is a little crappy for doing what he did, it’s certainly unfair to take it out on the townspeople to get even with him.

But, it looks like we’re actually going to back-burner the haunt and helping Vandy, and take a look at the closest aeon tower instead. Perhaps a little passive-aggression there? “It turns out you’re kind of shitty, so we’re going to go off and deal with other stuff rather than help you.” But also, it does feel like fixing the tower would help the whole town, while solving Vandy’s problem would just amount to cleaning up his mess. So maybe that’s the right call.

Before I close, I don’t want to just whine about stuff. The phrase “LOL” is overused, but I did have a good chuckle at the start of the episode at Loren’s reaction to another 10 minutes of restaurant-themed shenanigans. “All right, so this is happening, I’m going to go get a water out of the fridge.” If you turn your speakers up high enough, you can actually hear her eyes rolling. Though she almost missed Vanessa’s on-the-fly songsmithing, which was also excellent. Makes me think… if we’re ever feeling REALLY ambitious, maybe we’ll have to do a musical episode one of these days.

So… tower next week? Or will something else happen? I mean, it just feels… incomplete… like there’s still another shoe about to drop. Maybe I’m feeling like there’s a chance that setting off the haunt and learning the truth might change the parameters and cause whoever’s messing with Vandy to up their game. So… OK, our team WANTS to go to the tower next week – that’s their stated goal – but I don’t totally discount another round of dealing with the skeletons in Vandy’s closet either. As we wait to see, 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|29: Flank Me? No, Flank You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sideshow S3|04: Shovel Knights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TO THE DUNGEON WITH YOU!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it would make for quite a story.

I guess we’ll find out what decision we make next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|03: Bulette Buffet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve got this, right?

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

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

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

NOW we’ve got this, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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