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The Bird’s Eye View S1|25: What About Bob?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|25: Pork Lo Mang.

Let’s be honest. This week’s episode is a mostly ordinary combat episode, but with one BIG surprise. The return of Bob Markee to Roll For Combat.

If you somehow managed to miss the two-year-plus Starfinder podcast that preceded this show, Bob was/is part of the original crew that launched our show when we did the Dead Suns campaign, playing the anti-hero Envoy Rusty Carter. But when we finished that one up, he decided he wanted to take a break from the gaming group. No falling out or anything like that; he just wanted to do some other things for a while. To be fair, this same iteration of the gaming group has been together for about a decade – Chris, Bob, and I have been the constants, and then we’ve had a different fourth (and occasionally fifth) join us here and there. Sometimes you gotta mix things up a little bit.

But when I heard Bob would be coming on to play Sharky for a week, it was definitely a welcome development. Aside from the general “it’s fun to have him around”, I can think of at least two specific reasons our table is better with him around.

First, he’s a little more toward the calm-and-diplomatic side of things like I am, which helps break up some of these pissing matches that occasionally arise. Don’t get me wrong: Bob has his own pet peeves – particularly about starting and ending on time – but getting worked up about a rule interpretation and letting it derail a session isn’t among them. He’s in the “we talk about it for a minute, reach a decision, and move on” camp like I am (unless someone dies, at which point you take time to stop and get it right).

The other thing is that he might be the best roleplayer among us, which adds an additional dimension to things. Even though it isn’t relevant to taking over an existing character, he comes up with some of the best character concepts. When I say “roleplay”, he doesn’t particularly do VOICES (I don’t think those work well with the all-online table anyway), but he really gets into the headspace of his character and figures out how that would affect his actions and puts some interesting and unexpected choices into it. Like, the part about Sharky just opening his mouth and waiting for the rest of us to feed him instead of just wading into combat: that’s a total Bob move. And he plays well off other players’ cues – I don’t think I told Bob in advance that Basil was wary of Sharky; he just kinda picked it up and ran with it. Though I suppose Steve might’ve briefed him a bit.

(If he were going to be here longer, I’d say the third main benefit of Bob’s return is that he always took the most thorough notes of any of us, but he’s probably not going to resume his stenographer duties if he’s just here as a guest star. So I guess that task still falls to me.)

The episode itself… is mostly taken up with the battle against the former adventuring party, and I LOVED that little twist. That ripple of horror that went up when Steve revealed it was them… that was a totally genuine reaction. I’d been expecting that we might meet some of the “officially” missing people like the zookeeper or Kemenelis, but I never thought that throwaway encounter from the first session would find a way to worm its way back in. And as deaths go… having your skin flayed off and turned into an undead creature is pretty viscerally awful. Unlike Seth, I don’t particularly hold us responsible in any way – our job at the time was to get them to calm down and leave the bar, and we accomplished that. But still… as “shocking” moments go, that one was right up there.

The fight itself ends up not being that tough for the party as a whole, but Basil takes a pretty good beating. Whatever… I was due for one. I did like the subplot of Sharky using Basil’s feathers as decoration… that amused me quite a bit. We heal up, and as usual, John is complaining about healing. I get some of his frustration, but I also feel like we’re a level or two from healing getting a lot more interesting. Remember that once we hit Expert in Medicine a) the DC15 check should be ALMOST automatic for anyone with a decent base score, and b) you can upgrade to a DC20 check to heal an additional 10 HP. Right now that would still be risky, but once that’s a little easier to hit, that would make after-combat heals go a lot smoother. Also, in different circumstances, there’s still the option of proceeding directly to the hour-long heal, but that’s not really a great roleplay choice during what’s supposed to be a hot pursuit.

Our next (and for this session, last) set of doors leads us to the room that resolves the ochre jelly mystery. Holes in the ceiling for the chutes from the guest rooms; hole in the floor contains the jelly. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. I was a little miffed that John just wandered up to the edge of the pit, but then again, the existence of the net for fishing out valuables indicates there’s probably SOME way to operate safely within the room. It’s not like you can TRAIN an ooze, so even Pratchett would need a way to function in here. In an adjoining room, we find a makeshift smithing operation, which is pretty much designed for melting down valuables retrieved from the dead guests. Specifically, we gain evidence on our missing zookeeper (Archibald Knight) as well as one of the names on the general list (the ice wine merchant).

Now, look… I realize that maybe I’m reading a little too much into it, but I think the veterinarian’s whereabouts and intentions are still a little suspicious. For one thing, Knight hadn’t sent the breakup letter to his wife yet, so that indicates he hadn’t yet made a final decision about leaving her. And SOMEONE poisoned the animals, making it odd that she was away RIGHT when that happened. There’s also the fact that that digger went missing, almost as if the menagerie incident was cover for that. So I still think there’s SOME sort of thread to be untangled there. To be clear, I don’t think she was part of THIS: not saying she was in league with Pratchett and luring Knight to his doom; I think that part was picking the wrong hotel to shack up in. I just think there are unanswered questions and we still need to find some sort of more definitive resolution of her status. (I know it’s an old point and not relevant to the chase we’re on now, but wanted to keep it on the radar.)

So next week we resume the chase. I checked, and we’ll still have Bob with us for at least one more episode – never sure how the footage turns into finished shows – so that’ll be fun. We’ll continue to explore the torture workshop, hopefully, unravel the remaining mysteries, and maybe even take Pratchett into custody and end this nightmare. While waiting for next week’s show to arrive, 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 S1|24: Take A Literal Bite Out Of Crime

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|24: You’ve Got A Friend On Me.

My internal chronometer was thrown off a little by this week’s episode. I generally thought we jumped in more quickly, and SPECIFICALLY, I thought we had a special guest performer for Sharky from the moment we ventured into the basement. So some of the column I was writing in my head will have to wait for next time. Oh well.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the big thing this week is Steve allowing us to take a long rest and level up. Strictly speaking, it’s not rules-compliant, but it is what it is. The usual ebb and flow of Pathfinder generally assumes an adventuring party that can proceed at its own pace; it’s a system that just doesn’t always handle being on a clock gracefully. And it’s not just the “cops” setting or even a Pathfinder issue; it was even an issue to a lesser extent back in Dead Suns as well, where we had infiltrated the enemy flagship and then holed up in a storage closet for 8 hours.

But what are the other options, really? The realism of the campaign breaks down entirely if you just shut down a hot pursuit for 24 hours (imagine being on the tail of Ted Bundy and just deciding to take a day off…), and if you “call for backup” and let other officers help you, your party members are relegated to supporting actors in their own story which doesn’t make you feel very heroic.

So Steve came up with the best compromise he could, which means we’re level 4 and fully rested. Really the big change for Basil was bowing to reality and taking Battle Medicine – that gives us a few chances to make those heal scrolls and potions last a little longer. I also took a wizard archetype feat that will EVENTUALLY give me first, second, and third-level spell slots… but for now, just a single first-level spell. So… add one blast of Color Spray to my arsenal.

Incidentally, this character is REALLY forcing me to rethink how I analyze spell choices. To summarize, the wizard archetype gets two spells (though they can still learn spells from other sources), and can only have one slotted at each level. Somewhere in the teens, there’s a feat you can take to get an additional spell slot, but for now, one spell per level is all I get. Under those constraints, I’m pretty much choosing for utility. I’m not going to say ZERO offensive spells, but I’m looking at stuff that hits multiple targets or has a duration or SOMETHING that makes it stand out over a single-target ping. In the grand scheme, a spell that deals 20 or 30 points of damage is a drop in the bucket, but if I can give Dougie and Lo Mang flat-footed for multiple rounds, that has legs. At later levels, I may even move toward non-combat options like Invisibility, Comprehend Languages, and other tools that will help the investigative side of the house.

But for today, Color Spray it is. USE IT IN HEALTH.

Next up is the recruitment of Sharky, which is another bit of rule-bending that I’m just going to chalk up to “good radio”. On one hand, Sharky DID critical fail against Seth’s intimidation, so that DOES mean he’ll be pretty compliant. (Strictly speaking, Gomez “controls” him for a week now.) On the other hand, I still think asking it to risk life and limb to go fight creatures would represent a greater danger than anything Seth’s intimidation implies, so maybe Sharky should get a new save or something.

The long and short of it is that one can come up with a rules reason why it’s a dumb idea, and I wouldn’t even argue it too strenuously. But from a standpoint of making things FUN, it’s an absolute winner. It introduces a new dynamic to combat, it makes the party a bit more survivable, and as you’re going to hear next week, it lets us bring some old friends back into the fold for a visit.

So for the immediate future, bring it on. The Avengers have a Hulk; we have a mimic. Though Basil’s going to be keeping one eye on him the whole time.

Which brings us to a little bit of a dilemma. You’ll remember a few weeks back I wrote about feeling a little frustrated about the teasing at Basil’s expense. (The jokes about the fingers resembling worms.) Yet this week, I was pretty much doing it to myself: jokes about Basil “tasting like chicken”, jokes about Basil being distracted by shiny objects. So what’s the difference that makes this time OK?

I think it comes down to two things, though maybe they’re two aspects of the same basic thing. First, I think most of the teasing was about my character’s actions, not the character itself. Setting aside Basil, another thing I’ve noticed about when we tease each other is that it’s usually based on things we DO: Chris always demanding healing, John playing a tanky character, and then complaining about having to actually trade blows and take damage. In this case, I CHOSE to play Basil as wary of Sharky’s intentions; that was a roleplaying choice on my part, so I can’t really fault other people for then reacting to that roleplay choice as they see fit. If their response is to pile on and make jokes about Basil looking like a good snack or whatever… I kinda invited that reaction. Also, I think there’s something about self-deprecating humor… it’s easier to laugh along with something when you’re making the jokes yourself.

So we head down into the basement – for real this time – and we face off against the pickled punks, which has the feel of a classic “stretch your legs at a new level” fight. Paizo tends to put these fights in their adventures; they know roughly when people are going to level, so they usually give you a fairly easy fight out of the gate to figure out how the new tools work before throwing anything too difficult at you. The punks don’t hit that hard with their initial attacks, and don’t even have THAT many hit points (a little more than a one-shot, but most of them didn’t last more than two hits); the only real danger there is the persistent damage if you leave them attached for too many rounds (or get too many of them on you at once). But we manage the fight fairly effectively, and it’s pretty much a walk in the park.

So… the rest of Murder Hotel’s Inner Torture Sanctum is going to be that easy too, right? Please?

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… with a very special plus-one!

The Bird’s Eye View S1|23: Grab My Sister And Whisper, “Yo, This One’s Dead”

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|23: Kill It With Fire!

How’s that for cutting it close?

This week we have to deal with the continuing dilemma of how far to push ourselves. We begin the episode with Ralso trapped in the attic as far as we know. I guess she could be a rogue and be an expert climber, but at first glance, it didn’t seem there were any windows up in that attic. In fact, I thought there was some discussion of piling furniture in front of the door and just leaving her there. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, or maybe Steve cut that bit for time, but I could’ve sworn it came up as an idea.

But basically, we’re ALMOST out of healing. Even going into the battle, Seth had no spells left and was down to one or two scrolls. I’ll admit I don’t remember who had or hadn’t used their badge at that point – I think I used mine, and I kinda remember Lo Mang using his. There are still a few uses of Battle Medicine left, but that can be unreliable especially if you’re trying to patch up someone who’s already unconscious. You do more damage to someone who’s already out, you apply another level of Dying.

But we decided to go for it anyway. I think there are a few things at play. Part of it is that we already let Ralso out of our grasp once before; we don’t want to lose track of her again. But also, this room literally represents the LAST above-ground room – if we clear this, then the basement is all that’s left. And as I discussed last week that situation feels less volatile: if there’s an exit through the basement, “they” (presumably Pratchett, maybe some henchmen?) have now had a couple of hours to escape. If there’s no basement exit, we now seem to control the only access. One way or the other, we reach a point where the situation can be compartmentalized and we can plan our next move. Also, nobody articulates it, but I think we’re thinking that we blew through her dolls pretty quick; no one SAYS it, but we’re all kinda hoping Skeleton Girl can be dispatched similarly quickly.

Though before we do, we decide to recon the room for treasure. And we find Ralso’s diary which sheds some light on her role in the crimes, and also provides an unexpectedly bleak and kinda sad “origin” story. Curse you Paizo, for making me feel sympathy toward a sub-boss!

Turns out that while Ralso was never a fully upstanding member of society, there was a point at which she was trying to walk a fairly straight path until she was taken advantage of by worse people. From there, her sister died (the animated skeleton in the attic), and her life fell apart from there. It’s unclear how many murders she personally committed, but she surely can’t feign innocence, and the peepholes were primarily for her benefit. So… definitely enough of an active accessory to give her whatever Absalom’s harshest penalty is, whether that’s death or life in the Underwater Swamp Prison.

As an aside: I wonder what the proportions are between “Ralso wanted to pretend her sister was still alive at all costs” vs. “Pratchett did this to use her own guilt and sorrow to control her even further”. Later on during the fight, we hear the skeleton telling Ralso “it’s your fault I died”, so it doesn’t seem like a particularly benevolent relationship. I mean, Ralso still deserves to fry given the sheer number of people they’re likely to have offed, but are there some mitigating circumstances here?

We also find a note about a bank robbery planned for next week that Ralso was offered a chance to participate in, but declined because the other people involved were too crazy even for her. That seems like a WONDERFUL breadcrumb for our next case… but we have to survive this one first, don’t we? For the moment, tuck it in the pocket and keep moving.

Finally, after almost an hour of subpar healing rolls, we’re ready to resume the attack. Huzzah!

The battle ends up being a bit of a mixed bag. Actually, the skeleton sister isn’t THAT tough once you get past her aura, partly because Gomez still has a few “harm undead” tricks left in his bag. But what is concerning is that we’re having a heck of a time actually hitting Ralso herself. I don’t know if the cramped quarters of the attic are causing issues, or it was always difficult to hit her and we just didn’t notice it while we were still downstairs. But we’re struggling to put damage on her, and she… well… isn’t having the same problem. In fact, she’s critting quite a bit. Dougie and I both take turns on the ground as the fight progresses, and Lo Mang is pretty low as well. Heck, at one point, I get revived just in time to get knocked out a second time. Now, I still have my Hero Point if the worst should happen, but we’re still one… MAYBE two turns away from disaster when we finally get Ralso down and win the fight.

And that’s where we end the week. “This house is clean”! Well… the above-ground portion anyway. We still have to tackle the basement, and are faced with the same problem we had taking on Ralso, only now we’re completely out of healing SCROLLS too, and (meta-gamey) I assume Pratchett, the boss, is likely to be nastier than his lieutenant. And there’s that ochre jelly too.

Now, this is a conversation that’s going to continue into next week’s episode, so I don’t want to get too far into it here, but the gist of it is this. The roleplaying of a “hot pursuit” doesn’t play nice with the “long rest” model of Pathfinder. The writers of this AP did the best they could trying to make it fit, but at some point, you’re pretty much FORCED to take a long rest, which you don’t usually get to do when you’re hot on the trail of a mass-murderer. (As a lesser aspect of this, the “right” answer for the last 3-4 episodes has been “call for backup; have every Edgewatch agent in the city swarm the place”, but that doesn’t square with us being the heroes of the story.) And I think we’re pretty much at that point now, so how do we proceed in a way that feels like the game mechanics aren’t eating the story for lunch?

So that’s where we’ll pick it up 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 S1|22: More Red, Less Cap

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|22: Crit Fishing.

This week on The Bird’s Eye View, it’s REDCAP 2: MORE RED, LESS CAP. And we finally find Ralso, the orc from the front desk, playing with her dolls. Which isn’t nearly as heartwarming as it sounds.

Since this whole exploration of the Dreaming Palace has been one long dungeon slog, we begin this week’s episode already in mid-combat, though hopefully, the tide of the battle has turned. If you remember, at the tail end of last week, Lo Mang stole the little bastard’s hat, which turns off his fast healing and saps away a bit of his damage. So from here on out, it’s pretty much a straight race to zero hit points. (Unless he gets the hat back, of course.)

The real trick is managing the redcap’s attacks. Without the hat, the redcap has a tolerable number of hit points (60… I cheated and read the stat block for this write-up), but even with the reduced damage from stealing his hat, he still hits hard and his crits could still create serious problems. And the fact that he can kick on the move gives him an action efficiency that reduces the effectiveness of “spread out and make him come to us” as a tactic.

The real answer here lies in Gomez and I getting more involved and maybe eating an attack or two to get him off Dougie and Lo Mang, but that’s a double-edged… scythe. Gomez is (best I remember) unharmed, and I took one kick early in the fight but am otherwise fresh. So if we could get him to attack us once or twice, that might keep the fight going long enough for the heavy hitters to drop him. But, we also tend to have lower armor classes and fewer hit points, so if he crits us, there’s a real possibility of a one-shot. And if Gomez in particular drops, there go our heals.

And ohbytheway, even if I were to try and backfill by pulling scrolls out of Gomez’s bandolier while he’s down; as an arcane caster, I technically can’t use healing scrolls since they’re divine/primal. I’d need something like the Trick Magic Item feat for that. So all of Gomez’s scroll-based healing… which is to say most of it… would do me no good.

So Gomez hangs back, but I see what I can do to get in there and make myself a bit more of a target. My two goals were either to provide flanking or if an opportunity presented itself to block the hall and keep the redcap from advancing at all, I’d take it and serve as a human speed bump. It’s a bit meta-gamey, but I’ve got my badge, I’ve got a hero point to stave off permadeath, so worst-case, maybe it can waste a round killing me while Dougie and Lo Mang regroup. If he doesn’t crit, MAYBE I even hold out for two rounds! However, the opportunity to block the hall entirely never comes together because of the various hard corners – the best I can do is stay close and offer flanking to others.

On the other hand, the net of all of this is that I do get the unlikely kill shot after everyone else does the hard work of whittling him down. Yay me!

We do a little healing, some handwaved and some not. I figure once you hit this level, after-heals are easy enough that the only time you shouldn’t hand-wave it is if the patient’s hit points are low enough that a botched heal could actually drop them. (Or if time is EXPLICITLY important to the story – you have two hours to explore a building, so every 10-minute rest becomes relevant.) Otherwise… you’re probably going to succeed eventually, so might as well just say “OK, a half-hour passes and everyone’s healed.

Now… I have a confession to make that might be a little awkward, but this is supposed to be an honest, uncensored reaction to the show. I have to admit the guys (but John in particular) making jokes about Basil eating the pinkie fingers bothered me just a bit. Both as we were playing, and even listening to it now, I have to admit I felt this wave of “you guys are kinda being dicks”. Not enough to stop the game or even say anything… but it was there. And I’m not even sure I can totally articulate why.

I mean, I can see the joke sitting there. “Birds eat worms, fingers look like worms”. It’s pretty low-hanging fruit, comedically, and in a different scenario, it might have been ME making that joke. To pick a different example, I still laugh whenever Legolas offers Gimli a box to stand on at Helm’s Deep. It’s also not like I should be able to take teasing about a fictional character personally – I’m not Basil; Basil’s not me, so why would I care? But even with all of that, there was a brief flicker both feeling attacked, and of cringey discomfort, like “boy, I hope our listeners will understand we’re just being racist within fictional boundaries.”

I think some of it is just our different personalities. I have a thinner skin and quieter disposition than “The New Yorkers” (yeah, I call them New Yorkers even though John and Bob now live in Ohio). On the good side, it sometimes lets me play peacemaker within the group, but it sometimes manifests as “The Quiet Beatle” where they’re on a roll and I go 30 minutes without saying anything. But the point is that these guys really pour it on each other at times in a way that’s beyond my normal way of interacting. Even earlier in the episode, you hear John and Seth YELLING at each other, and then 30 seconds later it’s totally forgotten. So maybe part of my reaction is as simple as I hadn’t been in the crosshairs of their mockery in a while and forgot what it felt like.

But I also find myself thinking about these things in the larger context of our hobby, and people who feel like they aren’t welcome at the gaming table. Here in this game, I take that joke and let it roll off my back because I’ve known these guys for years, but does someone else make that joke at a different table where the players don’t know each other as well and someone quits the game because they’re being made to feel unwelcome? I don’t know.

Look, I know it’s rambly and I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say but the feeling was there, and there was a flicker of time where I felt a little picked on and it was unpleasant, and then it passed. But I believe exploring feelings like that are part of why I write this column.

Back to the slog. We’ve finally got the second floor narrowed down to the last few rooms. The Zon Kuthon room is all bark and no bite (or maybe we had disabled the bite and didn’t realize it). And then we find the final room on the floor, where our old pal Ralso is waiting, with a pair of creepy animated Golarion Girl dolls. Who can cast spells. Lovely.

At first, we struggle a little, at least partly due to the Heal/Harm mistake Steve mentions in the show notes. Since they were using Harm as a damage spell, the two-action version doesn’t get the “extra” damage – only when healing undead. But the fight quickly turns, as Dougie is able to box Ralso into a corner (or, in hindsight, maybe she was protecting the door she eventually escaped through), and the dolls turn out to be pretty weak once you get into melee range – they don’t have many hit points, and their melee attacks suck. We get rid of the adds, and then start whittling Ralso down, at which point she escapes through the door and up the stairs.

And that’s basically where we’re going to leave it after Basil takes a quick peek up the stairs to see what we might be facing. It’s Ralso and an additional skeleton, and there seems to be some general fear effect on the whole area. So Basil retreats down the stairs and we have a decision to make – charge up immediately, or do some more healing first, even though that might also give Ralso more time to get ready?

And that is where we pick it up 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 S1|21: A Redcap In The Hat

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|21: You No Take Candle!

It’s the Murder Hotel, Week… oh jeez, I don’t know. 23? 24? Seems like we’ve been here forever.

We start the episode with a bit of a bait-and-switch, as all signs pointed toward us tackling the basement this week, only for most of us (cough-not-me-cough) to bail out at the last minute. There’s a LITTLE bit of added context that either got left on the cutting room floor or that maybe we discussed offline later. I think the thinking within the group was that the basement would be a single room. The Mad Scientist’s Torture Den or something like that. Once we went down there and realized there was going to be a whole additional floor, we decided – and maybe this is a little meta-gamey – that a floor that ends in “a few more rooms” is better than a floor that very likely ends in the Big Bad of the entire first book.

The other part related to escape routes, or lack thereof. If there’s an escape route in the basement, then Pratchett and Ralso can basically leave when they want. They may even be already gone. If there’s no escape route in the basement, they’d pretty much have to come back up this staircase… through us… to get out again. Meanwhile, if we go investigate the basement, anyone still on the 2nd floor has free rein to escape or attack us from behind. So one way or the other, the threat on the second floor began to feel like the more urgent threat, while the basement is either contained, or they’ve already escaped.

So… back to exploring the second floor it is.

First, I’ll note – as a continuation of last week’s discussion – we start the episode getting Devise A Stratagem wrong and using it (incorrectly) with spell attacks, but have a better feel for it by the end of the episode. I HOPE we finally have this down for good.

Our first room of the new (east) wing is the viper fight. Honestly, that fight was so quick and Basil’s role was so limited, that I pretty much forgot it happened at all. Not much to say about it. Hi, snake. Bye, snake.

Next, we FINALLY… and this feels like a big deal to me… get to rescue some live victims. I’ve been a little frustrated up to this point because while we’ve amassed TONS of evidence, we haven’t caught any bad guys and we haven’t rescued anyone. No thwarting of crimes, just documenting what happened. Yes, we evacuated a few customers, but it FEELS like those customers weren’t in danger anyway, for whatever reason. It feels like only certain guests were targeted and the old halfling lady and the dwarf family were never in real danger. But the list of 20ish people who are officially missing… it’s been a little demoralizing that we haven’t had a chance to prevent anything yet.

But now we have live prisoners… after we beat them up, non-lethally. The gnome is one from our “general” list: Lyrma Swampwalker. She’s a gnome from Vidrian who came to see the fair. The other is a blast from the past – Kemenels. He’s the mage who went missing back in Episode 2 – we never formally met him, but his ward (whose name I didn’t capture) was the kid who was trashing the alchemist’s booth at the fair. So we were aware of his existence and our story crossed his before, even if we never met him directly. Naturally, they’re a little freaked out and don’t trust us, so we have to subdue them, but that’s two live victims saved! I didn’t think I’d have this sort of reaction, but it honestly feels good to rescue someone from this hell.

We continue our search and are starting to narrow things down, and there’s only a few rooms left, but the next encounter proves to be one of the most challenging (as well as one of the most gruesome). The redcap. Not gonna lie: this encounter worries me.

I’ve mentally categorized things into four levels of encounter difficulty. “Should be easy unless luck REALLY abandons us”, “fair fight”, “challenging fight”, and “OK, this is a legit chance of party wipe”. I’m feeling like the redcap represents a legit Level 4 fight. The boot attack is about average for an encounter at this level, but the fact that he can attack while moving gives him efficiency with his three actions. The scythe, on the other hand, is nasty: over the course of the fight, it reveals itself to be a d10+10 base damage, and it also has another d10 of deadly damage on a crit. So even hitting with that is nasty, and if he crits, it starts getting into one-shot territory… certainly for me and Gomez, maybe for Dougie and Lo Mang as well. And oh, he’s also got an undetermined amount of fast healing as long as he’s wearing his little hat.

Fortunately, an Expeditious Inspection reveals the trick with the hat… if we can get the hat off his head, it at least cancels the fast healing, so that becomes the immediate focus. After a few tries, Lo Mang finally has the stats to get it done, and this fight becomes a little more tolerable.

And then we end the episode with an interesting bit of do-over, which ties into Steve’s pre-game point about trusting your GM. The redcap initially appears to roll enough damage to put Dougie down. So I use my turn to get him back on his feet – I figure we need to pour damage on while Lo Mang has his hat, and we need Dougie and his maul for that. But then Steve remembers that the redcap’s hat has a secondary property – without the hat, he also suffers a -4 on damage rolls. Take away those points, and Dougie should’ve lived, and I shouldn’t have had to spend my turn healing him. So Steve rewinds the tape and goes from there.

I think whether intended or not, this kinda reflects our group’s philosophy on GM mistakes. If a mistake occurs during a fairly easy fight, we might just blow past it and figure it out later. “Oh, remember two fights ago… turns out the bad guy WASN’T immune to fire, and that spell should’ve done more damage. Have a hero point!”. But when death, or even a dramatic shift in the balance of a battle, is on the line, we definitely make sure to get it right, and Steve’s not even opposed to rewinding the game to get those moments right. This time, since we’re talking about the party’s main damage dealer dropping, this is one of those ones Steve needs to get right, and he did so. And that’s pretty much what we players have reached a peace with as well…

Now that’s not to say we never argue with Steve. Actually, to tie it back to Steve’s pre-game point, I think we’re more likely to argue the matter of “opinion” cases when we have a pet idea we want to sneak through. We tend to operate in the gray areas of “well, the rules don’t really say anything about using the spell in this way… what do you think?”. In his pre-game, Steve says that as a GM, your opinion is never wrong, and on some pass-fail level that’s true – at some point, the GM is the final arbiter of the rules. But that also carries with it the assumption that you at least let your players make a case to convince you otherwise, and maybe you sometimes change your mind if they’re compelling enough. And as always, the Rule of Cool applies: sometimes you should say yes if it creates a memorable story moment, rules be damned.

But in this case, we’re just rewinding a couple of turns of combat. And as we leave this week’s action… we’re hanging in there. Gomez is furiously trying to keep the heavy hitters on their feet, we at least took the redcap’s healing away, and hopefully things are taking a turn for the better. From my personal perspective, now that the redcap’s damage is a little less, I’m pretty close to full health, so I may have to go against my build and try to draw some fire so Chris and John don’t have to take the full beating. Or at least get in there and help set up flanking. When the redcap could easily one-shot me, I was a little leery. Now that it’s a fair(er) fight, an extra blade just might be the difference between victory and defeat.

But… we’ll find that 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 S1|20: Between A Rock And Hardness

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|20: Welcome to the Party, Pal!

I think I’m just gonna start this week’s episode by speaking my truth, and saying what I feel like Steve was sneaking up on but never quite got to.

Hardness is an EASY way to balance an encounter. But hardness is also a BORING way to balance an encounter.

There. I said it.

As I was listening to the fight with the statues… I have to admit I was getting a little bored, and that’s me speaking as someone who was an active participant. I think the problem is that damage resistance makes the fight take a few extra rounds, but it doesn’t add any “wrinkles”. A poison or a spell effect might make you readjust your tactics. A battlefield obstacle might create some interesting movement dynamics. But damage resistance… all it does is add a numeric drag. And what’s worse, it does so in a way that makes the heroes feel less heroic. You get these inflection points in character development where standard melee damage doesn’t keep up with hardness and you basically need to crit to do anything at all. That’s definitely the zone Basil was living in for this fight – unless I critted, I was AT BEST doing 2-3 points of damage per hit. Oof.

I mean, think about it. At one point, the LITERAL best thing I could do for the party was to go stand in melee range and give the statues someone else to swing at so they wouldn’t be hitting Dougie and Lo Mang as often. Basil, The Human Pinata! How fun is that?

Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m complaining a lot, but I do understand that EVERY campaign has certain ebbs and flows. There are moments where you’re the star of the show because you have the right tool for the job, and there are moments where your character is basically useless. I’m sure John and Chris probably get a little frustrated during the parts of the story where Basil is “That’s Odd”-ing everything in sight. Over the long haul of a full campaign, it absolutely evens out. But when you’re in the middle of one of those dry spells… boy, it’s a rough way to spend an almost hour-long combat.

Speaking of those ebbs and flows, it did give Lo Mang the chance to make the fullest use of Flurry of Blows. You see, one of the 2E benefits of Flurry of Blows is that if you hit with multiple hits, you get to combine their damage for the purposes of overcoming hardness. For this sort of fight, that’s absolutely perfect. Add it to Dougie’s always-effective maul, and we were able to grind our way through this fight and come out the other side in one piece.

While we were fighting, I did notice I made at least one rule mistake. At one point early in the fight, I cast Ray of Frost using Devise A Stratagem. That’s technically incorrect – DaS only works on melee and ranged attacks; and even then, an agile/finesse weapon is usually required. Spell attacks are NOT eligible for Strategizing. I’m pretty sure we get the rule right most of the time, but this one time, we kinda forgot. Chalk it up to picking up Wizard spells at Level 3 and not having as much practice with them. Oops.

So we drag ourselves through the statue fight and emerge victorious. As Steve alluded to, not DIFFICULT exactly… just tedious and resource-taxing. If you think about it, we got through the mimic and the guillotine blade MOSTLY with after-heals, so we were probably due for a tougher fight. From there, it’s time to continue our search. Keep in mind we’re basically going door-to-door on the left/west side of the hotel. After a few more rooms (including another murder-chute), we eventually stumble on what looks like a personal office and living quarters for the staff – it’s unclear whether it’s Ralso or Pratchett that lives there, but I’m not sure the distinction matters for the moment.

A thorough search of the room uncovers a few goodies, including that neat amulet that makes one conditionally invisible to the undead, but the biggest find is the secret staircase going down… presumably to the basement. I’m saying that based on architecture: we didn’t see these stairs on the first floor and there were a few structural dead spots that would be explained pretty well by secret stairs that bypass the first floor entirely. So it’s a guess, but a pretty solid one.

In a larger story sense, between the murder-chutes, the weird fireplace configuration, and the general lack of anywhere else to search, it just FEELS the answers we’re looking for are going to be down there. Big picture, that’s our destination. On the other hand, we still have the entire east/right wing of the second floor left to search – it’s a bit meta-gamey, but there’s that whole spirit of “clearing the rear” before you proceed to a new level. And thanks to the statue fight, resources are also starting to become a little bit of an issue. And if you REALLY want to get meta-gamey, we’re probably due to level soon, though I don’t know how you’d justify an 8-hour rest during an active pursuit.

So we’re at a bit of a crossroads as we come to the end of this week’s episode. The logical thing to do is go downstairs and see what’s what, but it may be worth thinking about a little further. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord server or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sideshow S2|05: ’Ship Shape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. Trust me folks, the next several episodes are going to be a wild ride, and you’ll want to be back here next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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