The Sideshow S3|05: The Haunt for Dead October - Roll For Combat

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The Sideshow S3|05: The Haunt for Dead October

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|05: Breakfast, Period.

I feel like I should start this week’s column with a warning. I feel like this has the potential to become a little whiny, because this week’s episode happened to touch upon multiple pet peeves about this game in the same session. So apologies in advance if the tone is a bit too oppressive.

So… let’s get right into it.

Haunts. Ugh.

I will agree with what Steve said in his pre-game comments. I absolutely get what they were trying to do with haunts. Religion and Occultism are traditionally kind of under-used skills in the grand scheme. Every once in a while, you get to identify an object or recognize a name, but they can sit on the shelf for a while between uses. So haunts were an attempt to create a “puzzle” that could be solved with those particular skills; a supernatural thing that’s LIKE a trap, but not exactly a trap, because there’s no physical mechanism. So far I’m right there with Paizo – sounds like a really cool concept at first glance.

But the idea tends to fall on its ass in implementation, where haunts seem to combine the worst elements of both traps (the fact that it’s concealed or otherwise surprising, and the fact that it generally can’t be destroyed by conventional means) and combat (persistent damage over multiple rounds, something that keeps coming at you until it’s dealt with) into something that’s mostly just a pain in the ass, without providing nearly enough entertainment value.

A trap is generally finite. It triggers, does its damage… but then it’s generally served its purpose. MAYBE if it has charges, it’ll get a chance to do it twice before you get the hint. But if you get hit a second time by the same trap, that’s also you as the player paying the Stupidity Tax. Combat does a lot more damage and lasts until it’s dealt with, but you generally know what you have to do to beat it. And unless it’s immune to ALL the damage types you can throw at it, you’ve got SOMETHING in your toolbox that will get you there. Also, if you see or hear an enemy coming, it is POSSIBLE to avoid a fight, though in the words of T’Challa… “we don’t do that here”.

But that’s the thing about a haunt. Can’t see it coming. Can’t avoid it. Can’t damage it (usually). And you can’t stick around and figure it out because it’s beating down on you like a creature would while you’re thinking about it. So instead of being a fun puzzle, it becomes an annoying “no-fly zone” in the middle of your area map that you have to avoid until you stumble across some sort of hint for how to deal with it. (And frankly, if it’s not relevant to the main story, sometimes you just avoid it and move on entirely.)

Though OK, in the case of THIS haunt, “can’t see it coming” wasn’t really true. If there’s a lit candle in a triple-locked room in an abandoned farm that’s otherwise collapsing… maybe you don’t just go waltzing casually into the room? Just spitballing here.

So Darius entering the room sets off the haunt, and that summons a ghost, who starts ranting about… well… it’s kind of a word salad. And that brings me to my second pet peeve: Proper Name Vomit.

There’s this phenomenon – Vanessa kinda touches on it at one point – where a LOT of stuff gets thrown at you, particularly when you first reach a new section of the story. Here’s 15 NPC names and 8 location names; figure out which of these are important. And there will be a “quiz” later insofar as two or three of these will be mentioned four sessions later and you’ll have to remember why you kinda-sorta remember hearing that name.

Now, the dismissive “git gud” answer is “take notes”. And believe me – we generally try to. But a) sometimes the info dump is a firehose and it’s just too much to get down in its entirety, and b) even if you write it down, you never know which pieces are really going to be important. It is true the authors of these adventures usually leave a few bread crumbs for the single biggest “Next Item On The Agenda”, but they don’t necessarily do the same for secondary entities. So maybe “Brogdor The Unjust” SOUNDS really important at the time, so you write his name down, and it later turns out he’s the local cheese merchant, and the reason he got his nickname is the townspeople are WAY too dramatic about the price he charges for Havarti. Meanwhile, you didn’t really take any special note of Pig-Farmer Ted, and Pig-Farmer Ted happens to be the connection to the Big Bad because the Big Bad likes bacon almost as much as Darius does and Pig-Farmer Ted keeps him supplied.

To tie this back into the story we’re talking about here: this wealth of information to process means that even now, I’m STILL trying to sort out who screwed over who. There’s the angry ghost guy… and the Night Lady… and Minnesota Twins’ legend Rod Carew is involved somehow… but the real takeaway seems to be that Opper Vandy is a shady character because the ghost is ranting about him accepting “blood money”. So it’s back to town to talk to him some more.

I like how this encounter played out. In particular, the “give him enough rope to hang himself” approach of playing selectively dumb about what they had learned and seeing how Vandy reacted to the pieces they did know… that was a cool approach. I think it works better than a direct confrontation because it’s not as adversarial and maybe you get something you wouldn’t get if you go in swinging and they put the shields up right away. WE’LL MAKE COPS OUT OF YOU YET.

(And OK, I was amused that Darius has a “sitting casually, while still being ready to punch someone in the face” mode. He’s a man of contradictions, that one.)

Through this confrontation, we come to learn that Vandy is “shady” with a lowercase S, rather than “Shady” with an uppercase S. The good news is he’s not murdering people to bump up his numbers for the funeral business, which was the original concern. On the other hand, he did take out a loan and slow-walked paying it back until there was no one left to pay it back to. I feel like maybe it’s still TBD how hard he REALLY tried to find an heir – that part seemed a little too convenient/self-serving – but still, we’re firmly in white-collar financial crimes here, not the sort of evil the xulgaths represent (or the sort of evil we’re dealing with over on the Edgewatch side of the house). And certainly, even if you still think Vandy is a little crappy for doing what he did, it’s certainly unfair to take it out on the townspeople to get even with him.

But, it looks like we’re actually going to back-burner the haunt and helping Vandy, and take a look at the closest aeon tower instead. Perhaps a little passive-aggression there? “It turns out you’re kind of shitty, so we’re going to go off and deal with other stuff rather than help you.” But also, it does feel like fixing the tower would help the whole town, while solving Vandy’s problem would just amount to cleaning up his mess. So maybe that’s the right call.

Before I close, I don’t want to just whine about stuff. The phrase “LOL” is overused, but I did have a good chuckle at the start of the episode at Loren’s reaction to another 10 minutes of restaurant-themed shenanigans. “All right, so this is happening, I’m going to go get a water out of the fridge.” If you turn your speakers up high enough, you can actually hear her eyes rolling. Though she almost missed Vanessa’s on-the-fly songsmithing, which was also excellent. Makes me think… if we’re ever feeling REALLY ambitious, maybe we’ll have to do a musical episode one of these days.

So… tower next week? Or will something else happen? I mean, it just feels… incomplete… like there’s still another shoe about to drop. Maybe I’m feeling like there’s a chance that setting off the haunt and learning the truth might change the parameters and cause whoever’s messing with Vandy to up their game. So… OK, our team WANTS to go to the tower next week – that’s their stated goal – but I don’t totally discount another round of dealing with the skeletons in Vandy’s closet either. As we wait to see, 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.