Jason McDonald, Author at Roll For Combat: Paizo's Official Pathfinder & Starfinder Actual Play Podcasts - Page 3 of 30

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The Sideshow S2|06: No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of This Podcast

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|06: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Hap Scorned.

For a short episode, this week had a fair amount of interesting stuff going on. A near-death experience for Riley, possible new additions to the circus… for an episode with a single, fairly easy fight, a decent amount of stuff going on.

First, put me down for a hearty HELL YEAH at the idea of Riley wielding a weapon in his mouth like Zoro from One Piece. In fact, go all the way with it and make it a katana.

At the front and back ends of the episode, we have the ongoing question about what to do about Kalkek, the greater barghest. One of the most interesting aspects of this is that Hap clearly has her own ideas that she’s choosing to not share with the rest of the party (as evidenced by delivering breakfast to the beast). For the moment I love it… but we’ll see where it ultimately leads.

It can be tricky to manage competing agendas within the party. On one side of the equation, it creates drama and generates interesting story moments above and beyond what’s already in the adventure. At the risk of being a little chippy, it’s also a way for the players to assert control even over the GM’s story… as long as it doesn’t reach the point of dysfunction, where it’s impeding the party’s ability to accomplish goals and/or just dragging the FUN of the game down a black hole. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think this group has earned the trust to see where they go with it.

At the end of the session, the overall plan on the barghest is to either kill it, convince it the townspeople would band together to kill it to try and scare it away, or try to convince I to relocate to the abandoned keep, which is even further away from human contact. Now, they’re welcome to try what they want, but personally, I don’t get the sense the townspeople scare it; if anything, they represent a nice little snack. However, I think Steve was dropping a hint – perhaps intentionally, perhaps not – about Madame Dusklight… that the beast is scared of her. Maybe you could leverage that against the barghest…. just tell Kalkek that Madame Dusklight figured out where he is and it’s time to go.

Of course, there’s also the 20/20 “full knowledge of the rules” answer which still exists: a barghest that’s manifested on the Material Plane generally just wants to get off this plane. So maybe help it do that. But in-game, they haven’t gotten that much information on barghests yet. Ateran got a LITTLE information during the fight, but they haven’t gone back and done a deep dive.

Next up, we have Riley’s brush with death, courtesy of the thunderstone trap.

The first thing is, it came perilously close to triggering the “massive damage” insta-death – Steve didn’t remember the exact number, but he said Riley had something like 50 hit points. If he had 40 or less, 80 would’ve been enough to kill him with no further interventions. It’s easy to forget that animal companions tend to be a little weaker than PCs – lower saves, fewer hit points – so that was a real bullet dodged.

For the record, we actually dealt with this during the Plaguestone campaign, but the various death rules DO apply to PCs “and their companions”. In that game, we had a moment where Ember dropped and we needed a ruling on whether she was just dead-dead or I could use Lay on Hands to bring her back, so we’ve done this research already. So yes, things like casting stabilize and the dying condition… all of that applies equally to Riley. Interestingly enough it’s GM discretion when it comes to bad guys and NPCs. I think that’s more story-based: “if it makes the story more interesting to let the NPC live, you can allow it, or if you want the NPC to be permadead and move on, that’s fine too”.

So Riley lives by the narrowest of margins, but he’s at least temporarily deaf, and he’s still pretty banged up even after some healing. So Hap is on the warpath when they soon encounter the people who likely set the trap – a trio of ysoki. At first, it looks like another fight might ensue, but the standoff turns when Darius mentions the circus that he can’t remember the name of, and it turns out the main ysoki, Fidget, is a juggler who uses fireworks as part of her act. This defuses the situation with three-fourths of the party – it turns out the ysoki were just protecting themselves from Kalkek – but for poor Hap, Fidget’s act just adds a layer of professional jealousy to her anger about Riley’s injury. At the other end of the spectrum, Ateran actually finds kindred spirits in Fidget’s brothers, who are both alchemists, and they spend some downtime talking shop.

The party then explores a little further on the way back to camp, which leads to… well… we’ll call it a fight, but really it ends up being a chance for Hap to blow off a little steam. Centipede swarms? Meet fireball. You lose. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Riley gets back in the game, helping to finish off the swarm that the fireball didn’t quite kill. GOOD DOG! Darius punches bugs, Alhara adds some AoE with alchemical fire, and Ateran finishes the fight off with a crit from Old Reliable (aka Telekinetic Projectile).

Ateran also hones their comedic talent with “turns out the log is not safe”. Well played, Rob.

After the centipede “battle”, the party returns to camp, spends a little while debating the Kalkek situation a little further, and that’s where we’re going to leave it for this week. Next episode, maybe we get back to circus business? Or do we finally resolve the Kalkek thing? Guess you’ll just have to come back next week to find out. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|18: …But You Can Never Leave

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|18: Doom Service.

Welcome back to Agents of Edgewatch, as we spend our second episode unraveling the mysteries of the murder hotel. As we left off last week, John had managed to stumble upon a mimic unawares, and combat was about to begin. Part of me still feels like John should’ve had a fighting chance of detecting it with his always-on radar, but I guess a creature that happens to look like furniture is not technically a “trap”. Or to be fair, maybe Steve gave him a roll “behind the screen” and he failed. Oh well.

The good news on the mimic is it’s not especially sturdy. It’s only got a modest amount of hit points, no particular resistances that we know of. If we can put damage on it, it’s not that tough an opponent. Of course, the big complicating factor is the adhesive properties – not only do they give us flat-footed, but it can also deprive us of weapons if they get stuck to it. (See also: my poor sword cane.) If this fight went three or four rounds, it might have reached a point where Lo Mang would have to stay there punching it while the rest of us went for coffee.

(OK, I guess technically Gomez and I have cantrip-level magic we could also have thrown at it, but still… it’s lucky we front-loaded the fight and got out quick, or that could’ve gotten messy.)

So… we prevail and force the creature to surrender. I have to admit I was a little surprised that they’re intelligent creatures, but sure enough… they speak Common, and their flavor text mentions that they sometimes like to talk to their prey. So in terms of the monster’s abilities, it’s legit. So I suppose it comes down to how you feel about surrender in general. In most dungeons, I know it’s kinda common to just MurderHobo your way through it. I think in this campaign it fits the tone; we’re “the cops” so some of the bad guys will take their chance with the law rather than resist until we’re forced to kill them. Especially since the mimic hints that it was originally brought here somewhat against its will. Doesn’t TOTALLY cancel out killing and eating a bunch of people, but maybe justifies not killing it outright.

The big news is what this does for our investigation. Preface ALL of this with two caveats: 1) I’m not a cop in real life, and 2) the law in Absalom does not necessarily work the same as it does in the real world. But the interrogation of the mimic creates something of a break in the case, as we have a real honest-to-goodness witness and probable cause. In other circumstances, a locket could’ve been left behind by accident. Even the trapdoor could MAYBE be dismissed as some sort of housekeeping thing – they drop the linens down a chute to be cleaned or something. But now we have the mimic giving us a confession that Ralso and Pratchett are feeding it victims. BAM! Case… officially cracked.

Now, here’s where we also get away from “real” police procedure, because in real life this is the place where we would get a formal warrant, and like 40 or 50 cops would swarm the place. But that doesn’t make for a good adventure (Roll… For… Traffic Control!), so I guess we’ll continue to investigate ourselves.

We are at a bit of a crossroads, though. Do we take Ralso into custody, or do we keep investigating rooms? The argument in favor of nabbing Ralso is the “fire in the rear” argument: if you leave this person to create havoc, she could attack us, escape, destroy evidence, or any number of bad things. On the other hand, do we believe there are innocent people in danger? If THAT’S the case, maybe that takes a higher priority.

For the moment, we decide to do one more room, and the universe finds a way to convince us we made the wrong choice, as Dougie and Lo Mang have their brush with death, flying guillotine style. In 20-20 hindsight, there probably ought to have been some sort of air traffic control as far as the number of people who could work on the door simultaneously; OK, MAYBE you let one person work it from each side, but Gomez and I jumping back and forth probably wouldn’t fly in the real world. I don’t pick a lot of locks, but I would think it would be more effective to let one person focus in and work on it until it was done.

(I also had that sort of old-school slapstick comedy image of Gomez or I poking John’s lockpick out of the lock on our turn, and then him poking our lockpick out on his turn. Lather, rinse, repeat.)

So we get our guys back safely, thanks mostly to some crappy rolls on the guillotine’s part, and that convinces us that maybe we should get Ralso in custody so she can… among other things… tell us which rooms have the traps in them. As a side debate, Seth comes up with the idea of having the mimic (for the record, I am neither trying to spell nor pronounce that name) either help fight the guillotine blade, or watch over Ralso while we investigate further. This is one of those ones where I kinda disagree with his idea, but not strenuously so: I’m willing to go along with it because it might make for a fun show, and I don’t want to pee on Seth’s corn flakes.

But for the purposes of this column, I’ll state my objections. I know Seth slapped an intimidate on it, and because he critted it’s supposed to last a week. But almost every charm/compulsion-type effect has a “unless you ask it to do something that would get it killed” escape clause, and fighting a giant flying razor blade would seem to qualify. Even watching over the witness is a stretch… it’s a LITTLE more palatable since it’s more of a “supporting” request that doesn’t put the mimic in direct danger, but it’s also a little immersion-breaking on police procedure. If a gang robs a bank and one of the robbers gets left behind, they generally don’t ask a teller to hold a gun on the guy they caught while they chase the other culprits. But I’d be willing to let this one slide a little in the name of good gaming.

However, when we get downstairs, the idea of having the mimic watch Ralso is moot: she’s not at the front desk. Oops. We begin to pick some locks to get back into the office area, and that’s where we’ll be picking it up next time. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|05: ’Ship Shape

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|05: Ooze Your Own Adventure.

Well, that’s a surprise. I didn’t expect my writing style and schedule to come under such scrutiny in this week’s show notes, but here we are.

First, I’ll state for the record that I absolutely do half-ass it sometimes. You can usually correlate those blog entries to when there are new video game releases, or when the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing. Occasionally, it’ll be because nothing in the episode particularly grabs me (not singling this crew out, happens for the Edgewatch show too) and I just chase my own tail for a thousand words.

It is true I tried to make it my New Year’s resolution to get my columns in a little earlier. I moved my writing days to Sunday and Wednesday, but you may have noticed we’ve been having weekly Meltdown Of Democracy events on Wednesdays and I spend the rest of the day doom-scrolling, so… it hasn’t quite taken hold yet. Maybe see about democracy moving its shit to Tuesdays going forward?

This week, I guess the main topic to address is Steve putting all us listeners on the spot about the Alhara-Ateran romance. So I guess it would be a dereliction of duty if I didn’t wade in.

I’m not going to lie: part of me wants to duck the question. As someone who also does one of these shows and has felt that pressure to come up with the “right” interaction for 3 hours, it feels shitty even wading in and telling anyone what they “should” have done. So I’d start by acknowledging that this is THEIR gaming table and they can do what the hell they want. It feels a little pretentious to discuss playing a roleplaying game with the same language of Serious Art, but they as the players/actors/artists ultimately get to develop their characters as they wish, and they choose what they do with those moments. On some level, they have to go with what feels right to them, and we as listeners can just deal with it.

But that’s still a bit of a dodge, I suppose. So let me answer the (implied) question: what do I think of the relationship? I think my overall “top of a PowerPoint slide” answer would be that I like where they’re going with it, but there are some specific episodes where the “will they or won’t they?” has felt like it was spinning its wheels a little bit.

First, I do appreciate that Rob and Vanessa are both playing it with an honesty that’s admirable: the relationship between their characters certainly feels very authentic. Heck, maybe that’s part of the “problem” is that it’s TOO real. It takes steps forwards and backwards, and even sideways where nothing “major” happens because neither person is ready to put themselves out there and take that next step. Romance in the real world is like that too.

Also, I feel like I’d be a dick if I didn’t concede that improvising DRAMA is challenging. Comedy is comparatively easy: it’s easy to come up with a one-liner to say off the top of your head. (Especially if you just steal from pop culture references most of the time as I do.) It’s a little harder to come up with something that will resonate with the audience while being both sincere to your vision of your character and giving your scene partner something that will ring true to theirs. It’s almost like Pacific Rim where you have two parties who have to sync their brains in real-time to pilot the mech. I wouldn’t pretend for one minute that’s easy.

That said, as a listener, I think Steve’s comment hits it on the head: romance plots are most interesting when they come into conflict with other elements of the story and one or both characters have to decide what that relationship means to them in comparison to something else. And there have been moments where they get there. For a GREAT example, I’d point at Alhara and Ateran having a fight about Ateran killing the hostage back at the druid hermitage. That was compelling… not just on the ethics of the argument, but whether it would change the direction of the relationship and whether Alhara would re-evaluate her interest in them. I think if this road leads to more moments like that… cool, let’s see where it goes.

(Or, skipping to the end of the episode. I’m also ALL for more conflict with Csillagos as Grumpy Relationship Chaperone.)

So OK… onto this week’s episode. (I know, I know… finally.)

This week’s challenge is another fight with a black pudding! Specifically, another member of the ooze family, which is a little ironic, because over on our Edgewatch show, we have intel that we might have to fight an ochre jelly at some future point. (Our investigations revealed its existence, but we haven’t found it yet.) So in some ways, this is a fun little sneak preview.

Now, of course, with any member of the ooze family, you get the typical resistances to criticals, precision damage, flatfooted, and so on… coupled with the fact that they’re fairly easy to hit. Same drill as the fight against the two gelatinous cubes, right? But now we add in a new wrinkle… division. When you do slashing damage to (some) oozes, they split in half. The good news is that the remaining hit points are split between the two creatures, so what’s left is easier to kill. The bad news is that all of their combat effectiveness stats – to hit, armor class, damage – stay the same, so you’re facing two creatures that were as lethal as the original creature. (Personally, I’m mentally walking this out to its logical conclusion, envisioning a bunch of AoE slashing attacks and ending up with dozens of oozes that all have 3 or 4 hit points.). Fortunately for our group, they learn the lesson on the first split and don’t repeat their mistake, and are able to recover fairly quickly and defeat the oozes.

Despite Rob P.’s attempt to sneak items from the First Edition economy into a Second Edition game, the treasure is mostly consumables, and not that exciting. As a fan of aeon stones, I actually like a magic item that lets you slot more than one at a time, and the one that takes care of food and drink is useful indeed. (I had the Starfinder equivalent on Tuttle.) There’s also a journal that WOULD have served as a handy survival guide for the area if they had read it first but now serves mostly as plot exposition. We do learn that the protagonist of this area is a thief named Juniper Wynsell (remember the “JW” marked on the tree?) who used this area as a hideout, but her ultimate fate is unknown – was she caught, did she die, is this likely to become a future plot point? It also suggests that if they can find a permanent resolution to the Kalkek situation, there’s more of her treasure deeper in that cave.

But that – as well as the staircase Alhara thinks she saw -– will at least be for another day as they decide to make camp for the night and tackle the rest tomorrow. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.


The Bird’s Eye View S1|17: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like…

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|17: Dead And Breakfast.

I don’t think it’s really giving anything away to let you know we’re entering a major part of the story arc that’s going to last several episodes. I mean… the name of the first book of the Adventure Path is Devil At The Dreaming Palace, and… well, this is the Dreaming Palace. So consider it the very mildest of spoilers that you should strap in for the next several episodes because it’s going to be a wild ride.

As far as whether it’s too gory… I think Steve did a pretty good job of threading that needle. It’s sanitized enough that MOST people aren’t going to lose sleep or anything. I’d argue that a couple of the worst moments to come are more implied rather than said: Steve lays out “2 and 2”, and your brain fills in the awfulness of what “4” would have to mean. So the worst of it, your own brain does to itself.

This week, we start fairly light with a mostly roleplay-centric episode, doing the actual detective work and beginning the search of the hotel. Now, I’ve kinda mentioned this before, but to reiterate, I generally don’t mind Gomez taking the lead as the “face” of the party just because he has the highest Charisma score. Basil has good knowledge-type skills, but Gomez is the better people person. More generally, there are two different Investigator builds that cover these two roles: there’s an Interrogator build that specifically emphasizes getting information out of people in one-on-one interactions, and there’s the Empiricist, who analyzes data and (at higher levels) makes predictions based off the data. Basil is the latter.

Out of game, Steve presents us with a list of known missing persons. There are seven entries encompassing 15 distinct people. Of those, three of the entries and eight of the people represent cases we’ve already bumped into in our travels; the missing mage; the zoo owner and his girlfriend; and the stonemasons. I think we’re pretty locked into the stonemasons being here; does that imply the others will be as well? The zoo owner certainly would’ve had the money for a place like this. Guess we’ll find out. (I mean, if you want to get cynical and meta-game, probably… this feels like a place where loose ends get tied up… but let’s not spoil the party just yet.)

So Gomez takes the lead talking to the innkeeper while Basil leads the analysis of the ledger itself, and we quickly zero in on the probability that our stonemasons (and others) have likely been here. Yeah, we get a lame excuse about making the books neater (why wouldn’t Pratchett just HIRE someone with good penmanship to work the desk?) but it’s pretty clear that they’re erasing the evidence of some – but clearly not all – of their guests having been here.

Then we catch a break by interacting with one of the guests they HAVEN’T killed yet, which provides us with an invitation to ditch the clerk, go upstairs, and take a look around. I’m simultaneously amused how thirsty the old lady was, but grateful Steve never turned her gaze on Basil. Just as happy to be undesirable in this particular circumstance.

Once we’re upstairs, Gomez continues to entertain the old lady while we sneak off and look around, and we eventually find the first concrete proof we need. The old Trap Door In The Hotel Room ploy! So we discover a disposal chute that goes down to somewhere down below, to – filling in the blanks with another rumor from the afterlife party – what’s PROBABLY going to turn out to be the ochre jelly Azmit Neen smuggled into the city. “Garbage disposal”, after all. We’ll need to get down to the lower levels (basement, I assume) and verify, but logically it fits.

Taking mental inventory of where we are on all of this… Hendrid Pratchett is clearly a Bad Dude, and the desk clerk is PROBABLY in it with him. Does she help with the murders, or is she just the legit front end of the hotel business? Are there other staff we haven’t met yet? And where does Jeremin Hoff fit in? Did he know he was sending the stonemasons to their likely deaths, or did he just roll some really unlucky dice and happen to choose a hotel that got them killed? And of course the big question at the end of ALL of it: WHY? Were they “just” killing people and stealing their belongings? The stonemasons’ tools did end up on the black market. Did racism play a role? I’d note that hatred of outsiders was a common theme at the party the previous evening, especially if Hoff himself is involved. Or are these people just nutjobs who kill for jollies?

Next, we have a bit of a flare-up of paralysis by analysis. We haven’t done it much in Edgewatch, but those of you who remember the Black Lodge show remember that sometimes this group gets a little TOO bogged down in planning out our next move and this is one of those times. Do we go right down to the basement and see where the chute goes? Do we now confront and arrest the desk attendant? Do we clear more of the upper floors? That debate goes around… well… not as long as some of our epic bouts of indecision, but longer than it needed to before we decide to do a little more searching for clues.

We then have a brief moment of levity as Dougie walks in on a couple having a little too much fun (good for them, I guess), and then we explore our last room of the session, which ends in… wait for it… A MIMIC! The classic RPG staple. Now… I’m a little mad Dougie and I didn’t notice the mimic, but now that I’m thinking about it, trap-sense probably made us a little overconfident. Personally, I’m kind of wondering if I’m getting a little too reliant on “That’s Odd” to bail me out and need to remember to still actively search sometimes as well. But that’s all 20/20 hindsight, and next week we’ve got a treasure chest to do battle with.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. Trust me folks, the next several episodes are going to be a wild ride, and you’ll want to be back here 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|04: Who Let The Dog Out?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|04: Blinded By The Light.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2021… I guess? Sigh. And I had such high hopes for the new year, too.

As usual, let’s start this week’s conversation with the show notes. In this case, the question before the chair (see?… you stay up until 4 am watching Electoral College votes being counted, you start talking like this…) is how much of the creature’s stat block to reveal when the players do a Recall Knowledge.

Personally, maybe I’m biased from having played with him all this time, but I think Steve has the right mix. Hit points would be unbalancing… if you knew exactly how many times you had to hit a monster to kill it, you’d start tailoring your tactics to metagame information. And I like Steve’s choice to hide special abilities because that lends to good surprises during the fight when it busts out an ability you weren’t expecting. But resistances and immunities… I think that’s a fair concession that’s not too unbalancing and – perhaps most importantly – respects the scarcity of magical resources within the game. It gives you a glimpse of ways in which the fight might be hard, while still leaving it up to the players to decide if and how to fight.

As I was thinking of it, my frame of reference for comparison was JRPGs like Persona 5 and the Final Fantasy series. In those games, you basically have access to all your spells throughout the fight, as long as you have the mana/magic points. So you can afford to experiment for a few rounds and figure out what works because the resources you’re using are fairly renewable. Hit it with ice one round, then try electric the next round, and so on until you find something that works. In a D20-based system, maybe you have ONE fire spell in your arsenal; if it doesn’t work, you wasted it for another fight; even if it DOES work, you only had the one (unless you were lucky enough to have it as a cantrip). I suppose you can use magic items to expand your repertoire of damage types, but each of THOSE uses hit you in the coin purse. The net effect is that when it comes to magic resources, it ends up being TOO punitive if you potentially have to test every damage type in every fight. So I think Steve’s choice to reveal immunities and resistances (while not giving the specific number) is a fair compromise.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time. (Sorry… doing it again.)

This week’s episode is interesting because it’s a stretch episode – that is, the party is getting low on resources, and it’s decision time whether to keep pushing the story or take a rest. I’d say eight times out of ten, healing resources tend to be the logjam as it is here, but every once in a while, it’s the DPS being out of good damage spells. In this case, it’s mainly healing, so the question is whether to keep exploring or call it a day.

At first, the party tries to walk a middle line, MOSTLY sticking with formally clearing out the areas they’d already started examining. Alhara and Ateran find a little alone time – if you count a rotting bear carcass as a chaperone and Darius and Hap being within shouting distance “alone” – and end up stumbling across a secret cache of loot hidden in a tree. The old Secret Knothole Trick. The makers of The Princess Bride would be so proud.

Meanwhile, Hap and Darius push out into new-but-nearby parts of the map and discover an abandoned campsite. Or so they think, as the campsite springs into action in the form of will o’ wisps. And cautious intentions aside, the fight is on.

Now, the first thing I liked about this fight is Hap immediately nukes the site from orbit, starting the fight with fireball. There’s this tendency to play it carefully at the start of combat… keep your powder dry, save your big spells until you’re sure what you’re facing. That’s not a criticism; I’d even argue it’s probably smart tactics in most situations. Which is why it’s fun to occasionally see someone just throw the book out the window and go straight to the big guns. Throwing the book out is how Riker beat Locutus, for heaven’s sake!

Of course, small problem… wisps are basically immune to magic. So Hap’s fireball basically just woke them up and maybe pissed them off. Oops. Also, the ENTIRE plot of land shifts, which makes me worry about the nature of this island. Is it actually the back of a submerged creature, that’s going to also pile onto the fight?

But now we’re left with an interesting situation, as Ateran is basically out of heals, and Hap’s damage abilities are basically neutralized. Granted, Darius and Alhara can still do damage, but it’s going to be interesting to see how this unfolds.

(In general, I’d like to go on record that I share the party’s skepticism about physical damage being the right way to deal with balls of incorporeal light, but those are the rules.)

Or at least it was interesting for one round. But then we get one of our best moments in the last few episodes as Hap RELEASES THE GOODBOI. Yup, she basically preps Riley with Magic Fang, and turns him loose… to be rewarded with Riley almost singlehandedly (single…paw-edly?) killing one of the wisps, including a 30-point finisher. Animal Companions can be a little clunky, especially for casters who already need two actions for most of their spells, but when they work… they work. And then the rest of the group gets some friendly dice and dispatch the second wisp in a fight that turns out to be much easier than it looked going in.

And that’s where we’ll end the episode. Next week will leave us in a similar position – still drained of resources, but with a little more of the map filled in. Will the party push their luck a second straight week? Will Alhara and Ateran sneak 20 or 30 yards away for some chaste treasure recovery again? Tune in next week and find out. 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 back here next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|16: Cocktails With Convicts

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|16: An Orc Named Sue.

Greetings and welcome to 2021! Overall, I’m far too cynical to believe flipping over a calendar page magically solves every problem in the world, but there’s been a LITTLE more of a spring in my step the past few days… not gonna lie.

I’m going to briefly start with a comment on Steve’s show notes, as it pertains to roleplaying and our character backstories. I think this is a case where I’m a bit different from the rest of the party, as I was guided by listening to both shows. Since I listen to Three Ring Adventure, I know what kind of things Steve wants to include in a backstory and how he might make use of it in a game. The story elements are ultimately my own – Steve didn’t tell me WHAT to write – but knowing HOW he’s folded the 3RA backstories into the main game made it easier for me to write some elements for Basil that he could use in a similar fashion. I think the other guys just took “backstory” as “biography” and left it at that; they may or may not have written open threads to include in the current story. But ultimately, we’ll see as the story progresses.

We pick up our story where we left off, rubbing elbows with Absalom’s criminal underworld at Jeremin Hoff’s afterlife-themed party. (Not to be confused with “Afterlife”, the bar that serves as a central quest hub in Cyberpunk 2077.) And in fact, this episode starts with our first solid break in the case, as Lo Mang comes face to face (or face to shoulder, since he’s really tall) with Jeremin Hoff himself.

Most of Lo Mang’s session is small talk mixed with uncomfortable anti-immigrant sentiment, but we do get our first solid lead out of the interaction, as Hoff openly admits to sending the stonemasons from the Dragonfly Pagoda to a place called the Dreaming Palace hotel. I still feel like my info about the ochre jelly fits into whatever’s going on here, but the Dreaming Palace gives us an actual place we can investigate next. So score one for the good guys.

Now, the logical question is: what strings might be attached to this lead? The stonemasons presumably went to this hotel, disappeared, and if their tools are on sale on the black market… probably means they’re dead, right? So it seems like there are two possibilities at opposite ends of the spectrum. Either Hoff just picked this hotel at random and something else happened to them there. Or Hoff is an active participant in whatever fate the stonemasons met, and is sending us there because he’s equally unconcerned with luring US to our doom.

From there (plus a Seth interlude that didn’t do much more than solve the logic puzzle he was given… but with flair), we have to make our decision about whether to continue. At this point, we’ve got SOMETHING to go on, but there are still a few more rooms to tackle. We decide to continue since it’s all house money at this point: if we get kicked out, we still have our good lead, and we might learn something else handy. On the other hand, we do decide to stay together and tackle it as a group and choose the challenge participant based on strengths rather than each picking a room at random.

Which turns out to be a good call because the first two challenges are things that would’ve probably killed me or Gomez… including an appearance by Old Woody’s cousin Mold Woody! The first two Lo Mang challenges don’t feel like they add anything concrete. The drunken thief hints at some unspecified reason to be afraid of the Dreaming Palace, but it’s all kind of entangled with the stuff about space aliens in the Undercity, so it’s hard to take it too seriously. Similarly, the gnome madame is good roleplay flavor but doesn’t really add anything to what we have so far.

I should mention – and this applies to ALL the encounters – I feel like any or all of these may come back if you consider the entire six-book, level 1-20 arc of the story. So to say the drunk guy or the female assassin didn’t add anything… please feel free to mentally add a big neon sign reading “FOR NOW”. Maybe we’ll need to know more about gnome hookers or Red Mantis wannabe assassins, or fenced goods down the road and have to renew acquaintances with these folks. But here and now, for THIS part of our investigation… they’re dead ends.

As I listened to the other two challenges, I’m a little more attuned to opportunities missed. With the newspaper guy, I feel like we could’ve pushed for a little more information on Hoff himself or the Dreaming Palace. It seems like a guy who’s plugged into all sorts of rumors might know why the drunk guy might have found the hotel scary. On the alchemists… I think they’re probably just local flavor, but I find myself wishing I had more explicitly asked about the black goo coming out of the animals’ mouths. Maybe it’s a substance they were familiar with, maybe it’s even something THEY created. But for the moment, nothing that helps us with the current investigation.

At first, I didn’t want to do the hookah challenge out of a notion that Basil wouldn’t partake of such substances while on duty. Might contaminate any leads we got out of the interaction. But after thinking about it, I came around – I hadn’t done a challenge in the second half of the party, and smoking-related activities ARE kind of Basil’s “thing”. So even if it was a Substance of Questionable Origin, I decided to go ahead and let Basil party with the twins. Too bad it didn’t really go anywhere more fruitful.

You’ll also note that I decided to have Basil sneak out of the room when we bumped into the newspaper editor. That was a specific roleplaying decision on my part. I’ve already mentioned that Basil comes from a pretty influential family (Political Scion background), so it probably wouldn’t be good for him to be recognized at THIS particular party by the owner of the local gossip rag. There’s a difference between Basil tossing his name around to get in the door and hoping people forget it five minutes later, vs. possibly having it splashed all over the newspaper the next day. There are other reasons aside from general family reputation, but I’ll leave those to possibly come out more naturally in-game.

So, we collect all of our leads and head back to base… and when we wake up the next morning, it’s time to formally level up and get our next set of orders.  If you remember, we’ve had enough experience to level for a while; we just didn’t have the time for a long rest to cash it in.

As far as Level 3 Basil, let’s start with a brief clarification on “Skillful Lessons”. The good news, as mentioned, is that it’s a free skill feat at every odd level, which makes Basil one heck of a skill monkey overall. HOWEVER, the one refinement to that is that it has to be from an INT, WIS, or CHA based skill. Granted, that’s MOST of them, but it does rule out Acrobatics, Athletics, Stealth, and Thievery feats. So if I do want a feat from one of those – note to self – I’ll have to make sure to take it at an even level.

In this case, Continual Recovery is the choice… Medicine is based on Wisdom, so we’re fine there. Continual Recovery the one that drops the refresh on Treat Wounds from an hour to 10 minutes. Combined with Ward Medic, that makes Basil a much more efficient after-combat healer but still does nothing for the in-combat situation. So that still leaves Seth as our main/only healer in battle, but I’ll probably add Battle Medicine at some future point just to take some of the load off him.

Read Lips was one of those things that I’ve been planning to take since Level 1; it was just a question of when I’d be able to fit it in. It’s a very investigator-flavored thing to have: if you see two ne’er-do-wells talking but can’t get close enough to hear them, you still have a chance to work out what they’re saying. If Sherlock Holmes didn’t know how to read lips, he certainly would’ve seen the value of it. As far as choosing Arcana as my skill to train… deep down I know doing my own crafting is probably a pipe dream (between magic items being easily available in stores, and the amount of TIME it takes to craft), but I figure training in Arcana will also make some of my wizard-y stuff a little easier. Among other things, I’m probably going to have to rely on learning spells by copying from scrolls, and a higher level in Arcana will make that process easier.

So we have level 3 characters, and we have our new mission… investigate the Dreaming Palace hotel. It’s the most tangible lead we have, and since Hoff openly admits the stonemasons went there, we don’t even need to engage in any subterfuge to rationalize our visit. We’re literally cops following up on the known whereabouts of missing persons… back on familiar ground.

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 week.

The Sideshow S2|03: The Barghest Bargain

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|03: Hungry Like the Wolf.

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve, so I’m going to try and bang this week’s Sideshow out early so we can all do whatever we’re going to be doing at midnight. I mean… unless you really WANT this column to be your way to usher in 2021, in which case… have at it.

Now, Steve has his extended Show Notes/State Of The Union/GM Blood Feud piece at the end, but I’m not really going to get into that too much here. Not that it’s not an interesting debate, but I already put some pretty extensive thoughts in my other column, and while I don’t mind repeating one or two sentences for both audiences, repeating half the column reaches a point of limiting returns. So if you want my thoughts on Steve’s thoughts on that dude Cody’s thoughts… I’d direct you to this week’s Bird’s Eye View.

Besides, I really want to dig into this barghest situation. Here I was thinking we were going to get a crunchy combat episode, and we instead ended up in a diplomatic negotiation with interesting dynamics all around, and a cliffhanger situation that may hang over the circus’ entire tenure in Escodar.

Jumping ahead a bit, I absolutely LOVE that a decision made a month or two earlier (saving and befriending Riley) turned out to be the thing upon which the negotiation hinged. So time to dispense some credit – first to Loren for having Hap come up with the idea. A different player might have missed it entirely or dismissed it as a “nah it’ll never work” plan. But that’s where I have to give Steve credit as well. One of the things I appreciate about Steve as a GM is if you are willing to put the story first, so will he. If you do something outside the box to make your character and the story more interesting – even if it’s suboptimal for your character in the short term – he will find a way to make it pay off in the long term. Loren taking an animal companion was probably suboptimal compared to another way to make things blow up, but it made for a more interesting character, and now it might have just averted a TPK. And in a way that was totally organic to the story. Well done on both sides of the GM screen.

I was also amused/honored that they thought to bring me in to play Riley, but that would have been kind of weird. I have to admit I like hearing these shows with a relatively fresh set of ears, and knowing what was going to be happening several weeks in advance might have had downsides. If you match up the timelines, as they were recording this, I’m guessing Riley would have been introduced, but Hap wouldn’t have taken him on as an animal companion yet. So there would’ve been some mild spoilers about Hap’s future build if I’d jumped in then. For whatever that’s worth. On the other hand, I don’t want to get TOO precious about spoilers, because I end up getting a few spoilers anyway just through general bullshitting in our group chat or when we play Among Us or whatever.

So… OK, we have a temporarily pacified greater barghest. Now what?

The first question is: would it REALLY have been a TPK if they’d tried to fight it? Looking at the stat block, I can sort of see a path to victory, but it would’ve been rough. It isn’t TOTALLY impervious to physical damage, but DR 10 is pretty significant, and a DR 10 against fire might not be a problem for other parties, but when your main cannon is almost entirely fire-oriented as a roleplay choice… oof. The other case in favor is that it actually doesn’t have a TON of hit points once you get past the DR… only about 100. But there are still other factors to consider. First, the cave made for a tough combat environment where it might have been tough to get people into their best positions or get sightlines for attacks. And there’s the barghest’s special abilities which we only started to explore toward the end: several at-will spell abilities and they tend to have a mutation (poison fangs, poison breath, WINGS) that we hadn’t really seen yet. So, especially having already been beaten up a little by the more conventional wolves, I think negotiation was the right call in the short term.

Long term? Hooooooo… boy. There we’ve got some issues.

First, there’s the matter of getting past inspection. THAT’S the part I actually think I have an answer for. Theoretically, they could have the barghest just turn into goblin form, blend in with THEIR circus for a day (what’s one more goblin in a circus camp full of weird outsider folks?) while the town guard inspects the cave. They’ll see the dead wolf carcasses, and declare it clean; once the town signs off on it, the barghest could quietly move back into the cave. There’s still a long-term issue there, but it would get over the short term hump of securing the site.

How do you get rid of the barghest entirely? That part’s a little tricker.

The first choice is to just be oathbreakers. Take a night’s rest to get all your resources back and hit it at full strength. Heck, go buy some (non-fire) alchemical bombs to “magic up” the fight. Quick and to the point, and frankly, if they fight JUST the barghest with all their resources, I feel like they could pull it off. As far as breaking the oath: they don’t have any Lawful Stupid party members and the thing is chaotic evil, so… (shrug)… do it to them before they do it to us?

The second choice is to maintain the truce based on mutual hatred of the Celestial Menagerie. “The enemy of my enemy still lives in a cave near my camp and might decide to chew my face off”… UNLESS I give it a compelling reason to let me stick around. You could argue that the barghest MIGHT be enticed by “our success will deal a significant blow to the people who imprisoned and tortured you, so let us be an instrument of your revenge”. Problem is, that would require a willingness on the part of the barghest to play the long game rather than indulge the instant gratification of face-eating.

And here’s where we get into the deep-dive idea. Barghests are not as pure evil as a dumb animal would be; they have a higher motivation. Once greater barghests mature, they usually want to try to get back to their home plane of the Abyss. Our new… friend?… doesn’t actually WANT to be here. So I don’t know what sorts of spells or rituals might be available, but if the party could help it get back HOME-home, that might be the one win-win scenario that lets everyone walk away with their faces intact. But that would require further research by the party to understand its motives, AND it would need access to the right magic to help get it back home. Both of which are question marks at this point.

Meanwhile… one accident with someone exploring its cave, and all hell might break loose, to say nothing what might happen if the CM finds “their” wayward pet. AND they still have a second path to clear before the land is ready to use. Just another day in the circus life, right?

And that’s where we’ll leave things for calendar year 2020. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord server or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you both next week AND next year.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|15: The Afterlife Of The Party

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|15: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ’Em.

Welcome to the last Bird’s Eye View of 2020. Finally. (I hope we’re on the same page that I’m talking about the year and not my writing.)

I’m not going to get too far into Steve’s ongoing kerfuffle, and I sure as hell don’t want to kick off Edition Wars #3894. Though if you’ll indulge in one moment of snark, if your complaint about 2E is that you “do the same thing all the time,” feel free to Google “5E warlock memes” and get back to me. ELDRITCH BLAST! Having said that, I will offer a little player perspective on what I’ve noticed about Second Edition after having mucked about with it basically since release.

First, the meta-level. Maybe it’s just that I look at this activity differently. At a meta-level, this whole discussion comes at it from the standpoint of a “game” to be won or lost. At least within my adult life playing with friends, I have always looked at it as more of an exercise in collaborative storytelling. The game rules just happen to give it a little shape and maybe to prevent one player from dominating the action. And yes, the GM holds a little more power since they represent The Story and they arbitrate the rules, but at some level… if the rules are getting in the way of the story, that’s a conversation you need to have with your GM.

Don’t get me wrong, rules have their place. I’ve been at tables where the game ran on the rails of the GM’s whim to the point where the rules were arbitrary. You CAN go too far in the other direction. But when in doubt, put the story first and the dice-throwing second, and you’ll usually come up with the right answer.

I ABSOLUTELY echo Steve’s comments about party tactics playing a more vibrant role in Second Edition. The use of abilities is one part of it, but the one thing I didn’t see Steve mention is that this system favors movement and hit-and-run tactics. A lot of the older systems, including First Edition Pathfinder, were pretty “tank-and-spank”: your armored guys clogged up the front line, absorbed shots, and hit anything that tried to get by them with attacks of opportunity. Meanwhile, your squishies sat in the back and either healed or burned down enemies with direct damage. With attacks of opportunity being much less common and enemies commonly having a significant advantage in attack bonuses, it’s a real paradigm shift. Enemy third attacks are as viable as your second attack, so standing toe-to-toe trading three shots per round is a losing proposition, no matter how good your armor is. This was a hard-learned lesson playing the ostensibly tanky Champion class in our Plaguestone game. Marched out to meet a group of killer shrubs because that’s what the tank is supposed to do; got beat down in one round.

Similarly, with crits being easier to achieve, it’s quite often less about how you can squeeze out another die of damage and more about how you can make crits happen on offense or prevent them on defense, which has placed a new premium on status effects. One or two more dice of damage may make you feel good at the moment it hits, but giving a creature a -2 or taking away one of its actions every turn by slowing it… those are the things that win fights.

Part of what drove this lesson home for me was having Basil dip in the wizard archetype. With the wizard archetype, you get ONE spell slot per level at first (though there’s a feat to get a second slot at higher levels). And don’t get me wrong… that’s kinda frustrating. But a side effect of that is that it’s almost completely changed my thinking about how to pick Basil’s spells. If I get ONE spell, am I going to use that on ONE direct damage strike that basically gambles my entire casting reservoir on one roll of the die? Or am I going to use that on something that has a one-minute duration and can potentially impact the next 10 rounds of the fight?

Like I said, I’m not going to deep dive as much as Steve did, but those were a few thoughts that have occurred to me over the year-plus we’ve been playing 2E.

On with this week’s show… and we FINALLY make it to the party. And it’s a themed party, where the different rooms of the party are themed based on the alignment-based planes.

Now… I have to admit, I got a little flustered early on. I had concocted an entire cover based on my backstory… Basil studies law and his mom is a judge, so I thought of using a known shady lawyer who could’ve invited me so I’d have a reason to be there. I was loaded for bear, from a roleplaying standpoint. But I never really came up with a plan for the hostess, just flat-out not believing me. So that was kinda awkward.

(And OK, if the hostess wasn’t going to believe me anyway, might as well have used a fake name. On the one hand, I hope that won’t come back to bite us later; on the other, if one thinks about one’s own real-life experience with parties, do YOU take down every name you hear just in case it becomes relevant later?)

Early on, the “system” behind the party becomes apparent. Each room has a theme, a challenge (usually skill-based), and an NPC of some importance. You PROBABLY (but maybe not always) have to do the challenge to get the NPC interested in talking to you. And the description of the guards strongly suggests this shouldn’t end in combat – both for better (that wasn’t the author of the AP’s intent) and for worse (if we screw this up badly enough that it reaches combat, we WILL lose badly).

One thing I idly wonder about is the initial judging. Is there a method to the madness? Are the initial challenges assigned randomly? Could it be based on alignment? Does Steve pick them based on what would fit our skills or make for good storytelling? It did seem – whether pre-ordained or luck of the draw – that most of us got challenges that aligned reasonably well with our abilities. Gomez gets a riddle, Dougie a wrestling match… heck, even though I got chomped by the griffin, my problem was more the low rolls than that the challenge tested the wrong skills.

But I love the concept… an afterlife themed party with different rooms representing the different planes? It’s just so cool. Too bad the guest list is all thugs and gangsters.

The one other thing that stuck out about this episode was Dougie’s almost complete lack of guile while on this mission. I’m still trying to figure out what Dougie’s “deal” is, from a roleplaying standpoint. Is he Forrest Gump, but a cop? Is he Clark Kent, hiding a much more savvy form beneath a cloddish exterior? All I know is I half expected him to just come out and admit to the assassin that he was a cop, so… kudos to John for some solid roleplay there.

As we do our initial information-gathering, we don’t learn a lot (yet… still plenty more rooms), but there are a few interesting nuggets. First, there’s the hint about “people wanting to leave their old lives behind”. That may or may not apply to the stonemasons, but that fits the menagerie owner and the veterinarian who are having an affair to a T. Also… the ochre jelly. I know the cover story is “garbage disposal” but that IMMEDIATELY sounds like a way to dispose of bodies. And I feel like we’re going to be fighting it at some future point, as soon as we figure out who bought it and where it currently lives. But if you’re looking for “Colonel Mustard, in the study, with the lead pipe” levels of clarity… we’re not there yet.

But like I said, plenty more rooms to search; we’ll just have to do it in 2021.

As this is the last column of the year, I just wanted to give a special thanks for listening to our show this year. One thing 2020 has done is made me more philosophical about things. It’s been such a rough year for so many, and we all search for little moments of normalcy however we can get them. If Roll For Combat has provided a little bit of that for you… I’m truly touched that we can do our small part to make a weird year a little more pleasant around the edges.

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 both next week AND next year.

The Sideshow S2|02: You Dropped A Bomb On Me

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|02: Welcome to Dariusland.

Merry Christmas (Eve), Happy Holidays, or maybe COVID’s thrown a wrench in your plans and you’re just riding out the 51st Thursday of 2020. We’re now squarely into the time of the year where I have lots of extra time on my hands, both for better and for worse. For better, Steve may be able to squeeze a few product reviews out of me since I have three weeks off work; the bad is that this is traditionally when I catch up on my yearly quota of naps and work on my backlog of unplayed or underplayed video games.

I’m going to start, as I often do with a couple of comments on Steve’s show notes.

His point about “what you say” vs. “what you do” is well taken. Maybe it’s a function of playing with him longer and developing a sense of what he’s looking for, but our Edgewatch group MOSTLY has figured that part out. Every once in a while we’ll get our descriptions ahead of our actions and get a “put your character where you’re going to be” admonishment, but we’ve developed a decent feel for it overall. Heck, the whole idea of “Greyhawking” an area comes from having a pretty good sense of when an area is “done”.

If our group has a sticking point, it’s the difference between four (or five) people moving individually vs. moving as a group, but in our case, I honestly think it’s more communication on the player end than anything Steve’s doing. We’ll be exploring an area and someone (lately John, given that he’s been playing characters that are impulsive by design) will just go move his character into a new room just to make something happen. This triggers whatever trap or encounter lies within, but the party as a whole will be spread out over several rooms and lose a turn or two of combat just getting everyone back into the same room. But again, that’s mostly party communication on our end; not Steve’s fault. We’ve SOMEWHAT mitigated that by specifically coming up with the “move as a party” mode where we put ourselves in formation and Steve assumes we’re all moving together, but even then, we sometimes forget to do it.

We also sometimes run into a little combat issue with the whole “did you take your hand off the piece” mentality from chess. Sometimes in combat, we’ll talk through our actions and even move our characters on the map to sort of walk through the logic of what we’re about to do, but then sometimes decide the first plan isn’t going to work and do something else. Every once in a while, especially if that bumps into a trap or something, it can create a situation where we go around a few times with Steve about whether it’s a test move or our actual move. But those are pretty rare occurrences as well.

Speaking of traps, I also wanted to briefly address traps, though I also wrote about this in the last Bird’s Eye View and I don’t want to totally repeat myself. My position on traps is that I like CLEVER traps; dumb ones can go die in a fire. I like traps that make the party think and challenge them as characters, as opposed to a straight damage sink that drains healing resources without really adding anything to the larger story. Give me a trap that reroutes the party into a different part of the dungeon, or a riddle that has to be solved or something. Just “roll to see how many of your healing potions you have to burn through”… it just doesn’t really add anything memorable. Unless someone dies and it’s memorable for the wrong reasons.

Moving on to the show itself… let’s talk friendly fire. By far the most interesting moment of this week’s show was when Hap decided to nuke her own position (and Alhara) to get the dire wolf.

First things first: should friendly fire even exist? I would say, unless it’s literally someone’s first game and you’re teaching them the basics of how to play, yes. Precision and learning to control your combat tools are part of the game. Part of the reason a fireball is “only” a 3rd level spell is that the caster can blow themselves up if they’re not careful with it. Take that away, and you’re getting a much powerful spell at a discount.

(Oddly, I DON’T feel this way playing video games. When I’m playing Dragon Age or Neverwinter… I can’t be bothered. Friendly fire: OFF. Don’t ask me to explain the logical inconsistency… I can’t.)

What’s more interesting is the question of whether you should be allowed to blow up your party-mates as a question of player agency. It’s one thing to do the heroic sacrifice and blow yourself up to save the team: that can create some pretty great story moments. Tuttle did that once in Dead Suns… set off a grenade at his own feet because he was pretty likely to survive but the 2-3 already-damaged foes nearby would not. But when you’re talking about making that choice for someone else and putting damage on a teammate, the question gets a little dicier. Personally, I think it should be an option, but I’d say… and sorry if I sound like an HR manager here… this is one of those things the gaming group needs to have a conversation about and agree on what their policy (I know, I know… groan) is. If not, it has the potential to lead to bad blood if the group finds out about a difference of opinion the hard way. Heck, it almost sounded like it was headed that way here; people seemed a little testy with Loren there for a minute.

I also just think it’s a more dangerous strategy in Second Edition because the combat is already so punishing compared to First Edition. You’ve already got party members fighting on the brink of death on a regular basis as is. Now you’re gonna add in damage from your own teammates? Ow.

Speaking of the brink of death… poor Darius this week, having to deal with the double whammy of being the meat shield AND fighting off poison damage in the same fight. And, other than maybe the cockatrice all the way back at Level 1, this is the first time in a while we’ve really seen poison have some teeth. Luckily for Darius, this was one of those poisons that has a short duration, but it could’ve been much much worse.

One funny moment: I did crack up when Hap suggested clearing the grove by just blasting everything with fireballs. Cool. Then the circus’ first show can be a benefit performance to raise money to rebuild all the townspeople’s burned-down houses!

As we end the episode, the team is just getting over the hump against the wolves, and it turns out they’re not the BIG threat; there’s a bigger, nastier entity controlling them. Ruh-roh! But I guess we’ll learn more about that creature and see how the party fares next week. For now, time to enjoy some Christmas cheer or the nearest facsimile thereof. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|14: Fight For Your Fight To Party

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|14: Kiss of Death.

I wanted to start with a brief plug which I mentioned in The Sideshow but wanted to also mention here because I don’t know who reads one column or the other (or both). RFC’s own Vanessa Hoskins has a new show debuting called “Super SmashFinder”, and the first episode is dropping tonight at 9 pm. My understanding is it’s what you would expect from the title: Second Edition Pathfinder in an arena-style combat setting. So if you enjoy our shenanigans, or even just if you’re curious about seeing Second Edition in a slightly different, more bloodthirsty context… you might want to check it out.

On to this week’s show, and my first point is to give the player perspective of Steve’s GM notes. Especially since he’s talking about things “players hate”.

First, let’s talk about traps. Overall, I like traps. I’ll do one better… I LOVE traps. Heck, I bought all of the Grimtooth’s Traps compendiums as a kid, just because the coolest traps in those were diabolically fun. (A little too fixated on killing people on the toilet, but we’ll unpack that some other time.) Done well, a trap is a nice way to break up monster fight after monster fight and test the party’s ability to do something other than swing swords and huck fireballs.

However, I do ask two things from my traps.

First, I ask that they be used sparingly enough to still be a surprise. WAY back in my teenage years, I played a dungeon where every room was a trap, and that just reached a point of over-saturation. The game reduced to a boring slog, as we poked every surface with 10-foot poles, double-checked every door handle and lock for traps… ugh. Some people got WAY too fixated on Tomb Of Horrors as a kid and it shows.

I also like inventive traps or traps that fit the feel and setting of the dungeon more than generic “ohbytheyway, the floor is gone and there are spikes below” filler traps that are just filling the role of A Challenge That Is Not Combat. WHO BUILDS A CASTLE BALLROOM WITH COLLAPSIBLE FLOORS? PEOPLE DANCE THERE! Adjacent to that, I prefer traps that challenge the party rather than just try to kill them outright. It’s far more interesting to me when the trap represents a puzzle to be solved, rather than just dumping a bunch of damage on you and draining your healing resources.

Now… poison, disease, and such… I think what frustrates me about those is that the effects seem to be asymmetrical: whether true or just a matter of perception, it always feels like they’re less effective when the party uses them, compared to when the bad guys do. Part of it is that enemies generally have higher saves than the players, making it SO hard to get a poison or disease effect to really stick in the heat of combat. The other half of the equation is the “stickiness” of status effects – the party has to live through the long tail of getting rid of the thing, whereas the GM just gets to roll in a truckload of new monsters that don’t have it. Put those two together, and it’s a case where Your Poison and My Poison don’t seem to be equally matched, and THAT’s what I find frustrating. If my poison killed monsters as effectively as it kills us… cool!

Having dispensed with Steve’s pre-game for the week, let’s turn to live-action, and I have to start with a confession. I forgot entirely about the worm. I remembered the body in the pit, but I forgot we had to fight the worm to reach it; I thought it was just an abandoned corpse in a pool of water. I mean, it was a quick fight, so it’s sort of understandable, but still. Hey, at least Basil got the kill shot, so there’s that.

Now, there’s some debate over whether this mage is the one who went missing (Kemenelis? – the kid looking for his mentor… that guy), but my gut says no. First, it may not have been clear from how Steve phrased it, but it looks like this body has been dead longer than Kemenelis has been missing, so PROBABLY not him. Also, at a more meta-game level, Paizo tends to be a bit more obvious with their breadcrumbs; I feel like if this was the guy, there’d be a journal or a spellbook or he’d be wearing an “I’m An Important NPC” T-shirt. So most likely just another John Doe, fallin’ prey to the mean streets. (Feel free to imagine Basil lighting a cigarette and adjusting a non-existent fedora while saying that.)

The second fight is a bit more interesting and DEFINITELY more completely unnecessary. I guess I sort of agree with the prevailing rationale that we can’t leave bound prisoners behind when there may be a threat to their well-being, but still. Continuing to explore when we basically knew where the entrance to the party was bordered on “Adventurers Not Cops” mode for me and felt a little bit off. But I also didn’t want to sit and argue about it for 20 minutes, so… sometimes you go along with it.

So we go south when all the merriment is coming from the north, and we draw one more fight, this time against vargouilles. I can’t find a Second Edition reference for them (new in the adventure path, maybe?), but in First Edition, the book on them is they’re not very powerful (less than 20 hit points) but have a lot of special abilities that can make your life suck. A scream that causes paralysis, poison, and a disease that eventually turns the victim into a vargouille (hence all the jokes about Seth’s head detaching). And sure enough, the scream puts half the party out of action, but we’re still able to take care of business fairly efficiently, with Basil even getting the kill shot on one of them. (Between that and the worm, it was a good night for Basil’s Devise A Stratagem.) Granted, we still might have to worry about Gomez turning on us, but we can figure that out AFTER the party. In the meantime… in the words of gym teachers everywhere… walk it off.

So… a little prestidigitation, stash any gear that’s too obvious to hide, and it’s FINALLY time to rub elbows with the Who’s Who of Absalom’s underground element. As I’ve hinted before, this had better not end in actual combat, because we’ve burned through a lot of resources just getting here. I have a kinda-sorta plan for myself, but I’m not sure what the rest of the party is going to do. Particularly Dougie… never sure which way that wind is gonna blow. I guess we’ll find out what happens next week.

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