Storm King’s Thunder

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Since the onset of 5th edition Wizards of the Coast has endeavored to bring us grand adventure concepts, Dragons, Devils, Demons, a villain of legend. In Storm King’s Thunder they certainly don’t go smaller in scale, and I’m not just talking about the physical size of the main adversaries either. Even beyond the size of the giants faced throughout we are faced with the Savage Frontier, one of the most enormous untamed regions in all of the Forgotten Realms, and a tale as big as any Shakespearean drama. Something is amiss with the giants of the land, they are simply out of control. The characters may be dwarfed in size but someone will have to help stop the madness, the smallfolk must be put to the task.

Storm King’s Thunder represents the fifth such Super Adventure produced by Wizards of the Coast since the switch to it’s 5th Edition of the game. In the past many of these adventures included heavy involvement from third party game makers, like Kobold Press or Sasquatch Game Studio. This time, beyond having additional assistance from the whole WotC team & Forgotten Realms elite R.A. Salvatore, this story is almost exclusively Chris Perkins’ baby. Frankly it is yet another strong entry into the Super Adventure pool of games available for DMs to run for their player. I’m excited to say I’ll be running it myself.

Quality of the Product

Now that their are five adventures, spread over six books, I can really start to showcase these books on my shelf. I’ve put some of these books through the ringer too. Lent them to kids at the Library, paged through them multiple times, and they have really held up well over the years. I have no reason to suspect this new addition to the ranks will fare any worse.

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The artwork isn’t just pretty to look at. The art team recognized it’s duty to really add to the grand feeling to it all. As mentioned above, the story structure of this adventure has a real Shakespearean feel to it, and they did well to bring that feeling to the page with some amazing two page spreads and some we fleshed major players.

The Campaign

The course of this campaign will bring characters from level one to level ten and beyond. It is interesting to note that, without giving too much away, the problems being faced here all stem from a major shift among the race of giants themselves. The players represent the smallfolk of the world trying desperately to save themselves from that fall out, and it may just require issuing a helping hand to some giants themselves to return some order. Things will get very messy for the more diminutive races of the world if they don’t step in.

A quick read through of this adventure makes it feel a mite linear but there are actually several points where the characters will be choosing a path that, while not changing the story as a whole, certainly offer a different perspective. Things are not as Sandbox driven as the previous two installments, but I honestly can’t see why the players would care. If they are interested in helping out the choice to continue this adventure is never going to feel forced, it really does flow very well.

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Additional Content

I want to give a particular shout out to the layout of this book and to some specific design choices. I love that right at the beginning of the book the DM is given a rundown on the main NPCs for their arsenal. This “Dramatis Personae” section is a two page breakdown of the NPCs, each getting a brief description and direction to where in the book you can find more information on them. I’m also a huge fan of the Adventure Flowchart, for a quick reference of the various chapters each portion of this book has and for information on what level your characters should likely be when they get there. I wish I could show this, but that would be a bit of a spoiler for those prepping to play this game.

The Appendixes are very helpful for the DM, as one would expect. Of these Appendix A is the most interesting as it gives helpful advice on how to bridge other adventures into this one. I particularly like the way they suggest weaving Out of the Abyss and Storm King’s Thunder together.

A glaring omission for Storm King’s Thunder is the lack of any character options at all. To me it has become apparent that WotC has made the decision to allow the Dungeon Master’s guild be the main resource for players, and by that I mean if we want player option we have to make them ourselves. I was really hoping for at least some new character backgrounds for the Savage Frontier. The closest we get to something like that is a section at the beginning of Chapter 3 that adds details to the denizens of the Savage Frontier. I will note that while writing this I asked Chris Perkins himself about the decision not to include character options this time around and he directed me to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. I need to actually look at this book, pretty sure it’s the only one Wizards didn’t send me for review.

In Conclusion

Another solid outing. I continue to be impressed by the content WotC is churning out, if a bit let down that it is solely focused on selling to the Dungeon Master. This adventure shows me that while Wizards can utilize third party studios really well for great content, they don’t need them. There are some excellent, creative, minds at work in this company. I’m excited to see what comes next!

-Melvs

 

Kickstart that Geek! Sun Spots – A Call of Cthulhu RPG Scenario

The Sun Spots Kickstarter will run until October 9, 2016.

My aim was to write this review last Thursday, but life got in the way. Apparently Dave Sokolowski did not need my article in the least to get funded! First off, congratulations on funding Dave. Secondly, let’s see if I can’t garner just a tad more attention eh?

Lovecraftian horror/lore/gaming is a particular love of mine. Sadly, I rarely dabble in that third category though. I’ve read the rulebooks, and I’ve played in a Call of Cthulhu game from time to time, but never as much as I’d like. So naturally when Dave gave me the chance to dig into some of his material for this Kickstarter I loved getting the chance. What I didn’t know going into this review was the story behind it’s gestation. It would be unfair to say that this is the only Kickstarter I’ve reviewed that was a true labor of love, all Kickstarters are, but I found Dave’s backstory particularly endearing. The project was initially set to be handled with the assistance of famed Cthulhu mastermind Keith “Doc” Herber, whom Dave had only just begun a report with when his untimely death shocked all. So Sun Spots comes to us as a bit of a testament to Doc’s work, and what I see so far looks great! He Who Laughs Last Cover.indd

Sun Spots is a Horror themed RPG Scenario that uses the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition ruleset. Set in the 1920’s the adventure begins as a simple mission to find a missing person only to unfold into something far more grand, and terrifying. Rival powers surround the players who find themselves in the unseasonably warm town of Red Valley. Things seem normal at first but that is soon to pass.

What I have in front of me now could already suffice for a fully fleshed scenario were I to want to run the game myself. Frankly it seems this Kickstarter is mostly to round out the edges and fully realize the potential of Dave’s vision. As stated on the Kickstarter page itself the funding will help pay for more art, better maps, and even some last touches of editing.  I see no reason not to expect this project to be fully realized, especially because the thing has already funded.

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Currently the Kickstarter is at nearly $9,000, very close to doubling its original mark of $5,000. Already obtained are the following two stretch goals:

  • $7500: More Art — Add four more b/w half-page illustrations by our amazing artistReuben Dodd.
  • $8500: GM Kit Part 1 — Provide Playtest notes illuminating the various lessons learned throughout the years of playtesting this, as well as provide a full transcript of the first playtest from 2008. This will be available as a PDF with every pledge $10 and above.

At the $10000 mark we will see this stretch goal realized:

  • $10,000: Red Valley Visitor’s Guide — I will work with Gregory Geiger to incorporateJake Coolidge’s hand-drawn map of Red Valley into a 1920s-style visitor’s guide handout. This will be available as a PDF with every pledge $10 and above, and will be provided as a print copy for the Deluxe level ($70) and above.

As always I like to peruse things and see what levels I would be personally drawn to. Here are my picks for backer levels of interest.

Digital Spot – $10 or more

Receive a PDF copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG, plus all stretch goals. Also have your name added to the list of Kickstarter contributors.

INCLUDES

  • PDF Copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG
The Digital Spot is your typical PDF buy in offer, and I’d say you’d be getting you money’s worth and then some with this thrifty option. Perfect for those of us with a little less scratch in our pockets.

Deluxe Hard Spot – $70 or more

Receive a hand-signed, hardcover version of Sun Spots, plus a digital copy via DTRPG, all stretch goals, and your name listed as a Kickstarter Contributor. You will also receive hard-copies of the three maps and any scenario handouts.

INCLUDES

  • PDF Copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG
  • Hand-signed, Hardcover book of Sun Spots
  • Hard-copies of 3 maps & any scenario handouts
 The Deluxe Hard Spot is your go to for the luxury purchase in my estimation. Hard copies galore! The perfect purchase of a connoisseur.
Head on over to the Kickstarter when you get a chance, or at least spread the word to ensure your fellow Cthulhu loving friends hear about it. Looks like it’s going to be a great game!
If you want to know more about the project beyond what’s written here of on the Kickstarter page, head on over to Dave’s webpage Weird8.
-Melvs

Piracy in Theah! John Wick’s 7th Sea

“Let’s play a pirate game!” Who hasn’t either heard this exclaimed or shouted it themselves when contemplating their table’s next set of adventures eh? Over the years there have been a number of games suited well enough for a game on the high seas, generic systems like Savage Worlds, or maybe even a game that integrates the concept within like Iron Kingdoms. None have ever been quite as quick to the tongue as 7th Sea however and now, fresh from a successful Kickstarter run (and the starting of a whole new company, John Wick Presents) we have finally received a second edition of the game. Let’s be honest though, this is more of a re-branding of the titular title, utterly new and cinematic in nature, the new 7th Sea is upon us.

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The version of this product I will review is the pdf format of the game, available from Drive Thru RPG for $24.99. At this price point you will receive:

  • The Core Rulebook in a Low and High resolution format
  • Character Sheet
  • Two World Maps
  • The Quick Start rules

You’ll find zero complaints from me regarding the design, layout, and imagery of this product. It is flat out gorgeous. It really makes me consider getting my hands of the physical copy of the book some day, if for no other reason than to have it sit on my shelf looking pristine while I use the pdf for game-play so as never to touch it. As is evident from the style chosen to introduce those behind this book (a well drafted mock up of a movie poster) there is a push to showcase this work as a grand cinematic feature. This style choice does not disappoint, I had some real fun parsing these pages and loved all the artwork within.

After an introductory work of short fiction, the well written “A Day’s Work” by Jennifer Mahr, that goes a long way into giving its audience a feel for the world of Theah and its heroes (no worries I’ll not ruin it, great read) we get ourselves into the meat of the book.

Chapters one and two are all introductory pieces into the 7th Sea and an expanded introduction into the world of Theah itself. The continent of Theah is loosely based on our real world version of Europe and Asia of the pertinent time periods to the age of piracy. An interesting tidbit we receive right off the bat is an emphasis on how the world of Theah handles diversity, in that peoples of all nation, sex, and creed are to be treated equally. This is a great idea for the game table anyway, so including it in game (with a good rationale for why it is that way) is a nice touch. Further through chapter two we are introduced to the various nations (their etiquette, governments, and even food, clothing , and customs), Religion, Guilds, Pirates and Privateers, and more. Some of the items touched on here are broadened in their own chapters, like Secret Societies. Spanning just over 100 pages these chapters give you just what you need to have a feel for the setting.

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I adore every chapter’s two page splashes. Some utterly epic work.

Character creation, as described in chapter three, comes across fairly simple with enough choices to address even the most fiddly of players. An interesting process starts this creation off. A list of twenty questions helps to guide a player into fleshing out just who their character is. Questions like “How would you physically describe your hero?” might assist you in the mechanical aspects of the upcoming creation and yet there are also questions like “Is your hero in love?” that speak to more “fluff” related items. After reading through this section I can easily see how a veteran of the game might simply skip it but I’d urge any player to use this list as a jumping off point, it really looks like it might add some much needed depth!

Honestly, once you have a concept for your character (something the aforementioned section will produce) the remaining choices simply fall into place. Traits detail core strengths, next your character’s nation and background add bonuses to and Advantages, then you enhance Skills gained through your Background or add new ones, and add some extra Advantages. These are the major mechanical aspects, and your concept will help you choose them quickly. After that there are two items to add on to a character that I feel are pretty unique. Arcana is essentially a version of horoscopes that add extra bonuses to certain styles of play, and then you come to Choosing a Story. This last bit is much more abstract, as you aren’t bound by the suggestions they lay out, but as I mentioned there are suggestions (and a helpful template). Your story appears to be the mechanism for how your character advances in “level” or rather how one increases certain Traits\Skills or earns new Advantages. Complete your story, earn the pre-ordained reward. I will note that there is one last step of some finishing touches to work on after this though, wealth, languages, secret societies, etc.

Chapter four addresses the mechanics of play. There is a simple three step system to recall for any situation. The GM sets the scene, a player may decide to take an action and if the GM feels that action is what’s called a “Risk” the player will need to roll dice, lastly the results of those rolls to resolve the Risk. Obviously things may get more interestign than that but thems the basics. One thing I like is the section starting on page 172 that lays out a fictional back and forth between a GM and a player to showcase how such situations play out. I’ve seen this trick done many a time in RPG books and I always like it.

Once the die are cast and totaled, called the Approach in this book,  the GM must then decide if the player has succeeded and created an Opportunity for the players, a Consequence, or both. Great care is taken to ensure any GM knows that it is far more interesting to mix the two and to liven them up from a standard “You\They take wounds” situation where possible. Make it cinematic.

Getting deeper into this chapter the rules allow for all sorts of adjustments, from both the GM (ala something called the Danger Pool) or the players (Hero Points, Flair, Pressure). Details get rounded out about dealing with wounds, because sometimes the Consequence truly is taking a sword to the gut, and there is even a nice section on setting up a “rush of furious activity” known as a Dramatic Sequence. The mechanics can seem a heady at first, but the deeper you read (and after parsing the various examples) you’ll get the gist rather easily.

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All I’ve spoken on only encompasses the first two thirds of this book. The next four chapters cover various character options, the many styles of sorcery available, dueling maneuvers, how to sail a ship, and the various secret societies a player can belong to. Then, to wrap things up, we have a strong finale chapter dedicated to assisting GMs (from novice to veteran).

7th Sea is a very different game from its roots with its original Roll and Keep system, and it stands to be seen which players may prefer. The new system is well fleshed out though. Attention has been paid to the minutia, and we have a very complete game. It is an interesting blend of fiddly mechanics and emphasis on storytelling that I find myself interested to dive into. I get the impression my regular gaming table would not approve of the “leveling” mechanic in the game, but I honestly love the idea of setting out to actually complete story arcs and goals, and then being rewarded for doing so.

If you find yourself craving that cinematic feel of piracy on the big screen, this is your game. If you love the idea of taking a character along a storied path, this is your game. If nothing else the book is chock full of excellent artwork, and fantastic lore usable in any piracy game. There’s a reason this project raised over 1.3 million on Kickstarter, it is grand!

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Get out there and sail those seas!

-Melvs

 

 

Gaming in Gothic Horror

Gothic Fiction

Obviously this topic is on my mind of late, as my upcoming Ravenloft game lurks ever present in the back of my mind. A horror is tough to run at a table, let alone going further down the niche of Gothic style horror. So what sets this style of play apart from your regular gaming campaign? What kind of work behind the scenes and on game night must you do to correctly set the tone? Well, here’s hoping some of the ideas I have for my upcoming Ravenloft run might assist you.

UNDERSTANDING GOTHIC HORROR

I think the first step for something like this is to understand just what Gothic horror represents as a genre. While all your regular horror tropes may appear in this subgenre, your slashers, beasts, death, and despair, a truly Gothic setting must also up the ante on pure tragedy. It’s villains are best when served up as either heroes gone bad or someone who gave into their craven desires and then strive for said desires, never to be sated. Ravenloft is filled to brim with horrifying figures of tragic circumstances. Strahd von Zarovich is the prime example, namely because so few do not know his legacy, he forever seeks someone to fill the place of his one true love whom he will never again be with. His jealousy and rage caused his downfall and he became the horror he is to this date.

I think one of the best things in the Curse of Strahd Adventure Path was the fact that the vampire lord was not idle, true villains of Gothic horror rarely are. They are not eveil lords content to sit back in their strongholds awaiting the PC’s to storm the gates after conquering their minions. In a Gothic setting if you draw the eye of the monster you seek, you will become wrapped in their games.

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Gothics are often referred to as Romances, and with good reason. Even if there is not the physical love between two or more people it is all about “romantic” ideals. Look to the typical hero of a Gothic tale. Victor Frankenstein can hardly be called a hero but his romantic notion to bring the dead back to life created his own horror on Earth. The best of heroes in a Gothic setting are typically less capable than you would see in other genres. The hero of Dracula was Professor Van Helsing, not the crossbow wielding adventurous guy you may have seen in other depictions, but instead an older gentleman with his own set of flaws. He doesn’t discern the true nature of the issue until it is too late for one life and he is not capable of saving all in his care as he drives them to track Dracula back to Transylvania. Heroes in these stories are rare, they are also often flawed.

Essentially the truly Gothic tale will be one where the heroes clutch and claw about, looking for the cause of the dismay and confusion that surrounds them, only to eventually have all the clues snap into place. The best realization of the horror that surrounds them then should be a simultaneous feeling of dread and despair, sometimes even for the monster they seek.

HOW TO BRING THAT TO THE TABLE

To give a Gothic game that truly dreamlike grandness it deserves can be hard, both the players and the GM often need to be invested in the story. This isn’t the type of game that lends itself to a “battle a week” format very well. There needs to be a leadup to that point, and it can often work best when the fight isn’t even entirely fair. Though I will say I have no intention of going full on Lovecraftian on them, if I wanted them to have no chance I’d just run a Call of Cthulhu based game.

I know I’m already urging my players to have connections to one another but I think I’m going to go one step further and have them, for whatever reasons their characters have, residents of the same small village. In this move I plan to start their troubles somewhat small, get them involved on a personal basis early on. Their characters will know, and presumably care, for every member in the village. I can’t go too much further into this though because some of my players actually read this stuff.

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Potential game night location

For some of the ambiance, I plan to incorporate music and sound into my game as much as possible, utilizing Battlebards as I’ve mentioned many times over the last few articles. Hopefully I can even dim the lights or something but I have learned that D&D by candlelight doesn’t work well, people just can’t see a damn thing. I’ll ask that phones be placed away from the table, I can’t stand people on their phones while I’m running a game.

In game I’ll be pulling creatures from the Children of the Mists supplement I described in my previous article a lot. Ravenloft can be a place of straightforward dangers like banditry and such, but I want my enemies to have dark purpose and I hope to convey it.

IN CONCLUSION

There are a ton of things I could throw onto this page about my plans but it might ruin some of what’s to come. I hope the guys go for it, I’m pretty excited. Stay tuned to the site because I’ll probably work up a few post game write ups, or at least let you know some of the things that have worked\not worked for me. If you have advice for a burgeoning Gothic Horror GM, let me know in the comments! I don’t profess to be an expert yet, this is my first run at it.

-Melvs

5e Ravenloft Resources

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I’m gearing up for a Campaign set in the Ravenloft setting, so I’ve been scouring the DM’s Guild for a few resources to help out. Since I went ahead and purchased many of them sight unseen I thought I’d let you all know my thoughts. I will say before I even spell out details about each product that I suggest them all as a purchase.

NEW CLASSES, ARCHETYPES, & RACES

RVNLFT ACH 1

Author: Jeremy Forbing                     Price Point: $2.80

Ravenloft Archetypes I: Nightmares of Barovia

In this fiendish supplement the character choices presented typically take on a darker tone, as they are representative of character options for actual denizens of the Ravenloft setting. When Curse of Strahd hit the scene it was all about characters from Forgotten Realms being drawn into the Demiplane of Dread, not so here.

There are no new classes to speak of in this supplement but there is at least one new archetype for each of the core classes represented in the pages. Archetypes like the Oath of Blood for a Paladin striving to hold off their vampire nature after suffering the curse or the Reanimated archetype for a Sorcerer who has already died but now roams the plane as a risen magic user particularly stand out as unique to the setting.

There are three new races to choose from. The Vistani, bold choice to go full blooded, the Crag Dwarf, a version of the classic dwarf that has evolved a bit of dexterity not seen in its cousins, and the Dusk Elf, which represents more of a stylistic choice than a trait based one (thought it does offer access to some supplement specific feats).

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There isn’t a ton of art, but where there is it’s really good stuff.

Other items of interest in the supplement are new spells, feats, and even some monsters and NPCs for the GM of your game to play around with.

My review would be that the archetypes are strong, setting specific, choices. essentially they are worth the price of the book alone. The only thing I didn’t like about the book were the races, the author boldly went for something new rather than cribbing from the past but it just didn’t pan out. The remaining character options are great though!

RVNLFT ACH 2

Author: Jeremy Forbing                   Price Point $3.28 

Ravenloft Archetypes II: Core Domains Adventurer’s Guide

I liked the first foray into new Archetypes from Jeremy that I figured I’d pick this one up as well. I am not disappointed. Not only does this second helping include more in the way of character options for players but we get a healthy dose of setting lore for GMs to utilize.

Once again every character class gets a new Archetype to play around with. I especially love the Rulership Domain for Clerics, just thinking of playing as some zealot of the Lawgiver is giving me flashbacks to being an Inquisitor in an old Warhammer Dark Heresy RPG I played in. Other options added are more Races and subrace options, we finally see the Caliban which is represented as a variant of the half-orc here. The Ravenkin is a really neat idea too, no where near alike to any character class you’d normally play as. You are basically an intelligent, slightly larger, Raven. Crazy fun spellcaster class.

The new GM stuff is my favorite thing though. Love getting my hands on any details I can regarding the Core.

There are some redundancies in this book, as in things seen in the previous one. So keep that in mind.

HEROES OF MIST

Author: David “Jester” Gibson       Price Point: $3.00

Heroes of the Mists

Over the years I have turned to the website The Fraternity of Shadows often for game prep in Ravenloft, and often just to read some good gaming concepts. My buddy Jacob B. introduced me to the site when he was running Ravenloft for us in 4th Edition D&D because he was using a version of the 4th Edition Ravenloft Campaign Setting crafted by David “Jester” Gibson, the author of this entry into the DM’s Guild.

So, obviously this is a different version of the same thing the previous two items offered. Character options for the most part and a smattering of GM tools. If I were to choose between Heroes of the Mists and the Ravenloft Archetypes books I’d go with this product here, although it would be a tough choice. Jester, and the gang over at The Fraternity of Shadows, are simply more familiar to me and are a bit more closer to the original feel of Ravenloft.

The most glaring flaw is the lack of a table of contents but after reading through you get a great selection of Races, Class options, etc. but in this supplement they do a great job of adding in Backgrounds and even some setting specific items\magic items.

Towards the end of the pdf there is an excellent chapter to help a struggling GM run a game in Ravenloft. Teaching you the basics of mood and even adding in rules for Madness and Horror.

MONSTERS

Children of the Night

Authors: David “Jester” Gibson & Andrew “alhoon” Pavlides                                     Price Point: $3.00

Children of the Night

There’s only one supplement I felt I needed to grab for setting specific monsters and that was Children of the Night, also from our friends over at The Fraternity of Shadows and their publisher 5 Minute Workday Publishing.

Once again written by David “Jester” Gibbons, with help from another Fraternity member Andrew “alhoon” Pavlides, Children of the Night contains over 100 pages of just the right type of skin crawl inducing beasties you need to fuel your late night excursions into the Demiplane of Dread.

The vast majority of these monsters are updated versions of creatures found in the pages of Ravenloft supplements of old. The mechanics all appear to be well fleshed out for the new 5th edition, I can’t wait to throw some of these guys at my players.

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The artwork is simplistic but that actually adds to the feel of the manual, as if it were hand drawn by a chronicler of these creatures.

PREMADE ADVENTURES

SONG OF ARACOS

Author: Lucas Curell                         Price Point: $4.95

The Song of Aracos

*This review is lifted straight from my review of Curse of Strahd*

From Ember Design Studios LLC. author Lucas Curell, The Song of Aracos is considered to be a companion piece to Curse of Strahd that takes a paragraph from the introduction in CoS, written by Tracy Hickman, to heart…

 

 

“Strahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it – he travels as he desires to any place in his realm or his castle, and (from his perspective) the more often he encounters the characters, the better. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter…”

— Curse of Strahd pg 10

The adventure is a ghost story, written for five characters of 6th-level and centers on a child’s struggle to reunite with her mother. After an introductory piece of fiction, that perfectly fits the Ravenloft flair I love, the adventure starts right out of the gate with some action with an encounter that makes pulling the players into the story-line easy for the DM. From there the players are led down the rabbit hole of helping not only another man recently trapped in Strahd’s realm but a spirit in need of respite. The trouble is, Strahd is well aware of the character’s movements and of those who seek their aid, and he is not one to lay dormant as the playthings in his interest make their moves.

Curell weaves elements of the main Adventure Path into his adventure with deftness, you’ll never feel that your playing through something not of WotC’s make. He even includes the randomization of the Taroka Deck. The setting, and NPCs involved all fit perfectly with Strahd just as terrifying as ever. Adding in a win and lose circumstance for the players matches up well with the way such things are handled within the actual Adventure Path. I especially like the potential rewards that players can obtain from doing well.

In my opinion this is a must have for anyone planning to run Curse of Strahd for their table, though it can be used as a stand alone adventure. Honestly, it’s a perfect example of what a great idea it was for Wizards of the Coast to open up their content for talented creators through the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Head on over and pick it up!

Rats in Street

Author: Lucas Curell                             Price Point: $4.95

Rats in the Street (5e)

Rats in the Streets is the newest offering from Ember Designs Studios for a party of adventurer’s of 3rd level. I loved The Song of Aracos so much I had to get my hands on it. After paging through it I think it will make a great side quest for one of the game nights in our Ravenloft Campaign.

While mostly an urban adventure, with much less stress on the horror elements present in Song, we do still have some of the trappings of Ravenloft. Namely in the lead villain’s cursed nature.

The fact I plan to use Rat’s in the Street for Ravenloft goes a long way in showing its versatility as an adventure for your table. This is a great little urban crawl for any group that gives them a satisfying romp against a gang of criminals terrorizing the streets.

By the time my table gets here they might actually welcome something a bit more straight-forward as a fight against a group of street toughs. Though, there are plenty of fun surprises in store for them too.

Scrupple

 

So there you have it, those are the items I picked up to help me out. Plus, I plan to utilize Battlebards heavily now that I have a hang of their site. Not sure what I’m talking about when I reference Battlebards? See my recent review.

 

Fresh to War: Uboxing the Warmachine New Releases for August 2016

The third edition of Warmachine & Hordes has been upon us for some time now. I detailed a few of the new Starter boxes, along with their faction decks and even the newest editions of the core rulebooks, back in early July. I got a chance to sit in on the Gen Con panel and it was plain to see, Privateer Press is armed to move forward with their wildly successful product lines.

Fresh from the product line I was greeted with a bevy of new models this week, all August releases, for the Cryx and Cygnar factions! Let’s do a little unboxing shall we?

CYGNAR
BLACK 13TH STRIKE FORCE UNIT – RESCULPT 

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Available as of 08/10/2016 
MP $21.99

Up first I’ll detail the resculpt of the ever popular Black 13th Strike Force. Now, I’m not a Cygnar guy but I’ve seen requests for years to resculpt these guys, essentially the major complaint has always been that they were dwarfed by other gun mages in the game. Chances are I’m not informing any Cygnar fans about the need for the resculpt, and you guy have to love being heard. The resculpt came out great! Ryan, Lynch, and Watts look fantastic and are ready as ever to die for the cause.

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Probably blasphemy but I love not having to glue a lot of pieces together. Very little flash to concern yourself with, excellent detail.

There are a lot of changes to the card for this unit, namely it is streamlined and many of the individual tactics for each member have been either removed or merged with the others. What you have now is a single coherent unit.

The whole unit gets:

  • Gunfighter
  • Officer (Lynch only)
  • Concentrated Fire
  • Prowl
  • Swift Hunter

Their Magelock Pistols, that count as magical weapons, get the following Attack Type options:

  • Black Penny
  • Brutal Damage
  • Snipe

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Sure some of the novelty of this group has disappeared, now that they no longer have individual specialties, but on the whole it is a much faster unit to play out. Now you don’t have to recall which ability went with which character. I’d prefer that, but then again at the table I’m still a novice.

CYGNAR
ARCANE TEMPEST RIFLEMAN SOLO

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Available as of 8/10/2016 
MP $12.99

The Arcane Tempest Rifleman will be welcomed at any Cygnar table I’d imagine. As a Retribution guy I can attest that a Ghost Sniper or two finds its way into most of my armies and for a mere one extra point cost the Arcane Tempest Rifleman trumps Ghost Sniper every time. Having the Magelock Rifle grants him some actual attack options. Reposition beats out Swift Hunter, this guy comes with Arcane Precision to handle those stealthy punks. His weapon is a magical weapon too. Frankly, I’m jealous.

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The Rifleman comes with the following abilities:

  • Arcane Precision
  • Marksman
  • Resposition

Their Magelock Rifle, which counts as a magical weapon, gets the following Attack Type options:

  • Deadly Shot
  • Snipe
  • Ward Breaker

So no lie here, I’m really jealous. One extra point cost has this guy trouncing my Ghost Sniper. The front card stats are the same too, though Ghost Sniper does get Pathfinder I guess. Oh well, congrats Cygnar players!

CRYX
CARRION THRALLS

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Cryx has some nasty specimens eh?

Available as of 8/10/2016 
MP $44.99

I can’t come right out and say that these guys are going to cause a ton of fear in a Cryx player’s foes but they certainly make for one Hell of a jamming unit. They can cover large swaths of ground with high SPD stat and with a Reposition ability that has some serious length, they have the ability to swoop down on an unsuspecting solo only to move on and jam up their true target unit later.

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A lot of flash on the smaller pieces but the level of detail is just top notch. I really like the perched guy, very different from the rest so it makes for a great leader piece.

The unit size comes in either a group of six or a group of ten, and I’d say it yields a bit of a high point cost for what you get but I can imagine a few players that may like to throw this group out from time to time just to have something unique on the table.

The Carrion Thralls come with the following advantages:

  • Combined Attack
  • Flight
  • Undead

They also come with the following special abilities:

  • Finisher
  • Prowl
  • Reposition

CRYX
INFLICTOR*SEETHER HEAVY WARJACK KIT

Available as of 8/24/2016 
MP $34.99

With the onset of mk III we finally get an actual sculpt for the Inflictor it seems. I’m digging the look, wondering how far that stinger arm will stretch though. Might cause a bit of cluster on the battlefield.

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I’ve always enjoyed getting an actual how-to map for putting these types of models together. Never been the best at it, really wish some units came with instructions personally. There have been plenty of times I’ve given the wrong hand to one of my poor guys.

It’s fitting to place these two guys in a box together as choosing one over the other represents choosing one of two very different play styles. The Inflictor is a great unit to use if you need to protect your Warcaster from harm with its Shield Guard ability whereas the Seether is your standard rush and attack style crazoid. The lore even states that the Seether is basically uncontrollable, so that’s a fun image.

The Inflictor comes with the following special abilities:

  • Shield Guard
  • Critical Poison (on Stinger weapon)

The Seether comes with the following Special abilities:

  • Berserk
  • Countercharge
  • Uncontrollable Rage
  • Hard Head (Tusks Weapon)

This has been my first true unboxing for Privateer Press’ Warmachine line, so I hope I did the game some justice. Feel free to leave a comment if you feel i left some critical information out as I’m just getting used to this style of review. Be honest, I can take it! I want to bring you the best possible information I can. Thanks all!

-Melvs

 

BATTLEBARDS-PREMIER TABLETOP AUDIO & TOOLS FOR YOUR CAMPAIGNS

Battlebards

Over a year ago I had the chance to do a Q&A session with the team behind a little Kickstarter project trying to give us the auditory means to shape atmosphere at our gaming tables. Today the Battlebards website finds itself deep into its Beta launch with a slew of new options coming to the fore. Thus, though I’ve been using music and sound effects from the site ever since launch, I felt know was the perfect time to do a bit of a deep dive into the site and see just what new tools I can play around with.

Before I get into the music I wanted to give some props to the site’s blog (because of course I’d be interested in the blog portion of any site, even one dedicated to awesome musical additions to gaming). When crafting an article for the blog the site creators don’t simply note that a new track is available, or that an update has occurred. Instead the pieces are usually really engaging write-ups. Currently at the top of the page you’ll find a post that gives us insight into one of the composers used on the site. The composer is Stefan Totsev, who crafted the haunting\uplifting melody “Monks of the Sun God”. I love gaining insight into people’s backstories and this is just an excellent treat. Beyond that there are numerous mentions of new tracks, deals on the site, and even a few guest spots from other notables. Even if you aren’t a subscriber (yet), the blog has a lot going for it.

Store

Let’s get into the music though, shall we? When I backed the project I actually purchased a decent chunk of tunes but after actually paying attention to the store I now see that my library of nearly 200 tracks is a paltry sum. There are currently 871 tracks available for purchase individually or you can pick them up in bundled forms by choosing from 77 albums. The albums are broken down into categories so you can easily pinpoint what you might want. If you just want mood music (the arena I’ve been most successful in) simply do a store search for “Music” under Albums. If you’re a bit better about adding actual sound effects to your games you can grab from things like “NPC Scripts”, or “Sound Effects” (Shields breaking, bowstrings, sword clangs etc.).

One thing Battlebards is not is stingy with their sampling. To my knowledge you can listen through the entirety of an album before deciding to purchase it. You can hit play on anything you wish to sample and throughout your stay on the site the track(s) will play using an audio player that remains stationary on the bottom of the site, until you decide to try out another sound. I’ve been listening to the Underground Lake City album the entire time I’ve been writing this, I own one of the four tracks and want to know if I need more (I was running Out of the Abyss at one point, the track “Underground Lake City – Lightness Shores” was used often). If you listen long enough you’ll notice the phrase “Battlebards dot com” being intermittently cropping up to break the immersion, can’t have you just playing from the site for game night eh?

Sample

I will say that the ease in which you can search for music in the store holds gives way to validating one of my frustrations with the site. In the section housing what you’ve purchased, the “Library” tab, you don’t get that same level of functionality. What I have on my end is a list of my 192 tracks, that appear to be sorted by artist, with no other method of sorting available. Granted, the idea is to download tracks into your own audio playing software, and I have done this, where you can sort with greater ease. It still bugged me that I couldn’t do a quick search for a specific track I wanted right then and there though. If you have a full albums of something you can go to the Albums tab where you can click on the “tracks” number to give an album breakdown, but I don’t think all of my tracks show up here. If I’m ever to make a playlist on the actual site to be used on their Soundboard, I’d really like to be able to break things down into smaller chunks.

Library

I keep wanting to click “Audio Type” to re-organize this list!

Speaking of the Soundboard, it is one of the newer aspects of the site. In this area you’ll be able to bring up a fully completed playlist to incorporate into one of you games. I played around with this a ton and this is exactly what I’ve been missing when trying to have something on hand to incorporate multiple sounds at a time in my games. You can pull up to two playlists up at a time, perhaps one for Music and Soundscapes while the second incorporates your favorite Sound Effects. Here’s another deal, in the Soundboard there’s a MUCH easier way of adding to a playlist than using the Your Playlist tab. I can simply add tracks to a playlist using the option on the left, and lo and behold they actually have it broken down exactly how I wanted it done in my library too. So while my ire with the library still stands it is greatly lessened by the ease in which I can utilize the soundboard. There are still some bugs here though as it appears one of my recently chosen tracks seems to have disappeared behind the “Play All” banner in the second column. This is going to be a huge boon to my audio usage at the table though.

Soundboard

What a few Playlists look like

Adding Soundboard Tracks

Clicking the “plus sign” to the left opens up your tracks

The last new item I wanted to talk about is the Mixer. This is something I’ve been very excited about since day one. I always pictured myself making some killer tracks on this thing and it seems I’m fully able to do so! That is…if I had a single skill in my body to do so. Seriously, I played around with this and it is apparent I’ve a long way to go in order to make use of it myself. That’s on me though, the mixer seems very intuitive. It is still in development so the ease of adding tracks can be tricky unless you know to actually create a mix first (would love to be able to play around with mixing then save a mix after, but that’s only a quibble). One of the mixes I did recently was adding a few extra sound effects to the Monsterscape track “Common Giant – Combat – Fighting the Hill Giant” It was a real simple mix that makes it sound as if an Arrow Barrage takes the giant down.

Mixer Demo

Obviously people are going to do far better than I at crafting some seriously awesome sounds with this mixer, even if I never do. Stands to be seen how exactly Battlebards allows the mixer to be used. Will we one day be able to import our own sounds and sell through the site? Either way, even if it is only ever for private use, I’m having a blast toying with it.

Frankly, I don’t know how much longer Battlebards will have the right to keep that word Beta on their site. Things are beginning to be very well polished over there. I imagine once they finalize the Mixer they are going to have to consider themselves fully fleshed out. I’ve had a blast on the site during this review and I think you will too. Signing up on the site is 100% free, i’d suggest anyone to so it if for no reason other than to listen to some of the cool works they have. Once signed up, you’ll probably want to buy a track or two and for that, you’re in luck.

There is currently a coupon code for some great free tracks on the Battlebards site, exclusively from The RPG Academy Network, to celebrate the upcoming release of an Album called “Pirates – And the Grand Ocean“, but you can’t get it right here sadly (don’t want to just throw a Coupon Code into the wilds of the net for easy Google searches!). Here’s what you need to do, check out one of many fine podcasts in the RPG Academy Network because this code is going to crop up in some, maybe all of their shows. I know for a fact that the newest line of podcast material from The RPG Academy called “Detention” (hosted by The Caleb G.) will house the code info soon, if not already.

Another way to get the code? Leave a comment below and I’ll get you the list of codes by another means!

The codes will get you the following discounts, they are good through the end of the year (Happy hunting!):

If you buy the $10 or $24 package, the first code gets you 1 free track
if you buy the $50 or $100 package, the second code gets you 5 free tracks
If you buy the $150 or $300 package, the third Code gets you 16 free tracks

You have to have a battle bards account to claim anything. it’s free to set up with an email

That’s all from me folks, let me know if you have any tidbits to share from your own Battlebards wanderings. Remember, comments will get you Codes!

-Melvs

P.S. Battlebards has also produced 16 videos thus far on their YouTube Channel, many of them go to great lengths to showcase how to use certain functions on their site. If you are having trouble with something they may have produced a video on it! I know I need to check out this video right here to learn more about mixing.

Meta Arcade Brings Tunnels & Trolls to the Small Screen

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Meta Arcade teamed with Tunnels and Trolls for a cool app I’ll explain in detail later

Tunnels and Trolls has the prestige of being the second tabletop roleplaying game to ever hit the scene, and is working on being something of a first adopter in the digital age by teaming with Meta Arcade and the Meta Arcade Adventures Platform. T&T is well known for its “choose your own adventure” games that first allowed players to run themselves through a solo adventure of their own making equipped with all the same rules you’d know from any tabletop rpg. Now Meta Arcade founder and CEO David Reid has created the bones of a platform where players can run through digital adventures that utilize the Tunnels and Trolls rule-set, bringing these adventures straight to your phones, tablets, and home computers.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Reid at Gen Con about the partnership and their plans going forward, and had a chance to test drive the game itself (more on that in a bit). His excitement for the project was palpable, in fact he grew up playing T&T, he explained plans to not only bring its users games to play but open up access for anyone to publish their own works for others. The adventures, or even campaigns, would then be for sale through the app allowing for creatives to market their own work. Players will also be able to keep the PCs they create, the treasures they earn throughout, and the levels they amass taking on adventure after adventure.

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Playing the demo at the Gen Con booth was excellent fun. I expected a strong game play experience but was even more impressed by the pure immersion I was allowed once I donned the headphones. The sound effects and music blended with the on screen game play excellently and I soon found myself rooting for my poor hapless PC as she attempted to survive the rigors of T&T’s Naked Doom. The adventure was grueling as my character attempted to traverse through a dungeon she was dropped into with nothing, not even a stitch of clothing, to protect her. I defeated a cave troll, survived a number of traps, and actually made it to the end on my first attempt! I made one last poor choice however as I attempted to take on the guards at the end. I ended up facing nine and for once even lucky dice rolls couldn’t save me.

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Dead. But hey, look at those adventure points! 3,399!

Once this app is widely available I have every intention of owning it, hopefully I can even craft an adventure or two myself. Be on the lookout for a followup as I make my attempts on the final app, I signed up for the beta after all.

About MetaArcade
MetaArcade, founded by industry veteran David Reid in 2016, is a Seattle area indie developer dedicated to empowering communities of creators through accessible self-
publishing platforms.
For more information, follow MetaArcade on Facebook and Twitter @MetaArcade, and visit www.metaarcade.com
About Flying Buffalo
Flying Buffalo, founded in 1970 and based in Scottsdale, AZ, stands amongst the industry’s most veteran publishers of tabletop games. Among its many notable series and titles are Tunnels & Trolls, Grimtooth’s Traps, Nuclear War, and Mercenaries, spies, and Private Eyes.

-Melvs

P.S. The fine folks at the Flying Buffalo\Meta Arcade booth were handing out some sweet swag, each person who test drove the app got to take home a copy of “Grimtina’s Guard” a solo adventure written by Ken St. Andre himself (pictured below). Here’s the deal, they also gave me five extra copies! First come, first served. Leave a message in the comments telling me either why you wish you could have gone to Gen Con or what your favorite part about it was and I’ll mail you a copy (we’ll work out the details somehow).

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Invisible Sun-Luxury Gamecraft in an Age of Minimalising

When Numenera burst onto the scene back in August 2012 it was apparent that Monte Cook Games endeavored to be different from the status quo, and ever since that day their efforts to bring us games that border on the surreal has been met with success. There is something about every project they’ve put out that screams “care and attention was paid here”. Certainly they aren’t the only company that does so, but anyone who has ever spent much time reading their thoughts on their games, watched a panel prior to introducing a new one, or even met the MCG team knows they put more than a little of their soul into a product. The Invisible Sun RPG is going to be an interesting beast to say the least. I have to imagine the Kickstarter campaign will succeed, it is already well on its way (currently $153,984 pledged of a $210,653 goal with 557 backers). I also feel it has a lot of potential to be pretty divisive, not necessarily in a negative way but it is definitely going to get a conversation started regarding the trade offs of quality game craft and the accessibility of your game. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

invisiblesun

That damn cat

WHY DOES IT HAVE HANDS!?

At Gen Con MCG announced Invisible Sun, and it was immediately apparent they were going gamble hard with some real innovation. Promises have been made to up the ante with modes of play (Action, Narrative, and Development), all things GMs may have utilized before but from what I can tell this game will have rules built into the system for such things.  Players, and their stories will take the lead here with a GM that guides them through a world they have “awoken” back into. The world we know is referenced as a “Shadow World” and the players are trying to get back to the “Actuality”. Other than that we know the game will be based in a “surreal” fantasy setting, & their marketing prior to the Kickstarter was filled with cryptic messages, hidden real life geocaches, and fantastic concept art (except that damn cat…*). Needless to say I have been very impressed thus far.

many face

Character Concept

 

The Kickstarter itself launched today and at first I was confused. Whenever I check out a Kickstarter for review my first step is always the backer levels (not uncommon), I like to have an idea of my preferred backer level and the best bang for your buck. You won’t get that from me this time. The Invisible Sun Kickstarter makes it plain, this packaging of the game is the luxury model. I have no clue if later iterations will be priced for the individual purchaser but for the time being it seems the lowest price point, the “Call the Black Cube” level, is set at $197.00.

My first reaction at this lofty price was to scoff, but I dug deeper and realized they intended the Black Cube to be something an entire game group can go in on and have ownership over. Not the first game company to encourage a backer level that involved multiple folks chipping in, but I’ve never seen someone make it their opening act. After that the price just skyrockets until it reaches a price just south of 6 grand (and someone has actually laid that grip down). When the inference was made that they were going to bring a lux product to the table, they didn’t disappoint. From the looks of things, even the $197.00 model will be packed with great stuff…and just what’s in that box you ask (perhaps with feigned terror as you quote a certain Fincher flick)? Well, they answered that just today, and, in my opinion, it is worth every penny.

Black Box

This is everything you get in the Black Cube

The Books: The box contains four beautifully, intricately presented rule and setting books called The Key, The Gate, The Path, and The Way. These contain everything you need to start an Invisible Sun campaign. You’ll also find them to be filled with hidden puzzles, codes, and mysteries all their own. While solving these isn’t crucial, it will enhance your experience.

Sooth Deck: A special deck of 60 round cards used to facilitate gameplay and inspire GM creativity.

Board: A durable, folding cardstock board featuring the Path of Suns, on which the GM plays the Sooth cards.

Testament of Suns: An imposing resin sculpture that holds a Sooth card that is active long-term for all to see.

Spell Cards: 200 cards detailing the spells characters will cast in the game.

Ephemera Cards: 300 cards detailing the minor magic and one-use incantations characters will use in the game.

Artifact Cards: 100 cards describing the magical accoutrements characters will obtain and create in the game.

Tokens: More than 100 tokens of different types to use for the different kinds of player rewards, Vance spell management, and more.

Dice: 4 gorgeous 10-sided dice marked with game-specific symbols. One is a “mundane” die, while others are special “magic” dice.

Secrets Envelope: A sealed envelope with some of the deepest secrets of the setting. This is different than the secrets that all vislae (backers) will get in addition to the game, tied to the active sun on the day that they cast their spell to summon the Black Cube.

Cloth Map: A gorgeous map of the City of Satyrine.

Poster Map: A two-sided map showing the Actuality and the fantastic realm of Indigo.

The Guiding Hand: A GM’s notebook that guides the GM through creating a campaign of their own, with ideas, suggestions, and prompts.

Player Handouts: Dozens of useful things, from quick-reference rule cards to a plethora of handouts and clue-laden props.

Character Tomes: The four orders of magic, plus the order-rejecting Apostates, each get their own unique four-page character tome. The game contains six blank copies of each type of tome, ready to use to create characters.

Grimoire Pad: A pad of 30 handy sheets for players to record their spells, secrets, and more.

Bookmarks: Four special bookmarks, each tied to a different book, not only help mark important pages, but list frequently referenced pages for important topics. And might they be part of a larger clue to yet another mystery? Everything’s fair game.

Pregenerated Characters: Five iconic characters for the setting, ready to use as player characters.

Sun Medallion: Every game contains one of eight metal medallions, each tied to one of the suns of the Path of Suns. Fate will decide which medallion you get, as there will be equal numbers of each made.

The Cube Itself: The Black Cube is a mystery box taken right from the game’s setting. This incredibly sturdy box folds in a unique design, and it includes a special compartment for the books and a plastic tray to hold the cards and components of the game.

Searchable Electronic Reference: Every copy of the game comes with a digital download of the rules and setting material. You can read it on a tablet or other screen and easily search the file to find what you need.

Secrets: Are there still more mysteries hidden in the box somewhere? Probably, for those who look carefully.

A hallmark of this Kickstarter campaign, and frankly the game itself, is mystery, magic, and secrecy. MCG started strong with ciphers and geocaches and promises that the game itself will contain many secrets to be unveiled. There is even a difference in what backer secret you’ll receive based on what sun, of the nine suns, was “active” during the time you backed the project. From what I understand the books will likely hold puzzles and ciphers as well. It all just sounds so cool!

literary geocaching

When referencing the game on the Kickstarter page the opening line reads thusly

Invisible Sun is a tabletop roleplaying game of surreal fantasy. It’s dark. It’s moody. It’s adult.

keys

This image here really grabbed me.

They play up the immersion factor, claiming it truly isn’t for everyone. This will be a game for a group to really dig their teeth into and develop some damn story arcs! It really seems to go about checking off every box in my personal list of desires in a game. One aspect I find very interesting is what I touched on above regarding the third mode of play the “Development” mode. Essentially this is something many of us GMs have handled on an ad hoc basis, a player may want to have their character accomplish some task or flesh out a bit more of their backstory away from the table. There’s been many times I’ve exchanged a few emails with my players about such things and we’ve come up with something cool that may effect the game once we get back to the table. Well Invisible Sun purports to have this as a far more literal aspect of play. I’m truly intrigued to see how this is actually implemented. It seems there will be at least some concrete rules surrounding this mode of play because, as mentioned in more depth here, Monte has explained that these actions taken away from the game table will have in game consequences. I love the idea, enough to have done it myself in my own way, so I’m fully on board to see how it can become a full on addition to a game.

Path of Suns

Really wish I’d caught on to all the cool Geocaching before the Kansas City one got found.

I’ve been digging around the internet all afternoon, researching the many aspects of this Kickstarter, and I could probably come up with far more interesting tidbits to bat around but honestly, do yourself a favor and check things out for yourself. Even if you’re currently priced out like so many others, it’s all worth looking into. I’d also like to say I’ve been very impressed with the reaction by many of those who simply cannot figure out how to afford to get in on this. It has mostly been a message of “I can’t afford your product, but I still believe in your message here, and wish you the best with this deluxe game.” It would be oh so easy to get angry, and frankly jealous, that you can’t afford to get in on the fun, but I’ve seen very little of that. I hope the tenor of feedback remains that positive. I even saw one commentor who believed in the vision so much, despite being unable to back at even the lowest level, that he paid in $10 just to help MCG succeed! I’m not recommending such an action, but hey kudos to that guy.

So if you are interested in a big, luxury, gaming product, in this era where new games on the scene have been marketing in a more streamlined fashion, Invisible Sun seems to be your bag. If you can afford to, I’d suggest taking a chance on this beautiful project. In just over a year’s time your players could be free of the Shadow and in the realm of the Acuality!

BAKER LEVELS OF NOTE

Baker 01

Initial level, that Cube does indeed come packed!

Baker 02

Here’s the real deal item. I say that because of that little bullet point in the middle. You know there will be Stretch Goals folks, you know there will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Melvs

 

*The cat is actually really cool it just creeps me out.

Gen Con 2016

Just like that the thunderous rolling of thousands of dice has finally ceased as the 49th Gen Con has come to a close. Once again I had the privilege of attending, and once again I more than enjoyed myself as I dabbled in old traditions and fresh wonders. Every year has its reasons to be memorable, and maybe it’s simply because I am fresh from attending but this one feels like it may go down as one of the best ever, well… for me at least. I’ll try to unpack everything as best I can but to be honest, with so much having occurred, I’m certain to leave a few things out.

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WEDNESDAY

Once again I had the pleasure of hooking up with the gang from the Gamerstable Podcast (whom I understand will be ending their podcast run in roughly 20 episodes WHAT!?) for some shared driving, room, and board. After a lengthy goodbye to my wife and two lovely kids (I missed them terribly all con), I made the trek to Illinois for the carpool. We left mid-morning and made Indianapolis in good time and the first thing we noticed was dear sweet Drowzee was Indy a hotbed for Pokestops and ‘mons! After a quick check in at the Sheraton we were off to The Ram!

The Ram has become the go to watering hole for the yearly Gamerstable meetup, and historically I’ve always had something else to do that night. This year I was free and clear to join the festivities though and I’m certainly glad to have done so. Getting the chance to catch up with the guys and gals of Gamerstable was a highlight for me the entire convention. I live within and hour or two of most of them but typically during the year life gets in the way of spending all that much together. I spent the night meeting up with old friends and made a number of new ones. Highlights include having the entire Of Dreams and Magic (ODAM) team come by to pay a visit, meeting Pete Petrusha in person finally, and Toju…TOJU my awesome buddy, and fellow Vagabond Gamer, from Australia that I finally met in person as well!

The Ram was highlighting the new EATdition from Privateer Press this year! ;P

The Ram was highlighting the new EATdition from Privateer Press this year! ;P

The Ram was an awesome hangout spot but that was the only place I needed to stop by Wednesday night. So I took a leisurely walk down to the Union Station Ballroom to catch up with Michael Ross from The RPG Academy. It felt like I was walking into a pocket plane wherein AcadeCon lay within Gen Con. I happened to walk into numerous games already in progress and, not seeing an opening anytime soon, I made due with some brief “nice to see-yas” and made my way back to The Ram to finish the night. I had kind of ditched the ODAM team anyway, so I wanted to get back and resume chatting with them, and others.

The night ended with a glance at the Will Call line and a hearty “Hell no I ain’t standing in that!”. I made my way back to the hotel and collapsed, ready to awaken in like 4-5 more hours to jump in the Press line!

THURSDAY

Thursday morning came real early for me. I woke at 5 a.m. and quietly stole from my hotel room into the dark morning. This year someone made the decision to limit press access to the con floor to just the first 90 press badge holders to jump in line that morning at the press room and I wanted that early access. As I was walking to the line I noticed there was an absence of a line for Will Call so I walked up and got my tickets in less than five mins (looks like skipping it the night before was the right call). I was fortunate to get in line as the number 29th line guy and Michael Ross was number 27! He willingly slid back a spot in line so we could chat about our excitement for the convention. The press line is always a fun time, I get to see a lot of familiar faces. Later on a few other buddies showed up further down the line so Michael and I had some fun tweeting back and forth with Rohit from Gamersplane and Bryce. Bryce made a crack about my beardless face & it hurt me deeply.

Press Badge in hand I realized I left my camera back at the room (I’m really good at this “reporting thing”) so I hoofed it back to the hotel. The trip back and forth from the hotel clocked in at .6 of a mile one way. Perfect distance in my opinion, just far enough away to dissuade me from spending too much time there but close enough for a walk.

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The early access line(s)

After grabbing my camera I made it back to the early access line just in time to discover the snafu that had occurred regarding it. Two lines had formed, I had no way of discerning which was the “true line” so I made the call to just sit near a wall outlet and charge my phone figuring I’d get in early no matter what line I was in. This marks the only time at the convention I ever noticed people actually seeming frustrated enough to cast aspersions on others. I totally got it too, see most of the early access folks were VIG’s (Very Important Gamers), they had paid good money for the privilege of early access and they wanted to ensure they got to the booths they were interested in in order to buy the games they feared were limited. So this two line business meant that effectively many were cutting in front of others. I wanted no part in that, had no interest in buying things right away anyhow.

As and aside, and I’ve struggled with whether or not to even bring this up, I feel Gen Con has an issue with the various access levels that they give Press. Now, being a member of the press pool at Gen Con it may seem like I’m complaining from a bit of a “first world standing” but hear me out. Right now the best access the press has to those on the exhibit room floor is the one hour early access on day one of the Con. We are given the same one hour that the VIG’s and various other specialty groups are given, and this year only 90 of us were even given that. The VIG’s are there to shop, they are going to storm the doors and fill up lines and time with the biggest names out there the second they get through those doors. While I have no qualms talking with some of the smaller groups out there, this is an impediment to our ability to catch some of the bigger fish ad hoc. We are certainly capable of setting up our own interview times, mine you, but it just feels like we should have a bit more access. In my opinion Press should be allowed in an hour early or an hour later on some other day. Give the VIG’s their initial day and let press have a day all their own. Maybe even one hour early on Sunday. Right now, other than the novelty (though I really love and appreciate that novelty!), there isn’t a lot of reason for press to be in there with the horde of VIG’s.

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So lovely

Moving on. That first hour on the floor was nice, if not particularly useful. I got to take in the sights without the crush of people you usually run into. I also noticed immediately that the fine folks of Gen Con made huge efforts to lower the crowds with a large increase in exhibit hall space! Later on in the con weekend I noticed the extra space made for a much more open exhibit floor.  I did get to speak with the creators of one particularly interesting game I’d never seen before. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok has actually been around in some way since 1993 but it’s most current edition originates in 2005 and now has a second edition that came out in 2012. The books are gorgeous and the mechanics rely on the pulling of runes rather than die rolls, this style is called the “Runic Game System” or RGS. Looks like they were there repping their new book FotN:Ragnarok: Denizens of the North on top of their older, core books. Man these books looked very cool and I wish I’d been able to lay down cash right then and there!

The early access hour evaporated very quickly and after watching the hordes descend onto the con floor I grabbed some lunch, headed back to the hotel to chill for a bit, and then grabbed my Orc Stomp 5k packet! I’m always excited about the 5k, despite some thinking I’m nuts for even doing it. It’s fun just chatting with others getting ready for it too, so packet pickup is a nice easy going experience. After that I hit the exhibit hall floor for just a little longer and then it was back to the hotel yet again to get myself all dressed up for the annual Gamerstable Award Dinner at St. Elmos Steakhouse.

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Eric presenting Monte Cook the coveted Gamerstable Award

This year’s award recipient was Monte Cook, and his plus one was none other than Shanna Germain. I am consistently impressed by the ability Eric Austley has to draw in big names for this award, his recipients all deserve the accolades too. Monte and Shanna were excellent dinner table companions, despite the fact Monte convinced Shanna and I to try a Sichuan Button.  Don’t get me wrong, I like trying new things but… let’s just say it was not for me, not big into “electrocuting” my tongue. There were numerous folks I enjoyed chatting with in attendance as well. I got to meet Chris Hussey, in fact I sat next to him having a pleasurable conversation for about an hour before I finally realized who he was! I was able to catch up with my buddy Scott, The Angry GM. Running back into Michael Ross & Pete Petrusha was great too. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was the prime spot to run into Eric (and of course most of the Gamerstable crew; Shannon, Jayson, Mike, Dan, etc.) who was apparently super busy all con because he disappeared like a ghost after that night!

In the afterglow of the dinner I offered to run a pickup game of Savage Worlds: Sundered Skies for a group of us in attendance and I had a blast doing so. I witnessed a new friend of mine, Jason Butz, roll up one of the biggest exploding die continuations ever. His sorcerer meant to just freeze a railing in order to bust it and the grappling hooks attached to it but ended up freezing the entire side of the ship! They lost the cannons on that side of the airship but the pirates who were after them lost 3/4 of the men attempting to board. It was crazy!

Realizing it was midnight and Shannon and I both had to be up at 5 a.m. to run a 5k we called it a night.

FRIDAY

A mere 4-5 hours after going to sleep I found my eyes creaking open and somehow willed myself from my bed to get out the door and head to the Orc Stomp 5k. The second I was out in the cool morning air I found myself waking up instantly, it was a damn fine morning. As with every other time I walked to and from the hotel I casually had Pokemon Go running to grab stops and the myriad of Pokemon that crawled across the city streets of Indy. Many feel like you can’t truly enjoy your surroundings while playing the game but I find I can easily glance at the game off and on while taking in the sites quite well. not to mention I was made aware of some cool historical markers in Downtown Indy that I would have never paid any mind to before. Somehow I wasn’t even aware the Capitol building was right there near the convention center but, I know now!

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The Orc Stomp 5k was held, once again, along the White River Trail. Honestly this is one of the most gorgeous 5k runs I do every year. I met up with a fellow blogger friend of mine, Rob, who two years ago introduced me to the race by letting me run it under one of the free passes obtained by his sponsorship of the run. It was great catching up with him while we all prepped for the race. We had a few laughs about the last time I ran, where I overslept, drove frantically to the race, and then posted my best 5k time ever (something like 27 mins) just trying to finish the already started race! I enjoyed all the costumes immensely and reminded myself I’d like to dress up one year, I then found out that one of the costumed groups actually had a role in the run itself. The “Raptors” were associated with Exile Game Studio, specifically their game Hallow Earth Expeditions. As you can see in the image they dressed up like Raptors and “chased” us throughout the race. Essentially there were two main raptor types, fast and not as fast. If you beat the faster raptor you’d get a gold ribbon, and if you beat the next fastest you’d get a green ribbon. I loved this concept because I’m never going to win a 5k but I can sure beat at least one of them raptors!

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Waiting for the race to start was pretty fun. We discovered the starting line camped two Pokestops and we made use of them while chatting with fellow racers. I never got the name of the racer wielding the giant mallet, but I learned the next day after speaking with my buddies at Dog Might Games that the mallet was theirs, it was pretty damn heavy, and the guy who held it through the entire race had won the 5k the year before. Needless to say he didn’t win this year but man what an achievement to run 3.1 miles carrying that monstrous thing! Soon, the race was off. I made the mistake of running the thing as if I were actually in shape and earned myself a pulled calf muscle for my hubris. Still, I clocked a time of 33 mins, only three mins longer than my average. I was a blast and I even earned myself a green ribbon! I stuck around for the rest of my buddies finishing the race and then we headed back to the hotel.

I was very fortunate to have plenty of time to shower and ready myself for a very exciting portion of my day, the RPG Academy Network Panel.We had a decent crop of network folks at the con so Michael had decided to set up an open panel. It was a lot of fun, the podcasters fielded the majority of the questions early on because, let’s face it, podcasting is sexy as hell. Later in the session though we started delving into some blog, game mastering, advocacy, and regular old gaming questions that I was more than happy to jump in on. Little pleases me more than chatting with others who hold a reverence for this hobby and I enjoyed every moment of it (finally got to meet @theworstDM in person too!). Not to mention after the panel we got to get a little bit of gaming in as Senda and Emily introduced us to their 5 min RPG concept, and by “introduced” I mean slaughtering us mercilessly one after another…in 5 mins or less! This was recorded so you might later hear our downfalls.

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Left to right: Chris, Lucas, Senda, Michael, Emily, Myself

After lunch I stopped by the press room to debate drinking coffee or going back to the hotel for some sleep. While there I ran into Michael Long from Tribality and had a nice chat, then saw Rob Stith in the hall. By then the general lack of sleep had finally caught up to me and I trudged back to the hotel for a nap. Sadly this meant I ended up sleeping through the Phoenix Dawn Command & Shes’s a Super Geek panels that I wanted to attend but I know I needed it!

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I did make it to one of the panels I scheduled that day though. Privateer Press put on a development panel regarding Warmachine and Hordes. In years past I’ve attended panels by these folks regarding new upcoming products so it was interesting to listen in on one that comes on the heels of the major release of the third edition of the game. Many in the crowd, myself included, were hoping for a reveal of the newest faction that has been teased for some time now but we were left wanting. The majority of the panel consisted of some discussion regarding the way they go about creating a concept and the various channels it then goes through before becoming a retail piece. I could tell the room wanted to know more about upcoming items but frankly they didn’t have a ton to show off. If you recall two years ago, in the Unleashed panel, they had computer issues and luckily were able to use my computer to show off their images and such. Well, they had computer issues again and this time I did not bring my own so i couldn’t save the day. One tease we got for the new faction was that they intend to have them use feats completely differently from the other factions, but this is all still in development.  I asked about the Roleplaying Game (because of course I did) and I learned they want to expand on Piracy some more, which sounds fantastic!

Title

One thing I knew I had to do at Gen Con this year was visit with my friends behind Trapdoor Technologies and the Playbook app. In case you are unaware they have now aligned themselves with Paizo and Pathfinder (their app is even more polished  now than ever before). They were holed away in the Sagamore Ballroom with the rest of the massive Pathfinder realm. The place was truly daunting in size. It was great catching up with Chris and

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The last scheduled event I had for the night was the big one for me, the ENnies. If you are a regular reader you know this but this year I had the esteemed pleasure of actually being nominated for the Best Website category. I was pretty damn certain I wasn’t going to win even the Silver ENnie but I knew I needed to go to the event if only to see my site’s banner flash across the big screen in the front (which I totally neglected to get a photo of… luckily someone else did)! The best part for me was when my site popped up on the screen Kevin Kulp made the comment that my banner was the “Happiest he’d ever seen”, high praise to Wes of Nameless PC’s! Well folks, I didn’t win anything but I am certainly excited that I’ll forever be an ENnie nominated writer. Can’t take that from me eh? I sat there just long enough to see if Michael won Best Podcast for The RPG Academy (sadly he did not), and decided to catch the rest of my group at Giorgio’s Pizza for some excellent deep dish.

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We finished the night with a pick up game of ad-hoc Pathfinder run by Mike Bridges, of Gamerstable fame, where I was so slap happy tired that I ran a rogue modeled loosely after Emperor Norton , the first and last Emperor of these United States. His name was Vernon Lundman, he dressed in the finest of rags, knew everyone, and even minted his own currency known as the “Lundmark”. It was an awesome ending to a crazy day.

SATURDAY

Saturday was much more laid back than the previous two days. I spent most of my time running into friends and chatting a bit. Forgive me if you’re one of those I ran into and you aren’t getting a mention! I really had nothing planned until early afternoon. I ate an awesome Gyro from the Ali Baba’s food truck, which is starting to become a tradition for me. Then I spent some time in the park near the JW Marriott catching Cubones on Pokemon Go until I could evolve to a Marowak, as one does. Soon it was time for me to head to my scheduled game run by none other than Chris Hussman!

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Michael claimed this guy looked like Freddie Mercury

I was joined by Michael Ross and one of his podcast’s faculty members Brad. It ende dup being just the three of us as we weaved our way through a story filled with heartache, high adventure, and good old fashioned “end of days” stopping. I don’t want to go into too much detail, just in case some of you have the chance to ever play in this specific game. I really wouldn’t want to ruin it’s many twists. Suffice it to say it was my favorite game of the con. Michael, Brad, and I played really well off one another and in the end Chris even had some high praise for our roleplay and decisions throughout. I really got into character and loved every moment of it. Reminded me of why I love these games in the first place.

After the game we ran through a playtest of a neat game concept Michael is working on and I went looking for my crew for dinner. At this point, basking in the glow of completing all my scheduled fun I got to be a bit homesick if I’m to be honest. I missed my family a ton but knew I still had some fun times in store.

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Dinner was fun, we sat with the incredible Anna Myers at Champs where she had hung up her massive map of Greyhawk that she had crafted on her own. She is truly a master Cartographer. It was at dinner I where I was convinced to go to the Gencon dance, namely because Toju was going and I hadn’t spent nearly enough time with him. It was one Hell of a way to end the day, I’ll tell you that. The Union Station was filled to the brim with scores of us nerds just dancing (and drinking) the night away. Tons of fun, I only wish my wife could have been there, some of the most fun we have together is hitting the dance floor!

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The dance ended and I hit the hotel, instead of going to sleep I sat up with a number of my roommates. Shannon’s boyfriend Brandon and I chatted about how Goku is kind of a jerk among other awesome anime talk. After that it was lights out.

SUNDAY

Hard to believe the con ever really came to a close. I wandered around aimlessly with Shannon, Brandon, and Jason B. for a bit, then tracked down Michael at his Post Con deal where I ran into Dani and John. We sent a little love via snapchat to our buddy Pierce, who should have been at Gen Con running a Ravenloft game for us (had some weak excuse about buying a house). I then headed back to the con floor to debate once more if I’d make my one purchase of a Hirst Arts Mold but decided against it as I figured I’d spent plenty that weekend already. Thus, I made it through all of Gen Con purchasing nothing but food and lodging.

Lastly the gang and I met up with Toju, where we quietly chatted in the back of the exhibit hall until they shut the thing down signaling the end of another great year. After that the car ride home seemed to take forever as I yearned to get back to my family. Man, what a great time though.

Last thought? Sure wish Wizards of the Coast had been there this year…

Feel free to share Gen Con stories in the comments! Also, if you’ve got a hankering for another con, check out AcadeCon (meet me there!)! There are still passes availiable

-Melvs

PICTURES!

So there were a number of things I now realize I forgot to mention, namely because I can’t recall what day they occurred! I’m going to be lazy and simply put the pictures up with some blurbs.

 

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The Porkchop Express was in town for the event

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Some cool cats eh? Left to right The Carpe DM, myself and Rohit from Gamersplane

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Always awesome catching up with author Hans Cummings

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The RPG Academy Podcast pre-con meetup

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Finally worked up the nerve to shake Jolly Blackburn’s hand

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The ODAM team drops by The Ram

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TOJU! We look eerily similar in the face in this picture.

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Toju and Shannon

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More shots of the Gamerstable meetup at The Ram

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One of many fine brews I had the pleasure of sampling

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Dan and Mike strike a cool pose

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Pete and Jayson.

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Shannon and Rob

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Be proud of carrying that thing man!

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THE RAPTORS!

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The Pathfinder room was HUGE

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Got to the ENnies early enough to get a picture of the empty hall

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Had great fun with this crowd all weekend

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I witnessed the CarpeDM win a goblet scoop of dice from these guys

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Dogmight Games always has me salivating over their products

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My actual roll at the Crit for Success booth

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Cardhalla

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Anna Myers’ full map!

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Brandi & Toju

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The dance was most excellent

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Toju & Mike

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Shannon and Babs got to meet Andy Looney!

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Shannon’s Ash Ketchum was great!

COSPLAY PICS

Here are some great cosplay pictures that Shannon’s cousin Brandon was more than happy to pass my way.

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