Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 2 of 31

Check out our review of the Pathfinder Society Guide and the Pathfinder Bestiary 3!

The Sideshow S2|17: A Lunch of Fire and Ice

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|17: The Gift of Gab.

You know how much I loved the last 10-ish minutes of this week’s episode? Not only did I listen to it twice, to make sure I got as many details as possible, but I’m also gonna break chronological order and talk about it first.

The concept of the RFCCU (Roll For Combat Cinematic Universe) shouldn’t be a stranger to any of you by now – we’ve mentioned it a few times on the shows and in this column. It’s the little pieces of our universe that cross from game to game and show up where you least expect them. Old Woody was probably the first official invention, but others have since taken shape. The Circus crew, in particular, loves restaurants for some reason. And here I was, thinking the most I would get out of this was a joke about how them going out to lunch after almost getting killed felt reminiscent of the shawarma post-credits scene from the Avengers movie.

But no… they gave us SO much more.

First, I did want to give one tip of the cap to Loren for the double dose of Marvel-related sass to Steve. (Sorry, didn’t realize there would be such a Marvel-related theme to this…) Paraphrasing the exchange and condensing the cross-talk:

  • S: “You know how Marvel uses alliteration for all their names, right?”
  • L: “Yeah, like the Punisher.”
  • S: “Shut up, I mean their secret identity names.”
  • L: “Yeah, like Frank Castle.”

Gold star. Well played.

As I was listening to this a second time, I think the song is the key moment where things TOTALLY go off the rails. I don’t know if it’s “majority rules” or if it’s because Vanessa had been somewhat reluctantly participating and her jumping in changed the dynamic. But that’s the moment where EVERYONE commits to the bit. At first, you have Rob T. just riffing with Steve as Hamlin, but the rest of the gang is mostly still staying sort of in-character. Rob P. is still playing Ateran, and Loren – while clearly enjoying the mayhem – still attempts to move the game along on a more normal trajectory by having Hap go into Hamlin’s (in-character) to eat. Up to that point, it feels like roleplaying is still nominally in control of the session. But the point at which Vanessa busts out the song… to me, that’s the point at which the scales tip to weirdness for good.

(Can we at least take a second to give Vanessa due credit for coming up with lyrics that both rhymed AND had culinary accuracy? If she’s stumbled, we might have ended up with “broiling milk” or something like that.)

So then Rob starts in with Caleb’s response. For a moment, I thought sanity was starting to re-assert itself. Caleb seemed a little more stoic. Pragmatic, even. He knew his clientele, he’s there for the businessman on the move. Simple no-nonsense food, right? Wrong.

“Go next door to my GARBAGE brother, and sit there with your lazy ass…” First, I should mention that while the phrase “laugh out loud” is generally overused, this actually made me laugh loudly and suddenly enough that it startled my dog. And you can see the remnants of the actual game session dissolve like victims of the Thanos Snap and float away on the wind in favor of the lunacy.

OF COURSE there’s going to be a Larry’s Lukewarms to complete the Trinity. And OF COURSE the one thing Hamlin and Caleb agree on is that they hate Larry. But at the same time… can we at least be honest that Larry’s Lukewarms sounds like the most pleasant restaurant of the three, given the completely wasteful use of magic to keep EVERYTHING room temperature? I’m not sure what FOODS would taste good at room temperature, but it sounds like it has the nicest ambiance. Much better than getting burned by your own plate or your cutlery giving you frostbite. Maybe that’s why Hamlin and Caleb hate him so much. And then the ante is upped again with the fact that Larry is also a disowned sibling of the first two. Simultaneous triplets? I know it’s a world of magic, but… ouch.

Things FINALLY start to peter out as they attempt to expand the Luke-Warm family tree to include sisters fizzles. (Probably for the best. Or at least save it until next time someone in the group needs an armor upgrade. ALWAYS LEAVE ‘EM WANTING MORE.) And then, one of our Patreon live listeners (“AJ”) puts the final cherry on the sundae with his… interesting… T-shirt design proposal. Two things there: first, I ABSOLUTELY believe Rob would wear that shirt, and second, if we meet up at GenCon, I may need to commission a “Caleb’s Colds” shirt with “You know what else is warm? Shit.” on the back.

Meanwhile… oh hey, we also had a fight this week. Ah… gibbering mouthers. For the discerning GM who decided that regular slimes were neither horrific nor difficult enough to fight. And not just one, because that might actually be a fair fight. Let’s do three.

As the party themselves remark at a few points, this fight was a rollercoaster. I don’t want to generalize too much, but a lot of combats in Second Edition tend to be either unidirectional squash matches where the party was ALWAYS going to win, or they tend to have a single inflection point where the party starts slow while they figure out the mechanics of the enemy and stage a comeback after they get their tactics in order.

This fight is one of those rarities that has true ebbs and flows. Right when you think the heroes are up against it, they’d get a really good outcome; then right when you think things were starting to look like they were going their way, things would swing back toward the mouthers. I forget who – Steve, maybe – but someone used the word “cinematic” and that’s probably the word I’d apply here. This was one of the more cinematic fights we’ve seen in a while.

You had Rob getting swallowed early, but you kinda felt like it was early enough in the fight that he’d escape before things got too bad. And sure enough, he did. You had Riley getting swallowed but receiving a Nat-20 bailout to escape at the last possible second. And then you had Ateran – without a Hero Point – getting engulfed and Alhara saving them just before perma-death found its way onto the table. (Even though Alhara herself didn’t have that many hit points left either.)

And OK, it was also a fight with at least one moment of levity – it cracked me up that Vanessa was rolling so much better under the influence of multiple status effects than she did at full strength. So the takeaway is that Alhara needs to keep a stash of poisons around and blind or confuse herself before each fight? That’ll make things more interesting.

So the party does eventually win, they take their lunch break, and we’re at the end of the episode. It doesn’t feel like the mystery of the temple has totally revealed itself, though it’s unclear whether that means a second trip back in, or just having someone more scholarly make sense of the information they already gathered. I guess that’s the part we’ll pick up with 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.

Also… be sure to stop by Lukewarm Larry’s, home of the endless room-temperature breadbasket.

Pathfinder Second Edition Bestiary 3 Review: Saves The Beast For Last

Make sure to read Jason’s review of the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, as well as his review of the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, Pathfinder Lost Omens: Legends, Pathfinder World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Gamemastery Guide, and Bestiary 2.

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Agents of Edgewatch Podcast and our Pathfinder Adventure Path: Three Ring Adventure.

Reviewing the Pathfinder Bestiary 3 is a surprisingly challenging task because it’s like a trip to the zoo. You never know which animals people are going to find interesting. You can arm yourself with all sorts of interesting facts about giraffes and anteaters and then your nephew wants to do nothing but stare at the meerkats all day because they’re “cute”. And then when you insist on moving on, he starts crying and then you have to buy him Dippin’ Dots to restore the peace, and that’s like… six bucks for half a scoop of ice cream when you take all the air out. Complete ripoff if you ask me. And it’s not like otters and red pandas aren’t ALSO cute, so would you just trust me on this?…

Sorry… what was I talking about?

Oh right. Pathfinder’s Bestiary 3.

In a previous review, I likened the flow of the Bestiary books to choosing classes in college. Bestiary 1 was the equivalent of freshman year, where everyone’s job is to knock out as many required classes as possible. In game system terms, it contained the creatures you really HAD to have in a roleplaying game system rooted in Tolkien and/or Gygax. You’re getting a centaur because your father had a centaur, and his father before him. Bestiary 2 was junior year… a nice mix of shoring up your required material, but a little bit of leeway around the edges. Your advisor said you need a few more elementals to graduate, but if you want to sneak in that clockwork soldier that looks like a refugee from a Final Fantasy game, we can fit it in. Bestiary 3 firmly plants us in senior year now, kids. MAYBE we have one or two required classes we forgot to pick up along the way, but at this point, it’s mostly about what’s fun and what lets us sleep in the latest. And no class on Fridays. In monster terms… it’s time to let the freak flag fly.

On a stylistic level, Bestiary 3 follows the blueprint laid down by its predecessors. Almost all of the entries are self-contained within a single page; the exception tends to be the entries for “families” of creatures (giants, nymphs, etc.) where they’ll give the family a certain number of pages but the page breaks might not line up evenly with the individual creatures. As before, additional information is presented in sidebars on each page: sometimes it’s general world-building, sometimes there’s an explanation on how to run the creature in battle or information on the treasure a creature may have in its lair. As always, almost every creature gets individual artwork, and it’s beautiful stuff. (Well the artwork is beautifully executed… let’s be honest that some of the creatures themselves are kinda horrific to look at.)

One of the first things I do when looking at a book like this is look for themes. Now, there’s always going to be a desire to spread things around and offer variety – that each book contains monsters of different levels, and of different types. But within that, you can usually pick up one or two areas that got a little extra attention.

I sense at least three themes, two of which are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first is giving some love to the Tian Xia region. There’s a LOT of material in this book that’s either EXPLICITLY tied to the Tian Xia region, or at least bears east Asian influences and flavor in its design. All of the dragons are explicitly of Tian Xia, as is a multi-page entry on kami, divine nature spirits that guard places of importance. But you also see it in something like the terra-cotta warrior – not explicitly defined as being of Tian Xia (by definition, it’s “just” a stone soldier), but certainly bears the influences design-wise. Or the locathah… a humanoid that bears the visual stylings of a lionfish, which are indigenous to the Indo-Pacific in real life.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have mundane creatures. You’ve got moose and squirrels (“hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”), multiple pages of crabs… camels, for goodness’ sake. I think this gets more into how Paizo views their books – they consider Bestiary 3 to be the end of the “core” rulebooks, so it feels like they’re tying up loose ends. You can also see this thinking in sections that flesh out a few more hags, giants, and titans.

If there’s a third theme to be found, I noticed there’s some synergy with the material contained in the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide. A lot of the ancestries and heritages that were added in the Ancestry Guide are also given “monster” treatment in Bestiary 3. That doesn’t feel like a coincidence and it makes a certain sense – if you’re going to add a bunch of new “good guy” options, you probably want GMs to have the option to have “bad guy” versions of them as well.

There is also one new-to-Second-Edition game mechanic introduced in Bestiary 3 (as far as I can tell, unless it was introduced in an adventure path or something) – troop creatures. This existed in First Edition (Bestiary 6) and is finally making its appearance in Second Edition. There are certain “creatures” that are actually a group of weaker creatures: you can almost think of them as a swarm of humanoids. So instead of keeping track of hit points and attacks for 20 or 30 individual creatures (as well as having a round of combat take 8 years), the troop takes up a certain number of squares (starts at 16), has ONE set of hit points and one set of abilities for the troop. As the troop is damaged, it breaks up and takes fewer squares and its abilities decrease, and “killing” the troop causes its remaining members to disperse. And like regular swarms, most troop creatures are more vulnerable to splash and area damage.

Let’s use the “City Guard Squadron” as a real example. A city guard squad starts with 75 hit points and takes up 16 squares (20’x20’). They can do a group crossbow volley that does 3d8 damage in a 10-foot burst up to 120 feet away, or they can do a massed halberd attack at a closer range where the damage is dictated by how many actions they use. When they’re reduced to 50 HP, they shrink to 15’x15’, and at 25 HP not only do they shrink to 10’x’10’, but the radius of their crossbow volley is reduced to a 5’ burst.

Personally, I LOVE the idea of the troop creature. One thing that Second Edition has been missing is that certain “cinematic” niche in fantasy battles – in most books and movies, there’s almost always a scene where our heroes fight waves of faceless grunts to demonstrate their heroic awesomeness. Helm’s Deep is probably the gold standard here. Representing that as individual tokens would pose two problems. First, just by the law of large numbers, the mob would eventually generate enough crits to overwhelm our heroes: if you roll 100 individual attacks, and even only 10 or 15 get through, that still might be enough to kill a PC. Second (and perhaps more importantly), even if our heroes won, it would take FOREVER to run a combat like that and be a nightmare to administrate, leaving our GM with the age-old philosopher’s question of how many angels can fit in a 5-foot square. Representing a mob of weaker creatures as a single token solves both those issues quite nicely, and lets you bring those more “epic” battles to your table. I’m looking forward to fighting one of these.

So at one end, we’ve got bundling up a bunch of weaklings into a single unit. At the polar opposite end, what are the most powerful creatures in this book? For some reason, that’s ALWAYS one of the things I’m curious about. What’s waiting out there to give even the most seasoned Level 20 PC nightmares? Fortunately, thanks to one of the multiple indexes in the back (creatures sorted by level), we can get an easy answer.

One choice is the Green Men, checking in at Level 24. The good news is they’re guardians of nature, so most of them are neutral (though you can have good or evil-aligned ones). The bad news is… just about everything else. Including the “Green Caress” ability which slows you each time you fail a save, and if you’re ever slowed to zero actions, you turn into a plant. Permanently.

We also have the Ouroboros. It is what you’d expect it to be – a snake that eats its own tail, though technically it’s a giant snake made up of slightly-smaller snakes. Let’s start with the math: it has a regeneration of 50, which is enough to offset the damage of its own bite, so its bite has to average 50 to break even. If you wound it, it drops its smaller snakes all over the place, causing difficult terrain that also bites at you. And ohbytheway, its blood is fun too. On first contact, it’s “just” a really powerful acid. Then it turns around and starts regenerating you (which is actually nice) but inflicting other status ailments while it does so. And then at the end, it turns you into a pile of snakes.

And hey, if you’re running a holiday-themed campaign, you can fight Krampus! In addition to being a generally nasty warrior and getting general bonuses against anyone he’s deemed to be “naughty”, Krampus can grab someone and stuff them into his basket, at which point that character starts regressing to childhood – they get smaller physically, their skills regress, etc. Oh, and Krampus is immortal and holds grudges, so even if you “kill” him one Christmas season, watch your back next year.

And OK… it’s not Level 20, but it’s got enough other cool features I have to mention it: the Level 18 Bone Ship. It’s an undead pirate ship, basically. It’s made entirely of bones, can spawn skeletal “sailors” from its own bones to defend the vessel if people try to board, and it’s got a blood-red wake that drives people mad if they fall in the water. And if you get killed by it, your soul is absorbed into the “crew”. The cool part is if you manage to beat it and bend it to your will, you can use it as a vehicle. ARRRRRR!

Now that we’ve covered the heavy hitters, I usually like to go through a bit of a grab bag and just point out a few monsters I found to be cool/interesting/whatever adjective you want to use. Sometimes it’s the concept, sometimes it’s the artwork, whatever happens to stand out about it.

  • First up, there’s the Amalgamite, which is a mage who’s become warped through a mistake involving teleportation magic. It’s BrundleFly without the fly – humanoid, with lots of body-horror vibes.
  • The Swordkeeper is a self-protecting magic safe that feels like a fantasy-world version of General Grievous. It has a central sword that it keeps housed in its body, which it can create copies of in its (four) arms. If you can disable all the locks, you can steal the sword which neutralizes most of its powers, but good luck doing that while it’s stabbing you repeatedly.
  • The Hyakume feels like something out of Doctor Who. Visually, they have hundreds of eyes and a very “alien humanoid” appearance. In terms of concept, they’re hoarders of knowledge: they gather rare knowledge and then destroy any copies of it so they’re the only ones who possess it. This includes the power to erase people’s memories.
  • Mostly for the benefit of John Staats, our resident otter-lover, I present the Kushtaka. On the surface, they’re otter-humanoids, but they’ve actually been separated from their souls, so anything involving the undead world (ghosts, haunts, etc.) mostly leaves them unaffected.
  • Just in terms of generally cool concepts, there’s Living Graffiti – a painting or drawing come to life. Yes, you’re allowed to make the mental connection to DoodleBob.

Now, I could probably name another 20 monsters and you’d like some of them and maybe have others you think I should’ve put higher on my list, but I think that gets you an idea of the feel of this book. It’s a little more exotic than the other two Bestiaries, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Familiarity is comfortable, but familiarity also runs the risk of becoming routine. Why settle for another 20 fights against orcs when you can tussle with something you’ve never seen before?

Is it a must-buy? Well, I personally would put the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide a little higher on my personal list, but I’m a player, so I’m all about giving myself options for that next re-roll. On the GM side of the screen, the core monster selection is a little “out there” but I think there’s still good stuff here. The troop creature mechanic is a good tool and something that looks like it could be easily extended by the imaginative GM to other creatures not initially covered by the book.

As I said, it’s something that could bring a more cinematic feel to your campaign, if that’s something you’re looking for. Also, if you’re going to be exploring Tian Xia in your campaign, there’s a lot of new options for that part of the map. OR… let’s be blunt. At some point, it’s like Pokemon… gotta catch ‘em all. You play long enough, you’re going to need all the monsters. If any of that sounds compelling and you want to give your campaign a few fresh faces, absolutely drag yourself to your local gaming store and grab a copy of this book. Maybe even grab some Dippin’ Dots while you’re out.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|01: Birds of a Blackfeather

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|01: The Unusual Suspects.

This week’s episode is either kind of a boring one or one of the most interesting we’ve done. Maybe a little bit of both.

On the boring side, we’ve been operating at SUCH a break-neck pace since this game started. We’ve joked about the fact that we’re already Level 4 after less than a week on the job, but even within the sessions, it’s been almost non-stop action, except for the interlude during Jeremin Hoff’s party. So really, an episode where we just walk our beat and do paperwork really is kind of the slow lane for this show. Heck, we don’t even get to level!

To be fair, it’s not COMPLETELY devoid of story content. It does appear that the tip about the bank robbery, salvaged from Ralso’s journal, is going to be the next target of our investigations, even if other nameless Edgewatch officers are taking the lead this week. If you remember, Ralso was the second-in-command at the Murder Hotel; in her journal, we found that the Copper Hand Gang tried to recruit her (a former thief herself) to help with a bank job scheduled for the Radiant Parade, but she turned them down.

So that narrows down the location (the Coins District) and a time (about a week from now). And toward the end of the episode, we finally get our marching orders (literally) for next week and maybe beyond – a list of three banks that are most likely to get hit, and three “other” leads to check out. Two of the “others” are underworld contacts that might point us toward the Copper Hand, but the third seems almost totally unrelated: some random fire at a stable. In fact, Captain Ollo got out the fantasy RPG equivalent of a yellow highlighter and wrote “waste of time” right on the paper. Though… metagaming a little, I agree with Seth: Paizo doesn’t really go in for red herrings; if something’s in there, it probably has SOME use.

Though, as I’ve been thinking about it, it doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to the bank robbery. One thing I’m noticing about this adventure path is that it’s not necessarily a straight line from A to Z. Sometimes they plant things and leave them hanging for later use. For instance, the building that went missing while we were dealing with the chaos at the menagerie. We’ve never really accounted for that. Or, for that matter, the fact that the veterinarian is still TECHNICALLY a loose end: don’t think we ever found proof that she was a victim at the Motel 666. So maybe “waste of time” is something that won’t be DIRECTLY relevant to the robbery, but might be a seed for later. Obviously, not worth over-analyzing until we get more information, but still… I’m DEFINITELY in the camp that that clue is going to turn out to be something more interesting that it’s being sold as.

Meanwhile, even though the main plot doesn’t really move forward in a meaningful way, it’s kind of an interesting episode this week because it’s our first real attempt at emulating our sibling show and doing a little bit of Three-Ring Adventure style roleplay. And specifically, it’s Basil’s backstory that we’re delving into, with an appearance by Basil’s younger brother Linus.

Now, I think this whole thing requires a bit of digression, because I think there’s an interesting dynamic at work because of my role as “Resident Blogger”. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that listens to 3RA regularly – the other guys may have checked out an episode here or there, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that listens every week. So there’s an asymmetrical information thing at work here – I know where Steve is likely to take the roleplay side of things, so I think I wrote my backstory to be more accommodating and leave Steve a little more room to doodle in the margins. I think the other guys wrote theirs more to be a closed-loop – they explained how they became to be, why they’re cops instead of adventurers, addressed any “why Indy is afraid of snakes” quirks, but not necessarily anything that could be used going forward. Meanwhile, I covered all those basics (why Basil left law school, etc.) but I also wrote several loose threads that Steve could pull on at his leisure, of which Linus is just one.

And I’ll also drop a bit of a spoiler: I did leave Steve one exotic/magical opening, just in case he wants to play around with anything weird like Darius’ mark or Hap’s surprise ancestry. I’m not going to say what it is in case Steve takes advantage of it later down the road, but I’ll warn you it’s out there.

Linus is meant to be the – maybe not black, but gray – sheep of the Blackfeather family. Not necessarily EVIL and even a bit charming/charismatic, but someone with poor judgment and impulse control, and the sort of person who could easily get drawn into the wrong crowd. The sketch I had when I created him was that either Basil might try to use Edgewatch as a positive example to steer him toward a better path, or that Linus might get LIGHTLY caught up in criminal activity… like as a lookout or something. Certainly NOT that he would be helping Pratchett load bodies into the wood-chipper or anything like that.

Given that general sketch, I think Steve actually did a really nice job portraying him. In fact, I kinda like that Steve’s version of Linus is self-aware of the trouble he’s causing and either doesn’t especially care or hides it well. I also didn’t even think of the ramifications of setting such a person loose into a 90-day street party, but that could be a really interesting combination. And OK, trying to scam a cop by going to work on Dougie was a pretty inspired touch at the end there.

Speaking of which, the reactions of my group-mates were interesting. Chris seemed like he wasn’t really into it that much; I honestly don’t know whether he was just PLAYING stoic, or if he just didn’t care strongly about the roleplay and just wanted to get back to the main story. (If I’m being honest, my recollection of his demeanor and body language during the session was more the latter.) Seth seemed like he was interested at first, but lost interest once the focus moved away from fried foods; meanwhile, right as Seth started to lose interest was when John found some common ground with the kid and ramped up. The idea of Dougie serving as a positive example to someone else really unlocked a new roleplay gear for John there, and he really seemed to get into it by the end. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was at least something to build on if we want to try to bring some of those roleplaying elements over to our show. I don’t know how often Steve plans to come back to the roleplaying corner, but it was fun to give it a try for the first time.

Well, it was nice while it lasted, but next week, we put the Blackfeather family drama back in its box and get back to police work. We’ve got banks to visit and leads to follow up on, and it’s been a whole DAY since we leveled, after all. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|16: Xulgilocks And The Three Bares

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|16: This is Fine.

Oh hey, it’s April Fool’s Day.

We’ve all been through too much this past year to do any crappy pranks, so we’re not doing “X is leaving the show” or “we’re starting over and converting the show to 4E” shenanigans. I’m just too tired for that and I suspect some of you are too. Having said that, I start this week with a confession of a missed opportunity that would’ve been more on the fun side of the coin.

About a week ago, we very briefly kicked around (in our group chat) the idea of an April Fool’s joke: recording an “episode zero” of a new show where we would just use the weirdest character builds we could possibly come up with. The plan never quite achieved escape velocity – there was some enthusiasm, but I think we just came up with the idea too late and people were too busy to slap it together on short notice. (And the lack of artwork or its own theme song probably would’ve given the game away anyhow.) But one side effect of the idea is that in Hero Lab, I’ve now got a cigar-smoking sprite barbarian just waiting for an adventure to come calling. (Runner-up was an azerketi with ifrit heritage who would have a really conflicted relationship with water.)

Alas… someday.

Back in our REAL story, I feel vaguely robbed. When Alhara decided to just throw open the doors to the main temple, I thought we were headed toward, if not TPK territory, at least a hairy fight along the lines of the demon fight in the church that went down to Ateran’s last hitpoint. Steve’s anticipatory glee certainly made it sound that way. But a funny thing happened on the way to the TPK, and we ended up with kind of a “squash match” episode.

Part of that is a built-in issue with “brute”-type monsters. They tend to be big and powerful and hit hard… but they also are easy to hit, and also can’t dodge for crap because Dexterity is something the writers dumped to make them a little more manageable. Easy to hit, easy to crit.

And that actually dove-tails with the second benefit: our heroes rolled into the best possible initiative. Any time your casters can put up almost 150 damage and your melees can set up a defensive position on a chokepoint before the bad guys have even laced up their shoes… that’s a recipe for victory. So now we’ve got half-dead enemies charging through Alhara and Darius to get at well-protected casters. Granted, “well-protected” only lasts until the babau re-appears, but to START the fight, it’s a good position to be in.

And that chokepoint… man. Let’s just dub that The Varus Family Killbox, shall we? Alhara gets to make use of her new attack of opportunity; Darius uses a readied flurry of blows almost as a second attack of opportunity, and it’s good night to the poor unsuspecting dope who decided to test them. This is definitely a tactic we’re going to need to see more of going forward.

So, in light of all of this, do we have to give Vanessa some “crazy like a fox” credit for throwing open the doors at the end of last episode? Thinking about it, if the babau managed to raise some sort of alarm about the party’s impending attack, the spinebreakers had a chance to finish their ceremony and get ready… they may have even gone first… could’ve been a whole different fight. So did Alhara’s impulsiveness last episode actually… (GULP)… help?

Not that the fight was entirely risk-free. The xulgath priestess had the potential to be a formidable opponent, and there’s also the re-emergence of the babau, who shows up behind the casters RIGHT when we were beginning to think it had just fled entirely. Oops. But a caster without meat-shield support isn’t long for the 2E world, and it turns out the babau pretty much only had one hit left in it.

I still wonder what the babau’s relationship was with the xulgaths. Was it there independently, or was it maybe a summoned creature? If it was a summon, that would explain why it used its “big” dimension door to retreat one room instead of getting out of Dodge entirely. But on the other hand, if it was a summoned minion, shouldn’t it have done more to raise an alarm to its master… in which case, shouldn’t the xulgaths have been more ready for the party? If it was independent… maybe it just hoped to hide out there and let the xulgaths take care of the party? Though if it was independent, why didn’t it attack the xulgaths on the way in? Or is it a generic “evil respects evil” thing? I dunno. No sense in over-thinking it. (And yes, I know some of you are already muttering “too late”.)

So the party actually makes quick work of the fight, and there’s this general sense of anti-climax about the whole thing. Yeah, there’s a little bit of loot, but there’s no big treasure trove, nor any bold revelation… what was the point of coming here again? Surely not the joke loot being shoved up people’s butts, I hope. I’m glad we spent two minutes on that, just in case your 93-year-old Aunt Agnes from Tucson didn’t get the joke the first time. “Did that young man just say he put money in his bottom? Gracious! Paul Harvey never used to talk that way on the wireless!

And JUST when we thought this whole visit to the temple was a waste of time, Alhara stirs the pot again, in a way that would even give Mister Peepers a run for his money. Remember that “crazy like a fox” stuff I was saying earlier? Yeah, forget I said all that. Did you not watch any of the Indiana Jones movies as a kid? Don’t touch anything, Short Round! (We’ll leave how poorly the stereotypes in that whole movie aged for another time.)

The pool starts to froth and bubble. Loren gives Vanessa an epic out-of-character scolding (“why are you like this?”). In character, even Ateran gives Alhara a bit of a side-eye (I’m imagining the pained expression Boromir gives when Pippen knocks the bucket down the well in Moria), and the setup is complete for our second straight Alhara-induced cliff-hanger. Not one. Not two. THREE gibbering mouthers emerge from the pool. If we don’t get our TPK, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying.

But that’ll be next week. (And hell… maybe the week after that, the way Vanessa is going.) In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|28: I Believe I Can Fry

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|28: Food Glorious Food!

I have to admit, I was honestly surprised this week’s episode managed to be an entire episode. On one hand, the Adventures of Seth and Vanessa (primarily) richly deserved the spotlight, but the rest of the surrounding episode was just so weird and random, I didn’t think there was enough meat on those bones to put a full episode together.

Speaking of which, I fully expect this to be the first episode of our show ever to be banned by PETA, given our obvious delight in the eating of animals. Even fictional ones. Coincidentally, I nominate “It’s not cannibalism if you sell it to other people instead of eating it yourself.” for our next T-shirt quote.

But let’s rewind. We start with a very short bit of real business, as we have to retrieve the remaining loot. And… OK, let’s be honest, Steve ends up just giving us a mulligan on this one by having the ochre jelly spit the remains out on the floor outside the pit.

And sure enough, despite the ribbing from John and Chris, it’s upgrade time for Basil. MY SWORD-CANE!

First, there’s getting the striking rune for free; that’s almost good enough right there. Saves me, what… 130 gold or so? But then there’s the fact that it also has a poison reservoir. Granted, I took a look at the poison table and poisons can get pretty pricy – the more you spend the more damage you do AND the higher the DC to save against the poison – so it’ll probably have to be a trick for special occasions, but added damages and status bonuses could come in handy. The ability to strike with the scabbard is nice, but without the extra feats to use multi-attack without penalty, that’s mostly going to be good for mixing up damage types. And just as a point of pride… it’s a unique weapon. No one else in this multiverse version of Golarion will ever have this particular weapon. OK, it’s not an artifact on the level of the Hand of Vecna or Baba Yaga’s Hut, but it’s still kinda neat that it’s the only one of its kind.

For the record… I was sincere that I wanted to be fair about the issue. I did also get the +1 healer’s kit AND Pratchett’s spellbook, so I didn’t want to be greedy. But let’s draw some boundaries around that: my offer was more “what do I have to give up to make sure I get this?” rather than “one of you guys can have it”. I was absolutely going to walk out with that sword-cane. Fortunately though, despite their early razzing, the rest of the team was cool about the fact that it was my signature weapon, and therefore I had dibs.

Though… gotta say, I wouldn’t mind having the suit as well, though that’s more for aesthetics than practical value. Just seems useful to be able to hide the fact that you’re wearing armor and blend in, given our adventures so far. Having said that, whenever we hit Level 5, I’m going to bump my STR, which will give me access to heavier armor anyway, so I wouldn’t have it for very long anyway. So maybe it’s not that important.

After we get done with the official business… well, the show basically just jumps the rails for the duration. That’s not meant as a complaint; actually, it was kind of fun. There are times where I feel like our group is a little TOO goal-oriented and it would do us some good to let our collective hair down a little. It was also the closest we’ve come to capturing the spirit of the Three-Ring show, which isn’t surprising considering Vanessa (along with Seth) was one of the two ringleaders of the merriment.

Now, you’ll note I was kinda quiet for this part. Part of it was that when people first started talking about food, I got hungry and got up to get a snack. You’ll note there’s a part where Steve asks for my help coming up with names and I don’t respond: I’m pretty sure I was in the kitchen making a PB&J sandwich at the time (aka The Snack of the Gods). For the rest of it, I think Steve kinda pegged it in the intro: this dungeon had been so mentally taxing that once we were done, I just kinda crashed mentally, put it on auto-pilot, and was content to “bask in our victory” or whatever. (Ignore those scurrilous rumors that I was selfishly thinking up names for my new blade!)

Also, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor with roleplay. Sometimes, if someone else is really feeling it and you don’t necessarily know what you’d add to the scene, sometimes you just sit back and let them go off and appreciate the performance. Some of my passivity was that too – Seth and Vanessa were on such a roll I became a listener in real-time.

Now, I remembered most of Seth and Vanessa’s main in-character riff on different foods and such, and the general emphasis on Frying All The Things. What I forgot was the side conversation. You know: the one that dabbled in bugbear cannibalism and ostensibly humane treatment of livestock that actually sounds WORSE than just killing animals for food. Yeah, we’ll just cut pieces off the animal and heal it; I’m sure that won’t be physically traumatic or emotionally scarring in any way. And hey, we even got our first bleeped word in – I don’t THINK “ever”; I feel like Steve might have done it once or twice back in Dead Suns – but it definitely hasn’t happened in a long time.

Once the Fryer-Fest has run its course, we head back to the station, and it’s time to get our final attaboy from the boss and say goodbye to Sharky – at least for now. Keep in mind, there was never a formal endgame for Sharky, so the idea to make Sharky a cook was all off the top of Vanessa’s head. SOLD! Sharky’s going to learn to cook. I’m not sure if we’ll be bringing Sharky back someday, but both Bob and Vanessa added a fun little dimension to the show while they stopped by.

So there it is… Book One is in the… well… books. We managed to hit Level 4 and should be well on our way to Level 5 and – as we’ve mentioned before – it only took like 3 or 4 days of in-game time. So we’re kind of badass. Next week, we’ll get started on a brand new chapter in the adventure, with new challenges that ought to get us to Level 10 by the middle of next week in-game. That’s how this works, right? As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|15: Alhara Knows Which Way The Wind Blows

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|15: Bad Moon Rising.

Welcome back to Roll For Combat: Now With 30 Percent More Combat! No circus acts, no birthday parties… just a good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawl, the way Pappy used to make ‘em.

There’s something interesting I noticed this week about my listening habits. Fair or not, correct or not, Vanessa tends to serve as something of a “canary in the coal mine” for this group. When she’s calm, I’m calm. When she’s worried, I’m worried.

If I had to hazard a guess, I think it probably has to do with thinking – or at least assuming – she has a better grasp of the rules and of various Pathfinder lore than the other players. That’s no disrespect to Loren and the Robs… I tend to assume they have the knowledge an average long-time player has. But Vanessa has actually written Second Edition content for Paizo, so when she says “oh crap”, my ears perk up because I feel like she’s got reasons. At least that’s what I assume my brain is subconsciously processing in the moment.

Steve? Don’t measure anything by Steve’s reaction. He’s playing to the crowd. EVERYTHING that’s about to happen is the worst news ever. It could be Zon Kuthon himself or a lone Level 1 kobold; either one will get the same “Ohhhhh boy… are you guys ready for this? (cackle) You’re not ready for this.”

As far as my Vanessa Concern Barometer: we had two examples of that in this week’s episode: one positive and one negative.

The first was Hap (very temporarily) getting turned to stone-but-not-really-stone. (And really… nobody came up with “Hapsicle”? COME ON PEOPLE.) At first, I was surprised at how nonchalant everyone was being about it. You do know one of your party members suffered The Thing That’s Basically One Step Short Of Permadeath, right? But then I found the calm – at least Vanessa’s – kinda reassuring, at least partly thinking that she knows enough about basilisks to justify such confidence. If she’s not worried, it’s probably not THAT hard to unfreeze Hap.

Granted, the whole “douse yourself in the blood of the vanquished thing” is a little creepy, but even that got defused by Rob T. describing it as “we’re gonna tauntaun this”. And sure enough, a few minutes later, Hap is up and running again, none the worse for wear. It’s a little surprising, but Hap somehow emerged in better shape from having ACTUALLY been petrified than Darius did from having NOT been petrified by a cockatrice at Level 1. How does THAT work? I guess it’s those Level 6 anti-bodies.

Once Hap is up and running again, the exploration of the shrine continues. Things actually seem like they’re going to settle down a little bit as the group pretty much runs roughshod over a pair of xulgaths like they were a speed bump. The most drama we got out of that fight was whether Alhara was going to turn busting through stained-glass windows into a running bit like Cabbage Man from Avatar. (If nothing else, Alhara crashing through a stained-glass window would make a GREAT T-shirt.)

But then came the revelation of the babau, and the other side of the Vanessa Concern Barometer went off.

No, not a baobab… that’s a tree, or the fruit that grows on it.

No, not Babar. Cartoon elephant. Wears human clothes.

Babau.

It was that rollercoaster NO that goes up in the middle that drew my attention: “Oh nooooOOOOOooooo”. You got the sense Vanessa recognized it and identified it as bad news. Which consequently made my brain go on high alert for the rest of the fight. Again, maybe this isn’t fair to Vanessa to put that on her, but it’s kind of how my mind is wired.

And as I cheat and look at the statblock… she’s right to be concerned. A babau has got all the offensive tricks of a stealthier, including sneak attack damage; there’s that trick where it sprays acid on you if you hit it (technically it’s a coating of acid on its skin), and the whole at-will dimension door that it’s already used multiple times. They also have a signature move called “Grievous Strike” which basically consists of loading up two attacks into a single two-action attack that does extra damage and can also inflict Frightened.

Also, now that I have the statblock in front of me, let me re-explain the healing thing with fog of war turned off. As alluded to, if you heal someone who was the target of the babau’s attacks, it does 4d6 mental damage to the babau. He HATES to see his nasty wounds undone. BUT… two caveats. First, it has to be an attack that caused some sort of bonus damage – a crit, sneak attack damage, bonus damage from Grievous Strike – healing damage from a regular attack won’t do anything. (So in this case, healing Ateran wouldn’t trigger the mental damage because that was just a normal strike.) Also, the heal has to be performed within one round: if you heal two or three rounds later, you lose the window. (Also, the effect can only be triggered once per round.)

As scary as it looks – and the initial attack on Darius hinted at a much worse outcome – I feel like the party got a little lucky here, as the babau rolls a “2” at least twice, keeping them in the game. Given the thing’s attack bonus is clearly north of +15, things could’ve been SO much worse. On the other hand, the dimension door ability is proving to be a bit of an annoyance, especially since it also defies attacks of opportunity.

Speaking of dimension door, you may remember we dealt with this back during the succubus encounter back in the temple, but we’ll review it since it may still be in play next week. The regular 4th-level version of dimension door is just a line-of-sight thing: essentially, battlefield repositioning or crossing a chasm or something. The 5th-level heightened spell can take you up to a mile, as long as it’s somewhere you’ve been before, but then you’re also immune for the next hour.

And that gets into the big cliffhanger decision Vanessa makes to go throw open the doors to the next area. And… confession time, I was fully prepared to mock her. But as I’m thinking about how dimension door works, there MAY be some method to her madness. The Level 5 DD spell feels like it’s meant for last-ditch ESCAPE. Going one room over seems like the worst of both worlds – you’re not far enough away to be “safe”, but you can’t actually do it again to GET safe for another hour and you might not be able to do the 4th-level “bounce around the battlefield” thing anymore either, depending on whether the immunity is JUST for the 5th-level spell or for ANY version of the spell. So you can talk yourself into the idea that the babau went somewhere else entirely and we’re done with it for the time being.

That said, I can’t totally let her off the hook. There’s SO many unknowns that it still feels pretty risky to just rush into the next room. Obviously first and foremost, the babau might actually be in there; maybe “safety in numbers” is all the escape it wanted. Also, we still don’t know ANYTHING about that weird pool of purple liquid. Is that going to become a factor at some point? And of course, a new door very likely means new bad guys to fight. So I don’t want to sugarcoat the risk: it was PROBABLY worth slowing down a round or two and making sure everyone was ready to move forward.

So what’s behind those doors? I guess we’ll have to see next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|27: Does The Punishment Fit The Slime?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|27: Come up to the Lab and See What’s on the Slab.

It’s Big Bad Week on Roll For Combat, as we finally confront Hendrid Pratchett and put an end to his evil deeds! It’s rare that I really hate-hate-HATE an NPC – more often we’re fighting a guy because that’s what the story says we do – but the nature of this guy’s crimes got me there.

I wanted to start by briefly ducking into Steve’s pre-show notes to talk about other boss encounters, and suggest you check out the last… 4-ish episodes of the Dead Suns show if you want to see a boss fight with stages in action. If you somehow joined for Pathfinder and missed that show, the setup is that we’re infiltrating the bridge of an enemy flagship to stop the doomsday device. The BBEG boss is the captain of the ship: as a tactical note, I’ll mention he’s a caster who threw down greater invisibility while we were messing around in the antechamber. For the first “stage” he throws fairly passive spells that don’t give away his presence and lets his minions (and meat-shield second-in-command) do most of the work. Then when we start whittling away his minions, he becomes a more active participant and starts attacking us directly. Then in a third stage, gravity goes haywire in the ship, and we have to deal with changing gravity conditions each round while still managing combat. The in the fourth stage, we had to participate in a starship battle with the rest of the undead fleet. And then the final part is “get off the ship before it blows” where we aren’t worrying about combat at all anymore.

So… on to our CURRENT show and our first item of business: a new performer for Sharky this week. I didn’t mention Bob would be leaving because I wanted to keep things a surprise, but this week the Wonder-Mimic powers take the form of… VANESSA HOSKINS! Since Vanessa probably has the most airtime of anyone outside the original Dead Suns group (Celes in Plaguestone, Alhara in Three-Ring, Mama Millcent in Black Lodge) I assume a full introduction is superfluous. Heck, within the parameters of our show, she’s well on her way to one-name status like Prince and Madonna. She’s Vanessa!

As an aside, this was pretty much always the plan with Sharky. We figured it’s a mimic. If the creature itself can change, why can’t the person playing it? As a side benefit, it lets us capture some of that “special guest” energy from the Black Lodge show that we’d been missing a bit. (If you want to be cynical and a spoilsport, one could also argue that it was around the holidays and it was tough getting anyone to commit to multiple episodes.)

The thing you’ll immediately notice… and we’ve used this framing before… is the difference between first-person and third-person roleplay. Vanessa is very much a first-person roleplayer… she IS the character from the minute the mic goes hot and will only break character sparingly. Meanwhile, the rest of us… except maybe Seth, sometimes… are more third-person roleplayers: “Basil does X”, “Dougie says Y”. The character is its own thing, and the player is just piloting the mech. Seth is a bit more in the middle: sometimes he goes third-person, but other times he gets on a roll and goes completely into Gomez Mode and acts things out. Neither style is wrong… just different.

Vanessa’s take on Sharky is a bit more upbeat and friendly than Bob’s, a bit more filled with joie de vivre. Bob’s take felt like it always wanted to remind us that it was still an adversary to be taken seriously; Bob’s portrayal felt like there was a little resentment at being forced to fight, so his Sharky was a little passive-aggressive about things. Vanessa’s version wants to get out of this dungeon and go experience the world, and if fighting her former boss/owner is something she has to do to reach that goal, so be it. I don’t know how much of that is intentional choice versus how much was just their different personalities, but it’s fun to see two different takes on the same basic material… which is why we did it this way in the first place.

Meanwhile… Pratchett. The episode starts with a few revelations that make the fight a bit more of a dangerous proposition. First, he’s soaked the whole room with oil, which means it’s possible we could be roasting in a bonfire on short notice. It doesn’t hold us back on offense because no one in our group is all that reliant on fire attacks, but we’ll need to watch for it on defense. The other is the last (as far as I remember*) “oh shit” moment, as the experiment with the two twin children (alluded to in the room with the papers and the spellbooks) was successful, and he’s got an undead version of them serving him. (Numbly adds “infanticide” to the list of charges.)

*=I honestly don’t remember: it’s possible we discover one more horrific thing while cleaning up the aftermath next week, but I don’t THINK so. I think the fate of the twins is the last of the awfulness.

And that doesn’t even get into the fact that Pratchett himself is a tough customer. As a melee, he hits hard with his sword cane, doesn’t seem to get a penalty for multi-attacks, and also seems to be able to apply poison with it. He also has some sort of True Strike effect that he was able to use multiple times to reroll misses, though I don’t know if it’s an innate ability or just multiple casts of the spell. (The spell is one-and-done; you re-roll once and it’s gone.) Add in a full caster’s complement of spells, and we’re dealing with a tough customer.

I’m also at least briefly struck that selfishly, this guy is Evil Basil in terms of loot. Already have his spellbook, so I can learn all his spells. Now he has a sword-cane that’s better than mine? And maybe light armor too? I know we have the whole “cop vs. adventurer” thing to square away, but when the dust settles, I feel like Basil’s getting a major gear upgrade out of this fight.

The good news is although Pratchett hits hard, we’re actually holding our own against him by rotating out our melees and giving him a different target each time. I don’t think we planned it that way, I think that’s just the way it unfolded with Sharky charging in first, then retreating a little after taking some damage, followed by Lo Mang doing the same. We also make fairly quick work of the undead twins, so it’s down to us and Pratchett pretty quickly. The bad news is his base armor class is pretty high… it’s been a while, but I feel like it was taking something like a 23 or 25 to hit him, and we weren’t rolling that well.

Brief uncomfortable conversation time: I have to admit I didn’t notice it during the fight – probably too preoccupied with planning my next move – but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and amplify Vanessa’s frustration with the term “man up and stop crying” (said once and then repeated by another person). Because she’s 100% right. I’ll put it this way: I don’t think joking about a teammate’s bravery (or lack thereof) is the issue – that’s about a player’s actions, which are fair game for criticism, even couched in jokes. I do think we need to push back at the notion that being stoic in the face of danger is an inherently male trait and (by implication) that women get emotional/hysterical in difficult situations. I mean, can’t we all acknowledge that there would have been no Thanos Snap if Star-Lord kept his shit together? Just Sayin’.

I’m deflecting with a joke, because the other alternative is to go even deeper and write an entire thesis that goes eight miles deep about how the only emotions our society finds acceptable out of men are the aggressive ones (lust, anger, etc.), and I’m pretty sure that would suck the life out of the room. So let’s put a pin in this and get back to kicking Pratchett’s ass, shall we? But Vanessa in particular, and our female listeners in general… I see you.

We reach a bit of a stalemate in the fight, which is where Steve’s concept of phases comes in. (Under the hood, I suspect Pratchett might have been running low on spells.) So to shake things up, Pratchett does two major things: first, he kicks over the brazier, lighting the room on fire; second, he escapes (or “yeets”, as the Young People say) out a secret door in the back of the room. (Follow-up question: could we have discovered that door from the other side and bypassed two or three rooms, or was it a one-way ticket?)

This is where I have to give Seth credit. The fun of playing with Seth is he’s NOT a min-maxer; he’s the sort of player that tries to predict the unpredictable and has something in his pocket for every situation. When it hits, as it did with “use a water mephit to put out the fire”… it’s an absolute thing of beauty. Now, I’m still a LITTLE skeptical that water would put out an oil-based fire, but whatever: chalk it up to “magical water” and give in to the Rule Of Cool. Seth had the perfect tool for the job: give him the win. (Much like in the Dead Suns campaign where I had a Teleportation Puck sit unused in my inventory for three levels until I used us to get out of a trap room with no exit.)

So while Seth is putting out the fire, the melees – myself, Lo Mang, and Dougie (plus Sharky as fast as her mimic feet could carry her) continue the pursuit. The good news is our dice luck is getting better and we’re starting to land some damage; the bad news is we’re leaving our primary source of healing behind. I think at this point, some of us still had badges and potions, but that’s about it.

And then Steve gives us an opportunity by having Pratchett retreat into the ochre jelly room. And Dougie did EXACTLY what I hoped he’d do – a bull rush attack. Remember that I could’ve gone and delayed: I was thinking of doing exactly that, but I have a Strength of 10 and if it failed, Pratchett might’ve moved away from the pit or braced himself against future attacks. So I took the chance that either Dougie or Lo Mang was on the same wavelength, and sure enough, he was. Pratchett catches the edge, and it’s my turn and…

This is where it gets interesting.

The “adventurer” answer is to stab him in the face and into the pit he goes. The only thing that makes you think twice is how you’re going to get the loot later.

But it’s a bit more cloudy as an officer of the law. In the moment, I absolutely did what I thought was the right thing, but I’ll admit; after the fact, I found myself second-guessing a little bit. Even though this guy’s crimes were heinous and he was irredeemable, should we have still tried to accept his surrender and save him? In real-world terms, this is Jeffrey Dahmer, this is Ted Bundy… don’t you still want to take him alive so he can see justice for his crimes? Or is being eaten by his own jelly justice in and of itself? But what if we pull him out of the pit and he goes on to kill one (or more) of us? Is it worth taking THAT risk?

Steaming toward 11 pm at the end of a long gaming session, and closing in on the end of a chapter of the Adventure Path, kicking him in and finishing the fight felt like a no-brainer. Later on… I still think it was a defensible decision, but it left STUFF rattling around my brain. And this is where I think Paizo did the right thing by not just knee-jerk canceling this adventure path. Because of moments like this. The value of art, even entertainment, is that it can hold up a mirror for examining your own values. Good, bad, or indifferent, roleplaying through something like this makes you pause and think.

And on that Deep Thoughts note, that’s where we’ll leave it. Next week, we clean up the aftermath (let’s be honest: recover Basil’s new sword-cane) and see where the adventure takes us next. I actually DON’T think we level because we only just leveled before coming to the basement, but you never know. As always, please feel free to drop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|14: Weird Science

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|14: Send In The Clowns.

It’s a return to normalcy… through the gateway of even greater silliness.

Our action begins with the big confrontation with the Madam Dusklight entourage, though it’s not much of a confrontation when the GM basically tells you upfront “yeah, don’t attack her, or she’ll kill all of you”. So more of a big shit-talking session with Madam Dusklight and her entourage. It turns out she’s on her way to the big city – figuratively and literally – so she’s giving her own stylish middle finger to our crew before she leaves town. We also receive an introduction to her boyfriend-slash-bodyguard, who I’m sure we’ll NEVER EVER HAVE TO FIGHT, RIGHT?

Steve makes an interesting point at the top of the show. It’s good to generate some real hate for the Big Bad, something Paizo doesn’t always do enough of. They tend to be more fond of the Man Behind The Curtain model, where the villain is a mystery to be solved and isn’t really revealed until you meet them at the end of the book. That model is good for generating suspense and holding curiosity, but it makes animosity or rivalry a tougher emotion to tap into.

In that sense, I do think the idea of giving a little teaser upfront is worth the effort. If the plot revolves around us disliking someone, remind us WHY we’re supposed to do so. I suppose if there’s a danger in doing so, it’s that you have to be careful you don’t accidentally write yourself into a situation that conflicts with something Paizo writes down later in the AP. To pick an obvious example, imagine if it turns out the Celestial Menagerie WASN’T going to the Radiant Festival. That’d turn into a pretty big OOPS.

The most interesting thing in this interaction, I think, was Madam Dusklight hinting that she knows about Kalkek, and Hap’s rather clever way of dealing with that situation. I actually thought MD was going to pull the pin on that grenade, telling the town there’s still a monster on the loose and getting our crew in trouble. And I guess she might still do so – they haven’t left town yet. But it was a slick move of Loren to use speak with animals to send Riley out on messenger duty. Quick thinking there. Honestly, Hap’s a teenager… I was still about 20% worried she was just gonna start chucking fire at her.

The second most interesting thing is the existence of Clownish Curse… just for the sheer randomness of it. I know magic takes all sorts of forms and you can theoretically do anything with it, but what mage was sitting in their little wizard tower, snapped their fingers, and said “I’ve got it… CLOWNS”. I know, I know… it fits the flavor of the AP well, but still…. I’m waiting for Book 6 when Madam Dusklight tries to take over Absalom with a force of hundreds of clown minions… a veritable Army of Dorkness.

And OK, the third most interesting thing was Vanessa giving absolutely ZERO… figs… about Jellico’s well-being during this whole ordeal. I love how Steve even tried to give her the off-ramp and she wasn’t having it. “You went from hating him to feeling a little sorry for him.” “No, not really.” Maybe I’m a bad person, but I laughed at that quite a bit. “This above all; to thine own clown-hating self be true.”

Fortunately, we have Hap here to do the heavy lifting in the empathy department this week – Hap really IS the protector of underdogs in this little group. She’s so moved by Jellico’s plight that she’s willing to let the weirdos in the library do their little experiments on her to get a free curse removal out of them. I mostly think this will amount to roleplay flavor, but I really hope nothing bad comes out of this. On the bright side, maybe we can look forward to months of fan speculation that Steve is setting Hap up as the vessel for the Phoenix Force and a pathway to introducing mutants into the RFC universe, followed by those same fans getting all butt-hurt when it doesn’t happen. EVERYTHING MUST HAVE LARGER IMPLICATIONS FOR THE MCU NOW.

Meanwhile, it appears science is somewhat of a theme this episode: while the mages are fussing over Hap and fixing up Jellico, Ateran is doing a little research into the Shackles to try and get more information about Alhara’s mom, and Darius is asking all the IMPORTANT questions about life with an aeon stone? How does it affect your ability to PARTY? We are seekers of knowledge… even if we don’t like where that knowledge might lead. Or that knowledge might be unnecessarily scatological.

Moving forward, while Ateran runs off to the candy store to indulge their sweet tooth, Jellico gets run through the Declowninator and is fully himself again. Unfortunately, it looks like his performing skills went away with the departure of the Muse Phantom – definitely “for the time being”, maybe for good. Steve leaves JUST enough of an opening to suggest maybe he can figure out a new act down the road, but for now, he’s on the sidelines. Good thing the team picked up two new acts, I guess. And Vanessa? Still unmoved. I guess she even hates EX-clowns. Sorry, Jellico. No birthday party for you.

Finally, toward the end of the episode, it’s time to start adventuring again. It’s funny because I detected just a hint of “maybe we overdid this and we’re even kinda tired of our own shenanigans” creeping in around the edges of the conversation. Or maybe it was just a positive desire to get the story moving forward again and fight some stuff. Either way, our gang is ready to get back to pummeling bad guys, so let’s get to it.

I have a user question from someone I swear is not really me… if all of Hap’s spells have nicknames now, is Light now OFFICIALLY in the books as “Big D Energy”? This was asked by a Mr. “Someone I Swear Is Not Usually This Childish Oh Who Am I Kidding Of Course I Am”. Thanks for your question, listener.

Even as the party descends into the dungeon and encounters the first challenge – a pair of basilisks – the last throes of the silliness are still evident, as the party has an extended speculation about what they’re going to do with Darius’ statue when he’s inevitably turned to stone. And maybe that’s what’s going to happen, but I guess we find out next week. While you’re waiting, 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 time.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|26: Reading Painbow

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|26: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime.

First and foremost… 300 episodes. Wow. That’s pretty crazy. I mean, the math checks out, even just calculating it off the top of my head. Dead Suns ended in the 130s or 140s, and Plaguestone was about 45 episodes. Those both ended around the same time, were replaced by Three Ring and “Black Lodge + Edgewatch”, and these shows just hit the one-year mark, so 104 there. Add another few episodes of Starfinder Society and other one-offs, and that’s absolutely in the ballpark of 300. (And since Steve is the only one who appeared in ALL of them, I’ll trust his count.)

This is one of those episodes that’s a little weird for me because I forgot about chunks of it. I have to admit I thought last week’s episode was the entire session and forgot about this additional room/fight. That starts to happen the longer the lag gets between when the episode records and when it airs. I’ve never forgotten a boss encounter or major plot point, but every once in a while, a room or two will get lost in the shuffle.

If you’re curious – what we’re listening to now might have still been recorded in 2020 (I believe). Depends a little on how many sessions we missed over the holidays, but my email says I sent my L4 Basil to Steve around Thanksgiving. Just to give you some perspective on how fast we generate and burn through our content.

As far as Steve’s show note about the game forcing you to handle certain content at certain levels: the VAST majority of the time, I’m not too proud to take the rest when we need it. Sometimes I get my back up and want to see how close to “E” we can run our characters, but most of the time, I’d much rather survive the adventure and get a nice clean win with all our resources. The big thing this time was the story… breaking off a hot pursuit to regain resources… but that’s ultimately Steve’s call as GM/”director” of the show. If he didn’t think it spoiled things too badly, I’m willing to do it.

The funny thing is that my pre-COVID home game was very much the opposite. Our GM was basically using the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon as an adventure tourism destination and built up a town specifically to serve adventurers’ needs. So going to the dungeon was ALMOST like clocking in at a 9-to-5 job for our characters in that one. We’d go explore the dungeon for a day… MAYBE stay overnight if we could find a safe spot to long-rest… and then come back at the end of the day. And the overarching story, such as it was, was more banging away at individual quests that sometimes linked into a larger story. With that group… you take the rest when you need the rest. Period, end of story.

Neither is wrong. Obviously, the latter model fits the game system better, but I do like having a slow-burn story that unfolds over the course of the game rather than an almost WoW-ish “bring back 10 skeleton bones”.

As we turn back to the “forgotten” fight at the heart of the episode, it was not devoid of interesting developments.

First, we get a reminder that Drained is a NASTY status effect, at least in part because it’s a slippery slope. There’s a status effect that just slaps on a negative and then moves on with its day, but then there’s a status effect that also lowers the saving-throw score, making it even harder to get rid of/easier to extend to higher levels of the affliction. So to summarize, Drained a) inflicts hit point damage which it b) gives to the enemy as healing and/or temporary hit points (sometimes), c) lowers the player’s max hit points by the same amount, so even if they have access to healing, they can only recover to the newly-lower ceiling, and d) lowers their CON so it’s harder to make additional saves. Ouch. The only saving grace here is that Paizo knows this is cruel and unusual punishment, so it usually caps the effect at Drained 2 or Drained 3… otherwise, it would just snowball into a bunch of corpses with Drained 8 or Drained 11 on them.

On the bright side, the Corpse Pendant gets a chance to prove its worth, with a pause for a brief rules lawyer moment. The thing is undead can’t perceive you unless you attack… but if you cast heals or other support magic, that doesn’t break the charm. So Gomez was pretty safe… EXCEPT. He’s still got object permanence. He still exists, so what happens if a wight tries to move through his space?

I think I would’ve been a bit more generous on my ruling than Steve was. I think I would’ve made moving out of the way a reaction that automatically succeeds in normal terrain, but requires a roll if it was difficult terrain. Putting it in other terms: if they’re in open space, it shouldn’t be hard to see the wight coming and step out of its path; if Gomez had to maneuver around a workbench or something to do it, then yes there’s a chance of not getting far enough away or making noise while doing it. Nevertheless, Gomez makes his roll, so we’re all good there.

The other big development of this room was finding the treasure trove of magical items. Now… I don’t think we’ll be able to make use of Kemenels’ stuff since he’s still alive. I am toying with the idea of visiting him later and asking him to TEACH me some spells, but he should get his stuff back. But Pratchett’s book? Oh, I’m calling dibs on that… assuming we survive. And it’s not all avarice: now we have a good handle on what he can cast, and it’s almost all necromancer spells.

Now we have a bit of a dilemma, but it’s of the more normal kind. Gomez has the bulk of 10 minutes where he’s basically invisible to undead, which would be really useful for scouting the remaining rooms. On the other hand, Dougie (in particular) took quite a pounding so we really need to heal, and unless Pratchett is secretly a vampire or something, there’s at least one NON-undead who will see Gomez just fine if he walks into the wrong room. This isn’t “long rest or not”; this is just normal allocation-of-resource questions every party has to deal with and eventually we decide to get Dougie back up because the value of knowing what the next room looks like is limited if we start the next fight with our biggest damage dealer at death’s door.

Sometimes I worry that I’ll touch off some blood feud between John and Chris when I say that. Truth told, I didn’t run the numbers and I don’t KNOW who deals more damage, but I feel like John’s maul gives him the edge at the top end. And note that I’m not saying “best fighter”… just “biggest damage dealer”: Lo Mang has mobility and more ability to spread his strikes out on multiple foes, which can be priceless in certain encounters. But in a single-target slugfest, there’s nothing like critting for 30 or 40 points in one shot.

So we finally enter the room… and in one of the day’s least surprising developments, it’s a shrine to Norgorber, and particularly the most bloodthirsty and vicious sub-cult of Norgorber. And over in one corner, we find the equivalent of a signed confession in the form of a diary of Pratchett’s crimes… written in (we can assume) the blood of his victims. Captain Crazypants it is!

And there’s one more door, which, just based on the layout of the level, Pratchett pretty much has to be hiding behind. The basement has ultimately taken the shape of a big “U”, so there’s a 40 or 50-foot hole in the map and then we’d be back in the room with the flying undead pork rinds. That sounds like an inner sanctum to me.

So next week, we kick down that door and see how much of a tough guy Pratchett is when faced with trained agents of the law and not helpless hotel guests. It’s funny… there are bosses where I fought them because it’s checking the box or moving the story forward. Given the awful shit we’ve seen in this dungeon, I really want to take this guy down. I don’t even want him running away and getting caught by the officers that are now theoretically outside. I wanna knock the smug right off his face. This whole ordeal of awfulness has actually provoked a genuine desire for some revenge and/or justice.

But… patience, dear readers. That’ll be 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. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

 

 

The Sideshow S2|13: Wine, Women, And Oh-So Wrong

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|13: The Dating Game.

I’m going to go a little out of order this week and start with the elephant in the room: Darius’ big date night.

I was warned. I thought I was prepared. Turns out, maybe I was not.

“You think the birthday parties are something? Darius is going to go on a date, and it’s gonna get a little weird. Even for us.”

Graded pass-fail, I don’t think it was THAT outrageous. I mean, I was worried we were headed for “RFC After Dark” territory and the first NC-17 rating in our show’s history. I was wondering if Steve had commissioned cheesy 80s porno music, or even worse… (gulp)… artwork. And really… a few spicy double entendres and a “draw your own conclusions” ending was fairly tame as these things go. What we got could air before 11 in most markets. I think.

I think what was jarring, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, was having two people who had been playing Darius’ siblings for the previous YEAR play groupies five minutes later. That’s what made it a little weird for me – I couldn’t step far enough away from “Alhara and Hap” to be comfortable in the moment. And I wouldn’t want to put words in Loren’s mouth, but it seemed like she felt something similar, because while Vanessa seemed quite willing to go for it, you could sense an almost IMMEDIATE “what have I gotten myself into?” vibe from Loren. And her character Kat was the one who asked for the date in the first place. Vanessa was just the wing woman. (Theoretically. SHE WEREN’T ACTING LIKE IT.)

Then again… Door #2 would be 20 minutes of Steve and Rob T. flirting with each other, and while it’s probably something we would have been telling our grandchildren about, it would probably be for all the wrong reasons. (“Mom… why does grandpa curl into the fetal position and weep uncontrollably whenever you cook bacon?”)

Meanwhile, back in the more sedate world, we FINALLY meet Papa Varus. I have to admit I spent the start of this exchange a little distracted. First, Steve said “Marcel” but with the accent he chose to use, I got “Mario” and my mind went to about two minutes of “when do we meet Uncle Luigi?” and “your princess is in another circus!” jokes. But then he said the Celestial Menagerie would be leaving for Absalom to participate in the Radiant Festival, and I gotta admit I had “crossover episode” on the brain from then on. As did several people on our Discord channel, as it turns out.

Now, this is something we’ve actually idly speculated about before: that maybe we’d have an Edgewatch/Three-Ring crossover as a special live episode for one of the conventions or something. But now this feels like it went from an idle speculation thing to something that could actually happen in the day-to-day flow of the show(s) because it’s now officially established that our shows are in the same time continuity. (The Radiant Festival only happens every 100 years, so… there can’t be two of them.) Of course, the real dilemma will be that we’re power-gaming our way through while they’re stopping for everyone’s birthday, so by the time they make it to Absalom (if they do), our Edgewatch guys will have hit level 20 and retired from the force. Just Sayin’.

Of course, the question I asked the Discord channel: who is the Scooby-Doo gang, and who’s the special guest (Batman, the Harlem Globetrotters, etc.) in this scenario? Technically speaking we’re the ones that investigate crimes for a living, but they have the dog and circus folk are more likely to be living out of the fantasy world equivalent of a van.

Depending on your answer, the Freds would be Darius and Lo Mang (do orcs wear ascots?), and Basil and Ateran feel like the Velmas. That leaves our Shaggies and Daphnes. On the circus side, Hap has to be Shaggy because she’s besties with Riley, leaving Alhara as Daphne. On the Edgewatch side, Dougie probably gives me the bigger Shaggy vibes, which leaves Gomez as a very odd Daphne choice… but I’m not sure anyone else works better.

(Damnit… now part of me wants artwork of the various RFC crews AS the Scooby-Doo cast. Though poor Ateran in a bright orange turtleneck? Maybe not.)

Of course, we’re still getting a LITTLE ahead of ourselves. This all assumes that a) the Celestial Menagerie actually leaves (we’ve only got Marcel’s word for it so far), and b) our gang eventually has a reason to follow them to the capital. Though that one’s pretty easy: there’s always “in search of bigger crowds, and what crowd would be bigger than Absalom?” But hey… at least it’s on the table now.

Meanwhile… the Varus family reunion was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked the roleplay and the interactions with the group and particularly thought it was nice that he was kind and welcoming to Ateran. (Calling his daughter dumb… maybe not quite so much, even if it was playful.) On the other hand, the CONTENT of the meeting was frustrating because it actually raised more questions than it answered. We know that the mom was into some shady stuff out in the Shackles, and while she may still be dead, it certainly wasn’t the simple story Dad’s been telling all these years. We also get a promise to deliver more information about Darius’ mark, but… we’ll get that next time apparently. So this was the meeting to talk about what we’re going to talk about in the OTHER meeting. Great.

But hey, we finished off with an Old Woody toast, and any time Old Woody is in play, it’s a good thing. I would like to point out that turning blue (as Marcel did) was one of the original OW effects Ezrik suffered the first time he drank it, so that was a nice little throwback for me. (I think Ezrik also may have developed temporary scales, but they flaked off the next morning. The problem is I forget which effects were Old Woody and which were from the Numerian fluid.)

There is one other issue I wanted to raise about the whole dad thing. ALL this time, I’d just been assuming the dad was something Steve and the group threw in to create some roleplay drama. Now, it’s starting to feel like a legit plot driver, like it was written into the adventure all along. So… either Paizo wrote some really clever hooks into this adventure path, or Steve deserves an extra gold star for folding his custom content into the main story so “organically” that I legitimately caught myself thinking Paizo must’ve planned it this way. I’m honestly impressed. In other cases where we’ve had custom content, you could “see the seams” more.

At any rate, as the episode comes to a close, we have a nice little interlude between Alhara and Ateran where they finally get a place of their own (sorta) – doubly wholesome given the debauchery going on at the diner. And then, as the episode ends… a bit of a shocker. Mistress Dusklight herself walks into the “enemy” camp. For a non-combat cliffhanger, this one’s a doozy. Is she there to fight? Make peace? Papa Varus made it sound like they were leaving town soon, so is this “settling up old scores” or “burying the hatchet”?

But of course, I guess we’ll have to find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. (A few of you already have.) Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.