“Well, shit.” Sean scowled deeper as Chris, who wasn’t saying anything but it was obvious that he was struggling not to laugh, passed him the swear jar. “I can’t believe we survived all the b–nonsense that Akira threw at us during the last campaign only to die now in what’s supposed to be Stephanie and Justin’s inductions to the group.”

“Aw, don’t be such a bummer; you’re not dead yet.” Justin, meanwhile, hadn’t stopped smirking or giggling since he’d rolled his a 1 on a Gather Information roll, decided to play it out as saying the worst possible thing at the worst possible time and then made all of his subsequent decisions based on what would escalate the situation even more until things had snowballed out of control. (Nobody had believed him when he claimed that he was representing a legitimate real-estate agency–albeit one headquartered on a distant planet since everyone, having finished several steampunk adventures just prior to this one, agreed to try a more sci-fi setting–even less so when he handwaved his dickish behavior as “standard company policy”. At some point somewhere Chris joked that Cooler & Sons were basically “the Space Mafia” and the nickame stuck.)

“Yeah, but it’s just a matter of time now. You’re practically an endgame boss that the full party would have trouble tackling, much less just me and Chris.” Sean took a sip from his can. “Yeesh, and I thought I was ridiculously min-maxed.”

“Now you know how I feel.” Akira, for his part, seemed to be taking it in stride that one of his players had derailed the campaign yet again, and in fact looked quite amused that for once it wasn’t Sean doing the derailing. “Stephanie, it’s your turn.”

Stephanie sighed. Even if Akira assured her that her character could break free of the confines if she got lucky enough, lack of the right stats be damned, the odds of accomplishing this were so minuscule that she might as well wait for the battle to reach its inevitable end and then handwave some more adventurer levels as part of being coerced into whatever organization Justin’s character worked for instead of acting as what amounted to a glorified item caddy until she’d “leeched” enough experience from the rest of the party. “Don’t I get, I don’t know, a desperation bonus or something?”

“That’s not how the mechanics work–” Akira began.

“Look, I know I didn’t think things through when I made Gohan, okay? You guys have made it abundantly clear that he’d fall apart like a wet tissue paper if anything so much as brushes against him because Akira has to balance encounters for the whole party.” Stephanie paid into the swear jar. “Well, I’m fucking tired of just sitting here watching you guys have all the fun! If Gohan is just going to get treated like a plot device until he can hold his own, I’d rather turn him into an NPC and play somebody who isn’t functionally useless in battle–and from what Chris has told me about you guys, your campaigns always end up pretty combat heavy because everybody’s so trigger happy about jumping into a fight.”

As much as he wanted to defend his friends, Akira had to admit to himself that Stephanie was right. Tiffany had quit the group over this very issue–she’d also accused them of being “loser misogynist nerds whose idea of a power fantasy amounted to nothing more than pretending to be orphaned murderhobos”, but that was a whole other can of worms Akira didn’t want to think about in the middle of a tabletop gaming session–and even Akira had to take a break from DMing because he themed their previous campaign around a martial art tournament and he was in serious danger of burning out before it ended. Plus, it wasn’t like he hadn’t given his share of even more beneficial concessions to everyone else. “Okay, how about this: you play out what Gohan might do in character, and I’ll give you a circumstance bonus that’ll give better odds of getting you out–and each failure will add to that bonus. Would that work for you?”

Stephanie thought about this for a moment. “I guess.” She picked up the dice. “Okay, so. Gohan’s seriously freaking out. Not only has he been kidnapped, but he can sort of hear the fight going on outside and he knows his daddy’s in trouble. He throws himself against the walls of his prison as hard as he can–” she leaned forward to see if the dice landed in her favor, and let out a groan of disappointment when she rolled low again. “Aww. I’m guessing that wouldn’t be enough, right?”

“It will be in a few more turns,” Akira promised. “Chris? You’re up.”

“I’m going to hold my turn,” Chris answered.

“What? Come on!” Sean exclaimed.

“What do you expect me to do?” Chris wanted to know. “I can’t try to hit him in any way without triggering an attack of opportunity, and I’m not charging another Special Beam Cannon unless I’m sure I can take him down with it.”

Akira turned his attention to Justin. “Justin, I presume Raditz is still going to kick Goku while he’s down? You can roll for damage so long as you don’t critically fail to hit.”

Justin glanced over at Sean’s notes before declaring, to everyone’s surprise: “I think I’ll start having Raditz do nonlethal damage from this point on. It’s not like he actually wants to kill his long-lost brother.” Then he rolled both his to-hit and to-damage dice at the same time, raising an eyebrow at the low results for both but not commenting.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Sean muttered as he updated his notes again. “I guess I hold my turn, too. Passing out isn’t that much better than dying right now.”

Stephanie was ready for her turn this time. “Okay, so now Gohan’s starting to get pissed. He tries to break free again.” But still, the dice refused to co-operate. “Oh, come on!”

“You have my sympathies,” said Justin. “Chris, Sean, you two still holding your turns?” Getting an affirmative reaction from both, he made his rolls as well, and made a gasp of mock horror when he saw the 1 on his D20. “No! Et tu, combat dice?”

“I wish that meant better luck for me,” Stephanie remarked. “Oh, well. All right, so Gohan is getting super pissed. He screams to pump himself up–” seeing a good result from the dice, she gave Akira a hopeful look. “Is that enough this time?”

Akira rolled some dice behind his screen. “You know what, why not. All three of you notice an absurd power level from where Raditz was keeping Gohan prisoner, and then you see an explosion of light as Gohan breaks free.”

“I still hold my turn,” said Chris, paying into the swear jar, “but I’m going to say, in character: ‘holy shit’.”

“Raditz is–” Justin rolled again and got another 1. “–too distracted by the light show to aim, apparently. Man, of all times for my dice to not cooperate.”

“I’m going to try to get up,” Sean decided. “Justin, you going to take your attack of opportunity?”

“Nah.” Justin switched his twenty-sided dice for a different one. “I don’t trust my dice right now.”

“Okay, Stephanie, you’re up again,” said Akira. “What’ll you do?”

“Gohan is totally going to throw himself at the big mean man with everything he’s got, screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘leave my dad alone!'” With that battlecry, Stephanie rolled her dice. “Yes! A crit! Way to go, dice!” She rolled again to confirm the critical, and pumped her fist when it hit another 20. “Booyah!”

Chris passed the swear jar to Justin as Stephanie rolled a third time, achieving maximum damage.

Justin dropped a handful of change into the jar. “Well, fuckity fucking fuck me.”