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Friday Faves: 2014-11-21

November 21st, 2014

We’re gearing up here at home for my son’s seventh birthday party tomorrow. His actual birthday is next week, but we’re holding it on the weekend before his birthday. This allows his friends and such to attend the party at a trampoline-based party center. I just wish they would let the adults in on the fun of the trampolines. :) Ah well. I’ll still have a good time with it all.

I’m also counting down the days (5) until work gets easier on me as we let go a contractor that’s been making my life harder.

In the RPG front, we had a great week in the blogosphere. Loads of links and good stuff for the week. It’s kept me busy compiling the links, making comments, and getting things ready to share for you!

The Host: the Forgotten Leader

Last week, I linked to the initial post about leadership in a group. While thinking about the post, I also overlooked the host. The host of a gaming group (if played in a private setting) is vital because you’ve got half a dozen (or so) people invading the house for a few hours a week. The host will usually fret over the cleanliness of the house, availability of food/drink, atmosphere, cleaning off the gaming table, and making sure everyone is comfortable and happy. It’s a huge responsibility, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. The post goes into more detail about responsibilities of the host and how they should be treated, so go check it out.

Starting with a Big Bang

The current Pathfinder campaign that I’m running started with a Big Bang. The party awoke in a jail cell without knowing one another, without equipment, and without remembering the night before. Yeah. It’s been done, but I did it again. I gave the party about 10 minutes to get to know each other and do a little initial role playing before having the king, his captain, and a few guardsmen run to the jail cell with beams of powerful magic arcing past them. As the guardsmen died, the captain fumbled the jail cell open and shoved the king into the cell just as a beam of magic caught him and killed him. The king proceeded to shove past the group and opened a secret door in the back of the cell before proclaiming, “If you want to live, follow me. If you get me out of here alive, I’ll pardon you for whatever you did.” The campaign is still going, and now the group is working on behalf of the king to reclaim his throne from his son… who is a recently risen Lich. It’s been a hoot so far, and I can’t wait for the end of the campaign. I already know what the final scene will be like.

Alien In Innovation: Creating Original Non-human Species

I’ve never put much thought into creating sci-fi alien species. I’m more of a fantasy guy, so I can just claim, “It’s magic, deal with it.” when I create one of those crazy critters. Mike’s post has given me quite a bit of food for thought on how to logically approach the creation of a non-magical, non-human (or non-humanoid) species. Good stuff, Mike! As an aside, I have created a few sci-fi species, but the thought process was not that involved on my end. An old roommate of mine had an “in” at West End Games for the original Star Wars RPG. We were invited to submit species for a new splatbook for the game. One of the things we came up with together were a race of critters from a forest planet, they were severe environmentalists and very peaceful. We named them “Algorians.” (Go ahead. Say it out loud a few times.) The race made it to the final round before someone spotted the pun of Al-Gore-Ians, and rejected the race. We were happy with the final round placement, but had hoped our goofy pun would have made it into the final book.

Limiting Players Without Limiting Fun

In fiction writing, there’s a concept of “No, And” and “Yes, But.” In other words, when the main character attempts to accomplishing something, the writer should handle it with a “No, And” which means that the character failed and things got worse… or they should allow the character a success but things just got worse as well. This approach ups the tension of the reading, and makes the books more interesting. However, we’re talking about RPGs here. It’s a different concept. If the GM is constantly making things worse for the players, they’ll get disgruntled and possibly leave the game. This isn’t what we want at all. When a player wants to do something that is within the realm of possibility, I usually answer with a “Yes, And.” In other words, I allow the action to be possible (does it really happen? Depends on the dice.) and I make it a really cool action, regardless of the final outcome. It ups the laughs and generally cheerfulness of the group around the table, and it works very well. Does this mean I allow players to walk all over me? Nope. I still limit what they can do or the backgrounds they come up with if there is a campaign (or just plain common sense) conflict, but those are fairly rare.

Time Constraints and “Everyone Gets To Shine”

I agree that all players should get a chance to shine, but not everyone can shine in a single session. I make it clear, up front, to all of my players that they’ll all get chances to do really cool stuff during the course of the campaign. However, sometimes it takes some time to get to those spotlight moments. I keep a mental tally or timer going in my head. If someone hasn’t had a chance to pull out their cool ability, power, magic item, spell, or whatever in a while, then I’ll set things up to give them a chance to use it. I will not point at the player and say, “Now’s your chance to shine.” I’ll just give them the opportunity to take advantage of the moment. If they don’t, then that’s on them.

[MegaDelve] The Goblin Caves

I love these MegaDelve posts! They’re awesome. Seeing the map go from concept to execution to final version in photographic form is top-notch. Keep up the good work, Dyson!

What We Avoid

My trouble spot is romance and deeply personal entanglements. I just don’t write them well. I don’t role play them well. I just don’t know how to pretend to be that way. I don’t do too badly in real life emotional situations, but I find it hard to make believe like that. Head over to Gnome Stew and let them know where you stand on the things you avoid.

Yesterday Once More: A pulp time-travel Campaign

The premise of this campaign idea reminded me of the TV show Quantum Leap. However, instead of the main character trying to return to his own time by helping others, the PCs are intentionally hopping about the time stream trying to catch, stop, or hinder the bad guy that is also time hopping for his own benefit. I can see this being a combination of Quantum Leap, Sliders, 12 Monkeys, and Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty with all sorts of steampunk-type technology thrown in. Mike has over a dozen adventures outlined for you to make use of! Go check it out.

use this 17th century city map for your home base

Holy crap! This is an awesome city map. I wish I could draw one as well as this. I’ve given some good shots at creating this style of map, but have come nowhere near this quality. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Paul!

Do you as the GM have obligations?

Yep. Lots of them, but it basically boils down to, “Allow the players to have fun by pushing their characters through make believe scenarios in an imaginary world.” Notice that I said, “Allow” instead of “Make.” You really can’t make someone have fun. You can make them participate, but you really can’t force the fun on them. You have to allow it to happen, and it’ll come naturally. Go check out the post for a more in-depth analysis of the concept.

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Sunday Faves: 2015-11-16

November 16th, 2014

Sorry for the delay on the posting of this. Life caught up to me over the past few days. I’ll spare you the boring details, though.

On with the links!

Layers Of Mis-translation: RPGs and Dubbed TV

I have two main take-aways on this post. The first is that the player makes the character. No. I’m not talking about the player rolls the dice, does the math, picks the powers, etc.. If you hand the same pre-generated character to two different players, you will end up with two different characters at the table. The numbers and such may be the same, but the personalities will be different, perhaps drastically different. The second take-away is that the same thing will happen with GMs and prepublished materials. This could be the game world, or a module, or an NPC codex or something like that. Different GMs will run the exact same material in different manners. This can lead to misunderstandings or confusion if the players have read the game world publications and made different decisions or assumptions than the GM. This is where communication at the table comes into play. There is no “The GM got that wrong.” when it comes to interpreting a world. The outlook from the players should be closer to, “Huh. I didn’t see that angle.”

Left Behind: Sticking with Older Games

The #1 game that I loved the most that was left behind was Top Secret S/I. I own 100% of the published materials available for the game, and I ran it for years. I still love the stories we told and the high action we achieved. Yes, there were some “1980s flaws” in the game design, but it was still a damn good game. Perhaps I could reboot or revive the feel of the game with more polished mechanics that still keep the same flavor? Hrmm…. Yeah, right. Like I need another project. :)

The Cave Of Mushrooms & The Dyson Mega Delve

I love seeing the evolution of a map, and this post illustrates (pardon the pun) that perfectly. Go check it out!

Three Leaders At The Table

Finding yourself in a leadership role? It’s not always the GM, ya know. Heck, it’s not always the paladin or cavalier of the party, either. Sometimes, it’s the rogue or the bard or the grizzled old fighter. Everyone needs to know how to get along at the table and how to share the leadership hat. It’ll move around, so check out this post and see what you need to do when the hat lands on your head.

“I know what’s happening!” – Confirmation Bias and RPGs

I run into confirmation bias as a GM when I know what a player is going to do, and then they start asking questions about abilities or rules or actions that I didn’t expect. I try to mentally force their questions into the mold that I’ve already created. This rarely ends well. When I feel this cognitive dissonance hitting me, I step back, replay the most recent line of questions, and then ask the player, “What are you trying to accomplish here? What actions are you trying to take?” Once I get a clear picture from the player, I’m able to properly adjudicate the rolls and allow the story to unfold.

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Friday Faves Delayed

November 14th, 2014

Hey there. I have a great collection of links for this week, but have run out of time to polish off the post. I have some comments written, and some that are not.

I’ll have the post up sometime tomorrow, probably while my son’s at swim lessons, or maybe after that.

Now it’s time for me to run away from the Internet for the remainder of the night, so I can run my Pathfinder game. I can’t wait for my players to run into the demons I have planned for them this evening. :)

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Friday Faves: 2014-11-07

November 7th, 2014

Crazy week at work this week. I didn’t even get a chance to go through my RSS feeds until about an hour ago, and I’ve pulled out some good links… I hope. I’ll admit that this week was more of a “skim the articles” kind of thing than a “read and digest them heavily” kind of thing. I hope my skimming has produced some good reading for you folks.

Here are the links!

PSA: Scrivener Sale
Random items for a post-apocalypse zombie game
Tourism in Sleepland: Sleep management for GMs & other creative people
[Tuesday Map] New Cresthill
The Land of the Lost: Limiting Your Campaign Choices
Ask The GM: Seasoning The Stew (making races feel distinctive)

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Friday Faves: 2014-10-31

October 31st, 2014

Happy Halloween to those of you partaking in the day in whatever means fits you best! For me, it’s heading into a suburb (we live pretty remote where houses are a quarter-mile or more apart) where we have friends with kids about my son’s age. We’ll team up with them and trounce around the neighborhood snagging treats while looking at the fantastic decorations that people put up. My wife and I swap out years between staying at the friends’ house to hand out candy and going with the kids themselves. I forget who pulls house duty this year, but we’ll figure it out.

Now for some links!

Roleplaying Character Weakness and Vulnerability

In a Space Opera (the game itself, not just the genre), I had a character that was a collection of nebulous numbers and not really any good “meat on the bones.” That was until I rolled one of the last stats to be generated: Bravery. I think the scale was 1-100 for this stat. Either way, I had a 3. Yep. Single digits. Low single digits. At that moment, my character concept was born. My GM told me that I could re-roll that stat if I wanted to, but I refused because that one number gave me a character concept. My guy would do what was necessary to cover his cowardice (including hacking security camera footage, which worked about as well as you would expect), but his main thing was fear of being lost in space due to an astronavigation error. I dumped SO many points into his already high intellect and the astronavigation skill it was ridiculous. Our ship had a navigation officer that was slightly better than me (it was his job, after all), but I double and triple checked his numbers and still curled into a ball of tears and snot at each jump. It was a hoot to play this character. You see? I took his severe weakness and turned it into a role playing opportunity.

I’m Your Number One Fan

As GM, I’m always on the side of the players. I want to see them succeed and have fun while doing so. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m no pushover. I don’t give away things and I don’t nerf the Bad Guys just to make it easy on the players. There’s always a way to survive an encounter (including running away.) It’s just up to the players to find that way to win. With me having one brain (pretty normal), the player brain mass outweighs mine, so they’ll always find a way around whatever devious plans I have for them…. and I’m happy when they do so.

[Tuesday Map] Cliffstable on Kerstal

This is a kick-ass map of a city! This is how I want my city maps to look. Well done!

Rolling Is Fun, Too Much Rolling Isn’t

While developing my own (still hidden away in a dark corner) RPG, I learned this lesson early on. Someone fighting with two swords went something like this: Roll to see if you can use both swords. Roll attack with sword #1. Roll defense against sword #1. Roll damage for sword #1. Roll attack with sword #2. Roll defense against sword #2. Roll damage for sword #2. I think I’m leaving something out in there like a soak roll or something like that, but you get the point. It was too much rolling for one character. It really bogged down combat quite a bit and left the rest of the players bored, and the GM and the active player exhausted. Rolling dice is fun, but don’t go overboard.

Super-heroics as an FRP Combat Planning Tool

While reading Mike’s article, I couldn’t help but think of the forge scene near the end of Terminator 2 where the T-1000 was eventually dumped in the molten metal to be slain. This is a fine set up and case where the environment can be put to use by the players. Of course, if this were an RPG, the GM would be responsible for ensuring such a possibility could come about by placing things just right. If you have the Elemental Ice Lord that can only be damaged by fire, set things up by making sure at least a few (if not most or all) in the party have some sort of fire-based damage. If you don’t do this, then the players will wonder what the heck you were thinking when dropping the Elemental Ice Lord in their path. Think about the larger picture and figure out what Cool Stuff you can put into your games to allow the PCs to pull out all the stops and go super-heroic!

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Friday Faves: 2014-10-24

October 24th, 2014

I’m finishing up this post on Friday morning because I’m heading up to Denver for the weekend for Mile Hi Con. If there’s anything that came out after this goes live, I’ll catch it on next week’s Friday Faves. Because I’m busy packing and getting my stuff together, this week’s comments are probably going to be a bit brief.

Now on with the links!

Adding a bit of Culture to your Roleplaying Campaign

Villages and other settlements are more than just places to sell loot and buy gear. Bring them to life! Paul has some great advice on how to do this.

Hot Button: Rejecting Canon

I once played in a Star Wars game (one game, not a campaign) where Han Solo showed up, was being an ass (more-so than what you would expect), and I decided I’d had enough of his lip. I pulled my blaster and tried to shoot Han. The GM declared that I couldn’t do that. Not that he’d dodge it or anything. I just was simply not allowed to pull the trigger because I might kill a canon character. I called bullshit and rolled my dice. Before the GM even heard my result, he declared a miss and glared at me. I took the hint and packed up my stuff. Canon is nice and all that. It lends to world building, scenes, structure of the game and such. However, when it impedes storytelling, the canon needs to take a step to the side.

Race To The Moon – a lesson in story structure

My take away from this article is that the PCs are the heroes of the communal storytelling effort. Let them be the heroes. Let them do awesome stuff. Let them do things that are downright memorable. They’ll talk in glowing terms about your GMing skills for years to come. Of course, Mike delves deeper into the concept than I do here, so click through and see what he has to say!

Don’t Describe Combat

I do this. I describe all of the killing blows. Now that I’ve read this article, I realize I shouldn’t do that. It takes some small part of the agency away from the players (in the storytelling, not the action), and robs them of some of the fun they could be happening. Allowing players to describe the death throes of the Bad Guys after the fatal strike lands is something I’ll do from now on. However, I probably won’t take this to the extreme of allowing them to describe every strike and every blow. That’ll just slow things down too much. Critical hits and abject failures on the other hand….

There’s Something About Undead – Blog Carnival Oct 2014

I love me some undead. I don’t know why, but they fascinate me to no end, and there’s plenty to pick from! Mike’s post does a deep dive into what it would be like to be undead, their motivations, how we (the living, that is) treat them, and kind of what to expect from undead critters. It’s a great essay that’s opened my eyes to some of the neater things about undead beyond just their abilities and stats.

A Case for Multiple Game Masters

I’ve never tried to co-GM a game. It just feels… well… wrong to me. However, this post makes some good points on the benefits of doing something like this. I still don’t know if I’ll give it a try, but it was a good read that was well worth my time.

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Friday Faves: 2014-10-17

October 17th, 2014

Another week has come and gone, and I have more links for you. I’m sorry again, but it’s just links again this week. Yeah. I know. This is the second week in a row I’ve done this.

Last week, my fellow software engineer (there are only 2 of us on the team) committed a ton of code for a new feature. Well, it turns out he only implemented about 10% of the features, and of what he did implement, about 90% was so buggy, I had to yank the changes and rewrite them from scratch. I think I left 3-4 lines of his code untouched and wrote another few hundred more on top of that. I also had my own deadlines from my own projects to get done. During this time, I’d read and bookmark articles to let me brain (and temper) cool off between the unending hours of coding frenzy. This means I have links from the week (and one from last week that came out after my post was scheduled,) but that is all. As it stands, it’s almost 6PM on Friday, and I just now finished up with his stuff, and I still have 4 more items in my list of things to do before I can call it a week.

Of course, you didn’t come here to hear me lament about the craptacular job my fellow engineer (and I use that term loosely) did and the hole he left me in.

On with the links!

[Friday Map] New Orlep
RPG characterization wisdom from a 5yo
Abandoned Islands – Iconic Adventure Settings
Troy’s Crock Pot: A Player Race for Your Table
The Hunt 107: Your Tools Are Only As Good As You Are
Memorials To History – an ‘a good name’ extra

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Friday Faves: 2014-10-10

October 10th, 2014

Sorry for the lack of comments this week. It’s been a crazy week at work at home and in my health. Don’t worry. The health stuff isn’t life-threatening, but it does make it harder to manage what I can do with my energy. I managed to collect the links, and each time I went to write some comments, some part of my life would explode on me. I thought I’d have time to “play catch up” later on in the week, but it just never seemed to happen.

Enjoy the links!

The Boy Scouts and Dungeons & Dragons
The Wandering Spotlight Part One of Two: Plot Prologues
Do You Re-Skin Monsters in Your Campaigns?
Troy’s Crock Pot: Hey Pop! Where’s the Treasure?
Mega Dungeon from 5RD example
The Wandering Spotlight Part Two of Two: Shared Stories
Review: How to Be A GURPS GM

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Friday Faves: 2014-10-03

October 3rd, 2014

Not much to say this week other than we have a great collection of links! So let’s get to ‘em!

The Expert In Everything?

Mike’s post hits the nail on the head. When the players gaze lovingly over the GM screen at you, they expect you to know everything. Not just the rules or the world or the flavor of the game or the monster stats. They expect you to know physics, magic, law, government, history (even the made up stuff), biology (especially the made up stuff), sociology, the history of tattoos, chemistry, music, genetics, alchemy, etc.. They know you’re omnipotent. You’re the GM after all. They also expect omniscience as well. How do you pull it off? Mike has tons of tips in his post. I’m going to echo two of them here: 1) Read, read, read. Even if it’s in little tid-bits, the more breadth of your reading experiences, the more of an “expert” you’ll appear to be. 2) Wikipedia is your friend for gaining broad, general knowledge, and then hit the references at the bottom to see what the true experts (most of the time) have to say on a topic.

SESSION ORGANIZATION: BREADCRUMBS

I’ve used this technique in the past. I’ll let John’s article speak for itself on the ins and outs of the approach, but I need to say something he didn’t. If all of your breadcrumbs point to a single person/item/location, then it will come off heavy-handed. I thought I was being subtle once by having different NPCs give different bits of information about a monastery I wanted the group to visit. Of course, the common theme was the location, so the players almost didn’t go there just to spite me. Fortunately, they were a good group of people and went along with it.

Lost Mine Near Old Phandelver – Regional Map

It’s not often that Dyson does a regional map, and he’s got a great looking one here. I love the paper he used for the “old world” effect, and the stylized mountains, hills, and forests. I realize the map isn’t done yet, and I can’t wait to see the finished product!

random city charts for chase/exploration

These random charts aren’t the typical fare of “let’s create a city at random.” It’s a high-speed method of creating features on the fly during a high-action chase scene. It’s one of those times when you don’t want to sit down and figure out the “miles-to-feet” conversion of a large city map to figure out how long it takes to from from the door to the alley, etc.. Very good work here, and can be put to good effect. It reminds me of the random car chase “directions” mechanics in Top Secret S/I’s High Stakes Gamble expansion box set from back in the 1990s.

An Experimental Failure – 10 lessons from a train-wreck Session

If you’ve been running games for any decent length of time, you’re going to have a train wreck. It just happens. We’re human after all. I read Mike’s post and felt very sorry for him. He had set up something that could have been a wonderful piece of narrative storytelling, and it turned into a decent piece of narrative with little interaction on the part of his players. Ouch. I’ve been there before. The upside of this experience for Mike is that he learned from it. You can to. Read through what went wrong in his gaming session, but make sure to stick through it until the bottom where he gives some great GM lessons that can be applied by everyone.

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Friday Faves: 2014-09-26

September 26th, 2014

I’m back from Paris, and alive… barely. I came down with a very nasty head cold last Thursday which wiped me out on Friday and damn near ruined my plans for the weekend. I ended up back in the United States Wednesday night, took Thursday off work, and I’m mostly recovered today. I had some time to snag some links, but not really read them and comment on them as I normally do. This means I’m falling back to my “old style” of adding the links and comments all in one fell swoop for the week. This means the comments may be a little on the short side this week, but they’re there!

The Keys to the Kingdom Of Literacy: Stylish Narrative Part 6

In this post, Mike links to the PDFs that include everything from the 5-part series he posted about The Secrets of Stylish Narrative. If you don’t want to consume the intense wisdom of Mike Bourke in chunks, you can get it all in the PDF form. The overall grade that I give Mike for his long-running series is a solid A+. I wish I had time to write up a complete review of the entire series, but that would require going back to each part and digging in deeper. That’s something I just don’t have time for at the moment. These PDFs (or the series on his blog) are well worth your time if you’re the word-slinging creative type.

RPG Mechanics: Don’t fight the system

Different systems have different styles of play. This is why it’s the #2 question to be answered by the group when firing up a new campaign. The #1 question is “What genre?” because that will weed out systems that don’t fit the genre. I doubt anyone is going to run a sword & sorcery style game using Traveller as the system. Yes, it can work, but you’ll be “fighting the system” the entire way through. Once a genre and style of play are established, the system should lend itself to support those decisions. This will keep for a more seamless and streamlined role playing experience.

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design

Con season is pretty much over, but there are a few straggling cons this late in the year. I always love the Do/Don’t style of advice because it’s incredibly easy to ingest and put to use. In this case, the Do/Don’t advice focuses around running con games as a GM. These can even be applied to a serial or regularly scheduled game.

Game Props Part 5: Files & Photos

I love using photos and illustrations of locations and critters that I can drop on the table in front of the players or quickly flash above the screen for a “glimpse” of the Bad Guy that is currently hunting them in the darkness. I can use 1,000 words or a photo. I’ll tell you now that the photo will have more impact.

Review: Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

Peter has pointed me to a book that I think must add to my library of historical military information. I, of course, have plenty of books on arms, armor, castles, tactics, battle plans, etc., but I don’t really have much in the way of something like this. I think this is a great find to add to my collection. Thanks for the pointer, Peter!

Thatch and Confusion – creating a village

If you name a city-building book that focuses on the RPG market, I probably have. Maybe two of them. When it comes to world building, focusing on cities is my favorite thing to do. It’s amazing to see a civilized (or maybe not-so-civilized) collection of people unfold before me. Mike’s article about building out villages is top-notch. It’s full of little details, hooks (important!), vital NPCs, and things that will make the location memorable beyond, “Was that the place we bought the rope or the place we bought the rations?”

Game Props Part 6: Music & Sound Effects

When I’m running a fantasy game (which is the norm for me, but I do run the occasional sci-fi/cyberpunk game), I love having soundtracks on that support the theme and mood of the game I’m trying to run. Great orchestral soundtracks like Conan the Barbarian, The Hobbit, or Lord of the Rings work best, but there are plenty of other options. I also have a “Conan the Barbarian” Pandora channel that I keep handy for gaming, but I keep an eye on the music. Sometimes (for some freaky reason) it likes to wander into 80’s Pop Radio without warning.

Using Backward Design in Game Prep

This post is awesome. It shows quite well that you need to have a goal in mind and prep toward… or rather… from that goal to where you are now. It’s good stuff. In my rush to get this post done, I’m not explaining it as well as the article behind the link does. Go check it out!

Control-Alt-Delete – A Modern-day SciFi Campaign

Hey, Mike! Will you run this for me and my group? This sounds awesome. I love this campaign idea and arc. It looks like a rockin’ good time that will keep the players at or near the edge of their seat for most of it. I love the dystopic seed the campaign grows from and the arc it has. Well done!

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