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The Sideshow S3|28: The Clan With the Plan

Jason recaps the events from Three Ring Adventure S3|28: Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I’m Hunting Xulgaths!!.

As I sit down to write about this week’s episode, it dawns on me that “they know we’re coming” is  a much more common trope in movies and TV than in the TTRPG world. There’s like… a whole John Wick movie about it. But in the TTRPG world, the normal mode of operation is that NPCs exist in suspended animation until the party stumbles into the room they’re in, at which point they spring to life and it’s time to fight. Even when the story positions them as guards, their “guard duty” tends to be physically occupying space the players need to move through, waiting for an initiative roll to kick them into gear.

For comparison’s sake, we just recently dealt with a similar situation in our Edgewatch game, where we were infiltrating a alchemical lab. There were guards around the exterior, but not patrolling: just enough of an inconvenience to require a Stealth roll, but no more than that. Once we got into the building, there were two NPCs who were playing chess in the room next to where we entered, but they didn’t notice our entry because they were playing chess.

So this week creates an interesting bit of strategy because our xulgath foes really do “know they’re coming”, in that they’re actively aware of the party’s efforts and have gone from passive protectors of the MacGuffin to an active security force.

But we’ll get there in a second. First up… Level 11 characters, though it’ll be brief because Level 11 tends to be one of those boring ones, at least for melees (casters at least get their level 6 spells). Well, maybe not boring, but 11’s biggest changes tend to be baked-in class abilities, so it’s a bit of a down level for player choice. That’s not meant as a criticism: there’s 20 levels, they can’t all be gems, and your character does get more powerful at the end of the day. But it is true that the part of the leveling where you get to pick out cool new stuff is… a skill feat, and a skill increase at a time where some classes don’t have a lot of skills to invest it in.

I do like the skill feat Loren took for Hap where she’s now a minor celebrity and can tap into that in any city the circus visits. It’s a neat little way to jump start information gathering in a new location, so it should fit the traveling circus theme well. I’m not sure how word of mouth gets around in a pre-technological world, but I’m sure magic will provide a way. I seem to recall that Starfinder has something similar, because I had a rolled a kasatha assassin/celebrity chef for Society play who either took or was thinking about taking the same feat. But it’s also been a while since I played him, so I might be remembering things wrong.

(As an aside, it’s kind of a shame I haven’t gone back to that character. Imagine Guy Fieri as a six-limbed contract killer who uses his equivalent of “Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins” as his cover story for traveling the galaxy murdering people, and you’ve got the gist. Really wanted to do more with him.)

We also had an interesting interlude about death, sparked by the realization that Ateran is close to being able to bring players back from the dead. That is interesting on its own merits, but doubly so when learning about Loren’s firm rule about, essentially, permadeath. That’s right: it turns out Hap has a DNR in place.

We’ve discussed this elsewhere, particularly back when Darius should’ve died, but when characters die, Steve tends to leave options unless you did something REALLY foolish to end up that way. And he tends to make the final choice of whether to come back or re-roll the player’s. So Loren’s saying she won’t take that off-ramp if it ever happens to Hap. Interesting.

I’m not sure I could ever be that absolute about things. I will admit I have some general sympathy for the position that if you die, you die, and pulling some rabbit out of the hat to stay alive feels a little too consequence-light. But I can’t QUITE bring myself to be as absolutist as Loren about it. If the worst should happen to one of my characters, it would honestly depend on how I felt about the character at the time. Part of it would be tactical, just because after playing a character for a year or two, sometimes it starts to get a little stale, and maybe trying something else would be liberating. But it’s also important how I’m feeling about my character’s journey at that point. We don’t roleplay AS heavily as the circus group does, but I do care about where my character’s overall journey ends up. There have been places in our story where I’ve felt “if we died here, I could live with it” and other places where I’d take ANY escape hatch because it didn’t feel like the right way to finish Basil’s story.

Anyhow, back to our story at hand. The group journeys forth to the last tower, and Ateran does a little Kirkland-brand Eye of Kilrogg scouting, and… this is going to be a challenge because the xulgaths really are prepared this time. They have a good defensive position with basically ONE point of entry, and the guards are actively patrolling. Specifically, they have to get up to a pair of raised platforms and then cross a bridge with no hand-rail, all of which is actively guarded. They probably can’t even do the bag of holding trick because the xulgaths will see it land and just… pick it up and toss it in a fire or something. (At that point, do they just wink out of existence immediately, or does their EXIT disappear, and they suffocate to death? ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.)

Fortunately, the party has another tool up their sleeve: invisibility sphere. Basil’s had this spell for a little while now, so I’m familiar with it. The various rules for what happens when people leave the sphere or attack from within it get a little crunchy, but the short answer is, if you stay close together and party-move as one, you can stay invisible for 10 minutes.

Doesn’t help with sounds or the possibility that the xulgaths will see the ladder reacting to the party’s weight on it, and Steve could get nitpicky about situations where they have to switch to single-file movement… but it’s a plan for now. So the party begins to ascend, until the point where the xulgaths seem like they might have noticed the party’s presence.

OK, so… change of plans. The new plan will be that Darius will go up first and establish a beachhead, and hold the first platform while everyone else gets up to the platform. And the first part of the plan goes like clockwork. Not only does Darius get up to the platform, but Hap gives him a wall of fire to throw people through, and Darius chucks one xulgath over the side. So far, so good… right?

Except that’s when the alarm goes up and all hell breaks loose. Specifically, two things happen. First, the xulgaths drop a torch on the lower grounds, creating a nice little bonfire down below the platforms. And then, the party learns the hard way that the ladder isn’t as secure as they thought, as the remaining xulgath pulls a pin that releases the whole thing into freefall!

And that’s where we’ll leave things for next time. 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.