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Friday Faves: 2014-07-18

July 18th, 2014

Even though I’m off work this week, I’m slam-packed busy with other stuff to wrap up and get taken care of before the new Day Job starts. I’m pretty sure the comments will be short this week.

Welp, I screwed up again this week and forgot to click the “Schedule” button so this is coming out late again. You would think that as a web-development software engineer, I’d know how to use web sites. Not so much, it seems. :(

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 3 – The Big Picture (Genre and Style)

Mike continues his Theme/Concept series by talking about Genre and Style this week. I wish every writer would read at least the genre section. I had one lady at a critique session earlier this week swear up and down that her genre was “friendship.” I kept telling that was her theme, and that you’re not going to find a “friendship” section in the bookstore. I eventually gave up and let her continue on with her misconceived notions.


Michael has it square on that there is no perfect game that will unify all of role playing. It’s just not gonna happen. He delves deeper into the topic, so check out what he has to say.

[Maps for Heroes] The Holy Shrine of the Family Logrotha

This is a sweet map in three different styles. Lots of ideas and concepts can flow from this, so go check it out!

In Loving Memory of a Name

Tolkien had a fantastic way with words, and especially with naming things. This post dives into that idea, and gives food for thought for your own naming systems.

Who Are You? – An original character naming approach

This is a quirky (and fun!) way to name people in a society. I like this idea quite a bit, and I wonder what other systems out there might work to cover other cultures, societies, and areas of a world?

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Friday Faves: 2014-07-11

July 11th, 2014

I finished off my last day at the current Day Job today. The new Day Job starts on the 21st. This means I’ve been pulled in a million different directions while finishing projects, handing off projects, and doing brain dumps on the rest of my engineers that I’m leaving behind. This means the comments this week are probably going to be a little more sparse than normal.

Additional Random Starting Items

I’ve done this for my Cyberpunk 2020 games (though with appropriate tech items), but never with a fantasy-styled game. This is really cool. I also take it a step further and have the player tell me a brief backstory as to why their character has this random thing in their possession. It’s a cool backstory thing and can make something with little-to-no monetary value be priceless to the character.

Judging the Pacing

This is a great article by Angela that puts together coherent and wonderful thoughts about the pacing of a session or campaign. It’s a worthwhile read for a GM at any level or experience.

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 2 – Concepts

I linked to Mike’s article on themes last week. This week he tackles concepts, and he does a great job at drilling down into the details. Concepts are awesome and they get even more powerful when they link together. I remember a campaign I was running with a theme and each adventure’s or encounter’s concept supported that theme. Then I screwed up. I had a purchased adventure that was weird and cool and wonderfully written and the perfect level for the PCs at the moment. I ran the module “as is” and didn’t link it into the rest of the theme. Oops. It took three sessions in our weekly game to get in and out of the module. The last two sessions, the players were asking each other (but not me) what this has to do with the overarching campaign. I’m glad they didn’t ask me because I didn’t have a good answer. The moral of the story is to not do this. Had I modified the backstory or even a few key NPCs to tie them into the rest of the campaign, it would have worked well. As it stands, those three weeks were a flop and nothing more than a way for the PCs to gain XP and treasure.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Draw a card, any card

I’ve used Magic cards for improv writing prompts in the past and it worked well. However, I’ve never tried to snag them and use them for encounters. That’s a brilliant idea and I happen to have a plethora (3,509 at last count) Magic, The Gathering cards to draw from. Yep. I gotta put this idea to use.

The Flunkie Equation – quick and easy Hors d’Combat

Mike dives into how to make flunkies in the system of your choice and how to not spend too much time on them since they’ll (hopefully) be dispatched from combat really fast by the PCs. My methods are very close to what Mike has outlined here, so I won’t comment too much further.

Expose Yourself To Many Game Mechanics

Yep. Couldn’t agree more. What am I agreeing with? Well, go check out the article and find out for yourself.

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Friday Faves: 2014-07-04

July 4th, 2014

Happy Birthday to the United States of America! Be safe with your fireworks, folks. Colorado (where I live) has seen two devastating fires in the past two years. We don’t need a third year in a row. It’s not a hat trick or a trifecta that anyone wants to accomplish.

On with the links!

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 1 – Themes

Earlier this year, I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. One of the sessions I sat in on was Chuck Wendig‘s fantastic teachings about theme and how they can affect a story. Of course, Chuck’s session focused on fiction writing, while the article Mike wrote is about role playing games. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the venn diagram between running an RPG and writing a novel has a great deal of overlap. Of course, the non-overlapping parts must be considered or else you’ll have a crappy role playing experience, or a horrible book. Anyway, if you weren’t one of the 50 (or so) people in the room with Chuck, click over to Mike’s article about theme (to be continued in other parts as well), and check out what he has to say. He covers the ramifications and impacts of choosing a theme for a game quite well. There’s plenty to chew on there. Also, if you’re a writer and a gamer, you really want to read this one. It’ll change your life in both of those areas.

Revised Open Doors in D&D-based games

I love Peter’s modifications here for changing how opening doors happens with regards to D&D. This is a smooth method, and makes the character’s strength bonus worthwhile. Think about it: The strongest (non-magical, non-enhanced) human is going to have an 18 strength. This is a +4 bonus. Roll a d20 and add 4? Come on. In this case, the die roll (or luck of the roll) is more important than the character itself. Dropping the variance range to a d6 (or a d8, maybe?) and adding in the strength bonus is a huge thing. Great idea here!

D&D / OSR: Two-Hit Minion Variant

Marty has a great idea to take the D&D 4e “one hit wonder” minions and bump them up to take two hits before they die. This makes me happy. In my brief D&D 4e days, I’d see many people focus area affect spells on what they thought were minions via metagaming to wipe them out. By making them take two hits… That reduces the metagaming aspect of things, and makes the players that do metagame think twice about using two fireballs (or whatever) against minions instead of just the single spell or charge from a magic item. It’s a small adjustment, but it goes a long way.

Fantasy Landmark Generator/Table

I love these kinds of charts. You can get some pretty wacky results, but there are always those results that spark your imagination and lead to greater things. Something randomly rolled from a table like this might end up being the cornerstone of your setting, location, session, or maybe even a campaign.

Many thanks to Delta for linking to (follow the link above to find the true link to anydice). I must have spent three hours yesterday playing with different functions, dice combinations, and such just to play with the graphs. If you’re a gamer and/or math geek (I happen to be both) then you’ll find hours of entertainment there.

Writing The Game: Using RPGs to Create Fiction

At every writing conference I’ve been to, this question comes up when an author reveals that they are also a role player. The resounding answer to “Can I turn my RPG session into a novel?” is always “Don’t do it! Run away!” Why? Well, Mike covers this quite well. It is possible to take some of the basic concepts/ideas/thoughts/themes/etc. from a campaign and warp it into a narrative story, but there are many pitfalls in the way. The main reason I’ve heard (and that I agree with) is that RPGs are a cooperative, interactive storytelling venture. There are many “you had to be there” moments that don’t translate well into the written word. Novels are a narrative storytelling venture. The reader can’t change the words on the page. They don’t really interact with the book like a player would a game. Readers react to what is there. Players can change what is there. Mike delves deeper into the topic, so go check out his article!

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Friday Faves: 2014-06-27

June 27th, 2014

I’ll be off and camping for a day or two with the family as this post goes live. If I’ve clicked the right buttons and selected the right information, you’ll be seeing this on Friday.


Sunday Chin Scratcher: How Do You Feel About GMPCs?

I’ve done this before just to give the gaming group a slot to fill. I wasn’t comfortable with the situation even though it lasted for almost the entire campaign. I finally got tired of it, and found a halfway-decent excuse to drop the GMPC off in a town and have him go on his own personal quest. If it’s a technical necessity for the game, then I posit that you’re playing the wrong game or style or campaign or storyline. There are better solutions, but it is a solution in it’s own way.

Vampire’s Creep and other stories: Working With Places

In my novels, I’ve always treated locations as characters. They get their own profiles, styles, attitudes, and sometimes their own affects on the world around them. This brings my world to life and it shows. I’ve been complimented by many people on the world building that I do in my novels. I’ve taught a few classes on world building and my techniques. They mirror Mike’s post very well, and I highly recommend anyone that creates in words (as opposed to clay or paint or music or other media) that they study Mike’s post at Campaign Mastery. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing game material, fiction, creating a campaign world, or some mix of those. You’ll come away with some valuable tips on how to create living, almost breathing, locations for your creative endeavor.

Improv Toolkit

I love improv. Some of my favorite campaigns I’ve run in the past were fully improvisational on my part as the GM. I’m part of a monthly improv writing group where we all bring prompts of some sort and write for 5, 10, or 15 minutes on the prompts we receive. Then we read our work out loud to the others in the group and see how the quick work bounces off of others. Phil has put together a killer improv toolkit that can be used for writing or gaming. It’s a great set of tools. I have most of them, but there are a few that I’m missing, and now I know what to ask for my upcoming birthday!

[Friday Map] The Sunken Maw

Another great map by Dyson! This doubled-up map gives you the side view and the top-down view of the area. As Dyson says, the entrance is a bit rough to use, but it still looks like a blast!

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Friday Faves: 2014-06-20

June 20th, 2014

I messed up last week, and forgot to click the “Schedule” button after my last “Save Draft” click. This meant that the post didn’t go out as planned on Friday, but on Sunday when I realized my error. I’ll try to keep that from happening again as I have my posts for Friday already put together ahead of time.

Now, on with the links!

But We Don’t Want to Learn a New System!

I’ve been fortunate in that many of my groups have been eager to learn and play new systems. This scratches my itch for trying new systems, styles, games, and such. Yeah. It can lead to confusion, some burn out, exhaustion with learning new systems, and the like, but I prefer changing things up as an opportunity to learn. I have had some push-back from players in that they want to stick to what’s comfortable. I get that. Sometimes, I want to work with my players on a great story concept, so I don’t want to spend the effort on a new system. This is where I fall back to what I know and love.

Writing Rumors

Peter’s got a great post over at Dungeon Fantastic on his approach at writing rumors and keep track of things. I love the fact that he doesn’t decide the truth or falsehood of a rumor at the time that he writes it, but decides upon that facet of things later. This is brilliant, as I’ll often get hung up on “Is this true?” or “How true is this?” and it’ll start guiding (or forcing) my hand at other rumors that I’m putting together.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Troy makes a great point that I’ve always missed in my tavern creations. I’ll come up with a cool name to tell my players, and a “star rating” that I don’t tell my players and call it good. My “star rating” is a system I’ve come up with from an Old School Dragon Magazine article that very quickly lets me know what is and is not on the menu. Anyway, I rarely think about the people in the tavern unless they are explicitly there for plot elements. Of course, that’s the furthest from the truth of the matter. There are the regulars, the one-timers, the trouble-makers, the wallflowers, the drunkards, the gamblers, the bar staff, the wait staff, and so on. Depending on the size of the tavern, there could be anywhere from six to sixty people present. Of course, detailing sixty people would be painful, but throwing in descriptions for the more noticeable folks will really add a ton of flavor to the setting.

[Tuesday Map] Dolem’s Spire

Holy cow! Now this is a city map! When you click through to Dyson’s blog, make sure to click the map to enlarge it, and then zoom in on it (if using Firefox or Chrome) to check out the intricate details. I love city maps like this one. Great job!

Creating Partial NPCs To Speed Game Prep

Many new GMs will usually fall into the trap of thinking that every NPC needs to be as detailed as the PCs around the table. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. If you are currently doing it, stop now. PCs are the main characters of the story. They live in the spotlight, and this spotlight can reveal minor details about the character. This means those minor details need to be created. NPCs, on the other hand, tend to live in the edges of the spotlight, if not in the shadows themselves. This means those minor details and really in-depth backgrounds will never be seen. Why create them? BUT! There are details that will come out during play. It’s hard to predict with 100% accuracy what those details will be, but if you have a few of them handy, life will be better for you, and the game will run more smoothly. Mike’s got some great tips on how to approach this (both for combat and roleplay situations). Please make sure you read to the end where he has two examples of how things are put together. In one case he put together 54 flunkies and 1 boss in less than 6 minutes. In his role play example, he put together 152 usable NPCs in less than 30 minutes. That’s quite impressive, and using his approaches, you can do it too!

[Friday Map] Serzen’s Seven Stairs

Dragon-mouthed entrance! An apparent worship room at the far end? Six more sets of stairs that lead to who knows where? A tree (alive? dead? undead?) in the center! Holy cow! So many possibilities here. I had another map in mind for an upcoming series of encounters, but I think I’m going to scrap using that other map and go with this one! Thanks, Dyson!

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Free RPG Day 2014

June 19th, 2014

I’m well aware that this upcoming Saturday is Free RPG Day. I’m also well aware that I have to work this Saturday (which is odd for me), so I probably won’t even have a chance to hit a game store at all, let alone in time to pick up any free goodies.

Ah well. Such is life. Last year’s Free RPG Day was a pretty heavy bust for me, and trying to do the day justice and review all of the material is something that my life has made unfeasible at this point.

I’d love to get my hands on one of the d6 that they put out, but I just don’t see that happening.

Everyone go out and enjoy the day and get some free goodies. Most importantly: While you’re at the store snagging some swag, make sure to do some shopping and buy something that catches your eye!

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My Comments Runneth Over

June 19th, 2014

Mike over at Campaign Mastery is having some issues with his comment system on his web site. I tried to post a rather lengthy response to his Table Runneth Over post, and we realized that his comment system is broken. While he’s working on getting that issue resolved, I emailed him my comments, just so he could see my more in-depth feedback. While Mike’s working on restoring full operation to his site, he put my comments up as a post of its own over at his site. You can check out what I had to say over on his site.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to put my comments up on the his site, and we all wish him the best of luck at conquering the evil technology goblins that have infested Campaign Mastery’s comment system.

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Friday Faves: 2014-06-13

June 13th, 2014

We’re continuing with the experiment of compiling the post with links as the week goes on instead of doing it all at once. Last week worked well, so we’re going to see how things go this week before I call it a success. Mike from Campaign Mastery also suggested that I rename the column from “Friday Five” to “Friday Faves” since I sometimes have four, six, or sometimes even seven links to share. I thought that was a good idea, so I’ve made that change as well.

Now on with the links!

Size Is Important…

This is a great size comparison visual aid for folks that want to know what various swords’ lengths are in comparison to other swords. It’s a great find for role players, game designers, and writers of fantasy.

Why Should I be Interested? Treat Your Game Like Selling A Product

John makes a good point here. You can’t just slap together an idea and expect your players to “buy in” because they are your friends or RPG table mates. They may not be spending their hard-earned cash, but they are spending their time to invest in your game. You have to draw them in and keep them happy with the product… er… game you’re selling to them. Keep this in mind. They can always earn more money, but once time is spent on an effort, it’s gone forever. Help your RPG group invest their time wisely.

Ask The GMs: My table runneth over (too many players)

The largest group I was ever part of as a player was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen players. Yep. Fifteen of us all staring at the game master and expecting a quality game. Somehow Joe pulled it off! I remember having a blast at the table even though there was considerable downtime during combats and between encounters. I didn’t mind because I was sitting in a room of great role players, and I was still honing my RPG skills. I learned quite a bit. Would I repeat the experience? Despite the fond memories of the campaign, I don’t think I would do it again. As far as GM’ing goes, the largest group I ever ran for was about ten characters, but we only managed to get 6-8 of the players at the table with any consistency. I’d do that again in a heartbeat, but I’d probably pick a “rules light” system (Fate? Savage Worlds?) to run the game in. I love running games for large groups, but they need to be mature people. (Maturity is not a reflection of age, but willingness to participate and pay attention when the spotlight is on someone else.) There are just so many crazy dynamics that come from a large group that you don’t get from 2-4 players. Granted, the 2-4 PC range does offer a more intimate feel to the game, which is just as great.

Story vs Mechanics

Callin over at Big Ball of No Fun brings up a great point in his post. His chief complaint is that sometimes a player will use in-game mechanics to back choices for their characters because the number crunching comes out in their favor. This destroys the flow and style of most stories. Callin asks if there is a “fix” for this problem. The only one I have is a little heavy-handed, but here goes…. Invoke “Rule Zero“. While Urban Dictionary makes it sound like Rule Zero is a bad thing, it can be used to good effect to maintain a story. If someone states that they are jumping off that 100 foot cliff because they know the math is in their favor to survive (if not having guaranteed survival), the the GM can easily Rule Zero the results and declare the character dead unless they make an amazing single die roll. A Fortitude Save of 30, or a System Shock check at half their normal percentage, or something equally dangerous. Give the player a chance to pull it off, but make it one of those very slim chances. The players will quickly learn that Rule Zero is a key part of the game, and if they get stupid with their numbers, the GM can also do the same to their detriment.

The Other Side of the Screen: GM’s Should Play More

I agree! I know I’ve said before that I think every player should GM at least one short series, if not a whole campaign. It gives them the flavor and perspective of what it’s like behind the screen. On the flip side, we all-to-often forget that GMs need a break from Playing God. Everyone, at their very heart, is a player. Yes, there are some folks that GM much more than play, but even those GMs would like a chance to focus on one character with personal goals rather than try to herd the cats. It’s also a great battery recharger to take some time and just play a game for a while instead of being responsible for running it.

3 Feet In Someone Else’s Shoes: Getting in character quickly

This is along the lines of walking a mile in another person’s shoes to learn their life and perspectives. Mike makes a great point that GMs rarely have time to travel that far in an NPC’s shoes, so this leads to NPCs coming off as one-dimensional, flat, fake, caricatures of reality, and so many other bad things that we don’t want the “flesh and bones” of our world to be. There are solutions to this problem, and it really doesn’t take all that much time. When I started reading this article, my reaction was along the lines of, “Phsaw! Yeah. Right. Like I have time to travel a mere three feet in my NPCs shoes to learn them better.” Turns out that gut reaction was wrong. Mike drops a ton of great tips and tricks for getting deeper into your NPCs’ heads. Take a look at them. Pick and choose a few. Experiment with them. Use the ones that work for you. Thanks for the article, Mike!

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Friday Four: 2014-06-06

June 6th, 2014

Based on some advice from Mike Bourke of Campaign Mastery I’m trying something new this week. Instead of bookmarking items for later comments and compiling the entire Friday Five post in one fell swoop (which always seems to fall on Sunday these days), I’m going to stick the links and comments into the post as I find the articles I want to highlight. This will allow me to give more immediate and “gut feel” feedback on the articles. Fortunately, WordPress has a “schedule” feature, so I can schedule this post for near the end of Friday.

Let’s see how this experiment works out….

Now, on with the links!

Last minute update: I only found four articles this week that really caught my eye. Lots of talk about D&D 5/Next/Whatever this week, and I have no interest in that. This diluted the pool of possible posts quite a bit. Please, keep talking about the next flavor of D&D. I find it interesting, but not quite interesting enough to link off to.

Domino Theory: The Perils and Practicalities

One of the reasons I link to Campaign Mastery so many times, is that Mike’s thought process and mine are very similar. However, he seems to have more time, energy, and coherence of thought than I do for putting ideas down. This post is no different. I’ve done a “domino theory” game (actually, campaign) in the past. I set up several “lead dominoes” for the PCs to knock over. If they only tipped one of them, fine. If they hit two, three, or more of them, that was great. I think they ended up running with four different plot threads running in the background. Well, it wasn’t always in the background. When it was convenient for me (or inconvenient for the party) a chain of events would rear its ugly head and cause trouble. That was when the PCs could take action to stop the next domino in the chain from falling, or perhaps have them fall faster. Either way, it was a great deal of fun, but did require quite a bit of prep work as not all dominoes fall at the same rate. A good time table was needed for each chain to keep things in perspective with cross-links between the tables to ensure that if chain A interacted with chain C, then things would work out properly. Mike’s got some great examples and ideas on how to keep everything straight, so go check it out!

Moderating Instant Advancement

Walt has an excellent post on how to bring in a character of higher levels or power advancement in an ongoing campaign. There are issues with this. Things like targeted power/feat/skill/ability choices instead of organic growth of the character when they level up naturally. Things like choosing (again) targeted items that support the character in a precise manner instead of having them adapt to what they would randomly find while adventuring. There’s also the case of “I’m retiring my 5th level fighter. Can I replace him with a 5th level wizard?” Some GMs are okay with this approach. Others are not. Walt delves into the details of how to handle all of these situations in his post over at Gnome Stew.

Your D&D Is Dead!

Ahh…. Edition wars. The only time I war over editions is when my group and I are choosing what to play next, and it’s rarely a war. Just because D&D Next/5/WhateverTheyAreCallingItThisWeek is coming out soon, that does not mean the WotC police are going to kick in your door and confiscate all of your previous editions. The upcoming version of a game does not automatically invalidate what you already own. So long as you’re willing to play the version of (A)D&D of your choice, it’s not dead. Let me repeat that. Your. Favorite. Version. Of. D&D. Is. Not. Dead.

Stealing From Games (And A Game About Stealing)

Dave over at Critical Hits has a really good article about “stealing” from other ideas to incorporate them into your own. He wholeheartedly endorses this approach. I do to. I’m going to use my fiction writing as an example. I once asked the great Connie Willis at Mile-Hi Con about how to advise people to not to worry about this aspect of writing. I’ve never been shy about snagging an idea, making it my own (that’s key), and running with it. However, some of my old critique partners would stop writing something if they realized it was similar to something else. Connie told me that all good stories boil down to “Man In Conflict.” I couldn’t agree more. Since this idea has been done thousands of times, how do you make something unique? Well, most people tend to forget that they are unique. By putting their personal stamp on something, it’ll be unique… just like them. Just avoid a straight copy/paste from some SRD for a description of an ability/spell/feat/skill/etc.. You see, that’s copyright violation. Just don’t cross that line, and you’ll be fine.

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Links from Last Week

June 2nd, 2014

I started my usual Monday morning clean out of the bookmarks I made last week and realized that there are some really good articles/maps/advice in those links. I still want to share them with the world, so here they are:

Stream Of Consciousness: Image-based narrative

While hanging out and talking with an FBI profiler over beers one night, he dropped a tid-bit of information on me that I loved. When a person is talking to a sketch artist, the witness will often start with small details that really jump out at them, and then move on to the larger details unless prompted to provide the details in a different manner. This means that scars, tattoos, abnormalities in the skin, etc. will be vital details to the witness. Mike’s on target here as well in that if you use Google Image search (or something similar), and describe what you see, then chances are that you’ll drop a description in the “correct order” for the players and answer any questions they may have before they get a chance to ask them. Mike, as always, does a great job of explaining things better than I do, so follow the link to his site and check out his approach.

Questions for Reflective GM’s

Asking yourself questions about a work or approach before throwing it front of players is very helpful. Asking some of the same questions after the game session/campaign are over with are also useful. Want to know what those questions are? Follow-through with the link.

Megadungeon Practices

I’ve designed a few megadungeons in the past. I haven’t really touched one in a long time, but if I were to jump into creating another one, I’d definitely use John’s approach as he’s detailed it on his blog. Go check it out!

Prodigious Performances Provided In Due Course

Ever since feats were introduced into D&D 3.0, there have been balance problems with them. Since 3.0 was released under the OGL, third party publishers could make their own feats as well. This exacerbated the balance issue. With so many feats (probably over 5,000 published by now) there’s no way to know every rule behind every feat. Worse still, is that a player might find two feats that mesh so well that game balance becomes even more at risk. GMs just don’t have the time to read all of the feats that might apply to the 4-8 players sitting around the table. I like Mike’s approach here on his review and approval process for bringing new feats into the game. Well done, Mike!

Fellini’s Pool

Sweet map with a cool “crumpled paper” effect on it! Need I say more?

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