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Talking Tales: Tale 4, Chapter 2, The Beer Barrel Poke-Ya

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 4, Chapter 2: Potent Potables.

When doing these columns, sometimes there is a Big Overarching Theme that manages to suck up 1000 words all on its own. Other times, it’s more of a grab-bag of loose thoughts… I’d be showing my age to compare it to Larry King, but there you have it. This week’s column is more the latter – lots of little things struck me as kinda-sorta interesting, but nothing really jumped out as urgent business.

First things first: I swear I didn’t give Voltaris a gold piece to suck up to the Paizo Muckety-Muck. Promise. Though that’s not to say it was a move without cynicism… just a different brand of cynicism. I was more worried that if the negotiations bogged down with the harbormaster, our usual brand of paralysis by analysis might kick in and we might spend 20 minutes debating how to NOT pay the harbormaster. You already saw hints of it with John debating whether to steal our money back. So… screw it, I decided to cough up a gold to keep the game moving along. And OK, roleplaying-wise, maybe a little benevolence at hitting Level 2 and feeling sorry for the character on his very first adventure. Now, if Erik Mona happens to remember this kindness at some later date, well, that’s just an added bonus.

So we find the pirate captain without much trouble, and we get our first special surprise of the evening: the return of Old Woody! Yeah, OId Woody is part alcoholic beverage, part potion, part Class 6 and/or 8 hazardous material that’s been part of our game since the pre-podcast days, and usually I am its most willing victim. In its pure form, it has medium-duration (a few days) or even permanent effects, but I assume that probably wouldn’t fly for a Society game, so we’re dealing with some black market knock-off version that just knocks you on your ass a little if you crit-fail… which of course I do. In one of those “I forgot I said it the first time, and actually laughed at my own joke listening to the second time”, I was highly amused at the idea that Nella would briefly turn back into a duck before passing out. “IT’S GOLD, JERRY. GOLD.”

I would observe that if the roll was a little closer, maybe my newfound poison resistance might have made a difference, but when you miss by THAT much… nope. I don’t think it was a Nat 1, but I don’t remember the base die roll being more than a 4.

As far as trying to cheat during the darts game by casting Guidance, I figured that was a calculated risk, but worth a shot. I somehow didn’t envision her trying to kill us or refusing to sign the treaty just because we fooled around on the final shot, and if she had, I would’ve been willing to do the groveling apology to keep the Pathfinders in the good graces. That said, I did get Survival (+8) and Stealth (+0) confused, so I wasn’t NEARLY as sneaky as I thought. So that’s an “oops” on my part. Fortunately, I gauged her (or Steve’s) response correctly, and she was basically cool with it.

But then, just to mess with us, she goes and starts a bar-room brawl… the meat of the scenario… and disappears, leaving us to fend for ourselves in the world’s worst rendition of Margaritaville. Yay!

It’s an interesting fight for multiple reasons, but the main reason is the fairly malleable definition of “non-lethal” combat. I mean, when you’ve got pirates pulling knives in round 1 and using 3d6 Hydraulic Push spells… that’s a pretty creative definition of “non-lethal”. Now, for my personal roleplay, I decide (at least to start the fight) that I’m going to still play it by the rules and formally attack with non-lethal damage, incurring the -2 penalty to hit – it just feels like the right thing to do. But after the second straight time where the -2 costs me a hit… at the risk of spoiling next week’s episode, I think I do eventually say “screw it” and hit for full effect at some point.

I’d also like to say Hydraulic Push may have to be added to my arsenal at some future point – if not for Nella, then at least for the next caster class I create. I have to go back and refresh my memory on how swapping out spells works, but that’s pretty powerful for a Level 1 spell. I WANT! Then again, at Level 3, I get access to second-level spells, and there’s probably something even cooler than Hydraulic Push on that list. But there was a moment where I sat in grim silence staring daggers at the words “Feather Fall” on my character sheet. Not gonna lie.

Looking briefly at the rest of the party, Chris’ problem is one of logistics – the good news is he decided to be brave and Champion-y; the bad news is he ran away from the exit and some of the other pirates filled in his escape route, so he’s going to have a bit of a struggle getting out again. (There’s a theoretical exit on the other side, but it opens on the water, so you probably don’t want a plate-clad dwarf jumping overboard.) Peepers ran the right way; he’s just feeling generally aggrieved at being attacked at all. Meanwhile, Nixnox and Vortaris are conducting their own two-person hide-and-seek competition. They’re both getting involved here and there – Nixnox manages to successfully intimidate one of the “general throng” areas into submission, and Vortaris casts that Agony spell – but the fact that they’re in hiding means it will probably be three of us soaking up most of the hits in the short term.

And then there’s the dynamics of the “battlefield” itself. First, the bar is basically broken into six sections; some of the section boundaries are open and you can move freely between sections, but a few are actually hard walls with specific doorways between the areas. I should also mention that if we’re JUST focused on getting to the exit, the door is in the southeast corner, meaning there are two sections to the furthest north we should be able to avoid entirely unless we specifically need to choose a new escape route or unless fighter reinforcements show up from there. Each section has “general mayhem” going on, except in the section Nixnox pacified. The general mayhem takes the form of a single “attack” if you’re in the area – being hit by a bottle or a stray punch or something – and later in the episode, we get a keg spilled which creates slippery conditions. In some ways, that might end up being more of a challenge than the actual melee, since you either have to five-foot step (aka Step) your way through or risk falling prone if you try to move through at normal speed.

So that’s what we’re facing as we end the first episode. We’re mostly doing OK, though Thorgrim managed to box himself into a bit of a corner, and even with his high armor class, they’re still landing a few hits on him. At some point, we’ll have to decide if we need to switch from everyone for themselves to “rescue the dwarf”. But that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 4, Chapter 1, The Old Man And The Sea

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 4, Chapter 1: Call Me Old Man.

We’re breaking new ground on Black Lodge this week!

First and foremost, the core group finally makes it to Level 2. To be fair, you generally don’t get a lot of big changes at Level 2 – a class feat, a skill feat, an extra spell slot if you’re a caster – but the extra hit points alone make you a little less squishy and it feels a little safer out there.

In Nella’s case, I was not kidding when I said I took Poison Resistance largely because of the Three-Ring Adventure show. One thing we’re learning about Second Edition, in general, is that status effects have the potential to be MUCH more painful than they were in First Edition, so I’ll take that over… going back and getting a leshy familiar or something like that. (The other choices were nothing special.) Specifically, Poison Resistance gives +1 to my save against all poison effects, and DR equal to half my level against poisons. For the skill feat, I went with Battle Medicine… all the cool kids are doing it, but in particular, I wanted to beef up my healing skills since that seems to be the role I’m headed toward. And for my spell slot, I went with Feather Fall just because I wanted to grab some utility spells and not just be all damage, all the time. I would like to eventually add a second damage TYPE because some things are immune to fire, or maybe some AoE damage, but I’m willing to wait on that until next Level when Level 2 spells open up.

(The full endgame plan? Turn into an elemental. ALL THE TIME. My First Edition druid was nicknamed “Windy” because he spent just about EVERY fight in Air Elemental form.)

The other new ground is that this is this group’s first exposure to Quests. (John did a Quest with Mister Peepers WAAAAAAAY back when 2E first released, and I think Chris MAY have played that one as a different character.) If you think of a normal Society scenario as a 3-4 hour session, a quest should be able to be knocked out in an hour or so. Which… because we’re a living embodiment of the Mattress Salesman sketch from Monty Python… means we take 9-10 hours to do a full Scenario and 3-4 hours to do a Quest. Can we at least get credit for being predictable in our slowness?

Again, I think I’ve said this before, but it’s not like we TRY to drag things out. At least not entirely. I will plead guilty (on the group’s behalf) to a tendency to over-analyze things, particularly in the planning stage. But I also think the online format slows things down a little over playing in person, and I’ve felt this since even before we started doing the podcast. I can’t say I’ve studied it in any formal way, but I think the tools impose a level of forced queuing that diminishes or disappears entirely when you have live people sitting at a table. It’s like… you take those pauses where Steve has to process the die roll and maybe make an adjustment, where in person, it would all be happening on the fly and the next player would already have the dice in their hand. That’s my theory anyway.

We also have a new special guest… Erik Mona… who we’ve never had at our table before! I’m excited, but it’s less about the fact that he’s a Paizo Bigwig™ (though it’s also nice when people from Paizo share their time with us), but more about having a fresh face in the mix. If you count the pre-podcast days, we’ve been playing together for over a decade; you start to know each other’s mannerisms a little too well and dynamics can become a little set in their ways. Though… OK, I’m at least a LITTLE impressed that his Society number is “2”. Mine’s somewhere north of 30,000.

We don’t really get too far into the adventure in this first session, so there’s not much plot to discuss. It’s more about meeting Vortaris and getting to the destination, with a little treasure hunting on the sandbar to pass the time in between. Vortaris’ backstory is pretty intriguing… someone who’s clearly had some trouble in life, and is just now deciding to become an adventurer in his 80s? It’s actually a bit of a shame we’re (probably) only going to have this one adventure to get to know him better. Also… I’m totally digging Erik’s Old Man Voice.

In getting out to the island, the one rules question I wanted to dig into a little is the Wild Shape rules. I think the thing that’s been confusing me a little bit is that aerial forms are explicitly called out as a separate skill that has to be unlocked separately, but swimming forms are not. But then again, at least for Pest Form, the example animals listed were all land creatures – “cat, insect, lizard, or rat”. I tend to be a “when in doubt, go by the text” person, so I interpreted that to mean aquatic forms weren’t allowed. But then again when you get to the regular Wild Shape, turning into a shark IS an option. So was I assuming too much and swim forms are cool or do you not get those until Level 3? I guess Steve’s interpretation is that they’re OK, so that’s what we’ll go with. But… I’d rather be a duck than a fish… mostly so I can ruin the mood with quacking noises.

I suppose the one brief development that popped up is when the dwarf operating our boat jumped overboard. At first, I very briefly thought this was part of a double-cross where they were going to have pirates attack us at sea or something. But then it turns out she’s just Manic Pixie Dream Dwarf and likes randomly jumping out of the boat to catch fish. Crisis averted!

So we cruise into Port Peril unscathed, and it’s time to get serious about our mission… Clearly, if the words “Pub Crawl” are right in the title, that probably means some drinking’s happening, which means that poison resistance will come in handy. But that’s basically where we’ll have to pick it up next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 6, The Floor is Lava

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 6: Deal With The Devil.

We win!

Heck with that… we survive! And we’re finally gonna be Level 2!

I honestly thought our collective goose was cooked in this fight, especially when the devil basically obliterated Thorgrim on his first attack. I don’t think the Three-Ring crew had reached their devil encounter yet, so I didn’t KNOW-know, but I strongly suspected it would get ugly. It’s always unnerving when you’re fighting something that you KNOW could end your day with one crit. At the same time, I didn’t want to back down before we at least got a chance to test our offensive capabilities – sometimes these brute types that do big attacks are also fairly easy to hit and damage, so… five of us, one of him… let’s at least see how it goes, maybe he’ll miss and we’ll get lucky.

Speaking of Three-Ring, I did find it mildly amusing that Vanessa kinda-sorta played Millicent like Alhara there for a second, doing a bunch of nimble leaps to get into position to fight. NO, YOU DON’T GET PANACHE, MILLICENT. And OK… for all that hype, the fire spout from the floor doing one point of damage was pretty hilarious.

I was a little surprised that John tried to re-open negotiations once the fight started. I guess I can sort of see the argument that Thorgrim getting one-shotted changed the tone of the fight and created a window for a new round of negotiation. On the other hand, it seemed pretty unlikely to work, and then Mama Millicent decided to pull the plug on it by attacking.

I suppose the next thing I have to comment on is Seth starting to go into Analyze Mode and deciding that the best course of action was for me to heal Chris instead of casting Shillelagh. Set aside I had already cast the spell – to use chess terminology, I took my hand off the piece. But more to the point… I have to admit I don’t like being flat-out TOLD what to do during battle. A helpful reminder, if there’s something obvious I’m missing? Sure. A suggestion if I’m sitting there “hmmm”-ing for 20 seconds because I don’t know what to do? Bring it. But combat is My Time. It’s the part of the game I enjoy most, I know what my character does, just let me do my thing.

And OK, maybe a touch of my frustration was pride about the default assumption that Chris would deal more damage than I would. Honestly, the extra damage dice on Shillelagh make me a fairly effective fighter in this particular scenario… at least for as many rounds as I remain standing. I think Thorgrim’s advantage in this situation would have been the higher armor class and larger hit point pool.

It’s also kind of immersion-breaking because we’re supposed to be in combat; stuff is supposed to be happening in quasi-real-time. I don’t mind going deep on the strategizing when we’re in downtime, but when combat is happening… you oughta respect that and keep things moving. You shouldn’t have to LITERALLY take your turn in six seconds, but I think you should respect that and make your move FAIRLY quickly, and with minimal input from other party members. Fog of war, and all that. Sure, you can still measure a distance or double-check what a spell does because it’s still a game at heart, but holding a 10-minute Zoom conference to script out what is supposed to be less than 20 seconds of game reality seems like it goes against the spirit of the thing.

The other small logistical thing is I was thinking of healing Thorgrim the following round anyway if no one else got around to it. So really we agreed on the actions and were just hung up on the sequence; I just wanted to have the magic stick ready to go if the opportunity to use it came early.

I notice this was a rough fight for status effects. The scythe had a bleed effect, the Wriggling Beard (great power name, BTW) dispensed poison, and the floor created fire damage pretty much anywhere you would want to stand in order to melee. So not only did this guy hit hard on his own, but there was a lot of “extra” damage piling up around the edges. Personally, I lucked out on saving throws and didn’t have to face too much of it, but there was ugliness in abundance.

The other thing that struck me as amusing was our first instance of a player being saved by the vox populi… literally… as live listener “ActionJackson” caught a rule clarification that saved Peepers from death. Just in case you were having trouble following that exchange (because EVERYONE was talking at the same time), let me break it down for you. As background, Chris had applied Glimpse of Redemption to the Big Bad, which applies Enfeebled 2… Steve had assumed it ticked down each round (most statuses do) and changed it to Enfeebled 1, but it’s supposed to stay at Enfeebled 2 until the end of the NEXT round. So Steve rolled a critical with Enfeebled 1 applied, and the full crit damage would’ve been enough to kill Peepers on the massive damage (twice your max HP) rule. But ActionJackson caught the Enfeebled error, and the difference between Enfeebled 2 and Enfeebled 1 was the difference between a crit and a normal hit – still enough to take Peepers to zero HP and Dying 1, but not an instakill.

So, hey… donate to the Patreon, and you might just get a chance to save a life!

The battle continues, and fortunately, Millicent proves once again to be the advantage we need, and we dispatch the Big Bad. Probably JUST before things got really bad. Peepers down, Thorgrim back up but still working on stopping his bleeding; Millicent and I were both in single-digit hit points… I guess Nixnox was still fairly fresh, but could he have finished the devil off himself? Probably depends on what its fire resistance was. But Millicent came through and we live to fight another day.

So in the aftermath, we use Diggen Thrune to banish the devil, and there’s a little bit of “did we do the right thing” second-guessing as he departs with an ominous laugh. I know the story drops a few hints that Thrune isn’t the stand-up guy the official history books say he is, but a) we made a deal and at some point, it’s more about honoring your own word, and b) that devil really does represent the Greater Evil in the situation. So… OK, maybe we didn’t min-max the treasure bundles or whatever we would’ve got for keeping him trapped, but I still feel like honoring the bargain and letting him go was the right call.

Lastly, we have the aftermath. (In a bit of clever editing, this actually took place a different day – the fight went right to 11 pm, so we did Vanessa’s downtime and then called it a day and did the rest of the party later.) I suppose the big thing here was Nella running her losing streak to 3 on earning income. Sigh. At least this time I “just” missed instead of whiffing in the single digits… progress I guess?

And since that’s the end of the third adventure, that means next time, we’ll be introducing the Level 2 party. Obviously, I’ll leave those details for that episode, but I’m glad to get that little bit of survivability bump. Level 2 isn’t a huge leap in class powers, but the extra hit points alone make it something to look forward to.

And we’ll look at that next week with a new adventure and a new special guest. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 5, Friend Of The Devil

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 5: Last Kobold Standing.

It’s funny. Steve goes and gives me all this credit for remembering the show better than him, and now I gotta walk that back and admit that I thought we went right from Diggen Thrune directly to the final encounter with the devil. I totally forgot about this group of goblins. Or kobolds. Or maybe both? Steve says “goblins” the first couple times, but then says “kobolds” the rest of the battle.

In my defense, there’s a real-life gap here – since the Black Lodge game is dependent on special guests and anyone remotely connected to Paizo-Land was busy getting ready for PaizoCon, we had a 2-3 week stretch where we simply couldn’t play at all. So if my memory is fuzzy… that’s at least part of why.

Logistically, something weird happened to me at the start of this fight where I was distracted when the fight started and ended up WAY out of position, all the way back at the stairs down to the third level. (Think I was talking with one of my kids or something.) I could’ve argued I should’ve at least been up with the rest of the party, but whatever… it’s only one lost round.

So… OK. Unexpected cannon-fodder fight. We can adapt. Tactically, we’ve got two guys in front of the barricade and an unknown number (at first) on the other side. Now, we’ve established in multiple fights that these guys aren’t THAT tough… and when they start out with a bunch of ineffective sling attacks, there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about.

But then the field changes a little. First, we have a caster, which is a bit of a wrinkle. Haven’t seen that before. Still… if only one of them are special, there’s five of us… we should be OK. Millicent’s initial charge even wipes out the guys in front of the barrier, so this is looking like another walk in the park. But then Millicent charges to get up in the caster’s face and the kobolds get some help from the great equalizer – environmental damage! – as the barricade collapses when Millicent tries to pass through the too-convenient-in-retrospect gap in the wall. Even the mightiest Level 2 character can be felled by a bunch of junk falling on them.

(Aside: I’m glad Steve made the Les Mis reference… saved me the trouble.)

So that leaves poor Millicent out on an island by herself – yeah, she survives the initial trap, but it leaves her alone on the wrong side of the barrier, making herself the obvious target for the mage. Meanwhile, our choices are to try and climb over the barrier while taking fire, or engaging in a ranged battle against them, which both hands them cover and also doesn’t play to our team’s strengths, as Thorgrim and Peepers are both better at melee.

So the battle continues, and it’s really three fights in one. We’ve got Chris doing his personal Battle Of the Trident against the one kobold. Mama looks like she’s going to get a reprieve when she gets an attack of opportunity against the mage, but it doesn’t finish him, and the kobold does almost max damage on its magic missile, putting her at death’s door. Meanwhile, John, Seth, and I are having the Generic “This Isn’t That Hard, What Are You All Complaining About?” Kobold Fight where we’re taking out the trash fairly efficiently.

And then… damn! One of the kobolds actually has the round of his life with two nat-20s in three attacks. The first drops Mama because it’s also close to max damage and she was already pretty worn down. The second gets converted to a regular hit because of the way Second Edition does crits – a nat-20 just raises the outcome by one rank, so if the roll would have been a miss, it just becomes a regular hit, not a crit. Luckily though, that’s pretty much the last round of combat, and we can quickly pass Millicent up before we have to get too deep into the dying rules and burning Hero Points.

So after the fight, we do a little bit of cleanup. The big takeaway here is the very druid-y but low-key humiliating magic item in the loot – a pair of goggles that aid in Nature checks. We don’t get to keep them in the here and now because of how Society play works, but they might be worth buying at a later date. For now, they merely serve as an ongoing mockery of my poor downtime rolls. Oh, a +1 on nature rolls? Ha ha. Very funny.

Up the stairs we go, and we reach the final chamber, and at first assessment, I’m getting uneasy about all of this. First and foremost… devil. Pretty sure those are tough to kill. (Though… counterpoint: Shillelagh will be extra-effective.) On top of that, it’s a bad physical environment for a fight – the room is generally hot and there are also specific squares on the floor that represent some sort of fire. There’s a flame-free boundary area around the sides of the room, but if anyone wants to get up in the devil’s face near the throne, they’re probably going to be fighting the environment AND the bad guy. It’s also a little alarming that the devil already seems to know what Diggen Thrune was planning. It’s never a good sign when the Big Bad sees your plan coming from a mile away.

But then Peepers throws one of his best curveballs ever… and starts negotiating with the devil. I did NOT see that coming. And I have to admit, I’m momentarily swayed to at least hear the devil’s counter. Two reasons: yes, part of it is low-grade cowardice in the face of what’s shaping up as a tough fight, but I’m also not sure I totally trust Diggen Thrune either. I mean, he’s the one that made the initial contract with this devil, and then there was that letter talking about how the history books are bullshitting us about the real Diggen Thrune. So there was a second where I caught myself thinking this could be “they’re actually both evil, you have to pick which evil you want to side with”.

But then negotiations break down as Thorgrim remembers he’s Lawful Good and doesn’t make deals with devils, and the inevitable final fight is on. And next week we’ll find out if the team survives to make it to Level 2. While you’re waiting for next week, 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 Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 4, The Not-So-Great Divide

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 4: Klaatu Barada Nikto.

I thought I’d start this week with Steve’s open question about the nature of the show and what people like or don’t like about it. Among other things, I thought it was interesting because I’m in the rare position of having two different perspectives – both as a player and as a listener (at least for the Three-Ring Adventure show). I do listen to this show as well to refresh my memory, but it’s a different experience when you know 90 percent of what’s coming.

I will start with one observation Steve didn’t directly mention, and that’s the consideration that breaking in a brand-new system was part of our whole raison d’etre: first Starfinder, then Pathfinder Second Edition. So when we laid the foundations of this whole thing, teaching a brand new game to people who might be thinking of kicking the tires was explicitly part of our mission. So if sometimes we get a little lost in the rules, part of that is a reflection of the notion that the instinct to teach the system is baked into what we do at this point.

The other general caveat I’ll make is that part of the reason combat is so detailed on this show is that we KNOW you guys don’t have access to the battle map* and things can be hard to follow in your head, so we try and fill in some of those details by being extra descriptive. Theater Of The Mind, you know? “I move 10 feet to the west, put myself between the pillar and the staircase, and attack”. “I am moving up close enough that I can cast a touch Heal on Millicent”. Pre-podcast when were just playing for ourselves, we’d probably just bang through these things without a lot of the explanation because everyone was looking at the same screen; now we gotta make sure we give you enough detail to understand what’s happening and why.

*=Until recently. Now our Patreon subscribers have the option to listen live and watch the game-board, so they can see for themselves what’s happening. But that’s obviously not all of you, so we still gotta fill in the details. For contrast, I suspect the virtual PaizoCon game didn’t have that same level of detail because we pretty much played to a live audience that could see the board. (Which may also explain why we finished on time.)

But with all of that disclaimer aside, which one do I prefer?

As a player, I’m probably more in tune with the combat-oriented shows. I’m not great at roleplaying – I can do it in short bursts (see also: Brixley bonding with Ember in the Plaguestone game, where I ad-libbed an entire toast to Cayden Cailean for the ceremony on the fly), but I don’t really sustain it well over multiple sessions. I tend to have JUST enough story to understand my character and how they would react to situations, but anything outside my immediate bubble tends to come across as MacGuffin-y to me: “Why do we have gods? To give clerics a mechanism for their spells, of course.” And then beyond all of that, it’s in my nature to be the loveable goofball – I like making Dad Jokes and pop-culture references, and I always feel like I’m peeing in the punchbowl if I do it in an RP-heavy setting. I PROMISE YOU WILL ALWAYS KNOW WHICH EPISODE OF MAGNUM P.I. THIS STORY BEAT FEELS REMINISCENT OF.

As a listener, though, I have to admit I enjoy the heavier roleplay style better. Maybe it’s an appreciation of something I don’t consider myself very good at, maybe part of it is just that I’m hearing the Three-Ring show with fresh ears and things are a surprise in a way they aren’t with the other shows, but I really like the way those folks are building their stories and the relationships between the characters. I still want SOME combat – I’ve heard some shows where combat is abstracted away to one or two key rolls with storytelling filling in the blanks, and I don’t dig that either. But as a listener, I’m going to admit that higher roleplay floats my boat a little more. To be fair, it’s not an ironclad distinction: Seth, in particular, has some pretty great roleplay moments in Black Lodge, and the Three-Ring show has had some combat-heavy episodes where you’d be hard-pressed to find much roleplay. But Steve asked, so I’m answering.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get onto the week’s game action. The majority of this episode is a straight-up fight, but with an annoying twist – runes that summon reinforcements AND enemies who are smart enough to use that to their advantage by deliberately stepping on them. And our old friend… some bloodseekers to add the bleeding status to the mix! Oh, joy!

(I mention this in the show, but if you’ve been listening to our other shows, we had a bloodseeker encounter very early in Plaguestone, but they mostly whiffed and we dispatched them fairly quickly. I think ONE attached to Celes for a round, but that’s about it. Compared to this, completely unmemorable.)

Even going back and listening to a second time, the workings of the runes were a little fuzzy to me. OK, I did get that each of the different colored squares summoned a different creature, but other than that, there were a lot of moving parts. Did it summon when someone entered the square or left it? Could a rune only trigger once or could it be triggered multiple times? Shouldn’t the summoned creature attack the person who summoned it, in which case some of them should’ve attacked the kobolds? Or were the kobolds recognized as being allowed to be there by whatever entity controls the runes? But the gist is that a simple fight against what presented as two or three kobolds turned into a free-for-all with eight or nine bad guys.

Nevertheless, we get through the fight mostly unscathed (well… except for Mister Peepers, but as usual, it’s his own damn fault) and move on up the tower. Next up it’s a library, where we come across the ghost of Diggen Thrune himself. Here we get a copious lore dump and get the endgame (and reward) spelled out for us. Diggen made a deal with a devil – LITERALLY – to ensure his military success, but now the devil controls the Pathfinder Lodge and Diggen can’t escape unless we set him free by beating the devil. We also find a bag with the deed to Diggen’s Rest itself, and a letter which serves as (I assume) a lore dump for the larger mystery of the season. (For those who don’t know, when it comes to Society play, most of the adventures are one-offs, but there does tend to be an overarching theme and a few of the adventures tackle that directly. I think the mentions of the keys and the door probably come back to that at some point down the road. But for today, it’s beat the devil to win the rights to own this place.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to stop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show… especially now that you’ve got Steve specifically asking for your feedback! Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 3, Koboldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 3: Sewer Dragons.

It’s going to be a bit of a tough one to write this week because once again, we have an episode that’s basically one battle and a fairly easy one at that. I mean… it’s kobolds, which are pretty much THE definitive cannon-fodder RPG race. Especially now that Paizo went and made goblins into good guys. (grumble grumble)

So much like last week, this is a fight that looked like it might be tough for two seconds based on numbers (there were five or six of them), but once we started swinging weapons in earnest, they could rarely hit us and they didn’t have much in the way of hit points, so it never really felt like we were in much danger. Unless they got lucky with a crit, of course. Arguably Seth and John dragged it out longer with their varying brands of silliness – Seth trying to intimidate rather than trying to kill, and Peepers Being Peepers and almost falling into a pit in the process.

Speaking of which, I was glad we slowed down and got that ruling right on Grab An Edge because it seems like it would be a fairly useless action otherwise. Yeah, it also mitigates 20 feet of a longer fall, but the real value is not falling at all. Of course, you fall 80 or 100 feet before Grabbing an Edge, you’re probably still going to die (see also: Dirk The Daring on the falling platform area in Dragon’s Lair). The thing I found interesting is that you don’t technically have to have a hand free – you can use a weapon or other suitable object to stop your fall. (Also note, on a Critical fail, you take all the normal falling damage you would’ve taken AND also take additional bludgeoning damage – I guess in trying to grab the edge, you get hit by other rocks and outcroppings or something.)

I’ll admit it was also kind of funny that John failed the roll to climb back out and had to hero point it. It’s not exactly that I laugh at his misfortune… more like “it makes the battlefield more interesting when things like that happen”. Though OK, maybe just a little bit of schadenfreude based on the natural consequence of his playing Peepers the way he does – if he had just advanced on the kobolds instead of screwing around in the opposite corner of the room, that wouldn’t have happened in the first place. PEEPERS!

As long as we’re on rules clarifications: somehow we made it all through Plaguestone without explicitly realizing that Detect Magic can exclude magic on the party members, so that’s a good thing to know too. I think we always kinda suspected it, but since we didn’t have a lot of magic items in that campaign (other than potions), it never explicitly came up. Note that this doesn’t change the dynamics of the “Celes Maneuver” – Detect Magic still doesn’t pinpoint the magic item and you still have to search the area, so creeping up on it in 5-foot increments is still a valid way to narrow things down. But the silliness of having to move your party-mates to the other side of the room can go away.

Unless, of course, your party-mates are holding out and carrying magic items on them that they’re not disclosing to the rest of the party. Note to self: for anything-goes paranoid campaigns, use Detect Magic on the rogue periodically – if they stole something you don’t know about, it would set off the spell. Theoretically. (Of course, in Society play, nobody should be doing that anyway because people can’t play evil characters and you don’t get to keep magic loot anyway.)

The other thing that stands out about this episode is the Clerks-reminiscent digression about whether the traditional RPG adventure party can truly call themselves “good guys” when they invade other creatures’ homes, kill them, and steal all their stuff. Now, at least for adventure paths, Paizo usually gets around this by having some prior evil act read into the record to set the stage. (Usually the murder of a dwarf.) So that by investigating the Bad Thing, you are already adopting the role of the Good Guys, and everything else just follows from that. On the other hand, a lot of these Society games tend to be for smaller stakes, so they don’t have that big Call To Action that establishes moral clarity. In this case… the skeletons are fair game because you always kill undead, but there’s no real evidence the kobolds are harming townsfolk – they’re just squatting on a piece of property that doesn’t belong to them. There aren’t that many fantasy blockbusters that revolve around landlord-tenant disputes. (Begins writing first-draft manuscript for Harry Potter And The Malevolent Homeowners’ Association.)

The one combat note here is we finally got our first real taste of the new, more powerful Level 2 Millicent and her Katana of Doom. The first battle went by a little quick, so we didn’t really get to see her shine. This time, we got Attacks of Opportunity, crazy damage – just a buzzsaw of death and destruction. I’m not gonna lie – it’s at least put it in the back of my brain to have Nella dip into fighter so she could also be a katana-wielding badass. Though doing a quick scan of the archetype rules, it looks like I wouldn’t be able to get Attacks of Opportunity until Level 4. And you can’t apply Shillelagh to a katana… so, maybe not.

The exploration continues, we make our way up to the next level of the tower, and we draw to a close facing a bit of a puzzle chamber – magic runes of different colors all over the floor leading up to the next level. I mean… “don’t step on the runes” seems like a fairly obvious plan, doesn’t it? NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS WHEN YOU STEP ON MAGIC RUNES. But we’ll have to wait until next week to see how that all unfolds. While waiting for next week, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 2, Hit It And Quit It

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 2: Green Light Kid!

Sorry this is a little late but I’ve just been out of it the last few days because of the state of the country and all the protests going on and it was hard to get psyched up to write about what felt (comparatively) like a silly little make-believe session. And it still is a little. The session we recorded last night… spoiler alert: in a few weeks, when you hear it, you’re going to get a fairly zombified version of Nella because I didn’t want to cancel once everything had been scheduled, but I was definitely not feeling it knowing protesters and cops were going at it 10 minutes from my house.

Look, I’m not particularly wired for Delivering An Important Message. That’s not who I am. Or at least if I AM going to do that, I’m going to do that in my own way and using my own platform. On the other hand, I feel like not acknowledging it at all would be ignoring the elephant in the room. So, I’m not gonna give you the 3000-words version, but I’ll just say that I’m firmly on the side of the protesters and of African-Americans getting better justice than they’ve been getting in this country, and you can take that as you will.

Elephant in the room addressed. On to our episode.

I have to admit that after a few straight really long shows (if we’re lumping in Extinction Curse, some of those cracked the 2-hour mark), it was nice to get a fairly short show in this time around. I’ve probably mentioned this before but I’m more an hour, 90-minutes-at-the-max kind of listener. And we also had a bare minimum of endless bickering about pointless minutiae, which represents progress for this group. On the other hand, the trade-off is that the actual game action this week is a little sparse: it’s basically a single battle that looked initially scary, but really ended up being a walk in the park. Ultimately, the skeletons didn’t have a lot of hitpoints and couldn’t hit most of our armor classes (except maybe Nixnox, but he was hiding most of the fight anyway). Nella has an 18, Thorgrim is a 20, Mama Millicent… I don’t remember her exact number, but it’s up there too.

Having said that, the fight looked like it might be tough when it first started, just based on numbers – I forget whether it was 7 or 8 total skeletons, but they definitely had numbers on us. I did wrestle with some internal debate whether I really needed to use Shillelagh, but decided to go ahead with the thinking that it was going to take us a few days to reach our destination, so I’d probably get a chance to recharge before we hit Diggen’s Rest and the real fighting started. Heck, even if we got there the same day, we could probably rest overnight and start exploring the following morning – I didn’t get a sense there’s a time constraint on this one like there was with our other adventures.

By the end of the fight, I felt kinda silly for burning the spell though. They couldn’t hit us, they dropped fairly easily… WASTED RESOURCES. I suppose that I also argued against using my Hero Point to re-roll that final attack, but at that point I just wanted the fight done. And then Steve figured out the thing with the blindness, so I got it back anyway. I wasn’t expecting that, but a nice little bonus.

After the fight, we got to have another segment of Fun With Treat Wounds. I love the mechanic… in both directions. I like that it’s an extra source of healing that (almost) anyone has access to – it’s a handy little mechanic. I equally love that you can screw it up and actually make things worse. Which… in this case, Mama Millicent actually does to Mister Peepers, who was somehow the one member of the party that managed to take some significant damage in the fight. Luckily, Thorgrim is able to step in with Lay On Hands and bail Millicent out, but it provided a little moment of levity.

Lastly, we have a treasure and lore dump. The archaic wayfinder is kind of a neat item – being able to slot an aeon stone without using your head slot is of fairly obvious use, but I’m still trying to figure out what the optimal use of the cantrip slot would be. If you cast one of your own cantrips… duh, you already have access to those anyway. So… you maybe have someone else cast a cantrip onto it, as Chris (I think) suggested, to diversify your spell list? Or give it to a non-caster, so they have at least one spell they can cast in a pinch. I guess that’s the way to go with it.

I’m in a weird mood, so I can’t believe I’m going to go on this digression, but a few more words about Voyagers! (not Travelers). I suspect it’s probably one of those things that didn’t age well, and if I go back and re-watch it, I feel like I’ll be disappointed. (See also: Hill Street Blues). But at the time it was quite the fun little show. Half Quantum Leap (fixing history), half Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure (run-ins with famous historical figures). I feel like I should clarify that the actor (Jon-Erik Hexum) died while shooting his NEXT show (Cover Up, about CIA agents who were undercover as fashion models) – that wasn’t the reason Voyagers! got canceled. Voyagers! just got an unceremonious cancellation after one season. And because I’ve gone too far down this black hole, he also was dating E.G. Daily at the time, who was a singer who was a staple of second-tier 80s movies and also went on to voice the main character in Rugrats.

Wait. How did we end up here?

Whatever, that’s as good a place to wrap it up for this week. Next week, we’ll formally begin the investigation of Diggen’s Rest, and hopefully get into more fights, since the last adventure left us itching for a scrap. As always, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media, and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 3, Chapter 1, It’s A Column About Nothing

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 3, Chapter 1: You Had Me At Merlot.

This week’s Talking is going to be a bit freeform. (JAZZ ODYSSEY!) Some combination of “we didn’t get all that that far in the story” and “there’s a lot of side ‘stuff’ to clear off the books”. So it’s gonna be a little bit rambly. And yes, I realize some of you are thinking “that’s different… how exactly?”.

The first thing I wanted to remind everyone of is that this week, we’re having our live performance at virtual PaizoCon. It will be this Thursday at 7-10 EST (4-7 PST). I assume we’re going to be running a quest because we stand a far better chance of turning a 1-2 hour quest into a 3-4 hour session than we do keeping a three-hour adventure to three hours. If you’ve listened this far, you know this to be true.

In a bit of a related show note, we haven’t really played Black Lodge in 2-3 weeks now, so it’ll be good to get back to it. The circus game has continued, but thanks largely to the run-up to PaizoCon keeping Steve busy and also making it hard to schedule guest players, our Black Lodge game has been on unintentional hold for a bit. We still have episodes in the can, so it shouldn’t impact anything, but still… we’ll be kicking off a little rust. (We’ve been filling some of the time with a little bit of conventional board gaming with Tabletop Simulator, but that’s a whole separate article.)

For those of you who have been watching live, I’m happy to report I’ve FINALLY joined the Webcam Generation. I had ordered two (one via work and one on my personal dime), but after both of those no-showed, both John and Steve dug out spares and sent them to me, which arrived over the weekend. So I finally have a webcam, and in fact, sometime in July I’ll have four and be able to “NFL All-22” it and give you multiple angles of me eating Doritos.

As an additional show note, this is going to be our first adventure in Roll20 instead of D20Pro. There was some weird interplay going on with people hitting the internet harder in quarantine that was making D20Pro a little squirrely, so we decided to give Roll20 another try. (Technically we tried Roll20 YEARS ago in the pre-podcast days, but went back after a session or two.) So you may hear some “learning curve with the new tool” moments as we go through this. I suppose if there’s a single biggest “rubber meets the road” change as a player it’s that D20Pro figures out all the right modifiers behind the scenes and applies the correct damage – Roll20 just puts ALL the possible damage outcomes in the chat window (here’s your regular damage, here’s your crit damage, here’s your extra damage if they don’t save against poison); from there you pick the right damage and apply it. Also, Roll20 doesn’t handle the Second Edition multi-attack penalty yet, so you have to apply it by hand as well.

Lastly, and perhaps most exciting, this is the adventure where if we survive, we level up. It’s basically three full adventures to level (12 experience, with 4 per adventure), and this is the third. John technically has one extra experience point because he did a Pathfinder quest as Mister Peepers WAY back right when Second Edition launched, but that’s not enough to get him over the hump, so he’ll still level up with the rest of us. I suppose if we do more quests, that might get him to a point where he gets out of sync and levels up before us, but that could take a while.

Now, Vanessa, on the other hand… Mama Millicent has been busy while we’ve been smuggling people out of Xin Edasseril, and she actually returns to Black Lodge as a Level 2 character. And she’s got a badass katana, too! Millicent was already kind of an ass-kicker; giving her some more hitpoints and a better weapon can’t be anything but a positive development. The slight negative is that Society adjusts the difficulty of the game as the party levels, so having a Level 2 in our group is going to make the fights a little tougher, but – famous last words – how much tougher can it be?

Well… we’re going to find out. Just not THIS week, as we spend most of the first session traveling and setting up backstory. We start this week’s adventure in the Black Lodge, which was giving off some mildly creepy and otherworldly vibes; it feels like maybe there are going to be some hooks to be uncovered as we keep coming back over time, but for today – despite Mister Peepers’ efforts to locate some trouble to get into — it’s mostly “wait for Grady to give us our next mission”. And that mission is to head to the River Kingdoms to check on the existence of an older Pathfinder Lodge that disappeared… after a brief interlude drinking and shooting the breeze with the closest thing Golarion has to rednecks.

I have to admit I faded into the background a little during this portion. Some of it was letting Vanessa take the lead – partly because she’s a better roleplayer, but partly because of some weird “deference to authority” thing because she was the higher level character AND pulled that fairly specific lore roll out of her back pocket. But I think part of it was that Steve was hyping a combat-heavy adventure so I was mentally gearing myself up for the combat to start… which took quite some time. I don’t mind roleplaying, but after the last adventure, I was ready to hit some stuff.

Which, FINALLY, at the end of the episode, we’re going to get to do. We start wandering out toward Diggen’s Rest, the last known location of the Pathfinders, and sure enough, we stumble across spooky unnatural forests and undead nasties to fight. Skeletons with detached heads… that’s kind of a new one. Hard to say whether I should ease into this as the first fight of the adventure, or go right to Shillelagh and engage Pocket Paladin mode. But I guess we’ll delve into that next episode when the battle is joined in earnest.

THIS week while waiting for the next episode, we encourage you to stop by virtual PaizoCon and check out our live show. But hey, also still stop by Discord and join the reindeer games there, too. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 5, Regetta Get Out of This Place

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 5: Sensual Blacksmithing.

It’s an extra-long episode on Roll For Combat this week, but I’m not sure Steve had much of a choice. If you think about it, there’s a lot of indecision and screwing around at the front end, but then once things start moving, there’s no good place to split things up. So you could’ve had a short episode that was mostly bickering and indecision, followed by a normal-sized conclusion next week, or one big episode that includes everything. Guess you get the latter.

The funny thing is, the first extraction is basically set; the bickering mostly revolves around the second extraction the following day. We’re pretty much resolved to use rafts to get the family and the accountant out; it’s how to deal with everyone else – particularly the giant – where things get thorny. I briefly thought about putting the giant on the boat, but I was worried he might count as 2 or 3 of our five slots, so it seemed better to try to best-effort him out the front gate.

Especially once we got the invisibility potion in our arsenal. I was never sold on the “statue” idea, so once we had tools that seemed specifically tailored for this purpose, using them seemed like the right call. Especially since – if you want to metagame it a bit – you don’t get to keep consumables anyway. Might as well use them. Initially, I liked the Air Bubble idea better – have the giant put on Air Bubble, drop into the water somewhere out of sight of the docks, and swim out to the anchor chain of our boat and climb up – but one minute just wasn’t going to be enough time to pull it off. But the invisibility potion… that’s 10 minutes, which should be more than enough, and if we were to get low on time, the giant could just drop into the water and go back to a modified version of Plan A. As an added benefit, it also frees up our resources for normal-sized humanoids.

The next morning arrives, and we finally get our first batch of customers out of town, after doing a raft-piloting mini-game. I’m going to admit to a slight bit of frustration at Seth on this one… it’s like, if you’re not participating in the rescue effort because your character is afraid of water, maybe let the people who ARE doing it decide how they’re gonna proceed. I did briefly consider the plan of turning into a fish, but it didn’t seem like I could give navigation commands to two different rafts at the same time effectively, so I decided I’d rather be piloting one of them directly. Especially once Steve ruled that Nature was an acceptable skill to use.

I was a little off on the Wild Empathy druid ability, but not by enough to change the answer. Yes, druids actually can communicate with animals in a rudimentary fashion. BUT, it takes a minute of conversation to establish enough dialog to try and influence them, and even then, it’s a Diplomacy check (for which Nella is untrained) to see if they’ll actually cooperate. I don’t feel like that really would’ve been effective enough to alter the math – the rest of the party would be crashing on the rocks while I would be trying to negotiate my way out of being some bigger fish’s dinner. Probably unsuccessfully, unless it had a really low Will save.

The rafting adventure mostly goes successfully – despite Thorgrim and Peepers taking a bit of a scenic route – and we get our first five out the door. So now we’re down to Flitch, Garrla, the innkeeper, his daughter, and the giant. After a little more waffling – and yet ANOTHER brief resurgence of the statue plan – we decide to load the normal-sized humanoids into barrels and have the (invisible) giant just stay really close behind the wagon.

(As an aside, I’m REALLY surprised John didn’t have Peepers try to steal some travel papers. He’s done the reckless ill-considered thing every other step of the way, so it certainly would’ve been in character. But it turns out the threat of Infamy Points are the one thing that can get Peepers to dial it back. File that away for future reference.)

So we start off for the docks the next day, and then things immediately start going sideways, as you would expect them to do. Gotta earn this win, after all.

First, we lose one set of travel papers to the wind, and at this point – just so we’re clear — we’re out on the dock and there are guards nearby. So we couldn’t just switch Thorgrim into a barrel for the daughter, give her my papers, and I could Wild Shape into a cat. Too late for that. So we’re committed to a non-zero amount of unpleasantness, though I’m still hoping either a) they’d recognize him as an obvious out-of-towner and let him depart, or b) a small bribe might be enough to get him through.

So then the interaction with the guards starts, and the innkeeper’s daughter starts to panic and gets sick. I don’t know if a heal spell is strictly speaking a legit use there, but I figured I’d throw it out there and Steve would shoot it down if there was something obviously wrong with the idea. (I didn’t say so, but I assume I would be trying to cast it sneaky-like under my breath or something.)

And then Seth goes for it with Guard Elovar. I have to admit I was a little surprised he was so blunt and just gave him the book. Given how well he did with the encounter with Guard Garrla, it was surprising he just came right out and said “oh hey, we know what you did, and here’s the proof of it”. I mean, there was at least a small chance Elovar might have just solved the problem by running us through with swords and throwing the book in the harbor, but no… it actually works and he lets us pass. Up onto the boat, away we go, and mission accomplished.

Well… mostly accomplished, since Steve said we achieved four of the five objectives. Wonder what the fifth one was? I’m feeling like “getting Themolin out without violence” was probably the answer there; there seems like just enough wiggle room in that encounter that maybe we could’ve side-stepped the fight and had a zero-combat mission.

And with that, all that’s left is the aftermath. Nella continues to be the Worst. Scout. Ever, failing her check for the second straight adventure. We explore the dark arts of Sensual Blacksmithing. Nixnox is a cop who plays by his own set of rules. And we have a consensus that everyone’s eager to fight someone next time.

Before I wrap up for the week, I’ll reinforce Steve’s now-official reminder that we’ll be doing a live show at PaizoCon this year – Thursday the 28th, 4-7 pm PST (7-10 pm EST). I assume given the amount of time available, we’d probably be doing a Quest – that fits the timeslot better than a full adventure – but that’s more on the Steve side of things, so don’t take that as written in stone.

Next week, we’ll be back with a brand new adventure. Since Steve already gave it away, Vanessa and Mama Millcent will be rejoining the merry band of adventurers, and oh yes, this time we will be fighting stuff. While you’re waiting for that, please do stop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 4, The Gang’s All Here

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 4: The C-Team.

So much for this being a non-combat adventure, huh?

I guess technically Steve said we shouldn’t get into it with the city guard, but that didn’t rule out meeting someone nasty in our travels. At first, I was assuming it might be something creepy-crawly down in the sewers, but I suppose one of our extractions being complicated by the customer being kidnapped also works.

But backing up a little: yeah, we split the party, which is something you’re Never Supposed To Do. Now, the main reason (as Steve mentioned in the intro) is that combat encounters are balanced for a full party and if you only have part of your group, you’re probably going to get your butts handed to you. Going in, I wasn’t so worried about that BECAUSE Steve had been presenting this as a mostly non-combat mission. More importantly, when it comes right down to it, we kinda had to. At the first split (leaving John and Seth behind), we needed those rafts to be built so SOMEONE had to stay behind to build them. As far as the second split (me breaking off from the dwarves), if we waited for Themolin all day, we’d run out of time on Option 1 and basically be committing to taking the family out through the gates. I’d rather have us choose our own course of action than having it dictated to us.

Personally I was more worried about splitting the party as a fairness issue. Splitting the party for 5 or 10 minutes is one thing. But splitting the party for an hour or longer? That can be kind of a drag for the people who aren’t in the spotlight. It’s nice that both John and Seth seemed to enjoy the action from afar and said they were cool with it, but still… it’s kind of a drag to give up your whole evening and NOT play. Doubly so in this online environment – in an in-person game, you’re still at least “at the table”; with this setup, you’re sitting in a room with a headset on, listening to other people do all the fun stuff.

Nothing to be done about it though. Party split, let’s go.

On the Themolin side, it’s mostly a matter of navigating bureaucracy, followed by overcoming Themolin’s natural cowardice. (For now.) But the Dwarf “Brothers” finally get in to see him, go to work on him, and finally get him over the hump. He says he’ll meet us later at a warehouse. I thought Chris was maybe a little too obvious with the “LOOK AT THIS VERY IMPORTANT NOTE THAT YOU’D BETTER NOT READ” but whatever… a) I wasn’t there and b) Lawful Good characters aren’t supposed to be great at deception.

Meanwhile, I take on making contact with the teacher and her family at the school. I go in assuming it’s a fairly easy encounter – it’s a pretty easy cover story to just say you heard about the school and wanted to register for classes or something — and for the most part it is. Here the big problem is the revelation that the two kids can’t keep their mouths shut – it’s hard to imagine these two going out the front gates, so it starts to feel like the family has to go on the boat. (I also don’t see scenarios where we split the family up; they’re probably a package deal.) I do like the nickname “Prunelord”, though.

The other big problem… I don’t know if it’s a problem or an opportunity, but it’s LITERALLY “big”… is that we pick up a giant as part of our extended entourage. I have to admit my first instinct was to tell him he was on his own. If the boat’s got limited space, he probably wouldn’t fit well or might cost us multiple normal-sized passenger slots, and it also doesn’t seem likely we’d get him out the front gate very easily. But then the analysis kicked in. It sounds like he has some useful skills that could help us. Swimming could come in very useful if the plan with the rafts doesn’t work. Stealth might play as well, though I still don’t think his stealth is good enough to waltz onto the dock without some sort of distraction. The other issue was quite simply that I didn’t want to make a unilateral decision for the group. So I kicked it down the road and told him to come along. We’ll sort it out later, though there’s still a 10% chance we tell him we can’t help him.

And OK… to metagame a little, this seems like one of those alternate/secondary objectives where you get extra fame and reputation if you can get the giant out too. But I’m saying that after the fact. Not part of my analysis at the time.

So I meet back up with the dwarves and we head to the meetup with Themolin. The good news is Wild Shape actually turns out to be useful for once, as I’m able to turn into a cat and recon the warehouse and sniff out the ambush that’s waiting for us. Pest Form is pretty much useless for combat, but for infiltrations, being able to turn into a completely innocuous creature you’d see wandering around the back alleys of a city… can’t be beat.

The bad news is that the plan we come up with to turn the tables doesn’t quite go off as planned. “Set a fire to distract them, sneak out the door and meet back up and take them out separately!” Ummm… about that. First, the door I planned to use to make my escape is locked, and I don’t have thieving skills or tools. So I’m basically stuck in the bottom corner of the warehouse with the bad guys between me and the dwarves. Second, I didn’t anticipate the bad guys had a caster, and my beautiful fire distraction lasts all of one round. WHOOP-DE-DOO! So now I have to hide amongst the goods (aided by a hero point) and wait for Thorgrim and Thorodin to wade in and start the combat that was always going to happen.

The fight itself actually goes well – I think part of it was luck, part of it was Steve getting fancy with the caster, and part of it was maybe us knuckling down and taking it seriously. I think knowing that we were operating short-handed made us take it more seriously and we didn’t try to get fancy. As I’m sitting here after the fact, I am wondering if Steve might have adjusted the encounter to account for splitting the party, but you’d have to ask him that. But the net effect is that Thorodin takes a bit of a beating, but we survive and rescue Themolin. We have now officially made contact with all of our customers.

So we hand-wave travel time and get back to the inn. Theoretically, it was 2 hours to get back and we went to the warehouse an hour before curfew, but we’ll let it slide. We’re back at the inn. Raft building continues (going better than the previous attempts), and we have to actually start finalizing the plans for who’s going with which batch. For the moment, it looks like we’re going to go with the family (wouldn’t want to split them up and kids can’t keep their mouths shut) and the accountant (highly visible target) on the boat. It’s not finalized, but that’s how we’re leaning. We still don’t have a plan for the giant, but the general consensus seems to be that we’re going to try to help him. The plan to disguise him as a statue seems… well… a little silly, but I don’t have anything better at the moment.

Also, we learn that the accountant and the guard may be somewhat connected – the guard mentioned in Garrla’s journal MAY be the source of the bookkeeping error Themolin found, as he might have sold the Prunelord… err… Runelord a forged painting. It’s TBD whether it was intentional or not, but I’m not sure it matters. Either he’s corrupt or he’s incompetent, but either way, it’s a lever we might be able to exploit now that we understand it better.

So that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. The plans are all starting to come together, and when we return, we’ll finally get our first batch of people out of this crazy town. As long as our rafts hold up and nothing unforeseen happens. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.