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The Sideshow S1|02: CSI: Pyromaniac Teenager

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure s1e02: Punch Drunk.

I don’t know if it was just first-episode unfamiliarity, the transition from player to spectator was disorienting, or if I was distracted by all the stuff happening in real life – maybe a little bit of all three. Or maybe it’s overload from The Week We Have Four Shows Running Simultaneously. But I have to admit the first episode of Three-Ring Adventure was a bit of a blur. Yes, I listened to it, but I’m not sure more than about 30 percent of it fully permeated into my brain. This episode, I feel like I’ve got my legs under me a little more. Things are starting to slow down a little and make more sense, and I’m feeling like I’m starting to understand the circus mechanic a little better now. Though maybe it took a little bit of combat (even of the non-lethal variety) to kind of re-orient me.

We start this week with Darius and Alhara (place your bets on how long it’ll be until I start calling them the “Wonder Twins”) squaring off against a couple of drunks in the crowd. The first thing that stood out was “how the hell do these guys have so many hit points?” YOU’RE TOWNSPEOPLE! GO UNCONSCIOUS ALREADY. Then again, you hear these stories about people who get all sorts of Liquor Strength and the cops have to taze them like 20 times, so I guess we’ll allow it.

More importantly, I enjoyed the effort Rob and Vanessa made to make their combat “theatrical” and entertaining – the moves, the witty banter, even Rob spanking the one dude after he was unconscious. It’s a nice fit with the idea of a group of adventurers who are also performers at heart. I just thought it was a really nice touch.

Once crowd control has been taken care of, we get back to Rob P. and Loren performing the circus acts (though with Rob performing as one of the NPC acts, rather than as Ateran). I guess we have our answer to how the circus rules work – anything that counts as “flavor” for the act just kinda… happens… as part of your act. If you want your fire spell to turn into a flock of birds, then it turns into a flock of birds. (As an aside, I like to imagine a class at the local magic academy where you’ve got 29 mages dutifully measuring quantities of material components while Hap is sitting at a desk in the back doing fire origami). On the other hand, you can’t make your abilities do anything game-altering, like an extra 10d6 of damage. Again, I thought both players did a great job of coming up with neat tricks for their act, though I’m going to give Rob some extra credit here for devising an act for a character that a) wasn’t his and b) was also a fire-based act.

Luckily the group gets lucky with their rolls – well, lucky enough, even with Hap missing a roll twice – and the team manages to get a perfect show their first time out! Meaning an increase in prestige AND a crap-ton of gold. To be fair, though, that crap-ton isn’t going to go so far once we get to the business side of the circus. I assume the other acts will have to get paid, there may be costs for renting the location, standard room and board costs, upgrades and repairs, and so on. On the other hand, I assume higher prestige means you can charge more for tickets, get bigger crowds, and make more money (hopefully) on future shows. Like I said in the Episode Zero review, I’m actually a sucker for the occasional management sim, so I’m kinda curious how that plays out.

(Also, it’s probably a byproduct of playing fantasy baseball 30 years ago before they had websites to do the math for you, but I LOVE a good spreadsheet. Making a note to check out Vanessa’s work later).

Once the show ends, it’s time to dig deeper into the murder. As the investigation unfolds it looks like the ringmaster was chomped by venomous snakes (probably the same ones the team cleared out from under the bleachers), and there are also signs the rats (the same ones that chewed the net?) may have been under some sort of supernatural control. One might even say “druidic”.

Now I have to admit to a mild pet peeve on reusing unsolved murder as the Call To Action. Plaguestone started with Bort The Travelling Merchant getting whacked, if you remember, so this is our second time doing this dance. (And now that I think about it, Dead Suns started with our spaceport contact getting shot too.) I will grant it’s a little more compelling here because the circus is meant to be comprised of people with pre-existing history and not some rando you met the same day, but still… can we get back to wizards dropping by with a band of dwarves looking to fill holes in their party?

Second, I know it just happened to flow out of which skill checks were needed at the moment, but the idea that Hap ended up leading the investigation was an equal mix of horrifying (by all means, let’s have the teenage girl examine the corpse because that won’t require years of therapy to untangle later) and amusing (Hap is now shaping up as a pyromaniac with oddly specific knowledge of snakes and rats… cool).

So we end the week at a crossroads. “Follow up on the murder” seems like the obvious choice, but we might also take a detour into managing the circus first. Which one will we do? I guess we’ll have to come back next week and see for ourselves. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop by our Discord channel and join the ongoing merriment. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.