Befriend. Train. Battle. Evovle. Learn all about Battlezoo Eldamon at eldamon.com!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S3|14: Fifty Shades Of Blackfeather

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

It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bomb is gone?

Oh that’s bad.

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S3|13: Anti-Social Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bird’s Eye View S3|12: Dougie Is the Keymaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S3|10: Mission Improbable

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|10: The Plan Is, There Is No Plan!

I bring you greetings from Pittsburgh, the land of collapsing bridges. If you’d like the slimmest of gaming tie-ins between this column and tabletop role-playing games, my brother and I used to walk from our home community (Edgewood) to our local gaming store in Squirrel Hill and cross that bridge in both directions. I TRANSPORTED A FIEND FOLIO ACROSS THAT BRIDGE 35 YEARS AGO, DAMNIT!

(To indulge in the briefest of asides, even though the photos make the bridge look like it’s in the middle of nowhere, Forbes Avenue is actually a major traffic artery linking the east suburbs with the Oakland section of town where the universities are. So that bridge got a LOT of car traffic and several major bus routes daily. We’re lucky it collapsed at 6 am when no one was on it.)

Sorry. We don’t make the national news often. Gotta make the most of it.

We start this week with a show… not even note, really… more of a rumination. We’ve actually had a little bit of a difficult time getting the show going after the holidays. We took the time between Christmas and New Years’ off as a planned break. So far, so good… time with family and friends, wholesome stuff like that. But coming back from the break has been a scheduling minefield: Chris’ mic broke one week, I got tickets to the Steeler game another, John and Seth both came down sick… as such, until last night, we had conducted ONE session since mid-December.

The glass-half-full (particularly for our Patreon live listeners): we’re still here. We’ve had a run of bad luck in terms of scheduling, but this isn’t us disappearing into the witness protection program. But this IS the long-winded way of saying we’ve burned up some of our runway, and we might reach a point where we have to shorten up our shows to conserve material like the Three-Ring show did. Steve would know more as the person who edits things, but in terms of the break itself, we ended up being off longer than the circus crew was out last summer.

Getting into this week’s episode, it’s all about finishing up the prep work and getting ready for the big gala. I have to admit that I’m struggling with this whole premise. I’m not saying it’s BAD, but I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around it.

The first is kind of a petty point: I’m not crazy about the plot artifice that we have to do the heist on the day of the gala. There’s (theoretically) no time constraint on getting the bomb out of the box since the bad guys can’t get to it. In theory, there’s no reason we couldn’t develop a plan to steal the key and go into the box over days or even weeks. So why are we choosing to go in on the day when security is at its highest and people who don’t belong there will stand out like a sore thumb?

But I get it… that’s how a heist plot works: the stakes and challenges have to be high. Invisibility sphering into his room, stealing the key, making a copy, and then coming back days or weeks later as legit customers isn’t nearly as exciting. Objection withdrawn.

What makes me nervous is the overall lack of direction. Now, in gaming, we sometimes talk about bad games “running on rails” where the players don’t really have any agency and they’re just there to perform the actions they are presented with. If anything, this infiltration feels like it could actually use some rails.

One thing I noticed about the heist genre in general that’s absent here: the heroes in those stories always have pretty meticulous knowledge about what they need to do. Whether it’s Mission Impossible, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job… the heroes always have enough knowledge to lay the puzzle out in advance, so the viewer knows exactly how insurmountable the task is.

There are pressure sensors in the floor tiles. The door to the vault is on a voiceprint scan so we have to get a recording of someone saying the code phrase. The laser grid can only be deactivated for three seconds and has to be performed at two separate terminals at the same time.

One thing I noticed, both as Dougie was taking his tour and as Gomez was going in as part of the cleaning crew, was that not only do we not have that knowledge; it was almost impossible to tell what we should be focusing on in terms of implementing our plan and what was just filler. As I was listening (then and now), I’d have these reactions of “oh, I wonder if that’s important”. Even now, two months after we played through this, I find myself wondering “oh should we have used that instead?”.

The guards don’t go into the bathrooms with the cleaning crew: can we use that? There’s a secret space in Carlyle’s office, but it doesn’t appear to be the vault itself: could that be where he keeps the key when he sleeps? Is the loud-mouth casino patron Gage seems to avoid plot-important or just obnoxious? Are the flying chairs truly something we can use, or just flavor to show how advanced and sophisticated the casino’s technology is? (And to make it easier for the head of security to come to kick our asses if we mess up.)

I can respect that the adventure is trying to give players choice and room to make their own plan, and there are probably some groups that are going to Ethan Hunt the crap out of this. But for my tastes, there’s almost too much choice. It almost cuts against the heist genre they’re trying to replicate, which is all about knowing EXACTLY what you have to do and just having to execute it – possibly by demonstrating skill, but also by handling curveballs when things don’t go as planned. And it makes me nervous because we get one shot at this, and if the plan we come up with is a blind alley, what do we do then? Let’s say we build our plan entirely around infiltrating Carlyle’s private quarters, but then he spends the entire gala down on the floor and we never see him or the key. What then?

The gossip about the disgruntled wizard made for an interesting addition that could play out in a couple of different ways. My first impulse was that this guy might BE the bread crumbs I was hoping to find, that he represents Help From Unlikely Places. That is, this wizard is pissed at Gage and has been thinking about how to get into the vault for a while now, so if we find the wizard we can piggyback onto whatever plans he might have. But then Seth suggested – and this is a bit more meta-gamey – that maybe he’s the “distraction” that will give us a window to get the key and/or visit the vault. That possibility got a lot more likely when our attempts to contact him hit a brick wall: if we can’t even get a sniff of him before the event, it’s more likely he’s an event that’s going to unfold on game day. A third possibility is that the wizard is in league with the Twilight Four and he’s going to give the whole thing urgency or we’re going to have to fight him for the bomb. But that feels like a remote possibility, insofar as it sounds like the wizard took out his loan a while ago and is unrelated to this. Also, based on what we know of the Twilight Four, they would probably have practiced better opsec and wouldn’t have a bunch of casino employees blab about their plans.

Within all of this, I got to go on a little in-person recon, checking out the vault itself. Between Dougie and Gomez, we had gotten access to pretty much every inch of the place EXCEPT the vault, so I figured it was worth getting a look, and it also gave us a chance to replicate the key. I suppose that means we’re committing to replacing the real key with a fake. That seems like a pretty tricky thing to accomplish, but hey, that’s what Edge Points are for, I guess.

So as we draw to a close, we’ve got… pieces of a plan. We’re going to go to the gala – Lo Mang working in the kitchen, the rest of us as guests. Dougie will look for an opportunity to swap keys, and then we’ll try to make our way down to the vault. (Not sure how we’re doing this yet.) Go into the box, get the device, get back out, and then swap the keys back so our subterfuge won’t be detected. There’s still a few pieces of that that are theoretical concepts more than an actual “plan” but it’s certainly enough to ride into battle with.

So join us next week when we put on our dancing shoes, rub elbows with polite society, and rob a fairly upstanding businessman to save the world. You know… as cops do. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|09: Gomez’s Four

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|09: Brother From Another Mother.

First things first this week: I’d like to take a moment to welcome Mark Seifter to the extended Roll For Combat/Battlezoo family. OK, he’s doing actual WORK-work and we’re just the bozos screwing around in the basement, so it’s kinda like the guy who played Propeller Guy in Titanic congratulating James Cameron on his Oscar, but hey… I still wanted to give the guy a shout-out on his first day in the RFC treehouse. Besides… his presence means I can plant that “playable red panda ancestry” idea directly. INCEPTION!

This week we begin a new phase in the adventure… that’s right, it’s time for a good old-fashioned subsystem.

Subsystems arose out of the fact that older editions of D&D were really loose about how to handle… well… anything that wasn’t combat. You just kinda winged it, things happened, and either all worked out or people got mad at the GM and/or each other. So there was definitely some room for a system to put some structure to it, in order to tamp down on some of the bruised feelings that sometimes arose from getting too loosey-goosey with things.

That said, I tend to have a love-hate relationship with them. The problem is that some of these systems are really elegant and well done, but some of them just kinda flop around like a fish out of water. And specifically, some of these systems don’t really know what to do with non-skill-monkey characters, and leave some players with little to contribute. You even see a little of this unfold where Lo Mang doesn’t really have MUCH in the way of relevant skills. Similarly, if you go back to the Black Lodge episode where we rebuild the fort, my druid didn’t really have a lot to do because of the way the tasks were allocated. Only time will tell how this one goes.

I won’t regurgitate the whole setup, but basically, the players attempt to complete various skills challenges; if they succeed, they move closer to the goal; if they fail, they generate “awareness points” that increase the overall difficulty if you gain too many of them. And presumably, at some point, you fail entirely if you get too many awareness points.

This is further divided into a preparation phase and an execution phase, and the prepare phase lets you earn “Edge Points”. They’re basically hero points on steroids, because instead of a re-roll, they’re good for an automatic success. HOWEVER, two limitations. The first is that Edge Points are usually related to a specific activity, whereas hero points are generic. So in this first episode, Basil forges documents and gains an Edge Point, but that Edge Point can ONLY be used in a context where the documents would make a difference. The second is that if you fail, you don’t know you fail and might get a FAKE Edge Point. So then you go to use that Edge Point and it blows up in your face. Oops.

The other thing that’s picking at my brain as we start this phase of the adventure is the setup is so weird. Look, I think heist movies, as a genre, are a lot of fun and I’m intrigued to try and play through one. But I’m a little nervous about the execution.

First is that the heist movie has a central conceit that the protagonist(s) is the smartest person in the room and knows EVERYTHING he needs to know to be three steps ahead of the bad guy. It’s a little hard to replicate that dynamic when a) the players don’t know everything and b) even what they think they know, they have to roll to see if their CHARACTERS know it and can execute it properly. It seems like a heist movie tends to have REALLY tight story beats, and a system with a lot of randomnesses could cause issues.

And that’s not to say things can’t go wrong. In fact, in a lot of heist movies, that tends to be a feature: the plan is going smoothly up to a certain point when things go wrong, and our heroes have to adapt their meticulous plans on the fly. I’m not ruling it out as a plot device. I just worry if ANY gaming system is flexible enough to keep up with that.

The other problem I have is that the heist dynamic is chafing against the actual story beats. Put more simply: we’re COPS, robbing a CASINO. You’ll have to explain that one to me, Paizo.

Think about it. It’s stated that Gage Carlyle runs an honest business and doesn’t break any laws (that we know of; for all we know, he could actually turn out to be one of the Twilight Four). So you’re saying we can’t just go to him as officers of the law and say “look, someone may have stored a deadly WMD in your vault, and unless you want your casino to be Ground Zero of Absalom’s destruction, you’ll let us take a look”? He really wouldn’t go for that? That just seems goofy to me. Especially since we have a copy of the key that was legitimately given to us. I know the legal system of Absalom is not meant to be the legal system of 2022 America, but we can’t just go get a warrant?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely intrigued. It is certainly a scenario unlike anything else I’ve played in recent memory. On that basis alone, I’m willing to give it a shot. But going in, I’ve got this vibe that it’s gonna be a bit of a high-wire act and may just fall apart entirely.

In other news, we also reach Level 10, which among other things, means we get to add the free archetype variant rule. (The Three-Ring Adventure show did this a few months ago.) In my case, I’m doing a bit of a retcon: I’m making the free archetype the wizard multi-class archetype that I originally took at Level 2 anyway, which frees up my feat slots to take the Eldritch Archer archetype starting at Level 6, plus a few other extras to fill in the holes where the wizard feats used to be.

I swear, I never even conceived of adding archery to my build; I was always going to be Sherlock Holmes, and my sword cane was pretty much going to be my bread and butter. But I’ve been coming around on the bow. It’s a little feast-or-famine, but when it lands – and particularly when it CRITS – it’s a thing of beauty. First, it protects me from my own squishiness, which is a positive thing. But I noticed that ranged attacks are a LITTLE more efficient when it comes to Devise a Stratagem. If DaS fails with a melee attack, sometimes I’m not in range of another opponent and have to switch to a spell, which costs me an extra action. With the bow, I can just switch the attack to a different target a lot easier and keep on trucking.

Among other things, I see Enchanting Arrow having some really nice interactions with Devise a Stratagem. Basically, Enchanting Arrow makes your attack cost an extra action, but adds 2d6 mental damage to the shot. I figure if DaS gives me a definite (or even probable) crit, I load as much damage as possible into that shot and double that 2d6 along with everything else. If I fail the DaS, I just plink away with single-action attacks.

The other change which is going to be fun is Suspect of Opportunity. Just to refresh, an Investigator gets to declare two leads that generate bonuses on skill checks related to investigating them, and Devise a Stratagem becomes a free action against that person. But once you set your target, you’re kinda stuck with it, so my leads have usually been the big boss characters. Suspect Of Opportunity lets me add another name to the queue once an hour, preserving the leads that are already there. So if we run into an unexpected challenge, I can put the free-action bonus on them for the duration of the fight and then switch it back to the main lead once we’re done.

Lastly, I wanted to give a brief shout-out to Steve for letting me make a little use of the background material I created for Basil. When we first started the show, I wrote a whole backstory for Basil under the assumption we might try to go a little deeper on the roleplay like the Three-Ring show does. That’s kinda fallen by the wayside a little – the one time we brought Basil’s brother along, half the party just seemed annoyed about it – but it was nice to dust that off and take it for a spin. Honestly, even I’ve kind of abandoned the FULL version of it anyway: if I was still using the whole thing, Basil never would’ve gone home to ask his dad for an invitation because he’s probably in a heap of trouble by now, between dropping out of school and… something else. But it’s nice to know it’s still there and we can dig into it on occasion. And hey… got me a hero point too!

So one day in, Gomez got some gossip, Lo Mang might have a job lined up, Dougie has assessed the building security and layout, and Basil may have created some fake identities that will pass muster. Next episode, we’ll have two more days of prep, and then we get serious about infiltratin’! As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|08: Everybody Wants to Be My Frenemy

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|08: Parlay?

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the sub-boss fight…

We pick up this week with Bloody Berleth, leader of the Diobel Sweepers, inviting us upstairs to chat. Now, OK, this could all be a trap, but I suppose there’s no real harm in finding out. Also, there’s a little pragmatic fatalism – if he’s got 10 more guys upstairs, we’re gonna have to fight them sooner or later anyway, so might as well just get to it. If Berleth’s deal turns out to be legit, it’ll be a nice little bonus. So up we go to potentially make a deal, or potentially put our own necks in a noose.

So we head upstairs, first noticing that the stairs are trapped. Would’ve made things interesting if we’d just charged up after him. (Though I’d note it will also make things equally interesting if this is a trap and we have to retreat with the trap re-armed.)

We get up to Berleth’s office, light refreshments are served, and the lay of the land becomes a little more clear. Both he and Maurrisa have keys to a lockbox in the Lucky Nimbus casino: Maurrisa never explicitly mentioned that the “something” she was going to give us was her key, but it seems pretty heavily implied now. That lockbox probably contains a WMD, which – skipping around a little – is a larger bomb version of the substance that was set loose in the menagerie back in our first episode(s). For the moment the device is “safe” because neither leader can actually go into the casino – they’re both banned because of the war between the factions. But when you’re talking about an unattended WMD in the middle of the city, “safe” is a really relative term.

So Berleth’s offer is his copy of the key, and his price is pretty much the same as hers: destroying his rival. Only his is a little more palatable insofar as he just wants the location of her gang and he’ll do the dirty work himself.

Essentially, they’re both offering the same bargain with roughly the same ramifications – other than one leads to combat here and now – and it’s a matter of which horse we want to back. There are pluses and minuses to both sides, they’re both kinda scummy, but at the end of the day, neither faction is the big fish and at some point, we just have to hold our nose and pick one and get on with the main quest.

We KNOW Maurrisa Jonne is the one who worked with the Skinner, and that immediately makes her suspect. It’s easy to say you didn’t want to work with them once their boss is dead and your involvement is public knowledge. On the other hand, if she wanted us dead, she could’ve just killed us when we returned Gord. She had a fairly clean opportunity to be rid of us and passed. We also know – from the general background – that she had mellowed out a little after the bust that led to Berleth’s imprisonment. So maybe there’s SOME truth to her being a less-than-fully-willing participant.

On the other hand, there’s Bloody Berleth. We can certainly assume he’d say just about anything to get rid of Maurrisa to get revenge for turning him in. Also, we sorta know (or can assume) that 10 years ago, the police considered him the bigger threat, since they were willing to cut Maurrisa a deal to put him away. You throw away the little fish to get the big one; that’s LITERALLY what we’re doing now. There’s also the nickname “Bloody”: I don’t know if Steve just made a mistake, or he was having Berleth lie and we were supposed to catch it, but his nickname was “Blessed Berleth” while he and Maurrisa were working together; “Bloody” was a reinvention AFTER he got out of prison. So fancy clothes and fruity drinks aside, this guy isn’t totally on the up-and-up.

There’s also the nature of their specific crimes, which seemed to sway Chris the most out of us. The Dogs’ crimes are simple and obvious stuff, literally assaulting and robbing people, and running protection rackets. The Sweepers’ crimes are a little more ambiguous in that way. What do recreational drugs mean in this context? Should we treat them as the local weed-man, or the Mexican cartels? And OK, I never raised this point, but that bomb in the lockbox was an alchemical device: are we absolutely sure the Sweepers weren’t ALSO working for the Skinner? Or perhaps the Twilight Four are puppetmasters, and a different member of the Four was working with Berleth.

I’ll put it this way: at a meta-level I don’t THINK the choice has any broader implications – I think the point within the flow of the adventure was to choose one and move on. But as I’m re-listening to these episodes, we didn’t REALLY scrutinize Berleth as much as maybe we should’ve.

Certainly, expedience says we should side with Berleth. First, it means we don’t have to fight anyone else. Second, it means he puts his copy of the lockbox key into our hand NOW, rather than having to jump through any more hoops.

And OK, killer alchemists who dress fashionably are still a more respectable gang than killer newsies. Purely from a fashion standpoint, Absalom is better off with the Sweepers winning the war.

You do see Seth and I (in particular) wrestling with alternate plans that admittedly sound pretty silly on re-listen. Seth tries to singlehandedly broker peace between two people who have had a decade to hate each other (and, as we’re learning for the first time, ex’es too). Meanwhile, I come up with some weird-ass plan that involves faking Berleth’s death to get Maurrisa to show her cards. To be honest, this plan is so confusing and stupid that even I don’t know what I was thinking in offering it. I wouldn’t presume to speak for Seth, but for me, it was a matter of feeling conflicted about helping EITHER gang destroy the other, even if it would probably be a net positive for the war to be over. Much like James Tiberius Kirk, that was me wrestling with the no-win scenario and trying to come up with a Kobayashi Maru alternative that hadn’t been considered.

But I think at the end of the day, we decided to take Berleth’s deal because it was on the table now and moved us forward. If there are consequences to be dealt with later… well, it sounds like one side or the other will be removed from play, and we can always come back and thump the winner later when we’re at a higher level.

Speaking of which… Level 10 is here! Needless to say, I’m excited – not only is 10 a big level on its own, but Steve is going to let us go back and retroactively apply the free archetype variant rule as he did for the Three-Ring Adventure show a couple of months ago. I have to admit, though, that the flow of the show was weird because we STARTED to talk about how we were going to level our characters but then stopped halfway through because we weren’t all equally prepared to follow through. So there was some good information about what we were thinking, but there was also a bunch of complaining about Hero Lab’s cost structure and giving John the link to Pathbuilder like… three separate times. So the last 10 minutes or so was a tough listen: some of the information there was definitely worth keeping, but I also don’t envy whoever had to edit around some of the chaff.

I’m probably going to save our Level 10 builds for next time, just to start fresh. But next time out, it’s a new level AND the adventure moves into a new phase, as apparently, we are going to have to pull off a casino heist. Because cops stealing things from casino vaults is totally a thing that happens all the time.

Is this where we turn to a life of crime and the Edgewatch spends the next three books chasing us? I guess we’ll find out next time. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|07: Chalky: The Quicker Fixer-Upper

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|07: Back to School.

We start this week with some overall news from the RFC Mothership, as Mark Seifter is now officially part of Team RFC. It’s a weird sensation because it certainly feels like big news – like a seismic shift from “a podcast whose GM decided to put a book together for grins” to “an actual RPG content creator that happens to also do a podcast”. That FEELS exciting to me on a visceral level. On the other hand, the honest truth is that the publishing side of the RFC/Battlezoo house is Steve’s baby and we (the players) don’t interact much with it. He’ll run an idea past us every once in a while to see what we think of it or show us a cool piece of artwork, but that’s about it. So it’s cool and I’m curious to see what cool places this takes RFC as a whole. But day to day, it doesn’t really change anything for what we do… unless Mark is also about to become the fifth member of the Edgewatch and Steve hasn’t told us yet.

The other (out-of-game) thing that excites me this week is we’re finally bringing my home game back out of mothballs in 2022. We’d pretty much been shut down during the pandemic, and we didn’t bother taking it online because part of the appeal was getting together in person. But the group text chat started showing signs of life around New Year’s, and we’re going to have a new Session Zero in a week or two. The only bad news is it’s no longer the “Dads and Kids” game because the kids have had two years to develop their own interests and decide their parents are weirdos. I think we’re gonna keep one party-controlled NPC in case a kid wants to drop in for a session, but otherwise… que sera, sera.

So on to this week’s episode, as we continue our infiltration of the Diobel Sweeper lair, which prominently features another golem encounter.

The first thing I’ll note is that the Three-Ring show just hit THEIR alchemical golem encounter a few weeks ago, so I was having some amusing flashbacks when they were doing battle. I believe the “you need to use sonic damage” was muttered with the same tone that Al Powell observed, “they’re shooting at the lights” at Nakatomi Tower.

Of course, the wrinkle of our encounter was that our golem, Chalky, was designed for heals and buffing rather than offense. And that posed quite an interesting dynamic. I’ve been thinking, but even dating back to First Edition, it’s actually REALLY rare for enemies to have a true party healer mechanic that matches the way players heal. You’ll see creatures with fast healing pretty regularly, there will be the occasional one-shot life-drain type ability that takes hit points from the players and gives it to the enemy, but it’s pretty rare that real tactical healing is an option. I don’t know if that’s because it makes the math difficult or makes too much work for the GM, but you just don’t see it too often. So it was kind of refreshing. Annoying… but refreshing.

The good news is that the minions are pretty low-level and kind of brittle, so the ones that can’t make it over to Chalky for healing either go down quickly or decide to get the hell out of Dodge. (Especially the ones that would have to run THROUGH the cloudkill to get to Chalky.) And I didn’t really process this at the time but I noticed on re-listen that Chalky NEVER attacks. It’s not like “it mostly heals and then attacks if it’s got actions left”… it NEVER swings at us once. Considering how bad alchemical golems pummeled the Three-Ring crew, we caught a bit of a break with that one: they can hit pretty hard.

Speaking of cloudkill, you’ll notice that we had a little bit of a rules question that never gets resolved. Gomez finally gets to cast his cloud kill, right? I think it was actually the first time he’s been able to use it. The description of the spell says it “moves 10 feet away from the caster” each round. So is that 10 feet away from where the caster currently is or 10 feet away from the point of emanation? Could the caster (slowly) chase things around the room with his cloud by repositioning himself, or is it fire-and-forget and keeps moving the same direction it was cast?

It’s probably not a huge point anyway because most NPCs are going to be able to outrun something that moves 10 feet per round. But the “fire-and-forget” interpretation where the caster can’t control it at all is almost TOO limiting because you’d fire it off, the enemies would run away in the opposite direction, and it would just drift off irrelevantly into a corner or whatever room you’re in. At that point it might as well just be a single-round burst, do damage once, and then one wouldn’t have to screw around with moving it at all.

Sorry, I realize this is a lot of effort to expend on a cloud that moves at a really slow walk. But why else does this column exist if not to dissect rules minutiae?

As the minions are starting to drop or flee, Bloody Berleth makes his first appearance at the top of the stairs. And at first glance, I thought we were going to be entering the “Shit Gets Real” phase of combat. (Additionally, I figured the golem was going to get more aggressive as part of that.) But no… for a guy whose nickname is “Bloody” Berleth, he’s both surprisingly well-dressed and polite. And he makes us an offer to come up to the office for a parlay. Now, not sure what we can get out of him at this point – the Washboard Dogs are the ones with the connections to the Skinner and the Twilight Four – but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to listen. And as a side, if we go upstairs, we’re further away from Chalky if there’s a round two to this battle. So up the stairs we go.

And as we go up… I notice something. Wait, I notice something? What do I notice? I honestly don’t remember. But I guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S3|06: You Won’t See Me

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|06: The Main-Gauche Gambit.

Welcome to the first Talking Combat of 2022. I was all prepared to make a New Year’s resolution to get back to delivering my columns on a consistent day, and then my brother came through with tickets to Monday Night Football. What’s a guy to do?

Well, there are 51 weeks left in the year. We’ll get there.

In a very minor, and probably obvious, show-note to our Patreon live listeners, I expect we’ll get back to recording live shows this coming Monday. We took a nice little break over the holidays but we’re about ready to re-convene and address some new business. Just to supply some perspective, we’re quite a ways ahead in the actual show – I think these episodes you’re listening to now are from late September or early October. I know the Circus show has tightened up the gap a little but we’re still running at a bit of a surplus.

As we return to the show, we’re beginning our infiltration (Oh who are we kidding? It’ll turn into an assault soon enough) of the Diobel Sweepers’ alchemical lab. As you may remember Maurrisa Jonne of the Washboard Dogs promised us intel on the Twilight Four if we would resolve her blood feud with the Sweepers for her (and release her brother). On one hand, I trust Maurrisa as far as I can throw her since she used to work for the Skinner; on the other hand, it’s not like the Sweepers are upstanding citizens, so taking them out is still a net reduction in the number of bad guys.

As we arrive at the compound, the first part of the operation is actually a bit of a stealth operation, as there are guards in the outer courtyard to avoid. Fortunately, the spell I’ve had in my back pocket for a few levels now – invisibility sphere – finally gets an opportunity to see the light of day. Now, the open door feels a little too obvious, like it might be a trap, but since it’s far enough away from the guards and we’re invisible, there’s no harm in opening it and seeing if there are guards inside.

I’ll just quickly reiterate the rules since we debate them for a while and settle on a few wrong answers before getting to the right one. The group can move at normal walking speeds and take non-combat actions without disrupting the spell. If you try to move faster than that, or if anyone takes aggressive action, it ends. And an aggressive action by ANYONE under the effect of the spell ends it for everyone. Also, even if you don’t attack (so even if you just buff and cast defensive spells), it still ends the spell after the first round of combat. Also, if someone steps outside the sphere, it ends the spell for them – no jumping in and out of the sphere, appearing and disappearing. It’s a one-way ticket.

Now, there was one clarification Chris was asking that didn’t really get answered: if you jump out of the sphere and attack, does that end the spell for the rest of the party? I feel like the answer ought to be no: if leaving the sphere severs the effect permanently, that means you’re just not part of the spell anymore, and that should apply both positively and negatively. So you could have your rogue fly solo and run around backstabbing people while the rest of the party continued to explore. But that would seem to imply that the remaining invisible characters would not be able to join combat at all. So if you’re gonna have one character jump out and do a side mission, you have to really commit to that 100 percent.

As we reach the first encounter, we also arrive at one of my few Second Edition pet peeves: the loss of the surprise round. Don’t get me wrong… in the new three-action world, I can totally understand why they got rid of it. After all, if you could get surprised and load up a bunch of big attacks for the entire party, that could seriously mess up an opponent before they even drew a weapon. (Flipping things around, imagine if monsters got a surprise round against the party and landed a bunch of crits before the party even knew they were in a fight. Bad times all around.) But it does seem a little silly that – as in this case – two people playing chess can (essentially) sense a fight is coming against invisible people and beat them on the draw. I know Steve gives them some minuses on initiative, but that still feels a little hollow.

Then again, it’s always worth remembering Invisibility 101: invisibility doesn’t do anything about noises, or against interactions with objects in the environment. If you open a door or knock over a lamp, THAT’S still going to be quite visible even if the character themselves are invisible. If you get lucky, the guards may think the opening door was just a gust of wind, but maybe not. Also, they’re alchemists… they know magic exists. Also, they’re still in a war with a rival gang, so they’re going to be sort of alert even while enjoying their downtime. People are capable of multi-tasking even in fantasy settings.

The first room doesn’t go too badly for us. It’s four against two, and they’re not that powerful. The real danger is that right at the end, one of the two guards yells out for backup. We’ve got the guards out in the courtyard that we know about, and who knows how many guys are deeper within the building, so this could get a little ugly. But at least early on, nobody is coming, so maybe we dodged a bullet there.

Where will it go from here? I guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show – we were a little scarce over the holidays, but we’re back now. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.