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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it was nice while it lasted, but next week, we put the Blackfeather family drama back in its box and get back to police work. We’ve got banks to visit and leads to follow up on, and it’s been a whole DAY since we leveled, after all. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|28: I Believe I Can Fry

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|28: Food Glorious Food!

I have to admit, I was honestly surprised this week’s episode managed to be an entire episode. On one hand, the Adventures of Seth and Vanessa (primarily) richly deserved the spotlight, but the rest of the surrounding episode was just so weird and random, I didn’t think there was enough meat on those bones to put a full episode together.

Speaking of which, I fully expect this to be the first episode of our show ever to be banned by PETA, given our obvious delight in the eating of animals. Even fictional ones. Coincidentally, I nominate “It’s not cannibalism if you sell it to other people instead of eating it yourself.” for our next T-shirt quote.

But let’s rewind. We start with a very short bit of real business, as we have to retrieve the remaining loot. And… OK, let’s be honest, Steve ends up just giving us a mulligan on this one by having the ochre jelly spit the remains out on the floor outside the pit.

And sure enough, despite the ribbing from John and Chris, it’s upgrade time for Basil. MY SWORD-CANE!

First, there’s getting the striking rune for free; that’s almost good enough right there. Saves me, what… 130 gold or so? But then there’s the fact that it also has a poison reservoir. Granted, I took a look at the poison table and poisons can get pretty pricy – the more you spend the more damage you do AND the higher the DC to save against the poison – so it’ll probably have to be a trick for special occasions, but added damages and status bonuses could come in handy. The ability to strike with the scabbard is nice, but without the extra feats to use multi-attack without penalty, that’s mostly going to be good for mixing up damage types. And just as a point of pride… it’s a unique weapon. No one else in this multiverse version of Golarion will ever have this particular weapon. OK, it’s not an artifact on the level of the Hand of Vecna or Baba Yaga’s Hut, but it’s still kinda neat that it’s the only one of its kind.

For the record… I was sincere that I wanted to be fair about the issue. I did also get the +1 healer’s kit AND Pratchett’s spellbook, so I didn’t want to be greedy. But let’s draw some boundaries around that: my offer was more “what do I have to give up to make sure I get this?” rather than “one of you guys can have it”. I was absolutely going to walk out with that sword-cane. Fortunately though, despite their early razzing, the rest of the team was cool about the fact that it was my signature weapon, and therefore I had dibs.

Though… gotta say, I wouldn’t mind having the suit as well, though that’s more for aesthetics than practical value. Just seems useful to be able to hide the fact that you’re wearing armor and blend in, given our adventures so far. Having said that, whenever we hit Level 5, I’m going to bump my STR, which will give me access to heavier armor anyway, so I wouldn’t have it for very long anyway. So maybe it’s not that important.

After we get done with the official business… well, the show basically just jumps the rails for the duration. That’s not meant as a complaint; actually, it was kind of fun. There are times where I feel like our group is a little TOO goal-oriented and it would do us some good to let our collective hair down a little. It was also the closest we’ve come to capturing the spirit of the Three-Ring show, which isn’t surprising considering Vanessa (along with Seth) was one of the two ringleaders of the merriment.

Now, you’ll note I was kinda quiet for this part. Part of it was that when people first started talking about food, I got hungry and got up to get a snack. You’ll note there’s a part where Steve asks for my help coming up with names and I don’t respond: I’m pretty sure I was in the kitchen making a PB&J sandwich at the time (aka The Snack of the Gods). For the rest of it, I think Steve kinda pegged it in the intro: this dungeon had been so mentally taxing that once we were done, I just kinda crashed mentally, put it on auto-pilot, and was content to “bask in our victory” or whatever. (Ignore those scurrilous rumors that I was selfishly thinking up names for my new blade!)

Also, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor with roleplay. Sometimes, if someone else is really feeling it and you don’t necessarily know what you’d add to the scene, sometimes you just sit back and let them go off and appreciate the performance. Some of my passivity was that too – Seth and Vanessa were on such a roll I became a listener in real-time.

Now, I remembered most of Seth and Vanessa’s main in-character riff on different foods and such, and the general emphasis on Frying All The Things. What I forgot was the side conversation. You know: the one that dabbled in bugbear cannibalism and ostensibly humane treatment of livestock that actually sounds WORSE than just killing animals for food. Yeah, we’ll just cut pieces off the animal and heal it; I’m sure that won’t be physically traumatic or emotionally scarring in any way. And hey, we even got our first bleeped word in – I don’t THINK “ever”; I feel like Steve might have done it once or twice back in Dead Suns – but it definitely hasn’t happened in a long time.

Once the Fryer-Fest has run its course, we head back to the station, and it’s time to get our final attaboy from the boss and say goodbye to Sharky – at least for now. Keep in mind, there was never a formal endgame for Sharky, so the idea to make Sharky a cook was all off the top of Vanessa’s head. SOLD! Sharky’s going to learn to cook. I’m not sure if we’ll be bringing Sharky back someday, but both Bob and Vanessa added a fun little dimension to the show while they stopped by.

So there it is… Book One is in the… well… books. We managed to hit Level 4 and should be well on our way to Level 5 and – as we’ve mentioned before – it only took like 3 or 4 days of in-game time. So we’re kind of badass. Next week, we’ll get started on a brand new chapter in the adventure, with new challenges that ought to get us to Level 10 by the middle of next week in-game. That’s how this works, right? As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|27: Does The Punishment Fit The Slime?

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|27: Come up to the Lab and See What’s on the Slab.

It’s Big Bad Week on Roll For Combat, as we finally confront Hendrid Pratchett and put an end to his evil deeds! It’s rare that I really hate-hate-HATE an NPC – more often we’re fighting a guy because that’s what the story says we do – but the nature of this guy’s crimes got me there.

I wanted to start by briefly ducking into Steve’s pre-show notes to talk about other boss encounters, and suggest you check out the last… 4-ish episodes of the Dead Suns show if you want to see a boss fight with stages in action. If you somehow joined for Pathfinder and missed that show, the setup is that we’re infiltrating the bridge of an enemy flagship to stop the doomsday device. The BBEG boss is the captain of the ship: as a tactical note, I’ll mention he’s a caster who threw down greater invisibility while we were messing around in the antechamber. For the first “stage” he throws fairly passive spells that don’t give away his presence and lets his minions (and meat-shield second-in-command) do most of the work. Then when we start whittling away his minions, he becomes a more active participant and starts attacking us directly. Then in a third stage, gravity goes haywire in the ship, and we have to deal with changing gravity conditions each round while still managing combat. The in the fourth stage, we had to participate in a starship battle with the rest of the undead fleet. And then the final part is “get off the ship before it blows” where we aren’t worrying about combat at all anymore.

So… on to our CURRENT show and our first item of business: a new performer for Sharky this week. I didn’t mention Bob would be leaving because I wanted to keep things a surprise, but this week the Wonder-Mimic powers take the form of… VANESSA HOSKINS! Since Vanessa probably has the most airtime of anyone outside the original Dead Suns group (Celes in Plaguestone, Alhara in Three-Ring, Mama Millcent in Black Lodge) I assume a full introduction is superfluous. Heck, within the parameters of our show, she’s well on her way to one-name status like Prince and Madonna. She’s Vanessa!

As an aside, this was pretty much always the plan with Sharky. We figured it’s a mimic. If the creature itself can change, why can’t the person playing it? As a side benefit, it lets us capture some of that “special guest” energy from the Black Lodge show that we’d been missing a bit. (If you want to be cynical and a spoilsport, one could also argue that it was around the holidays and it was tough getting anyone to commit to multiple episodes.)

The thing you’ll immediately notice… and we’ve used this framing before… is the difference between first-person and third-person roleplay. Vanessa is very much a first-person roleplayer… she IS the character from the minute the mic goes hot and will only break character sparingly. Meanwhile, the rest of us… except maybe Seth, sometimes… are more third-person roleplayers: “Basil does X”, “Dougie says Y”. The character is its own thing, and the player is just piloting the mech. Seth is a bit more in the middle: sometimes he goes third-person, but other times he gets on a roll and goes completely into Gomez Mode and acts things out. Neither style is wrong… just different.

Vanessa’s take on Sharky is a bit more upbeat and friendly than Bob’s, a bit more filled with joie de vivre. Bob’s take felt like it always wanted to remind us that it was still an adversary to be taken seriously; Bob’s portrayal felt like there was a little resentment at being forced to fight, so his Sharky was a little passive-aggressive about things. Vanessa’s version wants to get out of this dungeon and go experience the world, and if fighting her former boss/owner is something she has to do to reach that goal, so be it. I don’t know how much of that is intentional choice versus how much was just their different personalities, but it’s fun to see two different takes on the same basic material… which is why we did it this way in the first place.

Meanwhile… Pratchett. The episode starts with a few revelations that make the fight a bit more of a dangerous proposition. First, he’s soaked the whole room with oil, which means it’s possible we could be roasting in a bonfire on short notice. It doesn’t hold us back on offense because no one in our group is all that reliant on fire attacks, but we’ll need to watch for it on defense. The other is the last (as far as I remember*) “oh shit” moment, as the experiment with the two twin children (alluded to in the room with the papers and the spellbooks) was successful, and he’s got an undead version of them serving him. (Numbly adds “infanticide” to the list of charges.)

*=I honestly don’t remember: it’s possible we discover one more horrific thing while cleaning up the aftermath next week, but I don’t THINK so. I think the fate of the twins is the last of the awfulness.

And that doesn’t even get into the fact that Pratchett himself is a tough customer. As a melee, he hits hard with his sword cane, doesn’t seem to get a penalty for multi-attacks, and also seems to be able to apply poison with it. He also has some sort of True Strike effect that he was able to use multiple times to reroll misses, though I don’t know if it’s an innate ability or just multiple casts of the spell. (The spell is one-and-done; you re-roll once and it’s gone.) Add in a full caster’s complement of spells, and we’re dealing with a tough customer.

I’m also at least briefly struck that selfishly, this guy is Evil Basil in terms of loot. Already have his spellbook, so I can learn all his spells. Now he has a sword-cane that’s better than mine? And maybe light armor too? I know we have the whole “cop vs. adventurer” thing to square away, but when the dust settles, I feel like Basil’s getting a major gear upgrade out of this fight.

The good news is although Pratchett hits hard, we’re actually holding our own against him by rotating out our melees and giving him a different target each time. I don’t think we planned it that way, I think that’s just the way it unfolded with Sharky charging in first, then retreating a little after taking some damage, followed by Lo Mang doing the same. We also make fairly quick work of the undead twins, so it’s down to us and Pratchett pretty quickly. The bad news is his base armor class is pretty high… it’s been a while, but I feel like it was taking something like a 23 or 25 to hit him, and we weren’t rolling that well.

Brief uncomfortable conversation time: I have to admit I didn’t notice it during the fight – probably too preoccupied with planning my next move – but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and amplify Vanessa’s frustration with the term “man up and stop crying” (said once and then repeated by another person). Because she’s 100% right. I’ll put it this way: I don’t think joking about a teammate’s bravery (or lack thereof) is the issue – that’s about a player’s actions, which are fair game for criticism, even couched in jokes. I do think we need to push back at the notion that being stoic in the face of danger is an inherently male trait and (by implication) that women get emotional/hysterical in difficult situations. I mean, can’t we all acknowledge that there would have been no Thanos Snap if Star-Lord kept his shit together? Just Sayin’.

I’m deflecting with a joke, because the other alternative is to go even deeper and write an entire thesis that goes eight miles deep about how the only emotions our society finds acceptable out of men are the aggressive ones (lust, anger, etc.), and I’m pretty sure that would suck the life out of the room. So let’s put a pin in this and get back to kicking Pratchett’s ass, shall we? But Vanessa in particular, and our female listeners in general… I see you.

We reach a bit of a stalemate in the fight, which is where Steve’s concept of phases comes in. (Under the hood, I suspect Pratchett might have been running low on spells.) So to shake things up, Pratchett does two major things: first, he kicks over the brazier, lighting the room on fire; second, he escapes (or “yeets”, as the Young People say) out a secret door in the back of the room. (Follow-up question: could we have discovered that door from the other side and bypassed two or three rooms, or was it a one-way ticket?)

This is where I have to give Seth credit. The fun of playing with Seth is he’s NOT a min-maxer; he’s the sort of player that tries to predict the unpredictable and has something in his pocket for every situation. When it hits, as it did with “use a water mephit to put out the fire”… it’s an absolute thing of beauty. Now, I’m still a LITTLE skeptical that water would put out an oil-based fire, but whatever: chalk it up to “magical water” and give in to the Rule Of Cool. Seth had the perfect tool for the job: give him the win. (Much like in the Dead Suns campaign where I had a Teleportation Puck sit unused in my inventory for three levels until I used us to get out of a trap room with no exit.)

So while Seth is putting out the fire, the melees – myself, Lo Mang, and Dougie (plus Sharky as fast as her mimic feet could carry her) continue the pursuit. The good news is our dice luck is getting better and we’re starting to land some damage; the bad news is we’re leaving our primary source of healing behind. I think at this point, some of us still had badges and potions, but that’s about it.

And then Steve gives us an opportunity by having Pratchett retreat into the ochre jelly room. And Dougie did EXACTLY what I hoped he’d do – a bull rush attack. Remember that I could’ve gone and delayed: I was thinking of doing exactly that, but I have a Strength of 10 and if it failed, Pratchett might’ve moved away from the pit or braced himself against future attacks. So I took the chance that either Dougie or Lo Mang was on the same wavelength, and sure enough, he was. Pratchett catches the edge, and it’s my turn and…

This is where it gets interesting.

The “adventurer” answer is to stab him in the face and into the pit he goes. The only thing that makes you think twice is how you’re going to get the loot later.

But it’s a bit more cloudy as an officer of the law. In the moment, I absolutely did what I thought was the right thing, but I’ll admit; after the fact, I found myself second-guessing a little bit. Even though this guy’s crimes were heinous and he was irredeemable, should we have still tried to accept his surrender and save him? In real-world terms, this is Jeffrey Dahmer, this is Ted Bundy… don’t you still want to take him alive so he can see justice for his crimes? Or is being eaten by his own jelly justice in and of itself? But what if we pull him out of the pit and he goes on to kill one (or more) of us? Is it worth taking THAT risk?

Steaming toward 11 pm at the end of a long gaming session, and closing in on the end of a chapter of the Adventure Path, kicking him in and finishing the fight felt like a no-brainer. Later on… I still think it was a defensible decision, but it left STUFF rattling around my brain. And this is where I think Paizo did the right thing by not just knee-jerk canceling this adventure path. Because of moments like this. The value of art, even entertainment, is that it can hold up a mirror for examining your own values. Good, bad, or indifferent, roleplaying through something like this makes you pause and think.

And on that Deep Thoughts note, that’s where we’ll leave it. Next week, we clean up the aftermath (let’s be honest: recover Basil’s new sword-cane) and see where the adventure takes us next. I actually DON’T think we level because we only just leveled before coming to the basement, but you never know. As always, please feel free to drop by Discord and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|26: Reading Painbow

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|26: Taking A Bite Out Of Crime.

First and foremost… 300 episodes. Wow. That’s pretty crazy. I mean, the math checks out, even just calculating it off the top of my head. Dead Suns ended in the 130s or 140s, and Plaguestone was about 45 episodes. Those both ended around the same time, were replaced by Three Ring and “Black Lodge + Edgewatch”, and these shows just hit the one-year mark, so 104 there. Add another few episodes of Starfinder Society and other one-offs, and that’s absolutely in the ballpark of 300. (And since Steve is the only one who appeared in ALL of them, I’ll trust his count.)

This is one of those episodes that’s a little weird for me because I forgot about chunks of it. I have to admit I thought last week’s episode was the entire session and forgot about this additional room/fight. That starts to happen the longer the lag gets between when the episode records and when it airs. I’ve never forgotten a boss encounter or major plot point, but every once in a while, a room or two will get lost in the shuffle.

If you’re curious – what we’re listening to now might have still been recorded in 2020 (I believe). Depends a little on how many sessions we missed over the holidays, but my email says I sent my L4 Basil to Steve around Thanksgiving. Just to give you some perspective on how fast we generate and burn through our content.

As far as Steve’s show note about the game forcing you to handle certain content at certain levels: the VAST majority of the time, I’m not too proud to take the rest when we need it. Sometimes I get my back up and want to see how close to “E” we can run our characters, but most of the time, I’d much rather survive the adventure and get a nice clean win with all our resources. The big thing this time was the story… breaking off a hot pursuit to regain resources… but that’s ultimately Steve’s call as GM/”director” of the show. If he didn’t think it spoiled things too badly, I’m willing to do it.

The funny thing is that my pre-COVID home game was very much the opposite. Our GM was basically using the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon as an adventure tourism destination and built up a town specifically to serve adventurers’ needs. So going to the dungeon was ALMOST like clocking in at a 9-to-5 job for our characters in that one. We’d go explore the dungeon for a day… MAYBE stay overnight if we could find a safe spot to long-rest… and then come back at the end of the day. And the overarching story, such as it was, was more banging away at individual quests that sometimes linked into a larger story. With that group… you take the rest when you need the rest. Period, end of story.

Neither is wrong. Obviously, the latter model fits the game system better, but I do like having a slow-burn story that unfolds over the course of the game rather than an almost WoW-ish “bring back 10 skeleton bones”.

As we turn back to the “forgotten” fight at the heart of the episode, it was not devoid of interesting developments.

First, we get a reminder that Drained is a NASTY status effect, at least in part because it’s a slippery slope. There’s a status effect that just slaps on a negative and then moves on with its day, but then there’s a status effect that also lowers the saving-throw score, making it even harder to get rid of/easier to extend to higher levels of the affliction. So to summarize, Drained a) inflicts hit point damage which it b) gives to the enemy as healing and/or temporary hit points (sometimes), c) lowers the player’s max hit points by the same amount, so even if they have access to healing, they can only recover to the newly-lower ceiling, and d) lowers their CON so it’s harder to make additional saves. Ouch. The only saving grace here is that Paizo knows this is cruel and unusual punishment, so it usually caps the effect at Drained 2 or Drained 3… otherwise, it would just snowball into a bunch of corpses with Drained 8 or Drained 11 on them.

On the bright side, the Corpse Pendant gets a chance to prove its worth, with a pause for a brief rules lawyer moment. The thing is undead can’t perceive you unless you attack… but if you cast heals or other support magic, that doesn’t break the charm. So Gomez was pretty safe… EXCEPT. He’s still got object permanence. He still exists, so what happens if a wight tries to move through his space?

I think I would’ve been a bit more generous on my ruling than Steve was. I think I would’ve made moving out of the way a reaction that automatically succeeds in normal terrain, but requires a roll if it was difficult terrain. Putting it in other terms: if they’re in open space, it shouldn’t be hard to see the wight coming and step out of its path; if Gomez had to maneuver around a workbench or something to do it, then yes there’s a chance of not getting far enough away or making noise while doing it. Nevertheless, Gomez makes his roll, so we’re all good there.

The other big development of this room was finding the treasure trove of magical items. Now… I don’t think we’ll be able to make use of Kemenels’ stuff since he’s still alive. I am toying with the idea of visiting him later and asking him to TEACH me some spells, but he should get his stuff back. But Pratchett’s book? Oh, I’m calling dibs on that… assuming we survive. And it’s not all avarice: now we have a good handle on what he can cast, and it’s almost all necromancer spells.

Now we have a bit of a dilemma, but it’s of the more normal kind. Gomez has the bulk of 10 minutes where he’s basically invisible to undead, which would be really useful for scouting the remaining rooms. On the other hand, Dougie (in particular) took quite a pounding so we really need to heal, and unless Pratchett is secretly a vampire or something, there’s at least one NON-undead who will see Gomez just fine if he walks into the wrong room. This isn’t “long rest or not”; this is just normal allocation-of-resource questions every party has to deal with and eventually we decide to get Dougie back up because the value of knowing what the next room looks like is limited if we start the next fight with our biggest damage dealer at death’s door.

Sometimes I worry that I’ll touch off some blood feud between John and Chris when I say that. Truth told, I didn’t run the numbers and I don’t KNOW who deals more damage, but I feel like John’s maul gives him the edge at the top end. And note that I’m not saying “best fighter”… just “biggest damage dealer”: Lo Mang has mobility and more ability to spread his strikes out on multiple foes, which can be priceless in certain encounters. But in a single-target slugfest, there’s nothing like critting for 30 or 40 points in one shot.

So we finally enter the room… and in one of the day’s least surprising developments, it’s a shrine to Norgorber, and particularly the most bloodthirsty and vicious sub-cult of Norgorber. And over in one corner, we find the equivalent of a signed confession in the form of a diary of Pratchett’s crimes… written in (we can assume) the blood of his victims. Captain Crazypants it is!

And there’s one more door, which, just based on the layout of the level, Pratchett pretty much has to be hiding behind. The basement has ultimately taken the shape of a big “U”, so there’s a 40 or 50-foot hole in the map and then we’d be back in the room with the flying undead pork rinds. That sounds like an inner sanctum to me.

So next week, we kick down that door and see how much of a tough guy Pratchett is when faced with trained agents of the law and not helpless hotel guests. It’s funny… there are bosses where I fought them because it’s checking the box or moving the story forward. Given the awful shit we’ve seen in this dungeon, I really want to take this guy down. I don’t even want him running away and getting caught by the officers that are now theoretically outside. I wanna knock the smug right off his face. This whole ordeal of awfulness has actually provoked a genuine desire for some revenge and/or justice.

But… patience, dear readers. That’ll be next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So next week we resume the chase. I checked, and we’ll still have Bob with us for at least one more episode – never sure how the footage turns into finished shows – so that’ll be fun. We’ll continue to explore the torture workshop, hopefully, unravel the remaining mysteries, and maybe even take Pratchett into custody and end this nightmare. While waiting for next week’s show to arrive, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Bird’s Eye View S1|24: Take A Literal Bite Out Of Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess we’ll find out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week… with a very special plus-one!

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

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

How’s that for cutting it close?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S1|22: More Red, Less Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S1|21: A Redcap In The Hat

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

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

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

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

So… back to exploring the second floor it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird’s Eye View S1|20: Between A Rock And Hardness

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

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

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

There. I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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