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Talking Combat 089: I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again…

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 089: He Says He’s Not Dead!.

Short episode, but a surprising amount to discuss this week.

The basics of the situation – we’re into Xavra’s resolve points, so we keep knocking him down and he keeps getting back up until someone can hit him again. Lather, rinse, repeat… and eventually, he dies.

(Pardon me while I sigh and rub my temples in frustration for a few minutes.)

It’s not that I think it’s unfair overall. If it’s a humanoid enemy with a character class, it ought to have all the same character tools we have, including, yes, resolve points. If we can get back up a certain number of times after being knocked out, so can the bad guys. On that level, fair’s fair.

Here’s the thing. There were probably two avenues for short-cutting this encounter, both of which we missed.

The first is that it’s technically GM prerogative whether to even use resolve points when the bad guy drops. In short, Steve could’ve just skipped to the end if he’d wanted to. I feel like the decision points there would be whether a) there are other enemies keeping the encounter going, and/or b) whether the overall fight is close enough that the bad guy could turn things around by using resolve points. In this case, the first wouldn’t be true, but you can make a case for the latter – Rusty was already down, Mo and I were pretty low on health, and Akiro, while healthy, had burned through his best spells. So all in all, I can see a case to be made for continuing. IF Xavra could’ve gotten back on his feet, he could’ve still been formidable.

The other thing is on us as the players – coup de grace does actually exist in Starfinder. Ummm… oops. You make a full attack that’s an automatic hit and an automatic crit, and the victim has to Fort save against instant death.

So… yeah, we kinda whiffed on that.

What we ended up with… well, it wasn’t difficult, but it was kind of a storytelling and logistical failing.

First, the storytelling front. Sitting there whomping on an unconscious character to finish it off doesn’t feel very… heroic. They might bury it in the appendices of the Starfinder Society Handbook, but I’m pretty sure borderline corpse desecration is still a no-no within the Pact Worlds. Gleefully hacking corpses to pieces dice roll by dice roll! You know… because we’re the good guys.

Then there’s the logistics of it. If you don’t use CdG, it’s kinda goofy that you can whomp away and they’re still “alive” because you can’t reach their negative hit points threshold for insta-death, but if you wake them up and lightly tap them, they catch the vapors and fall down again. It’s just such a weird little dance.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to lean into the absurdity of the game mechanics, this is where grenades come in really handy. If the bad guy springs right back up with one hit point, the to-hit is against the area and even a Level 1 grenade (as long as it’s typed to avoid damage resistance) can put him back down. Oh, you made your reflex save? Well, hate to break it to you, but half of death is still death. If one wanted to be a joyless min-maxer (not that I’m recommending such a course of action, but I’m not not recommending it), it’s almost worth keeping a cache of Level 1 grenades of various damage types around for just such an occasion.

Which leads into Chris’ mini-freakout the first time I hit him with what turned out to be a phantom grenade blast. First of all, it turns out I didn’t even do it wrong – Steve just put down a wider template by accident. So let the record reflect that I eye-balled it correctly. But honestly, so what if I did? Half the party is teetering on the brink of death, Chris has an almost full health bar, and he’s complaining about 1d6 of damage. I SPECIFICALLY used a Mark 1 grenade a) to not be wasteful of our better resources and b) to mitigate the effects of friendly fire if I somehow missed. I get that friendly fire offends his sensibilities as a player, but we were well past the “style points” portion of the encounter – I was just trying to get the guy to stay down.

And then there’s Mo, basically sitting out the post-credits scene entirely. I mean, yes, I get that he was pretty close to death – we don’t see each other’s exact hit points, but I’m pretty sure he was in single digits or close to it. But given that Mo generally has the best chance to hit if the encounter restarted in earnest, I kinda wish he would’ve jumped back in to help finish things up. Especially since he had reach with his pike – I had something like 15 or 20 points left, so I would’ve been more than willing to reverse roles for a round or two and be the meat shield while Mo poked him to death with the pike.

That strategy became even more relevant once Xavra had been relieved of his melee weapon and could only hit me with the gun that couldn’t do any damage. It was a shame this didn’t come into play earlier, but it was still gratifying for Aeon Tuttle’s new abilities to finally come into play in a combat-relevant way. I was a teensy bit worried it was actually going to be necrotic damage instead of cold or some such nonsense, but nope… full blast to the face, zero damage. Imagine a Nelson Muntz “HA HA!” there if you like.

At any rate, we FINALLY get Xavra down. The first reward is loot: if I wanted to be selfish, his gun and armor would both represent minor upgrades for Tuttle, but given that I just got the ability crystal upgrade and a new pistol, I don’t really feel like I HAVE to have either. Truth told I wish I could use the sword, but it’s an advanced melee weapon, and I never got past simple melee weapons. (There’s a wonderful bit of mental disconnect about Tuttle being able to resolve matters of quantum physics but not being able to figure out how to stab someone with a sword, but we’ll let it pass for now. Apparently, none of the aeons he’s now communing with ever got the “stick ‘em with the pointy end” pep talk Arya Stark got.

We also get a lore dump which fills in some blanks and sets up the sprint to the finish. Apparently, the grand destroyer of worlds we’ve been chasing is a superweapon created by the Kish’s ancestors that’s capable of rendering stars inert (GET IT? GET IT?… DEAD SUNS!), which naturally eradicates life on any planets that rely on those stars. It was used once during a war in the distant past and then sealed away in a pocket dimension, the gate to which is the cluster of identically spaced stars we first heard about back on Castrovel. Easy to see why the Cult of the Devourer (general nihilism) OR the Corpse Fleet (revenge against the living; a quick means of creating more undead) would want to get their hands on such a thing. Sooooo… guess we’d better try to stop them.

But we’ll get to that next week. We definitely get to level up to Level 9 (huzzah!), we might have some sort of close-out with the Kish villagers, and then we have to decide whether to spin back past Absalom Station or just keep going to the final destination. (Given the Sunrise Maiden is back to being held together with duct tape… maybe the latter?) While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and other social media and give us your thoughts on the now-complete Book 4 of the adventure path, and we’ll see you back here next week.