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The Sideshow S2|31: Friend of the Devil

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|31: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In last week’s column, you might remember I played around with the whole “five stages of grief” thing. I’m pretty sure the real world is messier than that and grief doesn’t move in a straight line – you think you’re fine, the wrong song plays at the grocery store, and all of a sudden you’re tearing up while hugging a bag of frozen peas – but it made for a useful framing and did capture the different layers of shifting emotions about Darius’ death at the time.

Well, the funny thing is, over the weekend I had actually found my way to acceptance. Or at least I had managed to find some positives to introducing a new character. It would certainly have shaken up the roleplaying dynamic. What sort of character would Rob play, and how would the rest of the party react to this new person “filling Darius’ shoes”? It might have also freshened up the combat dynamics a little – I love Darius as a character, but his role in a fight is to stand in front of something and punch it. A new character might have introduced some new tactics. Maybe Rob would roll a TRUE non-human character – yeah, Darius and Alhara are half-elves, and now Hap has genie blood, but Rob could’ve really pulled out all the stops. (My suggestion: a boar-based beastkin who, to inject some irony, still loves bacon.) Also, out at the skinny end of the bell curve, part of me hoped Steve might let Rob brew a beta version of a Magus or Summoner since Secrets of Magic would be out by the time this aired (or close to it). Like he did with Alhara and the Swashbuckler when the show started.

So yeah, I had actually reached a point where I was willing to see the positives of a show that didn’t include Darius. Instead, the Reaper is cheated, and Darius lives to fight another day… but with a HUGE catch.

Now, let me step out of the story for a second and discuss “cheating death” as a general mechanism. My overall position is that the VAST majority of the time, death is death and shouldn’t be undone lightly, but I also think there ARE situations where you consider it, and maybe this was one of them.

Rule #1 is “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. If the player gets killed because they were being reckless or stupid, they don’t get any favors. The GM should NEVER reward downright bad play. In this case, they had no way to know about the curse, and once they used the first round to figure out the golem’s “pattern”, their kiting tactics were actually pretty clever. Trip, run away, lather, rinse, repeat. Other than metagaming that it was an optional encounter and avoiding it entirely, you can’t accuse anyone of being reckless here.

Rule #2 is that sometimes you cut the players a break if the dice are REALLY against them – to borrow a phrase from poker, sometimes as a GM, you find a way to let them walk away from a bad beat. If we’re being fair, Darius’ death was probably in the middle. On one hand, it was a powerful creature so it had a high DC, and nobody told them to spend all their hero points. On the other hand, they had like five or six chances where a 15 or 16 (estimated) would’ve solved the problem, and couldn’t hit it. Mr. “I Took Stats In College But Mostly Slept Through It Because It Was An 8 AM Class” ran the numbers and the chance of failing ALL those rolls was 10 or 15 percent. That starts to get into the territory of “maybe the dice are cursed”.

I’m adding a Rule #3 based on how Steve handled this situation: if it can fit within the story, the player should have some choice in the matter. Maybe the player is actually ready to make a new character and doesn’t WANT to come back, or maybe they love that first character and would do anything to keep it. If you’re going to upend that apple cart, it’s probably a good call to have the player be on board.

Rule #4 is the big one. If you’re going to overrule death itself, it can’t be for free; there has to be a cost. Now “free” doesn’t have to mean money or losing a level… it just has to mean there’s some consequence. Even if it’s just a story/roleplaying consequence, where maybe people react differently to the character because something unnatural happened to bring them back.

And hot damn, here’s where Steve really pulled the rabbit out of the hat. And where laying all the roleplaying groundwork with the mark paid off.

First was the voice itself. As I joked in our group chat, Steve did such a good job with the Achakaek voice I ALMOST forgive him for the existence of Gibzip. I’m still trying to figure out whether Steve added some effects to the voice in post. If he did, that’s pretty cool. If it’s not, it’s just a testament to how good a job he did that I convinced myself he did.

So it turns out that Darius and Alhara’s mom was, if not a full Red Mantis Assassin, certainly an adherent of Achakaek, and must have passed some sort of protective blessing/curse… blurse?… onto Darius. So when Darius “dies”, he gets a VIP meet-and-greet with the bug god himself and he’s offered a diabolical choice. He can die and move on, or he can be brought back to life by giving up more control over the mark. And he would be doing this knowing the mark is a product of malevolent power.

And I mean… come on. Darius is Darius. He’s going to protect his family, and he’s one of those people who REALLY believes they can overcome ANYTHING. This stuff is hard-wired into him. So of course he’s going to accept the consequences of the curse and come back. So now we have Darius, but now with 30 percent more stone-cold killer. It will be interesting to see how that manifests going forward. (And as a “rubber meets the road” thing, I’m kinda curious whether Darius will have access to the full Red Mantis archetype, or whether the status quo will continue and the mark will continue to provide a few select powers.)

Before we move on, I wanted to commend all THREE of the group-mates for their excellent roleplay in this moment. It had to be hard to “go there” and play real grief, but Vanessa and Loren really pulled it off; it was really heartbreaking there in the moment. That’s not to disrespect Rob P. either – he had to play it more subdued because Ateran is someone who guards their emotions more closely, but I thought Rob’s choices of working through the intellectual puzzle of Darius’ death, wondering what they might have done differently, while still trying to comfort Alhara were well done.

Now, Darius’ death and return cast a pretty long shadow over this episode, but we did get one more intriguing little bit of lore dump when the party FINALLY gets around to reading “the letter” they found several episodes back. And as I somewhat expected, the letter sheds more light on Mistress Dusklight’s role in this operation, formally and finally painting her as Evil-With-a-Capital-E. She wasn’t just tomb-robbing and happened to bump into them; she formally helped augment the power of their rituals and – most sinister of all – helped round up surface-dweller sacrifices (presumably various townspeople of Escadar) for the xulgaths. So, I don’t know how Achakaek will feel about all of it but sounds like Mistress Dusklight needs to die sooner rather than later if she hasn’t left for Absalom yet.

There is one small silver lining in all of this. The letter does also hint at a xulgath faction that was opposed to what this group is doing. I’m not even going to TRY to spell specific xulgath names, but Dusklight’s letter mentions a diadem being damaged when knocked off the leader’s head during a battle with a fellow xulgath. So that raises at least a possibility that humanity may have some… if not allies, at least people who can be reasoned with… amongst the xulgaths. It’s SOMETHING to hang one’s hat on.

So this week, Darius rests and recovers and we all eat our feelings. Next week, we get back to work, whether that’s clearing the last few rooms of the temple, confronting Mistress Dusklight… or maybe they’re the same thing and it’s just a race for the diadem at this point. 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.

(Achakaek voice) OR ELSE…

The Sideshow S2|30: You Are The Worst, Curse

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|30: Hot Potato Heroics.

Denial.

He’s not really dead. The mark on his arm will kick in and save him. Or they’ll just go get a Raise Dead ritual. (Oh wait, that costs 1600 gp for an 8th level character… no way they have that sort of money). Or maybe the chalice itself will have some sort of healing property.

Anger.

What the hell, Steve? That encounter was WAY too hard. Haste AND a curse that prevents healing? You should’ve toned that down some. Then again, it’s not all Steve’s fault. Has no one in this group heard of alternate damage types? Even owning a damn BOW? Yeah, golems have DR, but three shots a round would add up. Noooooo… we all gotta do ONE FUCKING THING and ONLY that one thing. “La-de-dah, look at my fire rendition of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel”… GOMEZ WOULDA HYDRAULIC PUSHED THAT MF’ER INTO AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ZIP CODE.

Bargaining.

I know they don’t have 1600 gold. But maybe the town could take up a collection. Maybe they could do a special charity performance of the circus. Maybe Jellico’s real personality is a high-level cleric. Maybe Mistress Dusklight has some line she won’t cross and will help them because deep down she regards them as worthy adversaries.

Depression.

No more bacon. No more references to oily thighs. I’ll even miss the awkward dates with Kat. I don’t know if I can do these writeups anymore. Maybe I’ll just ask Steve if I can write our show and be done with it.

Acceptance.

Nope. Not there yet. Can’t do it. I need Darius to be a part of this show. The good-natured leader without really trying to lead. Seemingly everyone’s older sibling – even though his connections to Alhara and Hap have been stronger, there have been times where’s he’s taken Ateran under his wing too. Known lover of bacon and good times in general. No… I’m sure Rob could bring a new character in next week and make it INTERESTING, but Darius holds a special place in this group, so I REALLY hope they figure out some way to save him, even if the dice say he’s gone.

I mean, this is also hitting a little hard because it’s our first death on RFC in general. I guess Rusty Carter may have died behind the scenes in Dead Suns (and then been “saved” by becoming undead), and I think one of our Black Lodge characters hit Dying 4 and had to survive via hero point. But in almost four years, this is the first time we’ve had to say goodbye to a character and roll a new one. So it’s hitting extra hard because maybe we’d gotten to the point where we didn’t really think it would happen.

As we learned the really hard way this week, golems are a hit-and-miss proposition. Each golem has ONE type of magic they’re vulnerable to, ONE type of magic that heals them, and ANY other magic just doesn’t work against them at all. That’s true for all golems. If this golem had been susceptible to FIRE damage (flesh golem, for instance)… this encounter might have been a cakewalk, where Hap chucked a few fireballs while the rest of the party held a picnic lunch. And yeah, you can damage them physically, but that’s also THEIR specialty and they have the built-in advantage of damage reduction, so standing there and trading punches is a losing proposition. Even when they don’t have a nasty curse that suppresses healing.

Speaking of which, each golem also has a few “extra” abilities, and those two were some of the worst. First, haste breaks the unwritten contract that big, dumb hit point sinks are AT LEAST supposed to be slow and easy to hit. So now you have a FAST face-puncher with an extra fourth action. THAT sucks.

But the curse, that was the real problem. Just to fill in the blanks by reading the monster’s statblock after the fact, the curse suppresses ALL non-magical healing, and even magical healing has to make a DC29 check to go through. I don’t have access to the group’s character sheets, but if their rolls are coming in at +13 or +14, that means they’d need to hit a 15 or so on-die to make the check. Not impossible, but difficult. Oh, and the curse isn’t removed until the target is healed up to full…. which is unlikely to happen in the middle of combat.

I have to admit, the first round of this fight was actually funny because for once, it was like listening to… well… us. People acting with no coordination, everyone trying to save themselves, leaving other people hung out to dry, people making chippy little comments… welcome to Agents Of Edgewatch Redux! Alhara running away with the chalice seemed like it was the beginning of tactics, but that doesn’t work if the rest of the party just kinda gets out of the way and let the golem chase her…

But like Agents of Edgewatch, they eventually got there. We bicker, we point fingers, and then we get our shit together and get the job done… and so did they.

The first smart decision was to give the chalice to Hap. For one thing, she’s the most mobile member of the party, especially when you add in the third dimension of flight. It doesn’t TOTALLY solve the problem because the golem can just get frustrated and attack someone else, but it does confuse the golem’s “programming” if you force it to use most of its actions chasing the chalice. The other reason it’s a smart move – turning my mean comments from above on their head – is that since most of Hap’s attacks are fire-based, she really can’t offer much to the damage output anyway. So playing keep-away is the best use of her skills.

And then Alhara starts getting into the action with her trips, which was another key turning point. Again, the more actions you can get this thing to use on something other than punching is a good thing, so forcing it to waste one standing up at least negates the haste effect. Also, it’s a little easier to hit when prone, and standing up triggers attacks of opportunity, so the damage starts coming together a LITTLE bit faster. Other than the healing situation, things were starting to come together.

I do wonder why nobody gave any thought to just abandoning the chalice and seeing if it stopped chasing them. Or for extra credit, throwing the chalice into a body of water, since the golem could be damaged by water. (Granted, maybe MAGICAL water… maybe non-magic water doesn’t do anything.) I suppose that’s one of those things that seems obvious as a listener, but in the heat of battle you don’t think of it. Or maybe the tactical value of having the golem chasing Hap was worth it. If Hap’s flying around with the chalice, you KNOW the golem will chase her. If the cup is up for grabs, maybe the golem just starts killing party members randomly and grabs the cup once they’re all dead. So maybe predictable behavior is better in this case.

Now, guilty confession time. As rough as the golem fight was, there was also two percent of me that wanted to see an encounter bleed when Steve raised the possibility. Though at that point, I was hoping the encounters would bleed in such a way that the bad guys would fight each other and help the party out. But I can’t pretend it wouldn’t have been interesting to see what happened.

Eventually, the fight settled into a steady state, and then it just became a race to the finish… can the party get the golem down before it gets them. FINALLY, Riley gets to be the hero, getting the killshot, but not before the golem takes Darius down.

And then the fateful countdown begins, and I have to admit those were some of the most excruciating moments I’ve ever listened to on this podcast. All it would’ve taken is ONE roll succeeding… there was no persistent damage beyond the “tick” on the dying condition, so just getting back to 1 HP would have at least allowed them to retreat and throw as many downtime heals as required at the problem. But it just didn’t work out… too many low rolls. The final line of defense would’ve been that aeon stone that bought them one round, but since Darius rolled a natural 1 on his last check, he went from Dying 4 directly to Dying 6, so even popping the aeon stone would’ve only gotten him back to Dying 5 and he still would die.

So that’s where we are. A mighty warrior has fallen. I can’t be the only one, but I’m HOPING there’s some way out of this, even though it doesn’t seem very likely. And believe me, I’ve come THIS close to breaking my rule about the True Listener Experience and asking Steve if Darius somehow makes it through this, but no… I’m gonna ride this emotional rollercoaster with the rest of you. We’ll find out next week.

Lastly, a brief apology for the column being late this week. I’d like to be all noble and say that I wanted to do the moment justice, and that’s even true to an extent, but the biggest problem is that I lost a day to a power outage in my neighborhood, and then the resulting lack of air conditioning left me a little dehydrated and I crashed for a good portion of Thursday.

As always, feel free to drop by the Discord channel and let us know what you thought of the show. This week, in particular, feel free to share your favorite Darius moments, in case this really is the end of the line for him. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|29: Pottery in Motion

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|29: The Chalice From the Palace.

So… let’s talk about “the optional encounter” for a second.

It’s one of those things that I had never formally been told until now, but now that Steve is telling us Paizo includes these in various adventures, seems unsurprising in retrospect. It does seem like there’s almost always that one encounter that doesn’t particularly advance the story, often doesn’t even fit the theme of the rest of the dungeon you’re grinding through – five straight fights against undead, and oh hey, here’s a shambling mound for no particular reason.

Now, I don’t know about the circus folk, but for those of us in the Edgewatch game, these sorts of encounters aren’t really optional anyway. We’re completionists by nature and we live to clear every last speck of “fog of war” off the map. We tend to feel cheated if we missed a spot – and OK, at least partly because we’re greedy and don’t want to miss any loot. I can’t remember the last time we just blew off part of a dungeon. I will concede there have been times where we prioritized getting to the boss with most of our resources intact, so maybe we bypassed a section and went back for it later, but we’ve been “no stone unturned” people since before the podcast even started.

After a brief check-in with the circus, we get to meet the Level 8 versions of our characters. There are a few main things that stuck out to me.

First, the Varuses are REALLY leaning into the world of tactics, which I think is a smart call. Between Alhara’s staff sweep and Darius taking titan wrestler, that’s a lot of knocking enemies over and pushing them around. Where the rubber meets the road, that’s +2’s to hit for flat-footed; that’s wasted actions the enemies have to spend standing up again when they get knocked down. I’ve noticed from both this show and Edgewatch that levels 6-8 is when tactics really move to the forefront. Half of that is “the feats available at the lower levels don’t present the same sorts of opportunities”, half of that is “up until level 5 or 6, you can still fake your way through most fights with pretty rudimentary tactics”. But when you hit 6-8, you start to get the sorts of feats that REALLY open up opportunities for smart tactics to DRASTICALLY alter the course of a fight. (We just had an Edgewatch fight where Dougie was able to blow up a pretty strong enemy in like… two rounds… because other members of the party were able to feed him precision damage opportunities.)

Ateran’s new ability – the one where they can tell a story that freaks people out – that seems like an interesting combat ability (again… applying statuses is the way to go), but I also find myself wondering if that could be incorporated into the circus act in some way. Could he take over Jellico Bounce-Bounce’s spot as the slightly unsettling act: Ateran’s Twisted Storytime! (Better not do the voice though… we know how Vanessa feels about clowns.)

Lastly, I have to give Loren credit for leaning into roleplay by mining Hap’s heritage for a Lore skill. On a roleplay level, it just feels right. You have this weird double-whammy: teenagers ALREADY tend to go down weird little rabbit-holes where they learn everything they can about a couple of very specific things, but then you also have the layer that OF COURSE a kinda-sorta “adopted” kid would want to know more about their parents. So I really appreciate Loren going all-in on that, possibly even to the overall detriment of her character. It would’ve been a lot easier to just throw the skill bump into something “practical” like Arcana and be done with it.

Speaking of practical… let’s talk about Vanessa’s staff for a second. I get where she’s coming from. As players, we sometimes get a little loosey-goosey about light and take it as a given. We just assume that our Level 1 light spell or everburning torch will be good enough to handle what’s waiting around that next bend and pretty much forget about it. But that’s not always the case, and it’s even more of a danger with this mostly-human party NOBODY has actual darkvision, and at best, maybe the Varuses (Varii?) might have low-light vision since they’re half-elves. So the logic behind Vanessa’s purchase is sound – now someone would have to blow a Level 5 spell (or have an equally powerful ability) to turn off her light source. And OK, it probably also looks really cool. But MAN was that a lot of money. When you’re talking about spending the same amount that could get you an armor rune… oof.

The remainder of this week’s action focuses around Mistress Dusklight’s list of items, and here I have to express a rare moment of frustration. I have to admit the presentation of the list was a little TOO fragmented. At one point, we hear a few items that are ON the list; later we hear a couple of other items that were crossed off. But we never get one single rundown of the whole list. I don’t know if it would’ve been meaningful or not, but it might have been interesting to list ALL the items at least once so we listeners could hazard our own guesses at just what she was trying to do. (Gauze pads and motor oil? Clearly, she’s trying to build her own construct!) If you could put ALL the puzzle pieces on the table at the same time, maybe you could figure it out, but it’s a little too hard to do that mental math when you’re only getting the data in bits and pieces.

(Though ultimately, it could just be she’s a tomb robber and listing items that have value. The answer may be that simple.)

Setting aside the quibble about the presentation, our team returns to the dungeon armed with the list and finds the room with the masked statues. Two of the masks – the Merchant and the Tailor – are a) missing and b) on Mistress Dusklight’s list. There’s also a general clue about “Aroden blessing those who share his guises”, which seems to imply you should take one of the masks and put it on, right?

Well… that actually proves to be a BAD idea. Poor Hap chooses The Artist (figuring she’s an artist too), takes the mask, and immediately takes a few punches to the face for her trouble. As does Darius. OR DO THEY? Hap and Darius seem pretty convinced they’re being attacked, but Alhara and Ateran just see their teammates flailing around like idiots. Ateran works out that whatever is going on will stop if the mask is put back, and sure enough… that happens. So add a new puzzle to the pile, I suppose. Clearly, Mistress Dusklight was able to get two masks AND get out of the room without getting her ass kicked, so what did she do differently?

The exploration continues. The team checks out the abandoned xulgath encampment a little but don’t really learn anything of consequence, just some minor magical loot. So they decide to go to The Bad Door while they’re still at close-to-full health and have a full day’s worth of resources. The door is triple-locked, but Alhara finally breaks in (with an assist from a hero point). The room’s major feature is a statue of Aroden, holding a chalice… which was also one of the items on Mistress Dusklight’s list. Did our party just get the jump on her and get one of her items?

Well… not yet at least. Because the minute Alhara touches the chalice – even wearing a holy symbol of Aroden – the statue comes to life, leaving us with the least surprising cliffhanger ever. OF COURSE THE STATUE WAS GOING TO COME TO LIFE. Statues that come to life are apparently an iPhone-level consumer fad in the world of Pathfinder. EVERYONE has one. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. As always, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S2|28: Better Living Through Exorcise

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|28: It’s Been Ateran All Along!

First up this week, I feel like I want to clarify the “Silly Steve” comment from last week since it feels relevant again this week. It’s not that Steve is NEVER silly with us on the Edgewatch side of the house; I think it’s that we tend to compartmentalize things a little more. We kinda “get it out of our system” in the pre-game, and then we’re FAIRLY goal-oriented (except for the occasional pop culture reference) once we start rolling for the evening. With this group, they weave in and out of it a little more as the game unfolds, so there’s more room for Silly Steve to operate. I don’t know if that makes sense at all, but I found myself thinking about it a bit more between sessions, so I thought I’d mention it.

So this week’s dominant theme… sympathy for poor Rob P. for getting struck down by the Bad Dice Gods. You play this game long enough, it happens to everyone eventually, but this week was definitely Ateran’s turn in the barrel. Ateran, the group’s Resident Smart Person, pretty much reduced to the village idiot (at least for this episode) by bad dice.

I think what struck me in particular about this sequence was the inability to escape the spotlight. When you’re on a critical path and HAVE to hit a roll to move the story along, it can feel like an eternity trying to make that roll. It’s like… if you roll a bunch of 2s in combat, eventually the turn passes and you have some time to lick your wounds before you have to try again. If you’re just trying and failing on a single critical-path skill check, as Ateran was doing here, you’re pretty much stuck up on the stage with a  big spotlight on you, failing over and over again with everyone watching. In some ways that’s psychologically worse, even if the in-game consequences of the individual rolls aren’t nearly as dire.

I also think Steve raises an interesting question: when, if ever, do you step in as GM and overrule ridiculous dice luck? On one hand, the dice are supposed to be fairly close to absolute. On the other hand, you’re still trying to serve a story, and at some point, bad dice luck can really screw up the story side of things. One or two bad rolls can be kind of funny, but at some point, if it just keeps going, it honestly gets boring and detracts from the action. It’s not advancing the plot, it’s not creating an interesting moment, it’s just generating busy work.

First, I don’t think the GM should ever do it in the “house’s” favor. If players get a hot streak or the monsters get a cold streak, just let them have it, and if you need to balance things out, add a little to the next encounter to compensate. It’s one of those things where you as the GM control the game, so there are places where you have to be the bigger person. In the case of the players getting bad luck… I still don’t think you want to fudge the dice often – players do count on the dice to “tell the truth” and there can even be fun found in salvaging a bad situation – but I do think if you’re starting to lose the table and the story is starting to grind to a halt, I do think fudging a roll for the sake of getting things moving again can be the lesser of the two evils.

Meanwhile, I’m also salty this week because of the appearance of the redcaps.

Now, it wasn’t the voice. I actually enjoyed Steve’s redcap voice. (Especially listening to the show on 1.5 speed. Took on a whole new life that way.) I even enjoyed the Redcap Voice contest at the end of the show, and kinda wish the Robs had participated as well.

No, my salt comes from bad memories from the Edgewatch campaign. As Loren (I think) mentioned, our Edgewatch group faced ONE of these guys, and it nearly tore us to pieces, even with us figuring out the trick with the hat fairly early in the fight. Then again, the circus crew also had four levels on us – we faced ours at the tail end of Level 3, and here they are at Level 7. I mean, that’s a 20% edge in getting and avoiding crits, and that’s even before adding any additional bonuses from four levels of improved gear. You’ll note that the redcaps still hit pretty hard, but they either never or rarely critted; I think our redcap critted us two or three times. That absolutely makes a difference – the difference between “mortal threat” and “mild enough nuisance that the GM can give it a cute voice”.

On the other hand, the fact that we faced it first means for once we’re in the rare position where I have inside knowledge the circus group didn’t have. In this case, I’d like to point out that removing the redcap’s hat has TWO benefits. The first, which WAS mentioned, is that the hat grants the redcap fast healing, so taking the hat away prevents that hit point recovery. What wasn’t mentioned was that the hat ALSO increases their damage, so they take a -4 penalty to damage rolls if you get the hat off their head. (Not to be smug, but Basil got that off an Expeditious Inspection in Round 1, and Lo Mang grabbed the hat in round 2 or round 3.)

(Also: quick rulebook detour. The main difference between “fast healing” and “regeneration” – both heal hit points at the start of the round, but regeneration also keeps the dying condition from going past dying 3 while it’s active.)

Eventually, the redcaps are dealt with (OK, one got away, but that’s not a huge problem) and Ateran FINALLY gets some good rolls and finishes consecrating the graves. Now it’s decision time. There’s at least one more door in the section of the temple they’re in, and there’s actually a whole section unchecked. But the various fights drained the party’s resources, so we decide to wrap it up and head back to the circus. We have brief reunions with “Dad” (yay!) and Gibzip (boo!), and it looks like we’re going to get some Level 8 characters next time we meet.

(BTW, I think I figured out what bothers me about Gibzip. If any of you have watched the show Big Mouth, Gibzip reminds me of Tyler, the incompetent hormone monster who replaces Maurice for a few episodes. SOOOO annoying. Both of them.)

So next week, I assume we’ll get to meet our Level 8 cast, and they’ll go kick down that last door that Steve seems WAY too excited about. 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|27: Rock, Paper, Fireball

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|27: Between a Vrock and a Hard Place.

Welcome to Roll For Combat, Beach-Bum Edition. That’s right, I’m writing from vacation this week. (The Patreons who stopped by for our Malevolence game already know this.)

The bad news is you might get a rather fragmented column this week, as this is getting written between trips to the beer cooler. The good news is you get a book recommendation as bonus content: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (the guy who did The Martian). I can’t give you a plot description because the whole plot is an unfolding mystery where our protagonist doesn’t even know their own name at first, but both space and science (both are right on the cover, so no big spoiler there) hijinx are involved.

Sorry, where was I? (Other than getting another beer.) Right, this week’s episode.

First, we have the occasional emergence of Silly Steve, which we don’t see very often; or at least not in extended bursts. Now, Steve’s not a humorless person by nature, but for whatever reason, he tends to run a pretty tight ship when running his games. If I were to hazard a guess, I think it’s more just a function of having the game, the recording tools, possible stuff going on in the background at home, and everything else to keep an eye on, so he usually doesn’t have the TIME for frivolity. But here we get jokes, silly voices… the whole nine yards. Savor these moments, listeners. They don’t come around too often. Though I have to say that is one of the nerdiest earth elementals I have ever heard. I expect a gravelly Vin Diesel voice from a creature made of living dirt; I don’t expect our party to be beaten to death by something that sounds like my 11th-grade math teacher.

Speaking of which, I loved the implied theme of this battle, with Darius squaring off against his own evolved Pokemon form. Rock-based powers vs. actual rock! (Or is Darius a Machop/Machoke who happened to be given some stone-themed TM’s? Needs more awkwardly nerdy research.) But the stone-vs.-stone theme of the fight was carried off quite nicely.

Unless you’re poor Alhara, of course. I’m starting to feel bad for poor Vanessa… she’s just been a magnet for creature attacks these last few fights, as Alhara gets dropped once again. To some degree, it’s nature of the beast: out of four people you’ve got two squishes who have no business being on the front lines, so of course, Alhara is going to be targeted quite a bit. But it would be nice if a few of them missed and she came out of a fight with more than 10 hit points left.

I realize we’re out of order since the shawl was loot from the previous room, but I have to admit I’m with Loren on the Azlanti shawl. SELL, SELL, SELL! I’ll concede Comprehend Languages is a valuable tool to have, and I even think Rob/Ateran is right that they’re GOING to run into Azlanti at some point down the road. However, with 700 gold pieces, you could buy DOZENS of scrolls of Comprehend Languages and still have plenty of change left over. Just sayin’.

Unless… and I literally just had this thought as I’m writing it… if the plan is to keep the shawl long enough to LEARN Azlanti through the Multilingual feat (can be any language you “have access to”) and then sell it… I can get down with that. Best of both worlds – money AND fluency – as long as you don’t have other plans for the feat.

Note that I’m kinda handwaving the temporary hit points, but I feel like a) Ateran shouldn’t be taking a lot of hits anyway, and b) most of the creatures at this point of the game are gonna blow through those hit points in one shot.

The exploration of the hall continues, and we find an abandoned xulgath encampment. That’s a bit alarming. Could there really still be hundreds of xulgaths lurking around, waiting to attack the town? Or was this more of an excavation party, and once they got into the Moonstone Hall, the bulk of them left. Either way, it’s a little unsettling that Escadar now has an express lane to the Underdark right in its town square.

It’s almost TOO MUCH room to digest at once – though I assume they’ll have to return at some point and investigate further – so the party moves on to the next room.

Next, we have a minor rules question, and I have to admit I’m siding with Vanessa on this one. For someone who relies on leaping into the fray as her go-to opener, I think checking the area in front of the door should’ve been part of the action of opening the door. If you still want to apply line-of-sight and lighting effects to that and saying she couldn’t see what was lower in the room, that’s fine, but literally looking down at the floor five feet in front of you shouldn’t be a separate action when it’s part of a signature move you do almost every combat. I look at it as “we open a door; 90 percent of the people would look straight ahead at eye level, a swashbuckler will look at the terrain immediately in front of the door in case they gotta leap into action”.

Completely random thought: three disturbed graves, three babaus. Coincidence, or is that where the xulgaths got the raw materials? (Or did I count wrong… also possible. We are talking about almost six weeks’ worth of footage now.)

So Alhara leaps into action, bounces off a triceratops flank, and… proceeds to trip it. That was a little unexpected. I’m not going to argue the feat itself – at the risk of giving away a mild Plaguestone/Malevolence spoiler, I think I gave Brixley that same feat, so I have a vested interest in legitimizing it – but I do wonder if maybe a quadruped should’ve received a bonus compared to a biped. I mean, four legs are more stable than two. Even the good people of IKEA know this. (This is not an invitation for you people to come at me with your three-legged FNURDSSONs. I’ll hear none of it.)

Nevertheless, the captain turns off the Suspension of Disbelief light, Alhara trips the triceratops (also sending the rider off to the corner of the room), leaps back out, and Hap nukes the whole room. JUST LIKE COACH DREW IT UP ON THE BLACKBOARD. Seriously, although there was some serious dumb luck getting from A to Z, they kinda ended up landing on perfect tactics. Not only that but at least one xulgath crit-fails and dies immediately.

Now the fight is really on. I did appreciate the moment of levity of “if it’s got artwork, of course it’s a boss”. Though… lots of stuff has artwork and lots of stuff hits hard. Really, it’s more like: “does the artwork contain unsettling amounts of green and/or black miasma, possibly forming skull shapes?” or “does the artwork depict the creature actually killing Pathfinder iconics?” or… OK, ”does the artwork depict the creature riding a triceratops?” is pretty legit. We’ll allow it.

But the fight itself actually proves to be a little easier than the fight against the earth elemental – in part because the caster nukes his own mount – and soon enough, one more room has been cleansed. And then we wrap up with the minor cliff-hanger of the week: that one of these bespoiled graves belongs to Uthadar himself, and that’s why he’s so insistent that there be a cleansing.

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|26: The Charmed Arm Does Great Harm

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|26: Can You Smell What The Vrock Is Cooking?!

Sorry we’re running a little late here this week at Talking Combat. I’m getting ready to go on vacation Saturday, so between getting work tied down and packing, I’ve had a lot of stuff percolating.

As Steve mentioned in the show notes, I have an interesting relationship with spoilers on this show. I think I’ve mentioned before that I do TRY to avoid spoilers so I can have a close-to-pristine listening experience. I generally want to be as surprised as all of you. But that tends to be a goal that’s never going to be 100% reachable. For one thing, while each show has its own Discord channel for the game itself, the Patreon chat has a single channel that’s shared across all the shows. So sometimes I see the last few lines of what the Patreons were talking about the previous night: 90 percent of the time, it’s general chat, but every once in a while, there’ll be a plot point. Or, I’ll have to go look up an NPC name or reference a map, so I will duck my head into “their” channel. In which case, you try to put the blinders on and mind your business but it doesn’t always work. Or sometimes in a burst of general excitement stuff just slips out.

So I’ve known for a month or two that SOMETHING sinister and not-entirely-normal happens to Darius at some future point, and this incident feels like it might be the thing I heard about. The comments I saw basically hinted that Darius was going to end up turning evil and becoming the big bad of the whole story; I thought maybe he’d died and been brought back by some unnatural means (because there were also hints at a character death, but Steve teases that all the time). But this thing with Darius’ glowing rune certainly fits… it’s not Evil-With-A-Capital-E, but it certainly doesn’t seem as benevolent as it did before, did it? The vrock was DEFINITELY not afraid of Darius and Alhara’s mom; I’m pretty sure of that.

I will say that whole thing made for great radio, though. You’ve got this vrock which… I wouldn’t want to say it was a no-win, but it definitely felt like a fight that was going to push the party to its limits. Heck, you had Loren at least debating how soon it would be fair to run away without being meta-gamey. And then BOOM, the whole tone of the fight shifts as Darius breaks out a brand-new rune power. And the fear was a nice cherry on the sundae… Doubly impressive since the whole thing with the rune and Darius’ powers is stuff Steve’s adding on the side.

Loren’s question was an interesting one, by the way. On one hand, player characters shouldn’t be stupid or suicidal, and even a Level 1 adventurer has theoretically Seen Some Shit. They’d probably have SOME sense of how hard a fight is going to be, and even that if they misjudged and it’s harder, they should probably run away. On the other hand, when you start getting into things like “well, it’s +20 to hit so it’s going to crit something like 35 or 40 percent of the time”… that’s stuff your characters would have no way of knowing and you really shouldn’t be basing your “fight or run” decisions on.

Well, there is one exception: the equation becomes a little different if you’ve faced the creature before because in that case, the previous fight(s) become part of your standing knowledge of the creature. Over in the Edgewatch campaign we’ve run across multiple members of the ooze family – knowing that they’re resistant to precision damage, that some oozes split when hit with piercing or slashing, that they tend to be slow and really EASY to hit, but you lose almost every source of extra damage. Yeah, those are game mechanics, but if you’ve already seen them in action, they become the laws of the world you’re part of.

The other thing that stuck out for me is this: how is it they’re making WWE wrestling jokes and I’m not involved? As I texted to the group: “I expect this behavior from me. I don’t expect it from you.” Avatar The Last Airbender, yes. WWE, no. I’m not a huge wrestling fan or anything – never been to a live event or bought a pay-per-view, but I will admit I had phases where it was on my radar. Particularly when I was a road-warrior consultant during a different life and Monday nights were kinda dead anyway. I may have watched more of Hulk Hogan’s heel turn on WCW than I’m comfortable admitting publicly. (“Oh my God, it’s STING! Doing the same thing he’s done for the last seven weeks, but I’m still VERY SURPRISED BY THIS!”)

Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes, the vrock is eventually defeated, but not without the scare of Darius dropping and Hap eating an attack of opportunity getting her last spell off. I briefly thought this was going to be a two-episode fight because the thing seemed surprisingly healthy with 4 or 5 minutes left, until Hap came through with the finisher. Speaking of Darius dropping… we really need to refine our terminology for “party members dropping that represent a serious threat of a TPK” vs. “party members dropping where it’s just part of the cost of doing business”. Much like we came up with “Handwave Heal” to summarize using Treat Wounds and other out-of-combat healing; we need “Drop” and “Low-Calorie Drop” or something like that, to reflect those two different circumstances. “Drop” and “Drop Zero”?

And now we come to the “unanswered questions” portion of the show.

First, is that it or is there still more? The vrock feels like the big bad, and the caster xulgath that was with it was PROBABLY the person that summoned/controlled it, but is there still anyone else in here? What about Mistress Dusklight? When will the reckoning happen?

You kind of wonder what was the goal of the vrock? Was it to just run roughshod over the town? Was it designed to keep the players from learning about the role of the towers and Aroden’s mountain retreat? Was it just fairly random “these players are after us, let’s summon some muscle”? Though that one seems unlikely… it seems like the xulgaths have been here a lot longer than the players have been in town, so I don’t feel like the vrock was summoned JUST to deal with them. I could be wrong though.

Also, what’s with Darius and his uneasy feelings? Compared to rebooting the towers and saving the world, it’s probably small potatoes, but why does he feel like releasing the rune’s power the way he did make him feel disappointed and unworthy? You’d think a GOOD rune would be pleased as punch to smite a creature like the vrock, but evidently not. At some point we’ll have to unravel that as well.

For now, though, I’m off to do beachy things. 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|25: Take a Look, It’s in a Book

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|25: Wonderous Feather Healing.

First things first: that’s right. We’re putting the Plaguestone band back together. I figure since that show includes three-fourths of this group (plus me), it’s more relevant to talk about here than in the Edgewatch column.

I don’t remember the exact genesis of the idea, though I know the first murmurings about doing a new show were a joking suggestion about doing an April Fool’s show with really goofy characters. (I was kicking around a pixie barbarian with anger management issues.) That didn’t really come together because it reached a point where we would’ve had to put the whole thing together on three days’ notice on a weekend where Steve had travel plans. But the idea of doing something else percolated for a little while, and over the course of another few weeks, coalesced around a return to the Plaguestone crew. I think from there, it was a question of Steve finding an adventure that would work and finding some time in the schedule. The story part I’ll leave for when the show starts airing, but the schedule part came together with Extinction Curse having to take a few weeks off anyway. Seemed like a good time to start recording.

I won’t say much about the show itself because I want most of it to be a surprise when it airs, but I’ll set the general expectation that it’ll be along the lines of a single adventure (30, 40 episodes maybe?) rather than another 6-book adventure path. When will it air? Not exactly sure… that’s probably more on Steve’s side… how fast we can put episodes in the can, how fast he can edit, is he going to bother with new artwork, and other logistical stuff like that.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Extinction Curse, we have a fairly straightforward combat, followed by a lore-gathering session in the Moonstone Temple’s library. Or at least what’s left of it after the xulgath caster sets off a fireball in the middle of it.

The first thing that jumped out at me about the combat is that it wasn’t that long ago that a babau was a spine-tingling threat; now, it’s basically a speed-bump. I suppose some of that comes from leveling up and being a little stronger, but also, part of it was being able to cut loose because it was the first fight of a new day and they had full resources. It seemed like Hap and Ateran, in particular, went right to their bigger guns early in the fight, including Ateran’s Enervation spell that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.

I do find myself wondering a little bit about that fireball. Is there a chance the xulgath was trying to destroy evidence or was it just about putting as much damage on the party as possible? I think it’s the latter, if for no other reason than if there was a breadcrumb that was needed to progress in the story, I doubt the writers of the adventure path would let it be anything that would be easily destroyed. “Well… sorry, Books 3 through 6 are canceled because a trash mob destroyed the map! I guess the world’s going to end.” Also… it’s a xulgath… it’s probably arrogant and thinks it can kill any surface-dweller. It probably wouldn’t worry about destroying evidence because it thinks it would win anyway.

The combat isn’t really the big thing this week, though. The big fish here is Ateran’s research.

To summarize, even the own accounts say that yeah, Aroden took the stones from the under-dwellers. (I’ll hold back on using the word “stole” for now. Three sides to every story – two sides, and the truth, which is usually something in the middle.) He did leave ONE stone in the underworld, as his show of mercy, but he spread the other five out around the land and infused them with his own power, which is part of what makes the land thrive. The book also reveals a mountain sanctuary Aroden ran the show from. And in terms of driving the story from here, the party can reset the stones by gathering the reflections, going to the mountain temple, and forming Voltron. (The one with the lions, not the one with all the cars and trucks.)

My glib thought is that each side has a base, and there are towers spread out around the country, so we’ve walked into a RP-heavy League of Legends game. Darius top, Ateran mid, Hap and Riley bot lane, and Alhara jungling!

My other thought is that the xulgaths may have figured out a way to do the evil Bizarro version of that same process. Maybe if THEY get the aspects and go to the temple, they can corrupt the stones, or something like that. The fine details remain to be worked out, but it kinda works out to two sides pursuing the same MacGuffin with opposite goals for it if they get it.

I did think it was a nice roleplaying touch that Hap still wanted to use this library to look up information on her elemental ancestry while all this was going on. Ateran’s already on the case for saving the world; why not do your own side research while you have all these books at your disposal? Of course, as a natural caster rather than a “book-learning” caster, it’s not necessarily up her alley… and asking Darius to help is probably about as useful as asking Riley, but it’s the thought that counts. But in the end, she does find Alternate Planes For Dummies, so that’s something to build upon.

Then we have the spell scrolls. Spell immunity is kind of nice, but it’s the rare spells that intrigue me most because they’ve both got circus applications. First, we have favorable review, which forces people to say nice things about a performance. The trick there would be to find the RIGHT people to cast it on; I doubt you can cast it on enough Joe/Jane Citizens to singlehandedly get the crowd to go nuts, but does Golarion have Instagram influencers? The pyrotechnics spell seems like it would be circus-useful as well, because it adds “flair” (for lack of a better word) to an existing fire act… can adding fireworks to Hap’s act or the Flambonis squeeze a few extra points out?

I assume there’s still a room or two to be cleared since Uthadar is still whining about how the temple isn’t cleansed yet, but I admit I’m a little fuzzy on the map at this point. The map is available on the Discord channel, and I can piece together what SOME of the rooms are – I THINK the upper right corner of the map is the part they haven’t visited yet – but getting fully re-oriented would involve going back and re-listening to the entire Moonstone Temple arc focusing almost entirely on compass directions, which… let’s be honest, sounds like a drag. At some point, this is a blog, not a research paper; I’ll just be comfortable with my wrongness.

So next week, we get back to the fighting, and one of these times they’ll finally clear this place out. Maybe it’ll be next time, maybe it won’t, but I guess we’ll find out together. 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|24: You Sit on a Throne of Lies

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|24: Death By Healing.

Sorry, this week’s Talking is a little late. Real-life intrudes in the form of… well, take your pick: a teenage son who’s a little behind on his assignments in school and needs a little help getting across the finish line, or sitting in a dark room pouting because my hometown hockey team’s been eliminated from the playoffs. Perhaps a bit of both.

Also, I have to admit I needed multiple listens to figure out exactly what was going on with the Hap and Darius “wish” scene at the end of the episode. I kept getting interrupted by other things and Loren was being a little cagey and leaning into the roleplay in her descriptions, so I couldn’t quite piece together what was happening at first. Just that it was weird and silly and… ok, maybe a little disturbing when Darius cradles Hap like a baby when making his wish.

I think I managed to piece it together, though. Both Vanessa and Loren mention using a 4th-level spell slot on this project, whatever it is. (The “nah, you don’t need that for healing” joke.) Going through the spell list, the spell creation, which creates a temporary object from eldritch energy, fits the bill. If you need some supporting evidence, I’d point out that since it’s on the primal spell list, the created object must be of vegetable matter – which would explain the detail of the plate being made of wood and the fact that it didn’t really taste like bacon.

Which misses the forest for the trees a bit. The hidden scandal of the episode. Hap tried to foist VEGAN BACON on Darius. That’s just wrong. Friendships have ended over less. If Darius defects to the Celestial Menagerie at some future point… this is the moment time travelers from the future will have to go back and undo.

COME BACK WHEN YOU CAN MAKE REAL BACON FROM A PIG, GENIE-GIRL.

But OK… all of this is me dancing around an uncomfortable conversation. For one of the few times ever for this space, I’m going to put on my Poindexter glasses, go full Rules Lawyer, and blow out the central premise of this week’s episode.

Ateran should not have been in any danger of being killed by their own healing spell.

Sorry. It brings me no joy to say it because it was “great radio” in the moment. As I write this, I feel like I’m telling a bunch of 10-year-olds Santa doesn’t exist. But the rules are pretty clear, and I guess I’m a little surprised both Steve and Vanessa missed it since they both usually know this stuff inside and out. Reading the text of Spirit Link, it’s right there in the last sentence: “You can Dismiss this spell, and if you’re ever at 0 Hit Points, spirit link ends automatically”. “You” in this case, is the caster.

That’s not the least bit ambiguous. It’s true that Spirit Link is a fire-and-forget, rather than a sustain. (Can you imagine if Ateran had to give up one of their actions every turn to let people heal?) But Spirit Link does end if/when the caster gets knocked out. So yeah… there it is, me peeing in the punchbowl. Feel free to boo. Internally, I’m booing myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still an exciting fight. It’s good to see the party tested, and anytime someone reaches Dying 3 and has to seriously think about breaking out the Hero Points, it’s an important moment. Personally, I also liked the synergy of going from one babau in the first fight to two babaus the second time around, and now three in the finale (even though one of those was the runner from the previous fight). But I’m afraid the dark-comedy self-inflicted demise underpinning the whole thing was a mistake.

Of course, one side effect of Ateran’s brush with death, however it came about, is that it cuts the exploration a little bit short for the day. We still have unexplored rooms to clear, and the mysteries connected to Ulthadar remain to be untangled for at least another episode. Also, I had to go back and check, but there was that handwritten note that I BET contains a whole lot of plot dump; in the aftermath of making sure Ateran didn’t die, the party forgot to really look at that. Since xulgaths aren’t known for their beautiful penmanship and I’d think anything “original” would’ve been destroyed by age or the xulgaths trashing the place… I’m actually going to put $5 that Mistress Dusklight is either the author or the recipient and it explains more about her role in all of this. That’s my thinking for now, and I stand ready to be proven wrong next episode, or whenever they get back to looking at it.

So yeah… kind of a “short” episode this week – yeah, still an hour-forty, but when you spend most of it fighting, it doesn’t leave as much to write about. I assume the gang will return tomorrow to take another swing at the pinata since we haven’t really heard anything circus-related recently and since this seems to be the main plot focus.

Speaking of which, I thought it was an interesting point Steve made about having the circus itself exist as a ready-made pool of party members ready to go if someone DOES die. The snake-lady could be upgraded to a druid or ranger, you could make a rogue out of a member of the Feather Fall Five or the Dwarven Throwers; we don’t know what the “real” Jellico can do, but maybe he turns out to be a much better mage than he was a clown or something. And then there’s the new characters who just joined – the ysoki alchemist and Aives, the guy who defected from the Celestial Menagerie mid-fight. Of course, one could write in a brand-new character pretty easily – traveler hears about the newly successful circus and wants to join up and use their talents – but they don’t come with the pre-existing awareness of the backstory that those other characters do. Heck, with the new Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, maybe Riley can get a field promotion to Beastkin.

Just not Gibzip. If Gibzip ever joins the party permanently, I’m outta here. (And based on her reaction, I suspect Vanessa would be too. She seems to share my loathing.)

But that’s all speculation. For this week, rest, relax, and… I’m assuming… get ready to go back in next week. 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|23: Ride the Lightning

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|23: The Darius 5.

Sorry the column is running a little late this week. NHL playoffs are happening, Mass Effect Legendary came out, and we actually played Edgewatch this Wednesday, which is when I usually write. Sorry about that.

For once, I have to admit I’ve been a little turned around the last few episodes. I thought the temple was pretty much done… that maybe there were one or two more rooms. I completely forgot about the big door with the statue guarding it, and, of course, we find out this week that behind that door is a whole new wing to explore. So I guess our dungeon delve is going to continue for another few weeks. Not a complaint… the fights have been exciting and the action has been moving the story forward as well, so it’s a win-win.

But before we really get into that, it’s time for a brief visit to city hall to meet with the head of the town guard and write another chapter of Darius’ on-again, off-again romance with Kat… this time played by Rob P. (As an aside, it’s almost a little unsettling to hear Rob P. without Ateran’s accent.)

Now, look. The logical part of me wants to quibble and say it hasn’t been THAT many days since their date so Kat shouldn’t be getting that mad. But it’s probably best not to delve too deeply there. First, it would involve going back and doing math, and that’s more work than I want to put in. But also, if you start deconstructing everything that’s illogical or grounded in modern conceptions you eventually have to admit that Hamlin’s Hots and Muscle Fancy magazine don’t make any sense either. If your fancy logic is going to take the fun out of something like Hamlin’s Hots… I don’t want to live in that world. So… OK… we’ll fudge the dates and let Kat be upset. Hey, she got a coupon book out of it.

The conversation with the guard captain was a little weird for me because it almost felt like we’d crossed the streams and wandered into the Edgewatch show. Circumstantial evidence? Not enough to prosecute? Lt. Ollo… is that you? Though… in this case, the plot conceit of having the adventuring party perform the investigation is even more jarring than it is in our game. At least in Edgewatch, our characters are part of the law enforcement; it’s only questionable whether you’d send fresh cadets or more experienced officers. Here we have the fantasy RPG equivalent of a SWAT team situation, and they’re sending in… random circus performers who rolled into town a week ago? I must’ve missed that lesson in police procedure.

(Then again… Commissioner Gordon had Batman; these guys have the Darius 5.)

Our party returns to Moonstone Hall and bypasses the door. While I like Hap’s idea of just blowing out the lock with the fireball and would’ve liked to see that play out, I guess I do have a question: who locked the door behind the people on the inside? Mistress Dusklight, maybe? Did they lock it from the inside? Granted, this may all be overthinking it – Paizo may have just included a locked door to let people use skills – but it’s a little odd that they would take such care to seal themselves in.

Before we get back to the fighting, we have the encounter with the restless spirit, Ulthadar. It’s hard to know what to make of him. I guess if he’s a servant of Aroden, he’s one of the good guys overall, but there’s something that doesn’t add up about him just letting the xulgaths and Mistress Dusklight waltz on in. Especially when it seemed like he was going to go nuclear when he found out Aroden was dead-I-mean-missing. You’d think defilers would get merit more of a reaction. And what was the deal with the trio of ghostly sidekick ladies that disappeared? Put a cautionary fiver on “maybe he’s really been corrupted and is actually evil and is going to attack the party later.” As part of that encounter, I do have to give Vanessa credit for firing off her Aroden blessing to draw the ghost back from the brink of a meltdown. Of course, it would suck if she needed that healing later, wouldn’t it?

So the party resumes their exploration and finds another batch of enemies. And this time, it’s a bit of a greatest-hits of previous fights, as we’ve got a babau, a xulgath caster, and a random powered-up stegosaurus. (OK, he’s new.)

My first reaction was “what a difference a level makes” as it seemed like the babau alone was a tough fight just a few episodes back, and now it’s just another piece of cannon-fodder. And it seemed like the party was rolling along, until the bad guys landed a one-two punch to even the odds a little. The stegosaurus charge was impressive, but the big story here was the caster’s lightning bolt… and Alhara’s heroic decision to take the hit for Hap.

Among other things, this is one of those moments that struck me as a “Rule of Cool” moment. I don’t know if it’s strictly legal to jump in front of a magic spell that was targeted at someone else. I mean… lightning moves REALLY fast and follows magnetic charge; I’m not sure dodging lightning is a thing you can actually do. But as a storytelling thing… heroic moments like that are the backbone of good storytelling, so if Alhara wants to do that, you figure out a way to let her do that. Though I think part of what makes it work is the difference between “moving the badness around” vs. “getting out of the badness entirely”. I think if the party is trying to do something that offers an appropriate TRADE of risk and reward, that’s one thing – in this case, SOMEONE was going to take some damage, it was just a question of who. I think if a party is trying to use “Rule of Cool” to get out consequences entirely (or if it’s a trade, but the motivations are transparently metagamey), then the GM would be right to shut it down.

Since neither was the case here… good job Alhara. Though I’m sure Vanessa felt a twinge of regret when the damage turned out to be 80 points. Ouch.

Luckily, the party used that act of heroism as a bit of a rallying point and managed to finish off the fight, and the day is saved. They’re pretty beat up at the moment, and Ateran blew heals on both Darius and Alhara, so we’re back to wondering how their resources are holding up, but since they JUST went back in, they’ve got to have a FEW more rooms in them, right?

Guess we’ll find out next week. 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|22: So, Your Parent Is An Elemental Being

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S2|22: Geniealogy.

I’d like to start with a quick re-visit of last week’s episode. In last week’s column, I mentioned how impressed I was that Vanessa was so calm in the face of Alhara’s possible demise. Well… turns out I spoke a little too soon. Vanessa actually reached out and burst my bubble a bit: it turns out her demeanor was not so much “cool and collected”, but rather that she’d resigned herself to dying, and was chatting with our Patreon live listeners about what kind of character she might make if she had to re-roll. Well… calm is still calm, no matter what kind of calm it is.

Steve then asked how he sounded, and my glib answer was “disturbingly gleeful”, but I thought about that, and felt like clarifying a little bit. Sometimes we grumble about Steve being a little too excited during combat episodes, but having played with him for well over a decade, I don’t think his excitement is malicious as much as he appreciates a good story moment. If he lands two crits in a row, OK, maybe there’s an initial excitement that he got such good die rolls, but I think his REAL excitement is to see how this changes the dynamic of the fight, and how the party responds to it. If anything, I think it’s a backwards way of believing in us players and wanting to see how we’re going to pull the situation out of the fire.

Believe me, I’ve played with adversarial GMs who just wanted to “beat” the party. You can tell the difference.

As a player, none of this means it’s not INFURIATING in the moment when Steve gets two crits in a row and he starts cackling like a maniac. But if you take a moment to understand where it’s coming from, you can usually get through it. Or… that’s why we have push-to-talk. Take a few seconds to get the profanity out of the system and move on.

This week, the main storyline and discussion topic is the revelation of Hap’s ancestry. Those of you who had “ifrit” can stop by the window and pick up your winnings.

I have to admit, the minute I saw the Lost Omens Ancestry Guide, I assumed this is the way Steve was going to go with it. At the risk of oversimplifying, heritages are a way of injecting “half-X” into a character, so the ifrit as “half-fire-elemental” really fit Hap like a glove. I just didn’t know how complete of a retcon it was going to be – whether Steve was going to rebuild Hap from Level 1 as an ifrit to clean things up and make her RAW-compliant, or whether he was just going to drop Ifrit in moving forward.

There’s also the general question of whether you’d be willing to surrender control of your character to the GM like that. I have to admit, my attitude toward that has traditionally been one of reluctance. It’s not that I have some great master plan for most of my characters or that I plan them out from Level 1 through Level 20 in advance. But I do like the flexibility and control to write my own story. Look at Plaguestone: I was pretty much locked in on the Blade Ally as Brixley’s champion boon, and the story dropped the coolest steed in the world into my lap. If I had Steve controlling part of my character, would I have had the flexibility to make that choice?

That said, I have to admit Hap’s development has opened my eyes to the possibilities a little bit. Now I find myself at least a little intrigued about the idea of having things you don’t know about your own character and may give it a try in a future campaign. If nothing else, it’s more. We all start out wanting to be star athletes or astronauts, and then life has a way of telling you what you’d actually be good at. Why wouldn’t it be that way in a fantasy world as well?

Now, I do think this ought to have some boundaries. I think core class abilities ought to always be chosen by the player. I think it’s one thing to add “flavor” to a character; I think it’s another to just give someone else control of how your character functions in the core game. (By which I mean combat, mostly.) When it comes to feats… maybe. Ancestry feats are a solid choice because those are things you got from your parents and it really isn’t under your control. General and skill feats are more hit-and-miss because a lot of feats are learned as you go, and it would be weird to add a feat you LITERALLY never worked on or thought about taking. “We’ve literally NEVER been near a body of water, but I decided your character became an Olympic swimmer”.

On the other hand, you CAN throw it all to the wind. Let me briefly tell you about Nim, Bob Markee’s character in the Iron Gods campaign (pre-podcast days). Nim was some sort of techno-magical construct – humanoid in appearance, but an empty vessel when we found him. When Chris and I found his… pod, I guess… NIM decided our characters were his “parents” so he literally took his cues for developing his character – feats, spells, EVERYTHING – from things Chris and I expressed as we played. It started with alignment, choice of god, etc., and just snowballed from there. So if we said we needed more healing, he’d take a healing spell at his next level. If we expressed concern about his social skills, he’d train in Diplomacy. He pretty much let the party drive almost his ENTIRE character build and played the character that resulted. He chose the class (Sorcerer) and there were a few times where if we didn’t express a preference, he chose something for himself, but it was one of the more impressive displays of “committing to the bit” I’ve ever seen.

Now, I realize the Hap reveal kinda dominated the episode this week, but I did want to briefly tip the cap to Vanessa’s roleplaying of Alhara’s confidence crisis. We’re so used to Alhara as the ultra-competitive “oh yeah, not if I kill him first!” attitude that it was an interesting change of pace to hear her sound discouraged and even aware of her mortality. It’ll be interesting to see if this is going to be “short-term pep talk” territory or if Vanessa will play around with that and make Alhara more cautious in future battles.

Also, I’d like to go on record as being with Team “Hat Or No Hat, Gibzip Can Die In A Fire”. There’s NO circus act that’s worth continuing to put up with that whiny little…

Sorry, where was I?

Next week… it feels like confronting Mistress Dusklight before the Celestial Menagerie skips town might be the next thing to do, especially now that we know all these new truths about Hap. Although there is still that one room in the temple they didn’t go into. Do we go back for one more round?  Or is it time to get back to circus-ing? I guess we’ll find out next week. While you wait, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show. As always, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.