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The Sideshow S2|17: A Lunch of Fire and Ice

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|17: The Gift of Gab.

You know how much I loved the last 10-ish minutes of this week’s episode? Not only did I listen to it twice, to make sure I got as many details as possible, but I’m also gonna break chronological order and talk about it first.

The concept of the RFCCU (Roll For Combat Cinematic Universe) shouldn’t be a stranger to any of you by now – we’ve mentioned it a few times on the shows and in this column. It’s the little pieces of our universe that cross from game to game and show up where you least expect them. Old Woody was probably the first official invention, but others have since taken shape. The Circus crew, in particular, loves restaurants for some reason. And here I was, thinking the most I would get out of this was a joke about how them going out to lunch after almost getting killed felt reminiscent of the shawarma post-credits scene from the Avengers movie.

But no… they gave us SO much more.

First, I did want to give one tip of the cap to Loren for the double dose of Marvel-related sass to Steve. (Sorry, didn’t realize there would be such a Marvel-related theme to this…) Paraphrasing the exchange and condensing the cross-talk:

  • S: “You know how Marvel uses alliteration for all their names, right?”
  • L: “Yeah, like the Punisher.”
  • S: “Shut up, I mean their secret identity names.”
  • L: “Yeah, like Frank Castle.”

Gold star. Well played.

As I was listening to this a second time, I think the song is the key moment where things TOTALLY go off the rails. I don’t know if it’s “majority rules” or if it’s because Vanessa had been somewhat reluctantly participating and her jumping in changed the dynamic. But that’s the moment where EVERYONE commits to the bit. At first, you have Rob T. just riffing with Steve as Hamlin, but the rest of the gang is mostly still staying sort of in-character. Rob P. is still playing Ateran, and Loren – while clearly enjoying the mayhem – still attempts to move the game along on a more normal trajectory by having Hap go into Hamlin’s (in-character) to eat. Up to that point, it feels like roleplaying is still nominally in control of the session. But the point at which Vanessa busts out the song… to me, that’s the point at which the scales tip to weirdness for good.

(Can we at least take a second to give Vanessa due credit for coming up with lyrics that both rhymed AND had culinary accuracy? If she’s stumbled, we might have ended up with “broiling milk” or something like that.)

So then Rob starts in with Caleb’s response. For a moment, I thought sanity was starting to re-assert itself. Caleb seemed a little more stoic. Pragmatic, even. He knew his clientele, he’s there for the businessman on the move. Simple no-nonsense food, right? Wrong.

“Go next door to my GARBAGE brother, and sit there with your lazy ass…” First, I should mention that while the phrase “laugh out loud” is generally overused, this actually made me laugh loudly and suddenly enough that it startled my dog. And you can see the remnants of the actual game session dissolve like victims of the Thanos Snap and float away on the wind in favor of the lunacy.

OF COURSE there’s going to be a Larry’s Lukewarms to complete the Trinity. And OF COURSE the one thing Hamlin and Caleb agree on is that they hate Larry. But at the same time… can we at least be honest that Larry’s Lukewarms sounds like the most pleasant restaurant of the three, given the completely wasteful use of magic to keep EVERYTHING room temperature? I’m not sure what FOODS would taste good at room temperature, but it sounds like it has the nicest ambiance. Much better than getting burned by your own plate or your cutlery giving you frostbite. Maybe that’s why Hamlin and Caleb hate him so much. And then the ante is upped again with the fact that Larry is also a disowned sibling of the first two. Simultaneous triplets? I know it’s a world of magic, but… ouch.

Things FINALLY start to peter out as they attempt to expand the Luke-Warm family tree to include sisters fizzles. (Probably for the best. Or at least save it until next time someone in the group needs an armor upgrade. ALWAYS LEAVE ‘EM WANTING MORE.) And then, one of our Patreon live listeners (“AJ”) puts the final cherry on the sundae with his… interesting… T-shirt design proposal. Two things there: first, I ABSOLUTELY believe Rob would wear that shirt, and second, if we meet up at GenCon, I may need to commission a “Caleb’s Colds” shirt with “You know what else is warm? Shit.” on the back.

Meanwhile… oh hey, we also had a fight this week. Ah… gibbering mouthers. For the discerning GM who decided that regular slimes were neither horrific nor difficult enough to fight. And not just one, because that might actually be a fair fight. Let’s do three.

As the party themselves remark at a few points, this fight was a rollercoaster. I don’t want to generalize too much, but a lot of combats in Second Edition tend to be either unidirectional squash matches where the party was ALWAYS going to win, or they tend to have a single inflection point where the party starts slow while they figure out the mechanics of the enemy and stage a comeback after they get their tactics in order.

This fight is one of those rarities that has true ebbs and flows. Right when you think the heroes are up against it, they’d get a really good outcome; then right when you think things were starting to look like they were going their way, things would swing back toward the mouthers. I forget who – Steve, maybe – but someone used the word “cinematic” and that’s probably the word I’d apply here. This was one of the more cinematic fights we’ve seen in a while.

You had Rob getting swallowed early, but you kinda felt like it was early enough in the fight that he’d escape before things got too bad. And sure enough, he did. You had Riley getting swallowed but receiving a Nat-20 bailout to escape at the last possible second. And then you had Ateran – without a Hero Point – getting engulfed and Alhara saving them just before perma-death found its way onto the table. (Even though Alhara herself didn’t have that many hit points left either.)

And OK, it was also a fight with at least one moment of levity – it cracked me up that Vanessa was rolling so much better under the influence of multiple status effects than she did at full strength. So the takeaway is that Alhara needs to keep a stash of poisons around and blind or confuse herself before each fight? That’ll make things more interesting.

So the party does eventually win, they take their lunch break, and we’re at the end of the episode. It doesn’t feel like the mystery of the temple has totally revealed itself, though it’s unclear whether that means a second trip back in, or just having someone more scholarly make sense of the information they already gathered. I guess that’s the part we’ll pick up with 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.

Also… be sure to stop by Lukewarm Larry’s, home of the endless room-temperature breadbasket.

The Bird’s Eye View S2|01: Birds of a Blackfeather

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S2|01: The Unusual Suspects.

This week’s episode is either kind of a boring one or one of the most interesting we’ve done. Maybe a little bit of both.

On the boring side, we’ve been operating at SUCH a break-neck pace since this game started. We’ve joked about the fact that we’re already Level 4 after less than a week on the job, but even within the sessions, it’s been almost non-stop action, except for the interlude during Jeremin Hoff’s party. So really, an episode where we just walk our beat and do paperwork really is kind of the slow lane for this show. Heck, we don’t even get to level!

To be fair, it’s not COMPLETELY devoid of story content. It does appear that the tip about the bank robbery, salvaged from Ralso’s journal, is going to be the next target of our investigations, even if other nameless Edgewatch officers are taking the lead this week. If you remember, Ralso was the second-in-command at the Murder Hotel; in her journal, we found that the Copper Hand Gang tried to recruit her (a former thief herself) to help with a bank job scheduled for the Radiant Parade, but she turned them down.

So that narrows down the location (the Coins District) and a time (about a week from now). And toward the end of the episode, we finally get our marching orders (literally) for next week and maybe beyond – a list of three banks that are most likely to get hit, and three “other” leads to check out. Two of the “others” are underworld contacts that might point us toward the Copper Hand, but the third seems almost totally unrelated: some random fire at a stable. In fact, Captain Ollo got out the fantasy RPG equivalent of a yellow highlighter and wrote “waste of time” right on the paper. Though… metagaming a little, I agree with Seth: Paizo doesn’t really go in for red herrings; if something’s in there, it probably has SOME use.

Though, as I’ve been thinking about it, it doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to the bank robbery. One thing I’m noticing about this adventure path is that it’s not necessarily a straight line from A to Z. Sometimes they plant things and leave them hanging for later use. For instance, the building that went missing while we were dealing with the chaos at the menagerie. We’ve never really accounted for that. Or, for that matter, the fact that the veterinarian is still TECHNICALLY a loose end: don’t think we ever found proof that she was a victim at the Motel 666. So maybe “waste of time” is something that won’t be DIRECTLY relevant to the robbery, but might be a seed for later. Obviously, not worth over-analyzing until we get more information, but still… I’m DEFINITELY in the camp that that clue is going to turn out to be something more interesting that it’s being sold as.

Meanwhile, even though the main plot doesn’t really move forward in a meaningful way, it’s kind of an interesting episode this week because it’s our first real attempt at emulating our sibling show and doing a little bit of Three-Ring Adventure style roleplay. And specifically, it’s Basil’s backstory that we’re delving into, with an appearance by Basil’s younger brother Linus.

Now, I think this whole thing requires a bit of digression, because I think there’s an interesting dynamic at work because of my role as “Resident Blogger”. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that listens to 3RA regularly – the other guys may have checked out an episode here or there, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that listens every week. So there’s an asymmetrical information thing at work here – I know where Steve is likely to take the roleplay side of things, so I think I wrote my backstory to be more accommodating and leave Steve a little more room to doodle in the margins. I think the other guys wrote theirs more to be a closed-loop – they explained how they became to be, why they’re cops instead of adventurers, addressed any “why Indy is afraid of snakes” quirks, but not necessarily anything that could be used going forward. Meanwhile, I covered all those basics (why Basil left law school, etc.) but I also wrote several loose threads that Steve could pull on at his leisure, of which Linus is just one.

And I’ll also drop a bit of a spoiler: I did leave Steve one exotic/magical opening, just in case he wants to play around with anything weird like Darius’ mark or Hap’s surprise ancestry. I’m not going to say what it is in case Steve takes advantage of it later down the road, but I’ll warn you it’s out there.

Linus is meant to be the – maybe not black, but gray – sheep of the Blackfeather family. Not necessarily EVIL and even a bit charming/charismatic, but someone with poor judgment and impulse control, and the sort of person who could easily get drawn into the wrong crowd. The sketch I had when I created him was that either Basil might try to use Edgewatch as a positive example to steer him toward a better path, or that Linus might get LIGHTLY caught up in criminal activity… like as a lookout or something. Certainly NOT that he would be helping Pratchett load bodies into the wood-chipper or anything like that.

Given that general sketch, I think Steve actually did a really nice job portraying him. In fact, I kinda like that Steve’s version of Linus is self-aware of the trouble he’s causing and either doesn’t especially care or hides it well. I also didn’t even think of the ramifications of setting such a person loose into a 90-day street party, but that could be a really interesting combination. And OK, trying to scam a cop by going to work on Dougie was a pretty inspired touch at the end there.

Speaking of which, the reactions of my group-mates were interesting. Chris seemed like he wasn’t really into it that much; I honestly don’t know whether he was just PLAYING stoic, or if he just didn’t care strongly about the roleplay and just wanted to get back to the main story. (If I’m being honest, my recollection of his demeanor and body language during the session was more the latter.) Seth seemed like he was interested at first, but lost interest once the focus moved away from fried foods; meanwhile, right as Seth started to lose interest was when John found some common ground with the kid and ramped up. The idea of Dougie serving as a positive example to someone else really unlocked a new roleplay gear for John there, and he really seemed to get into it by the end. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was at least something to build on if we want to try to bring some of those roleplaying elements over to our show. I don’t know how often Steve plans to come back to the roleplaying corner, but it was fun to give it a try for the first time.

Well, it was nice while it lasted, but next week, we put the Blackfeather family drama back in its box and get back to police work. We’ve got banks to visit and leads to follow up on, and it’s been a whole DAY since we leveled, after all. 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 Sideshow S2|16: Xulgilocks And The Three Bares

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|16: This is Fine.

Oh hey, it’s April Fool’s Day.

We’ve all been through too much this past year to do any crappy pranks, so we’re not doing “X is leaving the show” or “we’re starting over and converting the show to 4E” shenanigans. I’m just too tired for that and I suspect some of you are too. Having said that, I start this week with a confession of a missed opportunity that would’ve been more on the fun side of the coin.

About a week ago, we very briefly kicked around (in our group chat) the idea of an April Fool’s joke: recording an “episode zero” of a new show where we would just use the weirdest character builds we could possibly come up with. The plan never quite achieved escape velocity – there was some enthusiasm, but I think we just came up with the idea too late and people were too busy to slap it together on short notice. (And the lack of artwork or its own theme song probably would’ve given the game away anyhow.) But one side effect of the idea is that in Hero Lab, I’ve now got a cigar-smoking sprite barbarian just waiting for an adventure to come calling. (Runner-up was an azerketi with ifrit heritage who would have a really conflicted relationship with water.)

Alas… someday.

Back in our REAL story, I feel vaguely robbed. When Alhara decided to just throw open the doors to the main temple, I thought we were headed toward, if not TPK territory, at least a hairy fight along the lines of the demon fight in the church that went down to Ateran’s last hitpoint. Steve’s anticipatory glee certainly made it sound that way. But a funny thing happened on the way to the TPK, and we ended up with kind of a “squash match” episode.

Part of that is a built-in issue with “brute”-type monsters. They tend to be big and powerful and hit hard… but they also are easy to hit, and also can’t dodge for crap because Dexterity is something the writers dumped to make them a little more manageable. Easy to hit, easy to crit.

And that actually dove-tails with the second benefit: our heroes rolled into the best possible initiative. Any time your casters can put up almost 150 damage and your melees can set up a defensive position on a chokepoint before the bad guys have even laced up their shoes… that’s a recipe for victory. So now we’ve got half-dead enemies charging through Alhara and Darius to get at well-protected casters. Granted, “well-protected” only lasts until the babau re-appears, but to START the fight, it’s a good position to be in.

And that chokepoint… man. Let’s just dub that The Varus Family Killbox, shall we? Alhara gets to make use of her new attack of opportunity; Darius uses a readied flurry of blows almost as a second attack of opportunity, and it’s good night to the poor unsuspecting dope who decided to test them. This is definitely a tactic we’re going to need to see more of going forward.

So, in light of all of this, do we have to give Vanessa some “crazy like a fox” credit for throwing open the doors at the end of last episode? Thinking about it, if the babau managed to raise some sort of alarm about the party’s impending attack, the spinebreakers had a chance to finish their ceremony and get ready… they may have even gone first… could’ve been a whole different fight. So did Alhara’s impulsiveness last episode actually… (GULP)… help?

Not that the fight was entirely risk-free. The xulgath priestess had the potential to be a formidable opponent, and there’s also the re-emergence of the babau, who shows up behind the casters RIGHT when we were beginning to think it had just fled entirely. Oops. But a caster without meat-shield support isn’t long for the 2E world, and it turns out the babau pretty much only had one hit left in it.

I still wonder what the babau’s relationship was with the xulgaths. Was it there independently, or was it maybe a summoned creature? If it was a summon, that would explain why it used its “big” dimension door to retreat one room instead of getting out of Dodge entirely. But on the other hand, if it was a summoned minion, shouldn’t it have done more to raise an alarm to its master… in which case, shouldn’t the xulgaths have been more ready for the party? If it was independent… maybe it just hoped to hide out there and let the xulgaths take care of the party? Though if it was independent, why didn’t it attack the xulgaths on the way in? Or is it a generic “evil respects evil” thing? I dunno. No sense in over-thinking it. (And yes, I know some of you are already muttering “too late”.)

So the party actually makes quick work of the fight, and there’s this general sense of anti-climax about the whole thing. Yeah, there’s a little bit of loot, but there’s no big treasure trove, nor any bold revelation… what was the point of coming here again? Surely not the joke loot being shoved up people’s butts, I hope. I’m glad we spent two minutes on that, just in case your 93-year-old Aunt Agnes from Tucson didn’t get the joke the first time. “Did that young man just say he put money in his bottom? Gracious! Paul Harvey never used to talk that way on the wireless!

And JUST when we thought this whole visit to the temple was a waste of time, Alhara stirs the pot again, in a way that would even give Mister Peepers a run for his money. Remember that “crazy like a fox” stuff I was saying earlier? Yeah, forget I said all that. Did you not watch any of the Indiana Jones movies as a kid? Don’t touch anything, Short Round! (We’ll leave how poorly the stereotypes in that whole movie aged for another time.)

The pool starts to froth and bubble. Loren gives Vanessa an epic out-of-character scolding (“why are you like this?”). In character, even Ateran gives Alhara a bit of a side-eye (I’m imagining the pained expression Boromir gives when Pippen knocks the bucket down the well in Moria), and the setup is complete for our second straight Alhara-induced cliff-hanger. Not one. Not two. THREE gibbering mouthers emerge from the pool. If we don’t get our TPK, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying.

But that’ll be next week. (And hell… maybe the week after that, the way Vanessa is going.) In the meantime, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|15: Alhara Knows Which Way The Wind Blows

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|15: Bad Moon Rising.

Welcome back to Roll For Combat: Now With 30 Percent More Combat! No circus acts, no birthday parties… just a good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawl, the way Pappy used to make ‘em.

There’s something interesting I noticed this week about my listening habits. Fair or not, correct or not, Vanessa tends to serve as something of a “canary in the coal mine” for this group. When she’s calm, I’m calm. When she’s worried, I’m worried.

If I had to hazard a guess, I think it probably has to do with thinking – or at least assuming – she has a better grasp of the rules and of various Pathfinder lore than the other players. That’s no disrespect to Loren and the Robs… I tend to assume they have the knowledge an average long-time player has. But Vanessa has actually written Second Edition content for Paizo, so when she says “oh crap”, my ears perk up because I feel like she’s got reasons. At least that’s what I assume my brain is subconsciously processing in the moment.

Steve? Don’t measure anything by Steve’s reaction. He’s playing to the crowd. EVERYTHING that’s about to happen is the worst news ever. It could be Zon Kuthon himself or a lone Level 1 kobold; either one will get the same “Ohhhhh boy… are you guys ready for this? (cackle) You’re not ready for this.”

As far as my Vanessa Concern Barometer: we had two examples of that in this week’s episode: one positive and one negative.

The first was Hap (very temporarily) getting turned to stone-but-not-really-stone. (And really… nobody came up with “Hapsicle”? COME ON PEOPLE.) At first, I was surprised at how nonchalant everyone was being about it. You do know one of your party members suffered The Thing That’s Basically One Step Short Of Permadeath, right? But then I found the calm – at least Vanessa’s – kinda reassuring, at least partly thinking that she knows enough about basilisks to justify such confidence. If she’s not worried, it’s probably not THAT hard to unfreeze Hap.

Granted, the whole “douse yourself in the blood of the vanquished thing” is a little creepy, but even that got defused by Rob T. describing it as “we’re gonna tauntaun this”. And sure enough, a few minutes later, Hap is up and running again, none the worse for wear. It’s a little surprising, but Hap somehow emerged in better shape from having ACTUALLY been petrified than Darius did from having NOT been petrified by a cockatrice at Level 1. How does THAT work? I guess it’s those Level 6 anti-bodies.

Once Hap is up and running again, the exploration of the shrine continues. Things actually seem like they’re going to settle down a little bit as the group pretty much runs roughshod over a pair of xulgaths like they were a speed bump. The most drama we got out of that fight was whether Alhara was going to turn busting through stained-glass windows into a running bit like Cabbage Man from Avatar. (If nothing else, Alhara crashing through a stained-glass window would make a GREAT T-shirt.)

But then came the revelation of the babau, and the other side of the Vanessa Concern Barometer went off.

No, not a baobab… that’s a tree, or the fruit that grows on it.

No, not Babar. Cartoon elephant. Wears human clothes.

Babau.

It was that rollercoaster NO that goes up in the middle that drew my attention: “Oh nooooOOOOOooooo”. You got the sense Vanessa recognized it and identified it as bad news. Which consequently made my brain go on high alert for the rest of the fight. Again, maybe this isn’t fair to Vanessa to put that on her, but it’s kind of how my mind is wired.

And as I cheat and look at the statblock… she’s right to be concerned. A babau has got all the offensive tricks of a stealthier, including sneak attack damage; there’s that trick where it sprays acid on you if you hit it (technically it’s a coating of acid on its skin), and the whole at-will dimension door that it’s already used multiple times. They also have a signature move called “Grievous Strike” which basically consists of loading up two attacks into a single two-action attack that does extra damage and can also inflict Frightened.

Also, now that I have the statblock in front of me, let me re-explain the healing thing with fog of war turned off. As alluded to, if you heal someone who was the target of the babau’s attacks, it does 4d6 mental damage to the babau. He HATES to see his nasty wounds undone. BUT… two caveats. First, it has to be an attack that caused some sort of bonus damage – a crit, sneak attack damage, bonus damage from Grievous Strike – healing damage from a regular attack won’t do anything. (So in this case, healing Ateran wouldn’t trigger the mental damage because that was just a normal strike.) Also, the heal has to be performed within one round: if you heal two or three rounds later, you lose the window. (Also, the effect can only be triggered once per round.)

As scary as it looks – and the initial attack on Darius hinted at a much worse outcome – I feel like the party got a little lucky here, as the babau rolls a “2” at least twice, keeping them in the game. Given the thing’s attack bonus is clearly north of +15, things could’ve been SO much worse. On the other hand, the dimension door ability is proving to be a bit of an annoyance, especially since it also defies attacks of opportunity.

Speaking of dimension door, you may remember we dealt with this back during the succubus encounter back in the temple, but we’ll review it since it may still be in play next week. The regular 4th-level version of dimension door is just a line-of-sight thing: essentially, battlefield repositioning or crossing a chasm or something. The 5th-level heightened spell can take you up to a mile, as long as it’s somewhere you’ve been before, but then you’re also immune for the next hour.

And that gets into the big cliffhanger decision Vanessa makes to go throw open the doors to the next area. And… confession time, I was fully prepared to mock her. But as I’m thinking about how dimension door works, there MAY be some method to her madness. The Level 5 DD spell feels like it’s meant for last-ditch ESCAPE. Going one room over seems like the worst of both worlds – you’re not far enough away to be “safe”, but you can’t actually do it again to GET safe for another hour and you might not be able to do the 4th-level “bounce around the battlefield” thing anymore either, depending on whether the immunity is JUST for the 5th-level spell or for ANY version of the spell. So you can talk yourself into the idea that the babau went somewhere else entirely and we’re done with it for the time being.

That said, I can’t totally let her off the hook. There’s SO many unknowns that it still feels pretty risky to just rush into the next room. Obviously first and foremost, the babau might actually be in there; maybe “safety in numbers” is all the escape it wanted. Also, we still don’t know ANYTHING about that weird pool of purple liquid. Is that going to become a factor at some point? And of course, a new door very likely means new bad guys to fight. So I don’t want to sugarcoat the risk: it was PROBABLY worth slowing down a round or two and making sure everyone was ready to move forward.

So what’s behind those doors? I guess we’ll have to see 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 Sideshow S2|14: Weird Science

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|14: Send In The Clowns.

It’s a return to normalcy… through the gateway of even greater silliness.

Our action begins with the big confrontation with the Madam Dusklight entourage, though it’s not much of a confrontation when the GM basically tells you upfront “yeah, don’t attack her, or she’ll kill all of you”. So more of a big shit-talking session with Madam Dusklight and her entourage. It turns out she’s on her way to the big city – figuratively and literally – so she’s giving her own stylish middle finger to our crew before she leaves town. We also receive an introduction to her boyfriend-slash-bodyguard, who I’m sure we’ll NEVER EVER HAVE TO FIGHT, RIGHT?

Steve makes an interesting point at the top of the show. It’s good to generate some real hate for the Big Bad, something Paizo doesn’t always do enough of. They tend to be more fond of the Man Behind The Curtain model, where the villain is a mystery to be solved and isn’t really revealed until you meet them at the end of the book. That model is good for generating suspense and holding curiosity, but it makes animosity or rivalry a tougher emotion to tap into.

In that sense, I do think the idea of giving a little teaser upfront is worth the effort. If the plot revolves around us disliking someone, remind us WHY we’re supposed to do so. I suppose if there’s a danger in doing so, it’s that you have to be careful you don’t accidentally write yourself into a situation that conflicts with something Paizo writes down later in the AP. To pick an obvious example, imagine if it turns out the Celestial Menagerie WASN’T going to the Radiant Festival. That’d turn into a pretty big OOPS.

The most interesting thing in this interaction, I think, was Madam Dusklight hinting that she knows about Kalkek, and Hap’s rather clever way of dealing with that situation. I actually thought MD was going to pull the pin on that grenade, telling the town there’s still a monster on the loose and getting our crew in trouble. And I guess she might still do so – they haven’t left town yet. But it was a slick move of Loren to use speak with animals to send Riley out on messenger duty. Quick thinking there. Honestly, Hap’s a teenager… I was still about 20% worried she was just gonna start chucking fire at her.

The second most interesting thing is the existence of Clownish Curse… just for the sheer randomness of it. I know magic takes all sorts of forms and you can theoretically do anything with it, but what mage was sitting in their little wizard tower, snapped their fingers, and said “I’ve got it… CLOWNS”. I know, I know… it fits the flavor of the AP well, but still…. I’m waiting for Book 6 when Madam Dusklight tries to take over Absalom with a force of hundreds of clown minions… a veritable Army of Dorkness.

And OK, the third most interesting thing was Vanessa giving absolutely ZERO… figs… about Jellico’s well-being during this whole ordeal. I love how Steve even tried to give her the off-ramp and she wasn’t having it. “You went from hating him to feeling a little sorry for him.” “No, not really.” Maybe I’m a bad person, but I laughed at that quite a bit. “This above all; to thine own clown-hating self be true.”

Fortunately, we have Hap here to do the heavy lifting in the empathy department this week – Hap really IS the protector of underdogs in this little group. She’s so moved by Jellico’s plight that she’s willing to let the weirdos in the library do their little experiments on her to get a free curse removal out of them. I mostly think this will amount to roleplay flavor, but I really hope nothing bad comes out of this. On the bright side, maybe we can look forward to months of fan speculation that Steve is setting Hap up as the vessel for the Phoenix Force and a pathway to introducing mutants into the RFC universe, followed by those same fans getting all butt-hurt when it doesn’t happen. EVERYTHING MUST HAVE LARGER IMPLICATIONS FOR THE MCU NOW.

Meanwhile, it appears science is somewhat of a theme this episode: while the mages are fussing over Hap and fixing up Jellico, Ateran is doing a little research into the Shackles to try and get more information about Alhara’s mom, and Darius is asking all the IMPORTANT questions about life with an aeon stone? How does it affect your ability to PARTY? We are seekers of knowledge… even if we don’t like where that knowledge might lead. Or that knowledge might be unnecessarily scatological.

Moving forward, while Ateran runs off to the candy store to indulge their sweet tooth, Jellico gets run through the Declowninator and is fully himself again. Unfortunately, it looks like his performing skills went away with the departure of the Muse Phantom – definitely “for the time being”, maybe for good. Steve leaves JUST enough of an opening to suggest maybe he can figure out a new act down the road, but for now, he’s on the sidelines. Good thing the team picked up two new acts, I guess. And Vanessa? Still unmoved. I guess she even hates EX-clowns. Sorry, Jellico. No birthday party for you.

Finally, toward the end of the episode, it’s time to start adventuring again. It’s funny because I detected just a hint of “maybe we overdid this and we’re even kinda tired of our own shenanigans” creeping in around the edges of the conversation. Or maybe it was just a positive desire to get the story moving forward again and fight some stuff. Either way, our gang is ready to get back to pummeling bad guys, so let’s get to it.

I have a user question from someone I swear is not really me… if all of Hap’s spells have nicknames now, is Light now OFFICIALLY in the books as “Big D Energy”? This was asked by a Mr. “Someone I Swear Is Not Usually This Childish Oh Who Am I Kidding Of Course I Am”. Thanks for your question, listener.

Even as the party descends into the dungeon and encounters the first challenge – a pair of basilisks – the last throes of the silliness are still evident, as the party has an extended speculation about what they’re going to do with Darius’ statue when he’s inevitably turned to stone. And maybe that’s what’s going to happen, but I guess we find out next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

The Sideshow S2|13: Wine, Women, And Oh-So Wrong

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|13: The Dating Game.

I’m going to go a little out of order this week and start with the elephant in the room: Darius’ big date night.

I was warned. I thought I was prepared. Turns out, maybe I was not.

“You think the birthday parties are something? Darius is going to go on a date, and it’s gonna get a little weird. Even for us.”

Graded pass-fail, I don’t think it was THAT outrageous. I mean, I was worried we were headed for “RFC After Dark” territory and the first NC-17 rating in our show’s history. I was wondering if Steve had commissioned cheesy 80s porno music, or even worse… (gulp)… artwork. And really… a few spicy double entendres and a “draw your own conclusions” ending was fairly tame as these things go. What we got could air before 11 in most markets. I think.

I think what was jarring, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, was having two people who had been playing Darius’ siblings for the previous YEAR play groupies five minutes later. That’s what made it a little weird for me – I couldn’t step far enough away from “Alhara and Hap” to be comfortable in the moment. And I wouldn’t want to put words in Loren’s mouth, but it seemed like she felt something similar, because while Vanessa seemed quite willing to go for it, you could sense an almost IMMEDIATE “what have I gotten myself into?” vibe from Loren. And her character Kat was the one who asked for the date in the first place. Vanessa was just the wing woman. (Theoretically. SHE WEREN’T ACTING LIKE IT.)

Then again… Door #2 would be 20 minutes of Steve and Rob T. flirting with each other, and while it’s probably something we would have been telling our grandchildren about, it would probably be for all the wrong reasons. (“Mom… why does grandpa curl into the fetal position and weep uncontrollably whenever you cook bacon?”)

Meanwhile, back in the more sedate world, we FINALLY meet Papa Varus. I have to admit I spent the start of this exchange a little distracted. First, Steve said “Marcel” but with the accent he chose to use, I got “Mario” and my mind went to about two minutes of “when do we meet Uncle Luigi?” and “your princess is in another circus!” jokes. But then he said the Celestial Menagerie would be leaving for Absalom to participate in the Radiant Festival, and I gotta admit I had “crossover episode” on the brain from then on. As did several people on our Discord channel, as it turns out.

Now, this is something we’ve actually idly speculated about before: that maybe we’d have an Edgewatch/Three-Ring crossover as a special live episode for one of the conventions or something. But now this feels like it went from an idle speculation thing to something that could actually happen in the day-to-day flow of the show(s) because it’s now officially established that our shows are in the same time continuity. (The Radiant Festival only happens every 100 years, so… there can’t be two of them.) Of course, the real dilemma will be that we’re power-gaming our way through while they’re stopping for everyone’s birthday, so by the time they make it to Absalom (if they do), our Edgewatch guys will have hit level 20 and retired from the force. Just Sayin’.

Of course, the question I asked the Discord channel: who is the Scooby-Doo gang, and who’s the special guest (Batman, the Harlem Globetrotters, etc.) in this scenario? Technically speaking we’re the ones that investigate crimes for a living, but they have the dog and circus folk are more likely to be living out of the fantasy world equivalent of a van.

Depending on your answer, the Freds would be Darius and Lo Mang (do orcs wear ascots?), and Basil and Ateran feel like the Velmas. That leaves our Shaggies and Daphnes. On the circus side, Hap has to be Shaggy because she’s besties with Riley, leaving Alhara as Daphne. On the Edgewatch side, Dougie probably gives me the bigger Shaggy vibes, which leaves Gomez as a very odd Daphne choice… but I’m not sure anyone else works better.

(Damnit… now part of me wants artwork of the various RFC crews AS the Scooby-Doo cast. Though poor Ateran in a bright orange turtleneck? Maybe not.)

Of course, we’re still getting a LITTLE ahead of ourselves. This all assumes that a) the Celestial Menagerie actually leaves (we’ve only got Marcel’s word for it so far), and b) our gang eventually has a reason to follow them to the capital. Though that one’s pretty easy: there’s always “in search of bigger crowds, and what crowd would be bigger than Absalom?” But hey… at least it’s on the table now.

Meanwhile… the Varus family reunion was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked the roleplay and the interactions with the group and particularly thought it was nice that he was kind and welcoming to Ateran. (Calling his daughter dumb… maybe not quite so much, even if it was playful.) On the other hand, the CONTENT of the meeting was frustrating because it actually raised more questions than it answered. We know that the mom was into some shady stuff out in the Shackles, and while she may still be dead, it certainly wasn’t the simple story Dad’s been telling all these years. We also get a promise to deliver more information about Darius’ mark, but… we’ll get that next time apparently. So this was the meeting to talk about what we’re going to talk about in the OTHER meeting. Great.

But hey, we finished off with an Old Woody toast, and any time Old Woody is in play, it’s a good thing. I would like to point out that turning blue (as Marcel did) was one of the original OW effects Ezrik suffered the first time he drank it, so that was a nice little throwback for me. (I think Ezrik also may have developed temporary scales, but they flaked off the next morning. The problem is I forget which effects were Old Woody and which were from the Numerian fluid.)

There is one other issue I wanted to raise about the whole dad thing. ALL this time, I’d just been assuming the dad was something Steve and the group threw in to create some roleplay drama. Now, it’s starting to feel like a legit plot driver, like it was written into the adventure all along. So… either Paizo wrote some really clever hooks into this adventure path, or Steve deserves an extra gold star for folding his custom content into the main story so “organically” that I legitimately caught myself thinking Paizo must’ve planned it this way. I’m honestly impressed. In other cases where we’ve had custom content, you could “see the seams” more.

At any rate, as the episode comes to a close, we have a nice little interlude between Alhara and Ateran where they finally get a place of their own (sorta) – doubly wholesome given the debauchery going on at the diner. And then, as the episode ends… a bit of a shocker. Mistress Dusklight herself walks into the “enemy” camp. For a non-combat cliffhanger, this one’s a doozy. Is she there to fight? Make peace? Papa Varus made it sound like they were leaving town soon, so is this “settling up old scores” or “burying the hatchet”?

But of course, I guess we’ll have to find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. (A few of you already have.) Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|12: New And Improved

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|12: Fruit Scroll-Ups.

I’m going to start this week’s column with something of a personal note. Both because Steve mentioned it being Episode 52 and because it came up in a side conversation elsewhere. Confession time: I miss playing with this group. Because the fact that it’s been a year of Three-Ring Adventure means it’s ALSO been a year since Plaguestone signed off.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think it was the right call at the time. I was a little burned out at the end of Dead Suns and couldn’t see myself doing two shows at the time. Now, had I known COVID was going to do what it did and lock us indoors for a year, that might’ve changed my answer, but… that’s 20/20 hindsight, I suppose.

And I also freely admit I’m not as into the roleplaying as the rest of this group is. So in that sense, for the RP-forward show this is trying to be… I think the show is better without me than it would’ve been with me. Alhara and Ateran would be trying to advance their relationship with a tender moment, and I’d be the doofus dropping quotes from “The Office” into the scene like an asshat because that’s what I do. “This above all to thine own self be true…

All that said, I DO miss playing with these folks and I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed playing with Rob P. for the first time as well. It’s a different dynamic from the Edgewatch group, but equally fun. Yeah, we’ve had Vanessa make a few appearances on the Black Lodge show, and we still have other opportunities to interact with each other (most recently, bumming around Valheim). But… yeah. Sometimes I’m reminded it would’ve been fun tagging along for this ride in particular.

OK… gotta say it. If nothing else, at least I would’ve played a non-human. My one continuing criticism of the show is that it’s a flippin’ circus… where weird is the coin of the realm… and half-elf is the most exotic party option they could muster? THINK OF THE T-SHIRT POSSIBILITIES.

So basically what I’m saying is that I may or may not be quietly shadow-leveling a Leshy (playtest) Gunslinger with a trick-shot act just in case an opportunity for a cameo arises. “They call me… The Salad Shooter (cue Morricone-inspired musical cue)”.

All right, now that I let that moment of sincerity run on too long and ruined it with jokes, back to the action.

First, we have the OFFICIAL revelation of our Level 6 heroes. Since I’m mostly action-driven, I’m staying with Alhara’s Attack Of Opportunity as the big news of the day. I miss Attacks of Opportunity so much. Though to be fair, I found Vanessa’s enthusiasm about taking circus lore genuinely infectious. I can appreciate that she sees the opportunity to dig in on the circus/RP side of Alhara, even if I’m just rooting for Reaction-Based Stick-Hittery at the end of the day.

The lore thing in general is interesting. It’s pretty powerful IN the right campaign. Think about it: it’s a skill where you get to automatically/retroactively level it up to Expert when you take it; that’s a potentially powerful thing. Look at Ateran IMMEDIATELY putting their newfound Aroden Lore to work within the same episode. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of campaigns/character concepts where you know a specific area of lore that’s going to continue to be game-relevant all the way through, while other stuff with more rubber-meets-the-road benefit is also hanging around out there.

Speaking of practical benefit… Basil is TOTALLY stealing the idea of an 8-hour Longstrider spell now that he has a Level 2 spell. I didn’t TOTALLY follow what Loren was trying to do, but it sounded like she was trying to filter Longstrider through her elemental powers to gain almost-unlimited Fly access? Do I have that right? Which… I’m not surprised there was a loophole she was missing. Based on other character builds they’ve been playing around with, they don’t seem to like to give out “free” flight until at least the teens.

After level-up, the next order of business is checking on the Kinder, Gentler Jellico Bounce-Bounce. (Though still neither kind nor gentle enough for Alhara’s liking.) So I guess he’s not as creepy as he used to be, but he might need to take a break and get back in touch with his old act because the malevolent spirit was doing the heavy lifting on his previous act. Personally, I have 10 bucks that says his new act is going to SUUUUUUUUCK. And possibly involve puppets. That’s my prediction, anyway.

We also have a brief interlude where we upgrade the circus itself with a larger tent. More seats, more anticipation, more money… it does seem like the next logical upgrade. I suppose the danger is that it could turn around and bite them in the ass if they don’t hit the new anticipation goal. More seats + missed anticipation = more EMPTY seats, or something like that. I did think it was odd that the Prestige would max out after one performance… maybe I don’t understand the system as well as I should, but wouldn’t that argue in favor of skipping Escadar and heading for a bigger town? Did the writers expect our troupe to fail more and arrive here with less Prestige in the first place? Or will there be ways to raise the Prestige cap while they’re here? Not going to lie: there are times when I still find some of this stuff a little confusing beyond “big numbers are better”.

The interlude with the locket was… interesting. Am I the only one who got similar vibes to Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty, or is that just me adding my own layers? Mentally, I’m putting them in matching red, blue, and green robes just to further the effect. The big payoff here was finding the location of the entrance to the Moonstone Hall, but we may get additional payoff down the road – both on the locket and on Hap’s origin story. Mermaid fountain in the wood-workers’ district. Which is always kept under guard. Innnnnnnteresting.

Aside: Kat… YOU. NEED. TO. CHILL. Much as I approve of things getting a little silly, I’m a little leery about this date tonight.

One general question: did we ever get any interaction with Aives? At some point we need to get more information about why he switched, what his act might be going forward, and such. I remember them talking about meeting him, but if it happened, I must’ve missed it or it didn’t make much of an impression either way.

As we end the episode, the team does a little bit of quick recon on the entrance to the hall, and then we reach an emotional cliffhanger (if such a thing exists) as it’s time to meet Darius and Alhara’s father. And that will be where we’ll pick it up next time. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|11: A New Circus Performer Emerges!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|11: They Blinded Me With Science!

Well that was a bit of a tone shift, wasn’t it?

At the end of the last episode, I was worried for our merry band. I did have a sense that the battle would stop short of lethal damage because, at the end of the day, the Celestial Menagerie has a good thing going and doesn’t want to get run out of town by committing multiple homicides in front of a full tent of witnesses. But even with that mental safety net, our team was in kind of a worrisome place and I thought they might be facing the prospect of having to rebuild from a place of utter humiliation. I mean, come on… they had only gotten ONE hit on Delamar up to the point where the previous episode ended, and the third guy, Aives, hadn’t really even joined the battle yet.

But what a difference a week makes. A little bit of outside-the-box thinking later, and we’ve got a Zoolander walk-off (“Old school rules. First model walks. Second model duplicates, then elaborates.”), a fan club for Darius, and a surprising defection that turns the tide of the fight and ends up delivering a smashingly good show.

This particular episode is more of a “moments” episode. Sometimes, there’s one big moment or rules question I like to deep-dive on and that pretty much takes up the entire column; other times, it’s just an episode that fills my head with a lot of little stuff. This one’s the latter. So I’ll be bouncing around a bit… stay with me.

First, there’s Ateran. Maybe I’m easily amused but I thought it was kinda funny that they were kinda slow on the uptake – while Darius and Alhara had already shifted to “pretend it’s all part of the act” mode, Ateran’s still firing off Blistering Invective and ranting about killing people. But they get it together in the end and get to use their original act by the time it’s all over.

The Darius fan club is funny in the short term but prompts some interesting questions. There’s this whole interesting idea of exploring the idea of celebrity within an RPG context, and which party members are equipped for it and which ones aren’t. Big picture, that could lead to some interesting roleplay material. Darius and Hap seem like they’re wired to roll with it: I think Darius will be fine as long as bacon is part of the perks package, and Hap will think it’s all great fun as long as she has some sort of safe place to decompress when she has to. Alhara has conflicting elements in her personality… she’s a bit of a showoff and an extrovert, but I feel like she still likes that to be on her terms where SHE chooses the degree of extraversion and FORCED fame might rub her the wrong way. And Ateran… I suspect they’d much rather hide in Kalkek’s cave than be “famous”. So it’ll be interesting to see what might come of that.

Most immediately, I’m just worried about people taking Prestidigitation to places it was never meant to go. Yes, folks. The Darius Beefcake Firefighter Calendar is now officially in play.

Speaking of fandom: don’t be mocking science fandom, people, or we’re gonna fight. Easy to see who did and didn’t have kids who were into Bill Nye growing up. BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL! (Yes, that included a DAoC character named “Bilnai Silentsky” where not NEARLY enough people got the joke of saying it out loud.)

The next thing that stuck out for me as funny when Steve basically just said “screw it” and threw out the nat-1 and re-rolled Aives’ skill check. Look, he’s the GM, he can do what he wants, but just do it behind the screen and lie about it, man! Overall though, I thought the “face turn” by Aives was well done, even if it was a bit reminiscent of wrestling. The only thing that would’ve been better would be to have Aives hit Delamar with a steel folding chair and then tear off a Celestial Menagerie T-shirt to reveal a Wayward Wonders T-shirt underneath.

The most immediate concern in the aftermath is the fate of Jellico Bounce-Bounce. How much of his performing ability was him, and how much was the ghost? Is he even going to BE an act any more, or did his skill disappear with the ghost’s demise? (In which case, maybe that’s a meta-game reason for swapping Aives out for him. One-for-one trade so the players don’t cry foul.) Of course, Dark Cynical Me mentally joked that no one’s considered the possibility that the “real” Jellico was actually a serial killer in his pre-ghost life. Perhaps the spirit is the only thing that kept him distracted from killing MORE people by channeling it into performance.

Our second most immediate concern was that Hap would go get herself eaten by Kalkek by rushing up to rescue Riley without any backup and that we’d never see her Level 6 character. But for the moment, Kalkek honored his deal and things are good if still lacking an ultimate resolution, on that front.

Now, about those Level 6 characters… Ateran gets a CAR at Level 6? (Wads up current character, starts rolling a Witch.)

OK, maybe not. It sounds like we’ll be going through most of that next episode, so I won’t say too much about it for now. The only thing that stands out at this point is a personal note that Darius seems to be taking the same basic package of healing feats my character in Edgewatch is taking; just in a different order. I took Ward Medic first, Continual Recovery at Level 4, and was looking at Assurance at Level 6. But we’ll get into it deeper next week.

Back in the wrap-up, the circus performance makes a nice chunk of change (93g, even after-tax), and we get a stern-but-fair warning that the law is watching both sides, so there hopefully won’t be any overt shenanigans from the Celestial Menagerie crew going forward. So we actually end this week’s show on a fairly positive note… money in the bank, new level one night’s sleep away, all is well. The overall beef with the Menagerie needs to be squashed, the Varus kids still need to meet their father, and our troupe may be doing their next performance for free because of all the comps the CM may have handed out, but that’s just life in show business, right?

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 Sideshow S2|10: Two Circuses Enter, One Circus Leaves

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|10: The Laugh Factory.

OK, I have to admit this week’s episode genuinely caught me off guard.

When I saw Steve’s episode writeup about things “going from bad to worse”, I was just assuming the circus would be having a “death by 1000 paper cuts” performance… like we’d be seeing a bunch of natural 1s on rolls or something, the sick animals would vomit on someone, something like that. Or… OK… 1% chance of the situation with Kalkek somehow going nuclear during the show. (I guess that could still happen… the show’s not over yet. Jinx.)

I did NOT expect a full-out attack from the Celestial Menagerie mid-performance. I thought the pre-show sabotage was as far as they were going to take it for now and we’d deal with them between performances.

Before we get into that, I have to give Loren credit for coming up with an entire act for the ysoki siblings to do, though I did flat out accuse her of using cheese-related puns to try and curry favor with me to get a good review. (I did create CHDRR back in the Starfinder days, after all.) Well… it worked. It was edam fine performance. Then we had an average performance by Team Varus (though I enjoyed Darius’ Hulkamania reference) before things really kicked into high gear.

For half a second, when Jellico first took the stage uninvited, I thought he was playing the long game and had been a double agent this whole time; now that the Wayward Wonders crew had reached Escadar, it was time to spring the trap. I figured he was going to attack the crowd, or even just offend and scare them so that no one would ever come back. Back when he joined up, it did seem a little suspicious he wanted to go to a LESS prominent circus. Though if you think about it, the presence of the spirit would explain that – if it created a compulsion to perform and the Celestial Menagerie was not giving him enough of a spotlight, maybe he would take less money to go somewhere where he was one of the starring acts.

But whatever his reason for taking the stage, it does seem clear the Celestial Menagerie people knew about the Muse Phantom and knew how to trigger it, as they blanketed the stage in darkness and let the creature’s own need for attention take care of the rest.

First, cool monster that Steve came up with. Though it seems a little situational, given that you’d have to write some sort of performer into your backstory to make it relevant. But it was neat, it had good flavor, and I thought the notion that it could apply either comedic or dramatic effects was a nice touch.

I also felt bad for poor Alhara, trying for the big hero pounce and basically turning into Wyle E. Coyote splattering on the ground right next to the Roadrunner. And then getting put under the effect of demonic laughter for the rest of the fight for good measure. And to think she went through all of this for Jellico… a character she basically hates to begin with.

Now, I think Steve actually mentioned this LAST week, but technically the Muse Phantom should’ve stuck around a little longer. When you use a heal spell to harm undead creatures, you don’t get the “plus” damage… that’s ONLY for using healing as healing. So that heal-bomb that went off for 41 damage really only should’ve done about half of that. Then again, the way the fight went, that probably only would’ve let it stick around for one more round, so I don’t think we missed out on too much there.

But then, the minute one problem is solved, the next one emerges, as Delamar and his crew launch their attack from the wings. In general, I like a good party fight. So much of Pathfinder is made up of fights against either a single “big bad” or a gang of identical faceless minions that it’s nice when a group goes up against an enemy with a diversity of skills. It adds an interesting layer of tactics that are usually lacking. Instead of “I’ll hit the one that’s taken the most damage” you start thinking in terms of “who’s the caster?” or “can we get this guy down before the healer can heal them”? It’s a much more dynamic battlefield. And in this case, the combatants even come with some personality sprinkled in, which you usually don’t get from Xulgath #4.

My first impression of the fight was that the whole thing reminded me of the old Peter O’Toole movie My Favorite Year, where (skimming the relevant portion of the plot) the mob attacks a sketch comedy show that had been making fun of the mob boss, and the audience laughs along because they think it’s all part of the show. My second thought that it was actually kinda clever for our team to try and turn this into a marketing opportunity. I mean, if Team Wayward Wonders wins this brawl, it kinda gives them a shot of instant credibility with the audience, right?

Except… the other group seems to be doing the same thing. And they might be better at it. In fact, Delamar is confident enough to start tossing around comp tickets to the Celestial Menagerie WHILE FIGHTING, and what’s worse, he can get away with it because it’s turning out to be REALLY hard to hit him. And his buddy Ruanna stole Chris Beemer’s trick and made a bunch of mirror images of herself, only unlike Chris, she didn’t roll a 1 like he always did. After a round or two of fighting, our team is kinda flailing, and that’s with one of the three intruders (Aives) not even fully engaged yet. (Though he did get a heartwarming lecture about changing his ways from Hap.)

I briefly found myself worried about whether they’re fighting with lethal or non-lethal damage, but I ASSUME they’re doing non-lethal. First, if they want to lure acts back to their circus, those acts have to still be alive. But if they want to still have a circus, it would also negatively impact their business model to be on the run for murder. Having a muse phantom “accident” kill someone is one thing; having your performers show up and straight-up murder-hobo your competitor’s performers… I’m not an expert on Golarion’s laws, but… seems like they’d get put out of business for that. So I’m assuming we’re fighting more for pride than lives here.

Still… hope our team wins.

Unfortunately, we won’t get the resolution to that question until 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 Sideshow S2|09: Making Kids Cry On Their Birthday

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|09: A Little Bird Told Me.

Sorry, Steve. You can disclaimer it all you want, but we the listeners have taken a vote, and you’re a monster for ruining Hap’s birthday. AND FOR HAVING THE PROFESSOR YELL AT HER! You’re just lucky there’s still a pandemic, which limits our ability to assemble a proper torch-wielding mob.

And it was off to such a good start, too.

Before we get into the birthday stuff, we started with a little more investigation into the lost compass, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. All we really learn is that it’s probably even older than originally thought, and the bag of holding likely preserved it. That said, I got a little kick out of how excited Ateran seemed to be about digging through historical resources… they’re such a blank slate in some ways, it’s nice to see a little side of their personality that’s not usually on display. Now… I’d criticize Rob T. for saying the wrong circus’ name, but didn’t Rob T. just do that a week or two ago as well? Does ANYONE know the name of their circus here?

Now… on to birthday merriment.

First, we had our second appearance of the Roll For Combat Birthday… ummm… Song? It’s just so gloriously bad that it becomes great. It’s almost like the scene in Elf where Buddy free-forms the “I Love You” song for his dad, but even less melodic. I’d challenge Steve to have some birthday music commissioned, but I think our composer would probably resign in frustration.

For the second birthday in a row, we have gifts that are thoughtful and touching. Matching outfits for Hap and Riley, accessories crafted from fallen opponents, a birthday wish… Though, OK… Cynical Me wants to quibble a little bit about the likelihood of two people assembling 1000 paper cranes in the span of a few hours. SHOULDN’T YOU HAVE TO ROLL FOR THAT? Then again, Cynical Me also wants to suggest that maybe you don’t give benevolent pyromaniac paper products as a present. I mean, that’s basically throwing a big pile of kindling into her trailer. But the Hap liked her presents, especially the origami cranes, and that’s what’s important.

I am curious what the “deeper level” is on which Alhara’s gift resonated. Is it something about Hap’s backstory that we don’t know, or is it from outside the game, and it’s something that resonated with Loren herself? Part of me wants to know, part of me worries it might be something more personal than she really wants to reveal, so it’s probably OK if that’s just her little secret.

Of course, that moment of sentimentality was quickly balanced out by Steve’s “oh, yeah, your heart-warming friendship is nice, but I have the power to give out magic items” present from the Professor. “Friendship is magical, but what’s REALLY magical is a Necklace of Fireballs.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what My Little Pony was trying to say…) It’s a complete power move: it’s like the dad swooping in to buy her an iPhone when everyone else kept it to 50 bucks or less. Having made fun of it, it’s practical as hell, and there’s NO chance it’ll go to waste. Heck, once the party has more money, check back in a few years and Hap will be getting Necklaces of Fireballs like other people get socks.

As far as a birthday every week… ehhhhh… no. I like the birthdays for the party members themselves, but I’m not sure I can sit through a birthday party for some random clown we’ve never spoken of before. And I DEFINITELY can’t sit through the Birthday Song too many more times.

But then we have The Twist. The moment that redefined the back half of the episode.

Should’ve known that chaotic evil wouldn’t stay quiet forever. However he pulled it off, Kalkek managed to summon Riley to his cave and is now holding him as a soft hostage. Riley’s unharmed, and Kalkek seems (for the moment) to be using him more as an insurance policy than anything else, but still… it completely ruins Hap for the rest of the episode. Kalkek’s deal… Riley is willing to vouch for you, but just in case you were getting any ideas, he’s gonna hang out with me until the performance is over.

And ohbytheway, Kalkek also embiggens himself, just to flex on our team a little more in a “shoulda killed me when you had the chance” way.

At first, I thought this might have been a gambit to force a decision on Hap performing – if she can’t control Riley and do an animal act from the wings, she has to perform, doesn’t she? Except Hap takes a different direction and decides that if Riley’s in danger she can’t do anything at all and locks herself in her trailer. Don’t get me wrong… that’s a very human reaction from a roleplay standpoint. But it adds to the problems this first performance is going to be facing.

And then things go from bad to worse. Not only do we have a hostile takeover effort from the Celestial Menagerie, attempting to use both carrot (double your pay) and stick (unspecified bad things will happen) against the Wayward Wonders folk, but someone snuck in and made the animals sick. AND the clowns are out after coming down with Clown Lung. (As a nod to our Edgewatch show, someone needs to check and see if any of them have a build-up of black goo at the mouth. Maybe there’s the connection that lets our cops show up to investigate!)

If that wasn’t bad enough, the cherry on the shit sundae comes in the form of the Professor losing his temper at Hap and yelling at her for neglecting the animals. I’m not criticizing Steve – it’s a TOTALLY valid roleplaying choice. It’s their first show in Escadar, the Celestial Menagerie is screwing with the Professor’s business… I have ZERO trouble believing he’d be incredibly stressed in that situation and might snap. But it just makes Hap’s bad day even worse, and I felt genuinely sad for Hap at that moment. Poor kid.

Look, I know I’m making a lot of jokes about how mean Steve is, but I’ll also say it’s pretty inspired insofar as it subverts people’s expectations. We’ve had almost three straight weeks of LA-DI-DAH niceness; it was a good idea to break that up a little. And somehow I never thought it would be Hap’s celebration he’d mess with. The flip side argument to “Steve is mean” is that nothing TRULY bad has happened, but it shocked everyone out of their complacency a little. In that sense, I do give Steve credit for zigging when we thought he would zag.

So as we end the episode, we’re about an hour from showtime and almost everything’s in meltdown mode. The only GOOD news is that Fidget is available (and in a real-world show note, it sounds like Loren will play her with Hap sulking on the sideline). But everything else… I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we? But that’ll be next week. For now, 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.