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Talking Combat 075: New Crew Revue

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 075: Into the Hirogi-Verse.

And now we know what happened to Hirogi. Well, at least the broad strokes of it.

As a player, the big question for me was how much of this was pre-planned. Neither Chris nor Steve told us this change would be coming, so it really was a genuine surprise to Bob, John, and myself. Obviously though, if Chris had a new character rolled up and ready to go, it was pretty clear some sort of coordination had to be involved.

That still leaves some moving parts. Did Chris specifically know the chamber would do something to Hirogi (which would explain his eagerness to jump in), did Steve leave it open-ended and say “make a new character and we’ll fit him in somewhere”, or was it one of Bob Ross’ “Happy Little Accidents” that Chris was ready for a change right after jumping into the healing chamber? From Steve’s post-episode game notes, it sounds more like the second or third: maybe Chris expected that the chamber would change Hirogi SOMEHOW, and in discussing what that change would be, a totally new character became the gameplan.

I also don’t know if at a meta-level, patching some additional skills into the party was part of the equation. I notice Akiro conveniently speaks and reads Kish, so some of that push-and-pull where three different people hold different aspects of communication in their hands goes away. (Or just flat-out replacing the fact that Hirogi is the only one with the pidgin language skill because the remainder of the adventure would be unworkable without it.) As far as class, I’m assuming he’s some sort of caster since Chris has admired magic-users from afar for a while now – the holy symbol would argue Mystic – but maybe he took a dip in Soldier to get better weapon and armor feats. (That’s totally a Chris move… be eligible for as much loot as possible.). I guess we’ll just figure it out together over the course of the next few episodes.

I will admit that Steve’s wrap-up admission that Hirogi is eventually going to return counts as new information. We’ve never discussed Hirogi’s ultimate fate; it was just kind of assumed he’s gone. So for Steve to admit Hirogi will likely be coming back later… that’s actually news to us. SPOILER!

(That doesn’t rule out that Hirogi will come back as an enemy boss that we have to kill. Just Sayin’.)

Why did Chris want to take a break from Hirogi? Just from my impressions sitting at the table with him, I think Chris felt Hirogi was kinda one-trick pony, and even though his trick went from “too hard” to “too easy” once he could take-20 on Trick Attack, it still didn’t make him a more dynamic character. Even on the skills side, Rusty has the social interactions covered; Tuttle has the technical stuff… there wasn’t really a niche that Hirogi clearly delivered better than anyone else. Mayyyybe culture checks? Oh, and Piloting, I guess, though Chris doesn’t seem to enjoy space combat much.

I will say that as a roleplaying thing, Steve’s point about how easily we accepted Akiro was valid; maybe it was a little meta-gamey on our parts. If you think about it if we find a guy with all the external trappings of a cultist, would we really so easily accept him so quickly as part of the group just because he can produce a Starfinder signal and knows who Chiskisk is? Heck, even if he’s superficially legit, we’ve seen Wrath of Khan… somebody ought to at least look in Akiro’s ear for Ceti Alpha V bugs. But I think we collectively just rolled right into “well, Chris is playing him, so he’s a good guy” mode. For that matter, we probably didn’t really “mourn” or otherwise do enough to try to recover Hirogi. Tuttle did the equivalent of a half-hearted press of CTRL-Z, and then it was basically “ok, he’s not here anymore… moving on”. Probably a missed roleplay opportunity.

Speaking of roleplay… how about a round of applause for Steve’s sound effects? During the initial session, that was just Steve talking in his normal voice. He added that in post-production, so when I went to listen to the final podcast to write this week’s column, I heard that for the first time, just like you did. Pretty cool.

As an aside, my mind is now racing with possibilities. Now that he’s done it once, Steve could replace ANY NPC with guest voice talent! Jason Keeley! Random listeners plucked from the Discord channel! MORGAN FREEMAN! (He’s right, you know…)

The other major development of this episode was the discovery of the ability crystal. I still haven’t decided yet – I had Tuttle put it in his backpack to sleep on it – but I am strongly leaning toward keeping it.

The Argument For: First and foremost, I was thinking of buying one on our last shopping trip anyway, but it would’ve taken up almost all my credits. Also, I feel like Tuttle takes a back seat on most loot anyway. Most of the time – particularly for weapons and armor – I let the other guys go first. But this is skill monkey stuff, where Tuttle earns his keep. Lastly, Mo and Rusty already have Mk2 crystals, so it’s a 50-50 between me and Hir… Akiro… and Chris just got a whole new character. If you want to go there, it’s also a roleplaying thing that we wouldn’t immediately give the new guy first dibs.

The Argument Against: new character or not, Chris doesn’t have a lot of gear; maybe he deserves this one. And/or where did Hirogi fall in the (informal) loot rotation – would it have been his turn if not for the character switch? Also, 23 INT starts to feel like overkill… do I really need THAT much? Gotta give those computers a fighting chance!

Before closing, I’d like to spare a few moments to discuss Steve and Perram’s Roll To Assist.

Steve’s point and Perram’s point – though phrased differently – talked about the same basic concept. “Stealing” control of the story. For the players, it’s doing things outside the box of the GM’s expectations; for the GM, it’s fudging rolls to keep the story in the lane you’ve created for it. And I think those go hand-in-hand – the goodwill you build by allowing one pays for the occasional use of the other.

I do subscribe to the general Nixonian belief that “if the GM does it, it’s not cheating”. The GM knows the game, they know what the story needs, and if they sometimes need to tweak to bring things in for a satisfying conclusion… OK. That to me is benevolent cheating. It’s like lying to your kids to set up a better surprise on their birthday.

But here’s the thing. If you’re going to exert that control occasionally, the collaborative nature of this hobby we all love suggests that you should occasionally let the players do it too. If they try something that’s a little outside the box and it’s not quite what you envisioned but still a basically reasonable request given the nature of their characters and the tools they have… as Perram said, let them have the win. You can always move things around to accommodate it. If they bypass the cool boss you wanted them to fight? Put him somewhere else in the dungeon. If they don’t meet NPC A, give that knowledge to NPC B. And so on.

I think where games fall apart, is at the extremes, where GMs either exert total control and give the players no agency… or where they just let the players do whatever they want and everything becomes arbitrary. I think a gaming group has to have both to survive and thrive.

Well, that’s about it for this week. Next week, we get to see Akiro in action (I think), as our pursuit of the cultists continues. While you’re waiting for that, feel free to stop by Discord and join the ongoing merriment – join the PaizoCon contest, take a guess at Akiro’s class, and generally check out the scene, man. We’ll see you next week.