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Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 2, Live From New York… It’s Roll For Combat!

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 2: Mister Peeper’s Papers.

First of all, apologies for being late with the column this week. (I can almost imagine Steve grumbling “lat-ER!” somewhere over the Internet). I was intending to write it last night after our game session ended but our “1-2 hour” quest ended up taking almost four. (In a good way… we were having a lot of fun… but still…) By the time it ended, it was around midnight, and I wasn’t up for banging out a column. So… apologies for that.

Speaking of which, one of the things I wanted to touch on this week, as mentioned in Steve’s intro, is the fact that we’ve increased our live-play capabilities by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks. As you know, around the time when we started the new shows, we started out letting our $5 Patreon subscribers get the shows a week early. But somewhere around the time the episode you’re listening to is airing, we started letting $10 Patreon listeners actually listen to the show live. Which has since further been augmented by screencasting the game board and even having webcam feeds of the players themselves (for those who have them; mine is on back-order). So now we have the beginnings of a “live broadcast” side of Roll For Combat going on.

The point is not to put on the hard sell here. I’m not about telling anyone how they “should” spend their money, especially in times of uncertainty like we’re in. But I did want to reflect a little on how it feels to be “performing” live as opposed to recording these and then having them show up a month or two later.

The first observation is I’m still figuring out the sheer logistics of it. Our live listeners can listen but not speak – their way of interacting with us is through the Discord chat channel. But for the first few episodes, if I’m being totally honest, I got too zoned in on the game and forgot to check the chat channel. Similarly, the one time I tried to run the screen share, I forgot that if I tab away to a different browser window, the show feed also tabs away to whatever I’m looking up. Don’t worry… no embarrassingly NSFW snafus; but our viewers were occasionally left looking at the rules page for that spell I forgot how to use, instead of the game board. Add in the general “how to lay it all out on the monitor” tomfoolery, and there’s some learning curve to overcome there.

My bigger concern going in was the newfound awareness of the fourth wall. Am I going to play the game differently knowing there’s a LIVE audience to provide instant feedback if I do something stupid? Am I going to start measuring every word that comes out of my mouth, knowing that Steve can’t edit things to make us look more clever? But so far that really HASN’T been much of a problem. First, we have a pre-game “green room” where we get a lot of the non-game ranting out of our systems before the listeners arrive. But more to the point, it’s been a net positive having people listening live – I haven’t really caught myself thinking about it, and it’s been kind of fun to get those instant reactions to what’s going on in the game. (Among other things, you guys have a solid GIF game.)

At any rate, back to action. This week is a bit of a wild ride.

First, we have our meeting with Flitch down in the sewers. I think we had a couple of different things going on here. At first glance, we had yet ANOTHER round of overcomplicating things and trying to answer every question based on one interaction… yeah, there was some of that. OVERCOMPLICATORS… ASSEMBLE! But to be more charitable, I think there was some genuine feeling-out of whether Flitch should be treated as an accomplice or just as a customer. He’s a rogue, he’s got pre-existing knowledge of the town… there might be ways in which he might be useful to us. On the other hand, our benefactor didn’t trust him enough to give him information about the other contracts or the extraction plan, so it’s unclear we should put a LOT of faith in him. Also, if our skill checks on the quality of his forged papers were accurate, Flitch isn’t a very GOOD rogue.

Then again… keep in mind our current definition of a “good rogue” is a guy who tries breaking into an inn in broad daylight in front of city guards and gets hauled off to jail for his trouble. PEEPERRRRRSSS! (Imagine that with the same cadence of Superintendent Chalmers saying “SKINNNERRRRRR”!) And now our party is divided – the rest of the party is pretty much running a standard paint-by-numbers run through the adventure, while Peepers is doing a one-man adaptation of “Midnight Express”.

This gets into the ongoing meta-question that also got some play in the Discord chat, which Steve also sort of addressed in the intro: what makes good “chaotic” play? Should Mister Peepers really have so casually just gone along with his jailhouse adventure and taken it so far, or did we reach the point where Graham Chapman should’ve come in and proclaimed the whole thing far too silly?

I’m not sure what the “right” answer is. As a listener, it’s clearly the highlight of the episode: certainly far more entertaining than just listening to Nella roll heal checks. But as a player, if I’m going to have a chaotic character in the party, I like that chaos to be tied to some larger guiding character concept that can be understood – chaos in service of making money, chaos as a deep-seated hostility toward authority, whatever. John’s portrayal of Peepers is kind of all over the place… one minute he’s breaking into a building in front of guards; the next, he’s singing the virtues of the same police state that just threw him in jail. It borders on chaos for the sake of chaos (or at a meta-game level, chaos in service of throwing Steve curveballs and seeing how he’ll react), and that can be a little frustrating to get a read on. And I’m not even denying that people like that exist in the real world – Hello? Tiger King! – but it’s a little easier to play this game when you have teammates who react in predictable ways or AT LEAST ways that hew to some larger vision of the character.

But when all the dust clears the next morning, we’re really not in too bad a position. We’ve made contact with two of the five targets (three people, if you include the innkeeper’s daughter), and we’ve even established the inn as a base of operation for the rest of our adventure. That’s actually pretty good for one day’s work. On the other hand, those also seem like the “easy” targets – the guard and the bookkeeper, in particular, seem like they could get messy since they have ties to the government – so this could get tougher when we pick it up next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 2, Chapter 1, Paralysis by Analysis

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 2, Chapter 1: Hey You Guys!

Welcome to Episode 5, where the Black Lodge premise finally finds its legs. Dead Suns, Plaguestone, Three-Ring Adventure? Lots of fun, but adventures that take months, if not years, to reach their payoff. Here in the world of Pathfinder Society, everything’s brand new again! New story, a new guest star, and another fairly short romp with the finish line already in sight. So let’s get into it.

First things first, we bid farewell (for now) to Vanessa Hoskins, the player, and Mama Millicent, the character. This time around, it’ll be fellow Three-Ring Adventure player and long-time friend of the show Rob Trimarco joining us as dwarven fighter Thorodin Bloodhammer. It’s an amusing choice on multiple levels. First, there’s something amusing about the fact that Vanessa and Rob both went with fighters – guess people are really starting to miss their attacks of opportunity in Second Edition. There’s also going to be some superficial amusement to be had from both Chris and Rob running dwarves with similar-sounding names. I’m sure that won’t get confusing at all.

The setup of this mission seems fairly simple at first glance – we’ve got a merchant of questionable nature (Guaril Karela) who made contracts to smuggle several citizens out of the city of Xin-Edasseril. Now, he’s become too hot to get into town and can no longer fulfill his deals, but the Pathfinder Society volunteered us up to finish his job for him. Presumably, the hook for the Society lies in the fact that Xin-Edasseril was frozen in time for thousands of years and just got thawed out, so its citizens represent a walking, talking history book. Karela has already arranged a boat to take five people out. So at first glance, this shouldn’t be that tough, right?

But things get immediately more complicated. Yes, the list is five names – Flitch (a thief of questionable talents), Themolin (a government accountant who found some questionable book-keeping), Yuleg (an innkeeper), Daffrid (sounds like a teacher of magic), and a city guard named Garrla. However, the innkeeper and teacher come with family attachments: Yuleg has a daughter and Daffrid has both a husband and kids. So now we’re up to nine people we’ve got to get out of town – more than will fit on the boat. And also, reading between the lines, Garrla is kind of a question mark, as Flitch put that deal together on the side based on an anonymous note left in a dead-drop. I can’t be the only one who sees “mediocre thief” and “city guard” and is at least a LITTLE worried someone’s onto Karela or Flitch and setting us up.

We also have more of a meta-problem, in the form of Steve telling us in multiple ways that getting into a fight against the city guard is going to be a BAD idea. We have multiple “if you fight the guards, you WILL lose” warnings. This is one of those “know your GM” moments – there are subtle hints, and there’s the GM telling you flat-out what the rules of engagement are. This is the latter – if we go swords-out against the guards, we lose. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be no combat at all – we may still have monsters or bandits or something – but it does mean that we need to play this smart.

What came next, I have to admit was a little frustrating… both as a player and going back to listen later, as we got hopelessly bogged down in pre-game paralysis by analysis. On one side, we had Seth (in particular) going meta and trying to walk through every possible outcome in advance. Who is this NPC? What are the 18 different things that could go wrong with their extraction? I understand a little bit of advance planning, but it reached a point where… come on, let’s just go there and see what the situation looks like. On the other hand, John… either he just wasn’t getting it, or he was impatient to get moving and just tuned out, or… something… because he seemed to be misunderstanding the basic points of the plan. THE BOAT HOLDS FIVE PEOPLE, JOHN.

But as long as we did all of that, what did we determine? The two biggest challenges here are likely to be the guard and the accountant – they’re people that are part of the infrastructure, people the guards would likely recognize if they went walking through the gates. “High-value targets”, so to speak. On the other hand, the fact that they’re part of the infrastructure means they might represent part of the solution, too – maybe they can find us extra papers or talk to other guards or know who to bribe or something. Being connected is a double-edged sword here. The families are low-value targets, but if we’re talking about getting actual children out, they’ll need an “easy” departure – can’t have them swim out to the boat or anything like overly physical. The thief is a question mark – he might also have skills but our benefactor seems unimpressed by his skills, so don’t know if we want to rely too heavily on him.

An hour later (real-time, not game time) we FINALLY get off the boat and get things started. We decide that Flitch seems to be the best starting point because he’s the guy who was in most direct contact with Karela – maybe he’s been working on the escape plan – but there’s basically nobody home at the address we were given. The flowerpot that was used as the message drop by Garrla is knocked over… that’s a little ominous… and then Peepers finds some graffiti that we can’t decipher because nobody bothered to train in Society. Chris decides to break that stalemate by busting the door down – just what you want to do on your first day as a visitor in a police state! Once inside, we find more graffiti – at first, we can’t decipher that either, but Thorodin eventually figures out that Flitch has gone into hiding into the sewers.

And that’s basically where we’ll pick it up next week. (Sewers again? Is this going to be a recurring theme for this show? Tales Of Municipal Waste Systems?) Hopefully next week we can get past the endless planning stage and actually do some townspeople-rescuing. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by social media and let us know what you think of the show and join in the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 4, House Hunters

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 4: You Be Heroes!

And just like that, our first Black Lodge game is in the books! I hope you all are enjoying things so far. I have to admit, the shorter stories with more immediate payoff is kinda nice.

We start this week’s episode with something that is likely to become a recurring theme for this crew – the wonderful world of overcomplicating simple issues. OK, except Mister Peepers. Mister Peepers is the opposite of over-complicating things. Mister Peepers is a force of nature.

To briefly back up and look at all of this from a metagame level: Society games are meant to be quick play-throughs. They’re meant for conventions or other sorts of short-play formats, so there generally aren’t going to be a lot of complex dilemmas, double-crosses, and such. In a convention setting, there’s just not time for that sort of thing. So at a meta-game level, Society games tend to be pretty face-value – people and things are what they seem to be on first inspection.

Also, Society games also tend to have a main story and side quests – basically “stretch goals” for the adventure. And this guy seems like a perfect “stretch goal” for the adventure – killing the croc, fully exploring the sewer, and beating the zombie brutes were the main quest. This guy is pretty much the definition of one of those “extra” goals.

So we have a fairly simple dilemma in front of us: we’ve got an undead prisoner, but a fairly coherent one. In a “the enemy of the enemy is my friend” sense, if the Dagonites locked him up, that probably means he’s a good guy. He’s also got 500-year-old information about one of Absalom’s most venerable families to share, which would be fairly valuable to the Pathfinder Society… you know, the folks who sent us down here in the first place.

Now if this were an adventure path, maybe he’s gonna double-cross us and attack us if we release him. But this is a Society game, so… sitting here listening to it, it seems like a no-brainer that we take him with us. And yet we manage to bog that transaction down for SEVERAL minutes before we finally come around to what now seems like an obvious conclusion.

If there’s a silver lining to our indecision, it’s that we decide to finish searching the complex for one last suggestion as to what we should do, and we end up finding the kinda-sorta deed to the playhouse. Which means we could basically give the goblins ownership of the playhouse, which will double-dip positive rep with the goblins – we killed their beast AND got them a permanent home.

After finishing our search, sanity finally wins out, we spring the undead guy, and head back toward civilization. We decide to disguise him using the nasty disguise beret we found, which makes a certain amount of sense. I still don’t know how we’re going to explain the appearance of an extra party member to the goblins, but it’s still to the greater good that he appears to be a normal human rather than a crusty 500-year-old undead. But, if we’re giving the goblins title to their home, are they really going to care? Probably not.

We row back across the cove, navigate back through the sewers and show up to finally find the other party of adventurers that we’ve been expecting to stab us in the back all this time. And they ARE stabbing us in the back, at least morally speaking: trying to take credit for our original kill of the huge croc. For a moment, I still thought this was going to end in combat – especially with Chris and Seth shit-talking the other party – but nope, instead it’s a social encounter to convince the goblins we’re telling the truth, and the deed kinda breaks the tie in our favor. We have a tooth, they have a tooth, but we have land ownership. CHECKMATE! “We be heroes”, as the man says.

So there it is. Team Black Lodge is 1-0 in Society play, and now we move into the post-game. As Steve says, this is something that tends to get short shrift in convention settings – the endgame at conventions tends to be running past your timeslot and someone else needing the room. But we have time to give it a little room to breathe.

First, we have Fame Points and Reputation Points. They’re related but different concepts. The main difference is that Reputation Points are accrued with the various factions within the Pathfinder Society whereas Fame Points tend to be applied within the world at large. It also seems (or at least that’s how it worked in First Edition) that most Reputation rewards are Boons you can slot for individual adventures, whereas Fame Points unlock lesser benefits, but ones you can cash in while a scenario is happening – for example, if you need a sage to translate a scroll written in a different language, you can use Fame Points to find someone to do it for you.

Next, we have downtime. I’m in the middle on downtime – on some abstract level, I like the idea that our characters exist and have lives between adventures. But at least at Level 1, the benefits are barely worth doing it. Especially if you fail your roll and get paid a few copper pieces for a week’s work. Ugh.

Lastly, and this is specific to our show, Steve drops a few hints about the Black Lodge itself through tavern interactions. As we’re doing this, I’m trying to strike a balance – the Black Lodge seems kinda secretive and not the sort of thing we should be blabbing about to total strangers, but as a character, I’ve also been envisioning Nella as a fairly simple trusting sort. (It takes all sorts in Pathfinder Society!) In this case, I was trying to play it close to the vest out of the gate, but once the lady showed that she already knew something about the exploding bird, Nella couldn’t quite bring herself to lie to the lady’s face. At least that’s what I was going for there.

So next week, we start our next adventure for the Black Lodge. New scenario, new special guest, new shenanigans. Hope you’ll come back and join us. 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.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 3, Pocket Paladin

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 3: Mister Peeper’s Tours

Put another log on the fire and let me sing for you The Ballad Of Nella Amberleaf, The Pocket Paladin.

I know there’s a lot to get to this episode – the ACTUAL champion’s use of a cloth caster as a human shield, Peepers going wandering (again), the general frustration of monsters in Level 1 adventures that have a disturbingly large hit point pool. But I’m going to start with what’s near and dear to my heart this episode – the fact that druids turn out to be stealth undead killers. (At least at low levels. Don’t know if it scales.) I didn’t really factor this in when building the character, but that is…. Good. To. Know.

Now, the channeled burst heal isn’t unique to druids – any divine or primal caster can get that one. Heck, there’s probably even a way to pick up a heal spell with some sort of ancestry feat letting just about ANYONE pull that little trick. But let’s hear it for everyone’s favorite druid spell that can’t possibly be pronounced THAT way… Shillelagh. Originally, I just wanted it for the fact that it’s basically a potency crystal with a one-minute duration: at the time I took it, I hadn’t even seen that it gets an EXTRA damage die against undead. So at least when using it two-handed, that’s a 3d8 attack as a Level 1 character. Hey battahbattahbattah… SWIIIIIIING battah!

If that seems overpowered… well, it’s worth remembering that the undead thing is fairly situational. And as I mentioned, you can only cast it on your own weapon, and only a staff, which imposes a few fairly onerous restrictions. Now, if you were somehow able to cast it on a heavy-armor fighter and have them wade in and smash things and do attacks of opportunity on anything that tried to get past – OK, that would be kinda O.P., as the Young People™ say.

(I can neither confirm nor deny there was about a 10-minute pause here while I researched what it would take to spec up a fighter-druid hybrid that had access to both Shillelagh and Attack of Opportunity. Yeah, the “no metal armor” restriction would get in the way, but it looks like the Cliff’s Notes answer to that question is “4th level” – if you start fighter and multi-class druid, that’s when you can get real spells and not just cantrips; if you start druid and go fighter, that’s when you can get Attack of Opportunity).

OK, let’s set aside the hypotheticals and get back to the action. As usual, the zombie brutes follow the general Pathfinder/Starfinder Big And Tall Rules: lots of hit points, hit pretty hard, but not all that hard to hit either. It’s not clear whether or not they have reach, but it’s probably pretty safe to assume the answer is yes. So it’s basically going to be a race to see if more small attacks can chop these guys down before they get too many big hits in.

The bad guys get out to an early lead, knocking Peepers out and putting a hefty amount of damage on Millicent, since they were the ones that ended up in the front when the fight broke out. Initially, I thought we’d actually be fighting a rolling retreat, chucking Produce Flames at them while we moved back toward the water. But then things start to turn things around fairly quickly. For starters, it turns out slashing damage actually does extra to the big guys. And then Nella and Nixnox roll out the big guns – the three-action group heal not only does extra radiant damage to undead, but also heals Peepers and Millicent. Nixnox even scores a crit, so his heal is – much like a Pokemon attack – super-effective! All of a sudden, a fight that looked like it could get pretty dire seems mostly manageable.

We even have time for a brief moment of levity, courtesy of Mister Chris Beemer. If this podcast goes another 10 years, our armor-clad fighter saying “I’ve got your back” and then hiding BEHIND the person he just said he’d protect will be an all-time classic. Chris has always had a… ahem… self-protective streak, but this was one for the vaults. On the other hand, maybe he meant it literally – maybe Nixnox had some lint on the back of his cloak and Thorgrim was attempting to brush it off.

On the other hand, Thorgrim gets the last laugh – figuratively and literally – by getting the kill shot on the final brute after everyone else did all the hard work, almost prompting a full-group mutiny. OF COURSE HE DOES. Come on, Dice Gods. Don’t reward that behavior!

With all the creatures disposed of, we begin a search of the temple. First, we land a bit of treasure from the main “shrine” area, but nothing earth-shattering – the potion of water breathing actually would’ve been useful for the earlier puzzle of the lockbox at the bottom of the well; not sure the occult medallion does much for anyone. Then… we finish the session with a bit of exploring. I think there’s a general sense the other adventuring party might appear, but so far… just empty, maze-like hallways.

And then at the end, we hear… something. Scratching.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and give us your thoughts on the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see it next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 2, Peepers on Parade

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 2: Goonies Never Say Die

Welcome to a brand new episode of “Mister Peepers’ Death Wish”. I’m your host, Jason McDonald.

Seriously though… John warned us this was coming, but I didn’t really believe it at first. John has always had an issue with (we’ll call it) impatience and wanting to get on with the action. It even predates the podcast, if we’re being honest. John likes things to HAPPEN. But with Mister Peepers, he’s taken things to a new level and basically built it into the whole character concept. Jump in deep sewer water? Sure. Run down a dark hallway heedless of what might be at the other end? Let’s go. Red wine with fish? Absolutely.

We pick up the action at the close of the crocodile fight. I suppose we could go back up top and collect our reward, and after that crit Chris took, I’m sure most of us at least considered it briefly. But come on… there’s a whole sewer-dungeon here to explore. We’re supposed to be brave adventurers, so let’s be brave and explore.

For the first few minutes, wandering the sewers is proving to be a bit of a dud, and I was even thinking we were SUPPOSED to just go back and get our reward from the goblins. But then… finally… we start finding some new mysteries to get into. The mechanical room ends up being more of a sidebar, but then we find the smuggler’s cove with the sunken boat. I get the feeling Seth (at least) thought the boat was current and the smugglers were in the sewers NOW – personally, I got the sense that the boat was a bit older, but I did get a feeling that taking the boat (or swimming) to the other side of the cove was going to be a necessary next step.  Or just that there would be a second big monster to fight out in the water.

Next, we have the near-miss with the other adventuring party, aided and abetted by what I’m now referring to as “Peepers Mode”. I’m still trying to figure out what’s going to happen there. I agree with Seth’s assessment that if it was just about killing the beastie, they would’ve turned back. They’re down here for a reason. Are they down in the sewers to find anything specific, or are they just down here looking for treasure? (OK, The Plot Gods are telling me a sewer under the current poorest part of town would be an odd place to look for treasure, but let’s let that pass for the moment.) And OK, at some point, are we going to have to fight them? Buuuut… by the time we come back in force, they’re nowhere to be seen, so table that for another time.

While looking for the other group, we find the next side puzzle, the “well” with the lockbox at the bottom. And here’s where we get a little “oh no, there’s two of them”, as Chris joins John in the Impulse Control Olympics and swims down to the bottom of a 15-foot pool. I’m worried that this is going to be a recurring danger – John is going to “Peepers Being Peepers”, but then Chris is going to match him in outrageous behavior and then we have two loose cannons on our hands. And then I’m going to develop stomach ulcers and start losing my hair prematurely.

So Chris goes down to the bottom and we have some momentary drama as he briefly gets caught down there. But the drama is short-lived as he immediately rolls a crit and breaks free. And thus returns to the surface with our some legit treasure, and a hint of plot in the form of a note. (How a note survived at the bottom of a tidal pool inside a sewer… you tell me.)

As a random aside: I’m actually SCUBA certified in real life (my daughter needed the cert for a class trip, and I decided to take the classes along with her), and the bends would be really unlikely to be an issue at that depth. You certainly do notice the pressure, and it’d be hard to hold your breath for long at that depth, but the risk of the bends is generally pretty remote until you go down 30 or 40 feet. Roll For Combat: entertaining AND educational!

Lacking any more map to explore and having lost track of the other adventuring party, it finally becomes time to take the boat and investigate the other side of the lagoon. Where we find… wait for it… an Evil Temple! It always seemed like there was going to be more than one croc to deal with; I thought it was going to be the other adventurers, but this will certainly do. (Unless, as Seth is suggesting, the two concepts merge and the other party are cultists of this particular religion. Is “Dagonites” the proper usage?)

And as the episode ends, we explore the temple a little. At first, there’s not much here except creepy unsettling artwork and a general foreboding atmosphere, but we eventually come across something to fight. And it’s NOT the other adventuring party. (Kinda wish it was, in retrospect). Instead, it’s two BIG undead types that almost certainly have reach and look to be at least as formidable as the croc that nearly killed Thorgrim in the first fight. So I guess we have our work cut out for us next week.

So next week, we get to see if we can fight our way out of this. While you’re waiting for the next episode, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think about the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

Talking Tales: Tale 1, Chapter 1, What a Croc!

Jason recaps the events from The Black Lodge Tale 1, Chapter 1: We Be Goblins!

Finally, we can take the wraps off our new podcast, with a bit of combined Episode Zero/Episode One recap for “Tales From The Black Lodge”. This one might be a little longer than usual, so you may want to refresh your beverage of choice before reading this.

This came about from a couple of different forces surrounding the “what do we do next?” conversation when wrapping up Dead Suns. The initial impulse was that we wanted to do something with Society play – it’s something not a lot of other podcasts are doing, but also, it seems like it’s something you the listeners seemed interested in. We only ended up doing two or three Starfinder Society shows because it got overtaken by Pathfinder Second Edition, but people really liked those shows and clamored for more – “when are you guys doing another Society game?” was one of our most-asked questions for a while there. We also thought it would make for a GREAT platform to bring special guests on, since making it easier for strangers to sit down and play together is a large part of what Society is all about. And OK, it would be easier for new listeners to jump in and out if you don’t feel like you have to jump on a train that’s been moving for months or even years.

Lastly, it’s not a big thing, but it’s also a format where we PLAYERS could take a break if we wanted – if life intrudes on an adventure path, the whole operation has to shut down. If someone has to step away from this for a week or two, their character can be off on “another mission” for a few episodes and jump back in later.

But the problem with Society play (at least in a podcast format) is the relative lack of “connective tissue” between stories: watching the team grow and develop and solve the Overarching Mystery is part of the journey, and a bunch of disconnected one-shots might be lacking in that department. Yes, each “season” of Society has an overarching story, but it’s not always evident in any individual adventure, and we wanted something a little more explicit.

So the Black Lodge is our attempt to create a little bit of that “connective tissue”. We’ll still be playing the individual adventures straight up per Society rules, but Steve is filling in the gaps with some story and lore of his own devising. The hope is that creates a happy medium where we’re playing Society the way it was intended, but there’s also a sense of building toward something larger.

Having said all that, there are two things about the show itself that came as news to me when listening to the first episode. First, it seems from the theme music and artwork like there’s a little bit of a suspense/horror vibe to what Steve’s creating. I didn’t realize that, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of that. More interesting was the revelation that we might cross back and forth between the Pathfinder and Starfinder universes. I’m not opposed… just surprised… and curious to understand the nuts and bolts of how all that will work. Do we somehow use the same characters (will there be a Starfinder-compatible Mystic named Nella?) or are we going to play different people? Is it a “parallel stories” thing where the two paths converge later and the Starfinder team working for a future iteration of the Black Lodge will find clues left by the exploits of the Pathfinder team? Or is it more of a straightforward “we find a time portal and can go back and forth between the two”? And most importantly, is Rick Sanchez involved in any way?

So that’s the background of the show. Next up… the cast of characters. As Steve mentioned, the core group is going to be me, Seth, Chris, and John, and we’ll usually have one or more “special guests” in each episode. This time out, it’s Vanessa Hoskins from Know Direction, who has been part of the core cast in our Plaguestone and Three-Ring Adventure shows. Bob is taking a little break, but we’re hoping to induce him to return at some point. So make sure to stroke his ego by saying nice things about Rusty Carter on our Discord channel.

I’ll look at the other characters more as we get into the gameplay, but for now, I’ll start with myself. I’m playing Nella Amberleaf, a half-elf druid of the Wild Order (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one). As far as her character/roleplay notes, she’s kind of a less pretentious version of Brixley – she’s got some of that same naïve trusting nature, but less flashy and ostentatious. Raised on the edge of civilization, so she’s not going to navigate high society and big cities well. Rural, but more “practical ranch-hand who speaks in analogies about birthing animals” than “what’re you lookin’ at, city slicker?”.

I ended up on druid by the process of elimination, to be honest. I knew I didn’t want to play a pet class since Tuttle (intentionally) and Brixley (as a product of circumstance) ended up as pet people. Also… not a class thing, but for the same reason, I didn’t want to be short. I had already rolled a monk for a previous Society game, but I was also playing a monk in my home 5E game so I didn’t really want to double up on monk-y business (groan). I wanted to play around with spells, but not necessarily as a cloth caster. So it kind of came down to bard or druid, and druid won out as a bit of a throwback to my druid from the Carrion Crown adventure path in First Edition. (The one who was nicknamed “Windy” because he spent most of his time in air elemental form). I recognize that at Level 1, it’s going to be a little rough – I’ll mostly have to lay back and chuck Produce Flame at people, and my Wild Shape is limited to Pest Form, which is basically the sorts of animals you can get at pet shops – cats, lizards, rats, and such. But we’ll see how it goes.

(One observation: I clearly need to work on my character names a little. Now I’ve got a “Nella”, and my Starfinder Society character was “Nala”. Which could get even more confusing if THAT’s the character we use for the Starfinder portion of the program.)

With the podcast and my character introduced, let the adventure begin!

We start with a plot setup via exploding Black Lodge raven, a with a little tip of the cap to Mission Impossible. Our mission is to help the goblins and investigate the sewers below the playhouse they’re using as a base of operations. After a bit of social-encounter wrangling, we have our first challenge… to put on a play for the theater-enamored goblins. Thanks mostly to Seth figuring out where the writers were going there and getting there first.

Look, I like Seth. And I think he’s doing some great roleplay as Nix Nox (and as Hirogi back in Dead Suns). But he does have a tendency to try to analyze and deconstruct the action that borders on metagaming. I don’t always know where that line is – we all let our “outside” knowledge of the game system color our actions within the game a little. But sometimes Seth just gets out the big yellow highlighter and says “yeah, we’re going to do this because the writer probably wanted us to do XYZ”. Which… OK, I like my metagaming a little more IMPLIED.

It’s not like he was wrong. Society games are written with conventions and other public play sessions in mind, so they assume the players may be strangers to each other in real life. Which means they often include a little bit of a low-stakes “icebreaker” activity early in the game to give people a chance to interact with the training wheels on before doing it under combat conditions. But still…

So we do our play-within-a-play, and I have to agree with the sentiment that the star here was Vanessa as Millicent. Playing the human, but clearly annoyed and embarrassed the entire time – either at the representation of humans as stupid and cowardly or at the bad writing in general. (Millicent’s got NOTES, y’all.) It also wasn’t lost on me that “We Be Heroes” is also still the story of organizing a retreat, so I guess goblins set the bar a little lower for heroism than the rest of us. But whatever… we all do our best goblin voices and win the right to go down to the monster-infested basement.

Where after a little bit of snooping around… croc fight!

The first thing that jumped out at me about this fight was how, at least at Level 1, Nixnox and I are playing functionally similar characters. We both lean on Produce Flame and have access to heals (I think Nixnox is a primal sorcerer, so… makes sense). I suppose the difference is that I can risk melee in certain situations since I can use a shield and have Shillelagh, but I still don’t really want to be going toe-to-toe with stuff for multiple rounds. At least for this fight, I was willing to let other people stand in front and take the beating.

And oh what a beating it was, at least fairly early in the fight. After a messy first round where pretty much no one hit, poor Thorgrim gets one-shotted on a crit for 30 points of damage. It even got within hailing distance of invoking the “massive damage” instant-death rules. These first few levels can get pretty deadly, as we learned all about in Plaguestone. But hey, at least getting killed by a giant crocodile is manly; try being beaten to death by shrubbery.

The debate about the croc’s death roll and the Grab ability spawned a little bit of conversation over on our Discord channel, some of which was captured in the game, some of which we found later. To re-summarize: Grab normally costs one action, but the text of Grab is ambiguous and makes it sound like the grab was part of the attack action (“the monster automatically grabs the target”). We eventually found out that the thing that “fills in the blanks” and makes it all make sense is Improved Grab. Grab still takes one action; Improved Grab makes it a free action as part of the attack. So the “automatically” more likely refers to the target not getting a saving throw.

Now that does mean that theoretically, the croc shouldn’t have been able to move, attack, AND grab in a single turn, but I’m willing to accept Steve’s retcon of “well if I would’ve known that the croc would’ve just skipped on the grab entirely”. No real harm done. Beyond the 30 points of damage, of course.

The good news about big nasty “brute” creatures like this is they tend to be pretty easy to hit, which also means we’ll get our fair share of crits too. So messy start aside, we soon begin to take the fight in hand, and it’s a race to get the beast down before it crits again. Luckily we do so, and our first combat ends in victory!

Which is where we’ll pick it up next week. The Beast is dead, but we’ve still got some splorin’ to do. First episode in the can – you know what to do. Drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think so far: Okay, one episode isn’t a LOT to go on, but all feedback is welcome. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.