Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 3 of 35

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The Sideshow S2|32: Nothing Brings a Family Together Like Murder

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|32: How I Met Your Mother.

It’s weird. I’m having a little trouble thinking of something to say about this week’s episode because compared to the last couple of weeks, it’s so… ordinary. We’re back to making up new restaurants (Livestock In Linens!) and engaging in scatological speculation about the mechanics of aeon stones: I certainly look forward to the official Paizo errata that explains whether you still have to poop when using an aeon stone.

I mean, yes, the shadow of what happened to Darius still hangs over everything, but at least for this week, it kinda receded into the background a little bit and felt like a more “normal” episode.

This week’s show notes amused me a little because Steve’s GM thoughts and my player thoughts (from last week) about cheating death were basically the same, from opposite sides of the GM screen. I swear we didn’t cheat off each other’s papers… though maybe when you play in the same group long enough, I suppose it’s possible you developed a shared sensibility about how the game “should” work.

I think if there’s one takeaway from all of this, it’s this: if you’re a player, always put something a little bit supernatural into your backstory, just to give your GM something to play around with if your character should happen to die. It doesn’t even have to be a big obvious glowing birthmark; even if it’s just something subtle like “well, there was an ancestor on my father’s side who was rumored to have become a lich”… just SOMETHING that gives your GM some wiggle room.

Confession time: in our Edgewatch game, I actually created something like this for Basil. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll just say there IS a supernatural hook in his backstory that Steve could use if he needs to save my life at some point down the road. The only minor problem is that Steve hasn’t really been able to introduce it in-story yet, so if Basil were to happen to die before that happens, it’ll lack the ample setup that Darius had with the mark and Steve will have to do some serious dancing to keep it from feeling too deus ex machina. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

As far as to whether to come back from the dead or not… I can see both sides of that coin. On one hand, being able to go on this journey with a character and watch them change and sometimes become something you didn’t even expect is one of the best things about this game. You tend to remember the journey more than you remember any one particular roll of the dice. So you hate to walk away from a character you’ve put a lot into.

On the other hand… for a full adventure path, at the pace we play, that’s a 2-3 year commitment to playing the same character every week, and sometimes you get into a bit of a rut. Trying something new can be a bit tempting. I will say that Steve’s path forward, in this case, seems like a “best of both worlds” solution – Rob’s character will still be Mostly Darius but will do enough new things to give him a bit of a fresh coat of paint.

Back in the show, Darius naturally has questions when he returns to the land of the living, and Papa Varus is the most likely source of answers, so the gang sets up a meeting at Louder’s Chowder. We learn a few interesting things from this meeting. The first was not that unexpected – it turns out that Darius and Alhara’s mom wasn’t just “hanging around with pirates” or whatever story they were told last time; it turns out she was a full-fledged member of the Red Mantis Assassins, and when she was away from the family, she was off killing people. It’s interesting… in our group chat, the Circus Folk thought this was some big revelation; I just ASSUMED that was the case once Achakaek was in play. Second – and this might be the biggest revelation – the nature of the connection to Darius’ mark suggests that their mom might not actually be dead. And whether she is or not, Papa Varus just told the kids that to avoid uncomfortable questions. Lastly, there was a bit of a self-serving info dump about how their dad knew Mistress Dusklight was bad news and tried to rein her in a little bit over the years.

And here’s where I have to give Vanessa a lot of credit for her roleplaying choices. It’s tempting to play our characters as heroic, emotionally stoic people who kinda rise above it all and be the bigger person in all circumstances. “I’m a HERO, therefore nothing should phase me, even the betrayal of a parent.” But you know what… Vanessa played it REAL and I give her credit for that. She allowed Alhara to be mad at her father and call him on his bullshit. Because lying to your kids about their mother being dead is kinda crappy, and given what Mistress Dusklight has done JUST since they got to Escadar, his “reining her in” doesn’t seem like it accomplished anything, did it? (If this was him reining her in, how awful would she have been WITHOUT his influence?) It would’ve been so easy to just shove that all under the rug in the name of “family togetherness” and “let’s all rally around Darius in his hour of need”, and I applaud Vanessa for taking it to a place that’s a little rougher, but also a little more authentic.

For that matter, give I should give Rob T. a cap tip as well. It’s hard to put a finger on, but he’s playing “the same but different” really well so far. There are moments where he seems like Business As Usual Darius, and then he’ll throw in a moment where he’s cold and distant and he really conveys this sense that he’s not all the way there. I really felt it in his interactions with Hap, in particular.

So as we approach the end of the episode, it’s time to go back into the temple and clear out those last few rooms. (Loved Loren’s joke about punching the time clock. Sometimes it does feel that way, doesn’t it?) I guess next week we’ll get to see what the New and Improved(?) Darius can do in combat; hopefully, he won’t go full Suirad and start chopping heads off. 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|16: Gotta See a Man About a Horseman

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|16: He’s Kind Of A Big Deal.

We join this week’s episode just in time for the first real fight of the dungeon. The skeletons were more of a warmup, and the encounter with the temple guards was almost more of a trap: as long as you weren’t dumb enough to stay in the room with them, combat could be pretty much avoided entirely.

This time, though, we’ve got Christopher Walken’s character from Sleepy Hollow to deal with. The initial read of the fight is that the guy on the horse is the heavy hitter, but the horse itself isn’t that formidable – it just adds that smoke debuff and gives the guy more mobility than he’d have on foot. Halfway through the fight, Steve mentions that it does have some sort of trample ability that might make it a more powerful foe, but we never actually get to see that.

Now, I’m at the back when the fight starts, and if I’m being honest, half of that was by design – now that I use a bow, I like hanging back a little until I can assess the fight – and if I’m being honest, the other half was that I was being a little slow in moving my piece. John pretty much ran halfway across the map, and I was moving along in 30, 40-foot chunks. As one of Bob Ross’ “happy little accidents”, this did mean I was too far away to get the fear effect from the rider or the sickness from the smoke. So maybe “tactical cowardice” has its place in the world.

The opening act strikes me as “good radio” from an action standpoint, but highly implausible from a physics standpoint. First, critical hit or not, I’m not sure I see a gust of wind blowing over a horse that’s capable of carrying an armored rider. There really probably ought to be some size restriction on that. But the rules say what they say, so itty-bitty mephit huffs and puffs and blows the horse down.

Also, there’s the matter of the steed saving its master from the fall. I’m not going to break out my old college physics text and do the math, but even with everyone’s turns theoretically happening simultaneously, I’m not sure 6 seconds (one round) would be enough time to re-summon a steed and stop the fall in a way SAFELY slows down the rider. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO GWEN STACEY IN SPIDER-MAN? It’s far more likely the rider’s momentum would just pancake the horse and they’d both be dead. But whatever. Good radio. Moving on.

While the enemies are in freefall, we have to make a tactical decision, and for some reason, John wants to use this moment to run past the encounter and go further into the dungeon. I didn’t really get a chance to chime in as much as I wanted, but this struck me as a REALLY dumb idea. First, there’s bleeding encounters – what if we run into the next room, find another enemy who’s just as powerful, and then the headless horseman rejoins the fight as well. Even if that doesn’t happen… let’s say we go explore a while. Eventually – unless we find a PERMANENT base of operations – we’ll have to leave the dungeon to go rest up, and we’ll probably have to come back past this guy with far fewer resources to deal with him. So I was firmly of the mindset of “might as well take the fight now”.

Especially when you add in the POSSIBILITY of getting the temple guardians on our side. I have to admit I didn’t really think that would work, but it was worth a shot. I looked at it this way – if he’s a mindless “animal-instinct” level of undead, he probably wandered in there once before, got punched, and realized he shouldn’t go there again. If he’s got human-equivalent intelligence, he probably RECOGNIZES guardians of Aroden and knows to stay away from them. Either way, I do kinda doubt he’s going to charge right into the room. But it could still help us establish a defensive position, much the same way it helps to fight under your tower in League of Legends. If you stake out a position the enemy can’t or won’t enter, you can basically chip away with ranged attacks and then go in for the finishing blow on terms of your choosing.

That’s the theory anyway.

The one kinda-sorta problem was that Lo Mang and Dougie ran and hid behind pillars, which somewhat negated the purpose of trying to LURE the thing. For a lure to work, you gotta at least give the enemy some sort of target to chase, so unless it’s got supernatural radar of some sort, that means SOMEONE’s got to be in visible range. So that’s why I was standing out in the middle of the room like a dope at first – offering up a target. I’m not excessively brave, but I hadn’t taken any damage yet, so even if he’d gone full charge, I probably could’ve survived one round of attacks and then he’d be all the way into the killbox.

And wouldn’t you know it, once we start fighting with tactics instead of rushing blindly at things, it actually starts to go pretty well. We down the horse pretty easily, and while the boss is a little tougher, Gomez’s spells really make the difference here. One thing that was kind of exciting – though we really only got to SUCCESSFULLY use it once – was the Shared Strategem. Now that Dougie retrained into more of a traditional precision damage rogue, being able to use my bow to give Dougie flat-footed from anywhere in the room is going to be a big help.

So the horseman dies… but no cool loot, because he just disappears into mist. So I think there’s going to be some sort of “putting him to rest” side quest involved here. Given the theme of “corrupted catacombs”, I think maybe this guy was a former champion of Aroden, but either the Skinsaws activated him as a line of defense or the general corruption caused by Aroden’s absence turned him. Assuming that to be true, that sort of implies he’ll have his own burial chamber if he was a high-up muckety-muck, and maybe there’s where we’ll be able to figure out how to banish him permanently. And (cough) get his stuff (cough).

While searching around in the aftermath of the fight, we do find a tunnel leading to a different part of the dungeon, and there’s indications that this is how the Skinsaws are getting in and out. So if we want to go directly after them, that seems like the way to go. But between resolving the horseman issue and general “clear out the level” metagaming, we decide to investigate further along the horseman’s path to see if we can find clues about how to get rid of him permanently.

And OK.. we don’t find the horseman (unless his grave is behind that locked gate), but we do find another encounter. Which we’ll deal 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.

The Sideshow S2|31: Friend of the Devil

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|31: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In last week’s column, you might remember I played around with the whole “five stages of grief” thing. I’m pretty sure the real world is messier than that and grief doesn’t move in a straight line – you think you’re fine, the wrong song plays at the grocery store, and all of a sudden you’re tearing up while hugging a bag of frozen peas – but it made for a useful framing and did capture the different layers of shifting emotions about Darius’ death at the time.

Well, the funny thing is, over the weekend I had actually found my way to acceptance. Or at least I had managed to find some positives to introducing a new character. It would certainly have shaken up the roleplaying dynamic. What sort of character would Rob play, and how would the rest of the party react to this new person “filling Darius’ shoes”? It might have also freshened up the combat dynamics a little – I love Darius as a character, but his role in a fight is to stand in front of something and punch it. A new character might have introduced some new tactics. Maybe Rob would roll a TRUE non-human character – yeah, Darius and Alhara are half-elves, and now Hap has genie blood, but Rob could’ve really pulled out all the stops. (My suggestion: a boar-based beastkin who, to inject some irony, still loves bacon.) Also, out at the skinny end of the bell curve, part of me hoped Steve might let Rob brew a beta version of a Magus or Summoner since Secrets of Magic would be out by the time this aired (or close to it). Like he did with Alhara and the Swashbuckler when the show started.

So yeah, I had actually reached a point where I was willing to see the positives of a show that didn’t include Darius. Instead, the Reaper is cheated, and Darius lives to fight another day… but with a HUGE catch.

Now, let me step out of the story for a second and discuss “cheating death” as a general mechanism. My overall position is that the VAST majority of the time, death is death and shouldn’t be undone lightly, but I also think there ARE situations where you consider it, and maybe this was one of them.

Rule #1 is “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. If the player gets killed because they were being reckless or stupid, they don’t get any favors. The GM should NEVER reward downright bad play. In this case, they had no way to know about the curse, and once they used the first round to figure out the golem’s “pattern”, their kiting tactics were actually pretty clever. Trip, run away, lather, rinse, repeat. Other than metagaming that it was an optional encounter and avoiding it entirely, you can’t accuse anyone of being reckless here.

Rule #2 is that sometimes you cut the players a break if the dice are REALLY against them – to borrow a phrase from poker, sometimes as a GM, you find a way to let them walk away from a bad beat. If we’re being fair, Darius’ death was probably in the middle. On one hand, it was a powerful creature so it had a high DC, and nobody told them to spend all their hero points. On the other hand, they had like five or six chances where a 15 or 16 (estimated) would’ve solved the problem, and couldn’t hit it. Mr. “I Took Stats In College But Mostly Slept Through It Because It Was An 8 AM Class” ran the numbers and the chance of failing ALL those rolls was 10 or 15 percent. That starts to get into the territory of “maybe the dice are cursed”.

I’m adding a Rule #3 based on how Steve handled this situation: if it can fit within the story, the player should have some choice in the matter. Maybe the player is actually ready to make a new character and doesn’t WANT to come back, or maybe they love that first character and would do anything to keep it. If you’re going to upend that apple cart, it’s probably a good call to have the player be on board.

Rule #4 is the big one. If you’re going to overrule death itself, it can’t be for free; there has to be a cost. Now “free” doesn’t have to mean money or losing a level… it just has to mean there’s some consequence. Even if it’s just a story/roleplaying consequence, where maybe people react differently to the character because something unnatural happened to bring them back.

And hot damn, here’s where Steve really pulled the rabbit out of the hat. And where laying all the roleplaying groundwork with the mark paid off.

First was the voice itself. As I joked in our group chat, Steve did such a good job with the Achakaek voice I ALMOST forgive him for the existence of Gibzip. I’m still trying to figure out whether Steve added some effects to the voice in post. If he did, that’s pretty cool. If it’s not, it’s just a testament to how good a job he did that I convinced myself he did.

So it turns out that Darius and Alhara’s mom was, if not a full Red Mantis Assassin, certainly an adherent of Achakaek, and must have passed some sort of protective blessing/curse… blurse?… onto Darius. So when Darius “dies”, he gets a VIP meet-and-greet with the bug god himself and he’s offered a diabolical choice. He can die and move on, or he can be brought back to life by giving up more control over the mark. And he would be doing this knowing the mark is a product of malevolent power.

And I mean… come on. Darius is Darius. He’s going to protect his family, and he’s one of those people who REALLY believes they can overcome ANYTHING. This stuff is hard-wired into him. So of course he’s going to accept the consequences of the curse and come back. So now we have Darius, but now with 30 percent more stone-cold killer. It will be interesting to see how that manifests going forward. (And as a “rubber meets the road” thing, I’m kinda curious whether Darius will have access to the full Red Mantis archetype, or whether the status quo will continue and the mark will continue to provide a few select powers.)

Before we move on, I wanted to commend all THREE of the group-mates for their excellent roleplay in this moment. It had to be hard to “go there” and play real grief, but Vanessa and Loren really pulled it off; it was really heartbreaking there in the moment. That’s not to disrespect Rob P. either – he had to play it more subdued because Ateran is someone who guards their emotions more closely, but I thought Rob’s choices of working through the intellectual puzzle of Darius’ death, wondering what they might have done differently, while still trying to comfort Alhara were well done.

Now, Darius’ death and return cast a pretty long shadow over this episode, but we did get one more intriguing little bit of lore dump when the party FINALLY gets around to reading “the letter” they found several episodes back. And as I somewhat expected, the letter sheds more light on Mistress Dusklight’s role in this operation, formally and finally painting her as Evil-With-a-Capital-E. She wasn’t just tomb-robbing and happened to bump into them; she formally helped augment the power of their rituals and – most sinister of all – helped round up surface-dweller sacrifices (presumably various townspeople of Escadar) for the xulgaths. So, I don’t know how Achakaek will feel about all of it but sounds like Mistress Dusklight needs to die sooner rather than later if she hasn’t left for Absalom yet.

There is one small silver lining in all of this. The letter does also hint at a xulgath faction that was opposed to what this group is doing. I’m not even going to TRY to spell specific xulgath names, but Dusklight’s letter mentions a diadem being damaged when knocked off the leader’s head during a battle with a fellow xulgath. So that raises at least a possibility that humanity may have some… if not allies, at least people who can be reasoned with… amongst the xulgaths. It’s SOMETHING to hang one’s hat on.

So this week, Darius rests and recovers and we all eat our feelings. Next week, we get back to work, whether that’s clearing the last few rooms of the temple, confronting Mistress Dusklight… or maybe they’re the same thing and it’s just a race for the diadem at this point. 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.

(Achakaek voice) OR ELSE…

The Bird’s Eye View S2|15: Long Time, No Melee

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|15: And That’s How Undead Are Made.

I know this is an odd sentiment, but it feels good to be fighting again.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect roleplay and peacefully resolving problems, and talking our way through the last section of the adventure was kinda fun, even if Seth did most of the heavy lifting. But I’m honestly glad to be hitting stuff again. (Or… given my rolls in this fight, not hitting stuff.)

The interesting thing here is that for the first time in a while, we’re not really on a schedule. Yes, in general, it would be good to get to the bottom of the Cult’s plans and rescue the Graycloaks. On the other hand, the cult doesn’t really know we’re coming, nor is there a SPECIFIC threat we’re trying to prevent. With the murder hotel, once it was kicked off, we had to go as fast as possible. With the bank heist, we had a specific deadline. Here… we can take our time a bit, and yes… even go back and rest up if we have to. It’s ALMOST like being a normal dungeon party for a change.

I have to admit I was a little surprised to find out about the restrictions about casting spells in animal form. First, as Steve pointed out, Erik Mona was running around our Black Lodge game casting spells right and left, and if HE’s getting rules wrong, what hope do the rest of us have? (Not to point fingers… just sayin’.)  But I think it’s also a vestige of First Edition, where I know druids (at least) could change into forms and pretty much retain all their abilities, including spellcasting and communication with party-mates. So much so that I had a druid nicknamed “Windy” because he spent almost his entire life in air elemental form.

That said, in a practical sense, it doesn’t REALLY impact things much – Seth and I spent most of the fight safe in the back row and only ever got attacked once or twice. Maybe he missed out on being targeted by an attack once, but doubt that would’ve been enough to change the shape of the fight. Or if you want to, you can just mentally retcon an action where Gomez turned back into humanoid form at the start of the fight. Really, he only needed to be a bug to get past the guardian, and besides, having that bug crawling around my feathers was really uncomfortable. (Basil’s secretly very ticklish.)

The real story here is the Dougie and Lo Mang Show. You skip an entire level, you do a little bit of retraining, and you come out the other side a badass, apparently. In Lo Mang’s case, it’s FINALLY having a party member with something that’s like an attack of opportunity – as the boys mention, being able to sneak damage in on the bad guy’s turn is pretty disruptive. In Dougie’s case, it’s finally becoming the rogue he was always meant to be, switching to lighter weapons, and embracing his inner mobile fighter, and adding both a “move-and-attack” and a double-attack to his bag of tricks. Not that he was doing BADLY with the maul – I mean, when that thing critted for 40 or 50 points, it was like Christmas morning – but he just felt so much more effective in this new configuration.

And though we don’t get to see it in THIS fight, I’m going to be able to help him with that… as soon as I start rolling better. As I mentioned last week, I grabbed Shared Stratagem, so I can give Dougie the flat-footed bonus remotely, without even having to physically set up flanking. It didn’t work out this time but once we can start getting that rolling… fun times ahead.

The one thing I’m wrestling with as we go through this first fight is how much of this is the work of the cult, and how much of this is the temple just going into a state of disrepair because of Aroden’s absence? On one hand, you leave a catacomb alone for 100 years, bad things are going to happen; especially if the patron deity’s influence and protective spells wane in the meantime. On the other hand, the Skinsaw Cult specifically works in undead abominations, so I assume they have someone on the payroll who can reanimate a few skeletons. I mean… part of the allure of hiding in catacombs for them is free reinforcements. But maybe I’m reading too much into that.

Overall, we make quick work of the skeletons and continue our exploration. We find a few possible ways to go deeper into the catacombs, but I feel like we want to clear the level we’re on first. Some of that’s metagaming, I suppose, but there’s also a sense of not leaving enemies in your rear. At the very least, we should figure out what those horse hooves are.

Or “clanking JELL-O”. Whatever that sounds like.

While we explore, we find a bit of a treasure trove. Here’s where things get a little weird, as YES, we’ve been given permission to “salvage” what we need, but it still feels a little like grave-robbing, and we’re still cops at the end of the day. But whatever… at some point, you stop overthinking and go with the fact that the GM gave it a green light.

In the process, we finally get to use our secondary skills a little. Dougie manages to figure out and disarm the trap on the “cages”, and then Gomez uses all his goofy little “trick plays” to get (half) the gear out. (And me, the theoretical skill monkey of the group, sitting on the sideline.) Just in case it was unclear what was happening, Gomez summoned the chest feather token (basically a bag of holding type thing) and a mephit on the “wrong” side of the bars, had the mephit load the chest up, and then shrunk the token down and handed it back to Gomez. The ONLY downside is we can’t access the treasure inside until later because dismissing the token ends it, and then we gotta deal with all that encumbrance. So for now, our new goodies are locked away.

After half the loot is retrieved, we continue to follow the sound of the horse… and for better or worse, we eventually find it – just your garden-variety headless horseman with a nightmare steed. I’m feeling like this might be a bit more of a challenge than a couple of skeletons, but I guess we’ll find out 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.

Pathfinder Lost Omens The Mwangi Expanse Review: The World Gets A Little Wider

When we started this podcast and I took on the task of writing our product reviews, I have to admit I didn’t always have the best handle on things. I’m a player at heart; I rarely sit on the GM side of the screen. So if a book didn’t have obvious “toys” for players, it left me a little stumped. Well, we’ve been at this for a few years now, and I like to think I’ve evolved and matured, and I have a better handle on things now.

I say all of this as backdrop as we step into the world of The Mwangi Expanse… both the setting within the Pathfinder world, as well as the newest Paizo hardcover release that tells us all about it. As a setting book, it’s mostly designed as an “idea factory” for GMs to build adventures around, and as such, you don’t tend to have as much player-facing content. And you know what… that’s OK. Not everything HAS to be for the players. Sometimes your GM needs a little love too, and players reap the benefits later in the form of the adventures they get to go on.

I feel like the first thing that leaps out is the sheer scope of the book itself. Think about it: this is a full hardcover release, on par with the Bestiaries and the Inner Seas World Guide itself, just dedicated to one area of the map. Paizo certainly never did anything of this magnitude in First Edition; maybe you could argue that the Starfinder Pact Worlds book was in the ballpark of this effort, but that’s like… 10 or 11 planets compared to one relatively small corner of the map. That level of commitment allows them to really go on a deep dive, as you’ll see when I get into the content in more detail.

Another thing I feel like I want to mention is Paizo’s commitment to doing inclusivity the right way with this book. When you’re mining real-world cultures for ideas for a fantasy setting, it’s a delicate balance. On the one hand, you don’t want the treatment to be so shallow that it comes across as meaningless façade, but you also want to use those cultural elements respectfully and not indulge in cheap stereotypes or otherwise make it awkward. (And in any scenario, casting Tilda Swinton as an Asian man is off the table. Circulate a memo.) I wanted to specifically give Paizo credit for bringing in writers of color to participate in every phase of the book’s creation, using their perspectives to inform this book in a meaningful and respectful way.

As a setting within the Pathfinder game, the Mwangi Expanse is a jungle biome to the south of the Inner Sea region; if you want to compare it to a real-world setting, sub-Saharan Africa wouldn’t be too far off the mark. It’s a region teeming with exotic wildlife and magical forces; even the established cities of the Mwangi Expanse have to contend with primal and magical forces knocking at their back door as a fact of everyday life. It’s also a region with its own people, history, and culture, distinct from the goings-on up north in the Inner Sea region. It’s a land that manages to be familiar in some ways but drastically different in other ways.

Let’s start with what I’m sure is a vastly oversimplified history of the Expanse. It may be helpful to set the table for some of the things we’ll be discussing later.

In the wake of Earthfall, the Mualijae elves were the dominant power in the region, but they expended most of their power battling a dragon god named Dahak. They were able to defeat and imprison Dahak, but their numbers were reduced, and those who remained splintered into three main factions. This gave humanity a foothold and an opportunity to grow, led by Old-Mage Jatembe and his Ten Magic Warriors. The town of Nantambu, originally a place for the Ten Magic Warriors to meet and exchange knowledge, became a full-fledged city where the warriors started the Maagambya school of magic. Both exist to this day as a beacon of magical knowledge in the region. For a while, the leadership of the Magic Warriors allowed humanity’s influence across the Expanse to grow, and new cities and nations were created. Eventually, a threat arose in the form of the demon lord Angazhan and his corrupted human leader, the Gorilla King. Angazhan and his demon-worshipping followers created the city of Usaro as a base of operation and began to expand across the expanse until they were eventually fought and defeated by the orcs of the region, the Matanji, with the assistance of one of the remaining elf factions. In more modern days, the Expanse faced attempts at colonization from foreign powers (most notably Cheliax), and more recently (when Aroden died), a never-ending storm called the Eye of Abendego flooded the northwestern countries of Lirgen and Yamasa and drove those people out of their homelands.

Like I said: vastly oversimplified. And don’t worry… there will not be a quiz. But it gives you some of the highlights of how the region was shaped, and I’ll probably reference pieces of it as I discuss other parts of the book.

One thing that’s interesting is the mix of ancestries you’ll find in the Mwangi Expanse, whether it’s journeying there as an existing character or starting a new campaign there. Some ancestries that are fairly exotic for the Inner Sea, such as lizardfolk and kobolds, are much more common, while some of the Inner Sea staples (gnomes and goblins, to pick two examples) are hardly seen. Even amongst some of the shared ancestries, such as elves and orcs, there are differences in their evolutions; and of course, there are also ancestries that are unique to the Mwangi Expanse.

To use elves as an example, there are three different flavors of elves. All three are descended from the original Mualijae elves that came to the region thousands of years ago. They were presented a prophecy of fighting against great evil, but chose different interpretations of what that meant, and they fractured into factions over their different interpretations. The first are the scholarly Alijae elves who chose to gather as much knowledge as possible, so they moved their base of operations to the outskirts of Nagisa, a demon-corrupted elf city, so they can try to reclaim its secrets. There are also the warrior Ekujae who are taking it literally and developing their military prowess to fight any threat that arises (including helping the Matanji orcs fight the demons). Lastly, there are the Kallijae who think the real evil they have to fight is within, so they’re all about keeping to a rigid code of ethics and personal discipline.

Similarly, the Matanji orcs are a combination of familiar and new. Yes, they’re still a people known for their strength and military prowess, but they’re not treated like warlike savages; the people of the Expanse respect the orcs for protecting everyone else from the demons and their worshipers. As such, Matanji are generally well-regarded and welcome in polite society, and some even rise to leadership positions. Heck, remember the Yamasan people (one of the two countries I mentioned that got flooded by the giant storm)? They’re mostly farmers, and a lot of them now live under the protection of the Matanji and grow their food for them. A demon-hunting army travels on its stomach, after all…

And just think…. I haven’t even mentioned the dwarves (Mbe’ke) who gave up living underground, befriended cloud dragons, and decided beards weren’t fashionable! There are also nomadic jungle dwarves (Taralu) and halflings (Song’o), so most of the “classics” are available here in some form.

As far as ancestries that are brand-new to the Mwangi Expanse, we have six (and yes, I realize I’m falling back on my fascination with “toys for players” here):

  • The Anadi are spider-people, though they can have both spider and humanoid forms, they can shift between. As you’d expect, most of their ancestry feats have a spidery theme: shooting webs, wall-crawling, etc.
  • The Conrasu is a bit of an oddball – it’s a shard of energy that grows an exoskeleton out of wood to serve as a body. It has some similar powers to a leshy, but something distinctly otherworldly and non-humanoid about it. So… “leshy construct” is kind of in the ballpark for what it feels like?
  • Gnolls are familiar to old-school players and fairly easy to describe for newcomers – hyena-based humanoids. Most gnolls are traditionally evil, but when the largest gnoll tribes were defeated, some moved to the human settlements and began their lives there. I love the footnote here that some gnolls eat their own dead and fallen enemies. WHAT’S A LITTLE CANNIBALISM AMONG FRIENDS?
  • Golomas don’t have an existing real-world comparison, so I’ll just describe the artwork: they’re bipeds with a horse-like face, but their face looks like a mask with eight gelatinous eyes. The most interesting thing about the goloma is it LITERALLY has eyes in the back of its head as well, which gives it benefits to perception and such.
  • LITTLE FROGGIES. Again, long-time players should know what to expect here. Certainly the cutest entry of the bunch. Sign me up for the feat that lets you deliver touch-attack spells with your tongue!
  • Human-adjacent, but their bodies have little quills, like a porcupine. At low levels, can be used for defense (attack me, you get poked back), but later feats let them be used as melee weapons or even shot at an enemy at range.

I feel like although they’re not a character ancestry, I should mention the Charau-Ka as well. They’re humanoids based on…. baboons, mandrills, maybe?… and they tended to be the footsoldiers of the demon-worshiping armies. So while you can’t be a Charau-Ka character (for now?), I suspect you’ll be running into a lot of them as adversaries if you go on adventures in the Expanse.

Once ancestries are dispensed with, we also get to meet a few of the gods worshiped in the Mwangi Expanse, although many of the more traditional Pathfinder gods have also made their way to the Expanse. One of the most interesting here is Walkena, the raised undead corpse of a former child ruler of the city of Mzali. The book itself diligently avoids using the word “lich”, but he’s kinda “lich-esque”. On the one hand, he’s evil and a bit of a tyrant, but on the other hand, he preaches a message of uniting the people of the Expanse and throwing out foreigners, so despite his cruelty, he’s got a certain popularity amongst the people. So there are some interesting layers there. I also personally like Lubaiko, a fire god who’s a bit of a practical joker and not above giving her own followers a hotfoot for a laugh. My kind of deity.

The next section of the book is the largest and covers the geography of the Mwangi Expanse. Let’s just say there’s just too much of it to go into ALL of it in detail, or we’d be here all day. This is where the deep dive starts REALLY paying off.

The general construction is that it breaks the Expanse down into smaller regions (nine in total), and then lists specific story hooks and points of interest that a GM could use to build an adventure around. So for example, the Sodden Lands are a rainy, marshy area to the far northwest (including the lands wiped out by the Eye of Abendego), and one sample of the locations a GM can play around with is Fliptown, a floating casino run by a grippli named Flip The Lucky. Or if you’re feeling more ambitious, Ng’s Well is a gateway to the First World that’s large enough to sail a ship through. The story elements can be anything from a whole city, to a specific building, sometimes even a specific NPC who might give the players a mission to take care of. Add it all up and there’s NO shortage of interesting content here.

I do think the Lake Ocota region is going to be a place that’s going to be featured prominently in adventure paths. It’s pretty close to the center of the Mwangi Expanse, and several rivers feed the lake, so you can get there from pretty much any starting point. There’s a direct water route to the magic city of Nantambu, and the demon city of Usaro is right on the southern banks of the lake. In short, Lake Ocota just FEELS like a place where history is happening (why yes, I do use “Hamilton” references even when it’s kind of forced and awkward). Also, there’s a 300-foot tower of white rock called the Spire Of Destiny in the center of the lake. I mean… come on… you don’t call something the “Spire of Destiny” and then NOT invite players to start snooping around it. Of course, every boat that’s gone out there has disappeared or come back empty, so… snoop carefully, is all I’m saying.

In the next section, after the geographic regions, the major cities of the Mwangi Expanse are given similar treatment. These writeups start with a one-page quick-reference (population, trade goods, etc.), another one-pager with a map, and then each city gets a similar treatment to the region level, where the book describes life in the city, the leadership structure, and again… points of interest in each city that could feed into an adventure.

We have Bloodcove and Senghor, which are two sides of the same ocean-faring coin – they’re both major ports, but Bloodcove is a safe haven for Free Captains (aka pirates), while Senghor is zero-tolerance in that respect and home to most of the “legitimate” trade with the outside world. Kibwe is a trading town that sits at a major crossroads toward the eastern side of the region; life pretty much revolves around the central market there. Nantambu is the center for all magical activity in the region and the home of the Maagaymba. One of my favorites is Jaha, a city where the residents just vanished a few years ago… so displaced Lirgeni and lizardfolk moved in. So you’ve got this city where there’s a mystery about the locals disappearing, you also have an interesting dynamic where the Lirgeni and lizardfolk have to make peace with the fact that the lizardfolk were formerly kept as slaves. Also, there’s some weird spirit activity going on that makes it impossible to sleep at night without having bad dreams, so the city’s entire sleep schedule is inverted, with people sleeping during the day and city life being mostly nocturnal. (THAT CAN’T BE ANYTHING BAD.)

Then again, the jungle city of Osibu is the home of Dimari-Diji, an ancient arboreal who LITERALLY survived Earthfall and is currently guarding the Nemesis Well, a portal to… nobody really knows what. You want a quest-giver who Knows Some Things, I suspect he’s your huckleberry.

One of the most interesting areas is the southern colony of Vidrian. It’s a place where one is forced to reckon with issues of our own real-world colonialism through the prism of gaming. Until recently, Vidrian was Sargava, a Chelaxian colony — one that was OK with using slave labor, BTW — but the ruler of Sargava backed the wrong horse in Cheliax’s civil war, so all their support from home dried up. The Sargavans tried to maintain their hold by allying with pirates, but a resistance movement eventually broke through and won independence to create the new nation of Vidrian. So now you have this country trying to figure out what the new normal is. You have the Vidric people, many of whom were former slaves, taking over as the ruling class, and the Sargava, the descendants of the Chelaxians existing as a minority who is anywhere from seriously mistrusted to outright hated. There are laws that protect them from violence, but the Sargavans are adapting to a new life where they’re persona non grata in many places… across ALL of the Expanse, not just within Vidrian.

Pretty heady stuff for a game where you’re usually bashing skeletons on the noggin.

And look… maybe you don’t want to play around with those issues because they make you uncomfortable or just don’t resonate with you, and… that’s cool. Play around one of the dozens of OTHER story hooks available in this book. I’m sure the frog casino will be a pretty light-hearted romp. The point is that others might WANT to play within those themes and tell those stories, and I’m glad the tools exist for them to do so.

The last section is a mini-bestiary… maybe a dozen or so creatures unique to the Mwangi Expanse. Some of these are antagonist humanoids, such as the aforementioned Charau-Ka, but you also have some wild animals here as well. Because, you know… in case a giant hippopotamus wasn’t enough, here’s a giant hippo that can cast fire spells (the maliadi). And if you live in a state where weed is legal, check out the grootslang… it’s got an elephant head, but its body quickly gives way to a snake’s body. Is it gargantuan? Of course. Can it swallow you whole? Need you even ask?

As I sit down to write a final analysis of this book, I have to admit I was really impressed. And this is coming from someone who’s usually indifferent toward the Paizo books that aren’t player-facing. Even so, I found myself drawn into this new corner of the world, far more than I expected to be. I think they managed to strike a nice balance between something that’s still familiar as Pathfinder while offering all sorts of new mysteries to explore that don’t automatically circle back to the same old lore we’ve been kicking around since First Edition. Our group doesn’t do a lot of homebrew content, so we probably won’t visit the Mwangi Expanse until there’s an adventure path that takes us there, but after reading over The Mwangi Expanse, I’m definitely looking forward to taking that journey.

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, Bestiary 2, and Bestiary 3.

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.

The Sideshow S2|30: You Are The Worst, Curse

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|30: Hot Potato Heroics.

Denial.

He’s not really dead. The mark on his arm will kick in and save him. Or they’ll just go get a Raise Dead ritual. (Oh wait, that costs 1600 gp for an 8th level character… no way they have that sort of money). Or maybe the chalice itself will have some sort of healing property.

Anger.

What the hell, Steve? That encounter was WAY too hard. Haste AND a curse that prevents healing? You should’ve toned that down some. Then again, it’s not all Steve’s fault. Has no one in this group heard of alternate damage types? Even owning a damn BOW? Yeah, golems have DR, but three shots a round would add up. Noooooo… we all gotta do ONE FUCKING THING and ONLY that one thing. “La-de-dah, look at my fire rendition of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel”… GOMEZ WOULDA HYDRAULIC PUSHED THAT MF’ER INTO AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ZIP CODE.

Bargaining.

I know they don’t have 1600 gold. But maybe the town could take up a collection. Maybe they could do a special charity performance of the circus. Maybe Jellico’s real personality is a high-level cleric. Maybe Mistress Dusklight has some line she won’t cross and will help them because deep down she regards them as worthy adversaries.

Depression.

No more bacon. No more references to oily thighs. I’ll even miss the awkward dates with Kat. I don’t know if I can do these writeups anymore. Maybe I’ll just ask Steve if I can write our show and be done with it.

Acceptance.

Nope. Not there yet. Can’t do it. I need Darius to be a part of this show. The good-natured leader without really trying to lead. Seemingly everyone’s older sibling – even though his connections to Alhara and Hap have been stronger, there have been times where’s he’s taken Ateran under his wing too. Known lover of bacon and good times in general. No… I’m sure Rob could bring a new character in next week and make it INTERESTING, but Darius holds a special place in this group, so I REALLY hope they figure out some way to save him, even if the dice say he’s gone.

I mean, this is also hitting a little hard because it’s our first death on RFC in general. I guess Rusty Carter may have died behind the scenes in Dead Suns (and then been “saved” by becoming undead), and I think one of our Black Lodge characters hit Dying 4 and had to survive via hero point. But in almost four years, this is the first time we’ve had to say goodbye to a character and roll a new one. So it’s hitting extra hard because maybe we’d gotten to the point where we didn’t really think it would happen.

As we learned the really hard way this week, golems are a hit-and-miss proposition. Each golem has ONE type of magic they’re vulnerable to, ONE type of magic that heals them, and ANY other magic just doesn’t work against them at all. That’s true for all golems. If this golem had been susceptible to FIRE damage (flesh golem, for instance)… this encounter might have been a cakewalk, where Hap chucked a few fireballs while the rest of the party held a picnic lunch. And yeah, you can damage them physically, but that’s also THEIR specialty and they have the built-in advantage of damage reduction, so standing there and trading punches is a losing proposition. Even when they don’t have a nasty curse that suppresses healing.

Speaking of which, each golem also has a few “extra” abilities, and those two were some of the worst. First, haste breaks the unwritten contract that big, dumb hit point sinks are AT LEAST supposed to be slow and easy to hit. So now you have a FAST face-puncher with an extra fourth action. THAT sucks.

But the curse, that was the real problem. Just to fill in the blanks by reading the monster’s statblock after the fact, the curse suppresses ALL non-magical healing, and even magical healing has to make a DC29 check to go through. I don’t have access to the group’s character sheets, but if their rolls are coming in at +13 or +14, that means they’d need to hit a 15 or so on-die to make the check. Not impossible, but difficult. Oh, and the curse isn’t removed until the target is healed up to full…. which is unlikely to happen in the middle of combat.

I have to admit, the first round of this fight was actually funny because for once, it was like listening to… well… us. People acting with no coordination, everyone trying to save themselves, leaving other people hung out to dry, people making chippy little comments… welcome to Agents Of Edgewatch Redux! Alhara running away with the chalice seemed like it was the beginning of tactics, but that doesn’t work if the rest of the party just kinda gets out of the way and let the golem chase her…

But like Agents of Edgewatch, they eventually got there. We bicker, we point fingers, and then we get our shit together and get the job done… and so did they.

The first smart decision was to give the chalice to Hap. For one thing, she’s the most mobile member of the party, especially when you add in the third dimension of flight. It doesn’t TOTALLY solve the problem because the golem can just get frustrated and attack someone else, but it does confuse the golem’s “programming” if you force it to use most of its actions chasing the chalice. The other reason it’s a smart move – turning my mean comments from above on their head – is that since most of Hap’s attacks are fire-based, she really can’t offer much to the damage output anyway. So playing keep-away is the best use of her skills.

And then Alhara starts getting into the action with her trips, which was another key turning point. Again, the more actions you can get this thing to use on something other than punching is a good thing, so forcing it to waste one standing up at least negates the haste effect. Also, it’s a little easier to hit when prone, and standing up triggers attacks of opportunity, so the damage starts coming together a LITTLE bit faster. Other than the healing situation, things were starting to come together.

I do wonder why nobody gave any thought to just abandoning the chalice and seeing if it stopped chasing them. Or for extra credit, throwing the chalice into a body of water, since the golem could be damaged by water. (Granted, maybe MAGICAL water… maybe non-magic water doesn’t do anything.) I suppose that’s one of those things that seems obvious as a listener, but in the heat of battle you don’t think of it. Or maybe the tactical value of having the golem chasing Hap was worth it. If Hap’s flying around with the chalice, you KNOW the golem will chase her. If the cup is up for grabs, maybe the golem just starts killing party members randomly and grabs the cup once they’re all dead. So maybe predictable behavior is better in this case.

Now, guilty confession time. As rough as the golem fight was, there was also two percent of me that wanted to see an encounter bleed when Steve raised the possibility. Though at that point, I was hoping the encounters would bleed in such a way that the bad guys would fight each other and help the party out. But I can’t pretend it wouldn’t have been interesting to see what happened.

Eventually, the fight settled into a steady state, and then it just became a race to the finish… can the party get the golem down before it gets them. FINALLY, Riley gets to be the hero, getting the killshot, but not before the golem takes Darius down.

And then the fateful countdown begins, and I have to admit those were some of the most excruciating moments I’ve ever listened to on this podcast. All it would’ve taken is ONE roll succeeding… there was no persistent damage beyond the “tick” on the dying condition, so just getting back to 1 HP would have at least allowed them to retreat and throw as many downtime heals as required at the problem. But it just didn’t work out… too many low rolls. The final line of defense would’ve been that aeon stone that bought them one round, but since Darius rolled a natural 1 on his last check, he went from Dying 4 directly to Dying 6, so even popping the aeon stone would’ve only gotten him back to Dying 5 and he still would die.

So that’s where we are. A mighty warrior has fallen. I can’t be the only one, but I’m HOPING there’s some way out of this, even though it doesn’t seem very likely. And believe me, I’ve come THIS close to breaking my rule about the True Listener Experience and asking Steve if Darius somehow makes it through this, but no… I’m gonna ride this emotional rollercoaster with the rest of you. We’ll find out next week.

Lastly, a brief apology for the column being late this week. I’d like to be all noble and say that I wanted to do the moment justice, and that’s even true to an extent, but the biggest problem is that I lost a day to a power outage in my neighborhood, and then the resulting lack of air conditioning left me a little dehydrated and I crashed for a good portion of Thursday.

As always, feel free to drop by the Discord channel and let us know what you thought of the show. This week, in particular, feel free to share your favorite Darius moments, in case this really is the end of the line for him. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|14: Disengage Safety Protocols

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|14: The Orc with the Golden Arm.

If there’s one thing that cracks me up about this episode, it’s that peaceful resolutions to problems get about 20 minutes in the spotlight before getting shoved into a locker. Our episode starts with effusive praise for finding a non-combat resolution to the Copper Hand situation, and then before we know it, Captain Runewolf’s telling us “KILL EVERYTHING THAT MOVES, EVEN BACTERIA… HERE’S A MICROSCOPE”. Damn, man… switch to decaf.

I’m not going to spend much more time on the Copper Hand thing because I dissected it pretty thoroughly last week. The only thing I wanted to add is that I agree it can be a memorable addition to a game, as long as you only do it OCCASIONALLY. I think you want it to be rare enough that it’s still an event when it happens; if you let your players talk through EVERY problem, it starts to cheapen the achievement of it, and it ignores the essential nature of the game. There’s still a combat engine at the core of this thing, and I didn’t pour hundreds of gold pieces into my pointy stick so we could play “Feelings & Friendship”.

(As an aside, “Feelings & Friendship” sounds like some bad 80s counter-programming version of D&D where you beat monsters by quoting Bible verses at them, but it only has a six-sided die because polyhedral dice are the Devil’s work.)

The other very small thing I’d point out is that there was one “hook” we could’ve used on Captain Melipdra that I didn’t think of until later. We could have pointed out that recovering the hostage indirectly gives his guys an assist in the bank heist that’s on the front page of all the papers… he recovered the guy who was forced to design the machine that was used in that. So even though we didn’t make a direct splash, we created an angle for him to lay claim to a share of THOSE headlines, so he ought to be happy with that.

We also get our Level 7 characters. Ironically, my big news is Dougie’s big news – since he moved to a more traditional rogue build and started using regular-size weapons to take advantage of precision damage, the Shared Strategem I took LAST level (but never used because we never fought anything) is going to start to get really useful. And, OK, self-preservational… I can sit back outside melee range shooting arrows and STILL give Dougie flat-footed. It only works for the ally’s next attack, but it could still be pretty handy.

Becoming a master in Medicine is also nice. There’s one thing I mentioned during the show, but one thing I don’t actually figure out until later. The part I figured out now is that I can now make the DC20 Assurance automatically for 2d8 + 10 (I think my Medicine is +14), but being a Master lets me at least TRY the DC30 one for 2d8 + 30. It’s only got a 20% success chance for now, but there might be some situation where we want to go for it. The part I don’t figure out until later is that being a Master in Medicine also means my Ward Medic now works on up to four people. So when we’re doing out-of-combat healing, I can literally do the whole party in one 10-minute cycle for 2d8 + 10. The Handwave Heal: now more Handwavey AND more Healey.

So we get our first extended period of “normal” police work, do our shopping, and get our new orders to go head over to the Graycloaks. Turns out the force they sent into the catacombs hasn’t reported back. It continues to be interesting to me how all of these different police forces have their own specializations – the Token Guard is kinda lazy and corrupt because they’re dealing with the cushy financial district, the Sleepless Suns have a diverse flavor because they deal with the most international part of the city… and now we have Atheist Cops to break up all the fights between religious sects. Somehow I’ve been playing Pathfinder all these years and never really realized that the Graycloaks were supposed to be atheists, but in my defense, very few of our games took place in Absalom proper, so it’s not like we were running into Graycloaks all the time anyway.

Captain Runewolf was a bit of a trip, though. First, he yells at us for… ignoring jurisdiction… when HE called for us. Misplaced aggression, much? And then he volunteers us to be bodies to throw at the problem of his lost men; rather than lose more of HIS guys going into the catacombs, I guess we’re going to do it. I mean, that’s fine… we’re Red Squad, we’re badasses… but dude… show some gratitude. I know you have rank, but we’re the ones doing YOU a favor.

And then, we receive our Call To Violence, as Captain Runewolf “encourages” us to take the safeties off the weapons for this part of the adventure. And it’s weird… even though it’s going to work mechanically the same, and even though that’s the default gaming method for the years of adventures where we WEREN’T playing cops, I feel a little ambivalent about it. I kinda LIKED being a cop who bonked the bad guys on the head and tied them up; going back to “kill on sight” is going to be a little weird. Don’t get me wrong, though. If anyone deserves it, it’s the Skinsaw Cult. But it’s going to take a little bit of adjustment getting back into that headspace after spending the better part of a year doing the opposite.

So down into the catacombs we go… and the first puzzle is the one of the temple guardians. As I tried to explain (poorly), I think the problem here was that I thought the Aroden symbols were part of the actual statue the first time Steve described it… like they were literally carved into the marble. Once the guardians started attacking, that’s when I found myself wondering if we missed something about those and realized those were actually medallions that were just hanging on the statue. So we go back and get the symbols of Aroden, and… first crisis averted. Just show the guardians your Leeloo Dallas Multipass, and you’re good to go. (OK, we only have three right now, but we can probably find a fourth eventually… figure the cultists had to solve this same problem, so we can probably kill one of them and grab a fourth.)

Now here’s the rare case where we actually CAN’T use the Handwave Heal. When we’re tracking a finite resource (our Darkvision scrolls, in this case) we actually have to track the timing and how many heal cycles we use to get moving again. So even though we’ve been doing Handwave Heal 90% of the time, this time we have to go through the actual motions because we’re on the clock.

Once we dispense with the healing, Gomez turns into a bug to avoid the guardians, we begin to explore, and this is clearly a pretty straightforward burial chamber with a central lobby and multiple smaller rooms breaking off from that. We start looking through the smaller rooms and trigger our second encounter, as a half-dozen skeletons come to life… and they don’t seem to care that we’re wearing holy symbols. Is this something the Skinsaws did? Is the temple falling under some sort of more general corruption because of Aroden’s disappearance? Well, let’s deal with the problem punching us in the face first, and then we’ll figure all of that out.

But that’ll be 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 time.

The Sideshow S2|29: Pottery in Motion

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|29: The Chalice From the Palace.

So… let’s talk about “the optional encounter” for a second.

It’s one of those things that I had never formally been told until now, but now that Steve is telling us Paizo includes these in various adventures, seems unsurprising in retrospect. It does seem like there’s almost always that one encounter that doesn’t particularly advance the story, often doesn’t even fit the theme of the rest of the dungeon you’re grinding through – five straight fights against undead, and oh hey, here’s a shambling mound for no particular reason.

Now, I don’t know about the circus folk, but for those of us in the Edgewatch game, these sorts of encounters aren’t really optional anyway. We’re completionists by nature and we live to clear every last speck of “fog of war” off the map. We tend to feel cheated if we missed a spot – and OK, at least partly because we’re greedy and don’t want to miss any loot. I can’t remember the last time we just blew off part of a dungeon. I will concede there have been times where we prioritized getting to the boss with most of our resources intact, so maybe we bypassed a section and went back for it later, but we’ve been “no stone unturned” people since before the podcast even started.

After a brief check-in with the circus, we get to meet the Level 8 versions of our characters. There are a few main things that stuck out to me.

First, the Varuses are REALLY leaning into the world of tactics, which I think is a smart call. Between Alhara’s staff sweep and Darius taking titan wrestler, that’s a lot of knocking enemies over and pushing them around. Where the rubber meets the road, that’s +2’s to hit for flat-footed; that’s wasted actions the enemies have to spend standing up again when they get knocked down. I’ve noticed from both this show and Edgewatch that levels 6-8 is when tactics really move to the forefront. Half of that is “the feats available at the lower levels don’t present the same sorts of opportunities”, half of that is “up until level 5 or 6, you can still fake your way through most fights with pretty rudimentary tactics”. But when you hit 6-8, you start to get the sorts of feats that REALLY open up opportunities for smart tactics to DRASTICALLY alter the course of a fight. (We just had an Edgewatch fight where Dougie was able to blow up a pretty strong enemy in like… two rounds… because other members of the party were able to feed him precision damage opportunities.)

Ateran’s new ability – the one where they can tell a story that freaks people out – that seems like an interesting combat ability (again… applying statuses is the way to go), but I also find myself wondering if that could be incorporated into the circus act in some way. Could he take over Jellico Bounce-Bounce’s spot as the slightly unsettling act: Ateran’s Twisted Storytime! (Better not do the voice though… we know how Vanessa feels about clowns.)

Lastly, I have to give Loren credit for leaning into roleplay by mining Hap’s heritage for a Lore skill. On a roleplay level, it just feels right. You have this weird double-whammy: teenagers ALREADY tend to go down weird little rabbit-holes where they learn everything they can about a couple of very specific things, but then you also have the layer that OF COURSE a kinda-sorta “adopted” kid would want to know more about their parents. So I really appreciate Loren going all-in on that, possibly even to the overall detriment of her character. It would’ve been a lot easier to just throw the skill bump into something “practical” like Arcana and be done with it.

Speaking of practical… let’s talk about Vanessa’s staff for a second. I get where she’s coming from. As players, we sometimes get a little loosey-goosey about light and take it as a given. We just assume that our Level 1 light spell or everburning torch will be good enough to handle what’s waiting around that next bend and pretty much forget about it. But that’s not always the case, and it’s even more of a danger with this mostly-human party NOBODY has actual darkvision, and at best, maybe the Varuses (Varii?) might have low-light vision since they’re half-elves. So the logic behind Vanessa’s purchase is sound – now someone would have to blow a Level 5 spell (or have an equally powerful ability) to turn off her light source. And OK, it probably also looks really cool. But MAN was that a lot of money. When you’re talking about spending the same amount that could get you an armor rune… oof.

The remainder of this week’s action focuses around Mistress Dusklight’s list of items, and here I have to express a rare moment of frustration. I have to admit the presentation of the list was a little TOO fragmented. At one point, we hear a few items that are ON the list; later we hear a couple of other items that were crossed off. But we never get one single rundown of the whole list. I don’t know if it would’ve been meaningful or not, but it might have been interesting to list ALL the items at least once so we listeners could hazard our own guesses at just what she was trying to do. (Gauze pads and motor oil? Clearly, she’s trying to build her own construct!) If you could put ALL the puzzle pieces on the table at the same time, maybe you could figure it out, but it’s a little too hard to do that mental math when you’re only getting the data in bits and pieces.

(Though ultimately, it could just be she’s a tomb robber and listing items that have value. The answer may be that simple.)

Setting aside the quibble about the presentation, our team returns to the dungeon armed with the list and finds the room with the masked statues. Two of the masks – the Merchant and the Tailor – are a) missing and b) on Mistress Dusklight’s list. There’s also a general clue about “Aroden blessing those who share his guises”, which seems to imply you should take one of the masks and put it on, right?

Well… that actually proves to be a BAD idea. Poor Hap chooses The Artist (figuring she’s an artist too), takes the mask, and immediately takes a few punches to the face for her trouble. As does Darius. OR DO THEY? Hap and Darius seem pretty convinced they’re being attacked, but Alhara and Ateran just see their teammates flailing around like idiots. Ateran works out that whatever is going on will stop if the mask is put back, and sure enough… that happens. So add a new puzzle to the pile, I suppose. Clearly, Mistress Dusklight was able to get two masks AND get out of the room without getting her ass kicked, so what did she do differently?

The exploration continues. The team checks out the abandoned xulgath encampment a little but don’t really learn anything of consequence, just some minor magical loot. So they decide to go to The Bad Door while they’re still at close-to-full health and have a full day’s worth of resources. The door is triple-locked, but Alhara finally breaks in (with an assist from a hero point). The room’s major feature is a statue of Aroden, holding a chalice… which was also one of the items on Mistress Dusklight’s list. Did our party just get the jump on her and get one of her items?

Well… not yet at least. Because the minute Alhara touches the chalice – even wearing a holy symbol of Aroden – the statue comes to life, leaving us with the least surprising cliffhanger ever. OF COURSE THE STATUE WAS GOING TO COME TO LIFE. Statues that come to life are apparently an iPhone-level consumer fad in the world of Pathfinder. EVERYONE has one. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by Discord 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|13: All Or Nothing At All

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

Surprise, guys! Frontal assault’s canceled!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, I guess you’ll meet our new characters, and we’ll start to take the fight directly to the Skinsaw Cult! Let’s do this! As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|28: Better Living Through Exorcise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So next week, I assume we’ll get to meet our Level 8 cast, and they’ll go kick down that last door that Steve seems WAY too excited about. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.