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Talking Society #1-10: And Now for Something Completely Different

#1-10 The Half-Alive Streets

Jason recaps the events from the Roll For Combat playthrough of Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Scenario #1-10: The Half-Alive Streets. Episodes of this complete scenario playthrough include Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Welcome to the first Talking Society blog post.

At its core, Talking Society is going to be a lot like Talking Combat. I’ll reflect on what you just listened to – sometimes I’ll stay pretty close to the game table and react to the action itself; sometimes I’ll use the action as a springboard to talk about other issues that come up at the gaming table. It’s all going to be pretty free-form. The main difference is that instead of breaking the Society shows up weekly, I’m going to try to just do one (presumably longer) post that covers the entire arc of the Society adventure.

In future installments, I figure I’ll start with a “what’s new?” section where I talk specifically about the new faces at the table and the new characters, but for this episode one, “What’s New?” is… well… just about everything.

First, we have two “new” players, but it’s really two players we’ve seen before as NPCs – Jason Keeley and Rob Trimarco. In fact, their guest spot and the positive reaction to it was one of the reasons we decided to give this format a try in the first place. Keeley (since he was OK calling himself that for clarity, I’ll continue to do so) works for Paizo, and Rob is (among other things) a Kevin Bacon-like figure who is friends with both Keeley and the New York contingent of the RFC group. If you somehow fell directly into this Society game without hearing the original RFC podcast or are latecomers who are catching up, Rob and Keeley originally appear in Episode 28 (“Six Degrees of Investigation”).

(Aside: I’m totally OK with a future where all gamers have a Trimarco Number, measuring how many degrees of separation exist between them and Rob Trimarco. THIS NEEDS TO BECOME A THING.)

MaijaOne thing that’s going to be new is having actual magic in the party, in the form of not one, but two Mystics. You’ll note that the “RFC Classic” group (Soldier, Operative, Mechanic, Envoy) is about as low-magic as it gets; this time around, we mixed things up and both Quinn and Pollux will have some spells to throw. And more importantly… sweet, sweet heals! Lack of healing is a recurring theme in the main game, so it’ll be nice to have that covered a little better. Still no Technomancer, but life is long and weirdness abounds.

What’s new for me personally will be playing a front-line fighter for the first time. Tuttle was very much an “in the rear with the gear” character while playing a Solarian is going to put me up in people’s faces. I mean, yes, you can probably do a ranged Solarian build if you’re clever about it, but it seems like melee is the path of least resistance.

I kind of gave the quick skim of Nala’s influences as Baby Driver and Jubilee from the X-Men, but allow me to expand on that a little more. I already knew I wanted to be a Solarian because that’s the class I passed on to create Tuttle when we started this thing. From a game standpoint, the Ace Pilot theme was what came into focus next – I knew I wanted to be the person driving the spaceship because that seems like where the action is. Baby Driver kicked in the idea of a teenage “getaway driver” character who would steal spaceships to go joyriding, but you know what they say – “one pop-culture reference is theft, two is a mash-up, three’s a character concept”. (Kinda kidding… but kinda not.) I thought making her a girl instead of a guy would create a different roleplaying dynamic with the other party members as well as softening what might otherwise come across as “obnoxious lacrosse bro”. On the other hand, I also knew I didn’t want to do the umpteenth take on Sullen Goth Girl – pair that with Solarian powers and you’re just ripping off Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool instead. That’s where Jubilee gave me the idea of a more upbeat character, though I suppose there was some less overt mental linkage between Jubilee’s sparks and Solarian photon-side powers too. Bruce Lee became the third leg of the stool when I was trying to decide on a weapon – sword seemed kind of cliché, and it was kind of ridiculous to imagine a teenager wielding a big spear or trident, and then the nunchuck scene from Enter The Dragon jumped into my brain and solved that problem. WA-TAH!

VriskenOther influences: maybe a hint of Tracer from Overwatch (plucky, yes; British, not so much), I actually use my daughter as a guide for how to react to roleplaying moments (“What Would <X> Do?”), and of my own accord, I decided Nala would be a little bit of a practical joker when the chance arose. For the record, I didn’t realize until later that “Nala” is also the name of the female lion from The Lion King, so that’s NOT an influence.

The early part of the adventure was all about establishing the story and feeling out the social relationships amongst the party. My initial read was that she’s going to butt heads with Pollux and (to a lesser extent) Big Sexy quite a bit. Lawful good, kind of full of themselves, the sort of adult authority figure who she ran afoul of back in her troublesome phase… yeah, she’s going to get tired of them. I think she’d see Lucan as a potential mentor – “space pirate” is probably on her short list of career aspirations. Quinn was the surprise. I assume things would gravitate toward a somewhat stereotypical “oh great, old guy” attitude toward Quinn. However I don’t know that Bob intended this, but he played it in such a way where Quinn was the one person treating her as an equal and listening to her ideas, so for the moment, she actually kind of likes him. I have to admit I didn’t get enough of a read off Keeley’s Senesal to figure out how they might get along.

The other roleplaying wrinkle here is that Nala could be really good at social skills and leadership roles – she has a high Charisma and she even has a decent Strength for Intimidate checks – but since she’s just a kid, I do want to reflect some reluctance to take center stage. I think as a long-term character development arc, I might put ranks in those skills and make her more comfortable with a leadership role over time, but out of the gate, I see her as more of a follower willing to defer to others (though perhaps with a touch of sarcasm when she thinks someone’s being stupid).

The Vesk barbershop/social club was a good example of this. If you just go by the stat sheet, Nala probably has the scores to go in there and try to charm or even intimidate the vesk. And I thought about it for a second. On the other hand, is that really something a 16, 17-year-old kid would do as the junior member of an adventuring team? Probably not. Though if it had worked, having a room full of vesk cowering before a teenage girl would’ve been pretty hilarious.

So we have the general framework of a plot – someone is selling really high-quality artificial limbs, so good they can’t be easily detected as such. And we have to find out which of the – initially five, but two really stand out – businesses is the one selling them.

TheskellAs the plot moves along, it is an equal mix of hilarious and painful to watch Chris try to play Lawful Good. I think the Lawful part chafes more than the Good with Chris – I think Chris can do the “selfless and brave” parts of the job description, but I think he’s ultimately an agent of chaos: he wants to keep the story moving and to make things happen, so Chris the Player wants to cut corners that Pollux the Character shouldn’t be cutting. I mean, I’m no expert on Iomedaen ethics, but I’m pretty sure “I’m going to stand around the corner so I don’t see you guys commit the crime of breaking and entering” isn’t a Thing.

On the other hand, he made up for it later by promising to put 800 halflings and their families through college. In the words of Aaron Burr processing 30 years of disagreements: “Sweet Jesus”. I didn’t mind doing the right thing and paying for the gear to perform the surgery – that’s cool. Especially in Society: at the risk of meta-gaming, sometimes you do the good deed and hope it will be rewarded in soft “rep” and boons rather than hard coin. On the other hand, enough with the weeping and the hugging. When did this become a Hallmark Original Movie? Ugh.

So now we have the fact that the artificial limbs are making people sick, and we follow the path to… our first combat: fighting the remains of the shady friend to the sick halfings. Which of course led to Nala’s big hero moment – the double crit for the win! (And equally lucky, surviving the explosion with one hit point left). Obviously, a double crit is pretty exciting on its own merits, but I think part of the reason it was so exciting is that thing was hitting HARD and it was feeling like we might lose a few people or even TPK. (There was also a logistical aspect that heightened the reaction: since we were using Roll20 instead of D20Pro, we weren’t as familiar with the tool and there was this moment of not realizing what had happened and then figuring it out en masse.)

This was the moment I truly fell in love with the Solarian class. And yes, I did save that screenshot. “Holy-shit.jpg”. Frame it, put it on a wall.

Among other things, we find some loot, including Falcon Boots that allow you to adjust your personal gravity. The nearest comparison I can think of is the “lashings” from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books. Ummmm… “yes please”? Since I’m building Nala around mobility (already took Fleet to get her up to 40’ movement), being able to manipulate gravity and potentially maneuver on different surfaces could be a huuuuuge benefit. For the moment they’re a) too high level and b) too expensive, but I’m definitely filing them away on whatever the Starfinder equivalent of my Amazon wishlist is. Much like the white guitar in Wayne’s World… “someday, you will be mine”.

Nala gets an additional hero moment working on the dead guy’s computer – between Skill Adept and taking Computers as her racial “Student” skill, she ended up with a +6 in it (50% “wanted to broaden her skills”/50% “what teenager DOESN’T know computers?”), so we find the address where the parts are being manufactured. Annnd it’s surrounded by zombies trying to get into the building. It’s cool. They’re just taking a strong stance on the value of customer service. I can respect that.

So we go around to the back and find what I thought was an alternate way in. Look, I know. Knocking on the door seems like a bad idea with the benefit of hindsight. But I thought maybe the people inside would… you know… want to be rescued, and would actually let us in. Silly me. Instead, we got a zombie flash mob and a fight that ran our resources right down to the bone. Pollux actually dropped; Nala, Big Sexy, and Senesal were pretty close; Quinn hadn’t taken much damage but was out of spells. We were right on the edge of disaster.

But the edge of disaster is often where the most fun moments happen.

First and foremost, there’s the dumb luck of going 5-for-5 on the post-death explosion rolls. For those of you who have never been forced to take a basic stats class in your travels, there was approximately a 3% chance (1/32) of that happening. Given how close this fight was, it’s a little scary to imagine if even one or two of those Michael Bay ‘Splosions had actually gone off.

Second, it was fun to see Chris’ paladin build in action. He didn’t really get into the previous fight much because of the tight spaces involved, so this was his first real chance to engage. I was wondering how he would pull it off, and damn if he didn’t come up with something pretty close to a working paladin. I particularly liked the Reflective Armor spell, though there was a bit of a lively conversation on Discord about how “Reflect Armor” doesn’t really prevent the damage – it actually does it to both parties. As someone on the Paizo boards put it: “if you also take the damage, Reflective Armor is neither reflective nor armor”. (Old-school SNL fans, feel free to add a “Tawk amongst yuhselves”.)

Third, there’s the pure optics of Quinn serving as our tank, beating on stuff with his staff. I’m not sure it gets better than a frail 90-some-year-old dude beating down zombies with a stick while half his teammates are on the red end of their hitpoint bars.

Lastly… Paging Mister Lucan. Mister Lucan, you have a telephone call at the front desk… I don’t want to be too aggressive about backseat driving someone else’s character, but I was a little surprised he stayed at the door as long as he did. I think in the early rounds of the fight, yeah, getting inside made a certain amount of sense. Once our position was being overrun and people’s health bars were dropping. I guess I would’ve given up on the door a few rounds earlier.

But whatever, we survived. And instead of being hailed as rescuers, we get attacked again. (Sigh) What? In the hell? Is Wrong? With You People? You are OFF the Christmas card list.

I found this battle a little bit frustrating because of the classic Melee’s Lament – by the time I got into position to put a-hurtin’ on someone, they got dropped by the ranged folks. But at that point in the adventure, winning and surviving was a higher priority. My general game plan was to set off my Supernova, but either I wasn’t in position, or whenever I was in position, one of my teammates would also run into the blast radius and keep me from detonating.

So in winning the fight we learn the last of the secrets – these guys were using an assembly ooze to make the artificial body parts, which led to an initially high-quality product, but one that made people sick and eventually killed them later. (Folks, this is why those “Initial Quality Surveys” on cars are bullshit. J.D. Power can suck it.) Even with all of that, you’d think being turned over to the authorities would be preferable to being overrun by zombies, but I guess not.

So that’s the end of our first Society mission, and I… LOVED it. The shorter commitment and quicker payoff is nice, I really like that we can get some new faces at the table, and I love love LOVE playing a Solarian. I mean, Tuttle and CHDRR have grown on me in the meantime, so I can’t say I “regret” going that direction, but man it was fun to get in there and mix it up for a change.

If there’s a downside, it’s fairly minor. I still find the loot system to be a little goofy – you have to check your winnings back into the library for now, but you can buy them again later – but I do understand why it has to be that way, and I’ll probably get used to it. My other regret is that that this particular adventure didn’t have any vehicle action, so a big chunk of Nala’s skillset went completely unused. Maybe next time.

I don’t know when the “next time” will be, but I’m pretty sure the enthusiasm is there to give this another go fairly soon. The major moving parts are a) PaizoCon, b) not stretching people’s schedules too thin in general, and c) making sure we have enough episodes of the Dead Suns show in the can that we can record the Society show(s) without running out of Dead Suns material. So hang tight, thanks for listening, and I hope we’ll have a new show for you in the not-to-distant future.