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The Sideshow S3|24: Mourning Wood

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|24: I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK.

I’m gonna start this week by swimming in some deeper waters than usual.

I can’t be the only one who got a little twinge of discomfort about titling an episode after a 50-year-old sketch that basically mines the concept of gender dysphoria for a laugh, can I? I don’t want to turn this into a whole big thing about “THE CANSEL KULCHER”, but I mean… can we at least be honest that some shit doesn’t age well?

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t for one second think there was any malicious intent in the choice; at worst a little bit of tunnel vision, compounded by trying to slam out multiple episodes getting ready for vacation. I know how choosing episode titles goes: find either a pop-culture reference or a play on words, and run with it. (Or for the advanced user: a wordplay that CREATES a pop-culture reference… like those nesting dolls.) And I’d be the first to concede Monty Python’s Lumberjack Sketch is probably the ONLY major piece of pop-culture dedicated to the forestry arts, and probably the single Python sketch best-known to casual/non-fans. So I can understand why it would leap to mind as an “obvious” choice. “Defense will stipulate”, as the courtroom drama TV shows say.

But if I’m going to have this little soapbox at all, I can’t just passively nod along with things: I have to be honest that I would’ve gone a different direction with it. Dead Parrot has aged like fine wine. Personally, I find World Forum to be underrated gem (“Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Leicester, 3-1” is the “Hamilton wrote the other 51!” of my youth). But let’s put Lumberjack up on the high shelf, shall we? Even if it does mean we have to dig deeper into our bag of “wood” puns.

Speaking of wood… holy crap did our crew “work blue” this episode.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint, more me expressing my surprise. I’m not some grumpy prude, and we never EXPLICITLY promised to be kid-friendly. But I have to admit I was a little surprised how much Steve left in the final cut. We’ve never really had a formal policy on adult content, but I think informally, we shoot for PG-13 – a little bit of swearing and innuendo, but choose your spots for it. It ends up working out like The Walking Dead – we get the equivalent of one F-bomb per season. Two cast members discussing their OUT-OF-CHARACTER aptitude for sucking… runes… seems like it’s out in “hard R” territory, and later there was a reference to “taking wood” that would’ve gotten a hearty “Oh My” from George Takei.

Again, I don’t have a problem with it. This is supposed to be “slice of life at a real gaming table”, and sometimes real people Go There. It’s just surprising to hear the envelope being pushed that far, given the overall tone of the show up to this point. A surprise that seemed to be shared by some people on the Discord channel as well.

The discussion of the… runes… of course, came out of Alhara and Ateran finding a magic bow amongst the spider’s victims; specifically an Oathbow. I won’t regurgitate the discussion that was already in the show, but I’d add two observations. The first is it also has the critical weapon specialization effect, which for bows, is to pin a target to a nearby surface, immobilizing them. Granted, only a DC10 to escape, but if allies can get an attack in first, that’s kind of handy. The second is a bit of clarification that might make the bow less powerful, depending on where you land on semantics. The reset for the oath says “if you kill the creature you’ve sworn an oath against”. So a) how specific is that “YOU”; if a party member gets the killshot, does it count? Also b) if you incapacitate them instead of killing, does THAT count? I was about to say Basil needs one of these in the Edgewatch campaign, but if it takes a week to reset because we’re taking people alive… maybe not.

It is interesting for me to watch Vanessa wrestle with a weapon that’s not really part of her character concept, because I went through pretty much the same thing with Basil. I was – and still am – in love with my sword-cane, especially once I got a unique one that can also apply poisons. So when I got a magic bow, I will admit to being a little skeptical. But once I started using it, and in particular, once I saw how well it played with the Investigator’s Devise a Stratagem, not only did I come around to loving it, but I also doubled-down by adding the Eldritch Archer archetype. I’ll be following this one closely to see what Vanessa decides. Though technically “it’s worth 1300g” is also a decision.

In terms of story, our team finally arrives in Turpin Rowe. The first thing we notice on the way into town is that the surrounding area is deforested, though I’m not sure I got a sense of whether that should read as “symptoms of a malfunctioning tower” or more generally conveying signs that this town is about industry and is overusing the lands a little bit.

Once our circus troupe arrives, we get a bit of a wrinkle, as they’re not really welcomed with open arms. Yes, they’re welcome to come to the Stump Festival and spend money, but the town mayor views the circus as competition, and doesn’t really want them performing during the festival. So that’s a little different. Certainly within this book, the circus has generally had free rein to perform; here, it’s “dig stumps out of the ground, we’ll get back to you in two weeks when the festival is over”.

Though, OK… mild potential plot hole: wouldn’t Opper Vandy have known that the people of Turpin Rowe were so insular and have communicated that to the players back when they first arrived on the island?

The other surprise is that the mayor seems indifferent to the fate of the tower, and doesn’t really see it as worth investigating. That suggests that MAYBE the xulgaths haven’t reached it yet, or perhaps they failed there as well.

On the other hand, the mayor DOES seem pretty fired up to have our heroes investigate the murders, so that seems like the best way to get themselves in with the townsfolk. We get a little bit of background, but the real investigation will begin next week. As always feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|23: Flight Club

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|23: Spider Babies.

I know, I know. I’m WAY late this week. I don’t have a good answer beyond being stuck in a doom-scrolling cycle. Oddly enough, you can hit “refresh” all you want and there are still Russian troops in Ukraine and really unpleasant legal shenanigans in certain southern states. And then for the cherry on the poop sundae, I had tickets to see John Mayer last Friday – first live music in over two years — and then he got COVID and had to cancel. So OK… I’ve been in a mini-funk.

And all of that is before we talk about Pin. F’ing. Tingwheely.

Last week, I thought I had found my new least favorite NPC in the history of this show, but nooooope. Runk-Runk had a strong debut, but lasted all of one week in the top spot before being ousted by our new flying annoyance. I swear, when Ateran said “we have a circus…” and started to extend the offer, I let out an audible “NOOO” which has since been preserved on our Discord channel in Michael Scott GIF format.

As an aside, I figured out who Pin reminds me of. If any of you watch Big Mouth… he’s Tyler, the hormone monster. Obnoxious, whiny, vaguely clueless… the only major difference is not nearly as pervy. Maybe Pin can redeem himself with a good act, but I’m definitely not getting my hopes up. For the moment, I’m rooting for Mistdancer to throw a tantrum about sharing the “flying act” spotlight and grind him under her hooves.

And while we’re at it… did we ever establish for certain that Pin didn’t do something to provoke the spiders? Maybe the spiders were minding their own business and he decided to mess with them.

But before we get to Pin, we do have a little bit of setup to do this week. Our group has proceeded from Castinlee to the town of Cawshax. Cawshax itself isn’t much of a town, but it does represent the jumping-off point for the next set of adventures. Turpin Rowe and the Stump Festival are to the southeast, and the third aeon tower is pretty much due east (but in a forest, with no road access). There’s also a distillery further to the southeast, but that – for the moment – doesn’t seem like it’s relevant to anything. (But they probably wouldn’t have put it on the map, so… we’ll see.)

Thanks to the mayoral grapevine, we do learn that Turpin Rowe is dealing with a rash of murders. Hey, sounds like they need a special detachment from the Edgewatch to come take a look! CROSSOVER TIME. Either that or a temporary injunction for infringing on our crime-fighting turf.

We set off with the general intent of splitting the caravan – the circus proceeds down to Turpin Rowe and starts setting up while the party takes at least a brief look at the tower. Not a bad idea at this point – get a sense of whether the stone is still there, size up potential resistance. But the plan is at least briefly diverted by the encounter with the spiders.

Now… I have a theory about this fight. If you remember when this book first started, Steve suggested that they pretty much set all the encounters at the same difficulty, since the party could tackle the towers in any order. So we’d kind of been expecting that the early fights might be a little too tough and the later fights might be a little too easy. This battle was one where we maybe got a little confirmation of that theory – the baby spiders were almost criminally easy, and even the mama spider wasn’t really THAT tough. On the other hand, I do think luck also played a bit of a role: it seemed the big one in particular got unlucky with its attack rolls, and even when it hit, the poison didn’t really stick like it could’ve.

If there was an MVP to this week’s fight, it was probably Alhara. Well, more like… everyone did pretty well, but Vanessa was the one who really got a chance to use her abilities in ways that let her build shine. We’re used to Alhara going in first, absorbing a bunch of attacks early, and then having to fight on the defensive that it was nice to see her get to bounce around the battlefield and really dip into her bag of tricks. The one where she used her attack on one spider to propel herself to the second spider was… (chef’s kiss).

Though OK… I’m still not sure how I feel about tripping spiders. On one hand, lots of legs feel like they should make for a stable base. On the other hand, big body and skinny legs does seem like it would make for a high center of gravity. I’ll allow it… but I don’t have to be happy about it.

One thing that generally made me chuckle: the mid-show session switch. We’re clicking along in the battle, and all of a sudden, we get a new introduction from Vanessa and a bunch of discussion about how “we haven’t played for a while”. Now, I don’t want to be critical here… I don’t if Steve just liked the transitional banter that much, or if he tried to make some edits, but it would’ve just lost too much important information, but the joins between recordings usually aren’t quite so apparent. Still, it gave us a bit of a window into the RFC backstage area – we now know that we’re caught up to early January, since it’s mentioned that this is the first show of the new year. I don’t know about you, but I always like knowing how far ahead behind real-time we are. (I mean, I guess our Patreon listeners know, but I like to preserve my listening experience by avoiding that as much as possible.)

So the group eventually prevails. Spiders down, Pin added to the circus (sigh)… and it’s time to move on. Except that the spider’s poison has a parting gift, paralyzing Hap and leading to the creation of the Hapsack. Luckily it happened after the combat, so no real harm done, but a fun little bit of levity. Though I suppose it did kill off any lingering plans to go visit the tower, so maybe a LITTLE harm done.

OK, so back to town then. Except that Alhara notices stuff in the spider web. Loot? More enemies? A follow-up fight with a possible split party and one member incapacitated? I guess we’ll find that next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|22: We Will, We Will, Runk You

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|22: I Am Runk Runk.

There are moments when I hate this show.

I was in the grocery store this morning, picking up dog food and a few other things. I looked for the muffins I like to buy for my breakfasts in the morning, and they were sold out. Standing there in the middle of my local grocery store, I swear I muttered a disappointed “Runk runk” to nobody in particular.

MOTHERF…

I’m torn on Runk Runk as a whole. On one hand, the idea of a big hulking golem having such a delicate hobby is kind of interesting. It zigs when you’d expect it to zag. One would’ve expected a strong-man act out of a golem, so juggling and beast mastery makes for a direction I didn’t expect this to go. And OK… the banter with Riley in particular was adorable. Though given this group’s dedication to the scatological, a prime opportunity was missed for Riley to mark his territory by peeing on Runk Runk.

On the other hand, we’re gonna have to figure out some sort of way around the language barrier or I’m going to lose it and runk someone right in the runk. There’s a reason the Smurfs movie got a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. PLEASE someone figure out what language this hunk of rock speaks and learn it. My sanity demands it.

We’ll get back to Runk Runk and the circus later, but meanwhile, our party manages to… not save the day, because I guess the stone wasn’t actually in any danger. Well, that’s just a little bit anti-climactic, isn’t it? I guess that’s on me and my assumptions, though: thinking back on it, our heroes are supposed to visit the tower and get the blessings, and from that, we’ve extrapolated that all the stones would be under attack. But I hadn’t really stopped to consider the possibility that some of the attacks might have been unsuccessful and the stones would be unharmed. So I’m willing to take that on me, though the unintended side effect is that the big takeaway from this tower visit was another performer for the circus. (It also KINDA makes the golems the good guys, if they repelled the xulgaths, but let’s just move along, shall we.)

The blessing actually turns out to be a pretty useful one: stoneskin. That’s much better than raising and lowering water in a room. Or at least more useful for combat. I almost guarantee there will be a puzzle later in this AP where raising or lowering the water in the room is the solution for obtaining the Macguffin. Right now, I’m specifically looking at combat effectiveness.

On paper, the duration of the spell is 20 minutes, but since it goes down by one minute for each hit, it’s probably best to think of it more like charges. If an enemy hits you with every attack every round, it’s gone by round 7. Still, that means it has the potential to mitigate 100 damage over the course of the spell, and the upgrade is just around the corner at the Level 6 version (the party hasn’t been using their boons much, but I’ve been assuming Aroden boons auto-scale like cantrips or focus spells). This is probably obvious, but just to say it anyway: the damage reduction only applies to physical damage. Magic damage still goes through as normal, though the silver lining to that is those attacks don’t consume a charge either. Fair’s fair.

Also, note to self: definitely worth picking up for Edgewatch. Basil is an archetype caster so he doesn’t get his Level 4 spells until Level 12, but stoneskin is definitely going on the list. Either that or just start scolding Seth to take it.

One thing I found unclear: did touching the aeon stone dispel the haunt? On one hand, it doesn’t feel like it would be directly connected to the dwarves or their backstory. On the other hand, the darkness dissipated, and I was assuming a semi-permanent darkness field was related to the haunt. Also… we are talking about deity powers here. Pretty sure Aroden doesn’t have to roll checks to deal with stuff like this.

So our troupe comes back to town, and among other things, makes an out-of-game decision to streamline the circus mini-game. At first hearing of this, I was briefly disappointed, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it’s the right move. The heart of the circus was the show itself and describing the acts, and they’re still going to do that. Rolling to see whether their fliers attracted enough people, or deciding between buying beer or new tent canvas… I’m not sure that stuff really held together after the second or third time they did it. For that matter, rolling 15 rolls to determine whether they made 8g or 10g feels like low stakes compared to saving the continent.

(Also, I think a lot of the circus drama was more interesting when they still had the Celestial Menagerie to play against. Now that that situation’s resolved and they’re the only show in town, the whole thing is a little deflated.)

The other place it might be useful is that it keeps the earlier acts viable, creating more options for the roleplaying of the show. If you stay wedded to the system, it means the DCs get harder and the lower-level acts eventually become untenable. But if they’re going to abstract it, they can use all their acts to construct the roleplay of the show. Snake Lady, for example. She was one of the first acts. In a rigid system, she’s probably done. In an abstracted system, OF COURSE Runk Runk can juggle snakes.

(OK, just spitballing here… since there are people listening live on Patreon, how about letting the Patreon listeners vote on how good the performance was and give the party their gold reward based on that? AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION FOR THE WIN!)

So with two towers down and the people of Castinlee duly amused, it’s time to move on from the land of cabbages to the land of lumber. The final tower, the Old Forest Tower is off in a wooded area outside Turpin Rowe, so I’m calling a “morning wood” joke by the 20-minute mark of next week’s episode. Similarly, there’s a feature on the map marked “The Distillery”, so… Al’s Ales? Pete’s Pints? Where are we headed with this? I guess we’ll find out next week.

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

The Sideshow S3|21: Rulebook Roundup!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|21: Math!.

This week is going to be a bit of a departure from the usual linear write-up. I found that this week, I was going digging in the rulebook a lot more than usual, so this week’s Sideshow will be more of a recap of some of those rules things.

Do I dare call it a “Rulebook Roundup”? Oh, I dare… I DARE. YEEEEE… HAWWWW, PARDNERS! (You can feel free to imagine me shooting finger guns if you like.)

The first thing that piqued my curiosity was the differences between stone and clay golems. I found myself fuzzy on what the significance of the distinction was (I don’t know if we just didn’t fight many golems in 1E, or if I just don’t remember those fights), or whether there was even a distinction worth mentioning.

Well, it turns out that they’re substantially similar in terms of base stats, except for a one-level difference in CR for the base models – clays start at CR10, stones at CR11. They have the same core golem antimagics (damage from cold and water, healed by acid, slowed by earth), though they do have different signature spell vulnerabilities: stone golems are affected by stone to flesh; clay golems are affected by disintegrate.

The real difference comes in their combat abilities. At the risk of oversimplifying, the stone golem is the debuffer, and the clay golem is more of a pure damage dealer. Stone golems inflict paralysis, have that charge that works like a bull rush, and can do an AoE slow. Clay golems can quicken themselves, rage, and their attacks do damage that can’t be healed by non-magical means. They both hit hard, certainly, but the stone golem feels like it has more nuance to it.

Speaking of abilities, I also wanted to clarify how the xulgath stoneliege ability worked, and that gets into our first real exposure to the petrified status. I had occasion to look this up recently – shopping for magic items in our Edgewatch game – so I actually knew the basics, but I wanted to hone in on the finer points. When you’re petrified, you literally become a statue. You become an object with a bulk and a hardness. You don’t age, and perhaps most importantly for strategic combat, your MIND stops as well, including perception of the battlefield around you. With the paralyzed status, you’re frozen, but you can still perceive and use mental checks like recalling knowledge. With petrified, you don’t even know what’s going on around you.

So here’s either a minor quibble or a cautionary tale about using keywords to arbitrate EVERYTHING. On one hand, if you read the petrified status as written, the xulgath would not have had the awareness to pop in and out of stone form like Steve was using it since they wouldn’t be able to discern the passing of time. On the other hand, if you take that sort of absolutist position it becomes absolutely as a self-activated power. Yes, I really want the power to turn myself into a statue in a way that robs me of the ability to deactivate it. So I think you have to handwave it a little and assume it’s LIKE the petrified status, but with some level of control over it since it’s a self-cast. So we also come to this: while keywords are certainly illuminating and can suggest the author’s intent, you can’t take keywords as 100% gospel because there will always be situations that don’t quite fit. Like this one.

Also worth mentioning: the text in the creature’s stat block specifically calls out grabbing a creature and then turning to stone, causing the grabbed creature to be immobilized. So there’s a tactical insight for playing one of these as a GM: have the stoneliege grab someone and have its buddies put a beating on it while the enemy is grabbed.

The other bit of rulebook fun this week involved gravity-related shenanigans: both Hap repeatedly falling out of the sky at the end of her round, as well as Alhara’s wall jump ability.

I guess the Hap one wasn’t really a rulebook controversy: that’s how cat fall works. Though the imagery of Hap bouncing up and down each round like a tennis ball is kind of amusing. The real mind-blower is the revelation that if/when you reach Legendary in Acrobatics, you can fall ANY distance and land on your feet without taking damage. Which, let’s be honest, seems a little silly for a non-magical Acrobatics feat. Get sucked out of an Airbus at cruising altitude? Just make sure to roll when you hit the ground or something.

Speaking of which… this isn’t a rulebook thing, but I found myself wondering what fall speed looks like represented as a Pathfinder movement speed. (I like converting units sometimes. Confession time: at one point in my past life, I tried to calculate what gold-pressed latinum from Star Trek would be worth in real life). Now, fall speed has multiple moving parts (acceleration, mass, wind resistance, height), but really quick back-of-the-envelope math using 120 mph as terminal velocity gave me something like 350 feet per 2-second action. If you were wondering. And just to bring it all full circle, someone who’s legendary in athletics just straightens their tie at the business end of that. What a strange game this is sometimes.

I also have to confess I also ran into a rulebook problem that turned out to not be one. When I was first listening to Alhara’s trick with the wall jump, I got the map a little turned around in my brain and thought she was actually jumping 100 feet total, which would break all sorts of jump rules. But I managed to get myself untangled and figured out she was jumping a normal horizontal distance and that the 100 feet was the distance to the ground if she’d failed her checks. So hey… a bit of a blind alley, but I learned a lot more about jumping rules, for the next time it comes up.

So in the midst of all that Rulebook Fu, our characters manage to clear out the xulgaths and the golem, leaving them with a hopefully clear path to cleaning up the second aeon tower. Is the small hut where the solution is to be found? Is there more unexplored area to come? Heck, are there any more fights to be had? I guess we’ll get into all of that next week. In the meantime, 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|20: The Game Mutiny

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|20: Master Blaster.

This week’s episode, for me, highlights the difference between the experience as a listener and the experience as a player.

The action in this week’s episode was… we’ll be charitable and call it slow-paced. The party’s damage was limited by the fact that the dwarves were incorporeal, while the dwarves just didn’t hit that hard: I think even their crits were topping out around 20 or 30 points. So the fight turned into a bit of a war of attrition – could the party get the dwarves down before healing resources (in particular) started to run out.

As a player, I kind of like that sort of fight. Second Edition combat is so swingy that it’s tough to fight every battle on the edge of your seat. Don’t get me wrong: those fights can be a lot of fun, but they leave you drained afterward. As a player, it’s nice to mix in the occasional fight where the stakes feel a little lower and you just have to grind it out.

As a listener though… I felt like this battle never really had any big moments, and as such, I was kind of missing the more dynamic encounters. Where’s Hap blasting dudes for 100 points of damage? Where’s Alhara dropping two or three rounds in? Plinking away for 10-15 damage at a pop… the combat side of it was a little underwhelming.

As an aside, this kind of pulled me back mentally to a similar conundrum I had in the videogame realm. Persona 5… probably one of my favorite games of all time. Persona 5 Strikers… it’s a different core mechanic where they go from turn-based JRPG combat to button-mashy fights, and every boss (or even sub-boss) fight was a joyless slog where it took like 5 minutes to go through a third of the enemy’s health bar. Which was a shame because the REST of the game – the plot, the interactions between the characters, maintaining the art direction, and so on – was totally top-notch. But I stopped playing it one or two bosses in because the core combat just felt like you were spinning your tires. I was getting a lot of similar vibes from this battle.

The good news is that our intrepid friends made up for it with the banter; in particular, the near-mutiny on multiple fronts against Steve. We had the question of tripping a ghost. We had the question of how a flying creature’s five-foot square works in three dimensions. I have recollections of other back-and-forth moments, but it was an episode where the usual tricks weren’t working, the players were trying to get creative in their workarounds, and it was getting just a little chippy around the edges.

The first thing that stuck out for me was just how generally off-guard it caught me. I’m kind of used to a little bit of back and forth in our Edgewatch group. As you know, most of that core group has been playing together for literal decades, so there’s a lot of history and some of it isn’t even game-related. In short, we shit-talk each other all the time. With this game, maybe it’s because they came together specifically for this show, but this group TENDS to be on better behavior than we are. (Well, poop jokes and double entendres notwithstanding.) So it was a little bit jarring to hear things turn a little testy around the edges.

This isn’t to say they haven’t had rules disputes before. They just tend to be more… sedate?… than they were this week.

It’s one of those eternal questions of the gaming table: how much the GM is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of the rules, versus how much the GM is supposed to be opposing the efforts of the players. And, relevant to this discussion, how much the GM is supposed (or allowed) to ENJOY opposing the players. Because it ends up being a weird dynamic at times.

At the 30-thousand foot level where the GM is just another player in the game, the GM should be allowed to have fun too. It would actually be kind of selfish of the players to treat the GM SOLELY as a stoic dispenser of the story. HOW DARE YOU HAVE FUN TOO? That said, if you think about it in sports terms, the situation forces the GM to serve as both the opponent and the referee at the same time, and context-switching between those roles at a moment’s notice. As the opponent, yes, the GM should be able to savor their big moments just as much as the players should. But that does lead to those moments where the GM-as-ref is telling you why the thing you want to try won’t work while the laughter from GM-as-player is still ringing in your ears from 30 seconds ago. And I won’t sugar-coat it; there are certain times where it can be difficult to shrug that off as a player.

For the record: using my usual pedantic keyword approach, I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be able to trip a ghost. Setting aside the general depiction of ghosts as floating and lacking feet, the incorporeal trait confers immunity from Strength-based checks unless the entity has ghost touch. And that cuts in both directions: the ghost can’t use strength-based checks on you (or the environment) and you can’t use strength-based moves on it. And Trip is most definitely Strength-based since it uses Athletics, even though the save goes against Dexterity. So… no. No tripping ghosts. [Stephen here, I checked after the episode and indeed, Jason is correct. You can’t trip a ghost since they are incorporeal and immune to all Strength-based attacks and checks.]

As far as the squares-while-flying thing, I assumed (I think Loren made this point as well) it would work like diagonals work on the two-dimensional map. That the first increment is 5 feet and the second is 15. Or, split the difference and just call it a 7.5-foot difference and apply reach based on that.

If there’s any consolation to all of this, at least incorporeal is less punishing in Second Edition than First Edition because there’s an upper bound on it. The rules have similar intent between editions (in summary: ghost touch is best/fully effective, magic damage is less effective, and non-magic damage is almost completely useless) but there’s an upper bound because 2E implements it as “no resistance/N resistance/2N resistance” whereas 1E’s implementation was “full damage/half-damage/no-damage”. So a spell that does 40 raw damage would do 30 in 2E but 20 in 1E. Melee attacks that do 40 raw damage would do 20 in 2E and NOTHING in 1E. Or looking at it another way, if Hap had landed another one of those 100-point scorching rays, 90 is getting through instead of 50.

So the battle proceeds, things calm down, and our dwarven buddies are dealt with… for now. As with all ghosts, they have the rejuvenation trait, so they’ll be back in a few days unless the party can get rid of the underlying problem. Which… I’ve got 20 bucks that says that fixing the problem with the aeon tower will free the ghosts as well. But we still don’t know how our team is going to do that yet, so I guess we’ll figure that one out next week. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|19: The No-Pants Stance

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|19: Rat’s the Way I Like It.

Oh, damn! They’re coming for us this week!

I know it’s largely tongue-in-cheek but I was admittedly surprised that the money disparity between the Edgewatch and Three-Ring shows became such a topic of conversation this week, but hey… here we are.

On one hand, it doesn’t really seem like it should be possible. The math is so tight in Pathfinder, and gear contributes so much to that math, that I assumed that every person writing an adventure for Paizo has a laminated chart telling them exactly how much loot should go in every encounter. It’s always been my natural assumption that this is all carefully calculated down to the gold piece.

On the other hand, there’s certainly some anecdotal truth to it. I have a pretty solid recollection that we got our first round of striking runes around the same time they did, despite their group having a 3-4 month head start on us. So I think there’s SOME validity to the fact that we’re walking away with more cash.

Steve makes a good point about our adventure having some different contours to it. First, there’s the fact that we’re in the capital city, while they’re out in the boonies. I don’t know that Paizo formally takes cost-of-living into account, but jobs in New York City pay better than jobs in Boise, Idaho. There’s also the fact that we’re supposed to be cops, so I think some of the traditional opportunities for looting are just converted to cash payouts – either by the writers of the adventures, or it’s something Steve’s adjusting on the fly. Kill a bunch of xulgaths… yeah, you can take their stuff. “Arrest” a burglar and all the property has to either be held as evidence or returned to the people he stole it from.

On the other hand, I think part of it is also how we spend the money we do get. I notice the Three-Ring group tends to go in a bit more with utility items and consumables, whereas in our group, everyone except Seth/Gomez pretty much just saves for the big combat expenditures – weapons, armor, the occasional healing potion. Gomez is the only one who’s going heavy on consumables, and guess what… he’s also broke compared to the rest of us. So maybe it’s not so much that we get more than they do, as much as it is that they spread it around a little more and we hold our coin for the “big” purchases. So when we can afford the big things quicker, it seems like we have more money.

It’s also kind of a sidebar, but I’d actually be interested in seeing the Battlezoo monster parts system in more detail. Full disclosure: we actually started using it in the not-yet-completed Malevolence show (follow-up to the Plaguestone game), so I already HAVE seen it a little bit. But since that’s still in scheduling limbo, maybe the circus show would be a good place to kick the tires. And it would be neat to experience it from the outside as a listener. From what experience I had with it, it seemed like it could be interesting.

I will say, that the monster parts system FITS the circus show a lot better than it would fit ours. The basic premise of the system is that you’re replacing gold and traditional loot with harvested critters that you can turn into upgrades. As a concept, that fits a lot better the further you are from civilization. When you’re a week out into the woods, the idea that there’s a conveniently-placed shop that can buy and sell hundreds or thousands of gold worth of loot is a little contrived. A system that lets that transfer from loot to usable weapons happen organically is a welcome addition. Conversely, if you’re in the big city, there’s lots of shops who can do that work for you. (And also, we’re officers of the law fighting a lot of humanoids… not sure we should be chopping those up for body parts.)

So… I don’t know how serious they are about it, but consider this to be me casting my vote to turn on the monster parts system at the next major milestone.

So, OK, all of that is behind-the-scenes stuff. This week, it’s kind of a short episode, as the team investigates what’s left of the aeon tower.

The first major encounter of the show is a shuln… and yes, if you’ve ever seen a naked mole-rat, that’s a pretty accurate description. (Which is amusing for me on a personal level because of my daughter. She loves almost all animals and wanted to be a vet at one point… but the naked mole-rat is the one animal that creeps her out.) In the context of the game, shuln’s kind of a pain in the ass because they destroy armor. Not quite as bad as a rust monster – which also messes up your metal WEAPONS – but it can be an added cost drain and inconvenience to have your armor damaged or ruined mid-adventure.

For most groups. But since this group is almost all clothies (except Alhara), it ends up not being that big a deal. Except for Darius prancing around in the nude, of course. IT’S THE STANCE WITH NO PANTS.

The negative effects of the shuln are ALSO mitigated by Hap hitting one of her biggest single-target spells ever: she’s done more damage against groups, but I think 104 damage is a new single-target record. It turns out to be about half the shuln’s hit points in one shot, and the team is able to take the rest of them down in a single round. So… so much for the shuln. Thought that was going to be a tougher fight than that.

So the exploration continues. The initial investigation of the aeon stone doesn’t really give any hints as to what’s going on. The machine that was draining the last one doesn’t seem to be here, so clearly something else is happening here. Our team’s investigation takes them into what appears to be a golem workshop, with a bunch of golem hands on a table. THAT CAN’T BE ANYTHING BAD, RIGHT?

And like clockwork, the golem hands start moving and making noise. (I can’t be the only one who thought they should’ve started snapping their fingers in unison like in West Side Story, can I? Stay cool, golems!) So… the captain turns on the “something bad is coming” light, and we’re momentarily given a sneak preview of next week’s fight… a pair of dwarven ghosts.

And that’s where we’ll leave it. Since they didn’t use much resources against the shuln, they end this week around the same place they ended last week: a little low on healing, but otherwise still fit to fight. I strongly suspect Ateran has some tricks up their sleeves for dealing with ghosts, but when in doubt, another of those 100-point blasts from Hap would work too. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode, 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|18: Where the Magic Happens

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|18: The Commutative Property of Pizza.

Apologies for running late this week, but consider it the downside of my living in an older, slightly drafty house. My furnace can handle the 20s and even teens, but when the temperature gets down into single digits, my furnace struggles to keep up and I retreat into the pile of blankets and dogs known as Blanketopia and hibernate until it’s over. Now sure, I could take my laptop to Panera and write there, but again, that would involve leaving the house in single-digit temperatures, and that’s not happening.

We start this week with the continuation of the battle against the T-Rex, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s just the universal nature of dinosaurs. There are so few things in this world that EVERYONE seems to love – dogs, pizza (the concept itself, though the battle over toppings can get ugly), Tom Hanks… and dinosaurs. I just love how the idea of dinosaurs immediately connects to everyone’s inner five-year-old and brings that level of giddiness. Though let’s be honest: if a 50-foot long reptile came stomping into the local grocery store, most of our reactions would be QUITE different. And not just because it’s not wearing an N95 mask.

Unfortunately, the dinosaur doesn’t really get to stick around very long, as the party has done a pretty solid job spacing out the encounters and can pretty much focus all their attention on the beast. Yeah, it stomps Darius into the ground in an amusingly cartoonish fashion, but other than that, the KING OF THE DINOSAURS makes it 2, maybe 3 rounds before going down. The T-Rex reveal? Fantastic. The actual fight? Kinda underwhelming, if I’m being honest.

The stone golem, on the other hand, not only took us provided much more of a challenge, but it also took us down an extensive rules rabbit-hole, figuring out what did and didn’t count as a magic attack. But before we get to that, let’s get to the reason why it was such a challenge: the golem’s ability to inflict paralyzed, which is… let’s be honest… right up there with doomed as one of the worst status effects in the game. It’s one thing to lose an action or take a -1 to rolls… but basically losing your whole turn (except mental-only actions like Recall Knowledge) and being flat-footed to all attacks? Well, that just sucks.

And of course, paralysis also managed to ruin what HAD been shaping up as one of Alhara’s best days in recent memory. She managed to one-shot a xulgath with a crit. She got a chance to showcase her Combat Reflexes ability that gives her a second attack-of-opportunity (much to Steve’s dismay). For a brief shining moment, this was Vanessa’s build finally running on all cylinders and it was a joy to behold. And then… paralysis followed by a full round of attacks by the golem, and she’s down again. (sigh).

But let’s talk about these magic rules for a bit, because we’ve got a few things worth clarifying there.

At the 30,000-foot “what were the game designers trying to do?” level, golems are designed to mess with casters who get into too much of a pattern and don’t diversify their spellbook enough. If you you’re a caster who doesn’t have a variety of ways to do damage, you’re kinda screwed. And… although Loren did it for roleplay reasons rather than min-maxing, Hap is particularly golem-unfriendly since most of her spells are fire-based.

But at least in this fight, she gets around it with the decanter of endless water, which gives her a water spell, albeit a Level 1 spell that’s got a lower DC. And she can turn into an elemental, which it turns out is a way of getting around the restriction.

Because here’s the thing: golem anti-magic is not the same thing as vulnerability and resistance. It’s kinda pedantic, but I’ve gotten into things with Second Edition where I fall back on keywords when I don’t understand how something’s supposed to work. Vulnerability and resistances are pretty much always spelled out, and if you look at the golem’s statblock, its only resistance is Physical 10, and it has NO vulnerabilities. Among other things, that implies that non-magical versions of those damage types don’t really apply against the anti-magic and should go through normally, right?

So, when it comes to Hap’s elemental form, her interpretation was correct. Yes, the spell that turned her into an elemental form was magical, but once she’s in that form, the attacks are her base attacks, not a “spell or magical ability” and the damage should be treated as non-magical fire. At that point, it would’ve still been relevant if the golem had fire resistance, but golem anti-magic would not factor in.

And OK, I probably would’ve given Ateran their telekinetic projectile as well. The magic doesn’t target the golem directly; they’re using magic to throw a rock – if they picked up the same rock off the ground and threw it, it would only be subject to physical damage reduction. Not sure why using magic to fling the rock makes it a spell attack, unless the idea is that the object does more damage that the same object would have done if flung non-magically.

On the other hand, these same interpretations would imply the party got away with one they shouldn’t have: Vanessa’s trick with the bag of holding and the lake water. The golem isn’t vulnerable to water, which would be the “Wicked Witch Of The West” thing where ANY water touching it would harm it. It’s part of the golem’s anti-magic, which means only magical water spells or effects would’ve triggered the extra damage. So take that away, and the water was just ordinary water. While I’m sure having 25 gallons of water dumped on your head is uncomfortable, it wouldn’t really damage you; it would just be a really awkward reenactment of the scene from Flashdance.

Going back to the last episode for a second, it’s also unlike that the Aroden boon to raise the water level in the area would’ve done anything either. In this case, it’s a spell, yes, but it’s not attacking the golem directly, it’s just raising the level of non-magical water in the area. The extended language on golem anti-magic’s Harmed/Healed/Slowed effects says “any magic that targets the golem” (emphasis mine). The Aroden boon doesn’t directly target the monster; it targets the surrounding water. Hence… no bonus damage, and therefore probably no damage at all – you don’t take damage from your bathtub filling either.

If there’s a gray area in this whole business, it’s probably where it intersects with magical weapons, and specifically property runes. The fundamental runes integrate into the weapon itself and just increase the ability to hit and the PHYSICAL damage of the weapon. But the property rune? On one hand, it’s still part of the base attack; on the other hand, one could argue it’s a “magical ability” and therefore the extra typed damage should be subject to the golem anti-magic. If there’s a tiebreaker here, it would be the expanded text of the Harmed/Healed/Slowed sections of the golem anti-magic, where it says “magic of any type”… that makes it sound like property runes should DEFINITELY be treated as subject to golem anti-magic.

Also, I feel like the math in Pathfinder is SO tight that an effect that COMPLETELY negates magical weapons, coupled with physical damage reduction, would just screw melee characters over so completely that it would be game-breaking. The rune system is one of the KEY mechanisms to keep characters competitive with monsters; if you pull that rug out from under them, that’s halfway to sending them into battle as Level 1 characters.

So yeah… golems turn out to be a lot more complicated than we realized. Part of me feels like this is getting off into the weeds like this; another part of me feels like this sort of deep-dive is EXACTLY why we keep this column around.

The real question is: is anyone gonna send ME a pizza for grinding through all these different parts of the rulebook?

The good news is the party eventually gets the golem down, and the overall battle is over. (Love how we just kinda glossed over the xulgaths, for the most part.) So now the decision is whether to continue on and hope most/all of the resistance was outside the tower, or continue on. The main danger is that Ateran is mostly out of healing, though the party still has consumables and most of their battle medicine timers are up. I’d also observe more at the metagame level that the stone itself was unguarded at the last tower; it’s just that getting to it was the tough part. If that pattern holds (because among other things, this chapter of the adventure expects us to visit three towers), that makes me feel like this was the big resistance and the tower itself should be mostly unguarded.

Am I right? I guess we’ll find out next week. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

The Sideshow S3|17: Where You From, You Rexy Thing?

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|17: They Have a Cave Troll.

Welcome back to Roll For Combat, Serious People’s Edition. The fart jokes and cabbage-related humor get put back on the shelf for another day, as our heroes head off to the second of the three aeon towers, the Liferoot Stone. The world – or this corner of it – isn’t going to save itself.

One thing I was thinking about, more in relation to last week, but it kinda spilled over into this week, is how our two shows handle humor. It’s certainly not as binary as one show being “the funny show” and the one show being “the serious show”; both shows have their moments, and all the individual people in both shows are clever and can crack a joke when called on to do so. I think if there’s something that sets the shows apart, it’s that the Circus crew will really COMMIT to a bit and run with it for a good chunk of an episode. Over in Edgewatch, we’ll drop a few bon mots, a movie reference or two, and then get back to our business. We don’t get in the weeds as often because we want to kick in the next door and fight the next bad guy. Here… you want 20 minutes of cabbages, you got 20 minutes of cabbages.

I was also thinking about the overall story pacing this week, and in particular, how the towers have sped up a little bit. The first aeon tower was an ordeal that lasted 3 or 4 episodes and had multiple rooms and levels to it. So I’d been thinking the other towers would be similarly drawn out and we’d be dealing with one tower per chapter of the adventure path. But the last tower only took parts of two sessions, and at least at initial external examination, it looks like this tower may also be a shorter affair – since some of the tower crumbled, there’s just not that much to explore. So I guess I’ve found the shorter tower segments to be a LITTLE surprising, though not really… once three towers were packed together on the same island mere miles apart, I guess I did expect the pace to pick up somewhat. I guess that just means we have more content on the back end after all the towers have been sorted out.

On the approach, the team did some scouting and noticed that among other things, there were a lot of broken statues in the area. So the first question is whether that’s just ambiance or whether that’s meant to imply there’s something worse than golems out there. There’s a little back-and-forth on whether to start with the golems, the xulgaths, or bypass both and just drop right into the tower avoiding both, but the team decides – in what will later become a prescient and ironic decision — to minimize the risk of bleeding encounters by taking on the golem first since they specifically brought tools for that purpose.

The combat appears to be unfolding in a fairly straightforward fashion. And then there’s one huge… gargantuan if you want to get technical… twist. Our team went into battle expecting golems, brought all the tools to deal with those, and then somehow the xulgaths managed to hide a T-Rex somewhere on the battlefield. So halfway through a fairly by-the-book fight, things pretty much went sideways for our heroes.

On the bright side, the decanter of endless water did turn out to be just as good as advertised against the golem, as it’s a once-per-round cast of hydraulic push. Granted, that’s only a first level spell, but when one uses the damage type the golem is weak to, that ends up not mattering because it generates an additional spike of damage – 5d10 in this case. At that point, the base damage from the spell is almost gravy. As a secondary consideration, it’s also nice because it’s only a single-action attack, whereas casting the spell would be a two-action move. The only downside is it requires both hands to operate, so a GM who really wanted to micro-manage somatic components could argue that Hap can’t cast any other spells while operating it.

The less-bright side… that’s the T-Rex (and the other accompanying xulgaths, I suppose – they’re not that strong, but they still have to be dealt with at the end of the day). If you want to get technical, our scaly friend is 50 feet LONG, not 50 feet tall, but that’s not really the point: the point is it’s a nasty customer. The 20-foot reach, in particular, is something that could make for a miserable encounter, though you’ll be happy to hear that at least they don’t also get attacks of opportunity. Also, at the risk of MAYBE spoilering future content, the T-Rex also has an ability where it can swallow a person whole. So it’s possible we’ve got that to look forward to.

So even before Vanessa said it, the moment Alhara charged, I assumed she was going to try and trip it, and sure enough I was right. Except… impromptu rulebook refresher… she can’t actually do that as there is a size limit to tripping – the creature has to be no bigger than two size classes higher. So for Alhara, that means Huge is OK, Gargantuan (which the T-Rex is) is not. So OK… no trip. (Also, it’s a good argument against building a trip build based on a Small ancestry, because then you’d top out at Large.)

The real question is where did the T-Rex even come from? The team did do a recon of the area and didn’t see anything like that. The quick answer would be that it was inside the tower, but are the doors big enough to fit a creature that big? Steve joked/hinted that maybe they had a pet cache too, but that seems a little game-breaking if that’s the case.

So as we come to the end of the episode, there’s both good and bad news. The good is that the golem is hurting; the bad news is that so is Darius (in particular), having been the recipient of multiple crits as the fight unfolded. I still think it’s a winnable fight, but it’s certainly not going to be the divide-and-conquer cakewalk they were hoping for, and there’s still the interior of the tower yet to come.

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

The Sideshow S3|16: I Fought the Slaw and the Slaw Won

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|16: The Cabbage Patch Kids.

Happy new year and welcome back to Roll For Combat, circa 2022. We’re back from the holidays and it does appear that the Circus show is recording again: I snooped on the Discord channel for the game sessions and it looks like there was some new content posted Sunday night.

Now, did I hear correctly that Steve says I’ve got writeups on “every show ever”? I might have to hold him to that, because boy, do I have some thoughts on David Tennant Does a Podcast With… THAT JODIE WHITTAKER’S A FIRECRACKER!

Oh wait, he just meant THIS podcast. Never mind.

This week, things just get weird and loopy, but we start with a small bit of “serious” gaming, as the team is briefly accosted by another fey creature that’s investigating the death of the satyr. Now, I feel like it’s a good thing a fight didn’t break out because if this thing slapped frightened 2 and doomed 2 on them right out of the gates, it’s probably kind of a badass. However, while Ateran failed their Recall Knowledge check to understand what the creature is, they got much better results on their Diplomacy roll and managed to convince the creature they were NOT the satyr-killers and avoided a possible butt-whipping.

Let’s talk about doomed for a second; it hasn’t really come up before (or if it has, I didn’t take particular note of it). Doomed is… in a word… awful. Because what it does is it lowers the amount of dying that causes character death. So if you have doomed 2, you’d die when you hit dying 2 (except for Darius who has the feat that gives him access to dying 5: he’d last until dying 3) and literally one crit could end your game. Even worse, if you stack enough points of doomed that your dying condition reaches 0, you die instantly, even if you have hit points.

Nevertheless, Ateran talks the party (and the circus at large) out of a sticky situation, and it’s crisis averted. For the moment. It feels like this stuff is meant to boomerang back around at some future date. Maybe it ties into the goings-on with the aeon towers or the mystery of the Night Lady. But you don’t just leave mutilated corpses tied to trees and not take it anywhere story-wise. It’s just not done.

So our troupe finally arrives at Castinlee, the closest town to the next aeon tower and the site of the next circus performance. And, apparently a haven for all manner of cabbage-related shenanigans. Did NOT see that coming. That’s right Steve’s all about cabbages tonight. The only real surprise is that the people who sing Secret Tunnel and/or greet people with “flameo, hotman” every other episode didn’t make an explicit reference to Cabbage Man from ATLA. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?

When not ruminating about the cabbages, the group does manage to score a little intel on the second aeon tower. Unfortunately the intel they get is that no one really goes there because a) there’s no reason to and b) because there are (clay) golems out that way. This time, Recall Knowledge is a little kinder to the party and they know they need to do water damage to be effective.

Now, there’s all sorts of interesting conversations that come out of this. The idea is floated to just use their new Aroden power, but that’s not really an ATTACK power, it just raises the level of an existing body of water. Are golems “Wicked Witch Of The West”-levels of sensitive to it, and pouring a cup on their heads would do damage to them, or does it need to be something with a little more oomph?

Then Alhara has the idea of filling a bag of holding – designed by Cabbage Klein — with lake water and dumping it on them in one shot. That’s closer to an actual plan… especially if dropped from above like a bomb… but still only one shot, and I feel like you probably want a more consistent source you can use multiple times like an oil or a weapon rune or something. Knowing how golems work, if you hit them with their weakness damage, you get a big damage spike, so you probably want to get that multiple times if possible.

The thing that would potentially be really interesting: is inviting the aquakineticist NPC along as an option? I don’t know if Steve wants to deal with that or not (Who would run the character? Do the NPC’s even have character sheets available?) and he might be kinda squishy and not effective in combat anyway. But it could make for an interesting dynamic. And OK… if Steve were to be open to taking the NPC characters into battle every once in a while, it would provide an avenue for bringing guests on the show. We used to do that more often – in fact, it was the guiding premise of the Black Lodge show – and haven’t really done it lately. (Worth mentioning: if you’re newer to the show, Rob Trimarco made his RFC debut as an NPC in the Dead Suns Starfinder show; he and Jason Keeley played a pair of recurring space cops.)

The group finally settles on a slightly different solution: a magic item called the decanter of endless water. It’s a glass pitcher that can supply water on demand, and yes, it even has an explicit attack mode that duplicates the effects of the hydraulic push spell (in addition to modes fit for polite society). So then the problem becomes where to get one of those – on one hand, it’s actually considered a common magic item; on the other hand, it is a Level 7 item, which don’t just grow on trees.

For this, Steve supplies us with an answer in the form of Alan’s Almonds. (Personally, I would’ve gone with “Armand” because then you’re hitting repetition on the beginnings AND ends of the words, and… what the hell is happening, I’m as bad as them, aren’t I?) I think almonds were one of the crops listed in the background for the area, and yes, it’s a real-world truth that almonds require a LOT of water, so it’s even sort of realistic that almond farmers would probably want to have a magical water supply available to them. So… the logic checks out. On the other hand, Steve manages to make Alan even more obnoxious than the cabbage-loving mayor, so negotiating the right price to borrow the item becomes a bit of a chore; so much so that I’m rooting for invisible forces to burn Alan’s almond crop to the ground. I may even go a step further and shed no tears if Alan is the Night Lady’s next victim.

Though OK… now per Rob’s suggestion, I want to see what “Fuck You” looks like in elvish script. I’m sure there’s some Tolkien fan that’s already gone there. GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH, DON’T FAIL ME.

So they’ve got a source of water damage. They’ve gotten rid of all the doom effects left over from the fey that jumped out at them. The circus will need a few days to set up anyway. So it’s off to kick clay golem ass and chew cabbage-flavored bubble gum. And cabbage-flavored bubble gum hasn’t been invented yet. (Mercifully.)

Well, after a few minutes of fart jokes at the end of the episode. Sigh. I mean, Steve’s not wrong… cabbage is known for that. Just a little surprised he went for it. Or maybe I’m not. We’re going into our second year of references to the “poop dagger”, after all.

Well, after our intrepid heroes pop some Gas-X, next week we get back to fighting, unraveling mysteries, and saving this little corner of the world. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show: we were a little scarce over the holidays, but we’re all drifting back in now. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S3|15: But Doctor, I am Pugliacci

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|15: Candlefingers!

I figured I’d give Steve a little surprise for the last Talking of 2021 and do it on time this week. HE’LL NEVER SEE IT COMING.

It is a bit of a short episode this week, so I may have to do a little tap-dancing to come up with a full column. I’m also a little thrown because I feel like a little bait-and-switch was perpetrated on us listeners. The episode writeup was all about a new performer joining the circus… and “auditions”, plural… but then Candlefingers was the title, so here I was thinking Candlefingers was going to be a new recruit. But nope… just Shoony Bennett. BOOOOOO.

So, our episode begins with the Candlefingers fight – or, as I’ve dubbed him, “Liber-ouchie”. (A third of you will get this reference, the rest… Google “Liberace” and meet me on the other side.) Not that I don’t appreciate Rob P’s rather apt Lumiere reference as well, but I gotta be true to myself. This has the classic markings of a “stretch your legs” fight. The team has recently leveled, so let’s give them an easy fight against a single opponent just to work through how their characters work at the new, more powerful level. I don’t know if that’s something Paizo AP authors explicitly include, or it just works out that way, but it does seem to be a pretty frequent occurrence.

Then again, as Ateran points out halfway through the fight… was it really attacking at all? The creature’s first move was to cast darkness, which was more of a defensive/escape spell, and then the whole party started whomping on it. I’ll grant, if you look at the picture it doesn’t LOOK very pleasant, but the truth of the matter is it never actually performed an aggressive move until the party did first. Then again, there’s probably some sort of golden rule that if you’re gonna jump out at people in a cemetery at night, you’re probably gonna catch some hands, whatever your intentions might have been. I’m sure once or twice a year a Halloween “scare house” employee gets knocked out, and that’s even when the guests know it’s fake.

So Liber-ouchie takes a quick beating and dimension doors out of the fight. We’ve dealt with this before back at the first aeon tower – it seems like the common monster build is to have the level 4 version of the spell for battlefield movement (often as an innate power it can use any time), but then have the heightened Level 5 spell as an escape hatch: you can teleport up to a mile away, but it has an hour-long cooldown. So… it’s potentially nearby, but it’s neutralized as a threat and certainly not likely to return until its escape spell is refreshed. (And let’s be honest, it’s probably not coming back at all; it served its purpose to the plot.)

When we get back, it’s time to add a new member to the circus, as the team gives Frank Shoonatra the sales pitch. Which lasts all of five seconds and he basically says yes.

There’s a little piece of me that thinks this whole thing is a little weird. If I’m doing my day job fixing computers, and some group of randos waltzes into my office and says “hey do you want to just leave your life behind and join a circus?”… I’m probably going to have questions and not just immediately say yes. Do you have dental? 401K? What’s the room-and-board situation: a trailer… a tent… sleeping on the ground? WHAT’S THE SALARY? And look… I know we don’t want this to degenerate into Roll For Human Resources, but it’s still a little strange that people just accept on the spot.

OK, I suppose it was a little less weird when they were recruiting Mistress Dusklight’s people because they were already circus performers and their current employer was a) torturing them and b) closing because she was embroiled in a scheme to kill their customers. So, if another circus offers you a gig doing what you’re already doing, in THAT situation I could see it being an easy “yes”. But if you’ve already got a day job, I’m not sure “circus performer” is really the upward career move it’s being portrayed as.

Then again, I think about all these reality shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” and they always show these LINES of people coming to the auditions because a) they want to be famous and b) performing for a living is more fun than whatever their day job is. So why would that dynamic be that different in the world of Pathfinder? Especially when your day job is burying corpses.

As a circus act, I do think Dog Dylan will have some good synergy with Hap… Hap can do some dancing and some fire violin and Pug McCartney can sing along… it’ll work well. Perhaps Ateran can even throw in some mojo from beyond the grave since he seems to be tweaking his build in that general direction.

Also, as a complete aside, I think we need a bottle episode where the NPC circus acts have their own little one-shot adventure. Even if it’s just so Gigi the mammoth can stomp some people.

Once the recruitment of Elvis Pugsley is complete, our party resumes the journey to Castinlee. After a little more walking, they find a bit of a gruesome sight… a satyr nailed to a tree with its pituitary gland having been pulled out of its head. Now… my first reaction was that maybe we’ve crossed the streams and the Skinsaw Cult from Edgewatch has opened a branch down here. But after that impulse subsided… I’m not sure what this represents. It doesn’t fit with anything the xulgaths have been doing before (and we’re still fairly far from the aeon tower anyway), and the Night Lady seems like her thing is more subtle, focused on fear and bad dreams. So is this just some sort of secondary road hazard like Kalkek? Or does it have larger ties that are yet to be revealed?

All of this we’ll dig into next week, in… (gulp)… 2022. I do hope you have a happy New Year if you’re into celebrating it; if not, lots of good stuff on various streaming services to fall asleep to on Friday. As always, feel free to stop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show (though it’s a little quiet over the holidays). Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you both next week AND next year.