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The Sideshow S3|04: Shovel Knights

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|04: Stuck in the Middle With You.

Welcome back to the conclusion of the fight against the…. BU-LETTE, BU-LAY… yeah, we’re gonna get into this a little. Part of me says this is a lot of effort to expand on something so trivial; another part of me feels like exploring minutiae like this is EXACTLY why this column exists.

So, there’s a video – if you Google search “Tim Kask bulette”, it’s likely to be the first hit – where Tim Kask discusses the original creation. (And it’s only like 3 minutes long, so not much of a commitment.) And throughout the video, Tim pronounces it BOO-LEY. So if your worldview starts and ends with the artist’s intent… well, there you go. Skip down a paragraph or two; we’re done here.

Having said that, I’m pulling out my “I Took French V In High School” card and dissecting this a bit. I think Kask is just wrong on the French. First, it sounds like he half-assed the name as a bit of a joke. The creature started out as “the bullet” in the early play sessions because it just charged at people and knocked them over. But then they decided to class it up the same way some people refer to Target (the department store) as TAR-JAY. So I get the feeling is he didn’t think about the actual French, he just went for “fancy and French-sounding”.

So here’s the thing. The double-T construction “-ette” represents the hard T sound. As in “baguette”. Or “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”. (That’s right, I’m dragging Edith Piaf into this. Rolling out the big guns.) The “ay” sound is generally represented as “-et”. As in “bidet” or “Robert Goulet”. (And as a lesser observation, one of the main uses of “ette” is to denote a SMALL version of something, and one thing you’d never describe a landshark as is “small”).

So yeah. I’m sticking with BU-LETTE, because I didn’t read the entirety of the goddamn Little Prince in French for nothing. And Tim Kask can m’attraper à l’extérieur if he doesn’t like it.

So anyway, as this episode started, things were looking a little dicey for our friends, but one also got the sense the party was approaching this fight with one hand behind their collective back. So the theme of Part Two was of taking this fight more seriously and rolling out the big guns: Ateran and Hap start dropping the big spells on the remaining bulettes while Darius and Alhara are busy handing out piggyback rides.

This is at least a minor pet peeve for me, insofar as even a small creature is still a substantial entity. For comparison, try to imagine running and fighting and whatnot wearing an 8-year-old kid as a backpack. I guess you could do it, but it seems like it would be tougher than it’s being sold as here. Though, I suppose it generally passes the Rule of Cool; Alhara doing her wuxia wire-work with a passenger and Darius chucking pug-people into trees is literally Things You Don’t See Every Day. So might as well just roll with it. Embrace the strange.

Besides, a bulette can apparently jump 50 feet in the air now, so that kinda evens out. I have to admit I was a little irked on Loren’s behalf on that one; if I’m reading the bulette’s stat block, it doesn’t seem like the bulette should’ve been able to get anywhere near her. The base vertical leap is 3 feet, and you can get that up to 10 feet with High Jump, and then the bulette has “powerful leaper” which can get it to 20 feet on a critical success, but that’s still WAY short of how high Hap was. It was only one attack and the party lived, but still. Think Steve got that one wrong.

Meanwhile, courtesy of Ateran, we finally see our first ever (unless I’m missing something) death effect in Second Edition. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, death effects were a lot more common in earlier editions of Pathfinder and D&D; hell, our boy Gygax LOVED them. But that’s the thing. They’ve been de-emphasized for a reason, and that reason is it’s a lot to risk on one roll of the dice.  One bad die roll and your day is ruined; no further discussion. Even on the GM side of the screen; one successful death effect and your encounter you meticulously planned out is in tatters. Personally, I like having a fighting chance to cheat death. Though I will say, Hero Points didn’t exist in First Edition, and those do represent a possible balancing force for death effects… as long as you still have one.

However, in this case, the bulette’s saving throw is WAY too high. But that’s OK because even the failed version of the spell does a bunch of damage and basically terrifies it out of the fight.

Eventually, our heroes win the battle, and it’s time to wind down. Only two of the five original shooneys survived, but the remaining two are sufficiently grateful and give our team a magic shovel as part of their payment for saving 40 percent of them. I’m torn: Min-Maxer Me immediately wrote the shovel off as “can’t use in combat, sell it”, but Roleplayer Me kinda likes items that fill niches and add interesting flavor to the game. But hey…. we’re dealing with ghosts and graveyards, maybe they’ll have to dig up a body or two before this is all over, and who’s gonna be happy they have a magic shovel then?

Oh, and indirectly, part of their reward will be packing the house the next time the circus performs, so that’ll be handy. (Right. The circus. Almost forgot about that.) Perhaps Darius’ pug-flinging can be part of the show as well.

So our party arrives at Matten Cleave and settles in, and… gather information? Rest and recover? Head right to the Currew Farm? No, IT’S TIME TO ADD TO GOLARION’S RICH RESTAURANT LORE. And look, I genuinely like the creativity that goes into all of this, but do they all have to be alliteration-based? Can we mix in some Bob’s Burgers-esque puns or double-entendres? Creative misspellings that add a different meaning? Parodies of real-life restaurants? Or is this alliteration thing an edict passed down from Wynsal Starborne himself?

“Your name is Samuel? I hereby decree that your restaurant will serve either STEAKS, SALADS or SAUSAGES.”

“Well… what if I want to serve fresh fish?”

“TO THE DUNGEON WITH YOU!”

(And then an advisor whispers in his ear that salmon is also a fish, and lo, a compromise is reached. And Franklin’s Fresh Fish quietly removes salmon from the menu, just to be safe.)

As we reach the end of the episode, I assume we’ll head out to the Currew Farm, though I’ve got a little birdie telling me there may be a little more hobnobbing and information gathering to do. And it may even involve singing. So you’re gonna want to come back next week for that. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|03: Bulette Buffet

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|03: The Everlasting Fastball Special

There are certain episodes… and this one is one of them… where I feel like Talking Combat missed its calling and could’ve been a Rifftrax-esque live reaction thing. For every time I can bang out a thousand words of deep-dive, there are a dozen little jokes and comments that don’t get included here because they don’t amount to fully-formed thoughts, but I hate that they’re lost to the ether… and this was one of those episodes. For a fairly short episode where I didn’t think a lot was going to happen, this is one of those episodes where I was texting various smart-ass commentary to the group chat every few minutes.

Hell, maybe we steal some ideas from MST3K and make it a Thanksgiving special.

First of all, Steve really buried the lede here with the shoonies. We’re talking about PUG-PEOPLE, and they’re kind of adorable. It’s also worth mentioning that the adventure path actually supplies the data for a shoony ancestry in case you want to play one – some of their noted skills are being accomplished diggers (eventually even being able to move through earth) and being able to move around the battlefield without generating attacks of opportunity. And did I mention they’re freakin’ pugs? NEXT CHARACTER… DECIDED.

Now Steve’s pregame discussion takes on the prospect of groups taking fights lightly, with this week’s battle being an example. And yeah, you did kinda see that at the start of the fight, where our heroes just waded in with their usual tactics and basic attacks, until they realized they were in for a real battle. Hell, Darius didn’t even attack, just decided to play hero and move shoonies around the battle map.

I think one reason that’s a little metagamey is that these adventure paths USUALLY start with a low-stakes warm-up fight, and it can be easy to fall into the pattern of thinking that’ll always be the case. I don’t know if there’s a design assumption that the characters will have recently leveled, or thinking maybe there could be a real-world time gap between ending the previous book and starting the new one; whatever the reason, the authors tend to assume you need a fight to test new powers and possibly shake off the rust, and the first fight of each book is usually a cakewalk.

The captain has turned on the “let’s make sure you remember how to play your character” light. Here’s some orcs with clubs… knock yourselves (or preferably them) out.

It doesn’t apply here, but as Steve mentioned, it is kinda funny that there’s also this suspension of disbelief you have to work with when dealing with humanoid enemies. We’re dealing with that in the Edgewatch campaign right now as well. In our case, we’re fighting these “entry-level” gang members, but since it’s the “entry level” of Book Three, they’re probably like level 7 or 8 adversaries. So in their spare time when not killing adolescent dragons, they roll people in an alley for 3 silver. For that matter, they end up having better base stats than the BOSSES of book 1 or book 2. (Though granted, they lack all the special abilities and magical gear a boss comes with.) You don’t really have that same problem with monsters because no one really comes in with a predefined sense of how tough an ooze or an owlbear “should” be.

As we get into the battle, this is one of those fights where I have to admit Steve was having one of those “bit too gleeful” sessions. Maybe I’m just being oversensitive, but he seemed uncomfortably jolly when the bulettes one-shotted the first shoony: I’m still a little worried PETA is going to protest us for cruelty to virtual animals. But I’d also like to go on record that at some point, Steve is going to ask “Does a [IMPOSSIBLY LARGE NUMBER] hit?” once too often and someone’s gonna power-bomb him through a table WWE-style. YES STEVE, A 394 HITS. I KNOW THAT COMES AS A GREAT SURPRISE TO OUR LISTENERS (mutters strings of profanity under breath, squeezing the life out of a stress-relief ball).

And OK, in the heat of the moment, I may have threatened to quit the show entirely if the bulettes ate Riley. Fortunately, Loren headed that one off at the pass (for now) by tucking our Goodboi-In-Chief in her extradimensional space.

Meanwhile, as agitated as I was getting, I could visibly hear Vanessa lose all interest in gaming in real-time every time she rolled a 27 (one less than the number she needed to hit). And I don’t know if Loren had a death wish or is just a comic artist for the ages, but “at least you didn’t roll a 27” after her crit fail was just PERFECT. (She also had a pretty good line in our group chat, folding Vanessa’s pain into the single best knock-knock joke of all time: “Orange you glad I didn’t roll a 27?”. WELL PLAYED.)

Ateran, on the other hand, got to erase their bad luck, going from a natural 1 to a natural 20 on a hero point. I mention it because it actually made me think of a possible house rule: if you get a Nat-20 on a Hero Point role, you should get to retain the hero point for free. So basically a 5% chance for a little bit of extra “luck of the gods”. I make no claims as to whether this rule is balanced or whether there’s any game rationale to pin it on… I just thought it might be neat. The other suggestion we had amongst the group was to create an equivalent of Assurance for Hero Points: that you could automatically take a 10 and see if that helped… maybe at least change a crit-fail to a fail.

The interesting thing is, this really isn’t THAT tough a fight if the party gets better dice luck. I wasn’t paying attention to exact hit point totals, but I remember being surprised how fast the first bulette went down once the team started landing some rolls and putting some real damage on it. So this may be a thing but they hit hard and are hard to hit when in the ground, but they make up for it by being soft if you ever get them out of the ground and into open space.

Lost in the shuffle, we had a couple of fun little X-Men references, though one of the two is solely in my head. The first – the Everlasting Fastball Special – you know about because it appeared in the show. (I realize there’s probably a good-sized overlap and most of you know this, but the original “Fastball Special” was Colossus throwing Wolverine at an enemy in the X-Men comics.) Not only do I think Darius and Alhara ought to try and do this during one of the circus performances and see how long they can stay in motion, but I think it should be a demonstration sport at the next Olympics. The other X-Men reference, the one kicking around my brain, is that Darius is now informally dubbed “Beefy Nightcrawler” when he uses his Abundant Step power. (Waitasec… didn’t Kurt Wagner escape from a circus?)

So as we end the episode, we’ve lost a few shoonies, one bulette is down, and hopefully, our party is starting to pull out of early doldrums and put on their ass-kicking shoes. I guess next week we’ll see how many shoonies they can save, and maybe make it to their destination(s) of the farm and the aeon tower. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|02: Jinkies! Looks Like We’ve Got Another Mystery on Our Hands

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|02: So, Come Up to the Lab, and See What’s on the Slab!

First, a brief confession. I almost accused Steve unjustly. I thought the name of this area was the “Swordlands” and Steve was doing some obnoxious “Whil Wheaton” thing with his pronunciation. I was prepared to jump all over him for mispronouncing words again… and then I saw the map, and it’s actually “Swardlands”. A “sward” being an expanse of grass. So… OK. The mildest of mental apologies for the false accusation I JUST stopped myself from making.

This is one of those transitional episodes that’s a little hard to write about. It’s nobody’s fault, and it’s not even a bad episode. It’s just all transition… we’ve got to tee up a bunch of stuff that’s going to be important to the plot moving forward, and there’s no other way to do that except to have the characters grind through a bunch of talk-y stuff that takes as long as it takes to make their rolls.

It’s still entertaining, but it’s held together almost entirely by the banter between the players, and that can be tough to really comment on. It’s one thing to bring back one funny line that stood out. It’s another thing to just regurgitate 10 or 12 of them and have that be the whole column.

So as we join the episode, we learn that YES, Opper Vandy has ulterior motives for being so outgoing with our heroes, but it’s not as dire as we might have imagined. He’s not evil (as far as we know) and he doesn’t have a basement full of zombies we need to clear out (again, as far as we know)… he’s just been haunted by a ghost for the past 14 months and there’s been a string of… maybe-mysterious deaths? One might argue that hauntings would be an occupational hazard for a mortician, and maybe he’d be a little more prepared for weird undead shenanigans, but whatever… Vandy wants our crew’s help.

(For the record, a chunk of our Discord channel STILL thinks Opper Vandy is the Big Bad Evil Guy. For the moment, I’m cautiously disagreeing – he feels like a catalyst character that gets the plot going and then steps off to the side. But I’m emotionally prepared to be wrong on this one.)

I also couldn’t help notice that the Scooby-Doo parallels are thickening by the minute. I forget the exact context, but I mentioned that comparison back when Riley first joined the party, but now we’re doubling down on it. We already had our four-person crew plus a dog, now we’re going to have an actual haunted manor house to investigate. I suppose we just need to figure out who the fantasy equivalent is for Old Man Weatherby, who wants to knock the funeral parlor down to build condominiums. Slap an ascot on Darius, and we’re halfway to a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Brothers. Or a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters.

And OK, Gibzip can be the Scrappy Doo character that they put in the show to appeal to small children, but everyone not-so-secretly hates.

While we’re on this, can Ateran summon a magical conveyance? A machine that carries our team to their investigation of mysteries, perhaps? We might even call it a [REDACTED BY WARNER BROS LEGAL COUNSEL].

The team’s investigations don’t really offer up a smoking gun. There’s no horrific story of a young girl who fell down Vandy’s well and died and he’s been drinking lemonade from her corpse-water or something like that. After a bunch of digging, the best we came up with was investigating the death that marked the FIRST appearance of the ghost – a farmer named Currew, who lived up the coast to the northeast. Coincidentally, this is ALSO in the direction of the first tower AND an area of stronger corruption. So there might be a two-fer involved here. Knock out a tower AND solve Opper Vandy’s problems for him.

I guess the other clue is Ateran finding the receipt for Vandy’s FIRST funeral. Off the top of my head, I don’t see how that fits the puzzle since the haunting came WAY later, but it’s also hard to totally ignore because Paizo tends to stick to things that are plot-relevant; they don’t tend to include a LOT of extraneous stuff. Especially if you have to do a search to find it. And OK… it’s hard to imaging a guy JUST starting his business in a new town and giving a funeral away for free.

As the team looks at the clues and decides how to proceed, there’s a bit of a dilemma in how to sequence things. Because oh right, there’s still the circus to tend to. Does our team want to have a show first, or do we want to get right into the investigation? Particularly when it comes to doing the advertising, which has a shelf life – if you don’t do the show within a week of promoting it, that effort goes to waste. For the moment the team goes with a few days of investigating, which totally makes sense… might as well get a sense of the scope of the problem before committing in any particular direction. But they ultimately decide to head on up to Matten Cleave (only 8-10 miles away) and see what’s what.

(As an aside: now that they absorbed a bunch of extra acts from the Celestial Menagerie, would they have the option of just designating other performers to do all the other acts and just put the circus in passive mode? I’m not saying they SHOULD do it that way, but COULD they? Kind of a “we got promoted to management” thing.)

Now… regarding travel distance. I don’t want to be too nitpicky, but I was briefly into running, and some of this sits in my craw a little. Even something like 3mph is a fairly casual pace… I could walk 3 mph and not even break a sweat. Even 4 or 4.5 mph is still more of a fast walk than a run, and I’d say jogging starts around 5mph. Now, OK, maybe our team moves a LITTLE slower if they’ve got to carry gear, but the point is STILL that they should be able to make it there in a few hours; it really shouldn’t be an all-day thing. And we didn’t even get into hiring a coach or having Ateran summoning the [REDACTED].

Though as an aside, the idea of Darius and Alhara giving Hap and Ateran a ten-mile piggyback ride is pretty hilarious and I’m all for it. Honestly, I’m making that canon, whether they actually go through with it or not. Hap would probably get a kick out of it, but I suspect Ateran would probably find the whole thing undignified and awkward.

But we’ll actually get around to DOING that next week. This week, it’s just milling around the town collecting rumors. Something about… a circus being in town and crop yields being disappointing?

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

The Sideshow S3|01: It’s Hard To Find Good Help

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|01: Temperature Is Not My Mistress.

I wanted to start this week with a brief re-visit of last week’s column, to provide a little bit of “yes, but…” clarification.

In last week’s column, I mentioned that I found the “post-game” of the Mistress Dusklight fight a bit rushed. And it turned out (per texts from Steve) there was a good reason for that. This was actually the very last session before people left on vacation and they weren’t going to be able to play for over a month, and it was the tail end of an already longer-than-usual session so they could go on vacation at a clean breakpoint. So… like I said… “yes, but…” Wanted to mention it to provide that added context.

So this week, we start a whole new book, travel to a whole new location, with… okay, not whole new characters, but slightly different characters, thanks to a level-up and the retroactive addition of the Free Archetype variant rule.

I won’t go over the rule again in any great detail: it is what it sounds like. You get a free archetype, and enough extra feats to level it and develop it fully. Like Loren, I love this rule, and for much the same reasons. It’s not so much that it makes your character that much more POWERFUL – the three-action economy keeps things from ever getting too crazy – but it does make your character more FLEXIBLE by giving you more choices at any given level. And it’s also a great way to further develop the “story” of your character because you already start at Level 1 with some sort of wrinkle you wouldn’t have otherwise had. The ABCs of Ancestry, Background, and Class now get… D(amn, I Got A Free Archetype!) so that your Level 1 character is even more of a unique creation right out of the gates. That’s pretty cool.

My one personal quirk is that I prefer to NOT use it for a multi-class archetype. Don’t get me wrong: the rule absolutely says you can; it’s just my personal vibe that if you’re gonna add a whole second class to your build, you should have to work for that one. I prefer that the free archetype be more about general flavor. But that’s just me and is not meant as a criticism of anyone else’s choices.

I try to stick to the show at hand with these columns, but I will mention that we added free archetypes to our Plaguestone/Malevolence characters, so you’ll see that in action when that show starts airing. As far as Edgewatch… we kinda caught an in-between hop on that one: we had JUST leveled to 9 when Steve decided to add free archetypes to the mix, so we’ll probably get ours at Level 10 instead. (And yes, I realize that’s a mild spoiler that we’re still alive and some of us have reached Level 9, but the devil’s in the details, isn’t it? And hey, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re playing the same characters, does it?)

But back in the present… in THIS show, it’s time to bid farewell to Escadar and move on. We start with a little farewell levity to both Hamlin’s Hots and Darius’ whirlwind not-quite-a-romance with Kat. I hate to say it, but Steve actually made a fairly compelling case for Larry’s Lukewarms as the preferred food of ocean-going travelers; on the other hand, Hamlin makes a good point that being stuck at sea with days upon days of lettuce wraps sounds like a dreary existence. We’ll call that one a tie. As far as Kat, I love that Darius is literally fleeing to a new landmass to get away from this woman. There’s also something amusing about how much the rest of the party hates Kat since… you know… THEY originally role-played her during the date episode.

The real question this episode leaves us with is: who’s the bigger stalker – Hamlin or Kat? Kat followed Darius to the docks and bought a big floppy hat for the occasion, and probably would’ve boarded the ship if allowed, but she did ultimately let Darius go. Meanwhile, Hamlin is the one leaving passive-aggressive notes INSIDE a bag of holding. Who’s the real stalker here?

Our intrepid team arrives at their new digs on the Isle of Cortos, in the port town of Kerrick. The island hosts three of the remaining aeon towers, and there are several small villages scattered around the island, so the likely gameplan is to circus their way around the island (yes, I made “circus” into a verb… deal with it) and visit the towers along the way.

And they’re immediately greeted by a WAY-too-enthusiastic gravedigger by the name of Opper Vandy. Look, I appreciate that the guy shops at the same tailor Basil does, and even that his artwork looks a little like Doctor Strange, but come on… NOBODY is THIS enthusiastic about a circus coming to their town. Something’s up with this dude.

For the moment though, Vandy is a big help, inviting our crew to dinner at his home, which doubles as the town’s funeral home. Makes the after-dinner drinks in the parlor awkward when there’s a freakin’ corpse in the room, but hey… they do things differently out here. Vandy gives them a bit of a “lay of the land” briefing *geography, history, etc.) before asking them to help him with a “problem of a personal nature” right as the episode ends. Now MAYBE he wants their help in forming a flash mob so he can ask his girlfriend to prom, but since the dude’s a mortician and there’s a dead body one room over, I’m putting my 20 bucks on something to do with the undead.

So next week, we’ll have the formalities out of the way and we’ll get back to adventuring. And let’s be honest; fighting something would not be a huge surprise either – they usually toss a warm-up fight into the beginning of a book just so you can shake the rust off early. So see you back here next week for that. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|40: It’s Hard To Find Good Help

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|40: The Circus of Wayward Blunders.

Well, it’s finally time. Mistress Dusklight FINALLY gets the comeuppance she’s earned over the last two books. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time: certainly ever since they killed Bardolph, probably even going back to the point where we found out she was in league with the xulgaths.

Only when it finally arrived, it was a little underwhelming. Sort of.

Allow me to clarify. I think it was a fine ending in a narrative sense. There was something compelling about having all of Mistress Dusklight’s cruelty come back to haunt her in the form of underlings who wouldn’t stand and fight for her. A superficially powerful villain who turns out to be a paper tiger because she’s fostered no real loyalty… that’s actually pretty solid storytelling, and even makes for a nice break from bloodthirsty cultists or mindless undead who will fight to the last man. Heck, it was an especially nice twist of the knife to have the Tin Can Boy Toy™ back away from her at the end as well.

(Though… as an aside, there’s at least two cases where someone said “Mazael” and I thought I heard “Basil”, and I was thinking “don’t go dragging me into this”. May need to schedule an appointment with an ear doctor.)

But when it comes to the X’s and O’s of combat… I guess I was expecting a little more from the final boss of an entire book. Usually, final boss encounters break out the big guns… spells and abilities that make you go digging into the deep back pages of the rules, because you haven’t seen anything like that recently. In short, win or lose, one expects to See Some Shit.

Only in this fight… we really didn’t get to see much of that. Maybe some of that was a byproduct of the bodyguard deciding to sit out the final battle, but even so, Dusklight’s kit was pretty pedestrian. Though OK, making Ateran think they were a bird was pretty funny.

That’s not to say there was NO depth to the fight, but it was more in the “mind games” side of the house than the dice-rolling. First, she reveals she has Papa Varus as a hostage (not actually true, but good enough to inject some drama into the pre-fight banter), and then she tries to sow a little unrest within the Varuses by revealing that Papa Varus was actually ALSO a Red Mantis… and in fact, was their mother’s instructor. So he may have been an even bigger deal within the Mantises than their mom was. Furthermore, Dusklight also lays down the suggestion that their combat training was part of preparing them to go into the family business, rather than to groom them as circus performers.

Of course, some of this is in a gray area… how much of this is true, and how much of this was performative… either just to mess with our heroes, or laying down her backstory for Mazael’s benefit? Because her next move is to call for help from her bodyguard, the (neutral good) champion Mazael, claiming that our group are bloodthirsty assassins there to kill her and destroy her law-abiding business.

Now… I do have to admit… my realism hackles were raised a little bit by all of this, simply because how blind does this dude have to be to keep company with Mistress Dusklight for weeks/months and never notice how she treats the people around her? But you know what they say… love is blind.

Fortunately, Mazael’s arrival presents another opportunity for diplomacy to win the day, and the team comes up big. After a false start on the first roll, Darius finally breaks through and convinces Mazael to sit out the fight, and now Dusklight is on her own to face her fate. And in a finish that would make the Edgewatch proud, they even manage to take her alive. Without the special badges, even!

With Dusklight dealt with, it’s basically the end of the second book, though there’s a bit of aftermath to deal with. I don’t want to get too whiny, but I thought some of this end-of-book stuff went by a LITTLE quickly. Steve gave the conversation with Papa Varus (Marcel… Enzo… whatever his name is now) a little time to breathe, but some of the other things felt a little rushed. The Aroden scholars, finalizing the temple, Darricus’ betrayal, a walkthrough cameo by Kalkek, and a bunch of other stuff just kinda got jammed into the final five minutes or so.

I’ll carve out one exception to all of this because I assume it will be the topic of a future episode – what happens to the circus from here? The first question is “will the circus continue or will that fall by the wayside and our team will just be adventurers from here on out?”. I feel like the metagame answer to that is that the circus will continue to serve a purpose: they wouldn’t give us a bunch of new acts just in time to shelve the circus premise. And realistically, our heroes would need traveling money to go from aeon tower to aeon tower, which the circus performances would provide.

Assuming the circus continues, I do want to walk through the future of the show in greater depth though. Which acts from the Celestial Menagerie will formally be joining? Is there an upper limit on the number of performers… in which case, will they have to cut any acts? The circus system has always focused on revenue, but never really dealt with expenses out: are these new acts going to cost more money, in which case does the circus have to draw bigger crowds to turn a profit? These are all things I’m ASSUMING we’ll get into once Book 3 formally starts.

And of course, next time, our heroes will level up to Level 9. That should be an interesting one – you get an ancestry feat, casters get their next spell level… at the risk of a mild spoiler, we had some impressive changes when Edgewatch did our Level 9 level-up, so I’ll be interested to see what happens there. (I’ve also heard there’s an additional treat, but I’ll let that be revealed when it actually happens.)

So… two books, 80 episodes, and our heroes are FINALLY the best circus in the land. Now they just have to go save the world so there’s a land left to perform for. And 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 Sideshow S2|39: Tree Strikes, You’re Out

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|39: The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Giants.

I wanted to start off with a little fun with math this week. It was Steve’s remark about the 40-episode synergy that got me started. It’s always been kind of this anecdotal thing that we in the Edgewatch show move at a faster pace without the random birthday parties and visits to Hamlin’s Hots. But now we actually have a bit of hard data to play around with.

So we have Three-Ring Adventure checking in at 80 episodes for two books. Now, looking over at Edgewatch, we’re still in the middle of Book 2, but our next episode will be Episode 52 (at least according to the numbering of my columns). Now… we’re not all the way to the end, but we’re getting there. Without spoiling too much… I’d say maybe 5-7 episodes left? There are a couple of big fights, one of which might even have to be cut into multiple episodes, but at the same time, we are into the cultist lair, so we’re approaching a final resolution. So, even if you aim on the high side AND aim for a round number, 8 more episodes would be 60, for 30 per book. So we finally have some numbers to play around with that suggest the circus crew’s roleplaying adds a 25% overhead.

Of course, the real champion here was the original Dead Suns podcast. With that one, we were doing 22-25 episodes per book. Granted, you’re adding in a different game system with that one, so it’s not exactly apples to apples, but Dead Suns moved almost twice as fast as the circus crew.

Either that or Bob Markee keeps us lean and mean and playing efficiently, and we’ve turned into slackers without his positive influence.

In other news, I didn’t mean to touch off some big THING with last week’s column, but here we are. Just to clarify, if I’m feeling impatient, it’s in a positive direction, not a negative one. I want to see how this ends, and specifically, I want to see Mistress Dusklight receive the ass-kicking she so richly deserves. It’s not that I’m bored with the in-between encounters; it’s just that I’m ready for the main event to start. I will add that I really like how they’ve incorporated the carnival funhouse theme into the various encounters; it’s a nice little touch that takes it beyond the realm of “lather, rinse, repeat” combat.

This week, we actually start with a bit of a breather, as the team encounters a little ball of cuteness known as a “moon mole”, because “zuipnyrn” is tough to spell. (Although it would be worth a lot of points in Scrabble.) And OK… it is on the shortlist for “the strangest thing you’ve ever seen”, so Steve wasn’t lying when he set up that cliffhanger last week. The artwork on these guys is a little evocative of the aliens from old-school Sesame Street, if you remember them. Not an EXACT match, but something in my brain tripped the comparison. The good news is they’re comically easy to fight if one were to go that route. 35 hit points? A crit could literally one-shot it. Really, it’s most useful as a distraction.

Ateran actually had the same thought I did… could they actually roll the cage into later rooms and use the moon mole to distract future opponents? First of all, would it work logistically or would the creatures just be able to ignore it? Second, how would that play ethically… “I’m going to take this sentient creature and use it as a meat shield, charging into danger hoping it distracts my opponent”. Probably have to have a sit-down with your deity of choice after pulling a stunt like that. But it would have been fun to try.

Instead, they just cover up the cage and move on to the next room. And then we’re back to Bizarro Violent Sideshow Acts, as we have hill giant clowns throwing paint cans at each other, and a gnome/halfling on a trapeze. (THE ARISTOCRATS!) Far be it for me to question the entertainment value of the Celestial Menagerie, but… people pay money to watch this? Compared to the other acts, this one stands out as somewhat less sophisticated.

The combat starts with Alhara getting critted (must be a day ending in “Y”), and it’s a slugfest from there. Our team prevails, but it gets a little messy, and not just because of the abundance of orange paint. If there’s one thing that stood out to me about this fight, I was a little surprised Trapeze Girl didn’t really engage in the battle as much as I thought she would. But then again, maybe she’s another one of Dusklight’s quasi-hostages who’s only offering enough resistance to say she tried. Could she be another recruit for Wayward Wonders 2.0? Probably need to get to the bottom of those fangs before offering her a gig.

Next up… last up, maybe?… we have the mirror maze. Half-fight, half-trap, and a very confusing little interlude. I have to admit, I thought it was hilarious when Alhara used the tree feather token to take the whole thing out in one swing of the bat. Reminiscent of John McClane using the entire brick of C-4 on the Nakatomi Building. (We, also, are covered in glass down here.)

As the mirror maze resolves, we’re presented with a quandary. One of Dusklight’s guards is tied up, and one of the town guard higher-ups claims to have taken Mistress Dusklight into custody. I have to admit my Spider-Sense went off at the same time Loren/Hap’s did, and for much the same reasons: how did a single town guard get by all the stuff our team just had to fight through?

Sure enough, after some back and forth, the guard decides the ruse isn’t working, and it’s time to fight. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. For what Steve is promising us is FINALLY the end of book two.

I’M HOLDING YOU TO THAT.

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

The Sideshow S2|38: Are We There Yet?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|38: My Anaconda Don’t Want None.

Welcome to Roll For Zeno’s Paradox, the RPG podcast where every week we cover half the remaining distance to reach Mistress Dusklight. Make sure for the big finale in December when the party is still 1/8th of an inch away, but there’s another monster 1/16th of an inch away.

OK, sorry… I’m getting a little testy. I want my day of reckoning and to see Mistress Dusklight catch the ass-whuppin she so richly deserves; watching our party thump quasi-innocents who secretly hate Mistress Dusklight and don’t really want to be there is reaching a point of diminishing returns. I’m all for beating down anyone who drank deep of the Dusklight Kool-Aid; watching folks who were just there for the paycheck decide how much of a beating they’re willing to take before surrendering… you kinda start to feel bad for them.

Though… I mean, if we didn’t have this little interlude, we wouldn’t have had a chance to indulge in all the Sir Mixalot references this week. So that’s at least something.

Speaking of which (pushes glasses up on nose): as a devotee of Kurgess, it would be logical to presume Alhara does a lot of both side-bends AND sit-ups on a regular basis, and would therefore not meet Sir Mixalot’s expectations of an appropriate amount of “back”. Therefore, a true Mixalot-compliant anaconda would probably want none of Alhara; depending on how broad-minded we want to be about things, Darius’ glistening thighs would probably have been far more appealing.

Why yes, I am sleep-deprived this week. Why do you ask?

I think the thing that I liked most about this week’s encounter was Loren’s commitment to let Hap’s love of animals override her sense of revenge, at least temporarily. Ever since Mistress Dusklight’s goons killed Bardolph, I’d been assuming we’d see Hap go full MurderHobo and just stay in that zone for the duration of this encounter. And don’t get me wrong… I expect to see full “Jean Grey Phoenix Force” levels of wrath when we finally reach Mistress Dusklight. But I do respect that even in this moment, she still tries to work things out with the critters.

Granted, it creates a little tension within the party as several members drop some unsubtle hints that they’d prefer Hap just nuke the site from orbit. But tension in the party – at least in-character tension that doesn’t carry over to the players – can be a positive thing. Takes the story to unexpected places.

And for the record, it’s probably a good thing Hap was able to at least slow down the smilodons until the anaconda was dealt with because they were pretty tough customers. Among the usual cat powers like stealth and precision damage against flat-footed creatures, their bite attack can actually break armor of 10 hardness or less, and then when it gets through your armor, it applies persistent bleed damage. We didn’t really get to see that in its full glory, but it could’ve been nasty.  We always talk about the party taking advantage of tactics, but if you have an anaconda grabbing people and applying flat-footed so the cats can get precision damage and apply bleeding… that could’ve gotten a LOT messier.

Even without the smilodons helping out, the anaconda was still a pretty formidable challenge. Start with pretty strong conventional attacks, and then throw in the constrict ability that it can use on multiple targets – essentially it can grab up to as many people in its coils as can fit in its space. That’s pretty crazy. Usually grappling is a double-edged sword, because on a bipedal creature, holding onto one grabbed target means it can’t do a lot else; here, the snake can keep right on multi-tasking. On top of all of that, we can add in the ability to engulf, which triggers all the stuff about holding your breath or suffocating. And we didn’t get into the fact that if you try and run, it has both swim and climb speeds. Or the fact that it can still move and carry anyone it’s got constricted along with it as it goes. That’s a nasty customer. The only real thing that mitigates the threat is that its defenses are nothing special – armor class is pretty average for the level, and no particular resistances. You’d think maybe the scales would provide some hardness or something, but no… it’s just a bag-o-meat.

I also got a bit of a laugh out of the fact that for once, Alhara’s leap into battle actually saved her from stepping on a trap, and left it undiscovered for Darius to find. One of the recurring themes of this show so far is of Alhara leaping into danger and getting pummeled, so it was nice to see the leap pay a modest dividend for once. Granted, the snake still smacked her around… she just didn’t ALSO have to suffer the additional indignity of falling on her ass while it was happening.

So the anaconda is dispatched, and after a few false starts, Hap manages to negotiate a peace treaty with the smilodons where they’re willing to eat the remains of the snake instead of the party. Time for some Handwave Healing, and it’s on to the next room. Alhara does another one of her patented leaps into action and is greeted with The Strangest Thing You’ve Ever Seen as our cliffhanger for next week. (And this from a campaign that’s already established the existence of “Muscle Fancy” magazine.)

And look… at the risk of bringing back my cynical grumpy persona, that cliffhanger means it’s probably not Mistress Dusklight NEXT week either, since they’ve seen her plenty of times. (Unless she’s got a new combat outfit that’s some weird Met Gala shit or something.) So next week, come back so we can see what this strangest thing is… and whether they’re going to fight it… or whether it wants to switch circuses… or ask it whether it prefers Hamlin’s Hots or Caleb’s Colds. There are lots of ways this can end up going. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|37: Fascination Street

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|37: Irritable Alhara Syndrome.

Call back the search planes, take my face off the milk cartons… I’m still here. I just had a double-whammy back-to-school week (my job is in higher-ed, and I also have a high-school senior to deal with at home) that included being at work until midnight at least one night, so my brain turned to mush and I crashed hard when it was over. Sorry about that.

We pick things up at the oubliette with the big reveal… OK, maybe more of a medium reveal. It’s none of the big game-changers I hypothesized about at the end of last week’s column, but it is a potential new act for the show… Ufi the Aquakineticist. He’s an Azerketi with water-based powers, and he doesn’t even need any convincing to switch teams because… well… Mistress Dusklight keeps him locked in an oubliette and tortures him as part of the show. So yeah… he wants out. And just as an “ohbytheway” observation, he bears more than a passing resemblance from Namor from Marvel comics.

This also gives us our second entry in the Bizarro Party: Bizarro Hap. (I can’t be the only one thinking of the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of Seinfeld where Elaine meets a new group of friends who are more well-adjusted doppelgangers of Jerry, George, and Kramer… right?) Last week we met our replacement Darius (Evora the orc) and now we get more of a Reverse Hap. And that’s really the only problem: we haven’t established a consistent theme here. Our little team of hypothetical replacements can’t decide whether it wants to be Similar-But-With-A-Twist or polar opposites. We’re going to need to sort all this out so we can know whether to look for ANOTHER broody goth or a refugee from My Little Pony as our spare Ateran. (Waitasec… maybe when the dryad cheers up, she’ll have a festive floral thing going! Maybe we ALREADY met our Bizarro Ateran and just didn’t know it yet!)

Needless to say, Replacement Alhara will also be a swashbuckler, but an enormously cautious one who insists other people go through the door first. And doesn’t really like working out.

With the oubliette dealt with, it’s time to get back to the main search path. On our next stop, we find the Stockholm Syndrome Sideshow… it’s a collection of sideshow acts who want to leave but are also SO afraid of Mistress Dusklight they won’t even leave until our heroes prove Dusklight has been eliminated. At least Carmine has a semi-logical reason… she won’t leave until she gets her stuff back… but the rest are just dug in until this gets resolved one way or another. So… neutralize Dusklight and bring her whip back to free everyone. For now, put a pin in it.

Next up, we’re up for Round Two with the Wheel of Doom. After Steve steps all over Vanessa’s Daenerys Targaryen joke (twice), “Happenstance Margaret Johnson” (THIS IS CANON NOW) decides to take a new approach, coming at the wheel from above and behind. Not only does she dodge the wheel’s effects and retrieve a magic item, but she also teaches us a little something new about the rulebook. It turns out that although Mage Hand is the spell of choice for moving things around, you can also use Prestidigitation to lift items of light bulk. Learn something new every day.

With the wheel FORMALLY bypassed, it’s back to the “main” path toward Mistress Dusklight, which means passing through the cloud-filled tent. And here’s where we end up filling our combat quota for the session. We meet a creature that initially appears to be a lillend, which is a chaotic good celestial. But nope, she’s “just” a lamia matriarch with some fake wings stapled on her… and she’s got a buddy hiding in the clouds, and they go on the attack. Fun, fun, fun.

Now… I guess this is the “big argument” we were told to expect in the show notes, and I dunno… maybe it’s because I’m used to Edgewatch standards of disagreeing with the GM, but that felt a little underwhelming. I mean, where I come from, it’s not really a disagreement unless three or four curse words have been deployed and someone goes dark and walks away from the session for at least 10 minutes.

As to the meat of the debate… I think Steve may have misread the rule a little. The second stanza of the fascinated condition is:

You can’t use actions with the concentrate trait unless they or their intended consequences are related to the subject of your fascination (as determined by the GM).

Now at the end of the day, the “as determined by the GM” overrules everything else and makes Steve correct, because it was ultimately his interpretation. But just to be contrarian and go with a “plain-text” reading of the rules, the text of the condition contains no real value judgment about positive or negative actions, it JUST means the fascinated person locks their attention on the… fascinatee? I’ll grant that the word “fascinated” has a positive connotation in real life which IMPLIES you wouldn’t attack such a person, but by letter of the rule, the ONLY thing fascinated does is draw someone’s attention away from others and to that person.

I went looking for some additional references to try and understand the rule better, and stumbled on the creature statblock for the K’nonna, from The Mwangi Expanse. One of their quirks is that if you offer a K’nonna a gift of more than 50gp value, they can become fascinated until the end of the next turn and cannot attack while fascinated (emphasis mine). If the fascinated condition INNATELY ruled out hostile actions against the caster, there would be no reason to state that second part; it would be redundant. I think that means that fascinate is ONLY drawing attention – making the fascinated creature oblivious to other dangers in the area.

But like I said, that’s one where the GM literally gets the final call, so… continue.

What the lamia matriarchs DO with their free time is double down on concealment. First, they pull out the old Chris Beemer Special and cast Mirror Image. (He hasn’t played a caster in a while, but Mirror Image was almost always the first spell he cast in any combat.) Then they follow that up with Blur, which makes the concealment apply even when they’re not in the clouds.

However, Darius in particular has a trick up his sleeve. ACHAKAEK POWERS… ACTIVATE! He breaks out his first use of True Strike, which negates ALL vision-modifying effects, including seeing through the mirror images and hitting the authentic target. Piggyback that with ki strike, and “boom goes the dynamite”, as the Young People say.

So the one fighting Darius is almost completely removed from the fight with one shot and soon finished off by Riley getting another kill-shot – he does seem to have a bit of a knack for that. He’s turning into the Big Shot Bob of the group. (Sorry… sports reference. Robert Horry… aka “Big Shot Bob”… was a basketball player who had an uncanny knack for making clutch shots in the late seconds of playoff games.) The second lamia hangs around a little longer but eventually decides Mistress Dusklight isn’t worth getting killed over and gets out of Dodge.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time. NOW do we get to fight the big boss? Come back next week and find out. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|36: A Wheely Bad Time

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|36: Wheel of Misfortune.

I’m going to start this week’s column with confession time. In a fit of silliness while listening to this episode, SOMEONE… I won’t mention who… went and registered the domain name for “tentacle-grabass.com”. You know… just in case we ever need some nefarious “RFC After Dark” shadow site. Or, more realistically, just for the sheer joy of forcing such a domain name to exist in the world. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

(Though, note to self: set up a Siri reminder for early August of 2022 to cancel the auto-renewal. Five bucks for a sophomoric joke is fine; $20 to renew it starts to get a little skeevy and probably lands me on some sort of watch list.)

So we still don’t QUITE get to the boss encounter this week, but we’re making progress. I’m not meaning to fixate on Mistress Dusklight SO much, but I REALLY want to see her get what she deserves. I’m a little surprised at how invested I am, honestly. I know on some gaming level it’s just “OK, she’s the final boss encounter for this book”, but some combination of Steve (since I know he ad-libbed some things) and the writers have made her a genuinely horrible person and a solid adversary for this story.

This week, though, it’s the WHEEL OF DOOM. It’s a pain-in-the-ass hazard that basically just throws out a different magical effect every round. Nothing TOO heinous, but a giant waste of both time and resources. On the other hand, it’s a wonderful chance to roleplay… particularly for Vanessa, who first got struck with “incoherent babbling” and then by being made aggressively hostile. Now, this is one of those times where I appreciate this show and acknowledge they bring something different to the table than we do. For us Edgewatch folks, it’s all rules – OK, that’s the status effect, -1 to hit, moving on. But acting it out, and interacting with other characters in that altered state proved to be a lot of fun.

Though I have to admit: there were times where it felt like a FINE line between roleplaying and using the excuse of the curse to unpack some shit. Particularly as it pertains to Alhara charging into rooms and getting smacked around by people. Some of that banter felt like Vanessa getting shit off her chest. Didn’t expect her to get so salty with Ateran, though. They’re doing their job and keeping those heals coming; it’s not their fault the dice rolls suck.

One thing that struck me is that this is the first week I really FELT the knowledge gap between me and the Patreons who watch live. I don’t listen to the shows live – mostly, I want to preserve the pristine listener experience, but also, Sunday nights are usually my free night to do other stuff. And usually, I’m able to ignore the “extra” Patreon chat. But this week, I saw a few people giddy with excitement that we had reached the Wheel of Death, and I’m sitting here in my cluelessness wondering why. Since I’m a player in all the other games, I’m used to being the one who knows things, not the one who has to wonder. I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS.

The other that struck me… and let me preface by saying that I KNOW it might be a stupid idea… is why didn’t they make more of an effort to attack the wheel itself. I think the answer is it’s probably got all sorts of hardness and magic resistance and would be a waste of time, but had I been in that scenario, I would’ve wasted a round of attacks trying it out. It was noticeable enough that I found myself yelling JUST HIT THE WHEEL at one point. Even magic stuff breaks if you hit it hard enough.

So our team eventually overcomes the wheel. Sorta. More like they decide to stop messing with it and go a different way, through the main tent. And that leads to our second main encounter of the session, as we meet Evora and Gigi.

Not to be too jaded, but the minute Steve said Evora was a new hire the gang didn’t know, I assumed that meant there was a chance to peel her away as a new performer. You figure the only ones who are going down with the Dusklight ship are the lifers; most people would either be happy to be rid of her, or at least would just see which way the wind was blowing and join with the up-and-comers. So despite Evora’s tough talk when they first entered the tent, I strongly suspected this wasn’t going to make it to combat.

Which is kind of a shame, because it would’ve been interesting to see Darius and Evora square off in hot monk-on-monk action. DAMN IT, NOW MY MIND IS IN THE GUTTER TOO. I blame Rob T. for all his jokes about “mountin’ stance” and “sparring and sparring”. The good news is that if y’all start writing creepy fanfics, we now have a place to put them – tentacle-grabass.com!

I also went on a bit of a journey when it came to Gigi the mammoth. At first, I was actually getting annoyed at the gushing praise from our party members. IF YOU LIKE THE MAMMOTH SO MUCH, GET A GODDAMN ROOM. I think when Hap speculated about her fire powers igniting the mammoth fur, I mentally started to make a joke about the rack of mastodon ribs from the credits of The Flintstones. But then I looked at the artwork, and OK… it’s legitimately adorable. If you’re going to have a mammoth act in your circus, OF COURSE she should have little pink bows in her mammoth fur. THIS IS THE WAY.

So… crisis defused, and the Circus of Wayward Wonders has added TWO new performers (maybe three if the sprite comes along with the pegasus) to the mix. I’m even starting to wonder if this is all prelude for leaving the circus motif behind in Books 3-6 and having our characters just become straight-up adventurers the rest of the way. Do a thing where “with all these new acts, and Papa Varus running the show, we can make do without you… go save the world.” I guess we’ll see about that further down the road.

So after adding Evora and stealing some spotlights, our gang heads toward the final confrontation… but make one last stop along the way: the oubliette. It turns out it’s actually an attraction, so presumably whatever’s in there will be something horrible and shocking. Predictions (in no particular order):

  1. Mistress Dusklight somehow recaptured Kalkek.
  2. She threw Papa Varus in there.
  3. More tentacles.

I guess we’ll find out which one it is 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 time.

The Sideshow S2|35: Time To Pick A Side

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|35: Captive Wonders.

Last week I was a little frustrated because the “have fun storming the castle” episode turned into making sure all our paperwork was properly filled out. I get that I’s had to be dotted and T’s had to be crossed, but it felt like a letdown.

But this week we actually head on over to the Celestial Menagerie to collect Mistress Dusklight – either in her entirety, or just her head if she wants to be feisty about it. NOW we’re talking.

And talking.

And talking some more.

Look, I recognize our team has a goal to do this with minimal bloodshed. It’s probably tactically smart to lead with a conciliatory approach because some of Dusklight’s crew may be unenthusiastic about getting killed to protect her. Taking that a step further, I even recognize that there’s an opportunity to siphon off the leavings of the Celestial Menagerie to improve the Circus of Wayward Wonders. Nobody ever said you couldn’t take advantage of a business opportunity while saving the world. So on some level, yes, I understand while they’re proceeding with caution and giving everyone a chance to surrender.

And OK, at a gaming level, every fight you avoid along the way is resources you don’t have to consume. There’s that too.

But at the same time… come on. If this was Edgewatch, those guards would’ve been thumped on the head, and that satyr would’ve been doing something anatomically improbable with that flute faster than Steve could get the “ROLL… FOR… COMBAT” sound effect queued up. Just Sayin’, as the Young People say.

But that’s OK because, at the end of the day, their approach seems to be working. The guards at the front gate decide that dealing with a pissed-off Hap isn’t in their contract and walk away. Probably a smart move, challenge #1 avoided. The satyr is kinda-sorta helping Mistress Dusklight, but still wants to avoid a straight-up fight, so he mostly resigns himself to being an annoying asshat. So basically he’s the Gibzip of the Celestial Menagerie. DO NOT give this guy a job if there’s a circus merge at the end of this mess.

As an aside, I have to give Rob P. a virtual pat on the back for his command of French, as pertains to the concept of an oubliette. Strictly speaking, it’s ANY dungeon with an opening only at the top, but I think Steve was right that the classic oubliette is a small one that restricts the victim’s movements. You leave someone in there to be forgotten… get it, get it? (Sorry… I took all this French in high school; I get giddy when it actually comes in handy.)

So yeah, the Passive-Aggressive Seder Satyr tries to sow discord and lead our team into a trap by promising a secret back entrance, but after indulging him at first, our heroes decide against buying what he’s selling and return to the frontal assault. But I’m still keeping one eye on that dude; I think at some point when things get REALLY hairy, maybe he jumps in as an active combatant and they’re gonna have to fight him anyway.

After a little more reconnaissance, we finally get a small scrap but it’s nothing special… just a manticore that someone set loose. However, it’s severely under-leveled and represents nothing more than an amuse-bouche. I will say I’d mostly been thinking about this confrontation in terms of the sentient humanoids working for Dusklight, so if nothing else, this was a good reminder that “menagerie” does imply the potential of wild animals as well.

Speaking of which, the creature tent where the manticore was stored also contained a dryad and a (caged) pegasus. The lesson of this encounter is that it’s not just a binary choice between “people who will run away” and “people to fight”. There will also be people (and sentient critters) who need to be convinced our heroes are the good guys. After all, I’m sure Dusklight has been filling their heads with all sorts of nonsense… which, OK, I thought it was funny that Hap leaned into it at first and hinted at a proclivity for cannibalism. So you have this dynamic of people who need to be convinced to be rescued (or at least get out of Dodge before the shooting starts). In this case, the dryad is borderline catatonic, but fortunately, Mistdancer harbors dreams of being a social media influencer and as long as our team can give it a stage to perform on, it’ll go wherever the winds are blowing. Once Mistdancer is convinced, he/she/it convinces the dryad to leave as well, so… two more friendlies moved out of the line of fire.

And OK… I don’t want to piss off Loren by saying this, but even if the only thing that comes out of this encounter is that we upgrade from a smelly old bear to a freakin’ PEGASUS… I mean, that’s an absolute win right there. What… I’m the bad guy for pointing out the obvious? (And we haven’t even gotten into the possibility that someone could take feats to bond with it and eventually have it as a mount.)

As we continue to explore, we get our last reminder of the challenges to be faced… we’re gonna have traps too!  In this case, it takes the form of a giant prize wheel that’s been beefed up to lethal levels, casting random spells each time it spins. (And continuing to spin regardless of whether anyone touched it or not.) So there’s one more toy to be dealt with, though that one is where we’ll pick it up next time.

So, OK, on the downside, it’s a bit of a short episode. On the other hand, this episode did manage to give us a good cross-section of the things we’re going to be dealing with on the way to the final encounter. It’s almost like a tutorial episode for the main assault. We’ve got friendlies, hostiles, cowards who can be convinced to run away, skeptics who need to be convinced to let our team help, environmental hazards… there are a lot of moving parts, but we now have a feel for most of them.

And then at the end of all of it, a boss, potentially with multiple subordinates. I think the real success or failure of this mission will depend on whether you have to fight them all at once, or whether you can separate some of them off… MAYBE even turn them without fighting.

The other question mark I find myself thinking about as this starts to unfold: where is Marcel and what role might he play in all of this? On one hand, he’s probably known this day of reckoning was coming, so you’d hope he’d have been working on some plan to turn some people against Dusklight when the time was right. On the other hand, Dusklight would ALSO see Marcel as leverage over the Varus siblings and a wildcard she couldn’t control, so might she have already done something nefarious to Marcel as part of the attack she launched?

I guess we’ll find all of that out in the next week or two. 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.