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Talking Plaguestone 04: Float Like A Bloodseeker, Sting Like A Bee

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 04: Ghost Bee Gone.

It’s a fun week on Roll For Combat as it’s a mostly combat-oriented episode with a pair of encounters. Granted, the whole adventure did kick off with the fight against the wolfpack, but that one was over pretty quickly and was mostly straight melee, except for Celes casting a few spells. This time, between the stirges and the bees, we got to explore a few more situations and got a little deeper into our powers.

Brixley, in particular, got to test out a couple of his champion abilities. The first class feature to get the spotlight is Liberating Step. The short version is basically what I described on the show – if someone within 15 feet gets grappled, I can use a reaction to give them a free chance to break free. It’s actually got a few additional wrinkles that I didn’t cover. It can also confer damage resistance (2 + my level) and/or can let the target take a Step. So, it’s actually a pretty neat and versatile little ability, even if it’s a LITTLE bit situation-dependent.

(As a side note, the Paladin equivalent lets the champion take a free swing in return when an ally takes a hit, and the Redeemer can either nullify damage entirely or confer an enfeeble effect on the enemy.)

The other class ability to make it into play is good ol’ Lay On Hands, the staple of the first-edition class. First, yes, all flavors of Champion get Lay On Hands; it’s not just for Paladins anymore. It’s the same basic concept as in first edition, but with a few new mechanical wrinkles. Within the action economy, it’s just a single action – nice and simple. Next, the damage healed is just a flat 6 points per level – no randomness. (However, if you use it as a damage spell against undead, you still roll for damage.) The bigger change is that the number of uses changes – it used to be a flat number of uses per day (half your level + CHA modifier); now it’s based on the mechanism of focus points, which can be regenerated with a 10-minute rest. Cliff’s Notes version: the first-edition paladin can use it more in a single encounter (especially at higher levels) since you can have no more than three Focus Points, but the second-edition champion can replenish them instead of having a finite pool. After-heals galore!

So the stirge fight went fairly quickly, leaving only a little residual guilt on my part that Brixley was the only person who didn’t take any damage. (Sorry, everyone!) We roll the Grumpy Old Man back to town, collect some experience, have a little lunch, and it’s time to get back to the murder investigation at the heart of the story. Our next lead to follow up on is the cook, Amora, who has been absent since Bort’s murder, so it’s off to her house.

And greeeat. Not only do we have a battle against a swarm – one of my least favorite things to fight (it’s either that or incorporeal creatures) – but Brixley continues his gradual descent into slapstick comic relief by stumbling into the bee swarm unawares. Falling in mud, getting punched in a bar brawl, stumbling into a bunch of bees… Brixley is gradually becoming a Warner Bros cartoon character. Which may represent a good career change for him, because he’s totally useless in this particular fight. (I mean, I guess I “did some damage” by letting them sting me? Does that count?)

Fortunately, Prue and Celes manage to be FAR more useful. Statistically speaking, Celes’ fire fingers probably ended up doing the most damage but you have to admit that Prue killing bees with ghosts wins the battle for style points. WITH GHOSTS, people. We also get to see Hero Points in action. I’m going to be honest: I’m not sure how I feel about random do-overs as a game mechanic (seems kinda cheap), but if they’re part of the system, I’ll find a way to get comfortable with them sooner rather than later.

Finally, as we kill off the bees, Amora comes out of her shack with the tools that would’ve been far more useful for the job. Amora invites us in, which leads to both a snack that Winnie the Pooh would envy and a lead on the mystery – it turns out Bort’s bowl has a floral poison-y scent that Amora doesn’t recognize. Presuming we believe her, that means we’re narrowing things down to one of the kitchen staff – either Finnick/Pinnick the goblin who plated it, and Trin who actually served it to the table. Full disclaimer… first edition habits die hard, so I’m blaming the goblin until further notice. As a side mission, we (but mostly Celes) convince Amora to return to work, thus saving turnip-based cuisine for the people of Plaguestone. Yay?

The one thing I probably should have asked a lot earlier is if the woman who has all sorts of beekeeping equipment had any sort of remedy for bee-sting poisoning. You’d think someone who keeps bees would cover all her bases. Does the world of Golarion even have the equivalent of an EpiPen? But unfortunately I don’t think of it until the poison has already cleared my system, so oh well… opportunity missed.

And that’s where we break for the session. We have two new suspects to investigate, a dead body to scrutinize more closely, and Celes has an inside track on special turnip-and-honey concoctions that the general public can only dream of. Brixley? I’d just settle for not enduring some low-grade cartoonish humiliation, thanks. Hope you’ll join us next week to see where the mystery leads; 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.

Talking Plaguestone 03: The Plaguestone Home Companion

Prairie Home Companion

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 03: Murder By Death.

This week we have one of those transitional episodes – there’s no combat (until the last 10 seconds), but it’s also not a full-on social skills challenge either. It’s mostly just setting the table – fleshing out the story points, introducing most of the major NPCs, delivering a little bit of plot exposition and setting. You have these moments, particularly early on in a story. The weird thing is the tonal shift in the middle – we start with a very well-defined murder mystery vibe going, and then – kind of abruptly, frankly – shift into this more folksy “Prairie Home Companion” vibe where we’re pushing the old guy around and getting a history lesson about the town.

First things first, I was a LITTLE worried the sheriff might try to pin the murder on us and the thrust of the campaign would be to prove ourselves innocent. Unless there’s one heck of a plot twist coming, that doesn’t appear to be the case – John Law just feels a little overmatched (or… lazy) and wants to deputize us to do the heavy lifting of solving Bort’s murder. Certainly, Brixley is up for that; despite being more chaotic than lawful, he’s still got that do-gooder gene going for him. You can’t live free if you’re dead.

I do have to admit the idea that we couldn’t leave the town for a month until the judge gets back is a bit contrived, and would also annoy Brixley as an alignment thing. It’s not like they have a large standing militia or walls that would… you know… stop us from leaving. For half a second, I thought about staging a mutiny and seeing what would happen if we tried to leave… after all, except for the town bully, who would stop us? But I think that would’ve just pisssed Steve off, and sometimes you just roll with things to keep the story moving. Episode 3 is a little early to be peeing in the punchbowl.

Going back and listening, I feel like I sound kind of stupid asking “are we sure Bort was poisoned” but I more meant it as “should we check the body for bite marks on the off chance he got bit by the wolves and got some sort of disease, but we didn’t notice?”. So it wasn’t a COMPLETE reach, but yes… I do recognize poisoned porridge is the 99th-percentile answer to this puzzle. I’m not a complete moron.

Or maybe it was a severe turnip allergy. But wait… if he’s been coming here for years, he probably would’ve had an incident before now. Never mind.

So we participate in the impromptu wake for Bert… errr… Bort (OK, that amused me when Vanessa did that) and Cade takes some very cursory first steps toward investigating the murder itself. But then we go to bed because we’re tired, wake up the next morning, and our murder mystery has morphed into that really clunky reboot of Are You Being Served? where they move out to the country farm, and we’re doing chores, including pushing the latest iteration of Mister Grace around in his wheelchair.

As we do this, we get a lore-dump on the history of the town… there’s a witch that may have put a curse on the town, a PowerPoint on their turnip-based economy, all the good stuff. We finally arrive at a shrine to Gozreh, where… oh Celes… OF COURSE you don’t go walking up to abandoned shrines. Yup, time to fight some Things We Used to Call Stirges. The official name is “bloodseekers” now. And that’s where we pick things up next week.

My personal unofficial side mission this episode was to start to figure out how Brixley is going to relate to the rest of the party on a roleplay level. I fully admit it takes me a few sessions to figure out where my character fits, especially when playing with mostly-new players.

The relationship with Celes is taking shape most quickly. Initial positive vibes built by the fact that she chose to trust him with the secret of her magic use, but he kind of sees the naivete and “fish out of water”-ness and will probably feel like he’s got a little bit of an obligation to watch her back. (I mean, Brixley’s naïve too in his own way, but nobody tell him that.)

Cade… there’s probably going to be a little battle between the Chaotic and the Good sides that has to work itself out in Brixley’s head. On one hand, another affable short guy to help close the bar is a good thing; on the other hand, Brixley might take a dim view of things like picking pockets during a bar fight. Some of that will also depend on the choices Rob makes, but for right now, it’s superficially friendly, but with a little bit of internal “better keep an eye on that guy” vibe. Never take your eye off the guy with concealed daggers.

Prue? There’s probably going to be a little bit of “top dog” competitive tension as they’re the two heavy fighters of the team. There’s some basic level of respect for the fact that she’s a formidable warrior, but between his noble background and some level of (over-)confidence that his deity makes him right about stuff, I could see there starting to be some tensions if/when this (in his view) “scruffy barbarian with sketchy ghost magic” starts bossing him around. Or it could turn into a Legolas-Gimli thing where they’ll start keeping score of body counts. I guess we’ll just have to see.

The one thing I think I’ve been doing “wrong” the first few episodes is that Brixley is reasonably high-Charisma, and also a bit of an idealistic crusader. So he should probably be stepping up and taking charge a little more (or at least assuming he’s in charge) than I’ve been doing, and I’ve been a little more passive these first couple episodes. Something to work on for future episodes.

So… bit of a transition episode this week, but we’ll get back into the thick of combat next week and try to keep our blood from being sucked out of our bodies. Feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show, and we’ll see you back here next week. Thanks for listening!

Talking Plaguestone 02: Today’s Specials, Turnips and Knuckle Sandwiches

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 02: Barroom Blitz.

So much for a nice relaxing night at the Turnip-Town Inn, I guess. A bar brawl, a murder mystery… a little bit of everything.

I have to admit I didn’t plan on taking such a… well… boozy, take on Brixley when we started this thing. On one hand, he is a follower of Cayden Cailean, so I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense. The trick is to not turn him into too much of a “drunken dwarf” trope. I’ll have to play around with it a little and find a way to give him some shades of something else; in the meantime, at least for this session, we had someone who was both a heavier drinker and an actual dwarf to make Brixley look normal by comparison. That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

I’m also caught in a little bit of a bind because Champion is somewhat of a Charisma-based class, which lends itself to “face of the party” things, but it’s not my natural role as a player. I’m usually good leaving that to someone else. (In our longer-running gaming group, Bob tends to gravitate toward those types of characters a lot.) In particular, I’m going to feel a little bit silly when 3-foot-tall Brixley will be forced to try and Intimidate someone who’s multiple feet taller than himself.

Which is not to say I wasn’t about to give it a try with Hallod, the bully who was hassling the waiter. Among other things, I think it came down to and highlighted the difference between, the paladin and liberator champion variants. If I was playing a classic lawful good paladin, I probably would’ve gone ahead and called Hallod on his behavior, maybe even fought him. That absolutely seems like the lawful good thing to do. On the other hand, chaotic good feels like it can be a little more lackadaisical about stuff like that – yeah, Hallod was being kind of a jerk, but short of physical abuse, it’s up to the bar to decide what to do about an unruly customer. For all I know, maybe they pay the waiter extra to put up with stuff like that. Hallod’s free to be his authentic self, even if his authentic self is an asshole.

Also, the waiter is a goblin. Both as a mild roleplay thing and as an out-of-character sensibility, I’m not quite ready to get my ass kicked on behalf of a goblin. Still not sold on letting them be good guys.

Shortly thereafter we had the bar brawl break out, and I thought having Brixley try to play peacemaker felt like the right call. My initial knee-jerk reaction was to jump in on the waiter’s side, but somehow it didn’t seem wise to wade in as an outsider and start punching people on our first night in town. You never know who might be the mayor’s son or – at a meta-game level – might be the NPC you need to talk to later when he sobers up. Also, more as a roleplay thing, Brixley was still tired from falling in the mud, so it didn’t seem like he’d really want to be aggressive in his involvement. So I decided to tie up the drunk guy and got a punch in the face for my troubles. Yay!

Overall, the fight was a fun interlude. Since it was non-lethal damage, the stakes were pretty low, and there was some fun stuff going on – Cade trying to pick people’s pockets while they were fighting, Prue trying to flip the table only to find it bolted to the floor… all we were really missing was the stereotypical Hollywood bar-fight “drunk who is mysteriously adept at keeping his drink safe while the bar gets trashed all around him”. OK, the creepy drunk guy was a little uncomfortable for a second, but Prue took care of that pretty handily.

I do wonder if that fight was supposed to run a little longer and was condensed for time, though. Going back and doing the math, the owner (I forget her name) left to get the town constable and they came back, like… two rounds later. So apparently it takes 12 seconds to go halfway across town and get the law. Burying the lede: Plaguestone is clearly a town of people who have mastered teleportation! I think in my personal head-canon, maybe this happens so often he hangs around outside and waits for the sounds of brawling to make his entrance. (Or we can just return to Occam’s Razor and assume Steve trimmed it for time, so we would hit the cliffhanger at the end of the episode. In which case… good for him. GM’ing is ultimately storytelling, and ending on a murder serves the story better than 15 minutes of Punching Drunks For Fun And Profit.)

Speaking of the cliff-hanger… I have to admit Steve sold that death pretty well. Even though I made an unintentionally accurate joke about the porridge being poisoned, I fully admit I was fooled in the moment and the joke was just that. When Steve first started coughing, I really thought he just got some water down the wrong pipe or something. So… good sell there. Going back and listening again, The Right Thing To Do was probably burn my Lay On Hands just to see if it would help, but (putting on the meta-game hat) I don’t think LoH would really work against poison, and at a story level, I’m pretty sure the murder is what’s going to drive action, so it pretty much had to go that way.

I’ll end with two more big-picture notes about the show that stood out for me.

First, the lack of intro and outro is a little… weird. Not bad weird, maybe even good weird. But after almost two years of listening to Steve set the episode up and do his song-and-dance after, it’s a little bit of an adjustment to not hear those things.

The other… I have to admit when I went back and listened, I felt a little self-conscious about the couple times I cracked jokes, particularly the two pop-culture references (both Monty Python, oddly enough). I’m still figuring out the balance between “this is my game too, I’m gonna be me and play how I like to play” and “we’ve got people at this table who want to take roleplaying a little more seriously, so I’ll try to try and rise to meet that standard”. Maybe not all the way – I still don’t do voices – but possibly toning down my usual silliness just a touch. (Which is also not to suggest anyone else LACKS humor – everyone’s pretty funny when we’re BSing before the show; some people are just more locked in once the virtual camera starts rolling.)

That’s all I have for this week. Next week, we’ve got a dead dwarf at our table, and we gotta figure out who or what might have killed him. We’ve got the weapon (porridge) and the location (tavern), we just have to figure who Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet of this town are. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

Talking Plaguestone 01: Something Old, Something New, Something Brixley, Something Prue

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat: The Fall of Plaguestone, Episode 01: Fleas to Meet You.

Out of the shadows, the morning is breaking, and all is new… all is new…

Welcome to the first episode of Roll For Combat’s Pathfinder Second Edition (informally, PF2… less typing) actual play podcast. We’ve got a new game system to try out. We’ve got a mostly-new cast, except for myself and Steve. We’ve got a new adventure, The Fall of Plaguestone, to put to the test. It’s an exciting time here at the RFC Mothership.

Starting with myself and working outwards, let me talk about Brixley a little bit. The initial choice of playing a champion was mostly a result of what I WASN’T doing in my other two games. Over in our Starfinder game, I’m playing a Mechanic – if you’re not familiar with Starfinder, a Mechanic is a skills monkey character who’s not very good in combat (but makes up for it by having a drone that can take up some of the slack). In my Dads-n-Kids game, I play in the outside world, I’m playing a 5E Warlock, so I just sit back and Eldritch Blast things until they stop moving. So I wanted to get up front and hit stuff this time around, but I also wanted to play around with some sort of magic or additional powers as well. I considered playing a Monk, but those tend to be a little squishy at low levels and we’re learning a new system, so I figured sword-and-board would be a safer choice. Hence, Champion.

If there were a family portrait of the Pathfinder classes, Champions now sit in the chair that Paladins used to occupy in First Edition. Paladins still exist as the lawful good variant of Champions, while neutral good Champions are “Redeemers” and chaotic good Champions are “Liberators”. Brixley is a Liberator – more of a roleplaying choice; I didn’t want to play a lawful good square, and I wasn’t getting a good feel for what a Redeemer is all about. It almost felt like the Guilt-Trip Champion – I’m going to make you feel bad for your evil acts. As opposed to a Paladin, who flat-out kills you for your evil acts.

A Liberator is more “I’m going to fight for the downtrodden to live life as they please”. As Messrs. Diamond, Yauch, and Horovitz more succinctly put it: Brixley fights for your right to party.

I don’t have a strong lock on his characterization yet. Some of the ideas that I’m playing around with are that he was formerly of noble birth, but his family had their lands and titles stripped away as part of a treaty between two larger powers. So he takes a dim view on the idea that “law” and “justice” are the same thing. On the other hand, he’s got kind of a romanticized attitude toward going out and doing good deeds, almost a little foppish. Jaded on one front, naïve on the other. Odd needle to thread, but let’s go with it. And as a follower of Cayden Cailean, he’s not one to say no to a drink or three. I’ll figure out the rest as I go.

Now, a word about my cast-mates.

Rob Trimarco (Cade) is the person I’m most familiar with. He’s been an occasional guest-star (usually in a two-man Voltron with Jason Keeley) on the Dead Suns podcast, I also got a chance to game with him in person at PaizoCon last year, and on a couple occasions, he’s just dropped by the Discord channel to B.S. Good people.

Loren Sieg (Prue) was actually a special guest for one of our Starfinder Society one-shots, but I have to admit I don’t remember the episode that well. Not a reflection on Loren… the whole damn episode is a blur. I know it happened, but I can’t tell you much more than that. In fairness, I think this was right around PaizoCon last year and we were starting to get material on the Pathfinder Playtest, so things were a little bit crazy in general.

Vanessa Hoskins (Celes)… first time gaming with her. Having said that, if you’re familiar with the Starfinder side of our house, she comes in with pre-existing approval for naming her Grimmerspace character Harriet A. Mayo and calling her drone the Synthetic Wondrous Intelligent Soldier (SWIS). As a fellow lover of cheese-related puns, I approve.

I will admit that as we get started, I was a little thrown by the depth of Vanessa’s roleplaying in particular. (Loren’s to a lesser extent – she’s in character, but the voice on Prue is only a mild turn of the dial from Loren’s normal voice, so it’s easier to adapt.) I’m not opposed to roleplaying and I’ll try my best, but I’ll also admit it’s not my strong suit. I tend to come up with a good mental sketch of who I think my character is and I try to act consistently with that image, but I’m not great with voices. I can do an OK Sean Connery, a Ross Perot (which hasn’t been useful in 20+ years), and that’s about it. Neither of those will help with Brixley.

Fortunately, though, combat bails me out for now, as we’re immediately set upon by wolves. Rather than go blow-by-blow, I’ll point out a few things that stood out to me about our first combat.

First, as Celes demonstrated, the new three-action system ends up being quite flexible for casters, as we can see when she was able to fire off two spells in the same turn. If you haven’t had a chance to read the PF2 rules yet, some spells can have different effects depending on how many actions you put into them. That means that yes, some spells are usable with a single action and yes, you can sometimes get multiple spells off in a single round.

Speaking of the action economy, in one of my turns, Brixley takes an action to raise his shield. In PF2, a shield is no longer an abstract plus, it’s an active defense measure. The bad news is you don’t even get to count it as part of your armor class unless you raise it. The good news is that if you do, you not only get the AC bonus, but the shield can take the damage even if you DO get hit, so it’s a bit of a two-fer. The flip side of THAT trade-off is that shields do eventually wear out… that’ll be something we’ll have to keep an eye on as we play – how often do they wear out and how easy is it to find replacements.

Another thing I was glad we got to see (when Rob and I saved against acid) was the… we’ll say “refinement”… of the rules for critical rolls. In PF2, rolling a natural 20 is no longer an automatic crit. The automatic crit is exceeding the needed role by 10 or more. If you roll a Nat-20, your success goes up by one step. So it’s true that in a LOT of cases, a 20 will raise you from “success” to “critical success” anyway. But not always; if a Nat-20 would normally be a miss, it raises it from “fail” to “succeed”. I think this will become more important at higher levels when success requires numbers greater than a Nat-20… right now when a Nat-20 is a success anyway, it’s a trivial distinction.

(All of the above also applies in reverse to critical fails, only it’s Nat-1s and missing the result by 10 or more.)

The one interesting “force of habit” thing I noticed was that Rob and I were still moving as if attacks of opportunity were still a more common thing. It may be hard to envision without the map in front of you, but as we were approaching the one wolf, we both kind of took the roundabout diagonal paths you usually associate with avoiding attacks of opportunity. Prue, on the other hand, seemed much more in tune with the new program and charged right in. Old habits die hard… we’ll get there.

So we take care of the wolves and finish our fight, and as a low-key humiliating coda, Brixley Nat-1’s the roll to help move the wagon and takes a tumble in the mud. It’s probably far too early to be taking a Hero Point on that, right? (You get one Hero Point each session – they can be used to re-roll a single roll or stabilize from dying.) But Celes has a cleaning cantrip available, so no harm done, beyond Brixley being a bit tired for the rest of the day. But that shouldn’t matter because we won’t get in any more trouble the rest of the day, right?

OR WILL WE?!?!? (cue arched eyebrow, ominous music)

I guess you’ll just have to come back next week and find out. Though keep in mind, we’re still figuring out which day each show is going to run, so… “true for sufficiently large values of ‘week’” as the mathematicians might say. We’ll see you 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 new show. Thanks for listening!