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The Bird’s Eye View S1|05: You Had One Job

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|05: Pathfinders For The Ethical Treatment of Animals

I’m going to start this week in an odd place, with a note on spelling. At least of proper names. This mostly comes up in relation to the creatures we face this week – the almiraj and the ankhrav. As well as, to a lesser degree, the names of the zoo owner and the veterinarian.

I’m always a little torn between being an authoritative source, the “paper of record” for Roll For Combat, weighed against the idea that this is meant to be a fairly spontaneous capture of my thoughts as I’m re-listening. I think what I’ve settled on is this: if it’s the name of a creature or spell or rule mechanic, I go back and check it. To whatever extent we’re explaining rules and such, I strive for accuracy in the nuts-and-bolts discussion. When it comes to proper names (people, town names, etc.), it depends on how much I’m going to talk about them. If they’re one of the major focuses of the week’s article, or I know we’re going to continue talking a lot about that person in the coming weeks, I’ll shoot Steve a text and ask him to get me a spelling. If I’m just going to mention that person once and forget about them, I don’t mind just taking a stab at what their name sounds like and hoping for the best. (Or I turn it generic and make it “the shop owner”, “the mayor”, or some other more abstract identifier.

At any rate, we start this week with Basil in the spotlight, as it’s time to do some detective work. Specifically, Remy (I guess we DID get a name for him) shows us where the veterinary and the menagerie owner’s trailers are and we do a little digging. (Surprise, surprise… right next to each other). In addition to a trove of critter-specific magic, we get multiple confirmations that yes, they were having an affair, and yes the guy (Knight) was close enough to leaving his wife to write the letter, though he didn’t send it. But clearly, they’ve been gone for at least the week everyone thinks they were.

Here’s one of those places where I have to suspend my tendency to metagame a little. Jason The Player knows that Paizo doesn’t usually put a lot of extraneous information in these adventures. If they were having an affair that we found like… three or four different bread crumbs leading toward… I suspect that’s going to become important at some future point. But in character, we don’t KNOW it’s relevant, at which point we’re really just digging around in someone’s dirty laundry, which is a little wrong.

It also does seem to be more than a coincidence that the one person who might have been able to detect and stop the corruption of the animals conveniently disappeared. Still don’t know the motive – did the wife find out about the affair and take her revenge, or was there some other play going on here? But one does wonder if maybe the doc was removed to get her out of the way so the zoo could be sabotaged. Also, who the heck LEAVES town right before the start of the big festival that’s likely to make this place busier than it’s ever been?

After our pause to investigate, we begin our sweep of the main building. First, we round up a few more survivors, which gives us both a better picture of what’s going on, as well as a side quest. For the former, it turns out that if a rust monster escapes, all those metal cages you’re keeping the other animals in become tremendously overrated. For the latter, we have a father whose kid has gone missing in… of course… the most dangerous part of the building. FAN-tastic!

We get ready, throw open the doors, and our well-made plan kinda goes off the rails, as the almiraj (“bunnycorn” would’ve been so much easier) is pretty much waiting to attack us on the other side. You know… the thing with the horn that can paralyze us, and if we die that way, it’s perma-death. Oops.

And then… oh, who am I kidding… I screw up royally by bleeding encounters.

The goal of running deeper into the room was to get around the penalties for cover when shooting the sleep dart – it was double doors with Dougie and Lo Mang in the two front squares, but since the almiraj was small, there was a 5’ gap to get past it on the other side. So to get a clear shot, I decided to just run past the bunnycorn and shoot from the other side. Simple enough, right? But that alerted the beetle to our presence, so not only was the second encounter activated, but I had two creatures between me and the rest of the party. And I followed that up by missing with the dart, not once, but twice (via Hero Point). Not my best work. 20/20 hindsight, should’ve waited a round and used Devise a Stratagem, but I thought the rabbit would be a bit tougher than it turned out to be. That, however, was our saving grace, as both creatures ended up being surprisingly squishy and didn’t last long. I don’t think I even got a second attack before the fight was over.

As a side note, you might have noticed a few places where we sounded a little confused during this battle: specifically, John thinking he had the blowgun and sleep darts, and me loading it even after I said I loaded it before we opened the door. To let you in on a little secret, the previous session ended right before we opened the door, so we’re not stupid, we just had a week of real time pass between those two events.

At any rate, battle won… nobody paralyzed, we’re in pretty good shape to finish this up. Eventually, we have the map filled into one room, which almost has to contain the ankhrav. The big thing here is the acid attack that the keeper warned us of – it’s a cone effect, so it could hit all of us, and we’ve been warned it can do a lot of damage. (Out of character, I went and checked… 3d6. As level 1 characters, that’s lethal with a good roll.)

I got a little bit frustrated with John here, and it’s something we also saw in Dead Suns with Mo Dupinsky. He chooses to play melee-first characters – he’s said on multiple occasions he likes characters that play “simple” – but when it comes time to actually do that, he gets frustrated that he’s the one in the front taking the damage. Not sure what to tell you, man. I thought I had a nice little plan with using the desk as a makeshift barricade at the east entrance… I don’t know if it’ll work or not, but if we can hold the ankhrav off and maybe miss the acid for a round or two, maybe that’s a workable strategic advantage. You can also hear John talking about circling around to the west and using the outer doors at the other end of the ankhrav enclosure, but two problems with that. First, it feels like it would require a level of coordination we don’t really have; we’d need magical communication so we coordinate opening the doors at the same time. Second, the doors might be locked, which puts us in a situation where the east team has started the attack and the west team has to run back around the building to rejoin the fight. At which point… divide and conquer from the monster’s point of view.

We do eventually come up with a compromise, but you’re going to have to come back next week to hear what it is. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|04: We’re Going To The Zoo

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|04: Lions and Tigers and Owlbears. Oh My!

First, I’d like to remind everyone that this week’s episode is STILL part of the same day as the last two. Just thought I’d mention that. Fights 3-5 in the zoo alone, probably the 6th or 7th distinct incident. I’m not saying that as a complaint… more like… marveling at it. It’s just a little odd how this system works, I guess.

This week we actually have the return of the GM Steve intro, and I actually learned something in the process. I guess I didn’t realize that part of how Steve was handling loot was converting gear drops into a larger fine. I’m OK with that, but I guess I’ll start bragging about how we’re already making more money than the Circus Folk if that’s the case. It just makes things more fun when we finally get around to going shopping.

Speaking of which, not sure how you listeners feel about letting Gomez run off to buy potions in the middle of all of this. I can see both sides of the equation. On one hand, the “NYC” comparison has a point… you really can get almost anything at any hour in a big city, and Absalom is as big as cities come in the Pathfinder world. On the other hand, it does seem like it might take more than 10 or 15 minutes, so Steve might have been a touch on the charitable side with the timing. It does seem like maybe you’d be waking someone’s ass up and forcing them to mix potions in their pajamas. (And did we really bring our entire life savings with us on patrol? That’s a little weird.) At the end of the day, I see this as a temporary problem – once we get a little money in our pockets, we’ll probably build up a stash of group healing and probably won’t ever TOTALLY run out again. This was mostly just a byproduct of Dem Level One Blues.

(Also, later on, there’s a class feat I can take as an Investigator to help with that, but I’d be getting several levels ahead of myself to say more.)

Nevertheless, we heal up. To quote from Harmontown, THAT HAPPENS. And since we can’t move the owlbear out of the store, we at least lock up all the produce so it can’t eat any more if it wakes up. It’s a little unsatisfying as a story element to just leave it lying there, but at some point, the story has to go forward. Not sure you guys want us to theorize for 20 minutes about proper rope-tying.

Then it’s off to face our first fight of the new session… Rusty the Rust Monster! And I’m not gonna lie… it is pretty funny that we accidentally created a party composition that could pretty much go all-out against this guy with no ill effects. Spellcaster, monk, melee type who’s going weapon and armorless for… “reasons”… and me, who… OK, I have my sword-cane, but I also have a sap or I could even use my beak in a pinch. No metal armor, minimal metal weapons. About halfway through the fight, I had the thought of using the sword-cane while still in the scabbard (would it do bludgeoning damage?) but the fight was going well enough that I didn’t bother. I have a suspicion rust monsters don’t do a whole lot of damage because they’re meant more to damage your equipment and cost you repair bills than to really kill you anyway.

Embedded here, we get a little bit of stealth knowledge dump. First, the mural on the side of the menagerie’s fencing seems to give us a hint at what we might face as we continue into the zoo itself. We’ve got the cockatrice, owlbear, and rust monster covered. The same sign also mentions a big snake of some sort (Big Bertha), a rabbit with a unicorn horn (cheating and using knowledge from other editions, the Al-Miraj?), and something described only as “That Bastard”. As well as some more conventional zoo animals of varying sizes and lethalities. It’s like the previews at the movie theater, only we get to see what’s going to try and kill us next!

I think we’re also zeroing in on John’s character. I’m starting to settle in on a Ruffian-build Rogue. (The real short version is rogues come in STR, CHA, or DEX varieties. They all still get Sneak Attack damage, but they achieve it in different ways and have different secondary specialties.) That would allow John to use Strength as his primary statistic, and it also lets him use a wider variety of weapons to get “kapow damage” (basically any simple weapon). Though just as an FYI, the maul he picked up during the rust monster fight wouldn’t be eligible for that because it’s a martial weapon. Keep in mind neither Steve nor John have actually confirmed this, but that’s where I’m putting my chips for now.

With the rust monster dealt with we finally enter the zoo grounds proper. A brief bit of exploration leads us to fight #2 of the session, against a pack of hyenas that are raiding a concession stand. This fight ends up being tolerable because FOR ONCE they’re enemies with fairly “normal” to-hit modifiers (I think I glanced at the dice and saw they were in the +5 range), and they end up missing a lot. WE JUST MIGHT SURVIVE THE NIGHT.

The snake, on the other hand, was not as forgiving. First, thanks to a little impatience on Seth’s part, it got the drop on us and put a lot of damage on Gomez early. (The rest of us were still up by the concession stand cleaning up the hyena fight and Seth just decided to go check out the lake which was a good 30 or 40 feet northeast. So it took a round of mostly movement and positioning just to get in the fight. But the other bad news is this thing actually COULD hit is. Pretty well in fact.

But then… CRITS TO THE RESCUE… as both Lo Mang and Basil come through with crits to salvage the fight in our favor. Granted, Chris’ crit was something north of 20 points and mine was like… 6 or 7 when you added the precision damage. But hey, I’m treating them as equally valuable contributions. It’s the old baseball adage of “a line drive in the box score”, applied to tabletop RPGs.

Speaking of which: on a personal note, my damage rolls were largely TERRIBLE this episode. The good news is that I was hitting pretty reliably, thanks to the (net) +2 from Devise a Stratagem. The bad news is I counted at least three times I hit for minimum damage. I think ONE time I got a 4 or 5 on one of the hyenas, but that was about it.

Also, speaking of Devise a Stratagem, you’ll notice I’m shamelessly stealing from our Circus brethren by trying to provide some “flavor” to my Devise a Stratagem attacks. That’s one thing I really like about that show – all of them really, but the casters in particular, really describe the flavor of what they’re doing. Hap has all sorts of pyromaniac bird effects, Ateran has their incantations. So it’s a two-fer: I wanted to try and come up with something like that for Basil because I appreciate what they’re doing, and it also captures some of that same vibe as the Downey and Cumberbatch versions of Sherlock Holmes where they show the intellect gears turning. We’ll see how it goes… I don’t think I’ll do it EVERY time I attack (maybe once per opponent or something). But if I find myself noticing the same two or three weaknesses all the time and it starts getting repetitive, I might ease back on it. They can’t ALL have missing scales like Smaug.

With three fights in the book, we resume our reconnaissance of the outlying buildings before tackling the main facility. And FINALLY, we make some headway on the investigative front, as we find one of the animal handlers hiding in the maintenance shed. (Somehow we never got around to asking his name. Oops. Maybe we’ll get it next episode. CUT US SOME SLACK! IT’S OUR SECOND DAY ON THE JOB!) There are two main takeaways from talking to this guy. First, it’s pretty apparent that someone poisoned the animals’ water supply to drive them crazy, and that’s the source of the black gunk – there’s no real security on the maintenance shed, and the water does seem to have been tampered with. The other is that the owner of the zoo (Archibald Knight) and the chief veterinarian (Minera Frum) were a) having an affair and b) have gone missing within the last week or so. Not sure if that’s related or just gossip, but it’s something else to investigate. Did the vet do this? Was the vet removed so she wouldn’t detect it? Did the circus owner’s ex-wife find out about the affair and decided to sabotage the circus? Or is it just coincidence that they’re not here? Certainly, both of these leads point toward the doctor as the next person to talk to, so I also slap a Pursue a Lead (another one of my main class skills) on her.

Pursue a Lead is pretty nice and has two major effects. First, it gives me a +1 to any Perception or skill check related to investigating that target. Pretty open-ended and very useful. The other thing is that if she turns out to be a bad guy and we have to fight her, my Devise a Stratagem would become a free action against her.

And hey, if we go to the vet’s trailer, there’s also a bunch of free stuff related to animal care and handling. We might not be able to use all of it – Gomez is our only caster, and he might not have access to the right traditions, but it sounds like there might be some tools worth grabbing.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Check out the doctor’s trailer to stock up and get more info, followed by tackling the main building. 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|03: Fowl Play

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|03: Panic! at the Zoo

Welcome back to Agents of Edgewatch. This week, the Patrol That Never Ends leads us to the outskirts of a traveling menagerie where there are reports that creatures have escaped. Of course, it can’t be a nice safe petting zoo with baby goats and lemurs… maybe an otter for John. NOOOOOO… it’s gotta be a cockatrice and an owlbear. (And that’s before we even step foot on the zoo grounds proper.)

The cockatrice was a special little treat to me because in my position of Resident Blogger: I got to listen to the Three-Ring Adventure group ALSO have a cockatrice fight, and got to hear the number that thing did on poor Darius in that show. So I know how much of a pain in the butt that Slowed condition can be if you fail a save. I don’t want to say I was “terrified”, but I’ll admit I was a little bit nervous.

You wouldn’t think it, would you? Coming from a First Edition mentality, still having two actions sounds like a lot, right? But Second Edition tends to reward “hit and run” tactics, so having that third action available after your attack can be really handy. Especially for casters where most of your spells are going to be two actions, and then if you’re slowed you can’t move at all. Ugh.

That fight ended up being not-so-bad though. First, because Steve refined the rules for cockatrice… venom?… between the two sessions so that getting it wasn’t QUITE so horrible, but also because we mostly just laid back and plonked it down from range. You can’t bite what you can’t reach. Granted, Dougie drew the short straw of staying in melee range with it, but the rest of us got to lay back a little. And since it was staying in melee range with Dougie, his being slowed didn’t really cause much of a problem. The one place Slowed isn’t terrible is if you’re just planning to go toe-to-toe anyway: at that point, you’re just giving up a -10 third attack.

So we get past the first obstacle but there’s no time to rest as screams and random other sounds of ruckus draw us forward to the second fight of the session. OWLBEAR TIME! Yes, we have an owlbear tearing up a produce vendor’s shop.

First, let us just pause to bask in the joyous madness of the owlbear, one of fantasy gaming’s greatest “weird” creations. Yeah, dragons and pegasi are more elegant and have a richer tradition in the fantasy setting, but there’s something so endearing about the late-night drinking session that led to “well, you see… it’s basically a bear right?… but it’s got the head and wings of an owl!” Who doesn’t love an owlbear? COMMUNISTS. That’s who.

What we don’t love is FIGHTING an owlbear as Level 1 characters. Because this is one of those creatures that if it crits, stands a legit chance of one-shotting us. I find that across Pathfinder products (Starfinder AND Pathfinder 2E) brute-type enemies follow a pattern. At low levels, they’re some of the scariest enemies because they can do so much damage in a single swing. But as they level, they stop being scary because “low armor class” plus “big reservoir of hit points” without much in the way of special abilities is mostly just an exercise in chopping the tree down as fast as possible. But it’s particularly dangerous in 2E because they also tend to have high attack bonuses for this level, so their third attack is still coming in at something like +4 or +5.

Which is why I REALLY wanted to do more of a hit-and-run fight, but two things were inhibiting that. The first was guilt: Chris and John in particular were standing toe-to-toe, so I started to feel like I would’ve been letting the team down if I ran away after attacking. Even if it would’ve been the tactically smart choice.

The other is that popping in and out of range would’ve deprived me of my Investigator class combat ability and made me a LOT less effective in melee. Which… let’s talk about that and clean it up because we had some trouble in the moment.

There are technically TWO abilities to get into here – Devise A Stratagem and Strategic Strike. Part of the problem is that the wording on DaS is a little goofy, so let’s start there. The (paraphrased) wording is “roll a d20, and if you attack that target later, you MUST use that roll but you can apply your INT bonus instead of STR or DEX”. It mostly sounds like “use your INT to attack” but it took me a little while to figure out what the missing piece is – multiple enemies. If you’re facing multiple enemies and you get a crap die roll for DaS, or if the battlefield shifts and it becomes impractical to attack the DaS attack, you can still downgrade to a normal DEX-based attack against a different target. That’s why the wording is more like loading it up as a pre-attack. But in a single-target fight like this, there’s nowhere else to go with it, and it basically boils down to “use your INT to roll the attack”. And like I said, it doesn’t apply here, but if you’re fighting the target of a declared lead you’re pursuing, Devise a Strategem becomes a free action. That’s got “end-of-chapter boss fight” written all over it.

Having sorted that out, the other piece is Strategic Strike, which applies rogue-like precision damage. It’s 1d6 to start, and it escalates as you level. (The Forensic investigator also has a feat option to add bleed damage.) That part’s not COMPLICATED in any way… it’s just on a different page and I didn’t have it in front of me the first time we went through the sequence.

One thing I thought was kind of interesting about this fight was the arm-chair quarterbacking from the shop vendor. I’m trying to decide if that was Steve giving us hints or just roleplay flavor. At various times, she seemed to suggest both trying to rescue her before attacking the owlbear and also hinted at luring it out of the shop. Seth seemed to pick up on those ideas but Chris and John rendered both moot by leaping into the fray. I do wonder – if we’d gone the rescue route, would it have been a viable strategy to just lock the owlbear in the store and move on? Or were we always doomed to fight it?

Not surprisingly, the owlbear fight proved to be a little bit tougher, but we did ultimately survive. And we get a bit of a lead to follow as, during the fight, I notice some black gunk on the owlbear’s beak. Poison or something? Something to look into as we go, I guess. On the downside, everyone except Gomez is a little bloody, we’ve burned through a lot of our healing stock, and… we haven’t actually set foot on the menagerie property itself. And yes… it’s still all part of Day Two. Are we going to survive our first week on the job?

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

The Bird’s Eye View S1|02: Training Day (And Night)

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|02: Delicious Dubious Delights.

We passed a bit of a milestone over the weekend: Saturday marks the three-year anniversary of our first “real” episode of Roll For Combat. If you want to get nit-picky, Steve put up an introductory post earlier in the month, but the 26th was the first time we assembled the group for Episode Zero of the Dead Suns adventure.

In other times, I would’ve probably made some smart-ass joke about being surprised because I didn’t think it would stick for more than three months. And I guess that’s still kinda true. But at the same time, the whole COVID pandemic situation has made me a bit more reflective. Your mileage may vary, but things have generally sucked in big ways and small for the last six months or so, and we’re all looking for our little pockets of normal. For me, it’s been getting back into Magic The Gathering (online), and listening to one of my favorite musicians (Rhett Miller of the Old 97s) do acoustic shows over the Internet. Today, I’m feeling humbled that our show can be that thing for those of you who are listening, even if it’s just for an hour or two a week. So thanks for being here and making us part of your little pocket of normal.

OK… that’s as wholesome and sincere as I can be in one sitting. On with the show.

We begin this week on our first “real” patrol – it kind of feels like the bar brawl was kind of a bottle episode: a low/no-stakes test to introduce the team to each other and see how we work as a team. (I also feel like that was “supposed” to end in a non-lethal fight, but that may just be me making assumptions.) Our first encounter of the patrol is breaking up a fight between two goblin food-cart vendors that turns into an impromptu safety inspection. And Basil gets to use his investigator abilities to save the day, noticing the danger of the potential oil fire and dousing it before it can cause major damage.

I’m going to dig in a little bit on the rules here because there are actually TWO different Investigator abilities that could’ve applied here, and I’m not 100% sure which one Steve used. The first is the “That’s Odd” class feat. It’s a class feat that lets the investigator notice one thing out of order in a room or location. Any “flavor” of Investigator can take it, but the Empiricist gets it automatically. But here’s the confusing thing: “That’s Odd” is actually automatic and Steve mentioned a roll. (And to be fair, I mention a roll as well when explaining it later.)

So either there wasn’t supposed to be a roll and we’re still getting the hang of things and learning how this stuff works… or maybe it’s possible Steve got a little confused with the investigator’s OTHER class ability, Expeditious Inspection. That one allows me to do a Seek, Recall Knowledge, or Sense Motive as a free action once every 10 minutes. That one requires a roll, and I would assume I would’ve had to declare I was looking around (unless it’s just assumed I’d be assessing the situation). The “once every 10 minutes” restriction does seem like it’s more geared for in-combat use. So I’m not sure which feature Steve was intending to apply here, but I’ll take it either way.

Out of character, one thing that amused me about this interaction was the 40g fine… but for a very specific reason. I was just listening to the Three-Ring Adventure, they’re basically at Level 4, they’ve been playing for like 3-4 months, and their reward for the fight they just finished was (wait for it)… 50g. So basically, we got almost the same amount of money for our first mission out of the barracks. Maybe some of that is compensation for the fact that we won’t be getting loot in conventional ways, but still… that’s a lot of money for Level 1 characters.

Next up, we have a fairly quick fight against some skeletons. A crit put Lo Mang on the ropes a little bit, but other than that, it wasn’t too much of a challenge. First things first, I love the roleplay flavor that the occasional digging-up of undead is a public works nuisance along the lines of a broken water main. That cracks me up and I’m actually imagining us on casual traffic detail – “road’s closed… skeletons! You’re gonna have to go back down two blocks and go around to the right!”. But more importantly, we have the great mystery of “What Exactly Is Dougie?” and the related question of “what is ‘Kapow Damage’”?

Initially, when John didn’t use weapons I just assumed we had two monks in the party. In our Episode Zero, when Steve mentioned it would mostly be non-lethal damage, John and Chris BOTH sorta perked up at the idea of rolling monks. But then it started to seem like the lack of weapons was more of a roleplay thing, since once the fight was over, John seemed interesting in acquiring something. So maybe he’s got some sort of code of honor where he’s only going to use weapons he got from bad guys.

So OK… Dougie is clearly some sort of melee. Casters don’t wade in and start punching people. Fighter seems iffy because if I had access to all the weapons and armor in the game, I’d be equipped with something. There’s “roleplaying”, and there’s “wasting the core strengths of the class you chose”. I guess maybe Champion is a possibility and the fight was too quick to see his class ability? Maybe an odd strength-based rogue or swashbuckler build? Again, we didn’t see any evidence of panache, but it was a quick fight. Rogue seems most likely based on the fact that flanking seemed to trigger the bonus damage, but I guess we’ll find out as the show continues. (Totally out-of-character, I know John tends to like “keep it simple” characters, so doing another rogue would also fit with that.)

Our third encounter of the shift is a public disturbance call, as a teenager has barricaded himself in a merchant’s shop and won’t come out. It turns out he’s an apprentice whose mentor Kemeneles had some low-level bad blood with the shop owner, so when Kemeneles went missing, the kid just assumed the shop owner was responsible. We get a little bit of intimidation from Gomez, which doesn’t really fly, and then Basil tries more of a Good Cop take and rolls a Nat 20 for the success and has a new best friend for life.

As we sort through this, it becomes pretty evident the kid is just grasping for straws – Kemeneles might be in genuine trouble, but it’s pretty clear the shopkeeper isn’t involved. On the other hand, the kid did trash the store pretty good while he had locked himself in there. In this case, talking the shopkeeper out of pressing charges seems like the right call.

But that brings us to what might be the most interesting long-term dynamic of this adventure path – we have limits on what we can do and there’s a point past which we’re not supposed to go. If we were “just” adventurers, we’d be free to take a break from our patrol and help the kid out. But that’s not our role – we’re part of a larger team and our job is to report the situation back to our superiors and get back to work.

After that, we have a little debate about what to do about the kid and… OK, with 20/20 hindsight, Seth was right on this one. I DO think on a meta-game level, the shop owner was offering to take the kid in just to keep him somewhere safe while we did other things, and maybe we’ll come back to that one later. But on a more reality-based level, you wouldn’t just leave an unattended minor with someone who MIGHT still have ill intent, so taking him back to the local station was the better call.

I thought maybe Steve would wrap it up here… BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. We’re up to encounter #4, as we end up engaged in a chase with a mysterious cutpurse. I have to admit I like the chase mechanic overall – it’s something different and a nice way to create action set-pieces while making use of skills other than pure combat. I still think Steve should’ve made the fruit cart a cabbage cart as a salute to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. We catch up and combat ensues – she’s kinda hard to hit, I end up getting pummeled a bit, but Lo Mang, in particular, takes care of her pretty well (Gomez, having fallen behind during the chase portion, misses most of the fight.) And it’s another feather in the cap of Red Squad, as she’s fairly prolific in her thievery.

And surely we’re done for the day? We’ve finally earned a cold beer at the barracks, right?

Sigh.

Of course not. There’s an animal breakout at the local zoo. ARE YOU SERIOUS? Granted, they weren’t all combat encounters, but that’s FIVE different problems we’ve had to deal with on our first day on the job. And Job #5 starts with a cockatrice, which… if you’ve listened to Three-Ring Adventure, you know those are nasty – you fail a save, you get the Slowed condition, which starts costing you actions. Brutal.

The cockatrice charges! And that’s where we fade to black for the 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|01: Last Call For Tavern Brawls

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|00: Welcome to Agents of Edgewatch! and Agents of Edgewatch S1|01: The Mean Streets of Absalom.

Welcome to the first installment of The Bird’s Eye View, our weekly Agents of Edgewatch recap column – the “Talking” thing felt like it was getting stretched a little thin, and I’m never one to pass up a quality play on words. (You’ll also note that we changed “Talking Circus” to “The Sideshow”.) This one’s going to be a little longer than usual because I’m going to circle back to a few Episode Zero thoughts as well as covering the first “real” episode.

I wanted to briefly touch on, but not dwell on, the real-world backdrop here. I know some people gave Paizo a hard time for writing an adventure path that featured law enforcement that happened to release right when the George Floyd incident happened and protests started. Some people even felt Paizo should have canceled Edgewatch entirely. I’m not going to tackle that decision – it’s already been made and it’s beyond my non-existent pay grade anyway. I’m going to talk about our decision to go ahead and play it.

First and foremost, I trust Steve’s judgment as a GM. He read the adventure path and he says it’s a really good story, and that the police aspects aren’t THAT central to the story once it gets rolling. In a way, being members of the local gendarmerie is almost a MacGuffin – it’s the thing that puts our characters where they need to be for the dungeon-crawling to happen. Also, Steve has a good feel for what makes for fun gaming and he knows what we like as players, so if he says we’ll like it… that’s a relationship forged over years, even decades, saying we should play this thing, and I trust that.

I also think at the end of the day, it’s up to each gaming table to figure out what their own ethics are. And OK, we have a little more responsibility since we have an audience, but it still comes down to the people we choose to be and the values we choose to reflect. Sure, SOMEWHERE in the Pathfinder landscape, there are going to be some tables that will think it’s clever to Bad-Cop their way through this adventure. That’s not us. We generally like being the good guys, and so we’re going to play this thing FAIRLY straight up. Our characters might get a little weird around the edges, but evil is just not who we are. Heck, me personally? I tried to play a run-through of Mass Effect where I chose the “renegade” option in every dialog, and I quit an hour in because I didn’t like that my character was turning into an asshole. Much as I chafe at the label, I’m Lawful Good to the bone; maybe Neutral Good on a whimsical day.

It does pose logistical challenges, no question about that. Going all the way back to Gygax, the heart of the D&D/Pathfinder combat system is “kill evildoers to get experience, take their treasure to buy better gear, progress to more powerful challenges”. Well… that system breaks down if you’re supposed to be representing the law in a city setting. Townspeople aren’t automatically “evildoers”, or they’re low-grade evildoers that belong in jail, not dead. And cops shaking down people for their money was pre-Jim Gordon Gotham City behavior. So if you wade in with standard tactics, you’re a thief and a murderer, and become exactly the sort of thing you’re supposed to be preventing. But if you don’t replace that mechanic with “something”, you don’t get experience or loot, so how will your characters progress and move the story forward?

Enter the Lawbreaker Badge, our table’s solution. It’s basically (to use modern terminology) a body-cam on steroids. It de-lethalizes your attacks automatically (unless you’re fighting something explicitly evil like the undead, in which case you can turn it off and do real damage). It decides what the legal penalties of a crime are, so you’re just there to collect the fine and take the person to jail if needed. It even provides a little bit of help in the healing department, with a single use of Lay on Hands. I figure if magic can create a portal to another freakin’ dimension, it can create a device that does those things. (Technically the rules of the AP de-lethalize the attacks, but the Lawbreaker Badge creates an in-game explanation for how it happens.) As far as loot? That’s a little trickier but still manageable. We get a “cut” of the fines, and sometimes there are items lying around with no clear owner that we’re allowed to keep. But if we tried to write a bunch of fake parking tickets to make money or just took someone’s stuff without an underlying crime, the Lawgiver Badge would shoot those down, so there’s no incentive to create a crime that isn’t there.

So that’s the system, now on to Basil Blackfeather.

I knew going in I wanted to play a tengu next time we moved to a new game – they’ve been one of my favorite races going back to First Edition, so once they were part of the Advanced Player’s Guide, it was a matter of “when” rather than “if”. (I can neither confirm nor deny I considered getting reckless and killing off Nella in the Black Lodge game to make it happen quicker.) I wasn’t AS sold on Investigator until we chose THIS adventure path, though. As I’ve said in my APG review, Investigator might not be a great fit in a traditional dungeon crawl – they’re a little squishy, and some of their investigation tools might go to waste if you’re just kicking down doors. Having said that, in THIS scenario, they’d be great. Police work is all about unraveling mysteries: figuring out who’s telling the truth or lying, looking for things that are out of place, and such… if there’s an adventure to try an investigator, this is probably the one.

I will say, though… while the dice logistics of an Investigator might be a little daunting, as a CONCEPT, I’m interested because Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional characters ever. I re-read the Conan Doyle stories every few years just because. And the Empiricist build, in particular, IS Holmes walking into a room and noticing three different things that are out of place. It’s not a perfect fit because Holmes is MOSTLY a solo act (Watson and Lestrade aside), and Pathfinder is a team setting, but I still love the idea of a Holmes “gentleman detective” archetype.

ASIDE: Jeremy Brett of the 80s Granada/BBC series is the definitive Holmes and the floor is closed for discussion. RECLAIMING MY TIME! The Cumberbatch version is pretty good for a modern take. The Downey movies turned him into a Victorian superhero and the Watson relationship became “mismatched buddy cops”, so… meh. Never saw the American one with Lucy Liu as Watson. The sleeper here is Without a Clue with Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine. It’s an early-90s comedy that plays around with the idea that Watson (Kingsley) is actually the brains of the operation and he hired Caine (basically an out-of-work actor who’s a complete idiot) to play Holmes because it made the stories sell, and now he’s tired of his creation but can’t move beyond it because the public loves Holmes. (Add another entry to the RFC Virtual Movie Queue!)

A few other minor notes. I was torn on “Blackfeather” as a last name. Half of me felt it was just an uninspired rehash of “Blacktail”; part of me felt like the callback to Tuttle and having some linkage to that first character was actually kind of a fun thing. “Continuity” if you’re an optimist; “branding” if you’re cynical. I’ll let you listeners decide. And the artwork… DAMN! I’ve been mighty impressed with the artwork for all the shows, but this one was… (chef’s kiss) and is now serving as my personal FB avatar. My initial thoughts to Sheppi were basically “the Jeremy Brett version of Holmes + Hamilton, and a fancy sword-cane is his main weapon, but a bird”… and damn if he didn’t capture it. The only “change” we had to make from the first pass was that the color was fairly muted, so the pants became a little bluer and the flower was added. I will say that Basil’s father became a tobacconist in my backstory BECAUSE of the pipe, so… kinda cool how the art actually influenced the character. I did veto the idea of a tophat, though. Seemed impractical in a combat situation. Sorry?

One last thing before we get onto the first episode: I have to admit to just a touch of last-second buyer’s remorse when the Magus playtest came out. I’ve always liked the magus as a class (Spells AND armor? What’s not to like?) so if we hadn’t already started recording, I might have re-rolled, pulled an Alhara, and done the “play a playtest Magus and clean it up when the class goes live”. But the train had already left the station, so Investigator it is!

OK… so let’s get started. After a bit of lore dump, we get our initial assignment as part of Red Squad (as well as a brief nod to Reservoir Dogs implied in the visible disappointment of the members of Brown Squad and Pink Squad). We also get introduced to our stereotypically hard-boiled desk sergeant, who dispatches us on our first mission — to deal with rowdy tavern patrons. That’s gotta be a sly wink toward the trope of getting your first adventure by “meeting at the tavern”, right?

As I’m listening, I have to admit I’m not happy with the early character choices I made on Basil. Too foppish and out of touch, too much Brixley. I took the Political Scion background (it’s one of the backgrounds that comes with the AP), so yes, he’s supposed to be from a well-off/influential family, but I wanted him to be a little more grounded. For the moment, I’ll chalk it up to first-episode jitters, and hope it zeroes in on what I really want him to be.

So we arrive at the Tipsy Tengu. After surveying the scene, I decide to go ahead and confront the dwarf. Now, on a purely practical level, I’m PROBABLY not the best party member for this task — it’s probably Lo Mang or Dougie. But there were two impulses at work. First was just wanting to get in and do something. This is a pretty active “act first, think second” group and if you don’t decide on an action quickly, someone else will. But I’ll admit there was also a little bit of practical sentiment at work; if you send a fighter-type over, it’s almost like throwing down a challenge, so maybe sending a calming presence over would be better.

At that point, we go around the room. John deals pretty effectively with the pickpocket, though if there was a formal skill check, I must’ve missed it. Chris draws the most hilarious interaction, dealing with the party member who was just WAY too drunk and ends up vomiting on him. (As well as the party member who was inconsolable because they lost their familiar.) And then we come back to me… but not really because then Seth takes over negotiations with Bolar.

On one hand, I’m not going to lie; I was a little frustrated I didn’t get to finish what I started. But actually, I’ll give Seth credit: I was almost out of ideas and ready to look for an opening to zap him with Electric Arc (I have it as a tengu ancestry feat, not a formal spell), so Seth’s solution of telling him to do his drinking somewhere else was actually a pretty good compromise. We didn’t REALLY want to fight these guys and take them to jail, but this was clearly the wrong room for them. Furthermore, even just getting them outside if there WAS going to be a fight would’ve been a positive development because it would’ve limited collateral damage. Once we do, they calm down, we’re able to get them to accept the fine, and we’re on our way back to barracks for our next mission. As well as a power-wash for poor Lo Mang. The next day, we’ll be going on our first formal patrol of the festival grounds, but that’ll be where we’ll pick it up next time.

I also did want to briefly talk about the fate of the Black Lodge. In the short term, yes it’s going on the shelf. As players, we don’t really have the bandwidth for two shows, and Steve would have challenges on his end managing three shows. Steve also mentioned on Discord that he’s a little short of adventures that would make for good listening experiences. So… for now, we’re going to roll with Edgewatch. We may come back to Black Lodge here and there – it might turn into a thing where we’ll play one here and there when we have extra time, rather than a third regularly-scheduled show. The ultimate plan is still TBD, but it’s not the intent to give up on it forever, because we know some of you do like Society play and the special guest players are still a lot of fun. But in the short term, Edgewatch takes center stage.

So that’s my extra-long Episode 0 + 1 combined recap; thanks for reading along. While you’re waiting for the next episode to drop, 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.