*sing* it's been ~a while~
and i have been watching vm vs the nein a lot so let's talk about it. as always with me, this is a very long word vomit.
i said over on my mechanics post that the vm playbook requires urgency while the nein's playbook requires setup. here's what i mean. if the nein can make it to round 3-4 intact, that is if all of them are up, they are going to win. period. the nein simply have too many ways to steal turns from their enemies or to maximize their own effectiveness for things to go any other way.
if you want to see this in action even with a reduced roster, go watch the fire elemental fight in episode 129 and count the rounds. between caduceus' mass cure wounds and spirit guardians, caleb's slow, veth's sneak attacks, and jester's guiding bolts, the nein were able to scrape out a win thanks more to their bag of tricks than the damage output. veth only got sneak attack because of guiding bolt's secondary effects, slow kept veth safe from an opportunity attack and jester from a multi-attack, mass cure wounds gave caleb that round to cast slow, and the spirit guardians passively whittled down the enemies into KO range. the accumulated secondary effects were too much for the enemies to withstand and they fell hard. notice how everything built on one another here. that's what cockroach parties learn to do well. it was sloppier than a normal nein fight but they did it with a reduced roster AND with nearly all of their high level spell slots spent before the fight. yeah, they're fucking scary.
vm, however, is a whole different kind of scary. this team can put you down before you even know what's happening. it's harder to target the group's biggest damage dealers because you have a hulking barbarian and often an elemental up front locking down combatants. the dagger rogue can teleport and fly. oh, and give himself an extra action each round. the ranger and the gunslinger can stand back and just go to town. the freaking bear can maul you. the bard can make your life a living joke in your final moments. the cleric is a wildcard because the group is built to fight without her; if she's around, good luck because that's another round of attacks you have to take and an extra round vm can take. their DCs are ridiculous, as are their overall ACs.
but the thing to know about vm is that they have to put you down fast. they don't have the hit points for longer fights and they definitely don't have the utility for longer fights. their druid is offensively oriented, their cleric is often absent, and their bard is mostly support. he's often the only one running that bag of tricks. he can and will fuck up an opposing team given the chance and bolster his own, the problem is that he has almost no backup here. it's a giant hole that is begging to be exploited. it's an even bigger hole when that bard can only cast one spell per round.
so, going into the battle royale, the vm side had to down one member of the nein as fast as possible preferably in two rounds or fewer. it almost doesn't matter who, because if you down beau or fjord, that forces jester or fjord to spend their action or spell getting the downed member back up. if jester goes down, fjord has to do something about it. well, i say it almost doesn't matter but beau's deflect missiles makes her the worst target of the trio and yes, i'm including fjord's half-orc bounce back in that calculation. that gives you one round where the person healing isn't fucking up your team. vm's secondary objective was to monitor and control beau. her movement is nothing to compared to a hasted vax but her stunning strike is the most lethal weapon the nein brought into this fight. vm overall is not a melee group to begin with and their con saves are all garbage. vm has to find a way to keep her off their tails if they want a chance. we also know that vm's plan was to try to take out jester first so throw that objective into the mix as well.
all the nein have to do is survive the first couple rounds, monitor scanlan and pike, and get into position. that's basically it. the nein can absolutely withstand vax and percy's damage output for the first two rounds. pike and scanlan's damage output can be scary but pike in particular has to decide whether she wants to hold high level slots for healing. and she would need those higher level slots to get close to percy and vax's damage output. the nein know from experience that the support caster is where the real trouble will begin.
but before we kick things off, remember that matt specifically designed this battlefield to take turns away from the teams. the chests are an action to search and are located far out of the way in the field. the gem requires an action to activate, which basically means sacrificing your action for someone else's, and shifts between six designated points on the field. matt, who has a deep understanding of how both teams operate, decided to play on the nein's insecurities that they were at a severe item disadvantage and see if he could get them to bite. high risk, high reward. granted, this is me speculating but it does look like matt saw the fight very differently from the players and readjusted the field accordingly.
so we kick off and immediately scanlan proves why he is the top priority on the nein's list. he gets the gem, gets fjord prone on the ground, and comes within a hair's breadth of turning the fight into a five on two potential slaughter. travis brilliantly responds to these circumstances in the best of ways. see, fjord isn't the nein's utility magician for this fight; fjord's the bait. travis makes a very big spectacle of himself and fjord's predicament. and vm buys it hook, line, and sinker. ashley tries to continue with the original plan of gunning for jester only to discover that jester is who knows where.
vax, percy and scanlan? immediately take their shots at fjord. but fjord's on the ground which puts percy's awful misfire mechanic into reasonable play. so fjord gets lucky and doesn't take anywhere near the amount of damage he could have from percy. scanlan, after percy is removed from the field, decides he's better off trying to finish fjord but only hits a 3rd level thunder wave instead of a higher level one, which sam was probably saving for some counterspells or such. i don't think a higher level would have made that much of a difference but it is important to note.
more importantly, vax gets greedy. he got two good hits on fjord with his two actions, he could have left and hidden for the next turn. yes, vm has to down fjord as fast as possible. however that haste is going to be more effective over the long term if vax can keep it. but fjord's easy prey and he thinks vm can down him before jester can get over there to do anything about it. so he goes for the bonus action attack. pike eventually joins this mad dash scramble and like scanlan, she absolutely needed to throw something huge at fjord to get past his half-orc racial trait to have a prayer at downing him. but she did not because ashley seems to have been saving all her high levels for healing so fjord survives the round in honestly a very good position. vax can't target him from range with the cloud up, scanlan now has bigger problems than fjord with molly right up on him, and pike ran, taking damage and healing fjord in the process.
meanwhile, the nein's ladies are free to run and play the field as they see fit. jester has a big opening round flame strike. beau decides she can hold off on her round 2 blitz run to vm in favor of bringing molly onto the field. remember kids, never let a monk with 55ft of movement have the run of the place, it's bad for business. jester then makes a great play with her dispel magic at vax's haste. hashtag thanks, fjord. remember, kids, cockroach parties excel at taking turns and actions away from their opponents. in round 2 alone, the nein successfully remove percy from the field and remove vax's extra attack. that's both big damage dealers hobbled in one round. they also gave themselves an extra turn, adding molly onto the field. and oh boy, molly.
here we see the utility martial fighter molly could have been. sam's confused by the low damage that molly's doing his first round but the damage isn't really the point of the attacks. that brand of tethering is far more important, as are taliesin keeping an eye on which reactions will support the nein and molly's second attack wasting scanlan's reaction. counterspell is off the table for the back half of round 2-beginning of round 3, which is important if fjord wants to get the heck out of dodge.
in case it wasn't obvious earlier in the match that the nein are absolutely gunning for scanlan, round 3 begins with beau's blitz against scanlan. fjord's luck against the dominate person balances out with scanlan's save against the stun and beau missing one attack. here, vm starts to get distracted. they chose their focus fire target, fjord, but now do not, arguably cannot, follow through on it. we'll never know what could have happened had vm said to hell with beau and molly in our faces, we have to finish fjord.
vax tries to retaliate against beau but here's where the cockroach starts to come into play. molly blood curses vax, which saves beau a full sneak attack+ worth of damage. it also utterly wastes vax's turn. fjord manages to escape (and damage pike while he's at it) and regroup where it's safe. scanlan tries to dimension door but fails due to the brand. literally any other move scanlan could try on the pair of them had a better chance of success. instead, another vm turn is lost. taliesin recognizes the importance of getting beau advantage and supports her at the cost of two of his attacks missing, but not before scanlan is forced to cutting words one of them. another potential counterspell and cutting words lost. neither jester or pike contribute significantly to this round; the nein have done so much damage to pike in three rounds that she is forced to heal herself while jester chooses to dimension door herself to the gem and only a low damage roll lets it evade her.
beau takes molly's setup and gets the critical scanlan stun. he loses his full round. fjord takes the opportunity molly provided him to polymorph into a t-rex, bringing him fully back into the fight. vm is really going to have a time and a half trying to finish him now unless they can put up a big single damage attack. jester builds on beau's setup by casting flame strike, whose dex save scanlan automatically fails. he goes down. if you're the nein, this is exactly where you want pike focused, on her team and not on yours. she has access to most of the same spells that jester has and the more you pressure her to focus on her team, the better. it's not wasting her turn, precisely, but it is controlling what she can reasonably do with it.
now we come to percy versus beau. i don't want to diminish the insane good luck beau had to take only 26 points of damage from six shots because what matters here is that percy absolutely could not down beau. period. her hit points were too high and after she took almost nothing from the first two shots, it should have been clear that she was going to get her turn and she would absolutely attempt to stun and down pike and scanlan. i'm not going to monday morning quarterback this fight but i will point out that the more rolls travis has to make to maintain concentration, the greater the chance he fails and you get to hit fjord's actual hit point pool and trade fjord for scanlan. and if you can get him before he can get back into the fray, even better.
beau stuns the gnomes and drops scanlan again. her inner cockroach rears its head once more as she negates more than half the damage on vax's critical hit sneak attack. fjord-rex downs scanlan and grapples pike. the stun on pike here really helps negate that high AC of hers. after scanlan's death, it's a long slow death spiral. vax abandons the fight in the next critical round in favor of keeping the gem instead of targeting fjord. percy attacks beau once more instead of fjord due to fjord dangling pike over lava. he starts to focus on fjord only to get distracted by jester. pike goes down but vax gets caught by beau before he can get her back up. and so it goes with vm losing turn after turn after turn until finally the nein poof percy out of existence and bring molly back. a fitting end for the team who started their final boss fight with eight and came out nine.
bottom line here, the vm team played like they had way more time than they actually did. they had to commit to a target and see it dead as fast as possible. they had to control the battlefield quickly and keep it. they didn't so they couldn't. aside from building on damage dealt, they couldn't create advantages or opportunities for each other nearly as effectively as nein did. all of these factors meant that the nein did what they always do: grind their enemies under heel.
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