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The Sideshow S1|11: I Want You To Eat Bacon Until It’s Time To Not Eat Bacon

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|11: Brawls & Bacon.

First, since Steve gave a show note about episode titles, This week, things FINALLY slow down a bit for our band of intrepid adventurers. And yes, I love that the definition of “slowing down” is “hey, at least it’s NON-lethal combat this time around”. Though the party still has to beware of the silent killer – clogged arteries from all the bacon Darius is eating.

Before we get to the action in the episode, I did want to pause and reflect a bit on episode length. I’ve noticed the last several episodes have clocked in over the 90-minute mark, and a few are even pushing the envelope of 2 hours.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you all and admit that as a listener, I’m partial to a little shorter show length. About an hour is my limit for one sitting… maybe I can hang in a little longer if it’s an important moment in the story. But I’m going to also admit I understand why Steve probably needs to err on the side of longer shows with this particular adventure.

First, as I’ve already remarked a few times, except for the first circus performance, we’ve had a LOT of combat with very few pauses in between fights. Even a “short” floor-mopping fight can take 30 or 45 minutes… just how it is. And I know that other than MAYBE boss fights, I know Steve doesn’t like to cut an episode right in the middle of a fight. So what do you do? A REALLY short episode with one fight? Maybe every once in a while, but do it too often and the show will be in Book 1 this time next year. Run two or three fights in a row? More satisfying as a listener… but also longer.

The other is all the roleplaying. Don’t get me wrong: it’s GREAT. But it takes time, and five or ten of those little interactions that would be single die rolls in a lower-roleplay game end up being an extra hour of footage. I think of the interlude where Hap and Ateran were reading the healing scroll and acting out the whole thing in real-time – in a different game, that’s “we attempt to learn the spell from the scroll” and you’re on to the next thing. Alhara going through the emotional turbulence about her facial scars and the heart-to-heart with Darius? That interaction doesn’t even happen in a lower-roleplay game.

So… you want to appreciate what this show has to offer, I guess you just have to learn to love a longer episode. Besides, we’re all in lockdown anyway, what’s another hour?

Speaking of Alhara and Darius, I’m giving out my kinda-sorta weekly roleplay moment to Darius for punctuating the touching heart-to-heart about love and beauty with “you want a piece of chicken?”. Sometimes I give it to the deep, moving stuff that touches my soul; other times, I just go with the thing that got a laugh out of me because deep down I’m an overgrown 12-year-old at times. Also… if Hallmark doesn’t have “you want a piece of chicken?” on a card, it’s a missed opportunity.

In other news, we did finally get a little more circus-related content, even if it was just in passing – “here’s some stuff you could be doing, but nah, we still gotta run down the mystery of the druids first”. I like the idea that there are both permanent and temporary upgrades to the circus, though it seems (at least for now) like the temporary ones are kind of expensive for what you get. Then again, I’m cheap and also grumble about the cost of dungeon-crawl consumables too. (Though I’m coming around on potency crystals.) I mean, if people trying to kill them is going to be a recurring theme, the safety net seems like a no-brainer, but that’s just me.

One thing I hadn’t really considered, but turns out to be enormously useful – using the other members of the circus troupe for rumor-gathering. I hadn’t thought of it, but that’s quite a clever angle and saves the party a certain amount of busy-work. AND it gives us yet another interaction with Cubby the Dog-Faced Dog, who was already shaping up as my favorite non-party character even before he got all testy with Hap for treating him like a housepet.

Based on the rumors the sideshow crew uncovered, the team goes out to the roadside inn and gets in a punch-up with the rednecks. The fight itself is mostly a cakewalk – or maybe it just seems that way because of the comparatively low stakes of non-lethal combat. After the fight, some combination of Darius’ bacon-related diplomacy and Hap doing her best druid impersonation by being nice to animals wins over the matriarch of the gang, and that opens up a further lead to the possible base of operations of the Rat-Hat Druid… a barn covered with weird vegetation.

(Somewhere in the Pathfinder Multiverse, a cold shiver goes down Brixley Silverthorn’s spine…)

Speaking of druids, that whole digression they went on about druids toward the end of the show: agreed and co-signed. It’s hard to judge “overpowered” when mine is only at level 2 so far, but they are a tremendous amount of fun to play because of their versatility. You can heal, sit back and chuck direct damage, grab a few utility spells… you can even wade into melee with a shield and damage enhancers like Shillelagh or Wild Morph. And that’s even before Wild Shape starts being truly useful, opening up all sorts of weird shenanigans. I’m playing one in our Black Lodge game, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

So next week… I guess we’ll be investigating the barn, and maybe at some point we’ll actually get the circus moving again. It’s weird… I’m very much a combat-oriented player, so I never thought I’d say this, but I kinda miss the circus aspect of things and want to get back to that soon. Hopefully we’ll get there in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Also, just to throw in the briefest of plugs, we’re one week out from our live appearance at (Virtual) PaizoCon so hopefully, we’ll see some of you at that. As always, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S1|10: Heroics are More of a Hobby

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|10: Disadvantage Sucks.

I have to admit my biggest amusement this week is that we’ve “crossed the streams” a little on Roll For Combat, as end up dipping our toes into what amounts to the 5th Edition “disadvantage” mechanic.

Now I know it’s unlikely, but just in case there’s someone listening to this show who has never touched 5th Edition and didn’t get the reference, let me explain. In 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, instead of having a bunch of one-off modifiers, they choose to resolve a LOT of situational modifiers with the mechanics of “advantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the higher one) and “disadvantage” (roll a 20 twice, take the lower one). So no “plus-this” for flanking and “minus-that” for flat-footed; something just gives you advantage, disadvantage, or neither. So these pugwampis the party fights basically have an “unluck aura” effect that accomplishes the same thing as the disadvantage mechanic – if you fail your save, you have to roll twice on checks and take the lower one.

The thing about “roll two, take one” mechanics is that they’re sneaky-powerful because of the multiplicative effect. I’m not going to put you through an entry-level stats class (at least partially because my college stats class was at 8 am and I got a C because I tended to oversleep it), but to put some numbers to it: I think at one point during the fight, I heard Steve mentioning that someone needed a 15 to make a roll, which is a 30% chance. Stats 101 – to succeed under those conditions, you have to hit 15 or higher on both rolls, which is (0.3 x 0.3 = 0.09), so… a 9% chance of success. If you were to convert that back to a single d20, that 15 – even rounding in the party’s favor – would turn into a 19. So it’s basically a virtual -4. In a game where the math is as tight as it is in Second Edition… a -4 is kinda brutal.

(And if you were wondering, a corresponding “luck aura” would turn that 30% into a 51% chance. Rounding and compressing to a single die, that 15 becomes an 11.)

OK, Math Nerd Digression over.

I think the thing that pleased me about this fight is that for once in recent memory, it felt like the team finally had one under control from wire to wire. I’ve been frustrated from afar that the team has been flirting with disaster the last several sessions – particularly the fight in the church, which basically came down to one roll – so it was nice to see a fight where they weren’t really with their backs up against death’s door. Granted, some of that also came from getting rid of all their disease effects – thanks to the healer at the church, this was ALMOST like the first fight after a long rest – so it makes some amount of sense that it was a little calmer.

I found myself a little quizzical about the decision Steve made to basically let the party swap out the magic dog statue for a +1 crossbow. I’m curious about what went into that decision. Did he misread the loot? Or did he just take pity on the party for taking such a thumping and coming out with a magic item whose benefit was mostly cosmetic? I have to admit I’ve kind of tuned out magic item drops recently since we’re playing Society and have to hand them back in at the end of the adventure, but for how hard that fight in the church was, it’s nice to see the party get something they can use out of it.

Speaking of magic items, I have to admit I did not realize that the economics of heal scrolls vs. potions were so favorable to scrolls. The flexibility of use makes sense – a scroll is an actual cast of the equivalent heal spell, whereas a potion locks in the single-target version when it’s created. I think what caught me off guard is that I had it in my head that scrolls cost more money than potions. I suppose the trade-off is that a potion can be used by anyone whereas a scroll has to be used by someone who can already cast spells (or someone who has the Trick Magic Item feat, I imagine). If your caster goes down, people can still pull potions off their dead body, but those scrolls would potentially be useless. Also, I suppose there’s also a little bit of action economy flexibility in favor of a bottle you can pull out and open with one hand, over a scroll that you probably have to drop or put away all your other stuff to use. That said, over on the Black Lodge side of the house, I think I’m going to go buy Nella a few scrolls (at least for after-heals) now that I know they cost the same as potions. Learn something new every day.

This week, I’m giving my tip of the roleplaying cap to… GM Steve, for the priest getting all chippy with Alhara and making her clean up the broken glass left over from her heroics. The idea of NPCs who are mildly ungrateful at having their lives saved just cracks me up. Though Hap telling Alhara to “stop being a bitch” to Ateran also cracked me up a little.

One other roleplaying thing I liked… the party actually questioning whether anyone else is available to do the heroic part of the job. I liked it because it challenged our usual assumptions about these sorts of games but in a realistic way. We tend to assume a party of adventurers is revved up and ready to meet any challenge the universe can throw at them. Our Black Lodge game, and Society play in general, assumes your adventurers WANT to make names for themselves and get rich while unraveling mysteries. You’re basically signing up to join the Scooby-Doo gang voluntarily. But with THIS story, it’s actually fairly plausible that a group of circus-folk would rather get back to their day job rather than cleaning up the town’s messes. In the context of THIS campaign, I think reluctant heroes actually make a little bit of sense, so it was refreshing for the party to allow themselves to express that reluctance a little.

As far as plot advancement… well, the quasit with the books got away. For the moment, the team’s giving up the chase, but will that resurface as a plot point later? There are additional bread crumbs leading toward the druid enclave, but it’s a gray area whether the druid cloak found with the monsters they just killed represents an alliance between druids and demons, or just a convenient fashion choice. But it seems like the druid enclave is the next place to go, especially since the town’s mayor is headed there, and might be walking into a trap if the worst is true.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. I do have some thoughts on our PaizoCon announcement, but I’ll probably address that in the next Black Lodge column since that’s the one that I’m explicitly writing from a player perspective. While you’re waiting for next week’s episode to drop, 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 S1|09: The Variable Length Arm of the Law

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|09: Bring Out Your Dead.

To start things off… a weird, random observation. I found myself listening on the YouTube feed for the first time this week. And it is decidedly weird to have the festive circus music intro playing behind an image of undead creatures swarming a guy and stabbing him with a spear. INCONGRUENT VISUALS! Maybe ease into that with a few seconds of puppies or something.

We enter this week in the aftermath of the almost-TPK, and the whole party except for Ateran is in varying states of unconsciousness, disease, and general unpleasantness. And the meta-discussion of the week is the difficulty of the fights in this adventure. Here’s my take on things – I don’t think the party was doing a bad job with teamwork; they did a decent job choosing abilities that supported each other. I think the problem was really twofold.

First, Second Edition, particularly at low levels, is just that tough. In First Edition, you’d almost never see a TPK at low levels, and I can count on a small number of fingers how many times we even had a character drop. And I’m not being all smug and saying it’s because we’re such fantastic players… I just think the math on low-level encounters, with a few exceptions, tended to skew in the players’ favor. Here, for a variety of reasons I’ve already written about and Steve already discussed – but largely because of the new three-action economy – low-level encounters are pretty punishing; if anything it gets BETTER and you get a few levels under your belt and slightly better tools at your disposal.

The other thing that I think was at play here was unorthodox pacing. I don’t know if it’s the way these adventures are written or the way Steve chooses to pace them, but there tends to be a cycle of building challenge level after each long rest. Not 100 percent of the time, but it’s more often the case than not.  So if you have a rest and enter a new area, there usually tends to be at least one easy encounter to ease back into things, and then you build into more difficult ones. And I do wonder if as a player, you maybe start to play to that expectation a little. You think “the first fight after a rest; this should be a warm-up” and maybe you get a little casual on tactics and you’re reluctant to blow all your best spells right out of the gate.

Only while you’re doing that, the Level 4 demon (in this case) is punching your head off.

OK, and the smaller third thing is they don’t have a LOT of tools for dealing with undead/demonic type critters, unless they wanted to use their healing spells as attacks. They have the cold-iron pick, and fire is almost always decent against those sorts of monsters, but they don’t have a lot of Radiant Good-Guy Damage. To contrast, we had a fight over on the Black Lodge side of the house where between my druid’s Shillelagh and two people casting three-action heals, the bonus damage helped make quick work of a bunch of zombies. So party composition might play a little bit of a role here too.

But anyway, the team survived… just barely… and we get a little deeper into the story. The team finds the local priest trapped and/or hiding for his life (arguably, a little bit of both – I’m not feeling like he was THAT eager to escape), he takes care of a few of their diseases, and he offers them additional healing in exchange for tracking down some books the demon’s accomplices stole. Which means ANOTHER fairly tough fight right after the team blew a bunch of resources. Damn, the pace of this adventure is pretty hairy!

While we’re talking about this, I thought the question about the town guards was worth a few thoughts. On one hand, presumably, this town has some sort of law, and they ought to be able to handle some level of trouble. Heck, if you’re also listening to our Black Lodge adventure, we’re currently running a scenario where we’ve been explicitly told “if you start a fight with the town guards, they WILL kill you”. But here it’s widely implied the guards would be useless even if they were around. So which is it? NPC Guards: cannon fodder or formidable force?

I know the brute force answer is “whatever the plot requires it to be”, but let’s dig just a little bit deeper. Personally, I actually jump genres and look to the superhero genre for my answer to this. I figure even a Level 1 Hero (aka: a party member) is going to be some sort of badass compared to a city guard; it’s like assuming the lamest Avenger (cough-Hawkeye-cough) is still more talented than a normal non-metahuman cop or soldier. But if you need to square the circle, you can assume a large city can afford some hero-level cops, but a small village like this wouldn’t be able to. So… Xin Edasseril (from the Black Lodge adventure) is the isle of Genosha is what I’m saying, I guess.

So we have the second fairly major fight in a row, though this one seems like it’s more tolerable, and SOME of the difficulty comes from the general beat-up state of the party – and the fact that Hap used a bunch of her Level 1 spells to heal the party earlier. I feel like if this had been the first fight of the day and they’d hit it fresh, it probably would’ve been fairly easy. The bad news: these guys don’t have the book(s) the party was tasked to find, so the chase continues and that probably means there’s going to be a third fight in this whole sequence. As my man Winnie The Pooh says, “oh bother”.

Also, I don’t know where to put this, but the roleplaying moment of the day was Hap just blowing off Alhara in the middle of her freakout about her facial scars. Looking for a tender moment between the two where Hap comforted her and reassured her it would be OK? Nooooope. Ice cold… but come on… also a little funny.

So next week, the chase will continue, and hopefully, these poor folks will finally get some rest and healing. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for them. Me. The guy who got beaten to death’s door by shrubbery. While you’re waiting for next week’s show, 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 S1|08: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Healer

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|08: Live, Die, Repeat.

T.P.K! T.P.K!

This week, we almost had to deal with the Great Unanswered Question. What actually happens if we have a T.P.K. here on Roll For Combat?

Because let’s be honest, it got REAL close this week – three party members down, and it’s not too hard to imagine Ateran getting absolutely WRECKED if that battle had continued another round. We’ve had some close calls with individual characters here and there – Rusty Carter dropped in the final boss fight on Istamak in Dead Suns; Brixley vs. Shrubbery in Plaguestone — but I’m pretty sure this is the closest we’ve been to a total wipe.

In general, there are two main schools of thought on how to deal with that sort of thing.

The first thing would be the full deus ex machina solution – have some heretofore-unmentioned high-level NPCs intervene on the party’s behalf. All of a sudden, the party wakes up in the hospital with a Level 10 cleric nursing them back to health. “The demon was about to finish you off when we saw the commotion and decided to intervene”. I did this with my Dads-N-Kids game once – it was a combination of “I didn’t scale the dungeon properly” and “they had a weird mix of classes with no front-line fighters”. Since they were just learning and part of the mistake was mine, I just had “another adventuring party” drag their bodies back to town and heal them for another attempt. The good side here is it lets you pretty much just pick up right where you left off. All the prior investment in the characters and story continues on. The problem is more emotional – there’s a Roger Maris asterisk hovering over the adventure because everyone knows the party died and got a do-over, and some people may feel robbed of some of their sense of accomplishment by basically having the GM save them.

Also, even if you go this route, you probably get ONE of those per adventure. After the second or third time random “other adventurers” start bailing out the party, one starts to wonder why the “other adventurers” don’t just cut out the middle-man and solve the problem at the core of the story.

The other major solution is to have the players roll new characters and pick up the adventure where the previous party left off. You still get most of the benefits of continuing the story, you don’t have that feeling of having cheated the system, but it’s still a little immersion-breaking and you lose the investment in characters you’ve gotten familiar with. (Unless people just roll the same character again and claim it’s a sibling of the previous character. “Blorf, brother of Florf. Yes, we’re both half-orc fighters… it’s pure coincidence!”) It’s also somewhat story-dependent, in that it requires the action to pause at a point where it would be plausible for new adventurers to jump on board. It might work for something like this — OK, maybe the circus hires some new acts and tries to continue, and the new circus acts decide to continue the investigation. But think about something like Dead Suns, where the party spent the last two books of the adventure path investigating a distant region of space that literally no one else is supposed to know about. How are you going to get a second party of adventurers just happen to show up in the literal middle of nowhere? (And… OK, there’s an answer for that: Chiskisk put a tracker on the team’s ship, and when the ship was destroyed and the signal was lost, they dispatched a new team of Starfinders to investigate.)

A variant of the second would be to elevate existing NPCs to PC status, if they are handy and if the players are comfortable playing them. Then it’s a LITTLE more seamless because those characters had at least been established as part of the story. Steve was actually considering this as a fallback option for our Plaguestone show – if our party had lost the final battle against Vilree, he was going to have us play the prominent townspeople with combat skills (Sir Kent, Pari, Dalma, etc.) and try to repel the final attack with THOSE characters. But that requires a level of players deferring to the story that some players might not be interested in – it’s almost like being “forced” to run a pre-gen. Going back to Plaguestone, I’d have done that for one final battle to see how the story ended. But if Brixley had died in the shrubbery battle, I’m not sure I would have had much enthusiasm for being “stuck” running a random townsperson for another 2-3 months. And OK… what if you pick an NPC that turns out to be an important story point later? “My character died? It’s cool… I’ll just run this Verbal Kint guy!”.

The other open question in any of these situations is whether the battle was relevant to “unlocking” the main story or not. If your characters die in a side battle, it sucks, but it’s not fatal to the campaign and you figure out how to move it along and do so. But if they were supposed to kill the bad guy who’s got the MacGuffin, and the bad guy wins, how do you get the MacGuffin back into the players’ hands? In this case, was this demon ransacking the church relevant to the sabotage of the circus, or was it just an obstacle to the party getting healed?

Of course, the final-resort option on all of this is they just lose. Put the adventure in a drawer and start the next one with new characters. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but depending on the circumstances of the death and where you are in the story, sometimes you just gotta walk away. Sometimes the good guys lose. That’d be hard to do in a case like this when we’ve got listeners who want to see how this story comes out, but there are cases where it’s the right call.

Luckily though, we don’t have to deal with any of that here. I know, I know… rendering the previous 900 words empty speculation… but still. I like to reflect on what COULD have been. Back in the reality of the game, Ateran’s last-ditch spell takes the demon down, and the team lives to fight another day. Whew!

I would observe generally, that it’s been a pretty brutal adventure for these guys so far. It’s kind of fitting that they can’t even make it to a healer without being attacked by SOMEBODY. I have to admit I’m a little frustrated on their collective behalf at the pace of the encounters, particularly given all the annoying status effects they’ve been forced to deal with.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Loren this week, for her vivid descriptions of Hap’s spells. Rob P. did some good work here with Ateran’s spells too, but Loren has the added degree of difficulty of incorporating fire into the theme of each of her spells. I just thought it was really clever the way she used fire to convey disparate concepts like attack spells, buffs (Guidance), and protective spells. (Quick: someone sneak Hydraulic Push onto her spell list to see how she does that one!)

So… party lives to fight another day. Just barely. Can we PLEASE give them an episode where they just sit around snacking on a cheese tray and doing the New York Times crossword? They need a day off. But I guess we’ll find that out next week. While you’re waiting for the next show to drop, 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 S1|07: The Goth Kid Likes Cookies!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|07: Thunder is Down Under.

I’m going to start this week on a bit more of a “serious” note by nodding just a bit to this weird coronavirus landscape we find ourselves in – it’s not going to be some 20-page foam-at-the-mouth rant, just a few things that are adjacent to the Roll For Combat universe.

First I wanted to give a shout-out to a great piece Rob Pontius wrote for Know Direction about gaming in this weird reality we find ourselves in. When writing these blog posts, I’ve always been in a little mental tug-of-war about how much to acknowledge the reality we’re all swimming in, versus keeping the reindeer games light and keeping the escapism turned up to 11. Theoretically, part of why you’re here is to take a break from that other stuff. But since Rob wrote something that really resonated with me, I’m willing to throw in my two cents’ worth of endorsement and point you in its direction.

To the substance of what Rob wrote: for me, it’s not the isolation. I’m an introvert by nature, I still have work duties that give me remote interactions with people, and I also have my kids living under my roof. For me, it’s feeling like the ways I’m spending my time are trivial, and feeling like I “should” be doing things that are more morally redeeming. Creative. Helpful. Whatever. I go the opposite direction and sometimes feel guilty that I’m “just” sitting around playing games (Pathfinder, but also a shit-ton of Persona 5 Royal). You’ve got doctors and nurses out there saving lives, and I’ve almost got the theme from “Duck Tales” (ooo-OOO-ooo!) memorized. But I appreciated what Rob wrote, and I wanted to put it on your radar if you hadn’t seen it yet.

The other thing: I know this was recorded a while ago and no one intended it, but this is the week it reached critical mass and became a little weird that we had an in-game issue with characters being sick with multiple illnesses and figuring out how the circus was going to navigate that. At one point, I was worried they were going to break the circus into essential and non-essential acts and lock people in their trailers. I don’t want to dwell on it, but I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the weirdness of the whole thing.

But whatever… back to the lighter side. First, I’d like to file a formal protest against the group for coming up with 80s parody songs without me… that’s, like, my whole thing! TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT! Also, if you’re gonna go to all the trouble to cover the B-52s, you really gotta lean into that Fred Schneider part. Don’t do it halfway. (I’d like to lodge a second protest about the anti-druid sentiment expressed in the last few episodes, just because I’m playing one in Black Lodge. This non-stop druid hate has to stop!)

We start this week with an introduction to the team’s Level 2 characters. There end up being no major surprises here, since they started to get into some of this last episode. Darius… very by the book. Mostly the same with Alhara, though the ability to ‘rassle’ bigger opponents seems like a bit of an odd choice since it goes a little against the theme of a dexterity/finesse-based fighter. But we’ll see how it plays out in real life.

That brings us to the two out of four multi-classers – Hap takes a dip in bard to add some dance flavor to her casting skills while Ateran went with the sorcerer dedication. Ateran, in particular, feels like they’re pointing their boat a little bit toward “party healer” between the feat selections and the choice of the divine flavor for the sorcerer dip. I like that we have two different “takes” on multiclassing to look at here. Loren has had a really specific idea for her character since Level 1, and to enact that concept, she needs to add performance flourishes to her casting. Rob seems to be coming at it from the other direction, taking Ateran where the story wants them to go – the party has gone through a lot of fights, taken all this damage and all these diseases, and it’s exposed the need for some healing, so it feels like Rob took the sorcerer dip to try and fill that hole in the party (and storywise, Ateran wanting to help their new comrades) a little.

Personally, I’m still on the fence on multi-classing. The main argument in favor is that I don’t actually ever expect to run a character all the way up to Level 20, so getting hypnotized by level 20 skills I’ll never actually use seems kinda pointless. If you can get a more flexible character at the low to mid-levels, it’s probably worth doing. And multi-classing generally does seem more flexible and fun in Second Edition than in First. On the other hand, every time I think about multi-classing, regardless of system, I start having that knee-jerk “so I’m going to give up Level X abilities and get Level 1 abilities instead?” reaction. I guess I just like getting my core class toys as soon as possible, I guess.

As we finally get underway and start playing, I think the highlight of this week was the extended interaction between Hap and Ateran during their trip to town. First, it’s two characters who generally haven’t interacted with each other much – part of that is intentional since Rob is playing Ateran as a mysterious figure, but still… we’ve seen Ateran and Hap interact with other characters here and there, but not a lot between the two. And the specific interactions were a lot of fun. Hap trying to play matchmaker between Ateran and Alhara was so perfect, and the idea that Ateran has a secret sweet tooth was a wonderful little twist. We’ve gotten like… 20 words out of Ateran the entire adventure so far (most of them disparaging druids), but put a pie in front of them, and it’s like they’re a whole new character! Who knew? Also, while not directly Ateran-related, I love how little regard Hap has for money – whether it was paying the baker a 60% tip on the pies or dumping out her coin-purse to help Ateran afford alchemical components, it just reinforces her whimsical nature. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, it was also kind of entertaining to see the Varus siblings both exhibit various levels of stubbornness about just taking a break and resting. I mean, they’re both down with illness after a full day of fighting – you could forgive them for wanting to take a break, but neither was having it. You wonder how much of it recognizing that the circus needs leadership in this crisis situation, and how much of it is simple sibling rivalry – I’m not gonna rest because you’re not gonna rest. (And in Alhara’s case, how much of it is putting on a brave face for Ateran’s benefit?)

After everyone’s back at camp, the major items on the to-do list are arranging Thunder’s funeral and making their saves. I liked the home-grown funeral concepts the party came up with, like giving one of his “closing time” speeches from the show and the “book of deeds”… the latter in particularly sounded like sending his resume into the afterlife with him. The saves on the other hand… oh boy. That’s gotta be frustrating that ALL the NPCs succeeded and ALL the party members failed (even with burning a Hero Point). That’s probably the point at which I would’ve wanted to end the session for the night. Especially when the one magic item was revealed to be an anti-plague AFTER the party missed their saves for the day.

As Marvin’s funeral/pie-party is winding down, the circus gets a visit from the mayor of the town, which provides a path forward in the overall adventure, as well as possible salvation on the disease front. It turns out there’s a hermitage of nature lovers that may or may not be affiliated with the attacker, and the mayor would like the party to investigate and represent the town’s interests in the matter. The mayor can’t really think of a reason why they’d want to attack, but who knows if he’s telling the truth or not? In return, the mayor is willing to hook them up with his private doctor, which I assume means a few extra, and or better, saves to remove their disease conditions. Since the circus probably can’t perform again for a few days anyway, might as well take him up on the offer, though the NPC acts are going to spend a few days in town doing marketing and drumming up ticket sales.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Don’t get me wrong… I’m definitely curious to learn more about the Bearded Man and the Dog-Faced Dog, but I’ll save that for when we get to know them better. 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 S1|06: Sick du Soleil

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|06: A Pox Upon Him!

We’re about a month into the Great Shutdown, and I’ve reached the point where I’m thinking things like “hey, if I ever wanted to shave my head and see what I’d look like if I was bald, now would be the perfect time to try it because I don’t have a webcam for my work meetings anyway”. Cabin fever: ain’t it grand? (But also, the answer is I’d probably look more like Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket than Patrick Stewart, so that’s gonna be a big no.)

Fortunately, we still have Roll For Combat to carry us along, and this week, we FINALLY meet the druid that’s at the heart of the circus’ woes.

Now, I have some minor complaints to voice. First, the overall setup is turning out to be a LITTLE like Plaguestone: we have a crazy person who wants to take revenge on a town of bumpkins – in that case, it was because of a 20-year-old wrong against Vilree’s mom; this time it’s more of an eco-terrorist out to punish the town for destroying the land. (Explanation forthcoming, I hope.) But that gets me to the second quibble – it seems odd to punish the townspeople by messing with a circus that just happens to be passing through. Wouldn’t you… you know?… (gestures at townspeople)…

The party briefly tries to talk the druid down from the ledge, but then there’s some combination of “let’s be honest, she was always gonna go down swinging” and “Hap kinda broke the stalemate by lighting her on fire” and it’s time to fight. There’s not only the druid herself to deal with, but also a swarm of rats, and a big King Rat. And as a reminder from last time, Darius is already slowed because of the encounter with the cockatrice, so he only gets two actions per round.

One observation I meant to make last week but forgot to mention – I love the flavor of Ateran including unique verbal incantations for each of his spells. It’s a nice little roleplaying touch by Rob. It also gives me a little bit of Old Man Nostalgia, reminding me of the old UItima games of my youth where each spell had a two or three symbol pseudo-Latin name – “An Nox” was Cure Poison, “In Lor” was a Light spell, and so on. Clearly we need to get a webcam on him and see if he’s also acting out the somatic components at home too.

As we get into the fight, one thing I’m noticing: I don’t know if “we” (including Plaguestone because it had a swarm attack as well) have been lucky with our rolls, but Swarms have (so far) not felt as threatening in Second Edition as they were in First Edition. I think part of it is that rather than flat “half damage” or “no damage”, it’s handled as a damage resistance, but the wider range for crits makes it easier to get over that hump. Just an observation; not sure if it’s borne out at higher levels or in larger data sets; maybe we just got lucky a couple of times.

On the other hand, we’re getting a real education in how bad status effects can suck in Second Edition. In First Edition, other than MAYBE CON damage, ailments tended to not be a big deal, and you tended to plow through and deal with them later. CON damage is the only thing that really stood out as something you had to navigate around. In Second Edition, status effects feel a lot more consequential and alter the flow of the fight a lot more.

I have to admit, it was neat feeling the presence of the “audience” for the first time. Black Lodge started a few weeks later, so we haven’t really hit that yet in that show. Though it does come across as Vanessa having some random non-sequitir pop into her head, and then you realize she’s responding to something mentioned in the Patreon channel. But it’s nice to have that extra dynamic of live feedback, which I’ll talk about more from the player perspective, when we hit that point in Black Lodge.

The battle progresses to an ultimately satisfying conclusion, but we’re left with unresolved issues. First, although we now know WHY Myron was killed and the other incidents happened, we don’t really know the truth of the druid’s accusation. Were the townspeople really “destroying the land” or was the druid just a nutjob? So we may need some further investigation of that next time.

But also – the rats managed to bite and sicken most of the NPC circus acts while the fight was going on, which might make it difficult to put on the next performance. Can people do their acts while they’re sick? Can – as either Loren or Vanessa suggested – new acts be recruited and integrated into the show? Can Ateran whip up some potions and make everyone better in time? It’ll be interesting to see how this folds back on the circus part of the adventure as things move forward.

Lastly, we get a sneak preview of everyone’s Level 2 characters – with a surprise shout-out to Brixley Silverthorn (my Plaguestone character, if you didn’t listen to that show), no less. Yeah, OK, they’re making fun of me taking a leaping ability I used a grand total of one time, but still… it’s nice to be remembered. As a listener, it’s nice to see people taking interesting roleplay choices rather than min-max choices – Hap’s going to throw a level of Bard in, and Vanessa is going to focus on leaping skills even if a defensive ability might be of more practical use. I feel like if I’m gonna ride shotgun with a show that’s going to continue for months or years, I’d rather listen to the adventures of a character that stands out as a unique creation, rather than Assembly Line Caster #493. Don’t get me wrong… you can make a fairly vanilla build come to life through roleplay, but an outside-the-box character makes the actual game action a little more unpredictable and interesting.

And as someone who’s played with Steve for several years, he really does reward – or at least not punish – outside the box character development. If you go for something a little weird, he’ll try to find a way to tweak the adventure around the edges so you get to use it and it doesn’t go to waste. He’s cool that way. The only time he’ll shoot something like that down is if it’s in danger of breaking the game, and even THAT, I can only remember him doing once or twice.

Since we’re talking about leveling, and Steve briefly mentioned it, the other thing to keep in mind about all of this is that at SOME future point, Ateran and Alhara will have to convert over from Playtest rules to live rules. They were originally built when they were still playtest classes, but my understanding is the live classes look a little different. So if things get out of whack in EITHER direction, there will be a bit of a “do-over” at some future point.

But that’s still down the road. Next week, we’ll get to kick the tires on the Level 2 characters and sort out the aftermath of the druid’s attack. While you’re waiting for that, 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 S1|05: Teenage Snakeland

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|05: Snake Eyes.

Welcome back to another week of Talking Combat: Innocent Bystander Edition. The relentless pace continues as we’re up to our fifth and sixth encounters (not necessarily all combat) since the first circus performance ended – poison spores in Myron’s trailer, bear, water mephits, cockatrice, and now dancing grigs and snakes. (Let me know if I’m forgetting any).

The first thing we have to address, even if it’s a little out of order, is Steve’s interesting vocal choice for the snake. Look, I’m not going to make fun of Steve because I can’t do voices at all, except for a really bad Sean Connery. And Ross Perot, which hasn’t been topical for almost 30 years. So I would absolutely NEVER say that it sounded like The Count from Sesame Street and Borat had a love-child. That would be unkind and possibly hypocritical of me.

Steve remarked on it, but I’m going to amplify what he said – I thought the choices in the grig encounter were interesting because they covered a bunch of different scenarios. First, I’m impressed they resolved it without bloodshed: our Black Lodge group probably would’ve just gone running in weapons-hot. But I also appreciate that they each took an approach that worked for their character. We had Darius going with brute force, picking people up by the head (I was immediately struck with the imagery of those crane games they have in Chuck E. Cheese) and rushing the center of the circle through sheer brawn. Ateran went with a knowledge check – fairly standard plan for your designated Smart Person. We had Alhara going more roguelike and attempting to get up high to do some general recon. And then Hap, in some ways made the most interesting choice, using Performance to “go with the flow” and dance her way to the middle.

The situation itself resolves peacefully: it turns out the grigs just want to party and didn’t realize what effect their music was having. But I still wonder – was this coincidence, or did someone send the grigs that way to create more chaos? If the murderer is really a druid type that can control rats and interact with nature, they might have it in them to influence the grigs to say “hey, go party over there”. But things resolve peacefully, and the party gets what we later find out is a potency crystal for their troubles.

By the way, we here at Roll For Combat are HUGE fans of potency crystals. Just want that on the record.

Anyone who was disappointed they didn’t get a fight out of the grigs didn’t have long to wait as the party stumbles on a group of snakes. The battle gets off to a rough start for our heroes as Hap wanders face-first into the minion snakes and loses almost her entire health bar in one shot. Alhara has problems of a different kind dealing with the boss – her best attacks are powered up by panache, but she tanks her roll and just flops in a heap right in front of the Boss Snake. Meanwhile, Darius is still down an action because of the Slowed condition. Things are looking a little dicey for a while, particularly for poor Hap, but the team pulls it together, thanks in part to Ateran blowing his big-gun Level 1 spells and better rolls from the Varus siblings.

In the aftermath of this battle, I have to admit I was really enjoying Loren’s roleplay of Hap, who is out to an early lead as my favorite character. Whether it was the emotional reaction of being attacked by the snakes she normally considered friends, or throwing what amounted to a tantrum at being asked to identify the potency crystal, Loren really nailed the “sulky teenager” vibe. (I should know. I have one of those at home.)

I think one thing I like about it is that it’s a fun but fairly realistic way of making the character unpredictable. “Wild card” characters are one of those things that sound great on paper – there are some great examples in film, TV, and literature of such characters – but they can be tough to do in a compelling way, and if done wrong, can come across as peeing in the punchbowl. An example of the worst case is someone who creates an “evil” character and then interprets that as “do the opposite of what the rest of the party is doing just to get a rise out of people”. “You open the door on the left? I open the door on the… RIGHT!” (And an entire table does a group facepalm.)

I’m going to draw a contrast here between Hap and Mister Peepers from the Black Lodge. This isn’t meant as a criticism of John – it’s just that game is more of a low-roleplay environment and the expectations are different. John is playing Mister Peepers as unpredictable, but since that group is fairly low-roleplay, there’s not really any rhyme or reason to WHY Peepers acts the way he does. It just comes across as random Brownian motion, bumping into things until something happens. That’s fine for that game, but compared to this game, it’s a little hollow. Here, Loren’s managing to take Hap and make her unpredictable in a way that is really relatable – she’s only a teenager, so of course she’s not always going to have the Rational Adult Reaction to situations. I know you can argue teenagers were basically adults in a medieval fantasy setting, but still… kids are kids, they don’t always do what you’d expect in a given situation. I think Loren’s doing that really well so far, and I’m interested to see where she takes it from here.

So everyone’s blown their spells, Darius is still slow, so it’s pretty much unavoidable that a long rest will be coming up soon. The mystery of Myron’s murder is still languishing in the “to-do” column but we’re making some headway, and it feels like we’re nearing the end of the line on the rat tracks, even if it’s just by process of elimination. Hopefully next week will bring some resolution. While you’re waiting, feel free to duck into our ongoing Discord mayhem and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S1|04: Darius and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|04: Man of the Mountain.

This week represents a return to familiar ground, as it’s a mostly combat-oriented episode, featuring not one, not two, but THREE different battles.

OK, the first is a little out of the ordinary as they’re fighting against the circus’ own bear, so they don’t want to hurt it too badly in the process. I have to admit I thought it was mildly amusing to watch the party try to use every skill-related trick in the book to avoid having to fight the bear, only to have it punch Darius in the face anyway. (Would a Society check work? Can we shame the bear for pairing the wrong wine with its dinner?) I also thought the imagery of tiny Hap trying to shove Darius out of the way was pretty darn hilarious. We need a special Patreon level where you can inject an Nat-20 or Nat-1 into the proceedings – it would’ve been funny to have Hap send Darius flying across the trailer. Ironically, the combat is ultimately resolved by, well, not fighting. The minute Darius steps back and gives the bear some room, it immediately calms down and makes amends by giving Darius some big bear kisses. (Which would be a lot handier if bear saliva had healing properties.)

I did have a thought, but it was a very after-the-fact thing – wasn’t there a bear-cloak in Myron’s trailer? Could they have calmed the bear down by wearing that? Either outright disguising themselves as him, or even just bringing something with his scent along to keep from spooking the bear.

After looking around the bear trailer, the team follows the rat tracks into our second fight of the day… a pair of water mephits down by the stream, kinda just minding their own business, hoarding rocks from the stream into a backpack. I assume mephits don’t really have “gear”, so I assume the backpack belongs to our druidic friend and the mephitis somehow found it or stole it. To metagame a little, even without Darius messing with their rock collection, the team probably needed to get that backpack and see what’s in it, since it probably belongs to Myron’s killer.

The fight starts, and looking at the mephits’ stat block, their big weapon is acid arrow (3d8 + 1d6 persistent acid damage) as an innate ability. They also have a conical breath weapon (2d8) with a randomized recharge (1d4 rounds). They are fairly “glass cannon”-y as they only have 20 hit points, but man they hit hard. As poor Alhara finds out with a vengeance, as she gets critted and dropped (fortunately, not quite reaching the insta-kill threshold, though). I’ll note that’s the second straight show we’ve had a one-shot crit – Chris’ dwarf got critted in Black Lodge, and now Alhara gets the same treatment here.

Luckily, the party is able to finish off the mephits and save Alhara, and we have some loot to move the plot forward, and some roleplay action. The loot is mainly in the form of a map with key locations on it – presumably, those would be additional places to look for the culprit. The roleplay? A little possible romantic tension between Alhara and Ateran brewing? I’m intrigued to watch this play out because it’s something our usual group doesn’t do a lot (OK… ANY). Our group might roleplay an encounter with a key NPC, but we don’t really do a lot of deep interactions within the party itself.

Once everyone’s healed, the search resumes, and we eventually end up at the third fight of the session – a battle against a cockatrice! My first reaction here is surprise more than anything. I don’t know why but I always thought a cockatrice was both bigger and higher level. I don’t know if I accidentally swapped it with a different monster or I’m just losing brain cells, but I never really thought of a cockatrice as a low-level creature. Maybe it’s the petrification ability – maybe it just SEEMS more powerful because it can turn people to stone. (Especially since in earlier editions, it was a single save.)

Ironically, the cockatrice, despite sounding like the most formidable foe, ends up being a fairly quick fight, though Darius (he’s having a rough session) manages to take a cockatrice bite and become slowed. He eventually makes the save to keep it from getting worse, but he’s still going to have the Slowed 1 condition for a day.

I wanted to run through the progression here, just for the curious. Each round you have to make a DC20 save against the petrification. Each fail adds a level of Slowed (essentially, one less action per round), and if you reach Slowed 3 (aka you lose all three actions), you’re petrified. From there, it’s a save every 24 hours: regular success means you can move again, but you’re still Slowed 1. Critical success and you’re totally back to normal. Failure means you’re paralyzed another 24 hours, and a CRITICAL failure means the petrification is permanent, and… you roll a new character, I guess. So it’s pretty fortunate Darius got off that train when he did, though being limited to two actions for an entire day is nothing to sneeze at.

For the moment, the team decides to retreat to camp – they’re pretty beat up and most of their rechargeable resources are spent. (And a tank with only two actions.) But they return to scene of turmoil… as well as a good place for a cliffhanger, as the entire circus troupe is stuck in some weird compelled dance. S-s-s-s, A-a-a-a, F-f-f-f…

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next week. Is this going to be a fourth straight combat for the team, or will they be able to finesse their way out of this? While you’re waiting for next week to bring the answer to that question, feel free to drop by the 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 S1|03: Rats on the Run

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e03: Plants Are Evil.

We start this week with an unfortunate “show note” as the news of PaizoCon’s cancellation is flying around as I’m writing this. Obviously, everyone’s gotta do what they can to stay safe and healthy, and it wasn’t totally unexpected, but still… disappointing. I hadn’t decided on whether to attend yet, but still… it’s a fun time and I know a lot of you were looking forward to it. Pour one out. Maybe we’ll see if we can do something cool Memorial Day weekend to make up for it – dig the original blue-box D&D out of mothballs and run a session of that or something. Dibs on “FIGHTING MAN”.

The other small show note is that it looks like the two new shows (and therefore the two Talkings) are going to settle into the timeslots occupied by their predecessors. So Three-Ring will run Tuesday with Talking Circus on Thursday, and Black Lodge will run Friday, with Talking on Monday.

So let’s get to it. I wanted to start this week with a brief follow-up on something I wrote last week. Last week I noticed that all three of our “main” adventures started with the investigation of a murder as the inciting event that got things rolling. It’s not meant as a criticism; more marveling at the coincidence that we happened to pick three adventures that all had that same plot hook.

Well, it turns out – as one of our listeners pointed out via email – the coincidence runs even deeper, as all three murder victims were dwarves! So first, a tip of the cap for connecting those dots. But also… OK, Paizo, what do you have against dwarves? It’s almost pathological. Paizo’s dwarven NPCs clearly need to unionize and demand a safer workplace.

Back to our story. We rejoin the action in the aftermath of the circus’ first performance. First, we have a quick pit stop to get paid and interact with the circus folk, and each party member gets 5g for their trouble. On one hand, 5g for one night’s work is pretty good money (especially at Level 1), but it’s important to keep in mind some portion of that is based on getting a perfect performance, so a “normal” payday might not be that high. (We also don’t know if any of that money is going to have to go back into the circus, or if that’s what the rest of the money is for.) I also enjoyed the interaction where Darius gave the rousing speech to make everyone feel better, and then Ateran almost immediately kills the mood Darius was building by suggesting they’re all going to get eaten by rats while they sleep. Well played.

Once the circus troupe is sufficiently scared, it’s time to start investigating. I was a little surprised they didn’t talk more with the snake lady since Myron was bitten by snakes, but instead, it’s time to follow the rat tracks. (Aside: you just KNOW this is going to lead to a swarm fight at some point.) Hap is playing the Nancy Drew role, Darius and Alhara engage in some fun sibling banter, and we learn Ateran has a deep but not fully explained suspicion of all things druidic. Make a note to come back to that – I sense there’s a weird story there. Unfortunately, the rat tracks don’t really provide much clarity, as the tracks lead to Myron’s own trailer. They certainly don’t lead to a neon sign that says “MURDERER LIVES HERE”.

Although… (breaks out the murder-board and a brand-new ball of string)… unless we have TWO plots running simultaneously. We’ve been assuming one druid is controlling all the animal-related shenanigans. But what if?… the ringmaster was controlling the rats and trying to sabotage his own circus, but then someone found out and offed him with the snakes? (Remember, I’m the one who spent half of Plaguestone thinking Noala was a plant working for the other team.)

Well, put a pin in that. They get to the trailer and Alhara gets to break out her Rogue-Lite skills and pick the lock, but that just sets the stage for Darius to eat a face full of pollen attacks. Oops. It’s a short fight because the plants aren’t very tough and have a long recharge before they can attack again, but Darius takes an annoying amount of damage in the process. Poor guy can’t catch a break. The fight is an easy win and reinforces the idea that a druid is involved in the shenanigans since the plants can be grown in a couple of hours. (And in the process we also get a thinly-veiled allegory about the dangers of vaping.)

As an aside, when it comes to the debate about Mountain Stance, put me down for voting that ground should be interpreted as “as opposed to flying or swimming”. Two main reasons. First, stances are not explicitly “elemental” – they’re supposed to be evocative of things. Crane stance emphasizes sweeping defensive moves, dragon style emphasizes kicks, mountain emphasizes standing your ground in one place. But also, it feels like the stance imposes enough other restrictions – you can only make falling stone unarmed strikes, you lose movement speed, and you lose your DEX bonus to armor class – that “you can only do this on natural earth” would make it so situational it’s almost not worth the trouble.

Once the fight is over, Darius gets his second batch of heals of the session, we have a brief search of the trailer and some history of the circus, and that’s basically where we end for the week. It turns out there DOES seem to be a path forward, as it’s implied the rat tracks continue elsewhere – I misunderstood and thought Myron’s trailer was the final destination those – so I guess next week we’ll do “Rat Tracks, The Sequel”. Until then, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and let us know what you think of the show so far. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

The Sideshow S1|02: CSI: Pyromaniac Teenager

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e02: Punch Drunk.

I don’t know if it was just first-episode unfamiliarity, the transition from player to spectator was disorienting, or if I was distracted by all the stuff happening in real life – maybe a little bit of all three. Or maybe it’s overload from The Week We Have Four Shows Running Simultaneously. But I have to admit the first episode of Three-Ring Adventure was a bit of a blur. Yes, I listened to it, but I’m not sure more than about 30 percent of it fully permeated into my brain. This episode, I feel like I’ve got my legs under me a little more. Things are starting to slow down a little and make more sense, and I’m feeling like I’m starting to understand the circus mechanic a little better now. Though maybe it took a little bit of combat (even of the non-lethal variety) to kind of re-orient me.

We start this week with Darius and Alhara (place your bets on how long it’ll be until I start calling them the “Wonder Twins”) squaring off against a couple of drunks in the crowd. The first thing that stood out was “how the hell do these guys have so many hit points?” YOU’RE TOWNSPEOPLE! GO UNCONSCIOUS ALREADY. Then again, you hear these stories about people who get all sorts of Liquor Strength and the cops have to taze them like 20 times, so I guess we’ll allow it.

More importantly, I enjoyed the effort Rob and Vanessa made to make their combat “theatrical” and entertaining – the moves, the witty banter, even Rob spanking the one dude after he was unconscious. It’s a nice fit with the idea of a group of adventurers who are also performers at heart. I just thought it was a really nice touch.

Once crowd control has been taken care of, we get back to Rob P. and Loren performing the circus acts (though with Rob performing as one of the NPC acts, rather than as Ateran). I guess we have our answer to how the circus rules work – anything that counts as “flavor” for the act just kinda… happens… as part of your act. If you want your fire spell to turn into a flock of birds, then it turns into a flock of birds. (As an aside, I like to imagine a class at the local magic academy where you’ve got 29 mages dutifully measuring quantities of material components while Hap is sitting at a desk in the back doing fire origami). On the other hand, you can’t make your abilities do anything game-altering, like an extra 10d6 of damage. Again, I thought both players did a great job of coming up with neat tricks for their act, though I’m going to give Rob some extra credit here for devising an act for a character that a) wasn’t his and b) was also a fire-based act.

Luckily the group gets lucky with their rolls – well, lucky enough, even with Hap missing a roll twice – and the team manages to get a perfect show their first time out! Meaning an increase in prestige AND a crap-ton of gold. To be fair, though, that crap-ton isn’t going to go so far once we get to the business side of the circus. I assume the other acts will have to get paid, there may be costs for renting the location, standard room and board costs, upgrades and repairs, and so on. On the other hand, I assume higher prestige means you can charge more for tickets, get bigger crowds, and make more money (hopefully) on future shows. Like I said in the Episode Zero review, I’m actually a sucker for the occasional management sim, so I’m kinda curious how that plays out.

(Also, it’s probably a byproduct of playing fantasy baseball 30 years ago before they had websites to do the math for you, but I LOVE a good spreadsheet. Making a note to check out Vanessa’s work later).

Once the show ends, it’s time to dig deeper into the murder. As the investigation unfolds it looks like the ringmaster was chomped by venomous snakes (probably the same ones the team cleared out from under the bleachers), and there are also signs the rats (the same ones that chewed the net?) may have been under some sort of supernatural control. One might even say “druidic”.

Now I have to admit to a mild pet peeve on reusing unsolved murder as the Call To Action. Plaguestone started with Bort The Travelling Merchant getting whacked, if you remember, so this is our second time doing this dance. (And now that I think about it, Dead Suns started with our spaceport contact getting shot too.) I will grant it’s a little more compelling here because the circus is meant to be comprised of people with pre-existing history and not some rando you met the same day, but still… can we get back to wizards dropping by with a band of dwarves looking to fill holes in their party?

Second, I know it just happened to flow out of which skill checks were needed at the moment, but the idea that Hap ended up leading the investigation was an equal mix of horrifying (by all means, let’s have the teenage girl examine the corpse because that won’t require years of therapy to untangle later) and amusing (Hap is now shaping up as a pyromaniac with oddly specific knowledge of snakes and rats… cool).

So we end the week at a crossroads. “Follow up on the murder” seems like the obvious choice, but we might also take a detour into managing the circus first. Which one will we do? I guess we’ll have to come back next week and see for ourselves. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.