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The Bird’s Eye View S3|19: Attack the Darkness!

Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|19: Danger Close.

It’s going to be a short column this week. It’s already a pretty short episode (under an hour) and it’s also one of those episodes where it’s all kinda up there on the “screen” – there’s not a lot of extra insight I can provide beyond pointing out that yes, three crits in a row is pretty dang cool. And unlikely to ever happen again. And yes, I did burn a hero point to try for a fourth, but at that point the session was ending in 5 or 10 minutes and I was going to lose it anyway.

I suppose that does mean I have time to take a brief detour into deeper RPG waters (and the show notes/discussions on the Battlezoo side of the house) and give my own thoughts on Paizo publishing a 5E conversion of Abomination Vaults.

Despite the fact that we’ve been doing this podcast for almost five years and part of that has involved rubbing elbows with Paizo types on occasion, I don’t consider myself any sort of “industry insider”. At best I’m like the “honorary captain” they send out for the coin toss at the start of a football game: you can put a jersey on me, but I’m not tackling Gronk in the open field. So all of this is just the perspective of a long-time player who has played and enjoyed both systems. (But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose one, I’d probably pick PF2E.)

To me, this is only a bad thing if you’re hard wired to view the edition wars as a zero-sum game where somebody has to win and someone has to lose. Look, whether it’s serendipity, the silky-smooth voice of Matt Mercer, or wheelbarrows of Hasbro marketing dollars, the reality is that D&D has reclaimed its place as the top dog in TTRPGs. If we’re being honest, they probably never really lost it, though 4E was enough of a misstep that it opened the door for Pathfinder’s existence in the first place. But it’s equally true that Paizo probably isn’t going anywhere even if the brand never penetrates like D&D does. The bigger positive for the industry as a whole is that the D&D nerds of the 70s and 80s a) aged into a demographic where we have disposable income and b) some of us became creatives that were able to go out into film and TV and sell the general public on the POSITIVES of our hobby instead of presenting it as the punchline of a joke. I mean, hell, if Henry Cavill can make videos of himself painting Warhammer minis and not lose his career, we’re living in the salad days. Overall, that’s the proverbial rising tide that raises all ships.

So rather than worry about a competition they can likely never really “win”, it strikes me that Paizo is trying to use their strengths to their advantage. They’ve done a lot of good work building out their Golarion setting, and as Steve has discussed on the Battlezoo side, going from comparatively rules-heavy (Pathfinder) to comparatively rules-light (5E) is an easier conversion than the other way around. So why not repurpose something you already made – I assume it’s cheaper and quicker-to-market than doing new content — and tap into a piece of that larger player base? At worst, it’s a little extra revenue stream coming in to keep funding Pathfinder and Starfinder; at best, maybe a few players become curious enough to give PF2 a try on its own merits.

Even just thinking about my 5E home game, I’m not sure there’s a lot of enthusiasm for learning a whole new system… YET. But if I can put Abomination Vaults in front of them and they like it, THEN you can sell that next step. Well, if you liked that… take the red pill, let me show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes, and you still have two actions left. So it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out; whether it’s a one-off or whether they keep releasing 5E conversions. But for now, I think it’s a generally positive move.

So anyway… I suppose I should say SOMETHING about the episode, shouldn’t I?

I guess I’ll talk about blind-fight a little bit. On one hand, I absolutely love blind-fight as a concept, and particularly in First Edition, blindness penalties sucked. But I have to admit, I also feel like it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

First, it feels like sometimes I’m fudging the distinction between a specific combat skill and generally ignoring conditions that should still create perception issues and Steve lets me get away with it. Like… yes, the rules say I don’t have to take the penalty for concealment, but if I walk into a room, the underlying environmental conditions still exist. Darkness, for example. If I walk into a pitch-black room, it’s one thing to say I can sense an attack and respond; it’s another thing to say “I know there are three enemies and I know exactly where in the room they are”. Feels like I ought to still make some sort of perception check to even know there’s an enemy there, but then be able to make the attack without penalty.

And that brings me to my more specific point. I feel like blind-fight maybe ought to apply only to melee attacks. I’ve read the rule, and it just says “attacks”, but I feel like the spirit of blind-fight is that you use your other senses to compensate, kinda like the comic-book character Daredevil. You can fight an opponent because you can hear their footsteps, feel wind currents when they move, smell their scent… all that jazz. But how do you use your other senses to compensate when you’re firing a bow from 50 or 100 feet away and they’re in a different room? (Speaking of which, how does Daredevil hear a freakin’ laser beam coming at him? IT’S LIGHT. LIGHT DOESN’T MAKE NOISE.) So, I’m not going to aggressively lobby Paizo to nerf my character, but if it ever DID happen, I’d probably be forced to admit it was a fair change.

The other thing I briefly wanted to touch on was the “cheat” at the end, where Chris moved into the next room, revealing more enemies, but then realized he didn’t have enough actions to move there and had to rescind his move. So now on some level, we know we’re going to run into a trap, but we still have to pretend we don’t know that.

I’m not really going to talk about that specifically – mistakes happen – but the more general question of how you deal with “spoilers” like that because they do come up from time to time. In my case, one of the major causes ends up being the circus show. Sometimes the circus crew will fight a monster, I’ll hear all the nasty abilities it has, and then we’ll fight that same monster a few weeks later, and I have knowledge I probably shouldn’t have. One example… not a monster, but a spell… was dimension door. The circus folks fought a succubus that had dimension door in its power-set, so as part of writing my piece, I looked up the spell and found out there’s two different version. The low-level one just moves it anywhere the caster can see within 120 feet… combat repositioning. The higher-level version is an escape spell: anywhere within a mile, but can’t be cast for an hour. So then WE fought a creature with dimension door, and it teleported out, and Jason the person knows that means the fight is likely over but Basil the character isn’t supposed to know that yet.

In general, this is going to sound corny, but the biggest thing is to remind yourself that you don’t want to win THAT way. Yes, you want to win the fights and follow the story to completion, but there’s a right way to do it, and do you want the story you tell about it later to be “well, I cheated because the GM slipped up and told us about the ambush and we went a different way”?

At least in the case of creatures and spells, it also makes a good case for solid note-taking. If you play this game enough, especially if you also GM, you’re going to reach a point where you know all the creatures and their abilities anyway. So it’s not the worst idea of making a list of the creatures and abilities your character has already seen, so you can be fair about how they would react in a given situation. A “fair” reaction would be like we had with oozes: the first time we fought one, we didn’t know they split when hit with slashing; the second time we fought them, we not only knew it, but used it to our advantage. (Split them, and then hit them with area damage.)

But that’s really all I got for this week. Next week we are, one way or another, going to trip that ambush that’s (wink-wink) totally not waiting for us in the next room. Though at the risk of being self-serving, it won’t have to be Basil, because I stayed behind to shoot arrows: I’m still a full round of movement away from the fight. As always, 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.