Enter “Dragons” for 10% Off All Battlezoo Dragon Products Today!

The Sideshow S3|34: You Dropped a Mom On Me

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|34: A Hairy Male

OK, so this is kinda turning out to be a wild ride as we come down the final stretch of this third book.

First, it’s got more false endings than Return of the King. Thessekka felt like the final boss, and it seemed like it was time to break out the party hats when she was defeated. Then there was the dero (Ginjana) that seemed like maybe SHE was the final boss. This time, after killing Ginjana, our group even manages to check the box of visiting the stone and getting the inspiration, so… we’re REALLY done now, right? But then, at the last minute, Ateran goes through Ginjana’s notes and realizes that there’s a THIRD entity – the night hag — unrelated to the xulgaths and Ginjana, and she’s been behind the deaths Opper Vandy originally wanted the group’s help with.

Among other wrinkles, it comes as a bit of a left turn because it SEEMED like the mysteries were starting to converge into a single entity. The room with the brain jars in particular suggested that it was all related: it seemed like the xulgaths are just modifying their tactics or moving into a new phase where they’re attacking civilians in addition to just taking the towers, and they allied themselves with the dero to do that. But now it’s all diverged again, and it turns out we actually have COMPETING serial killers running around here. Ginjana is killing people to further her goal of finding a way to withstand sunlight, and the night hag is doing her own thing, and we’re back to the two mysteries not being related at all.

And we didn’t even get into the possibility that the night hag might be Ateran’s mom! I assume this was just a retcon by Steve: my assumption is that a night hag was always the big bad of this book, and since Ateran is a witch anyway, they decided to make the story a little more personal by folding Ateran’s backstory into it. The only thing I don’t know is where the creative balance lies between Steve, Rob, or a collaboration of the two. I mean, I guess unless Rob P. cheated and read ahead in the adventure, it probably had to start with Steve, but based on how he’s run our other games, I doubt he would’ve made a change like that without SOME level of input from Rob.

Philosophically I like that they went that way with it. You can be cynical and say “well, that’s just too much of a coincidence” or complain about how it’s not what the original writers intended, but this is ultimately supposed to be YOUR (GM and players) story. I feel like it’s setting a nice balance of still respecting the work the original writers did, while still making it your own and personalizing it in ways that put your characters more at the heart of it. If anything, that’s part of what makes a tabletop RPG more dynamic than a static video game. If we all play a Final Fantasy game, we’re all having the same basic experience, though maybe there’s that one weirdo who really LOVES blitzball. In a TTRPG, we can each have our own version of the story that can be dramatically different, and comparing the notes about how we did it differently is part of the fun. And not just the players, the GMs should be allowed to savor the twists they added to THEIR version of the story too.

If you disagree, just think of it as a multiverse. Since I’ve just seen both Everything Everywhere All At Once AND Doctor Strange: Multiverse Of Madness in consecutive weekends, I’ve got multiverses on the brain right now. Just think of Roll For Combat as Golarion-616, where the night hag terrorizing the good people of the Swardlands HAPPENS to be Ateran’s mom. In your Golarion-3210, it can be Generic Night Hag Who’s Not Related To Anyone. Heck, in Golarion-1284, it’s not a night hag at all, it’s actually a hairy male running around killing people.

Sorry, Vanessa… “hail mary”, “hairy male” is gonna stick around for a while.

There was some other action in between. First, we had another new variant of xulgaths. It’s getting to the point where it’s like different flavors of Mountain Dew… how many do you really need?  This fight wasn’t too rough overall, though it got a little messy once one of the xulgaths got into the backline and put a whuppin’ on Hap. Doubly so when she tried to stand back up and got hit with an attack of opportunity and dropped again. But our crew pushed through and ultimately prevailed.

Next up, our team got to visit the aeon stone and formally check the blessing box, though this time, they’re rewarded with arguably the most useful boon yet. Full-time darkvision is already a huge win. Darkvision with COLOR is even better: the one drawback of darkvision is that it’s black and white, so one might be losing some finer details in some situations. This feels like best of both worlds. And if that wasn’t enough… they get a CYCLOPS BLAST as the daily power. Stoneskin was a pretty good one. Raising and lowering the level of ambient water in an area… meh overall, but I have a suspicion there’s gonna be some Lara Croft puzzle later that requires it. But FACE FULL OF DEATH RAY excites me to no end, even if it is just once a day. Just as long as it doesn’t come with Scott Summers’ dickish personality too.

Then our team goes back down for a somewhat frustrating encounter with the golem in the vegetation-clogged passage. First, trying to burn off the vegetation sets off explosions, which is actually kinda cool… a little trap action to mix things up is always welcome. But then they’re facing off against a golem when a) they gave back the water flask, so they lose their best damage source against golems, and b) the golem decides to play the long game and force the party to come to it. (Or, perhaps it’s just defending the area it’s been assigned to, and won’t go outside a boundary.) Unfortunately, the situation settles into a stalemate, and given their depleted resources, the party decides to leave the situation alone and call it a day.

Now, I’m not going to criticize the decision to not go in. Close quarters, difficult terrain, depleted resources: that’s a lot of negatives for what feels like a fairly optional encounter. But I can’t help but feel a little bit curious about what have been on the other side of the golem, ESPECIALLY if it was actually assigned to guard something. Vegetation doesn’t really fit any of the themes: it’s nothing I’d associate with the xulgaths or with Ginjana, so I’ve got some natural curiosity what’s behind that door. But not enough that I’d want them to wipe the party finding out.

So next week, I imagine the team has to return to Kerrick and fight the night hag. The good news is they’ll be able to rest up and tackle it with full resources. The bad news is… well… pretty much everything else. It’s a big bad (does it really have Level 9 spells?), it will probably have a nightmare as a pet, and if it turns out to be Ater-Mom, there may a layer of weird emotional baggage on top of everything else going on. If this is FINALLY the real end of the book, it’s gonna be a doozy.

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 S3|33: Touching Me Touching You

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|33: Hulk Smash!

First things first… literally. What do we think of the “cold open”?

I’m going to give it a few weeks before I render a FINAL verdict, but my knee-jerk, first-listen reaction was that I missed having an intro. First is simply the abruptness of it: here’s the theme music… and now we’re rolling dice. I kinda like having that minute or two to “settle in” before the action starts. If I’m being honest, I also sometimes forget exactly where we were, and having that brief recap before we jump right in can be handy. (Especially if it’s Vanessa doing it in her carnival barker/40s radio announcer voice.) I also have to say Steve’s show notes were often interesting as a player who doesn’t always think about how things look on the other side of the screen. And on a purely self-interested level, the show notes have sometimes given me something to write about when I was spinning my wheels on the episode itself.

But I can certainly see the other side of the coin too. I don’t want this to come across as throwing shade at Steve, but sometimes the pre-show got a little long and meandering, or the shownotes would sometimes be something he’s already talked about several times before. Three or four minutes of pre-game? Sure. But I’ve seen a couple hit the 10-minute mark, and that seems a little excessive. And… OK… I haven’t done any polling, but it’s possible there are listeners who are here for the podcast and the Battlezoo stuff may not be a huge priority to them. (Again, not throwing shade at Battlezoo as a product line, but I feel like you could get that information in other places – now including Steve and Mark’s new YouTube shows — and one wouldn’t necessarily listen to a loosely-related podcast JUST to get that info.)

So I guess we’ll try this out and see how it goes, but my instant reaction is that I miss having that bit of a buffer zone at the start of the show.

This week, we’re back at it with the fight against the probable boss encounter, and one thing that immediately struck me about this episode is it’s a much more defensive/tactical fight than I’m used to seeing from this group. It’s not that they don’t practice tactics in other fights, but it was particularly noticeable this time. I think it was two rounds before they actually made an attack, because they were dealing with buffs and debuffs, and trying to get Alhara out of the big guy’s grab. Usually SOMEONE is taking the offensive earlier than that.

Speaking of the grab, we got an interesting quirk of the rules this week, with the interactions between grapple and reach. Specifically, we had a case where Alhara was grabbed, but couldn’t attack the creature grabbing her because the xulgath had a reach advantage over her.  Now… on some basic intuitive level that seems wrong: if something’s grabbing you, that implies there ought to be some piece of it you can attack. But I guess this is one of those places where you have to use roleplaying flavor to fill in the gaps in math: the dice deal with hits and misses, but somewhere in your brain, you can chalk it up as “yeah, you can attack the limb that’s holding you but you don’t have the leverage to do any meaningful damage”.

Now, there are SOME creatures – the roper leaps to mind, since we fought one in the Edgewatch game – that solve this problem by making appendages have their own armor class and hit points. That’s a good solution for specific non-humanoid cases, but I’m not sure you’d want to make that a general rule for ANY creature that can grab, or it makes things REALLY complicated in the long haul. Do we want to have separate attack profiles for any enemy before and after it’s had limbs chopped off? And even if we wanted to create such a system for enemies, wouldn’t fairness dictate that such a system apply equally to the players? It might be “realistic” but it feels like it’d be a mess for playability.

And OK, I’m not sure “game where you can hack off people’s limbs in the name of pseudo-realistic combat” is the sort of thing you want on the marketing brochure if you’re trying to reach a general audience.

So Alhara remains grabbed, and gets smashed into the floor a few times. (CHOKESLAM. I’m assuming this ability name means there’s a fellow wrestling afficionado somewhere in the bowels of Paizo.) So things aren’t looking great for Alhara for a little while. However, the good news is, as hard as this guy hits, he’s got the curse of bigguns everywhere, insofar as he has a low armor class, making crits a little easier to attain. And sure enough, the party is able to wear him down pretty quickly and turn it into a one-on-four (five if you count Riley) against the boss.

At least, I’m assuming it’s the boss. She’s certainly hitting like a boss, since between all of her extra damage sources, she does something like 40, 50 points on a normal hit. There’s a little discrepancy, insofar as the Tarren Mill folk described her as a “white-eyed dwarf” but now Steve describes her as more like a gnome. On the other hand, looking at the artwork… definitely white eyes, so… there can’t be two, can there? So maybe the Tarren Mill people are just country bumpkins who can’t tell the difference between a dwarf and a gnome. Though also to be fair, between the white eyes and greenish skin, she’s not a normal… whatever she is. (OK, I cheated and read the stat block. Dero. So… neither.)

It’s funny… once it’s a single-target fight, things seem a lot more under control. When the big fella was knocking the stuffing out of Alhara, I thought we might have a potential party wipe on our hands. Especially with Darius disadvantaged by the hover effect that meant he couldn’t take mountain stance. But once the big guy was down, everything kinda slowed down a little and it never felt like our team was in danger after that.

Speaking of that hover effect, I also find myself thinking about the moment she cancelled the gravity effect and fell. I find myself wondering whether that was something the baddie put in place, or whether it was an environmental effect that was already there, but she happened to have figured out how to use it to her advantage. At a meta level, she doesn’t seem like a caster build, so it feels like the latter explanation is closer to the mark. Which also means this may be a puzzle the players will have to work through after the fight is over. And we still have to figure out how this brain-scraping weirdo factors into the xulgaths’ larger plans.

I guess we’ll find that out next time, though. The battle is won, time to move on and claim the aeon stone. Hopefully. 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 S3|32: A New Foe Has Appeared!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|32: Fizzy Lifting Drinks.

First off the bat, subterranean stinkers have “schemes”, not “plots”. Possibly even “sordid schemes”.

So this week, you know what they say about what happens when you assume… This is the week where we find out we’ve been getting quite a few things wrong this whole time. I don’t know if I should say “we” or just “me”, but it felt like some pieces of this came as news to the players too. Or maybe I’m just a dumbass. Always a possibility.

First and foremost, we gradually come to the realization (started last week, confirmed this week) that Thessekka wasn’t necessarily the big boss of this book. To be fair, that was something the Turpin Rowe distillery folks said and we just kind of ran with it, but it starts to feel like the real big bad is this white-eyed dwarf that we first learn about from Snake Lady, and then I’m assuming it’s the dwarf that shoots the crossbow bolt right at the end of the episode. (And at a meta level anyone who can do 57 points of damage with a crossbow bolt is probably a boss.)

We also learn that all the nasal-themed horror we’ve encountered around the Swardlands is in fact related to the xulgaths. Truth be told, I’d been thinking it was some unrelated secondary quest. I suppose this alarm bell should’ve gone off when we learned that the xulgaths could fast-travel between the aeon towers – it really did explain a lot – but I will concede I was a little slow on the uptake and didn’t catch it until it was spelled out with jars of pituitary goop. But now we know; we just don’t know how it fits into the larger puzzle. It is genetic material for the mutants they’re creating? Is there some OTHER plan that requires the harvesting of specimens? Is this dwarf just a weirdo?

(And OK, there’s a small degree to which this all feels like it belongs in our Edgewatch adventure. We’re the ones dealing with the body-horror nutjobs… stay in your lane!)

But I’ve gone a little bit out of order, as a lot of this stuff gets revealed later in the episode. I’m literally getting ahead of myself.

First up, we have another new version of xulgath – the resin-seep xulgath. The good news… and I mean the ONLY good news… is that they don’t stink like their other xulgath buddies, so you don’t have to worry about the usual sickened rolls. The tradeoff is the aforementioned resin. There’s resin crust (part of this nutritious breakfast!) which adds poison and a slowing effect to its jaw and claw attacks, and there’s resin spray, which is a poisonous breath weapon. So… I think I’d rather have to deal with the sickened, all things being equal.

In the middle of this, we uncover a bit of a gray area, the difference between “knocked back” and “shoved”, specifically in relation to Darius’ mountain stance. Mountain Stance specifically protects against being shoved and tripped which are both defined actions. But the description of the xulgath’s resin spray uses the terminology “knocked back”, which does not appear to be formally defined, except as a form of forced movement. (To be fair, “knocked back” is also used in other spells like hydraulic push; it’s not just something that got chucked into this monster statblock.) If Paizo wanted to communicate something different, why not define “knocked back” a little more formally? It’s a little confusing, and this particular case, I’m with Rob – in the moment, it sure felt like Darius was being shoved.

So you know what? I asked Mark Seifter… now that he’s part of the team, I figured I might as well. He did confirm that’s working as intended: Shove is specifically the Athletics feat, whereas there are other forms of forced movement. (An easier way to see the distinction would be a spell that alters gravity and forces someone to “fall” a different direction. There’s no attack there to muddy the waters… they just move in a different direction because of altered physics.) Additionally, there are abilities – he mentioned the rock dwarf heritage – that are effective against ALL forced movement. So the distinction is intentional, even if it might be hard to articulate in any particular case.

For the tiebreak, I’d actually look at the flavor text. Mountain Stance is described as “a technique first discovered by dwarven monks – allowing you to strike with the weight of an avalanche”. To me, that suggests that mountain stance was first and foremost designed for its offensive benefits, and its resistance to Shoves and Trips was a Bob Ross “happy little accident”. That’s what I’m going with, anyway.

OK, we’ve beaten this in to the ground, and soon enough the party does the same to Captain Resin Crust. Next up, it’s time to explore the rest of the tower. As they’re exploring, they hear the clinking of chains, and for a brief moment Hap forgets the lessons of Turpin Rowe and starts warming up another fireball in the bullpen. But the rest of the party stops her, and it turns out to be a good thing as it’s a prisoner… yeah, I’m not even trying to spell that name. (Alinka Quink?) Snake Lady it is. So not only do they save a life, and gain some valuable intel… they have another recruit for the circus. If they make it out of here alive.

After the prisoner is freed, the exploration continues. First, the party finds… for lack of a better description… the lab, where we learn that the xulgaths were basically behind all the brain-scrapings, and that they just saved Snake Lady from being next on the list. Then they find what’s likely to be the stage for the finale… a big central chamber with light (presumably aeon stone light) coming down from above and being scattered around the room by mirrors.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose. First, Darius starts floating. Meaning he’s no longer in contact with the ground, which means no mountain stance. Yeah, that’s bad. Then we get the entry of the muscle: big four-armed steroid xulgath with a little tiny head. (If any of you played any of the older games in the Ultima series, this guy reminded me of the Headless, one of their cannon-fodder bad guys.) And then just when we were starting to wrap our brains around that, we get the aforementioned extra-nasty crossbow bolt (shadow damage, poison damage, and bears… oh my!) that announces the arrival of… well, I’m assuming it’s going to be a white-eyed dwarf, based on what we learned earlier in the episode. And I’m betting he or she is trouble.

How will our heroes fare in this fight? Hard to say, but we’ll find out (or START to find out, at least) 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 S3|31: Bored With the Board

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|31: 69, Dudes!.

This is one of those weeks where I’ll probably dwell on the show notes as much as the episode because I think there’s a lot of good stuff there.

First, I was there when Steve and Chris got in the argument he mentions. It was a bit of a “perfect storm” situation. You had the ghost of a wizard, which was supposed to have the intelligence it had when it was alive, so Steve decided to use a humanoid understanding of tactics. We were low-level characters, so there wasn’t a lot of spare coin floating around yet to buy a solution. To be fair, I think the writers of the adventure included a ghost touch magic item (scroll, elixir, don’t remember what exactly) in a different room but we hadn’t found it. So you had the magic user popping out of the floor, casting a spell or attacking, and dropping back into the ground. And while we were able to prepare SOME ready actions to attack, it was just slow going we kept having to retreat over and over. And we couldn’t really go do something else because that was the critical path through the adventure. It’s all stuff you can justify, but it absolutely WASN’T fun gaming.

With that as backdrop, I actually agree with Steve that environmental dynamics can be a really interesting way to spice up a game when done right. If you think about it, a lot of these scenarios involve fighting multiple instances of the same (or close to the same) enemy. If we need proof, let’s have a drinking game where we take a sip every time someone says xulgath. Similarly, your characters only get new abilities when they level, so they stay pretty much the same and fight most battles the same way. So… same bad guys, same characters… even the best campaigns can get a little “lather, rinse, repeat” after a while. So that’s when changing the battlefield can be so effective, because it’s the thing you expect to change least of all.

(Let’s also acknowledge that it’s a concept that’s been borrowed from or influenced by MMORPG raid mechanics. Here’s your fight… now, 30 percent of the way through, we’re going to turn the floor to bees, and you have to execute this movement pattern we came up with to avoid getting stung to death.)

HOWEVER. I think it works best when it’s a mixed bag that has good or bad possibilities, or that both the party AND the enemies can make use of the change. If you create an environmental change and then give the bad guy the tools to bypass it entirely (for example: chunks of the floor drop out, but all the enemies have flying), than it’s ONLY a nuisance to the party and that’s just difficulty for the sake of difficulty. If it’s an environmental change that can also be used to the party’s benefit – even if they have to do some brainwork to make it happen – I think that’s where things get interesting.

Skipping ahead a little, that sort of applies here. Yes, the wall Thessekka lays down cuts Ateran off from the rest of the fight, and since they’re the main healer, that’s certainly not nothing. On the other hand, the wall also creates a potential defensive formation for the party as well, as we see when Ateran gets knocked down to their last hit points and can duck down behind it to stay alive. Mixed bag… interesting. One-sided… not interesting (unless it’s to beef up an encounter with a group of weaker foes.)

Now that we’re talking about the fight itself, we start this week with a lucky blow, as Hap’s chain lightning basically wipes the rest of the adds off the board and reduces the fight to Thessekka against the party. I’m not sure how manageable this fight would’ve been if the adds had lingered another round or two. But one good zap and a bunch of crappy saving throws (including the boss herself), and this is back in the realm of possibility.

In the unlucky blow category, we had Darius ALMOST getting knocked over the edge halfway through the fight. I don’t think the fall would’ve killed Darius outright, but if it took him multiple rounds to climb back up, having him not there to take blows and create flanking would’ve made the fight a LOT more hairy. And actually this dovetails nicely with Steve’s earlier point: if Steve was really a “killer GM” and treated the players in an adversarial fashion, he could’ve easily attacked Darius and tried to knock him off; without a second reaction, Darius wouldn’t be able to grab an edge again and would just fall. When Steve talks about not trying to “win D&D”, it’s stuff like that. Yeah you could… but is it something you’d feel good about if it becomes the reason a player leaves the group?

Luckily Darius stays in the fight, gets back up on the platform, and the battle continues. As it does, we see some smart tactics start to emerge, as the party (except for Darius) switches away from raw physical damage and moves to forms of damage that would stand a better chance of bypassing Thessekka’s defenses. In some cases (Hap) it was a 50-50 between a coherent plan and “that’s what spells were left”, but you did also see Alhara try to focus her attacks on generating bleed damage, and you saw Ateran move away from telekinetic projectile and toward to his less physically-oriented spells. Granted, those other spells came with save DCs and Thessekka made most of her saves, but the tactical thought was sound.

And eventually, it all comes together and Thessekka is downed. Once it’s the entire party beating on one bad guy, it’s a short journey to victory lane. So that’s it, right? The Big Bad is vanquished, the towers are clear… oh wait a second. Thessekka left some notes behind. And those notes suggest that she experimented on her troops and created some mutant xulgaths that don’t sound like anything we’ve seen yet. You’d like to believe she wouldn’t create minions more powerful than herself – that’s not accepted best practices in the Evil HR Handbook — but even something close to her power could make for a nasty fight yet to come. (And lest we forget, we haven’t even gotten to some of the other side issues like the dead people with nosebleeds.) So despite the party running a little low on resources, we may not be QUITE done with this book of the AP just yet. Onward!

As always, we’ll pick it up next week with more smelly xulgaths (definitely), more good news and bad news that really just turns out to be bad news (probably), more gratuitous references to Darius’ buttocks (50-50 chance), and the usual hijinks you expect from the Circus of Wayward Wonders. As always, feel free to stop 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 S3|30: Curtain Brawl

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|30: Loot Pinatas.

Some of you who read both columns already know this, but early-to-mid April tends to be a mess for me. There’s a fantasy baseball draft where even though I’m not in the league anymore, multiple life-long friends (including Steve) descend on Pittsburgh and hang out for the weekend. There’s also my kids’ birthdays, including the Big 1-8 for The Boy. And of course there’s doing taxes. Or more accurately, procrastinating about doing my taxes. So sorry I’m running a bit behind this week.

I thought the discussion in the show notes about gold vs. magical items was kind of interesting, and since it involves a direct comparison between the two shows, it felt like I couldn’t stay on the sidelines. It is absolutely true we Edgewatch types almost always have more cash-in-hand than the circus-folk (though at the risk of a mild spoiler, there was a recent shopping spree where Basil ended up with ONE gold piece left). As Steve said, he converts a good amount of the treasure directly to “bounties” or “rewards” and just hands us cash because the moral ambiguity of cops shaking people down for their treasure directly would send a really weird message.

Having said that, I still think actual treasure has a place in this game, and here’s why. Loot can be a driver of character change in a way gold cannot. There’s that phenomenon of “you didn’t know something was missing until you found it” that’s very much at play, and it can actually cause you to take your characters in new directions because of the toys you get along the way. Look at Basil and his bow: archery wasn’t even on the radar when I initially built Basil, but once I was gifted a bow (a NAMED bow, no less) by the loot gods, I HAD to start playing around with it. Now, it’s pretty fundamental to how I play. Closer to home, Riley isn’t “loot”, but being able to rescue and adopt an animal companion created a major change in Loren’s concept of what Hap was going to be (though the love of animals was always there), and it’s been fun to watch that unfold. Even the water-based Aroden boon drove a conversation about how committed Hap was to her fire magic. I think you risk losing that spontaneity if you just convert everything to an Amazon gift card, even if it’s much easier to administer.

And sure, it sucks when you sometimes get a really cool piece of loot that absolutely NO ONE in the party can use, but I think the good outweighs the bad of keeping at least SOME real loot in the mix. Besides, in my case, missing out on cool loot just drives the NEXT character I create: I can neither confirm nor deny I once decided to roll a reach-weapon fighter solely based on my current character’s party getting a fancy magic halberd no one could use.

Now, all of this discussion of loot feeds into our discussion of “prison wallets” and cloacas, and… yeah, I’m not going anywhere near that. My first thought is that this is actually a guerilla marketing campaign for the Battlezoo monster parts system: “if we make conventional looting disgusting enough, perhaps players will choose something else!” I will say Rob P.’s “prayer beads” comment was the star of the show. First, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Vanessa laugh so hard she was out of breath before, but she was pretty close here. Second, if we ever launch a more mature line of T-shirts (RFNC-17?), “those look like prayer beads… ohhh!” will undoubtedly have to be the first one off the line.

At any rate… back to the action. We rejoin our team as the previous battle winds down. There’s healing to do and a little bit of waiting until the fires die down, but it’s now time to storm the tower itself. The sequence does create a bit of incongruity where the alarm has been raised, but nobody comes to check on the xulgaths at the guard post for 20… 30… 40 minutes? One can imagine the xulgaths inside:

“Boy, looks like something’s going on out there. Should we check it out?”

“You first.”

“No, you first.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure if they need us they’ll come get us.”

And then the return to… banging rocks together, or whatever it is that xulgaths do when they’re just waiting for adventurers to arrive.

So the party gets ready, Alhara steals up to the main chamber, and it’s time for another fight. At first glance, it’s shaping up as another fairly easy battle. The xulgaths do have numbers, but they don’t seem to be able to hit all that well or do that much damage in the first round.

But then things get a little more interesting in the second round, as the battle starts to split into two major fronts. Darius and Alhara are doing fine against the ones they’re fighting, but a group breaks off and attacks Ateran and Hap, and “xulgaths plus squishy casters plus better dice luck” puts the casters on the defensive a bit.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Thessekka, the big boss of the third book, makes her dramatic entrance. (From behind a curtain, no less. Who knew xulgaths loved theater so much?) She’s much bigger than the average xulgath, visibly stony (stoneskin or something like it) and has extra pointy bits sticking out of her body. And the parts that don’t have pointy bits are covered with all sorts of alchemical flasks. So this was probably to be expected, but the little guys were just appetizers and the main course has been served.

(As an aside, I find myself wondering if one could attack the alchemical items on her body, forcibly detonating them and causing her damage. But to counter my own argument, I feel like the fact that she has Quick Bomber means the materials are safely stored and can’t be targeted. Besides, if you could do that to enemies, then the GM could do that to you, and nobody would ever play an alchemist again.)

The Varus siblings charge up to deal with Thessekka, with mixed results. Alhara gets one of her patented trips in, but she’s not strong enough to shove the xulgath over the edge, and Darius misses entirely. Meanwhile, the one attack that lands hints at some pretty strong damage reduction. Whether that’s a spell-like/alchemical ability, or a native damage resistance is TBD.

Meanwhile, the results are equally mixed down in Caster-Town. The good news about Darius and Alhara moving forward to take on the boss is that Ateran and Hap can start using area damage, and Riley jumps out of his Pokeball to create some flanking possibilities. Unfortunately, the bad dice luck is still hanging around, as the xulgaths make most of their saves on the area damage (and in Hap’s case, the damage from her fireball was underwhelming to begin with). And Thessekka used her first around of alchemical attacks to put some acid damage on the back line, so there’s that too.

Now… you might be thinking. “All of that sounds impressive, but what if the boss also had a devastating area attack too?” If that was your thought… congratulations, you can become a Paizo adventure path writer, because Thessekka’s next move is a little thing called Earthen Torrent. It’s a cone effect that does 10d10 of damage, so Darius and Alhara also have to deal with a mini-avalanche right out of the gate.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time. On one hand, you expect the final fight of a book to be pretty tough. On the other hand, I’m looking at the stat block for this Thessekka and… I’ll admit I’m a little worried. She’s looking like a pretty tough customer, and half the party is still dealing with the adds.

Will they make it through? Will we be seeing a party wipe, followed by a circus B-team of Evora (and Gigi), Matchstick Flynn, the Aquamancer, and Booralu tackle Book 4? Guess you’ll have to come back next week and find out. 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 S3|29: Whack-a-Mole Whacks Back!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|29: Disco Inferno.

I have to knock out this week’s column quickly, as personal life intrudes in a good way this weekend. It’s Funageddon 2022! More accurately, the fantasy baseball league I used to be in is having their annual draft, so a bunch of lifelong friends (including Steve himself) descend on Pittsburgh for the weekend and hijinks ensue. I don’t play anymore – somewhere along the line, forgetting family members’ birthdays but being able to tell you who the fifth outfielder for the San Diego Padres is got a little weird – but I do generally hang out with everyone, and even serve as auctioneer as long as they buy me lunch.

So back in the world of the Extinction Curse, I realize I made a SMALL mistake last week. Nothing big: I just said the xulgaths raised the alarm intentionally, but really, it was Darius throwing the one xulgath through the fire and off the platform, which set off their trap. When a burning xulgath hits an oil trap (feel free to sing that phrase to the tune of “When A Man Loves A Woman”), predictably fiery things happen.

The net effect is the same regardless. Immediate short term, some saving throws need to be rolled to not fall into the fire. (Except for the poor xulgath who started it all and is pretty screwed.) Tactically, there’s now a huge environmental hazard serving as backdrop for the entire fight, with the fire itself, and obscuring smoke rising from it. And at a meta level, the entire xulgath crew now ought to know they’re coming, unless the xulgaths chose this exact moment to go visit an inexplicably-placed sensory deprivation tank.

As for our party, Darius is fine; he was safe up on the platform anyway. Never in any danger. Hap’s build pretty much protects her from the worst effects, between ancestral fire resistance and feather fall. So the ones in most immediate danger are Ateran and Alhara. Alhara manages to grab a ledge in a very Tina Belcher-inspired fashion, as we spend a curiously long time discussing Darius’ butt. We’ll unpack that another time. Ateran does fall, but they have flying available, so yeah… a little damage, but mostly a short term inconvenience. All in all, the trap ends up being not as horrible as it could’ve been. The way I see it, if Darius or Alhara (aka the people without flying) had fallen, THEN things would’ve gotten interesting.

What IS kind of horrible is the presence of stone maulers as additional muscle. Confession time: I assumed this was actually another new variant of xulgath on first listen, but as I was looking up stat blocks for reference… OK, they’re actually earth elementals. In addition to being a big punchy hit point sponge, they have two main powers. The first is the spikes they can emanate as an aura: it’s not a LOT of damage, but it does complicate battlefield movement on an already-small platform. On the other hand, you only take damage if you move, so if you just stand and trade swings with them, you can reduce its effectiveness somewhat. The second is the crumble ability where they can melt into the ground when they take a hit. (Though it’s worth mentioning they still take the damage.) Peeking behind the GM screen, the limiting factor for THAT ability is that it has a cooldown and can only be used every 1d4 rounds. But it does create a whack-a-mole scenario where they can go under and pop up somewhere new. So… Tremors, but less bitey.

The other meta comment is that BOTH those abilities require stone to operate, so if you can fight them somewhere other than a stone surface, it would neutralize both their abilities. But the wood bridge is the only nearby location that would work, and having the two characters who can’t fly battle on a narrow wood bridge with no guardrails feels like prime material for a winning entry in a “World’s Dumbest Character Deaths” essay contest. So… fighting them on their home turf it is.

So the battle rages, and in some ways, it’s a return to normal for the team. After a few weeks of “hey, Alhara had a great combat and didn’t die!” commentary, she’s back at death’s door for the first time in a few weeks. I’m not bashing Vanessa in the slightest; she’s playing her character exactly how it’s supposed to be played. But for a variety of reasons – the battlefield map limiting her movement options so she couldn’t make the most of her mobility, bad dice luck, whatever – we got back to the RFC tradition of the Alhara Pinata. And I don’t think we fully appreciate how close a call it was: dying 3 without a hero point available is not a place you want to be as a character. Fortunately, the rest of the team was able to keep her going, and it happened close enough to the end of the fight that the situation resolved itself.

Though this did lead to a fun little moment on our Discord channel where I joked that if she HAD died, the moment would’ve been immortalized by Steve speeding up Alhara’s death scene for comedic effect and carving it into sound bytes for the show. Which then prompted Vanessa to take matters into her own hands and record a sped-up Alhara death scene for the amusement of all. If you’re not on our Discord channel, you might want to head there to enjoy that.

One other thing I briefly wanted to touch on was the Juggernaut Mutagen. And no, not just because Rob’s initial delivery of the “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” line was way too casual and came across as the Smooth Jazz/NPR Juggernaut. I just like taking a look at magic items we don’t see too often. In this case, you get temporary hit points and a bonus to fortitude saves which vary based on the potency of the consumable, which trades off against a flat -2 penalty to will saves, perception checks and initiative rolls.

In this case, the temporary hitpoints were gone almost as soon as Darius got them, but the really interesting things kick in at the higher-level versions of the item. First, the duration goes up from a minute, to 10 minutes, and eventually to an hour. So now we’re talking about an item can help in multiple combats. Where that really helps is that the temporary hitpoints can regenerate if you’ve been at max hit points for one minute, so if you rest between fights and heal, you get a second or third dose of temporary HP. Also, the real good ones turn successes into critical successes and critical failures into regular failures on the fortitude saves.

So the battle eventually resolves itself and the party is still alive. One down… an entire aeon tower full of bad guys to go. Including the Big Boss. And that’s where we call halt for the session. 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.

P.S. – Who am I kidding?” It’s Jose Azocar. Fifth outfielder for the Padres. Sigh.

The Sideshow S3|28: The Clan With the Plan

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|28: Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I’m Hunting Xulgaths!!.

As I sit down to write about this week’s episode, it dawns on me that “they know we’re coming” is  a much more common trope in movies and TV than in the TTRPG world. There’s like… a whole John Wick movie about it. But in the TTRPG world, the normal mode of operation is that NPCs exist in suspended animation until the party stumbles into the room they’re in, at which point they spring to life and it’s time to fight. Even when the story positions them as guards, their “guard duty” tends to be physically occupying space the players need to move through, waiting for an initiative roll to kick them into gear.

For comparison’s sake, we just recently dealt with a similar situation in our Edgewatch game, where we were infiltrating a alchemical lab. There were guards around the exterior, but not patrolling: just enough of an inconvenience to require a Stealth roll, but no more than that. Once we got into the building, there were two NPCs who were playing chess in the room next to where we entered, but they didn’t notice our entry because they were playing chess.

So this week creates an interesting bit of strategy because our xulgath foes really do “know they’re coming”, in that they’re actively aware of the party’s efforts and have gone from passive protectors of the MacGuffin to an active security force.

But we’ll get there in a second. First up… Level 11 characters, though it’ll be brief because Level 11 tends to be one of those boring ones, at least for melees (casters at least get their level 6 spells). Well, maybe not boring, but 11’s biggest changes tend to be baked-in class abilities, so it’s a bit of a down level for player choice. That’s not meant as a criticism: there’s 20 levels, they can’t all be gems, and your character does get more powerful at the end of the day. But it is true that the part of the leveling where you get to pick out cool new stuff is… a skill feat, and a skill increase at a time where some classes don’t have a lot of skills to invest it in.

I do like the skill feat Loren took for Hap where she’s now a minor celebrity and can tap into that in any city the circus visits. It’s a neat little way to jump start information gathering in a new location, so it should fit the traveling circus theme well. I’m not sure how word of mouth gets around in a pre-technological world, but I’m sure magic will provide a way. I seem to recall that Starfinder has something similar, because I had a rolled a kasatha assassin/celebrity chef for Society play who either took or was thinking about taking the same feat. But it’s also been a while since I played him, so I might be remembering things wrong.

(As an aside, it’s kind of a shame I haven’t gone back to that character. Imagine Guy Fieri as a six-limbed contract killer who uses his equivalent of “Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins” as his cover story for traveling the galaxy murdering people, and you’ve got the gist. Really wanted to do more with him.)

We also had an interesting interlude about death, sparked by the realization that Ateran is close to being able to bring players back from the dead. That is interesting on its own merits, but doubly so when learning about Loren’s firm rule about, essentially, permadeath. That’s right: it turns out Hap has a DNR in place.

We’ve discussed this elsewhere, particularly back when Darius should’ve died, but when characters die, Steve tends to leave options unless you did something REALLY foolish to end up that way. And he tends to make the final choice of whether to come back or re-roll the player’s. So Loren’s saying she won’t take that off-ramp if it ever happens to Hap. Interesting.

I’m not sure I could ever be that absolute about things. I will admit I have some general sympathy for the position that if you die, you die, and pulling some rabbit out of the hat to stay alive feels a little too consequence-light. But I can’t QUITE bring myself to be as absolutist as Loren about it. If the worst should happen to one of my characters, it would honestly depend on how I felt about the character at the time. Part of it would be tactical, just because after playing a character for a year or two, sometimes it starts to get a little stale, and maybe trying something else would be liberating. But it’s also important how I’m feeling about my character’s journey at that point. We don’t roleplay AS heavily as the circus group does, but I do care about where my character’s overall journey ends up. There have been places in our story where I’ve felt “if we died here, I could live with it” and other places where I’d take ANY escape hatch because it didn’t feel like the right way to finish Basil’s story.

Anyhow, back to our story at hand. The group journeys forth to the last tower, and Ateran does a little Kirkland-brand Eye of Kilrogg scouting, and… this is going to be a challenge because the xulgaths really are prepared this time. They have a good defensive position with basically ONE point of entry, and the guards are actively patrolling. Specifically, they have to get up to a pair of raised platforms and then cross a bridge with no hand-rail, all of which is actively guarded. They probably can’t even do the bag of holding trick because the xulgaths will see it land and just… pick it up and toss it in a fire or something. (At that point, do they just wink out of existence immediately, or does their EXIT disappear, and they suffocate to death? ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.)

Fortunately, the party has another tool up their sleeve: invisibility sphere. Basil’s had this spell for a little while now, so I’m familiar with it. The various rules for what happens when people leave the sphere or attack from within it get a little crunchy, but the short answer is, if you stay close together and party-move as one, you can stay invisible for 10 minutes.

Doesn’t help with sounds or the possibility that the xulgaths will see the ladder reacting to the party’s weight on it, and Steve could get nitpicky about situations where they have to switch to single-file movement… but it’s a plan for now. So the party begins to ascend, until the point where the xulgaths seem like they might have noticed the party’s presence.

OK, so… change of plans. The new plan will be that Darius will go up first and establish a beachhead, and hold the first platform while everyone else gets up to the platform. And the first part of the plan goes like clockwork. Not only does Darius get up to the platform, but Hap gives him a wall of fire to throw people through, and Darius chucks one xulgath over the side. So far, so good… right?

Except that’s when the alarm goes up and all hell breaks loose. Specifically, two things happen. First, the xulgaths drop a torch on the lower grounds, creating a nice little bonfire down below the platforms. And then, the party learns the hard way that the ladder isn’t as secure as they thought, as the remaining xulgath pulls a pin that releases the whole thing into freefall!

And that’s where we’ll leave things for 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 S3|27: Slay It With Flowers

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|27: Flower Power.

I have to admit that my inner child is disappointed in this week’s episode.

Carnivorous plants were always such a cool thing to me growing up. Particularly the Venus flytrap – here’s this plant sitting around, minding its own business, a fly lands on it and CHOMP. Also just the fact that most plants make do with chlorophyl, but not this one. Why have SUN JUICE when you can have sweet tasty dissolved bug paste?

So I was really looking forward to seeing a Pathfinder take on a carnivorous plant, and you give me one that’s already dead? What the hell, Paizo!

At first, I was also a little angry on the party’s behalf because it seems like Audrey II being dead would’ve been something the party should’ve noticed… maybe even something that should’ve been obvious. But then I thought about it and I guess that’s the difference between starting with a Recall Knowledge instead of a Perception or Medicine roll. Now that I think about it (though it’s going back to last week’s episode), Ateran chose to lead off with a Recall Knowledge, so they got all the Encyclopedia Britannica info on the plant, but didn’t actually check for a pulse. And at the risk of being snotty with my backseat driving, they weren’t in rounds yet, so they would’ve had time to do both.

(We have an editorial clarification: we were talking about this later in group chat, and Steve mentioned that when Alhara was walking the perimeter, she did get a secret Nature check to notice whether the plant was dead, but she failed it.)

Nevertheless, the decision having been made, the party started sneaking around the dead plant in the middle of the clearing and ended up walking right into the real threat: the countefloras. Which, to my surprise, is not an Italian salad, but a form of evil dandelion. The interesting thing about these guys is that they basically have two modes: in their normal mode, their spore-spewing almost makes them the equivalent of a caster, or they can draw in their… petals, fronds, whatever… and it hardens up both their defenses and offense and turns them into more brute-like mode.

Among other things, their spores re-introduce us to the fascinate condition, which… unless I’m missing something… feels like the most useless status effect in the game. Basically, you just have to focus your attention on the creature that fascinated you. It doesn’t prevent you from attacking, so it’s almost totally useless against melee. It’s not even a berserk-like thing that prevents you from casting spells – it just makes it so that you can ONLY do so against the creature that fascinated you. And it’s broken if a creature takes a hostile action against the fascinated target OR its party-mates.

Really, thinking about it, there’s only a couple useful aspects to it. First, I suppose it can create a short-term lockout for attacks of opportunity or other reactions: if you’re fascinated by Creature #1, Creatures 2 through 4 can do whatever they want and you won’t be able to react to it. The other use case would be disrupting a party healer if there is one, since their utility relies primarily on being able to target other people. But even then… it only lasts until the next enemy attack.

One way to fix fascinate MIGHT be to make it so the target doesn’t become unfascinated until the creature that attacked it takes a hostile action. That is, if you’re SO fixated on Creature #1, you might not even notice Creatures 2 through 4 attacking your friends. Then maybe you could have the fascinator lock out the fascinatee (yep, I’m making up words now) while its allies work on the rest of the party. But even that doesn’t slow things down much because the fascinate target can still come over and start whomping on you with impunity, and if you fight back, the condition ends.

As the fight begins, we get another surprise… at least one of the distillery workers is still alive. I’d been assuming all of them were wiped out, but in a little touch of irony, the worker who fell closest to the carnivorous plant corpse is just hanging on. Interestingly enough, our party decides to stage an impromptu rescue mission, grabbing the downed worker and retreating from the grove. Residual guilt over the earlier incident at the distillery, maybe?

At first glance, it seems like it might be a full-blown retreat, but then the team regroups and decides to go back and fight. And once the initial surprise wears off, the killer flowers turn out to be not SO tough. The good news is that they’re vulnerable to both cold and fire; the bad news is Hap is trying to conserve spells, so she’s more in Poke-Trainer mode than spellslinger mode. Even so, the party is able to rally and dispose of the killer flowers fairly easily.

After the battle, the team revives the lone survivor of the distillery party and get a little more detail on the overall situation. It turns out the distillery workers had been skirmishing against the xulgaths for a while, and had learned a few interesting facts before the killer flowers got them. First, they’re aware of the players’ activities and are fortifying the last tower for an attack. Yeah, that’s not good. Second, we find out that the xulgath leader has some mechanism for transporting between the towers. (At a meta-game level, I suspect this was a way to handle it so that the players could tackle the towers in any order, and the boss would still be at the third one.)

The party considers doing an initial reconnaissance mission up to the tower, but between general depletion of resources and the fact that the xulgaths know they’re coming, the party decides to call it a day and take their survivor back to the distillery. Their return kicks off another round of shaming over Hap’s errant fireball, but good news arrives at the end of the session, as they’ll be levelling up before they take on the final tower next time.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for next time. Our heroes will be more powerful, and – unless some other side mission crops up – they’ll be heading out for the last of the three towers. (And possibly closing in on the end of the book? We’re nearing the upper 20s on episode count, and that’s traditionally about how long a book takes….) Join us next time and find out, I guess. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|26: Hapocalypse Now

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|26: Let’s Not Bicker and Argue Over Who Killed Who.

It’s a weird week on this week’s Roll For Combat. Normally, when an episode is combat-centric, that tends to drive the action: you want to see what sorts of cool things happen during the fight. In this episode, it was almost the complete opposite: you really wanted the combat to hurry up and end to see how the party would handle the can of worms opened up by Hap’s fireball misadventures last week.

It didn’t help that once the combat got going, it was pretty much a complete mismatch. I didn’t sit there and count, but I get a feeling the xulgaths were pretty low-level and navigating the hostage situation was supposed to be the big challenge of this encounter. Not only did they miss a surprising amount of attacks, but I don’t recall them landing a single crit the entire fight. As such, we ended up in a fight where you never got the sense our heroes were in much danger.

It wasn’t a total waste of a fight though, because we really got to see Alhara’s build shine this week, complete with a glorious dose of the “Attack of Opportunity” sound effect. (Note to self: if Alhara should ever die, Vanessa’s next character needs to be a sprite and Steve needs to figure out the audio tricks necessary to make that her full-time voice.) I’ve come to the conclusion that Alhara as a character gets hamstrung when she’s forced to fight defensively, and to get the most out of her, Vanessa needs to get her in situations where she can open up the throttle and go full offense. I feel like a lot of earlier fights followed a pattern where Alhara would leap in, take a bunch of damage as the first one into the breach, and then she’d spend the rest of the battle fighting defensively around that damage. In a fight like this, she’s really able to commit to the build and it’s something to behold.

Within a few rounds, the party has the battle mostly mopped up, and now it’s time for the moment of reckoning with the distillery workers. And… OK, it’s actually a bit anti-climactic. I was expecting anger and we got… mild peevishness, I guess? I sort of get it – this is one of those places where the adventure path probably forces you to color inside the lines, and there’s not a lot of room for the distillery workers to attack the party or flat-out refuse to help them. But their complaints about Hap barbequing their colleagues comes across at the same level of outrage as a restaurant telling a party of two they can’t be seated at a four-top.

On the other hand, Hap’s reaction made up the difference for being quite unexpected. Up until now, Loren has played Hap as not just a reluctant adventurer, but as someone who’s really been conflict-averse and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But this time… Hap has snapped and it’s the emergence of Dark Hap. (A lot of people are already making the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix comparison on our Discord channel.) It’s going to be interesting to see if this is just a short-term defense mechanism to having screwed up – that is, Hap knew she was wrong, but wasn’t going to admit it in the moment — or an actual new direction for Loren’s character.

This new version of Hap makes a good point that’s also a bad point. Her good point is that xulgaths aren’t known for taking prisoners, and probably would’ve just started killing the hostages as soon as the fight broke out anyway. And… she’s not wrong about that, up to a point.

But that raises the valid counter-point: WHY did these xulgaths go against type and take hostages? If it was to get the remaining distillery crew to come out… that implies they needed the distillery intact for some reason, doesn’t it? If they’d just wanted to go on a rampage, they could’ve just burnt it to the ground with the people inside. It feels like maybe there was some larger goal here, so what was that? This “larger goal theory” is also reinforced by the one xulgath having a crude map to the distillery… they didn’t just stumble on this place by accident; they were specifically sent here by someone.

Also, at a meta-game level, it raises the possibility that maybe there was a diplomatic solution to this encounter that got missed. I know the group has gotten in the habit of attacking on sight, but maybe there was a way to talk through this one.

Once the initial kerfuffle dies down, we learn a few interesting things from the townspeople. First, they’ve had a death similar to the ones back in Turpin Rowe – tied to a tree, bleeding from the nose, etc. We also learn that there are other members of the distillery crew missing in action. A messenger was sent to Turpin Rowe, and that person never arrived, which created some of the fog-of-war that led to the death of the hostages. But we also learn that a fairly large party of eight distillery workers left for the aeon tower – also unaccounted for.

Armed with that information, it seems like for the moment, all roads lead to the tower. However en route, our party gets a bit of a surprise, as they stumble upon the remains of the distillery force… apparently killed by killer plants. Did the xulgaths summon these plants? Is it related to the malevolent fey we’ve been seeing in these parts? Or was it just random bad luck that a killer venus flytrap happened to be on the route between the distillery and the tower?

Alhara begins to do a little recon of the situation, giving the flytrap a wide berth… but manages to stumble into range of a spore cloud, signalling the beginning of combat. And that’s 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 S3|25: Only You Can Prevent Friendly Fire

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|25: No, Sir…they’re Saying Boo-Urns.

I’m going to start this week by either providing a graphic demonstration of Steve’s point about forgetting session details, or by pointing out a bit of a continuity error. I don’t know if those “computer problems” Steve alluded to caused some lost data, but I can’t remember ANY conversation about the distillery crew not coming into town for the Stump Festival. Or Hap running into some weird guy, for that matter. I even went back and listened to last week’s episode to be sure, and it just wasn’t there. Last week’s episode ends with Darius experiencing all manner of stump-related cuisine.

OK, so either some of the session got lost amidst the “computer problems” Steve mentioned and didn’t get recorded, or perhaps it just ended up on the cutting-room floor because Steve was trying to knock out 364 episodes before going on vacation. The other possibility is maybe they were referencing rumors they heard all the way back at Kerrick and I’m just losing my mind. (Though that explanation doesn’t make sense because that was 2 or 3 weeks ago in game time, so presumably the distillery folk wouldn’t have been “missing” back then.)

It’s not the end of the world… it was still easy enough to fill in the gap and realize the distillery needed to be added to the itinerary. And in fact, it’s become the priority item — even above visiting the tower — since people are missing. But I will admit to being briefly throw for a loop. I mean… I listen to these shows largely while driving my morning and evening commute… I can’t POSSIBLY have fallen asleep while listening or I’d be writing this from an ICU bed.

Speaking of being thrown for a loop, both Alhara and Hap are a little bit distracted after their first exposure to the logging festival.

In Alhara’s case, it’s a case of competitive spirit with no outlet. Imagine: the devotee of Kurgess and general show-off, not being allowed to compete in an athletic competition! The TV sitcom solution would be for Alhara to disguise herself as a lumberjack to compete… except that Kurgess also has rules about competing fairly and respecting the rules. So… she’s just gotta sit and stew about the unfairness of it all. I do hope Alhara gets to compete at some point; the games sound like they could make for fun skills challenges.

In Hap’s case, she’s distracted, smitten… dare I say, in LURRRRRV… with Dingo (is that really his name?) the Lumberjack, a corn-fed mule of a man. While Hap desperately tries to get the adults to make themselves scarce, Ateran launches right into the sales pitch for the circus. This does prove to be an interesting encounter, because for arguably the first time, it’s not really clear if the circus is the right fit. You can kind of see a case for him joining the circus because he does have skills that would be unique anywhere OTHER than a town full of lumberjacks. (And OK, no one’s saying it, but having a master woodsman on staff will help with some of the grunt work associated with setting up the circus.) On the other hand, Dingo seems genuinely good where he is, and doesn’t seem like the showbiz life is really calling him the way it is with the other acts. Dude is too wholesome for this crew. And if Hap thinks her party-mates are getting in the way now, wait until Dingo starts bringing his DAD on dates.

Though I have to admit, I was sort of cracking up when Ateran was pitching Dingo on the idea that Hap would help introduce him to other women. Is Ateran that clueless, or is it a well-meaning (if awkwardly framed) double-cross to get Hap and Dingo to spend time together? All I know is that if this ends in Dingo joining the circus but ending up with the snake lady, I wouldn’t want to be in Ateran’s shoes. Watch their back, Csillagos.

Either way, my proposed title for the spin-off series: Hap and the Thirst Trap. T-shirts, anyone?

So, our crew decides to start with the distillery instead of going directly to the tower, and on arrival there are definitely signs SOMETHING is amiss. Javelin-riddled horse, signs of struggle… and lo and behold. XULGATH BUDDIES emerge from the trees! Hap gets the jump on initiative, then the xulgaths, and then everyone else. As an aside, I loved Rob P’s out-of-character deadpan: “Oh, I beat one person on initiative. The dead horse”. And… in the words of Dr. Sam Beckett, “oh boy”.

Hap fires a fireball at the xulgaths. As one does. Unfortunately, guess who else is in that fog of war? Hostages. The surviving xulgaths now have their choice of original (in the distillery) or extra-crispy (tied to trees).

First, I hope the Lumberjack Himbo doesn’t have any friends amongst the distillery workers. That’s gonna make for a really awkward date. “So, what do you do for fun?” “Oh, just light your friends on fire.”

Second, speaking on behalf of my Edgewatch brethren, any and all applications to join the force are hereby revoked. I’ll grant we’ve lightly dented a few bystanders in our travels, but we’ve never lit any on fire.

Though OK… amidst all the soul-searching, I did literally (not figuratively) laugh out loud when Loren said: “And after that, another fireball.” Gallows humor is great, people.

Could things get worse after that? Well… morally… no, of course not. But in terms of game mechanics, HELL YEAH, as now all the xulgaths go, and Steve gets the insane luck of three 20s in a row against Hap. (Remember math nerds: it’s not impossible, 1-in-8000 is just really improbable.)

So a huge wrench has been thrown into combat right from the start, but our team actually does a pretty good job pulling themselves together. Alhara in particular gets off some nice shots (complete with “Vanessa and the Chipmunks” sound effects), and things are starting to stabilize after the messy start.

But then as the session ends, the battlefield is thrown into upheaval once again, as the remaining distillery workers come out of hiding, armed. Now, I have to admit, when they first said “stop killing our friends”, I thought they meant the xulgaths. I thought this was going to be some peaceful coexistence twist. But no, they’re just mad at the party for lighting up their friends. Even so, they’re going to try and help defeat the xulgaths, but they’re also not really trained fighters and their first couple shots go wide.

And that’s where we’ll pick things up. How will the rest of the combat go? What will be the fallout of Hap’s “nuke the site from orbit” strategy? To borrow from Harry Shearer in This Is Spinal Tap, “will we still be doing a circus performance?”. And for extra credit: should we be worried that the supposedly dead horse is listed on the initiative? Come back next week and find out. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.