Talks Machina Episode 74 Highlights: 2-26

This summary has been reproduced from this Tumblr post.

Tonight's guests are Matt Mercer, Ashly Burch, and Taliesin Jaffe!

  • Announcements:
    • Critical Role will be at the San Diego Comic Con on 7/21 in 6BCF at 6:30pm. The panel will be aired next Tuesday during the TM time slot.
    • They’ll also be at NYCC in October! 
  • Stats for this episode:
    • Episode 26 had 14 natural 20s, the most of the new campaign. This was in no small part due to Ashly borrowing Tal’s dice because she doesn’t own her own dice bag. There’s so much dice karma happening in that sentence I don’t even know how to handle it. It ties with episodes 55, 61, and 100.
    • Keg has the most natural 20s of any single-episode guesting with 4.
    • Molly got the M9′s 100th kill. He leads the party with 21 kills in all. “Hot murder streak.”
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  • We’ve seen seven of Molly’s cards so far: the silver dragon, anvil, serpent, eye, moon, shadow, and the chariot. Tal says the serpent may be the same as the dragon, but he’ll check.
  • This was Ashly’s first time guesting on the show proper–previously she’d only been on oneshots. Biggest difference? “There were less people dying on the oneshots!” 
  • Matt and Brian both take a moment to applaud Ashly’s characterization and sticking to the true roleplaying of her character over any min-maxing of the dice she might have done otherwise. Tal says the math would have come out either way as it was. It’s the first time she’s ever done something like that in a D&D game. 
  • Matt always prefers roleplaying over what’s strategically optimal, especially since the moments where you falter and fail often lead to the true “hero” arc for your character. “It was very wild and unique to watch the cocksure exterior crumble.” 
  • Everyone’s been kind to Ashly directly since The Incident. It’s only whispers she’d heard indirectly.
  • Tal already hadn’t slept the night before; he didn’t that night either, just curled up and thought until dawn. He realized in panic that he’d never come up with a backup character as Matt had asked months ago; he has rolled a new one since then, but he spent most of the weekend coping with making a new character in three days after spending six months on Molly. Bless.
  • Brian woke Ashley up during the live show when he heard Taliesin say “my Blood Maledict’s going to kill me” so that they could watch the rest together. He realized that Matt was hesitating a lot more than usual as things went on, that Matt seemed to be hinting more and more strongly that the impending encounter was about to go very badly for the M9.
  • Matt designed the Iron Shepherds to be a very dangerous, powerful group when they are all together (as they were that night). He’d planned for several options: the M9 following and never catching up, waiting to gather intel until Shady Creek, catching up but only observing from a distance, and for the actual battle itself. He tried to give them clues about how dangerous they would actually be: that there were more than five enemies, that Ashly’s character knew how dangerous they were, that they were prepared and tough-looking. However, he never wants to be too heavy-handed in guiding the players’ hands. His intent with the battle was to show some surprises and that the M9 didn’t know what they were dealing with, and had hoped that the M9 would take the hint and back out sooner than they did. 
  • Brian could tell that Matt was very visibly affected as the fight went on, which Matt points out was in part due to how late it was. He allowed the battle to occur because he didn’t plan for it to be a long one (the Iron Shepherds were going to speed away…until the M9 dropped the tree across the road). Then he had no idea what was going to happen during the battle. He adds that DMs sometimes end up with encounters harder than they’d plan, and it was nervewracking because as much as he cares for these characters, he also has a responsibility to be true to the strength of the enemies and the realities of the dice. There were a lot of ways the fight could have still gone, but didn’t (parlay, discussion, more ambushing, better dice rolls).
  • If Keg hadn’t stepped up and used her relationship specifically with Lorenzo to halt the battle, it would have gotten way, way worse for the M9, including the kidnapping of more of the M9 to be sold. 
  • Lorenzo has a specific vanity and enjoyment of power over other people, and Keg’s intervention played straight into that. It’s the only reason that encounter didn’t go more poorly.
  • Some of the Iron Shepherds’ background information was known by Keg; some was deliberate misleading on the part of the Shepherds to keep Keg in the dark. 
  • Keg wasn’t happy about Caleb’s charming, but Keg knew there was no way she could take on the Shepherds on her own. She has a facade of being cocksure and proud but is truly a coward, and knew that taking them on alone would kill her. The charming was a “necessary evil.”
  • Taliesin knew the risks of the Maledict but planned to give Lorenzo disadvantage, hopefully dodge the next two attacks, and escape as soon as Lorenzo engaged with Beau. Then the dice came up with the rest of his HP and that was that. 
  • Matt did in fact roll the Golden Snitch for the bad guys this game. Brian: “Let’s not give him the most powerful die in the game next time.” Tal: “Oh, it’s going to go mysteriously missing any day now.”
  • Lorenzo was not visibly afraid at any point during this fight. Matt declines to elaborate further. 
  • GIF of the Week! u/rndmanswrs4rndmqstns from Reddit, for a gif of the battle map from last episode superimposed with a tragic news ticker footage of the slaughter. 
  • Molly’s final words were an easy choice. “He’s not complicated in that direction, and his feelings on violence and death are easy.” Tal says it didn’t fully hit him until hours later. Still, Molly never really felt ownership of his own self; it all still felt borrowed. He knew death would come eventually and probably earlier rather than later. “As ways to go existed, I think that was a very Molly way to go.”
  • Matt thinks these reminders of mortality are important…depending on the type of story you’re trying to tell. Their game needs the stakes of having the risk of death, although that’s not what would be fun for every game and should not always be on the table. However, they know each other so well that he feels it’s an important reminder that there are consequences for their actions and that it suits the world they live in. Tal points out that the same thing is true for so many types of fiction: “they’re only fine because they’re not real.” Sometimes these stories happen in a vacuum and the hero is immortal…and sometimes, as in their game, they’re not. Matt thinks it’s important to be able to grieve and feel catharsis for even a fictional character (and cites a particular death from C1 as an example for himself). Matt: “In a weird, macabre way, I’m excited to see where the story goes from here.” Brian: “Me, too.” Tal: “Me, too. I mean, at first I was panicking, but now I have a pretty good idea.”
  • Ashly initially panicked when Matt revealed the Iron Shepherds’ abilities (since she thought she’d misremembered what Matt had said), but then felt even more justified in her RP. Everything felt worse because so many people were gone, including Laura and Travis. “I felt like the babysitter who dropped the baby.” She felt the whole time during the fight that they shouldn’t be engaging the way they were.
  • Molly’s final thoughts were “easy and simple and base…the immense, reasonable, and wonderfully sustaining emotion of ‘well, f*** you, too,’ which is the righteous and more reasonable cousin to ‘f*** you.’“ No fear, no panic.
  • The Iron Shepherds existed as part of the worldbuilding in the northern region and were intended to be a later issue, but Matt wove them into the story soon since Laura & Travis had to leave. He wasn’t intending for them to become such an immediate, intense antagonistic force, but DMs have to adapt to the situations and this one felt natural. 
  • Cut to Dani Cam, who had a very hard Thursday night ( :( ). She asks Ashly how Keg, someone very self-preservational, decided to sacrifice herself for the M9. Ashly remembered that in their discussions, Matt characterized Lorenzo as someone who liked to make examples of people, and thought that if she prostrated herself in front of him, he might maim her but not kill her, which turned out to be accurate–so it was still fairly self-preservational on her part. They’ll find out more next week. Ashly will be with us the next two sessions and will be joining the crew at GenCon! Heck yes!!
  • As much as Tal likes Matt’s Lingering Soul class, he would never consider it as an option for Mollymauk. “There’s no version of Molly coming back as a ghost that doesn’t end with him desperately wanting it to be over.” Matt designed it more narratively to be a person whose sheer force of will keeps them from accepting the moment of death due to unfinished business or the pure determination to live…which they both feel is the exact opposite of Molly. 
  • Matt liked how Taliesin showed that all personalities can play the Blood Hunter, not just the edgy grimdark type. 
  • Fanart of the Week! @jesttothenines, with this pain. Ow.
  • If Molly hadn’t run to Lorenzo, Beau would have likely been his example instead. Molly was an easier target, though, because he was closer and more hurt. If Beau had been unconscious instead (and not dead) when Keg made her plea, Lorenzo might have asked what she was willing to trade to get Beau back. 
  • This is the second of Tal’s characters Matt’s killed. The first one was a mad monk who liked to set things on fire who was eaten by ghouls. 
  • Dani: “Why can’t this campaign be happy? And fairies?!” Matt: “We had the fairies last campaign in the Feywild! They murdered the pixies! They sided with the werewolves!”
  • After last campaign, Tal and Dani hugged while Dani cried pretty hard. Then Tal went home and cried himself. He left the table during the episode because he was on the verge of having a panic attack and couldn’t handle watching everyone else panic as well. 
  • Ashly thought she was going to have a limb lopped off at minimum when Lorenzo had her kneel. She didn’t expect to be let go unscathed. 
  • Molly would have considered his death “worth it” if he knew it meant Beau was spared. In a way, it helps that he now has an “eternal one-up” on her. Matt: “That’s very Molly of him.”
  • The persuasion success from Keg was a chief reason Lorenzo spared them, but it was also because the rest of the M9 were insignificant gnats to him. Keg’s reaction was the only one he cared about, so as soon as she gave in he’d gotten what he wanted. Then he just wanted to set the example and spread the word.
  • Ashly hadn’t meant to let them know she’d been part of the slavers until Shady Creek, but actually likes how it came out. 
  • Matt really doesn’t think it was an overall bad plan. It was just a few strategic missteps, some very bad dice rolls, and an enemy that outmatched them. 
  • Dani recalls to us all that Molly had told us it would be a cursed trip. 
  • Molly’s parting advice to the M9: Tal declines to think about it much in depth. “Life’s short, eat a bagel. Join the circus. Lighten up. Life’s short; do something to a bagel.”
  • The illusion that cloaks the cages under the tarp means that even if the missing three of the M9 are in there, they wouldn’t have seen Molly’s death. 
  • Molly is no different in Taliesin’s head than he was last week, which is why he’s having a slightly easier time with this than everyone else. “He’s no different for me, I just don’t get to trot him out on Thursday.” He was based off of several friends, some who have passed away, and several experiences he had as a teenager and places and people he knew that profoundly affected him. He mentions a song off the soundtrack for Wristcutters: A Love Story, since that movie had a lot of “good carnie family vibes” about weird people taking care of each other. There was an archetype in film that was very much Molly which Tal hasn’t seen in a long time, and he explains: there’s a way of living a life where you don’t give a fuck about what people think but you do give a fuck about people. He never needed to be fixed and he never needed permission for anything. He’s not Iron Man where you’re waiting to see him become a good person, and he was never a creature of profound change like Captain America, where you watch to see the good they make on the world; his unfinished business was in each interaction he had with the people in the world and making them deal with him, but making sure that dealing with him was always a positive and kind experience. Matt gets very emotional at the description. Me too, friend.
  • His favorite part of playing him was being a teenager version of himself; the art and cosplay were spectacular. And the terrible accent, of course. 
  • Brian takes a moment to thank Taliesin for making memorable characters and memorable choices that have a bigger impact than what only they can see. He looked at all the tributes for Molly this week because he wanted to get a feel for how the community was feeling so that they could hone the questions for the show. The character meant a lot to a lot of different types of people, and it’s a testament to Tal’s heart that people connected so much with this character. 
  • Brian, Matt, and Tal are all crying at this point. Ashly starts reactive-crying. Dani’s crying on the Dani Cam. This is AWFUL.

After Dark: QQ Edition

  • We open laughing (relieving change) since everyone’s hurled obscenities at Brian just before the show went live. Matt enjoys being on the other side of that for once.
  • Beau is the member of the M9 who’s best earned the right to wear Molly’s coat. “She’s the one who needs to lighten up. Caleb’s never going to lighten up and that’s okay. Jester doesn’t need it. Fjord doesn’t need it. That’s not Nott’s problem.”
  • Keg is super interested in Nott’s never-ending flask. “I’m abandoning this super dramatic narrative. I’m going for the flask.”
  • A TPK was possible if the M9 kept throwing themselves at the Iron Shepherds, but Matt knew they were smarter than that and would either flee or give themselves up as Keg did. “It relied on the players’ actions at that point; that’s why I was so nervous. I was like, this is the scenario I built and now we have to see it through.”
  • Tal honestly doesn’t remember what Liam said to him when he left the table right after him. It was mostly a “well, that happened,” and Liam just refilled his drink before going back to the table.
  • Tal went home after the show, cried in bed, and then the sun came up and he realized he had no idea for a new character. He spent so much time working on Molly that he never got around to making anything else. He came up with his next idea in about thirteen-fourteen hours, and he’s very happy with it. Matt points out he was explicitly clear about how they needed to come up with backup characters when the campaign started. “These low levels are dangerous!”
  • Everyone addresses the new studio in terms most respectful and patient, asking it to be benevolent now that it’s had its blood sacrifice. 
  • Keg’s going to grow a vengeance beard.
  • Brian talks about Ashley’s reaction on the couch; she leaned forward on her knees, looked over at Brian, and said, “I’m gonna kill that motherf***er.” Brian said, “Yeah, you probably will.” They now have a formidable villain for the early campaign.
  • Tal can’t even answer the question about how Yasha will react when she finds out. “Oh, no. Oh, no.”
  • Matt and Brian have a retrospective moment of panic about how good it is Yasha wasn’t there that night, since she’s a rage-based barbarian. Matt, wide-eyed: “There would have been no parlay. Oh, no. Next question.”
  • Keg’s favorite moments were the secret-sharing with Nott and the conversation with Beau. Matt loved their meeting: “When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It was beautiful.”
  • Brian’s first desire after the show was to rage-tweet Matt Colville. He, apparently, refrained.
  • Matt thinks the threat of death should be present and played out when it happens, but he never likes playing DM-vs.-player. 
  • Tal smiled when Molly was being killed because that was both Molly’s reaction, and because Tal himself is a nervous smiler. 
  • Matt doesn’t consider this revenge for Tal killing him off so soon in the Vampire oneshot; Tal reminds us that he knew Matt knew about the very specific subclass he’d given Matt and they both knew what would happen when he went outside.
  • Tal and Matt reminisce about early PC deaths. “What was that, 2012?” Ashly: “Aw, you guys have killed each other so much!”
  • They’re asked about the best lie they’ve ever told. Tal convinced someone a nonsense Pirate Queen existed; Matt doesn’t really lie, but when he senses gullibility he doubles down until reality’s rearranged. 
  • Tal started wearing black when Jim Henson died…except that he forbade black at his funeral. The camera zooms in on Tal’s iridescent loafers & his peacock paisley shirt: “This is Molly’s funeral shirt.”
  • Ashly will definitely be back on Thursday; Tal will be back as soon as the narrative allows it. He’s prepared for Thursday if it works out.