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The Bird’s Eye View S3|15: See My Vest!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|15: I Love It When a Plan Comes Together.

I’m actually going to start out of order, and talk about the vest a little bit.

I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious or control the session, but here’s the thing. The curse on the vest indicates that “you feel driven to recollect the vest at any cost until the curse is removed”. The emphasis on “at any cost” is mine: I read that to mean Basil should be as/more interested in finding the vest as in finding the bomb. In my mind, if Steve wanted to ditch the vest subplot, he’d make that clear and give me an off-ramp. And actually, I don’t remember if it was after we went off the air in this session, or as we start next session, but Steve basically says “we’re going to handwave removing the curse” because it’s not really relevant to the main story. But until he did that, I was prepared to roleplay it as Basil’s primary concern.

But back to how we got to that point in the first place, I suppose.

We pick up as we’re finalizing our plan to get a look at the casino’s employment records. Basically, we’re going to have Lo Mang come in the office and put himself in position to access the records, and then have Gomez throw an “entitled customer” fit to distract the security chief’s attention while Lo Mang does his thing. And up to a point, it goes reasonably well, though I grimaced a little when Seth mentioned “I have a box downstairs” – the last thing we need is to draw attention to the vault. But the good news is we come out of it with a name: Franca Laurentz, a security guard who’s only been with the casino for about a month.

There’s some follow-up questions regarding her motives – is she with one of the gang leaders, the Twilight Four, or an independent who just happened to luck onto the device? But we’re not going to find those answers here, so file it away for later.

Next up: returning the key. We know Gage is going to be in the VIP box, so we make our approach, and again… things actually go pretty well. Though ALSO again, I was gritting my teeth when Dougie suggested just dumping the fake key in a place where we’d be the prime suspects if it was discovered. But at this point, we’ve accomplished every objective that could be accomplished: we don’t have the device itself, but that’s not our fault now, is it?

And that’s when the adventure had one last wrinkle to throw our way, as the wizard manages to get into Gage’s private box and hold him at knifepoint in exchange for the vest. And I have to admit I was a little surprised at Seth’s inaction here. Talking the wizard out of killing Carlyle is very much a “face of the party” move, so I was expecting another blitz of roleplay, but he kinda just kicked back and left it to me to decide whether to give him the vest or not.

Now, I didn’t really want to do it. A LITTLE bit because of the curse, but mainly because I wasn’t seeing ANY plausible explanation of how we’d have the vest in our possession. The most likely outcome is that we give the wizard the vest, he leaves, and then Gage summons an army of security guards and escorts us down to the vault to verify our story. At which point we’re discovered either way; the remaining choice is whether to try and fight our way out of it, or just fess up and hope Gage’s civic duty kicks in.

In fact, that was the motivation I had behind giving my little speech about appreciating pain. I was trying to send the wizard a hint that we know what your vest is and what it could do, and maybe he would be smart enough to approach the problem some other way. But either Steve didn’t get that as GM, or the wizard didn’t get that because the story required us to make a choice. Either way, it was decision time. Even then, at first, when Gage was acting all nonchalant, I was content to let things ride because maybe Gage had some backup security system we don’t know about. But once the wizard started talking about eating his soul and Carlyle started to look worried… I just felt like we had to act. Everything we know about Carlyle suggests he’s a reputable businessman, and I figured if we have to blow our cover to keep him alive, we’ll just have to console ourselves with the fact that we got what we need to continue our mission regardless.

So I give up the vest, and fortunately, Seth springs back into action and connects the alibi dots I can’t; not only that, he even manages to connect dots that were unconnected by tying Franca into our alibi. Franca stole the vest, sold it to us, and we were trying to find a discreet opportunity to give it back to Gage. And OK, when John first mentioned the key, I was worried, but it actually worked in our favor and lent a little more authenticity to our story: “how can we have been a part of this if you still have your key?”.

Now, I’m sure there’s still ALL SORTS of holes in that story if you look too closely, but it’s JUST enough to give us a chance of talking our way through it. And I think Steve roleplayed this outcome pretty well… Gage clearly knows there’s something off about our story, but he can’t pinpoint it enough to call shenanigans, and there’s also the fact that we did save his life. Beyond that, appearances must be maintained: Gage still needs to finish hosting the gala, and it’s probably in the best interests of his business reputation to NOT have it out there that someone broke into his vault. So, rather than cause a huge disturbance, he takes the minor L – remember that he was only holding the vest as collateral on a loan – and lets us leave. With a warning to not return for a while, of course.

So where does that leave us? We largely succeeded in our mission, even if it was awkward at times. We know Franca Laurentz is our next link in the chain, but we don’t know where she is or what her motives were. Some of that will be left to the infamous Other Members Of The Force; meanwhile, we get to rest up and read about our exploits in the paper.

And it is true that we all played a part in the victory, which was the real redeeming feature of the whole thing. Dougie’s single biggest contribution was switching the keys, though his gambling wins also put us on Gage’s radar. Lo Mang got us through the cage and down to the vault, and also got Franca’s name from the files. I got us past the pain daemon without fighting, and also followed the scent of the missing device. Gomez handled all the social “face of party” type interactions, including most of our direct interaction with Carlyle. Despite our complete lack of a plan, it really did come together pretty well.

Also, Police Squad! was the reference I was going for. The precursor to the Naked Gun movies was a TV show called Police Squad!, that also featured the Frank Drebin character. One of the recurring gags was that at the end of each episode, the characters would all freeze (as was common for 70s TV shows), but rather than freezing the frame, the main characters would just hold a pose while other action continued around them: the coffee that was being poured would overflow, a random person would walk through the shot, they even had one where a criminal in the process of being arrested just unlocked his handcuffs and left because all the police officers were “frozen”. If it’s streaming anywhere, I’d recommend it, and not just because O.J. Simpson wasn’t in it at that point.

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

The Sideshow S3|24: Mourning Wood

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|24: I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK.

I’m gonna start this week by swimming in some deeper waters than usual.

I can’t be the only one who got a little twinge of discomfort about titling an episode after a 50-year-old sketch that basically mines the concept of gender dysphoria for a laugh, can I? I don’t want to turn this into a whole big thing about “THE CANSEL KULCHER”, but I mean… can we at least be honest that some shit doesn’t age well?

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t for one second think there was any malicious intent in the choice; at worst a little bit of tunnel vision, compounded by trying to slam out multiple episodes getting ready for vacation. I know how choosing episode titles goes: find either a pop-culture reference or a play on words, and run with it. (Or for the advanced user: a wordplay that CREATES a pop-culture reference… like those nesting dolls.) And I’d be the first to concede Monty Python’s Lumberjack Sketch is probably the ONLY major piece of pop-culture dedicated to the forestry arts, and probably the single Python sketch best-known to casual/non-fans. So I can understand why it would leap to mind as an “obvious” choice. “Defense will stipulate”, as the courtroom drama TV shows say.

But if I’m going to have this little soapbox at all, I can’t just passively nod along with things: I have to be honest that I would’ve gone a different direction with it. Dead Parrot has aged like fine wine. Personally, I find World Forum to be underrated gem (“Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Leicester, 3-1” is the “Hamilton wrote the other 51!” of my youth). But let’s put Lumberjack up on the high shelf, shall we? Even if it does mean we have to dig deeper into our bag of “wood” puns.

Speaking of wood… holy crap did our crew “work blue” this episode.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint, more me expressing my surprise. I’m not some grumpy prude, and we never EXPLICITLY promised to be kid-friendly. But I have to admit I was a little surprised how much Steve left in the final cut. We’ve never really had a formal policy on adult content, but I think informally, we shoot for PG-13 – a little bit of swearing and innuendo, but choose your spots for it. It ends up working out like The Walking Dead – we get the equivalent of one F-bomb per season. Two cast members discussing their OUT-OF-CHARACTER aptitude for sucking… runes… seems like it’s out in “hard R” territory, and later there was a reference to “taking wood” that would’ve gotten a hearty “Oh My” from George Takei.

Again, I don’t have a problem with it. This is supposed to be “slice of life at a real gaming table”, and sometimes real people Go There. It’s just surprising to hear the envelope being pushed that far, given the overall tone of the show up to this point. A surprise that seemed to be shared by some people on the Discord channel as well.

The discussion of the… runes… of course, came out of Alhara and Ateran finding a magic bow amongst the spider’s victims; specifically an Oathbow. I won’t regurgitate the discussion that was already in the show, but I’d add two observations. The first is it also has the critical weapon specialization effect, which for bows, is to pin a target to a nearby surface, immobilizing them. Granted, only a DC10 to escape, but if allies can get an attack in first, that’s kind of handy. The second is a bit of clarification that might make the bow less powerful, depending on where you land on semantics. The reset for the oath says “if you kill the creature you’ve sworn an oath against”. So a) how specific is that “YOU”; if a party member gets the killshot, does it count? Also b) if you incapacitate them instead of killing, does THAT count? I was about to say Basil needs one of these in the Edgewatch campaign, but if it takes a week to reset because we’re taking people alive… maybe not.

It is interesting for me to watch Vanessa wrestle with a weapon that’s not really part of her character concept, because I went through pretty much the same thing with Basil. I was – and still am – in love with my sword-cane, especially once I got a unique one that can also apply poisons. So when I got a magic bow, I will admit to being a little skeptical. But once I started using it, and in particular, once I saw how well it played with the Investigator’s Devise a Stratagem, not only did I come around to loving it, but I also doubled-down by adding the Eldritch Archer archetype. I’ll be following this one closely to see what Vanessa decides. Though technically “it’s worth 1300g” is also a decision.

In terms of story, our team finally arrives in Turpin Rowe. The first thing we notice on the way into town is that the surrounding area is deforested, though I’m not sure I got a sense of whether that should read as “symptoms of a malfunctioning tower” or more generally conveying signs that this town is about industry and is overusing the lands a little bit.

Once our circus troupe arrives, we get a bit of a wrinkle, as they’re not really welcomed with open arms. Yes, they’re welcome to come to the Stump Festival and spend money, but the town mayor views the circus as competition, and doesn’t really want them performing during the festival. So that’s a little different. Certainly within this book, the circus has generally had free rein to perform; here, it’s “dig stumps out of the ground, we’ll get back to you in two weeks when the festival is over”.

Though, OK… mild potential plot hole: wouldn’t Opper Vandy have known that the people of Turpin Rowe were so insular and have communicated that to the players back when they first arrived on the island?

The other surprise is that the mayor seems indifferent to the fate of the tower, and doesn’t really see it as worth investigating. That suggests that MAYBE the xulgaths haven’t reached it yet, or perhaps they failed there as well.

On the other hand, the mayor DOES seem pretty fired up to have our heroes investigate the murders, so that seems like the best way to get themselves in with the townsfolk. We get a little bit of background, but the real investigation will begin 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 S3|14: Fifty Shades Of Blackfeather

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|14: And Now for Something Completely Different.

It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?

I have to admit I’d been waiting for this episode to finally release. I don’t know what came over me, and I’m not sure I could ever do it again, but for one brief shining moment, I was in a roleplaying zone, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun. And based on some of the reactions on the Discord channel, it seems like it was well-received by you guys too.

Before I get to that, believe it or not, I want to start with a brief comment on Steve’s love of the Ocean’s X movies. And I’m actually going to lightly “rip” on the cast, though not in the way other people have done.

Here’s my take: part of the allure of the Ocean’s movies was the real-life friendship between George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt, which mirrored the friendship between the members of the original Rat Pack. The Ocean’s movies had a spirit of a bunch of buddies screwing around in their spare time, and they decided to go ahead and turn that into a movie. (Wait a second… who does that sound like?) And maybe one even overlooks some of those movies’ flaws BECAUSE there was a sense they were a labor of love for the key actors.

You just didn’t have that dynamic in Ocean’s 8. There’s no sense that Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, and Sandra Bullock are hanging out together in real life; the studio just grabbed some equivalently-famous actresses for a sequel driven by suits rather than demand. It wasn’t like movie-goers were demanding an Ocean’s 14 with the original cast, either (except maybe Steve, apparently); why would they flood cinemas for a reset with a new cast that didn’t have that same real-world rapport?

OK, movie critic hat off. Soapbox stored in the upright and locked position. On to the show.

First things first, her relationship with the wizard was a little unclear. When we first arrived on the scene, the natural assumption was that this was the wizard’s Plan B: his svartalfars create a distraction upstairs to keep the guards occupied while his heavy hitter goes straight for the vault. But then she basically gave away the very thing she was retrieving, which doesn’t fit the scenario at all, unless she’s just really whimsical and prone to break whatever contract she had with the wizard. It’s so hard to find good help these days…

I also find myself wondering: if we had shown up earlier, would we have fought the djinn instead? Is this a branching tree of outcomes, depending on when you eventually make it down to the vault? Or was this always going to be the set-piece, regardless of when you showed up? That’s mostly just my own curiosity – doesn’t impact the game at all – but I found it interesting to speculate.

Now, you’ll notice I started this episode really quiet, but it wasn’t that I was disinterested. Quite the opposite: I was very much feeling that things were just starting to get good. However, I had said Basil was watching the corridor to see if the fight had attracted reinforcements, so I didn’t think it would be proper for me to start jumping in to comment on events my character wasn’t in the room for. When the conversation was out-of-character, I felt like I had a right to speak, but while it was in character… I wasn’t there, so I should let them lead the action.

Believe me, I WANTED to jump in. I always hesitate to be too aggressive toward the choices other players make, but I felt like Steve was dropping some pretty strong hints that we didn’t want to turn this into a fight, and I didn’t really like the directions both Seth and John wanted to take things. Seth had kind of resigned us to the fight and… OK… we might have won, but I feel like it would’ve taken a LOT out of us. John was willing to avoid the fight, but his idea to give the pain demon the poison bomb just seemed like a recipe for disaster. Yeah, she COULD take it back to her home plane. But she could also just take it up one flight of stairs and detonate it in the gala full of Absalom’s movers and shakers. So that didn’t seem like a good move to me either.

Now what happened next was very spontaneous, but I assure you there were a lot of really quick calculations going on behind the scenes. When I first picked the star-knife, as a gift, there was this ever-present math in my head of what weapon could I afford to give away while not ruining my character for future fights. When damaging myself, there was a calculation of how far I could take it, just in case things went off the rails and we had to fight her anyway. Loosely, I had settled on the value of a badge use – if it went over 30 or so points, that might be the point where either someone else would have to join in, or we’d just have to fight her and I’d immediately badge. So behind the scenes the wheels are definitely turning.

The real jumping-off point was when John giving her the caltrops didn’t seem to move the needle as much as the initial gift of the star-knife did. That was the point where I started to feel like just giving her items was going to become an exercise in diminishing returns. So if what she really wanted was pain, better to give her a controlled display of pain, rather than letting her just start beating on us.

So round one of that was just me stabbing myself (though I had completely forgotten about the wounding rune on my weapon… oops), and then she gives me the vest. Fortunately Basil can inspect the item quickly and learns both good and bad news. The good news is it’s got a cast of spiritual weapon as a daily power, specifically a spiked chain. The bad news is the cost of summoning it is that spikes on the inside of the vest stab the user for a die of damage. And… there’s also a curse on the item. I’ll leave that for a future episode – it doesn’t impact combat readiness in the here and now, but it could create complications down the road.

Even striking her with the spiritual weapon had an element of calculation to it. Yeah I was kind of winging it and going where the roleplay took me, but it also felt like making a statement that we weren’t afraid of her. Up to that point, I’m just stabbing myself and debasing myself to get out of a fight. It felt like it inherently acknowledged her superiority. I felt like if I took that swing at her, it felt like saying “ohbytheway we’ll still kick your ass if you want to start something”.

And sure enough… it worked, and she left. And I even got a ring of wizardry for my troubles. Which is actually pretty great because getting additional spell slots in this game is just SO key. Doubly so for an archetype caster rather than one who’s a caster by their core class.

So with the situation resolved and the vault empty, we get to claim our… wait, what?

The bomb is gone?

Oh that’s bad.

The silver lining is there’s a trail of chemical smell (same substance we were dealing with back at the zoo) that we hadn’t noticed before, but now that we know what to sniff for, we can follow. The trail leads back down the hall to the guards’ break room. Lo Mang – as the person who actually fits in down here – sneaks in and finds an empty locker with an “I quit!” note from someone identified only as “F”. So OK…”F” quit and stole the bomb on their way out the door.

There are new long-term questions raised by this. Does “F” work for one of the gang leaders, or the Twilight Four? Or was this just a random disgruntled employee who wanted to grab some severance pay and assumed the lockbox owned by the gang leaders was a lucrative target? That’s all for down the road. For now, we have to work out who F is, as well as returning the key.

As far as F’s identity… it seems like MAYBE relying on gossip would work… but “hey do you know a random employee whose name starts with F who was disgruntled and stopped showing up for work?” seems like it could also put people on guard… especially coming from random party guests. So the new plan is to break into the records room, except that’s also the office for the head of security. You know… the dwarf with the really big hammer who already started giving Gomez the stink-eye earlier.

And that’s basically where we’ll leave it for next week. Will we be able to figure out who F is? Will we be able to return the key without being detected? Will ALL of this happen before someone visits the vault and finds out it’s been broken into? Find out next week. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|23: Flight Club

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|23: Spider Babies.

I know, I know. I’m WAY late this week. I don’t have a good answer beyond being stuck in a doom-scrolling cycle. Oddly enough, you can hit “refresh” all you want and there are still Russian troops in Ukraine and really unpleasant legal shenanigans in certain southern states. And then for the cherry on the poop sundae, I had tickets to see John Mayer last Friday – first live music in over two years — and then he got COVID and had to cancel. So OK… I’ve been in a mini-funk.

And all of that is before we talk about Pin. F’ing. Tingwheely.

Last week, I thought I had found my new least favorite NPC in the history of this show, but nooooope. Runk-Runk had a strong debut, but lasted all of one week in the top spot before being ousted by our new flying annoyance. I swear, when Ateran said “we have a circus…” and started to extend the offer, I let out an audible “NOOO” which has since been preserved on our Discord channel in Michael Scott GIF format.

As an aside, I figured out who Pin reminds me of. If any of you watch Big Mouth… he’s Tyler, the hormone monster. Obnoxious, whiny, vaguely clueless… the only major difference is not nearly as pervy. Maybe Pin can redeem himself with a good act, but I’m definitely not getting my hopes up. For the moment, I’m rooting for Mistdancer to throw a tantrum about sharing the “flying act” spotlight and grind him under her hooves.

And while we’re at it… did we ever establish for certain that Pin didn’t do something to provoke the spiders? Maybe the spiders were minding their own business and he decided to mess with them.

But before we get to Pin, we do have a little bit of setup to do this week. Our group has proceeded from Castinlee to the town of Cawshax. Cawshax itself isn’t much of a town, but it does represent the jumping-off point for the next set of adventures. Turpin Rowe and the Stump Festival are to the southeast, and the third aeon tower is pretty much due east (but in a forest, with no road access). There’s also a distillery further to the southeast, but that – for the moment – doesn’t seem like it’s relevant to anything. (But they probably wouldn’t have put it on the map, so… we’ll see.)

Thanks to the mayoral grapevine, we do learn that Turpin Rowe is dealing with a rash of murders. Hey, sounds like they need a special detachment from the Edgewatch to come take a look! CROSSOVER TIME. Either that or a temporary injunction for infringing on our crime-fighting turf.

We set off with the general intent of splitting the caravan – the circus proceeds down to Turpin Rowe and starts setting up while the party takes at least a brief look at the tower. Not a bad idea at this point – get a sense of whether the stone is still there, size up potential resistance. But the plan is at least briefly diverted by the encounter with the spiders.

Now… I have a theory about this fight. If you remember when this book first started, Steve suggested that they pretty much set all the encounters at the same difficulty, since the party could tackle the towers in any order. So we’d kind of been expecting that the early fights might be a little too tough and the later fights might be a little too easy. This battle was one where we maybe got a little confirmation of that theory – the baby spiders were almost criminally easy, and even the mama spider wasn’t really THAT tough. On the other hand, I do think luck also played a bit of a role: it seemed the big one in particular got unlucky with its attack rolls, and even when it hit, the poison didn’t really stick like it could’ve.

If there was an MVP to this week’s fight, it was probably Alhara. Well, more like… everyone did pretty well, but Vanessa was the one who really got a chance to use her abilities in ways that let her build shine. We’re used to Alhara going in first, absorbing a bunch of attacks early, and then having to fight on the defensive that it was nice to see her get to bounce around the battlefield and really dip into her bag of tricks. The one where she used her attack on one spider to propel herself to the second spider was… (chef’s kiss).

Though OK… I’m still not sure how I feel about tripping spiders. On one hand, lots of legs feel like they should make for a stable base. On the other hand, big body and skinny legs does seem like it would make for a high center of gravity. I’ll allow it… but I don’t have to be happy about it.

One thing that generally made me chuckle: the mid-show session switch. We’re clicking along in the battle, and all of a sudden, we get a new introduction from Vanessa and a bunch of discussion about how “we haven’t played for a while”. Now, I don’t want to be critical here… I don’t if Steve just liked the transitional banter that much, or if he tried to make some edits, but it would’ve just lost too much important information, but the joins between recordings usually aren’t quite so apparent. Still, it gave us a bit of a window into the RFC backstage area – we now know that we’re caught up to early January, since it’s mentioned that this is the first show of the new year. I don’t know about you, but I always like knowing how far ahead behind real-time we are. (I mean, I guess our Patreon listeners know, but I like to preserve my listening experience by avoiding that as much as possible.)

So the group eventually prevails. Spiders down, Pin added to the circus (sigh)… and it’s time to move on. Except that the spider’s poison has a parting gift, paralyzing Hap and leading to the creation of the Hapsack. Luckily it happened after the combat, so no real harm done, but a fun little bit of levity. Though I suppose it did kill off any lingering plans to go visit the tower, so maybe a LITTLE harm done.

OK, so back to town then. Except that Alhara notices stuff in the spider web. Loot? More enemies? A follow-up fight with a possible split party and one member incapacitated? I guess we’ll find that 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 S3|13: Anti-Social Security

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|13: Fanny Pack Of Holding.

Despite not really having much of a plan, we finally made it to the vault this week. Pass-fail, we’re actually getting it done so far. It just FEELS like we’re teetering on the edge of failure the entire time.

First up, we reuse an old Extinction Curse standby and shove the party into a bag of holding to get through the “cage” area of the casino. Now, I don’t want to be pedantic, and we’ve had THREE people who know the rules a lot better than me weigh in (Steve, Vanessa, and Loren), but this still feels a little bit sketchy to me. I realize the ruling has already been given… each person gets their own extra-dimensional space… but it still just feels weird that three people and their gear could be tucked into a bag that’s specced for 25 bulk.

And OK, there’s also a general inconsistency with the bulk system. The general rule of thumb says that a unit of bulk is 5 or 10 pounds, which would make an adult human something like 15-25 bulk (even using the 10-pound figure). But the table for creatures says a medium creature is only 6 bulk. So… even without the ruling about each creature having its own space, this whole thing is a little bit muddled. But hey, the Extinction Curse crew already argued their way through this, so we’re just gonna piggyback on their win, and into the bag we go.

So we get past the first round of guards, and I’m realizing we don’t really have a lot of stealth tools at our disposal. Silence, darkness… other than my one cast of invisibility sphere, we can’t really disguise our presence and pretty much have to hit them head on. Last week, I was also lamenting the fact that we didn’t think to bring a sleep potion and just have Lo Mang give them the mickey, but I’m not feeling so bad about that after doing more research. Looking at potions that inflict sleep, Level 4 Stupor Poison only has a DC 20 save, and the next one after that is Level 12 Slumber Wine which costs 325 gp per dose. (And OK, guards might be willing to drink COFFEE on duty, but getting them to drink wine might’ve been a tough sell anyway.)

And this brings me to one of those other little weaknesses with the whole “heist movie” genre: the protagonists in those movies can pretty much get whatever they need, equipment-wise. A high-end laptop that can hack the mainframe? Fire engine and firefighting gear? Poison that gives the guy with the vault codes explosive diarrhea? They just HAVE it, somehow, because they’re cool enough to have connections. It’s a little harder to plan one of these when you’re gold-limited.

So, I guess we’re fighting then. Not how I wanted it to go down, but if we hit ‘em quick, maybe we can concuss them and they’ll have trouble identifying us. Before we do that, Dougie does the best he can to sabotage the doors to the other areas so if there ARE going to be reinforcements, it might slow them down a bit. And then it’s time to fight.

The fight actually starts off pretty rough, as we miss most of our attacks in the first round. We had ourselves the equivalent of a perfectly good surprise round, and then we go and waste it with garbage rolls. Luckily though, one of the two guards loses his turn entirely, and the other mostly whiffs on his attacks, so the bad luck is contagious. Round 2, on the other hand, goes a LOT better, as we land some crits and put the guards on the defensive. By round three, one guy is out entirely, and the other is trying to run for it, but to no avail thanks to Lo Mang’s ability to chase runners down as a reaction.

In the midst of all this, I noticed a few small things. The first is a general quibble: if Lo Mang’s Heaven’s Thunder ability does sonic damage, did Steve miss that, or does that imply that the walls are thick enough nobody noticed? I didn’t particularly notice it during the initial playthrough, but on re-listen, that kind of stuck in my brain. I assume an attack that’s loud enough to do damage would be loud enough to be heard. But between the walls being thick down here, a party going on upstairs, and the doors to other nearby areas being sabotaged, maybe we’re still OK.

The other is a personal milestone, as I finally get to use my Enchanting Arrow ability for the first time. Just as a reminder, Enchanting Arrow bumps my attack up to 2 actions, but adds 2d6 of mental damage on top (keep in mind that’s on top of base damage, precision damage from Devise a Stratagem, and possibly deadly damage in the case of a crit). So in terms of strategy, the goal here should be to use it at the ends of the spectrum. What I mean is that it’s best to use it either on likely/known crits where it will get doubled, or (at the opposite end) enemies that have a high enough AC that the first attack is probably my only chance to hit. In this case, I guessed wrong: I thought 35 might be enough to crit, but it turned out to not be so. Only 5 extra points of damage.

So rocky start aside, we’re past the guards. The general plan now will be to go into the vault, get the contents of the box, leave the guards in the vault so they won’t be discovered until later, and get out of Dodge. OF COURSE it’s not that easy though.

Remember how Gage Carlyle didn’t let me go all the way into the vault when I opened an account? Well, the vault was kind of L-shaped, and it turns out there’s a demon-lady in the part of the vault that I didn’t get a look at. She’s too much of a psycho to be working for the casino, so I’m going into this whole encounter assuming she works for the wizard. It always felt like the attack upstairs was a little wimpy; maybe it was all cover for this lady to get down here during the confusion.

The good news is that maybe that opens a window to negotiate since as far as we know, we’re there after different things. “You can attack us, and one of us will go raise the alarm and neither of us gets what we want.” The bad news is a creature that loves pain and is talking about “enhancing” us probably isn’t going to be in much of a talking mood.

But I guess we’ll find out next week. Can we talk this out, or are we going to have to fight our way through? As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.


The Sideshow S3|22: We Will, We Will, Runk You

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|22: I Am Runk Runk.

There are moments when I hate this show.

I was in the grocery store this morning, picking up dog food and a few other things. I looked for the muffins I like to buy for my breakfasts in the morning, and they were sold out. Standing there in the middle of my local grocery store, I swear I muttered a disappointed “Runk runk” to nobody in particular.


I’m torn on Runk Runk as a whole. On one hand, the idea of a big hulking golem having such a delicate hobby is kind of interesting. It zigs when you’d expect it to zag. One would’ve expected a strong-man act out of a golem, so juggling and beast mastery makes for a direction I didn’t expect this to go. And OK… the banter with Riley in particular was adorable. Though given this group’s dedication to the scatological, a prime opportunity was missed for Riley to mark his territory by peeing on Runk Runk.

On the other hand, we’re gonna have to figure out some sort of way around the language barrier or I’m going to lose it and runk someone right in the runk. There’s a reason the Smurfs movie got a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. PLEASE someone figure out what language this hunk of rock speaks and learn it. My sanity demands it.

We’ll get back to Runk Runk and the circus later, but meanwhile, our party manages to… not save the day, because I guess the stone wasn’t actually in any danger. Well, that’s just a little bit anti-climactic, isn’t it? I guess that’s on me and my assumptions, though: thinking back on it, our heroes are supposed to visit the tower and get the blessings, and from that, we’ve extrapolated that all the stones would be under attack. But I hadn’t really stopped to consider the possibility that some of the attacks might have been unsuccessful and the stones would be unharmed. So I’m willing to take that on me, though the unintended side effect is that the big takeaway from this tower visit was another performer for the circus. (It also KINDA makes the golems the good guys, if they repelled the xulgaths, but let’s just move along, shall we.)

The blessing actually turns out to be a pretty useful one: stoneskin. That’s much better than raising and lowering water in a room. Or at least more useful for combat. I almost guarantee there will be a puzzle later in this AP where raising or lowering the water in the room is the solution for obtaining the Macguffin. Right now, I’m specifically looking at combat effectiveness.

On paper, the duration of the spell is 20 minutes, but since it goes down by one minute for each hit, it’s probably best to think of it more like charges. If an enemy hits you with every attack every round, it’s gone by round 7. Still, that means it has the potential to mitigate 100 damage over the course of the spell, and the upgrade is just around the corner at the Level 6 version (the party hasn’t been using their boons much, but I’ve been assuming Aroden boons auto-scale like cantrips or focus spells). This is probably obvious, but just to say it anyway: the damage reduction only applies to physical damage. Magic damage still goes through as normal, though the silver lining to that is those attacks don’t consume a charge either. Fair’s fair.

Also, note to self: definitely worth picking up for Edgewatch. Basil is an archetype caster so he doesn’t get his Level 4 spells until Level 12, but stoneskin is definitely going on the list. Either that or just start scolding Seth to take it.

One thing I found unclear: did touching the aeon stone dispel the haunt? On one hand, it doesn’t feel like it would be directly connected to the dwarves or their backstory. On the other hand, the darkness dissipated, and I was assuming a semi-permanent darkness field was related to the haunt. Also… we are talking about deity powers here. Pretty sure Aroden doesn’t have to roll checks to deal with stuff like this.

So our troupe comes back to town, and among other things, makes an out-of-game decision to streamline the circus mini-game. At first hearing of this, I was briefly disappointed, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it’s the right move. The heart of the circus was the show itself and describing the acts, and they’re still going to do that. Rolling to see whether their fliers attracted enough people, or deciding between buying beer or new tent canvas… I’m not sure that stuff really held together after the second or third time they did it. For that matter, rolling 15 rolls to determine whether they made 8g or 10g feels like low stakes compared to saving the continent.

(Also, I think a lot of the circus drama was more interesting when they still had the Celestial Menagerie to play against. Now that that situation’s resolved and they’re the only show in town, the whole thing is a little deflated.)

The other place it might be useful is that it keeps the earlier acts viable, creating more options for the roleplaying of the show. If you stay wedded to the system, it means the DCs get harder and the lower-level acts eventually become untenable. But if they’re going to abstract it, they can use all their acts to construct the roleplay of the show. Snake Lady, for example. She was one of the first acts. In a rigid system, she’s probably done. In an abstracted system, OF COURSE Runk Runk can juggle snakes.

(OK, just spitballing here… since there are people listening live on Patreon, how about letting the Patreon listeners vote on how good the performance was and give the party their gold reward based on that? AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION FOR THE WIN!)

So with two towers down and the people of Castinlee duly amused, it’s time to move on from the land of cabbages to the land of lumber. The final tower, the Old Forest Tower is off in a wooded area outside Turpin Rowe, so I’m calling a “morning wood” joke by the 20-minute mark of next week’s episode. Similarly, there’s a feature on the map marked “The Distillery”, so… Al’s Ales? Pete’s Pints? Where are we headed with this? 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 runk.

The Sideshow S3|21: Rulebook Roundup!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|21: Math!.

This week is going to be a bit of a departure from the usual linear write-up. I found that this week, I was going digging in the rulebook a lot more than usual, so this week’s Sideshow will be more of a recap of some of those rules things.

Do I dare call it a “Rulebook Roundup”? Oh, I dare… I DARE. YEEEEE… HAWWWW, PARDNERS! (You can feel free to imagine me shooting finger guns if you like.)

The first thing that piqued my curiosity was the differences between stone and clay golems. I found myself fuzzy on what the significance of the distinction was (I don’t know if we just didn’t fight many golems in 1E, or if I just don’t remember those fights), or whether there was even a distinction worth mentioning.

Well, it turns out that they’re substantially similar in terms of base stats, except for a one-level difference in CR for the base models – clays start at CR10, stones at CR11. They have the same core golem antimagics (damage from cold and water, healed by acid, slowed by earth), though they do have different signature spell vulnerabilities: stone golems are affected by stone to flesh; clay golems are affected by disintegrate.

The real difference comes in their combat abilities. At the risk of oversimplifying, the stone golem is the debuffer, and the clay golem is more of a pure damage dealer. Stone golems inflict paralysis, have that charge that works like a bull rush, and can do an AoE slow. Clay golems can quicken themselves, rage, and their attacks do damage that can’t be healed by non-magical means. They both hit hard, certainly, but the stone golem feels like it has more nuance to it.

Speaking of abilities, I also wanted to clarify how the xulgath stoneliege ability worked, and that gets into our first real exposure to the petrified status. I had occasion to look this up recently – shopping for magic items in our Edgewatch game – so I actually knew the basics, but I wanted to hone in on the finer points. When you’re petrified, you literally become a statue. You become an object with a bulk and a hardness. You don’t age, and perhaps most importantly for strategic combat, your MIND stops as well, including perception of the battlefield around you. With the paralyzed status, you’re frozen, but you can still perceive and use mental checks like recalling knowledge. With petrified, you don’t even know what’s going on around you.

So here’s either a minor quibble or a cautionary tale about using keywords to arbitrate EVERYTHING. On one hand, if you read the petrified status as written, the xulgath would not have had the awareness to pop in and out of stone form like Steve was using it since they wouldn’t be able to discern the passing of time. On the other hand, if you take that sort of absolutist position it becomes absolutely as a self-activated power. Yes, I really want the power to turn myself into a statue in a way that robs me of the ability to deactivate it. So I think you have to handwave it a little and assume it’s LIKE the petrified status, but with some level of control over it since it’s a self-cast. So we also come to this: while keywords are certainly illuminating and can suggest the author’s intent, you can’t take keywords as 100% gospel because there will always be situations that don’t quite fit. Like this one.

Also worth mentioning: the text in the creature’s stat block specifically calls out grabbing a creature and then turning to stone, causing the grabbed creature to be immobilized. So there’s a tactical insight for playing one of these as a GM: have the stoneliege grab someone and have its buddies put a beating on it while the enemy is grabbed.

The other bit of rulebook fun this week involved gravity-related shenanigans: both Hap repeatedly falling out of the sky at the end of her round, as well as Alhara’s wall jump ability.

I guess the Hap one wasn’t really a rulebook controversy: that’s how cat fall works. Though the imagery of Hap bouncing up and down each round like a tennis ball is kind of amusing. The real mind-blower is the revelation that if/when you reach Legendary in Acrobatics, you can fall ANY distance and land on your feet without taking damage. Which, let’s be honest, seems a little silly for a non-magical Acrobatics feat. Get sucked out of an Airbus at cruising altitude? Just make sure to roll when you hit the ground or something.

Speaking of which… this isn’t a rulebook thing, but I found myself wondering what fall speed looks like represented as a Pathfinder movement speed. (I like converting units sometimes. Confession time: at one point in my past life, I tried to calculate what gold-pressed latinum from Star Trek would be worth in real life). Now, fall speed has multiple moving parts (acceleration, mass, wind resistance, height), but really quick back-of-the-envelope math using 120 mph as terminal velocity gave me something like 350 feet per 2-second action. If you were wondering. And just to bring it all full circle, someone who’s legendary in athletics just straightens their tie at the business end of that. What a strange game this is sometimes.

I also have to confess I also ran into a rulebook problem that turned out to not be one. When I was first listening to Alhara’s trick with the wall jump, I got the map a little turned around in my brain and thought she was actually jumping 100 feet total, which would break all sorts of jump rules. But I managed to get myself untangled and figured out she was jumping a normal horizontal distance and that the 100 feet was the distance to the ground if she’d failed her checks. So hey… a bit of a blind alley, but I learned a lot more about jumping rules, for the next time it comes up.

So in the midst of all that Rulebook Fu, our characters manage to clear out the xulgaths and the golem, leaving them with a hopefully clear path to cleaning up the second aeon tower. Is the small hut where the solution is to be found? Is there more unexplored area to come? Heck, are there any more fights to be had? I guess we’ll get into all of that next week. 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 S3|12: Dougie Is the Keymaster

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|12: I’m Just the Cook.

Last week’s episode was the first episode of the infiltration, but it almost felt more like an extension of the prep phase: basically, we just got into the building and got a chance to verify how well our prep-phase intel lined up with the situation in the casino during the gala. This week, the action starts to happen and we have to start making real choices about how to do this thing. And the big one right off the bat is an attack by a group of svartalfar.

As an aside, yes, svartalfar and drow both exist in the Second Edition world. Now, it’s a little weird in the original Norse mythology because the word “svartalfar” is a reference to “black elves” which makes them sound like the same thing. But the Pathfinder distinction is that drow are elves, while svartalfar are fey creatures that were banished to the Shadow Plane for committing evil acts. The General Zods of the fey, if you will.

So… we’re assuming these guys were sent by the wizard. I mean… they’re yelling about “give back what you’ve taken” and they’re making a beeline for Gage Carlyle and mostly ignoring the rest of the casino, so that’s the logical conclusion, right? On the other hand, the wizard himself isn’t here. So is this the whole attack, or is this just one part of a larger plan?

For us, the decision is how to respond. For OUR purposes, this attack represents a distraction, which we sorely need for our plan to work. So the real question is how much can we get done during that distraction. Obviously, we suss out quickly that it’s a prime opportunity to swap the keys, but Gomez wants to take it a step further and use it as a chance to infiltrate the vault.

But then we have the other angle, which is that we’re still officers of the law, and Carlyle – based on everything we know – is an innocent (and by all appearances, unarmed) civilian. So even though we have ulterior motives for being here, how do we feel about leaving him and his security to fend for themselves? And if we CAN’T do the whole infiltration in one go, helping defend the casino from the attack might be a way to get in Carlyle’s good graces for the rest of the evening. So there’s positives to helping defend against the attack. But back on the negative side, being too aggressive in our defense might ruin our cover stories and draw attention to ourselves. I mean… Dougie is the only one whose cover story makes him a plausible combatant. “What are two society fops and a waiter doing kicking so much ass?” becomes an obvious question if go in too hard.

So here’s where we see the consequences of not having more of a plan going in. I’ll give Dougie a pass because he had a specific task; get the key. If we don’t do that, nothing else matters. But we have Gomez going all-in on trying to draw guards away from the vaults, so he leaves the combat entirely. Lo Mang forgets he’s a waiter and just starts pummeling dudes and releasing his full move set. I tried to walk a middle line here: I figured that Carlyle and his guards make us a party of seven, so we’ll probably win, so the goal here should be to offer the right amount of resistance a brave (possibly alcohol-assisted bravery) party guest would be willing to offer. That’s why I largely let the svartalfar come to me, as well as why I left the sheath on my sword cane. Basically, I’m going for the amount of help Batman could offer if someone attacks a party while he’s attending as Bruce Wayne – more than zero, not enough for people to start drawing bat ears on photos of him.

And indeed, the attack fizzles after two or three rounds, but thanks to some timely rolls, that’s all the time Dougie needs to get the key. In retrospect, we really hitched our wagon to a shaky outcome. If you run the numbers and pretend it’s a 50-50 chance (DC 30 or 31?), succeeding on three checks is a 12.5% chance of actually succeeding. Even if you Edge Point one of those rolls away (as Dougie was forced to do), it’s still only a 25% chance. And again, that’s assuming 50-50… if it’s harder than a DC30(ish) check, the odds go down even further. So we REALLY got luckier than I think we were planning.

Meanwhile, Gomez’s efforts come up empty, as the path to the vault is arguably guarded better than Carlyle is. So it looks like this fight will be a chance to get the key and that’s it.

There is one thing that amuses me in all of this. I don’t intend this as criticism of John because his job was to get the key and he had to do what he had to do. But the visuals to Carlyle or some other outsider would be Dougie abandoning the two people he was supposedly brought there to protect, so he can protect the guy who’s already got his own bodyguards. Clearly Gomez and I are going to have to fire Dougie for insubordination when all of this is over.

So the fight is over, the dust settles, and now we’re on Carlyle’s radar in a positive way. Since we helped defend against the attack, we’re invited to watch the main show (Celine Dion? The Blue Man Group?) in the VIP area. So that’s got us new paths to Carlyle and access to new parts of the building. But time still favors trying to get to the vault before Carlyle notices the key has been swapped (or even just gets an impulse to check the vault.) So after some back-and-forth we decide we’re going to go ahead and get the key now, and use the VIP room as a way to swap the keys back.

There are two main hurdles ahead of us at this point.

The first hurdle is how we get down there, but we actually have tools for that: Plan A is that we can stash ourselves in a bag of holding and Lo Mang… I mean, Mang Lo… can take refreshments down through the cage. Plan B is that I can use my one cast of invisibility sphere and we can slowly navigate the party through the cage.

The slightly tougher question is how we deal with the guards that are likely to still be down there. The ideal would be to either avoid combat entirely, or at least take them out in a way that they don’t see us, at which point, most reasonable people would just chalk it up to the svartalfar. “Oh, they had a second-team that infiltrated the vault while the diversionary force attacked the casino floor”. Failing that, we’re just going to have to attack them: 4-on-2 probably isn’t a huge concern as far as winning or losing, but it does disrupt the possibilities for doing this undetected. Even with disguises, how many groups with a tiefling orc, a goblin, a tengu, and a chunky human is Carlyle likely to know? We can buy time by locking them in the vault, and maybe they get discovered the next day, but Carlyle will still ultimately know it was us. Frankly, I’m kind of kicking myself for not including some sort of sleeping potion so we could just have Lo Mang spike their drinks.

But… we are where we are. We don’t have a sleeping potion and the guards would probably get suspicious if Lo Mang offered them Triple Woodies while on duty, so we’re probably just going to have to make the best of the situation and attack. Maybe they won’t get a good look at us or something. Or maybe they’ll still attribute it to the wizard and just think we were his paid goons and not the Edgewatch. Either way, we’re at “hope for the best” time.

Lastly… one of our listeners pointed this out on the Discord, but I have to agree: Under Siege? Obscure? It was probably the high-water mark of Stephen Segal’s popularity, Erika Eleniak was easy on the eyes, and it was also in heavy rotation on HBO right around the time Tommy Lee Jones’ appearance in The Fugitive changed the arc of his career. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it was GOOD. But it was certainly omnipresent for a while. A disciplinary report will be filed against John with the Chair of Pop Culture References.

And that’s where we pick it up next week… down in the Lucky Nimbus vault. As always, please feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|11: Heist Society

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|11: Never Tell Me the Odds!

The prep is over, it’s time to start heisting.

Before we get into the action, I did want to circle back to Steve’s show notes briefly. I did talk about this last week, so I don’t want to get into this endless loop of me agreeing with Steve agreeing with me, and then we’re still talking about the casino heist in 2027. But I did have a few more thoughts on the subject before we get going.

Let’s examine the heist genre. You have a central protagonist who’s smart and talented and can see the whole chessboard laid out in front of them. That’s your Ethan Hunt, your Danny Ocean. The problem is almost always clearly laid out because the protagonist is smart enough to understand (almost) all the dangers going in and has been thinking about how to do this for a while. The protagonist is, quite literally, The Man (Person) With The Plan.

But the protagonist is just one person and can’t do everything on their own, so they have to recruit a team of specialists (usually quirky misfits) to do the things they can’t do themselves. So the real allure of the heist genre is revealing what the specialists can do and how they use their skills to solve the problem. And of course, there are going to be one or two unexpected developments that force the protagonist to adjust the plan on the fly, whether it’s the antagonist starting to realize something is up halfway through, a double-cross within the team, random dumb luck… whatever.

Now, bless Paizo’s collective heart for trying, but it’s TOUGH to fit that into the structure of a tabletop roleplaying game.

The first, and biggest problem, is leaving room for player agency. The best way to REALLY do a heist-genre plot would be for the GM to completely lay out the plan – in the context of this game, have Sergeant Ollo create the plan for us – and then the players execute it. But then the players aren’t Danny Ocean anymore, we’re the quirky supporting characters, and we’re spending the next 3-6 episodes just doing what the pre-planned plot has told us to do. On the other hand, the more room you leave for players to make decisions, the less tight and heist-like the story gets, and it even increases the chance that the players will just come up with something that can’t possibly work and the entire scenario face-plants. So where does one set the balance there?

The other thing is those “supporting skills” that help the heist succeed… what do you do if the party doesn’t have those skills? If you started at Day One knowing you were going to be doing a heist, yeah, maybe you include a rogue for thievery and a bard for the social situations, and a brains class who has a lot of knowledge skills, and go light on classes that don’t offer as much in an infiltration. But for a heist that falls near the middle of a six-book adventure path, you’re “stuck” with whatever characters have been brought into the situation and they might not have the skills the plan requires. We even see a little of that within our team where Lo Mang hasn’t had NEARLY as much to do in the prep phase as the other three of us have.

And I think that’s where (bringing it full circle) I agree with Steve’s point that maybe this all needed a LITTLE more guidance. It was maybe a little too free-form and we spent a lot of time just wrestling with the basic “what are we even supposed to be doing?” question. (Keep in mind, as Steve mentions, our “paralysis by analysis” was actually WORSE than what you’re hearing here; he made some cuts to get us down to listenable episodes.)

Nevertheless, into the fray we go. We’re dressed up (except for Lo Mang, who’s working in the kitchen), we’ve got our cover stories, and it’s time to mingle with high society.

Annnnnd… we immediately stumble out of the gate and burn through one-third of the edge points we thought we had.

First, it turns out the edge point for the forged documents (I’m ashamed to admit that was my work) was a fake. So instead of six, we really only had five to begin with. But then that means we have to burn another edge point to get Basil into the door, and now we’ve got four left for the entire rest of the heist. And MAYBE we’ve added some awareness points, though it’s a little unclear whether using an edge point negates the failure entirely (i.e. also no awareness bump) or whether it gets you in and allows the scenario to progress but still generates awareness. That’s for Steve to know and us to find out, I guess.

And then things go from bad to worse as Dougie’s attempts at entry turn into a complete train wreck. Dougie fails his check. Fires off a hero point… that also fails. Gomez tries to jump in and salvage the situation with his goblin charms and ALSO fails. So three strikes and Dougie is both literally and metaphorically out. And now we’ve DEFINITELY got some awareness on us.

Now… I’ve got a minor quibble here. I am not a Very Rich Person, but I wouldn’t think a Very Rich Person would need a separate invitation for their servant/bodyguard. I would assume such a person would be included in the employer’s invite if they were allowed in at all. But I wasn’t going to argue it too strenuously because that cuts both ways: the casino’s policy could’ve been “the casino has its own security so your guy has to wait in a servants’ waiting area during the gala”.

So… Dougie’s out on the street, but he soon gets better luck on the dice and is able to sneak onto the floor through the kitchen, and we’re back in business. And in some ways, that signifies a shift in our luck, as our rolls start to get better. I’m able to get a good bid in the auction that won’t stick me with a 500 gp pipe, and Dougie’s able to just flat-out steal himself a ribbon.

Next up is figuring out where Gage Carlyle is because nothing else really happens until we can get the key from him. We find him, but decide that observing him for a while is better than IMMEDIATELY trying to get close to him, and that turns out to be the right call, as his security detail is aggressively brushing people away. Looks like if we’d gone straight at him, it would’ve generated some awareness. So OK, one bullet dodged.

Our next attempt to gain Carlyle’s attention is to win big at the tables. It does feel like we’re getting a little loose with the definition of Dougie’s “disguise” because it’s a little weird that two Very Rich People would let their bodyguard gamble while on duty. But I’m chalking it up as a necessary evil of game mechanics: if we want to do this right (and fast), we may need to cheat, and that means Theivery is involved, and Dougie is a little better at that than I am. (Not sure about Gomez… I just remember back in the murder hotel, John and I were both unlocking doors and disabling traps, and his was a little higher.)

Of course, an out-of-character shame is that Lo Mang was stuck in the kitchen, because in real life, Chris is the casino/table-games aficionado of the party. Then again, if Chris HAD been able to play, he might have wanted to play each game individually, and then we’d have a 2-3 episode interlude while Lo Mang gambled. So maybe it was for the greater good that he was in the kitchen.

So John is able to cheat his way to a big windfall (1500 gp), and that’s got a good-news/bad-news component to it: Gage Carlyle has now actually taken interest in us… but so has the obnoxious loudmouth guy he tends to avoid. So basically we have to shed the loudmouth (so Gage would be willing to interact with us) in a way that doesn’t seem overly hostile or draw undue attention. Fortunately, Lo Mang’s ties in the kitchen finally pay their first dividends, as he’s able to slip the guy an extra-potent drink that knocks him out. (Which seems like a not-uncommon occurrence with this person, based on the staff’s reactions.)

So finally, we’re making progress. We’re on Gage’s radar, we’re climbing the social ladder… and it’s distraction time! The casino doors bust open and here comes trouble. Is it the renegade wizard? Is it the Twilight Four or one of the gang leaders trying to get their device back? Guess we’ll find out the answers after we kick some asses… next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|20: The Game Mutiny

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|20: Master Blaster.

This week’s episode, for me, highlights the difference between the experience as a listener and the experience as a player.

The action in this week’s episode was… we’ll be charitable and call it slow-paced. The party’s damage was limited by the fact that the dwarves were incorporeal, while the dwarves just didn’t hit that hard: I think even their crits were topping out around 20 or 30 points. So the fight turned into a bit of a war of attrition – could the party get the dwarves down before healing resources (in particular) started to run out.

As a player, I kind of like that sort of fight. Second Edition combat is so swingy that it’s tough to fight every battle on the edge of your seat. Don’t get me wrong: those fights can be a lot of fun, but they leave you drained afterward. As a player, it’s nice to mix in the occasional fight where the stakes feel a little lower and you just have to grind it out.

As a listener though… I felt like this battle never really had any big moments, and as such, I was kind of missing the more dynamic encounters. Where’s Hap blasting dudes for 100 points of damage? Where’s Alhara dropping two or three rounds in? Plinking away for 10-15 damage at a pop… the combat side of it was a little underwhelming.

As an aside, this kind of pulled me back mentally to a similar conundrum I had in the videogame realm. Persona 5… probably one of my favorite games of all time. Persona 5 Strikers… it’s a different core mechanic where they go from turn-based JRPG combat to button-mashy fights, and every boss (or even sub-boss) fight was a joyless slog where it took like 5 minutes to go through a third of the enemy’s health bar. Which was a shame because the REST of the game – the plot, the interactions between the characters, maintaining the art direction, and so on – was totally top-notch. But I stopped playing it one or two bosses in because the core combat just felt like you were spinning your tires. I was getting a lot of similar vibes from this battle.

The good news is that our intrepid friends made up for it with the banter; in particular, the near-mutiny on multiple fronts against Steve. We had the question of tripping a ghost. We had the question of how a flying creature’s five-foot square works in three dimensions. I have recollections of other back-and-forth moments, but it was an episode where the usual tricks weren’t working, the players were trying to get creative in their workarounds, and it was getting just a little chippy around the edges.

The first thing that stuck out for me was just how generally off-guard it caught me. I’m kind of used to a little bit of back and forth in our Edgewatch group. As you know, most of that core group has been playing together for literal decades, so there’s a lot of history and some of it isn’t even game-related. In short, we shit-talk each other all the time. With this game, maybe it’s because they came together specifically for this show, but this group TENDS to be on better behavior than we are. (Well, poop jokes and double entendres notwithstanding.) So it was a little bit jarring to hear things turn a little testy around the edges.

This isn’t to say they haven’t had rules disputes before. They just tend to be more… sedate?… than they were this week.

It’s one of those eternal questions of the gaming table: how much the GM is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of the rules, versus how much the GM is supposed to be opposing the efforts of the players. And, relevant to this discussion, how much the GM is supposed (or allowed) to ENJOY opposing the players. Because it ends up being a weird dynamic at times.

At the 30-thousand foot level where the GM is just another player in the game, the GM should be allowed to have fun too. It would actually be kind of selfish of the players to treat the GM SOLELY as a stoic dispenser of the story. HOW DARE YOU HAVE FUN TOO? That said, if you think about it in sports terms, the situation forces the GM to serve as both the opponent and the referee at the same time, and context-switching between those roles at a moment’s notice. As the opponent, yes, the GM should be able to savor their big moments just as much as the players should. But that does lead to those moments where the GM-as-ref is telling you why the thing you want to try won’t work while the laughter from GM-as-player is still ringing in your ears from 30 seconds ago. And I won’t sugar-coat it; there are certain times where it can be difficult to shrug that off as a player.

For the record: using my usual pedantic keyword approach, I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be able to trip a ghost. Setting aside the general depiction of ghosts as floating and lacking feet, the incorporeal trait confers immunity from Strength-based checks unless the entity has ghost touch. And that cuts in both directions: the ghost can’t use strength-based checks on you (or the environment) and you can’t use strength-based moves on it. And Trip is most definitely Strength-based since it uses Athletics, even though the save goes against Dexterity. So… no. No tripping ghosts. [Stephen here, I checked after the episode and indeed, Jason is correct. You can’t trip a ghost since they are incorporeal and immune to all Strength-based attacks and checks.]

As far as the squares-while-flying thing, I assumed (I think Loren made this point as well) it would work like diagonals work on the two-dimensional map. That the first increment is 5 feet and the second is 15. Or, split the difference and just call it a 7.5-foot difference and apply reach based on that.

If there’s any consolation to all of this, at least incorporeal is less punishing in Second Edition than First Edition because there’s an upper bound on it. The rules have similar intent between editions (in summary: ghost touch is best/fully effective, magic damage is less effective, and non-magic damage is almost completely useless) but there’s an upper bound because 2E implements it as “no resistance/N resistance/2N resistance” whereas 1E’s implementation was “full damage/half-damage/no-damage”. So a spell that does 40 raw damage would do 30 in 2E but 20 in 1E. Melee attacks that do 40 raw damage would do 20 in 2E and NOTHING in 1E. Or looking at it another way, if Hap had landed another one of those 100-point scorching rays, 90 is getting through instead of 50.

So the battle proceeds, things calm down, and our dwarven buddies are dealt with… for now. As with all ghosts, they have the rejuvenation trait, so they’ll be back in a few days unless the party can get rid of the underlying problem. Which… I’ve got 20 bucks that says that fixing the problem with the aeon tower will free the ghosts as well. But we still don’t know how our team is going to do that yet, so I guess we’ll figure that one 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.