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The Bird’s Eye View S1|01: Last Call For Tavern Brawls

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S1|00: Welcome to Agents of Edgewatch! and Agents of Edgewatch S1|01: The Mean Streets of Absalom.

Welcome to the first installment of The Bird’s Eye View, our weekly Agents of Edgewatch recap column – the “Talking” thing felt like it was getting stretched a little thin, and I’m never one to pass up a quality play on words. (You’ll also note that we changed “Talking Circus” to “The Sideshow”.) This one’s going to be a little longer than usual because I’m going to circle back to a few Episode Zero thoughts as well as covering the first “real” episode.

I wanted to briefly touch on, but not dwell on, the real-world backdrop here. I know some people gave Paizo a hard time for writing an adventure path that featured law enforcement that happened to release right when the George Floyd incident happened and protests started. Some people even felt Paizo should have canceled Edgewatch entirely. I’m not going to tackle that decision – it’s already been made and it’s beyond my non-existent pay grade anyway. I’m going to talk about our decision to go ahead and play it.

First and foremost, I trust Steve’s judgment as a GM. He read the adventure path and he says it’s a really good story, and that the police aspects aren’t THAT central to the story once it gets rolling. In a way, being members of the local gendarmerie is almost a MacGuffin – it’s the thing that puts our characters where they need to be for the dungeon-crawling to happen. Also, Steve has a good feel for what makes for fun gaming and he knows what we like as players, so if he says we’ll like it… that’s a relationship forged over years, even decades, saying we should play this thing, and I trust that.

I also think at the end of the day, it’s up to each gaming table to figure out what their own ethics are. And OK, we have a little more responsibility since we have an audience, but it still comes down to the people we choose to be and the values we choose to reflect. Sure, SOMEWHERE in the Pathfinder landscape, there are going to be some tables that will think it’s clever to Bad-Cop their way through this adventure. That’s not us. We generally like being the good guys, and so we’re going to play this thing FAIRLY straight up. Our characters might get a little weird around the edges, but evil is just not who we are. Heck, me personally? I tried to play a run-through of Mass Effect where I chose the “renegade” option in every dialog, and I quit an hour in because I didn’t like that my character was turning into an asshole. Much as I chafe at the label, I’m Lawful Good to the bone; maybe Neutral Good on a whimsical day.

It does pose logistical challenges, no question about that. Going all the way back to Gygax, the heart of the D&D/Pathfinder combat system is “kill evildoers to get experience, take their treasure to buy better gear, progress to more powerful challenges”. Well… that system breaks down if you’re supposed to be representing the law in a city setting. Townspeople aren’t automatically “evildoers”, or they’re low-grade evildoers that belong in jail, not dead. And cops shaking down people for their money was pre-Jim Gordon Gotham City behavior. So if you wade in with standard tactics, you’re a thief and a murderer, and become exactly the sort of thing you’re supposed to be preventing. But if you don’t replace that mechanic with “something”, you don’t get experience or loot, so how will your characters progress and move the story forward?

Enter the Lawbreaker Badge, our table’s solution. It’s basically (to use modern terminology) a body-cam on steroids. It de-lethalizes your attacks automatically (unless you’re fighting something explicitly evil like the undead, in which case you can turn it off and do real damage). It decides what the legal penalties of a crime are, so you’re just there to collect the fine and take the person to jail if needed. It even provides a little bit of help in the healing department, with a single use of Lay on Hands. I figure if magic can create a portal to another freakin’ dimension, it can create a device that does those things. (Technically the rules of the AP de-lethalize the attacks, but the Lawbreaker Badge creates an in-game explanation for how it happens.) As far as loot? That’s a little trickier but still manageable. We get a “cut” of the fines, and sometimes there are items lying around with no clear owner that we’re allowed to keep. But if we tried to write a bunch of fake parking tickets to make money or just took someone’s stuff without an underlying crime, the Lawgiver Badge would shoot those down, so there’s no incentive to create a crime that isn’t there.

So that’s the system, now on to Basil Blackfeather.

I knew going in I wanted to play a tengu next time we moved to a new game – they’ve been one of my favorite races going back to First Edition, so once they were part of the Advanced Player’s Guide, it was a matter of “when” rather than “if”. (I can neither confirm nor deny I considered getting reckless and killing off Nella in the Black Lodge game to make it happen quicker.) I wasn’t AS sold on Investigator until we chose THIS adventure path, though. As I’ve said in my APG review, Investigator might not be a great fit in a traditional dungeon crawl – they’re a little squishy, and some of their investigation tools might go to waste if you’re just kicking down doors. Having said that, in THIS scenario, they’d be great. Police work is all about unraveling mysteries: figuring out who’s telling the truth or lying, looking for things that are out of place, and such… if there’s an adventure to try an investigator, this is probably the one.

I will say, though… while the dice logistics of an Investigator might be a little daunting, as a CONCEPT, I’m interested because Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional characters ever. I re-read the Conan Doyle stories every few years just because. And the Empiricist build, in particular, IS Holmes walking into a room and noticing three different things that are out of place. It’s not a perfect fit because Holmes is MOSTLY a solo act (Watson and Lestrade aside), and Pathfinder is a team setting, but I still love the idea of a Holmes “gentleman detective” archetype.

ASIDE: Jeremy Brett of the 80s Granada/BBC series is the definitive Holmes and the floor is closed for discussion. RECLAIMING MY TIME! The Cumberbatch version is pretty good for a modern take. The Downey movies turned him into a Victorian superhero and the Watson relationship became “mismatched buddy cops”, so… meh. Never saw the American one with Lucy Liu as Watson. The sleeper here is Without a Clue with Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine. It’s an early-90s comedy that plays around with the idea that Watson (Kingsley) is actually the brains of the operation and he hired Caine (basically an out-of-work actor who’s a complete idiot) to play Holmes because it made the stories sell, and now he’s tired of his creation but can’t move beyond it because the public loves Holmes. (Add another entry to the RFC Virtual Movie Queue!)

A few other minor notes. I was torn on “Blackfeather” as a last name. Half of me felt it was just an uninspired rehash of “Blacktail”; part of me felt like the callback to Tuttle and having some linkage to that first character was actually kind of a fun thing. “Continuity” if you’re an optimist; “branding” if you’re cynical. I’ll let you listeners decide. And the artwork… DAMN! I’ve been mighty impressed with the artwork for all the shows, but this one was… (chef’s kiss) and is now serving as my personal FB avatar. My initial thoughts to Sheppi were basically “the Jeremy Brett version of Holmes + Hamilton, and a fancy sword-cane is his main weapon, but a bird”… and damn if he didn’t capture it. The only “change” we had to make from the first pass was that the color was fairly muted, so the pants became a little bluer and the flower was added. I will say that Basil’s father became a tobacconist in my backstory BECAUSE of the pipe, so… kinda cool how the art actually influenced the character. I did veto the idea of a tophat, though. Seemed impractical in a combat situation. Sorry?

One last thing before we get onto the first episode: I have to admit to just a touch of last-second buyer’s remorse when the Magus playtest came out. I’ve always liked the magus as a class (Spells AND armor? What’s not to like?) so if we hadn’t already started recording, I might have re-rolled, pulled an Alhara, and done the “play a playtest Magus and clean it up when the class goes live”. But the train had already left the station, so Investigator it is!

OK… so let’s get started. After a bit of lore dump, we get our initial assignment as part of Red Squad (as well as a brief nod to Reservoir Dogs implied in the visible disappointment of the members of Brown Squad and Pink Squad). We also get introduced to our stereotypically hard-boiled desk sergeant, who dispatches us on our first mission — to deal with rowdy tavern patrons. That’s gotta be a sly wink toward the trope of getting your first adventure by “meeting at the tavern”, right?

As I’m listening, I have to admit I’m not happy with the early character choices I made on Basil. Too foppish and out of touch, too much Brixley. I took the Political Scion background (it’s one of the backgrounds that comes with the AP), so yes, he’s supposed to be from a well-off/influential family, but I wanted him to be a little more grounded. For the moment, I’ll chalk it up to first-episode jitters, and hope it zeroes in on what I really want him to be.

So we arrive at the Tipsy Tengu. After surveying the scene, I decide to go ahead and confront the dwarf. Now, on a purely practical level, I’m PROBABLY not the best party member for this task — it’s probably Lo Mang or Dougie. But there were two impulses at work. First was just wanting to get in and do something. This is a pretty active “act first, think second” group and if you don’t decide on an action quickly, someone else will. But I’ll admit there was also a little bit of practical sentiment at work; if you send a fighter-type over, it’s almost like throwing down a challenge, so maybe sending a calming presence over would be better.

At that point, we go around the room. John deals pretty effectively with the pickpocket, though if there was a formal skill check, I must’ve missed it. Chris draws the most hilarious interaction, dealing with the party member who was just WAY too drunk and ends up vomiting on him. (As well as the party member who was inconsolable because they lost their familiar.) And then we come back to me… but not really because then Seth takes over negotiations with Bolar.

On one hand, I’m not going to lie; I was a little frustrated I didn’t get to finish what I started. But actually, I’ll give Seth credit: I was almost out of ideas and ready to look for an opening to zap him with Electric Arc (I have it as a tengu ancestry feat, not a formal spell), so Seth’s solution of telling him to do his drinking somewhere else was actually a pretty good compromise. We didn’t REALLY want to fight these guys and take them to jail, but this was clearly the wrong room for them. Furthermore, even just getting them outside if there WAS going to be a fight would’ve been a positive development because it would’ve limited collateral damage. Once we do, they calm down, we’re able to get them to accept the fine, and we’re on our way back to barracks for our next mission. As well as a power-wash for poor Lo Mang. The next day, we’ll be going on our first formal patrol of the festival grounds, but that’ll be where we’ll pick it up next time.

I also did want to briefly talk about the fate of the Black Lodge. In the short term, yes it’s going on the shelf. As players, we don’t really have the bandwidth for two shows, and Steve would have challenges on his end managing three shows. Steve also mentioned on Discord that he’s a little short of adventures that would make for good listening experiences. So… for now, we’re going to roll with Edgewatch. We may come back to Black Lodge here and there – it might turn into a thing where we’ll play one here and there when we have extra time, rather than a third regularly-scheduled show. The ultimate plan is still TBD, but it’s not the intent to give up on it forever, because we know some of you do like Society play and the special guest players are still a lot of fun. But in the short term, Edgewatch takes center stage.

So that’s my extra-long Episode 0 + 1 combined recap; thanks for reading along. While you’re waiting for the next 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.