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The Sideshow S1|00: Let’s Go To The Circus!

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e00: Welcome To Three Ring Adventure!

Welcome to “Talking Circus”, a weekly blog where I’ll be writing about the events of the Three Ring Adventure podcast. We haven’t yet decided on a final run schedule because we’re wrapping up two shows and starting two new ones, so EVENTUALLY, it’ll run the same day each week, but that day isn’t finalized yet.

If this is your first time listening to a Roll For Combat show, allow me to briefly introduce myself. I’m Jason McDonald and I was one of the players on the original Starfinder Dead Suns show (as Dr. Tuttle Blacktail), as well as the Pathfinder Second Edition Plaguestone game (Brixley Silverthorn) which featured most of this same group. And I will also be playing a character in the NEXT show that will be fully revealed soon. This time around, I’ll be the self-appointed chronicler (if that’s a word) of the action, going on deep dives on things they couldn’t stop the game to explain, occasionally second-guessing the players from the cheap seats, and sometimes going off on weird tangents about what 80s TV show a particular moment reminded me of. Just think of me as a one-man Waldorf and Statler. With more hair.

Now, I don’t want to be some diva acting like the show can’t go on without me, but since it’s a logical question some of our longer-time listeners might ask: why am I not playing this time? Honestly, it’s mostly a time constraint thing. We were doing two shows simultaneously because we wanted to jump on Pathfinder Second Edition while it was new, but two shows plus my home 5E game was a bit much. Absolutely nothing against these folks – they’re all great people and Plaguestone was a lot of fun – but the tiebreaker goes to the gaming group I’ve been playing with since before this was even a podcast. There’s also a little bit of “Steve really wanted to take the roleplaying to another level, and I’m more casual about that aspect of the game” but the time constraint is the main thing. That said, I still wanted to be involved in some fashion so, here I am writing about it.

So as I think about this adventure and listening to Episode Zero, what am I looking forward to? What excites me about this show as a listener?

First and foremost, it’s something the rest of you have taken for granted for two-plus years, but I’m going to enjoy listening and being surprised by what happens. I’ve listened to pretty much every episode of our shows, but because I was one of the players, I always knew what was going to happen. None of the plot twists surprised me, the jokes didn’t land the same… I had already lived it all at the time of recording. At best, there was an occasional veneer of “oh right I forgot that happened” surprise from the lag between when it recorded and when it aired, but I’m going to enjoy listening to one of our shows not knowing what’s around the next corner.

Of course, the flip side of that particular coin is it might be a little harder to write. Part of the “sizzle of the steak” of previous Talkings was that I was providing the inside scoop from the table. I had access to the stuff Steve cut, the banter before and after sessions, the non-game chat sessions. Part of what Talking has provided was the deep-dive stuff you literally couldn’t get from the show. This time, I’m gonna have to make do with mostly the same material everyone else has – heck, our Patreon supporters who listen live may end up knowing more than I do. It’s like the episode of TNG where Counselor Troi loses her empathic abilities and has to just get by with normal human intuition – though hopefully, I won’t get all salty with people like she did.

Back to what I’m looking forward to. I don’t want to load too many expectations onto one member of the party but I’m interested in seeing what Rob Pontious brings to the table. Both generally because he’s someone new that we’ve never played with, but also specifically based on his experience with Order Of The Amber Die. If this is your first time hearing of them, you’re in luck: Steve did an interview with them a while back and we did a joint appearance with them (but not Rob himself) at PaizoCon in our first year. Both are available in our archives. But the Order’s “thing” is that they do really immersive in-person games and write about them for Paizo. They’ll get their group together literally from across the country (though they operate out of the NY/NJ area) and play a whole scenario in a weekend. Full roleplaying, props, environmental effects (for example, roll in space heaters and turn the room into a sweatbox if the fight is supposed to be in a volcanic cavern). Even people who aren’t playing might show up to voice an NPC or even just act as “support staff” and prepare meals for the players who are. It’s a different thing than we do, but it sounds like a lot of fun, and if I can’t be a fly on their wall, I can at least be a fly on ours while he’s here. No pressure, Rob.

As an aside, we’ll have to figure out some sort of solution to the multi-Rob problem. I don’t want to go with Rob and “Other Rob” because that’s kind of insulting to whoever gets the “other”. PRob and TRob? In the short term, I might lean on character names until I inevitably come up with weird nicknames that only make sense to me. Or one of them will be “Rob” and the other will be “Garth” because that’s how Knight Rider handled it. Now, who’s gonna volunteer to grow the Van Dyke?

Getting back to things I’ll be listening for, we also have two of the four players playing brand-new (well, new to Second Edition) classes – Vanessa will be playing a Swashbuckler and… Bizarro Rob? (still working on it)… will be playing a Witch. If you’re unfamiliar, a Swashbuckler is sort of a mix of rogue and fighter – they’re a speed-and-finesse melee type like a rogue, but they ditch the sneaky elements and add a component of style and panache to their fighting. A witch is a caster class, but one that revolves around the mechanism of “hexes” – fewer Big-N-Splodey spells, more “oh hey, your arms turned into a swarm of bees” spells. Now as a gaming thing, this gets interesting because TECHNICALLY those classes are still in playtest and could change when they’re formally released into the wild. My understanding is that they’re going to run with the playtest versions and then Steve will allow them to tweak the characters to convert them from playtest to release. But in the here and now, we’re getting a taste of some new content, and it’ll be fun to see how they’ve carried over from First Edition.

Lastly, the circus theme intrigues me. How is a circus theme going to sit on top of what is, at its roots, a combat system?

At a conceptual level, there ought to be a way to make it work – after all, heroes are people with peak-level physical abilities, some of whom have magical powers. Sometimes when interacting with other fantastical elements, we forget it, but an 18 STR is supposed to represent Conan-era Schwarzenegger; an 18 DEX is Jackie Chan. And that’s before we get into magic – yeah, magic is a known thing in Golarion, but has the average farmer or merchant actually seen anyone cast Produce Flame, much less a fireball? Our characters are close to super-heroes when out mingling with the general public, so conducting a circus doesn’t seem like a stretch as an idea.

But at some levels, particularly low levels, I worry that might bump up against the rulebook.

Consider the real-circus example of a lion tamer. At first glance, you could simulate that as a ranger with an animal companion. But at least if you go by rules as written, a Level 1 ranger isn’t going to have access to a lion as a tameable creature and probably can’t teach it complex commands. So now you’re standing there like a doofus ordering a random housecat to do basic tricks like “stay” and “sit”, and all of the sudden, your Pathfinder campaign has become an absurdist Monty Python sketch. (But hopefully not “Ken Ewing And His Musical Mice”). Or you’re a trapeze artist who would probably fail most of their Athletics checks and… you know… die in the first performance. We present to you…. The Amazing… (THUMP)… Our next act…”

I assume that’s where the “extra rules” Steve is hinting at come into play. I’m thinking the AP will allow the players to develop tricks as part of their circus act that aren’t useful in the adventure setting but will be allowed to work within the context of the show. If you’re that aforementioned pancake/trapeze artist, you can learn a bunch of aerial maneuvers that you can use in your show, but if you run into a dungeon that happens to have a chandelier, you can’t swing on the chandelier with the same degree of success and your normal level 1 chances of success apply. Or maybe they DO apply and the world will be saved with circus skills! I swear to god, if CLOWNS save the world, I want my (non-existent) money back.

I could write more but I think I’m gonna wrap it up for now. I suspect we’re gonna have a lot of fun in the coming weeks, and I’m excited to experience it all with you. See you in the not-too-distant future, fe… fell.. (gulp)… fellow listeners.