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The Sideshow S1|38: Gone In Six Seconds

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S1|38: Moaning & Sloshing.

I wanted to start this week by wishing all of our American listeners as happy a Thanksgiving as this whole COVID-19 situation is letting you have. Me, I’m going off the Turkey Day grid this year: I already have a fairly small family to begin with, and my parents didn’t want to take any chances, so… me and The Boy are just gonna have a grilled cheese sandwich party or something. And no, that’s not me fishing for sympathy… I think the idea of appreciating the good things in your life is more important than what food you stuff your face with, so I’m good. That and it’s still the first day of a five-day weekend from work.

I also wanted to drop a quick show note which might be a little duplicative if you read both columns. Specifically, I wanted to mention that the holiday season makes our recording schedule a little weird this time of year. We still have material in the can, so there’s no danger of running out of new episodes, but if you’re one of our Patreon subscribers who likes to listen live – be warned that recording sessions tend to get moved around or even canceled outright as the holiday season kicks into high gear and people have scheduling conflicts.

So we have a combat-focused episode this week, with a pair of combat encounters as we work our way to the end of Book 1 of the adventure path. The first is more of a cannon-fodder fight that’s made a bit more challenging by an environmental hazard; the second is a sub-boss with humanoid intelligence, spells, and other toys that will challenge the party.

The highlight of the first part HAS to be Hap’s feather fall assisted dive into the pit to get a better shot at all the enemies. The only thing that was missing was a robust singing of “I Believe I Can Fly”. I kinda get where Loren was coming from: if she was likely to take a hit anyway, might as well do a crap-ton of damage while doing it. And sure enough, at least one of the grothluts crit-failed its save, meaning Hap was able to basically one-shot it. Still, the best part was the sheer audacity of the move – you don’t usually see your clothie diving headfirst into the most dangerous part of the battlefield. There’s a scenario where she doesn’t do enough damage, all the grothluts just drop back down into the pit and eat her for lunch, and no more Hap. (Also… one does wonder on a roleplay level, will Alhara and Ateran scold her for doing that as much as they scolded Darius for using The Mark?)

Speaking of Alhara, it was nice to see her get a chance to really make use of her character’s skills in interesting ways. There are times when I think Alhara’s Swashbuckler build gets a bit of a raw deal – the last few battles have been these kinda static in-place slugfests, which Darius is built for but Alhara is not. (Or at least not as much.) Here we get to see her make use of her mobility skills, using the pit as a weapon and even chucking one of the bad guys into it. I feel like the complex battlefields give Alhara a chance to shine that we haven’t seen in a couple of episodes. Very refreshing.

Luckily, Hap’s dangerous stunt turns out to be OK, as the party takes care of the rest of the grothluts before they can dine at the Hap Buffet. A quick rest to heal – what shall we call “a rest that’s as many short rests as it takes to heal up?… a “flex rest”, maybe? – and it’s back to exploring the remaining rooms.

Our second fight begins with what appears to be a hostage situation, but what soon turns out to be – based on the powers it uses — a succubus sub-boss (assisted by a few wolves). Yes, I checked, they can take on “normal” humanoid form, so the lack of wings shouldn’t be taken as a deal-breaker. And thanks to Darius being a little too gullible, we finally get our first exposure to the “drained” condition. For the record, Drained gives you a minus-X penalty to CON checks AND removes X times your character level’s worth of hit points, both from your active hit points and from your max hit points (X being the level of… drainage?). And the Drained condition only goes down one step per LONG rest, so… that could’ve gotten pretty brutal. And may yet, if this battle has a Round Two.

However, halfway through the fight, the succubus offers to parley and dump some plot on us, which leads to an interesting standoff. Most of the party seems willing to talk, but Hap refuses to stand down (but also doesn’t attack), so on the creature’s next turn, she casts Dimension Door and gets the hell out of there. (She “yeets” herself, as the Young People say.) This also triggers a bit of a rules debate as Alhara had a readied action to attack if she tried to cast a spell, and it SEEMS like she should’ve been able to take it.

This brings us to this week’s episode of “Keywords Mean Things”. Yes, Dimension Door is an innate spell for a succubus, and in fact (mild spoiler) a succubus has two versions of it. It’s got both a 5th-level single cast and a 4th-level cast that’s at will. Neither “innate” nor “at-will” modify the action mechanics of casting a spell – it still has verbal and somatic components. “Innate” just means you have that ability even if you don’t otherwise qualify for it, and that it doesn’t consume a spell slot. “At will” just says how often you can use it – the default is once per long-rest, but an “at-will” ability can be cast every turn if you like. But none of that seems to change the fact that Dimension Door is a two-action spell with a visible “tell”, so I would’ve given Alhara her action. For what it’s worth.

Mechanically and/or thinking ahead to a possible rematch, this also means a succubus can bop around anywhere within a 120-foot radius as much as they want (well, once per round because of the three-action economy), and once per long rest, they can do the one-mile getaway. There’s also something else that’s kind of “interesting” about succubus encounters, but I won’t mention it for now in case it turns out to be relevant in a future episode.

(Speaking of rematches, did we ever find that ghast that escaped from the druid hermitage?)

But that’s where we end the episode… losing out on a possible information dump, and the unsatisfying feeling of a win that wasn’t really a win. That can be frustrating as a player, even if chasing off a bad guy kinda counts as a win and Steve tends to give us credit for beating the encounter, in terms of loot and experience. Not only do you lose that sense of achievement, but you find yourself looking over your shoulder, hoping that missing bad guy isn’t going to pop up as a reinforcement in a future fight. Unfinished business sucks.

It also picks a little bit at the edge of the eternal debate about how smart to make NPCs when it comes to self-preservation. The mechanics of adventures tend to go smoothest if you just have creatures fight until death (or CLEAR surrender, if they need to dump plot exposition), but sometimes it just defies common sense that an otherwise-intelligent creature would just stay and get pounded into the ground when it explicitly has tools to escape that fate. Especially in a case like this where the party is offered a surrender and doesn’t trust the creature enough to take it. So, sometimes the GM has to let the bad guy do the “right” thing and figure out how to fix the mechanics of it (lost experience, missing information, etc.) later.

But we’ll see what happens with that next week. For this week, go enjoy your face-stuffing. 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.