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Talking Combat 022: Fear The Walking Rusty

Starfinder Landscape

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 022: Boots On The Ground.

This week’s Talking is going to run a little long, and there’s a story behind that. So if you’ll indulge a brief “how the sausage gets made” interlude, I’ll explain. (Feel free to read this in the spirit of “isn’t that funny?” rather than groveling in apology.)

The discerning fan of the podcast might have noticed a glitch in the Matrix this week, as some of the write-up stuff has been… off.

Steve usually gives me the rough cut of the podcast to use to write a first draft of Talking. That’s also when I come up with episode titles and text blurbs for the postings on social media. Then I go back and listen to the final cut and clean up Talking – sometimes I listen to the whole thing again, sometimes I just skim the pre or post-session commentary Steve adds to the final. But with last week and this week, we had a bit of a foul-up:

1) Steve originally gave me last week’s episode as two separate episodes. Let’s call them 21A (the bulk of Driftdead fight and start of zombie fight) and 21B (end of zombie fight, a lot of complaining about healing, finding the alien complex, and meeting the security robot). He then later made those into a single episode and made a new 22 (robot fight, Rusty’s transformation, the Sunrise Maiden stuff), but I somehow didn’t get the memo.

2) I also happened to get crunched for time this week and didn’t listen to the final cut of 21/thought 21B was 22 and didn’t catch the changes.

3) Not to air Steve’s business in the public square, but he’s been out of town, so he didn’t catch my mistake because he had other stuff to do. Basically, he noticed it when I sent this week’s Talking and he texted me back to ask why it didn’t have any current content in it.

So the gist of all of this? Last week’s Talking and the accompanying text blurbs for “Screw You, Isaac Newton!” pretty much ignore about half of the episode. And this week’s text blurb for “Boots On The Ground” mostly talks about the stuff that happens in the recap/first five minutes – no robot fight, no commentary on Rusty’s transformation, none of the Sunrise Maiden stuff. It passed a sniff test because we DID talk about those things in the first few minutes, but it would be like presenting the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy as the story of Bilbo’s birthday party.

We’ve since caught it, so this week’s Talking will be correct, though it’s going to be a little long since I wanted to dip back into a few points from 21 that I missed last week. Deep down, I’m just disappointed I didn’t get to use the title “THAT’S NO DRIFT ROCK, THAT’S A SPACE STATION”, which fit a lot better when initially entering the alien complex was the highlight of 21B.

OK, interlude over. Robot fight in 3… 2… 1…

FINALLY. We finally get a combat where things go mostly the way they’re supposed to, we don’t take a ton of damage, and Mo and Hirogi have nothing to complain about.

Up until now, you may have noticed two basic themes:

    • Healing potions suck.
    • Bad guys pretty much never miss.

I think the secret of this week’s fight was not so much that the sentry hit less, but its weapon spread the damage out a little more, so no one person took too much damage. The last few fights were “Mo gets punched repeatedly and almost dies”; this one was “everyone gets a little paint scraped off the fender” which only eats into stamina. But more generally, let’s talk about those two points a little.

Looking at healing, I don’t think potions themselves are any worse than in Pathfinder – if you compare a Healing Serum I and a potion of Cure Light Wounds, you’re really just losing that +1… so your disappointing 1’s stay 1’s instead of becoming disappointing 2’s. I think the real problem is one of economics, and specifically, that we’re lacking the Starfinder equivalent of the healing wand as the source of cheap after-combat heals. In Pathfinder, it’s pretty much become standard operating procedure to buy a wand of cure light wounds out of party loot as soon as you can afford it – you get 50 heals for a couple hundred gold. Meanwhile, I don’t immediately see an analog in Pathfinder, and we don’t really have the money or inventory capacity to just throw 100 potions at the problem. (If I’m missing something obvious in the Gear section of the rulebook, feel free to correct me.)

As far as “creatures never miss”… it hasn’t bothered me personally because I’m supposed to be kind of squishy and have crap armor, but I can understand the frustration of the guys who have to get up on the front line and take the hits. Though I will say that even if the math checks out and you win the fights, it’s a little off on a “feel” level. It’s a little weird to be the hero of the story and you whiff three times in a row while the Level 1 Space Sloths that should represent an “easy” fight keep punching you in the face.

On the other hand…

The first thing to consider is that between HP and Stamina, we simply have a larger pool of points, and the first half of them represent temporary damage that only kinda-sorta counts. I assume if Mechanic were a Pathfinder class it might have a d8 for hit dice. So I’d have 8 HP at 1st level, 5 at 2nd, plus 1 per level for CON = 15 hit points, whereas I have 27 in Starfinder. So we’re built to take an extra hit or two. (If you think about it, CHDRR’s flat 10 HP per level follows a more Pathfinder-y progression.) I didn’t bother running the numbers for the other guys, but I assume it’s a similar story.

There’s also some truth to the fact that we might be lagging a bit equipment-wise since we’ve never really upgraded our starter gear. (Certainly not our armor – we did find a few guns along the way.) It feels like at a similar point in a Pathfinder campaign, we might have gotten some upgrades, maybe a few magic items by now. I looked ahead and started looking at upgrades for my base armor, and even a jump from an Estex Suit I to an Estex Suit II would be +4 to both EAC and KAC… that’s an extra 20% miss chance as soon as we can make it back to civilization and cash out.

Once the fighting was done, our attention turned to Rusty, and his transformation. Steve and Bob have both been dropping hints, but yep… Rusty’s turning undead. Let’s be honest: ever since I listened to that interview with Erik Mona, I knew Steve would find a way to work this in – there are certain things, particularly when it comes to gaming, where Steve doesn’t have much of a poker face. I have to admit I thought Chris would be the guinea pig since he seemed to be the one who was most excited about the idea when we first kicked it around back in one of those earliest episodes. (Didn’t he threaten to kill off his character specifically so he could re-roll?)

I suppose the real questions are A) is this a done deal or can it be reversed? and B) would Bob even WANT to undo it, because he seemed like he was enjoying the idea as well. Maybe not as much as Steve, but he definitely didn’t seem all that alarmed at the prospect. On a personal level, I’m still wrapping my brain around the idea that undead aren’t kill-on-sight, now we’re going to potentially have one as a party member? (shudder)

Plot-wise, we get our next big chunk of information, even if it’s 80 years old. We learn that an explorer and her ship arrived here and were attacked by some creature and that she had to hole up in this room. When her defenses ran out, she decided to kill herself rather than get eaten and became the Driftdead we fought a few episodes back. It would’ve made a hell of a video game cut-scene.

The main takeaways:

1) There’s a ship out here somewhere so we now have a potential way out of here, even if Nor doesn’t send the Hippocampus back. On the other hand, it’s an 80-year-old ship, so will it be in working condition, or will we have to do some repairs? (In the back of my brain, I’d been wondering if maybe the Drift Rock itself was a ship hidden inside the rock and that we’d find a bridge. This works too.)

2) That ship now belongs to us because of Interstellar Maritime Law or Pirates’ Code or whatnot. So that’s the big prize of this adventure – a real ship to call our own! Well, that’s assuming Steve was joking about the Starfinder Society deciding they own it. If they try to claim it as theirs and lend it out to us ala The Three Detectives, I’m going to hit the roof.

3) Let’s just assume it’s going to be guarded by something nastier than a Driftdead. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s Big Nasty Alien Critters surviving 80 years because That’s How They Do.

4) Extra credit: at first glance, this feels unrelated to the akatas. There’s not really any evidence the crew of the Arceon made it this far into the facility, and there’s the 80-year timegap to consider. I’m thinking the akatas are just something else the Drift Rock picked up in its journey over the last century – an added layer of defenses if you will. On the other hand, I could be totally wrong and it could be like the end of Aliens where the ship is guarded by an Akata Queen and hundreds of akata eggs that all start hatching as we try to tiptoe on board. WON’T THAT BE FUN?

So anyhow, I’m already running long, but I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about Steve’s postgame chat about playstyles.

I think Steve’s got a fair point that I’m not as “hard rules” as the rest of the group, but it’s a little more nuanced than that. I think I’m “hard rules, with concessions to patience”. We generally only get 3 hours a week to play, so I want to make the most of that time. So if someone’s about to live or die based on a rules decision, by all means, take time to crack the books and get it right. If it’s Round 3 of a fight that’s going to take all session anyway, let’s cap the discussion about whether poison gas flows around a hard corner at 5 minutes, let Steve make a call, and just play. If it turns out he’s wrong, he can always make it up to us later by fudging something in our favor. In short, the rest of the team is the NHL regular season; I’m the NHL playoffs – I put the whistle in the pocket on the little stuff, but still call the big things.

May dads-n-kids game is firmly in Style 2 because the kids are still learning the game – we make a few things like encumbrance and spell management a little easier for the sake of keeping them interested. They won’t ever become players if they get bored with the bookkeeping – we’ll ease into that as they get older. However, we do point out when we’re changing a rule so that they’ll know “this is a house rule and it might not be this way if you play at someone else’s table”.

I’ll just say it right now… other than as an experiment, I would never play the “Auteur GM” style. If your story is so important that you can’t have those pesky players actually controlling their own actions, just write a damn novel and be done with it.

So next time, we probably have a ship… if we have the firepower and healing potions to reach it. Can we pull it off? Come back next week and see what happens. I promise the space-time continuum between the podcasts and the write-ups will be fully realigned by then.