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(5e) The Tomb of Mercy

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 11:14

Sersa Victory
Kobold Press
Level 8

Humanity’s Last Hope Corrupted! The Tomb of Mercy was built centuries ago to house arks that would preserve the souls of humanity from an infernal invasion. Now you must travel to the Wasted West, unseal the Tomb, and send the last ark safely on its journey. Fail, and humanity faces extinction!

A DriveThru Hot Seller! Let’s see how much I regret the purchase …

This thirty page adventure is a linear crawl through a dungeon with twelve rooms. The core adventure appears on ten pages, leaving the other twenty pages to fluff, monsters, pregens, etc. This could be a cool one-shot con adventure, but is too limiting for anything else.

I have opinions on this one. I feel like I was ripped off; that the marketing doesn’t actually tell you what you’re buying. Given the rather niche corner this occupies it feels important that expectations are set pre-purchase. This doesn’t do that, not by a long shot.

Did you know you could win D&D? Yes! It’s true! In this adventure the DM and players compete with each other to draw Augury cards. At the end of the adventure they use what they’ve drawn to try to figure out which three random cards were sealed in an envelope at the start. Whoever guesses more wins the game!

And there are respawn rules! If a PC dies then they respawn the next round next to an ally. That’s nice, isn’t it? Oh, but if PC’s die six times then the DM wins automatically, so …

[The adventure commits two unforgivable sins, and this is one of them. D&D is not adversarial. Any hint that it is needs to be stamped out. There is no greater mindset of evil than “Adversarial D&D. Respawn? Ok. Die six times and the DM wins? No.]

I want to touch on two other issues before I get to my first bullet point. First, an emphasis is given to terrain that I don’t usually see, except in 4e adventures. Second, killing things/defeating challenges give you the key to get to the next room.

You now what this feels like? A boardgame. A scenario for Descent, or some Neverwinter Nights scenario. As a one shot con game that’s fine. Weird rules for three to four hours and then you’re out. No commitment beyond that; it’s fun. As a standard adventure… well … This is a one-trick pony.

Read-aloud is in light green italics, which makes it hard to read. In spite of there being twenty pages of support material, the map is all on one page, in some weird scale. It’s gorgeous, and clearly meant to be printed out, but is too small to do that. But, hey, they got it all on one page.

Magic items are good. Unique items like a shield you can feed monster bodies to in order to get a breathe weapon attack. They feel mythic.

On the monsters, well …

The first monster is a “conjoined bonewraith dust goblin spirit caller.” It’s hard to take that seriously. I’m guessing this is some templated build? I don’t understand that shit. Just slap some stats down; why do designers feel the need to use the rules to build a monster? And if it’s not a templated build, then why the fuck would you give it a six word name that seems like a template build? It’s hard to take seriously when adventures do this. Not to mention the monsters are long. Like, a page and half in one case. There’s this style of adventure that seems to take rules lawyering to a new heights, and this is one of them. Everything explained using current rules and two paragraph entries for new monsters. Didn’t the OD&D mind flayer just each brains on a 1-2 out of a d6? Seems easier to run than digging through 1.5 pages of stats to read two paragraphs while you’re trying to run a combat with six players.

The read-aloud is ok. It’s certainly evocative although it tends towards to the unnecessarily flowery novelist style. And while there’s a LOT of DM text it’s formatted rather well in most cases. Too long, way too long, with too much crap in it that doesn’t matter during the adventure. It does matter if you are reading the adventure for fun … nice fluff. Which, of course, is also a major sin of adventure writing. More is not more. More gets in the way of running the adventure at the table.

This thing is the definition of idiosyncratic. The “Winning”, respawn and six deaths things. The setting is a world overrun by hell with the PC’s launching an ark in to space with humanity’s last souls. The pregens are all female and named “Sister of Mercy” and “SIster of Judgement” and “SIster of Fury.” [Sadly, no one sang corrosion to me during the review.] This is hard to use during a normal game and probably a decent con game. But then, the pregens are not formatted for easy printing, running to multiple columns. And the monsters are hard to grasp. And the map is not optimized for a con print.

I’m going to give the designer the benefit of the doubt. I think they wrote an ok convention game. And then the Kobolds got ahold of it and fucked it up by putting the map on one page, spreading the pregens over multiple columns/pages, and forcing a “standard monsters format” and mechanics bullshit. Then hey marketed it as an general purpose adventure instead of a one-shot … which I fucking HATE.

The preview s five pages. The last page shows you the map and the second to last shows you the first room. Nice imagery, and mechanics associated with it, but WAY too long.
This is $7 at DriveThru.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #4 - Fate

19th Level - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 02:25

Fate was a way harder game for me to "get" than I thought it would be. I suspect if I'd never gamed before it would have been a lot easier.

There's a ton of blogs and reviews that can give you all the details of Fate. I'm going to talk about the Fate Accelerated version where I finally grokked the game. Fate Accelerated and Fate Core are officially the same game, but there are some definite differences.

Fate uses Fate dice - six sided dice with two plusses, two minuses, and two blanks. You roll four of them and add them together - adding various modifiers as well, but the dice give a range of -4 to +4. You're trying to beat some difficulty. It sounds pretty traditional.

Here's where it diverges. Fate Core gives your character traditional skills like shooting, piloting, etc. Fate Accelerated goes for approaches - how you do something, Are you forceful? Are you sneaky? Both a wizard and a warrior can be forceful. But your aspects and stunts give more definition.

Aspects basically describe something. It can be as simple as "strong", but that's a pretty lousy aspect. "Strong and dumb as an ox" on the other hand works pretty well - a good aspect has positive and negative aspects and helps form the picture of who you are. It also can be something temporary - attached to a scene or a character. For example, "warehouse floor on fire" is an aspect. So is "I've got you covered". Aspects can also be a permission to take some action. For example, with the aspect "Dark Lord of the Sith" it would be reasonable to use the Forceful approach to yank blasters out of the hapless rebels' hands.

Stunts are mechanical exceptions - bonuses you get under certain circumstances being the most common.

When you pay you are throwing aspects, fate points, stunts, etc. all over the place. Invoking an aspect typically gives you a +2 bonus. But unless you create that aspect, something that takes an action, or have some other way to get a free use, you need to spend a fate point. Lousy stuff happening to you is a great way to get more fate points.

I've talked about the mechanics. They're pretty simple, but it took me a long while to get the hang of how best to use them. It's a very narrative system, designed to tell stories of exceptional people. I used it for a team of Star Wars rebels and it worked great. But I also had previous so-so attempts at using the rules. You really need to buy into the game. But when you do, it is fantastic at telling stories of exceptional people.

Like everything else on this list, I'd not use it for everything. But I did finally get to see how powerful a system it can be. Still got Dresden Files Accelerated on my bucket list....

Blog note - updates this month have been near-impossible. Lots of family activities, grad school, etc. I'd been planning on going to North Texas RPG Con next month but that's looking less and less likely as the semester progresses. Just one and a half classes left...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On OSR gaming releases 5/18/18

Hack & Slash - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 12:00
Welcome to gaming releases this week!

This is my first attempt at something like this, so feel free to give me comments and suggestions!

There were over 200 products released in the last 7 days, what follows are highlights only. If you'd like to be highlighted, get at me during your release week!

Steve Jackson released a large number of Car Wars .pdfs!

Pandius Provided the Poor Wizard's Almanac: The Year of Chaos
Popular threads on the vault include a civilization, wilderness and monsters density poll; and of course the Mystarn's community response to the denigration of the setting by Matt Sernett during a podcast and his subsequent apology, and their attempt to address the "endemic disrespect for Mystara [in] the community at Wizards of the Coast." Mystara is one of the most D&D-like settings ever created, with ancient human empires, magical flying cities, immortals and a hollow world.

Unearthed Arcana covers the new playtesting rules for centaurs and minotaurs leading to reddit postulating the infinite centaur because medium creatures can ride centaurs who are themselves medium size. It's centaurs all the way down!

Greg Gillespie has 5 days left for his funded Barrowmaze: Highfell - The Drifting Dungeon Megadungeon for Labyrinth Lord and other Old School Role-playing game.

Saturday May 12th
  • Corporatocracy: Company Rule in Fact & Fantasy, by WMB Saltworks
    • A quick perusal shows information about both historical cases as well as specific ideas for campaigns that can be caused by certain company interests. The text is excessively wordy, "Usually, of course, we refer to corporations in a business sense. It can be useful to remember, however, that not all companies are corporations." If you can take that sort of meandering well, this may be of some use to you.
Sunday May 13th
Monday May 14th
Tuesday May 15thWednesday May 16thThursday May 17th
If you find this post useful, and you'd like to see it every Friday, then now is the time to support my Patreon to make sure I can continue to afford housing and which totally enables putting this together every week. 
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Let's read Mutant Crawl Classics!

Deep Sheep - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:06
Over at I am reading through the new Mutant Crawl Classics RPG by posting a bit about each section and then saying what I think about it and inviting others to do the same.

Please take a look at and let me know what you think!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Gygax Design I

Hack & Slash - Thu, 05/17/2018 - 17:20
It's unspoken in the rulebooks all over the place.

You are just supposed to know certain things from the culture of wargaming. But it blew up way past that microculture.

The immediate casualty was the adventure. This has been my focus now for over a year. What went wrong? Why are the modules Gygax wrote good, while others that ape the style are so bad?

Keep on the BorderlandsLet's just start with the introductions. 
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You, however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow. The others in your group will assume the roles of individuals and play their parts, but each can only perform within the bounds you will set. It is now up to you to create a magical realm filled with danger, mystery, and excitement, complete with countless challenges. Though your role is the greatest, it is also the most difficult. You must now prepare to become all things to all people."-Gary Gygax, "Keep on the Borderlands"
Let's see.
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner" is literal. He presents this powerfully as descending not only personally into the realm of fantasy, but the, and I quote, "become[ing] the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe."
Heady stuff. 
Let's look at the introduction of Return to Keep on the Borderlands by John D. Rateliff 1999, at the tail end of the dark ages of Dungeons & Dragons:
"Return to the Keep is an update of the classic adventure, detailing what has happened in the Caves of Chaos and the Keep itself in the two decades since brave adventurers cleaned out the monsters and departed for other challenges. The rules have been fully updated. . ., encounters have been fleshed out, and the section of advice to inexperienced Dungeon Masters expanded and rewritten. In the main, however, Keep on the Borderland remains what it has always been: A series of short adventures, distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section, that smoothly segue together. Altogether, this adventure gives novice players and characters a chance to learn the ropes without getting in over their heads; characters who survive will have learned the basic tricks of their trade, just as players and Dungeon Masters will know the basics of good gaming."
What the f$% happened here? Do you see this shit? Apologies to Rateliff, but I try to edit my blog posts better then this introduction. There's just extra, redundant, words in excess of the words that are needed, for some reason that's a reason there's extra words for a reason. Right? 
"A series of short adventures." is the short description of "Adventures distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section". How about "In the main, however". What purpose does that equivocation serve?
An example from one of the worst printed module of all time, N2, The Forest Oracle. Although terrible, it's common in quality to the vast majority of material on RPGnow and DM's Guild. But I'd rather not punch down on amature creator, so consider this a stand in for the type of dross you find on onebookshelf. 
"The Forest Oracle is an AD&D module for levels 2-4. It is an independent adventure, and not part of a series. It can be integrated into any existing campaign or played as a separate adventure to help initiate players into the world of AD&D." -Carl Smith Forest OracleEvery single word of the above introduction is patently obvious. The level range is on the cover. You can integrate any adventure into an existing campaign or play it as a separate adventure.  This is literal wasted space. Compare with original borderlands text.

The point I'm driving at here, is Gygax used every word of the introduction to drive home a mind-blowing idea, the introduction was copied for the sequel by a writer who writes as if he gets paid by the word, and the worst adventure writers don't even understand the point of the introduction so they just say truistic generic comments. "This is a module." or one of my personal favorites "This module is for X level characters, but you can run it with higher or lower characters if you increase or decrease the difficulty."

No shit?

Why did I pay? How does this help me? What does this do for me?

Dungeon Master TextThis text varies between each individual module.

Let's look at the original keep:
This module is another tool. It is a scenario or setting which will help you to understand the fine art of being a Dungeon Master as you introduce your group of players to your own fantasy world, your interpretation of the many worlds of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Adventure. THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS is simply offered for your use as a way to move smoothly and rapidly into your own special continuing adventures or campaigns. Read the module thoroughly; you will notice that the details are left in your hands. This allows you to personalize the scenario, and suit it to what you and your players will find most enjoyable.Which commits the sin of being obvious, but considering the dearth of modules at the time, this was good advice then. Is the pass I'm giving the above text unfair?

The DM should be careful to give the player characters a reasonable chance to survive.Hopefully, they will quickly learn that the monsters here will work together and attack intelligently, if able. If this lesson is not learned, all that can be done is to allow the chips to fall where they may. Dead characters cannot be brought back to life here! Then, Gygax lines out his conception of Dungeons & Dragons:
The KEEP is a microcosm, a world in miniature. Within its walls your players will find what is basically a small village with a social order, and will meet opponents of a sort. Outside lies the way to the Caves of Chaos where monsters abound. As you build the campaign setting, you can use this module as a guide. Humankind and its allies have established strongholds—whether fortresses or organized countries—where the players’ characters will base themselves, interact with the society, and occasionally encounter foes of one sort or another. Surrounding these strongholds are lands which may be hostile to the bold adventurers. Perhaps there are areas of wilderness filled with dangerous creatures, or maybe the neighboring area is a land where chaos and evil rule (for wilderness adventures, see DUNGEONS & DRAGONS@ EXPERT SET). There are natural obstacles to consider, such as mountains, marshes, deserts, and seas. There can also be magical barriers, protections, and portals. Anything you can imagine could be part of your world if you so desire. The challenge to your imagination is to make a world which will bring the ultimate in fabulous and fantastic adventure to your players. A world which they may believe in.He is a priest, his sermon dense with meaning. Note particularly "will meet opponents of a sort" and "hostile foes of one sort or another".

Jeff Dee's art is a treasureThis is the first module, a teaching module, the first time many of these things had ever been seen. Yet the form of treating it as the first-ish publication anyone may ever see, is not something that other and later modules needed to copy. A lot of the text in the original B2 is almost an errata—a detailed description of procedures in play for lost or confused Dungeon Masters. Other then a few pointed notes, I'm going to excise this from the analysis, due to the singular artifact of "being first".  A rules addendum is tangential to our examination of Gygax's content versus the imitators of form.

Of particular note:
To defeat monsters and overcome problems, the DM must be a dispenser of information. Again, he or she must be fair - telling the party what it can see, but not what it cannot. Questions will be asked by players, either of the DM or of some character the party has encountered, and the DM must decide what to say. Information should never be given away that the characters have not found out - secret doors may be missed, treasure or magic items overlooked, or the wrong question asked of a townsperson. The players must be allowed to make their own choices. Therefore, it is important that the DM give accurate information, but the choice of action is the players’ decision.It's bolded like that in the original text.

In Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the text and advice is largely similar and fascinating. Perhaps Ratcliffe was just warming up earlier and needed a sharper editor for that paragraph. I'd like to quote  things that indicate people carried true knowledge always with them, even as those who claimed to be kings had lost that knowledge. To wit:
"Boxed text can either be read out loud by the Dungeon Master, or simply paraphrased in his or her own words. Paraphrasing is often preferred by experienced Dungeon Masters. . ." "Players have a habit of doing the unexpected; resist the temptation to force them to follow a particular track." "For purposes of this adventure, the Dungeon Master is strongly urged to use the optional rule that grants experience points for treasure (at the rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value); this sends the message to the players that there are a multitude of right approaches to take (combat, stealth, negotiation), not a single preferred method of play."This was in 1999, before the release of 3rd edition, where traditional games of Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire were advising Dungeon Masters to invalidate their players choices, and modules consisted of badly constructed railroads of the sort a grade schooler might create. In the darkest moment the hobby of Dungeons & Dragons has experienced, light still shone.

Next time we're going to look at the background section of the adventures and dig into things both nitty and gritty.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] The Arwich Grinder

Beyond Fomalhaut - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 17:34

The Arwich Grinder (2014)by Daniel J. BishopPublished in Crawl! #9 by Straycouches Press0-level funnel
Something has gone terribly wrong up in them hills where the Curwen family has lived in their homestead for several generations, and young Bessie Curwen’s bonnet has been found in the possession of an odd beast that lumbers into the village inn and drops dead before the assembled patrons. The reclusive and tight-knit Curwens had saved the village from starvation two winters ago, so it’s time to return the favour. A group of brave volunteers is assembled to venture up into the dark woods and see what’s up at the Curwens’ lucrative pig farm.
To everybody’s surprise, it wasn’t pig after all.

Warning: cover spoils module theme and final encounter

This funnel adventure – filling a full issue of Crawl! fanzine – is a gruesome one-shot combining Lovecraftian themes with a hilarious amount of gore. There are no surprises as far as the module’s themes are concerned – yup, the backwoods rustics are up to no good, and they are right in the middle of doing something really bad when the adventurers show up. However, as something you get into with full foreknowledge of walking into the jaws of a deadly trap, it is remarkably well made. Perhaps the horror does not lie in the familiar (and by now almost cozy) horror trappings, but in the vulnerability and disposability of 0-level characters. When you are at three hit points, the axe maniac coming at you suddenly takes on a more grave than usual significance.
This is something The Arwich Grinder shines at. Low-level D&D’s lethality makes it hard to design for, since an unlucky hit can kill a character, and a few unlucky hits can decimate a party and either stop their progress outright or trap them in hostile territory. However, if you softball it, you kind of lose the excitement of rolling that d20. This module is somewhere in that middle spot, even if a few of the encounters end up under-statted (including the bad guys right at the end).
Something else that works well here is the way the scenario builds towards its conclusion. It is not a railroad, and you can actually get around the Curwens’ place in multiple different ways, but any way you go, you will start from smaller hints of something being dreadfully wrong to very obvious signs of something, indeed, being gosh-darned wrong. There is a clear element of progression from the family homestead (exploration-oriented, few encounters, not terribly dangerous as long as you don’t disregard obvious hints) through the Curwens’ underground tunnels (a combination of exploration and action, multiple instances of combat and traps) to even deeper caverns (where things turn nasty). This is what makes the scenario nicely Lovecraftian. You know you are getting into something bad, and lo, you are getting into something bad. There are big, dark things lurking under the earth. Old families conceal terrible secrets. If you look too closely at things, you might find more than you’d bargained for. Never trust people of inferior racial stock. That’s Lovecraft. The rest is equally good, including one of the best GM takedowns of meta-gaming players, a few suitably dark magic items, and the Curwens, who are fun to take down, and have a few tricks up their sleeves.
The encounters are short and essential. The entire module is well-written, and fits the 27-area farmstead and 15-area dungeon into a 24-page booklet (set in a generous font size). It is right at the level where bits of descriptive detail carry the tone, without suffering from under- or overwriting. The illustrations are cool (and the cover is great great GREAT, one of the best I have seen in recent years). This is a good adventure.
The module credits its playtesters.
Rating: **** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Using & Abusing Judge's Guild's Frontier Forts of Kelnore By Judge's Guild For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 14:12
"This book provides a basic, modularized map of a border fort (all Kelnore forts were designed to these specifications).  Since their construction, the forts have been populated by various monsters and tables are provided to put in random groups of creatures and individualize the forts on these basic designs.  There are three sample forts, filled out according to die rolls onNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 11:13

The Singing Caverns
First Hungarian d20 Society
Gabor Lux
Levels 2-4

This is a 44 page zine from Gabor Lux containing a variety of higher quality D&D-ish material. It includes a two level cave complex with fifty rooms, over fifteen pages, called “The Singing Caverns”, which this review will be concentrating on … since I only review adventures. Terse writing, interesting encounters and a good map all combine to create a delightful little complex to explore … reminding me more than a bit of Thracia. Could there be a higher compliment?

Gabor Lux/Melan has created some interesting material that seems to appeal to a wide variety of folks. When Guy Fullerton creates a bibliography of your works AND Kent likes you, well … you’re doing something right. Note also that my review standards link to his great article on dungeon map design. Echoes From Formalhaught is a zine he is putting out, with issue one just dropping in print ind and PDF. It’s got a lot of good content, and starts strong is a great random merchant generator. “A distracted farmer selling haircuts drawing a small crowd.” Note how it both creates a memorable NPC quality “distracted farmer” and creates some potential energy “drawing a small crowd.” That’s a great example of a perfect NPC encounter. That table alone is good enough to go on my binder … and I’d put it on my screen if I had room.

But … we’re talking about adventures.

The Singing Caverns is a two level cave system with about fifty rooms spread out over fifteen pages (maps and full page artwork taking up four or five, so ten pages of text,) Fifty rooms in ten pages … and single column wide wide margins to boot!

These encounters are packed. The wanderers are up to something. Giant rats are cowardly stragglers that try to drag down stragglers or rip open food bags.” Perfect! You’ve got your encounter right there. When the rats show up they are doing something. Drunk exploring bandits? Great! Now you’ve got a little NPC interaction before they get a bit belligerent, and an obvious way for the party to appeal to them. These things are done in a short sentence, or maybe two. You don’t have to drone on and on while writing a description. You just need to set it up, as is done here. The goal of writing in an adventure is to inspire the DM in order to leverage their ability to take something and run with it. In order to do that you need to give them a shove. And that’s what these encounters do.

Looking at room one, “Water trickles from the mouth of a grinning long-nosed strong-chinned stone head into a dented brass basin. Several footprints in the mud.” After that is a short sentence saying the wind wails through the passage, blowing out torches on a 1-2, and there’s a crude tripwire a few steps in knowing down a support beam with stone for 2d6hp.

The initial description is short. The important stuff is bolded to draw the eye. The second paragraph contains DM information, again short and bolded. This isn’t the ONLY way to write effectively, but I do think it’s one of the most straightforward ways. The adventure does this over and over again. It’s like terse little jabs to your imagination in every room.

The maps good. Same level stairs, multiple ways between levels, loops, features drawn in on the map like ledges, etc. The keying is clear and legible.It’s what you want a map to be to encourage great exploration play in the dungeon..

This is $6 at DriveThru. You get to see the merchant table and, at the end of the preview, the first few rooms of the dungeon. They are representative of the entire thing.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Goblin Fueled Rage Of Erlkings & Elverkongens Datters - A Very Different Goblin OSR Ecology -

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 19:06
Goblins are ubiquitous in Dungeons & Dragons & in B10 Dark's Dark Terror adventure they're some of the central antagonists. But where are they coming from?! Well I turned my attention back to Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon rpg once again.   Each & every time a gate way to Fairyland opens along with the waves of unreality there are Chaos impregnated fungal spores that enter our local space Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Alternate Win Conditions in D&D

Ultanya - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 16:57
After playing D&D for nearly four decades I have developed some habits as a Dungeon Master. One of them is using alternate win conditions for battles with boss level monsters and villains. Some while back I really became numb to the concept of hit points, especially in high level play. Far to often the battles felt like the players were just chopping down a tree...with a dull axe. Before going any further, I understand that style of play still appeals to some people. I’m not saying there's anything wrong with it. I just do not prefer it any longer.

I used the chess image to the right on purpose. There are countless possible games which eventually lead to a victory in chess. With that foundation in mind, let's explore how alternate win conditions can be used in D&D.

Hit points are not cinematic. Hit points are something the players can meta game as damage is dealt. Hit points are just a piece of the puzzle for me, not the whole thing. A well placed critical hit could potentially one shot an important story boss. The rest of the players are left with dice in hand, bummed how anti-climatic the battle was. Sure, sometimes as a DM you NEED to let that happen. Especially if everyone is cheering and excited at the result. After all, you’re the casino with endless resources to throw against the players. Those are game day calls and only you can decide what is best for your group and story.

So what are alternate win conditions? Well if you’ve ever played a video game you have seen them. They are best defined as a series of tasks which must be completed BEFORE you can defeat the boss. This defeat could be directly or indirectly, the latter being my favorite. I think the best way to show this is by example:

Alternate Win Condition (Direct)

For this scenario I will detail what a boss fight typically looks like versus one updated with alternate win conditions.

Final Room A: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. To his left and right are two Hobgoblin Guards. He will yell out in the blackened tongue, “Destroy the interlopers!” Note: The Goblin King counts as a hobgoblin with maximum hit points. In addition, he has two attacks per round.

Final Room B: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. Upon seeing the PCs he will cackle evilly and vanish into wispy smoke. If the PCs advance on the throne they hear a series of clicks. Two pieces of rune covered obsidian rise from the floor on either side of the room.

These stones will summon 1d4+1 Goblin Skeletons every round until disarmed (DC15 Sleight of Hand), disenchanted (DC15 Arcana), or destroyed (DC15 Athletics check). Any summoned goblin skeletons will defend the stones if necessary, using their reaction to impose disadvantage on a PC rolls.

In addition, the Goblin King is considered ethereal while the stones remain active. A DC15 Arcana check will reveal creatures that aren't on the Ethereal Plane can't interact with him, unless they have an ability or magic that allows this. That said, his awful cackle somehow reverberates throughout the chamber. Once the stones are deactivated the cowardly Goblin King will reappear, groveling for his life.

Goblin King - Aradia Miniatures
In the above example the players have to work more as a team to defeat this boss. The Goblin King is not just a bag of Hit Points. Since the stones work as monster generators, there is still a combat aspect to the encounter. This keeps the players who enjoy that style of play happy. Finally, the Goblin King could escape to menace the players another day if you so choose. Either way, the PCs have defeated him this time!

Alternate Win Condition (Indirect)

This style of win condition works better in campaigns that are more story based. It’s usually a gradual thing as the PCs slowly chip away at the villain and foil plans. In one of my current campaigns the main villain doesn't even have stats written to a character sheet. He has carefully worked his machinations throughout the realm causing all sorts of chaos. NO, this villain is far too intelligent to risk direct confrontation! The players have been defeating his plans and lieutenants along the way. With each of their victories his power lessons and his plots and allies are exposed. That said, the constant threat of this villain hangs like a dark cloud over them. He strikes back whenever he can...but may be weakening.

I encourage you to find ways to incorporate alternate win conditions into your sessions when dealing with boss level encounters. Even though D&D finds its foundation in war games not every battle needs to be decided with hit points. I think by mixing it up once in a while you will keep the sessions fresh for your players and have them thinking of new ways to use their character abilities. Even better, occasionally a player will dream up an alternate win condition on the spot. This is the stuff of legends! Embrace it and create a story your group will talk about for years to come.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Endless War

Hack & Slash - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 12:00
After admiring Warhammer Fantasy for nearly my whole life, I decided to play one hundred multiplayer matches in the loving rendition Creative Assembly has made of the game. This is that story of a dwarf warrior in the end times. . .

"War has come. My name is Bedun Leatherarm. I fight for clan and glory in the end-times.

This is the tale of my first battle. . . and loss. One of many.

I joined with the Iron Shanks, who talked of 'wheedy elves' that we were going to cut down on the plains of Waldenhof. Two regiments of thunderers with their weapons of iron and fire bolstered confidence among the throng of warriors. We also had a unit of irondrakes and slayers! I had no faith in what those non-traditional dawi would bring.

And the cannons. Beautiful cannons. Immediately effective. We set up on a hill in a simple box formation, the slayers and irondrakes hidden in the trees and just began raining fire upon a wood elf regiment of eternal guard, standing in the open. Our engineer directed the fire to devastating effect.

We could hear the screams from where we stood! 30 dead in one volley. 5 more died in the next. Still, the elves stood, unmoving. What cold hard creatures to send their own to die like that. I drew in my breath, assured of success as I watched our cannons work. 49 died before the elves dained to move.

Arrows from waywatchers hit the shield of the warriors on the left flank first, doing little damage against dwarven wood and steel. Our rangers and firedrakes opened up and the swift elves fled, downing firedrakes with their arrows as they left, their preternatural ability to fire while they ran devastating our troops. Suddenly from the trees behind us, a hidden unit rained arrows at the rear of our thunderers!

Our rangers and firedrakes moved forward taking heavy damage, trying to fire on the enemies front, while warriors moved to the back. Another unit had chased off after some archers and was getting picked apart! I grabbed my axe before I felt the hot spray on my face.

Dragonsbreath! From not one but two dragons! The thunderers panicked and fled. A Glade Lord sat grinning aboard his dragon, casting bolts of energy around the field. Arrows came from every direction as the forest dragon landed and engaged our thane in combat. Where were the slayers?!

Later I would come to find out they had foolishly given chase to faster elves. Chaos reigned as we ran back and forth between target to target, the elves taking to the air and peppering us with armor piercing arrows the entire time.

The dragons, their elven lord astride danced, back and forth, causing chaos among our ranks, until we could stand and fight no more.

And so we turned, and fled. "

Thus ends the first battle of Bedun Leatherarm.
Dwarves Vs. Wood Elves (loss)

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Box Breaking 246: Empires of the Void II

Gamer Goggles - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 02:29

Watch as Matt breaks open Empires of the Void II from Red Raven Games. Empires of the Void II is the newest Space Exploration area control game out there.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

I am really looking forward to this.  I hope to this played through shortly after Memorial Day.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Playing around with some new Token cards..

Rebel Minis - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 22:18
What do you think?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Atlantandria Port City To The Stars Phase II - OSR Setting Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 18:31
"It seems to me that I have lived alone— Alone, as one that liveth in a dream: As light on coldest marble, or the gleam Of moons eternal on a land of stone, The days have been to me. I have but known The silence of Thulean lands extreme— A silence all-attending and supreme As is the sea's enormous monotone. Upon the waste no palmed mirages are, But strange chimeras roam the steely light, And Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Dungeon Stocking

Hack & Slash - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 12:00
I’ll tell you a secret. I am very, very not good at restocking dungeons. I love what’s inside them when I make them. The original idea is pristine. I don’t want it to change and therefore procrastinate at the necessary task.
Originally I approach restocking as one would designing the dungeon. This was a mistake. Restocking dungeons shouldn’t feel like repeating work you’ve already done. The other issue is that of time, it is actually a necessary, active task, requiring doing. This is inconvenient and is often down far enough the pole to just be ignored.
I didn’t have any idea how to restock dungeons and research didn’t really provide a lot of insight. Nearly all of the advice boiled down to "Think about what would realistically happen next with the people in the dungeon." Is this an insight? Yes, in a megadungeon campaign, the dungeon itself is the stage the game takes place on, identical to the overworld map in a traditional campaign.
Can a space be cleared? Oh, to scour it clean. We love to eliminate the fog of war, till all is known to us. The nature of the megadungeon is that it can't be known to us. It is a representation of the unknown; the metaphysical darkness, into which we venture in an attempt to retrieve some vital forgotten knowledge and return with it to the tribe of man. The success of the adventure->treasure->level->adventure cycle is that it so naturally mirrors a hero's journey through life.
There is without question a resonance with that idea.
So, I don't restock a dungeon, as much as I treat the dungeon as a space in which adventure occurs. Here's what that concretely looks like.
The ProcessI  ask for an encounter check when they are on a "thoroughfare" and moving throughout the dungeon, once for their movement times 10.
To unpack: No matter how you design your dungeon, certain areas will be the 'grass crossings' on a college campus. Players will just find themselves traversing that area due to it being the shortest route to where they want to go. It's also where you're most likely to meet random traffic, which the hazard die roll will certainly provide. Because the terrain is already explored, they've already poked and prodded with their 10' poles, they can traverse it at somewhat normal speed, 10 times their normal movement. So whereas an unencumbered party could explore 120' in a turn, now they can move 1,200' in that same turn.
Rolling one encounter for every 600'-900' (really 60-90 squares) encourages finding shortcuts and handles getting to and back from play at the start and end of each session. No party is moving around unencumbered.
That's most of it. We've got the other situations.

QuestsQuests are how I logistically handle restocking the dungeon. I have never in my life ever sat down and rolled to restock rooms. I don't think I have it in me.
Every area in the dungeon has. . .things. Resources. If an area's been explored, and I'm looking to "restock it", it initially happens with a quest. I have a selection of Non-Player characters in town, with their own storylines within Numenhalla, who provide quests. Preparation for a session usually involves designing one new quest a week (to replace the last one they took). Each dungeon section has a pre-built set of rumors and possible quests I use to help me.
Let's look at some of resources in the crypts. The Altar of Hierax can grant a long rest, The Anamneopolis allows speaking with the recently deceased. In the upper crypts, there is a pool along with a skull wall that whispers secrets. That's really what I'm talking about: What's still got juice in it after the players have extracted the treasure?
Then the restocking happens when you insert an antagonist for the quest. Note that this doesn't have to be a monster or new encounter. Perhaps some tunnels have collapsed, the resources is corrupted somehow or destroyed. The fact that the quest takes them somewhere they have been and the new obstacle/opponent exists makes the dungeon seem like a living place.
So preparation boils down to rolling on a combined quest table and inserting whatever idea is cool for an antagonist. I can manage one cool idea a week.
Setting up shopThis is the other problem. The players will meticulously map out an area and say, "Why don't we establish a beachhead here?"
The mega-dungeon represents the unknown dark into which we venture—the literal mythic underdark. You can't move into the mythical underdark!
Part of the greatest challenge of running a megadungeon is to keep the impression of it as a threatening unsafe place as the players grow in power, without robbing them of feeling empowered. We have many tools we can use to do this, cutting experience to the bone to slow player advancement, creating a threatening environment that kills players to remove experience gained from the players and more subtle methods such as scaling encounters based on party size and insuring that both overwhelmingly weak and overwhelming strong opponents are encountered.
But most importantly, Numenhalla is a time-locked dungeon. You can only enter it once a week, meaning moving in means surviving for a week. Can they? Even if I approached the problem as a neutral arbiter, I would consider it unlikely. There are worse things then I have listed on my encounter table.
But I'm not a neutral arbiter. I'm representing the chaotic unknown depths, the mystical underworld. As such, chaos abhors order and will react to attempts at colonization aggressively.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Those Dam Goblins

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 11:15

by Cristopher Clark
Fail Squad Games
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-3

A few years ago human settlers discovered a marsh-covered valley that they knew would provide fertile cropland if only the marsh could be drained. The deflected water flooded a goblin lair, ousting the ornery creatures and reaping their undying hatred. Now, the goblins seek deadly revenge!

This 38 page adventure details an eleven page dungeon and/or mine. goblins are digging a complex under a human dam in order to blow it up and reflood their valley. It’s got some interesting encounters and non-standard magic effects that have that very BASIC and OD&D vibe that I enjoy. It’s also eleven rooms in thirty eight pages … meaning it’s hard to wade through. Long read-aloud, weird read-aloud, directions & dimensions in the text, and conversational commentary to the DM are all in play. It’s serious hi lighter fodder, if you want to go there. I don’t have time in my life for that; thats what I pay someone else for. Or, hope to anyway.

The heart of this is a little eleven room and three level dungeon dig out by the goblins. It’s supported by a couple of wilderness encounters and a little bit of town information that is, essentially, clues and hooks to what’s going on The idea is that the DM takes this clue information and when the party shows up he drops hints form the townsfolk, which gets the party involved. It’s presented in bullet point form another are eight or so various things to find out. I like the format. It is, essentially, just a summary of the town information, rather than detailed room/key format for a generic village. The format should provide enough to let he DM run with them. Unfortunately, the data here is a bit generic. Eight townsfolk have gone missing in the last month. Well … ok. Like rumors, a little bit more local color would have been nice. A drunk who stays out and his nagging wife, that sort of thing. I’m not talking a book, or much more in the way of ward count than is already here. But instead of generic writing “8 people are disappeared” a little more specificity. Something for the DM to run with and expand upon. “Write anything you want!” is a much harder assignment than “write a theme on why Walden Pond sucked.” Yes, I understand tastes vary. There is some line and I just don’t think there’s much room at all for the generic in what is supposed to be a play aid for running a game at the table/ Just how much prep work should you be expected to do?

There are more than a few nice encounters in this, and that’s it strong point. Goblins have torches … with some mini-mechanics for setting huaraches alight. Nice! Or giant cockroaches who can still fight for up to ten rounds after their heads are chopped off. it’s that kind of idiosyncratic stuff that I think a good D&D game lives and dies on. It’s fun. Others are more … interesting. At one point there’s a cart full of dead and bloated animal bodies. What happens to adventurers that dig through such things? That’s right … rot grubs! A perfect application of sticking your nose in. I love it. The adventure is at its best when it’s dealing with these little things. There’s a great little albino outcast goblin, barely cognitive, and ways the party can encounter him. He’s not really an enemy, more of an NPC that could be mistaken for something else. In fact, he’s really just window dressing since he doesn’t really have a part of play in the adventure except as a “would ya look at that!”, ut it still shows the strength of the imagination behind the writing.

But … not the writing proper. It’s terrible. Long.

The usual suspect are at play. First is the read-aloud, which concentrates on the obvious. “There are three exits in the north, south and east” or “the room is 40 x 60.” Yes, these are the things the map tells us. Other times the read aloud is weirdly short and in response to specific character actions. “You open the door to see a dark room.” I’ve seen this before; some designers have their weird obsession with providing read-aloud for every situation. As if those are the only words the DM can ever utter.

The kitchen gets three paragraphs of DM text, to describe to us what is in a kitchen. I know what a kitchen looks like. The extra writing adds nothing to that. What it DOES do is distract the DM by hiding the important fucking information behind stupid shit like “there’s a table up against the wall.” Unless it’s fucking pertinent to the adventure we don’t need to fucking know that.

My favorite example of bad writing in the entire adventure is “once that doo is opened a strange sight awaits your intrepid players.”

This, gentle readers, is SIN. Not just minor sin. Not just bad writing. But SIN, in a major way. The designer is having a conversation with the DM in a bar, telling them about their character. Not. Cool. That’s not the fucking purpose of the writing. This is supposed to be a play aid. This sort of conversational dreck has absolutely no place stuck in a room key. It represents all that is bad and wrong and no fun about this writing style. Evil, pure and simple, from the eigth dimension!

Seriously. Eleven rooms in 38 pages. This is what D&D has become.

This is $6 at DriveThru.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

B10 Night's Dark Terror By Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, Phil Gallagher For Your Old School Pulp Adventure Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 05/13/2018 - 14:58
"Barely one day's march from Kelven, the uncharted tracts of the Dymrak forest conceal horrors enough to freeze the blood of civilized folk. Those who have ventured there tell how death comes quick to the unwary - for the woods at night are far worse than any dungeon. But you are adventurers, veterans of many battles, and the call of the will is strong. Will you answer the call, or Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barsoom and Pulp Revolution on Inappropriate Characters

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 16:00

Inappropriate Characters is a new youtube series on tabletop games featuring some of the guys from the scene that are most likely to take flack from the culture police. Appendix N and the Pulp Revolution get mentioned in the inaugural segment during the Barsoom discussion– it’s at the 20 minute mark and runs for about ten minutes if you want to catch that. But hey… why not live large, put on a pot of coffee, and kick back with the whole thing? It’s a good show!

One of the points that come up is that Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom stories are the gold standard for science fantasy adventure within the PulpRev. That’s not quite how I’d put it.

Coming at this from a historical angle, if you do a survey of fantasy and science fiction from over the course of the 20th century, what you’re going to see just how tremendously influential Edgar Rice Burroughs was. It’s astonishing. There is a sixty year period where Edgar Rice Burroughs set the tone to such an extent, that he was basically the model for how fantasy and science fiction should be done. Look even at the second wave authors like Jack Vance, Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, and many others– they all going their careers off the ground by emulating Burroughs.

In 1973 when Gary Gygax sat down to write the introduction to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons, this is what he said:

These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers.

It’s no accident that Burroughs is the first fantasy author to be mentioned there. It’s also no accident that you see Burrough’s mark on each of the most enduring comic book, tabletop gaming, and Hollywood blockbuster franchises.

The idea of the Pulp Revolution isn’t so much to– as the RPGPundit puts it– set up Burroughs as some kind of sacred cow. The point is to embrace the reality of what people genuinely find to be the most inspiring and thrilling from across science fiction and fantasy history. (Hint: it isn’t “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.) And the point is to extend the range of your creative palette by taking a look back at what actually worked back in those dark ages before 1980. There’s so much social and political pressure against doing just that, this has become a bizarrely subversive act.

But it’s also a lot of fun.

If you’d like an example of how this is all playing out, I would point you to Cirsova Magazine issue number five, which has a story by Schuyler Hernstrom that just picked up a Planetary Award. Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'B4 Tom Moldvay's The Lost City As Pulp Campaign Base' - More OSR Campaign Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 15:33
"Lost in the desert! The only hope for survival lies in a ruined city rising out of the sands. Food, water, and wealth await heroic adventures inside and ancient pyramid ruled by a strange race of masked beings"So last night I began the task of thinking about moving historical events around in a pulp or supers style campaign world. What would be a good beginning B/X adventure to get the ball Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Insurrection in the Abbey

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 11:13

Level 1

The Kobolds have grown strong – surely strong enough to overthrow the local abbey that they’ve been eyeing! This SideQuest begins as word has spread about the Kobold army that is planning to lay siege and take control of a humble monastery. The only thing that stands in the Kobolds’ way is, of course, your group of brave adventurers. This is a perfect introductory campaign to the world of D&D; it is designed to give your first-level players their first taste of combat and dungeon-crawling!

This seventeen page adventure details a small abbey that kobolds have taken over, holding the poor people inside hostage. It could easily be a 1-pager and has A LOT of filler text and overly dramatic read-aloud. Some ok magic items don’t forgive the lack of monster specificity, with only general guidelines offered.

Long lame throw-away hooks, like “missing caravan” and “deliver my letters” have the party ending up outside the walls of the abbey, facing the closed doors. This is the perfect introductory campaign to the world of roleplaying games, designed to give my first-level players their first taste of combat, stealth, and dungeon-crawling! (I know because the marketing garbage mixed in to the text tells me so) so I was quite surprised with the crappiness of the hooks. I mean, I went in to it expecting crappy hooks that the designer put in because they just didn’t care, but then that marketing blurb in the text got me all worked up only to deflate me again with the “missing caravan” pile of crap. Either don’t stick the fucking hook in or put some actual fucking thought in to it. No, that does not mean you need to write a paragraph on it, as you did there. It means you need to turn it in to something that will interest and intrigue the party and a pretext saying “this is the adventure I’m running tonight, bite it or we don’t play D&D” ain’t it.

Hmmm, I get the sense I’m coming off as harsh. If this adventure were one page and 99 cents it would be an ok adventure. But it’s not; it’s seventeen pages and $5, both of which make promises the adventure doesn’t deliver.

Ok, ok, nice stuff first.

There’s a few decent magic items. A magic arrow that always flies towards creatures with an evil heart. In practice, this is just advantage on demons and monsters, but it’s a nice idea. I like the effect, it’s just ruined a bit by the mechanics. A chalice that always fills with water is nice also. Magic items described as effects instead of through mechanics … who woulda thunk it! For the uninitiated, when you name a thing it loses its power. Mechanics bring magic items down the realm of the rule books. “Always seems an evil heart” is open to interpretation, and thus wondrous and mysterious. This is what magic items should be … magical! The boring ass +1 longsword is less wonderous and lame.

The gates to the abbey are locked so there’s a brief section on getting in that outlines some methods the party might use and gives advice to the DM. Great. I love this. You are making the DM’s life easier. The advice is WAY too long, but it DOES also include befriending the gate guard, a kobold. That’s not something you see everyday!

And on the bad front … just about everything else.

The tone is childish. It replicates the “new” tone for kobolds where they are simpleton children who worship dragons and talk like dumb 20’s henchmen. I know tone preferences are subjective, but OVERT humor in games is a turn off for me. I love spontaneous silliness, both in D&D & Gamma World, but when embedded in the rules (newer editions of Gamma World) or the adventures then its a turn off. It’s trying to force the spontaneity and that always comes off as obvious … and therefore bad.

The read-aloud is he usual overly dramatic crap one comes to expect from read-aloud. “You get the feeling that this Abbey has been through some dark times, yet has always managed to find light and redemption in the end.” reads the last sentence of the initial “see the abbey” read aloud. That’s not the sense I get. I get the sense that the designer is a failed novelist and/or trying to hard. It’s critically important that players NOT be told what to think. It’s the job of the designer to communicate a vibe that lets them draw their own conclusions. Your job is to write something that makes the DM communicate it to the players so they get the sense it’s gone through rough times and things turn out ok. Telling them what to think is bad writing.

The DM text contains such gems as “Read this outloud:” right before offset and text-boxed read-aloud. Advice to the DM is “The boss may or may not notice the party entering depending on how they enter.” These examples are not in isolation; in fact the actual useful text might be the exception rather than the rules there is so much padding. The text is being padded for word count for the DM. Not cool. It detracts from the DM’s ability to find the important stuff at the table. Remember, during the game the DM is scanning the text. If you’re writing for a DM sitting down on their sofa reading it then you’re writing for the wrong audience. Other examples include the usual “tell me where the doors go in the text”, duplicating information the map provides.

There’s no real order of battle, so monsters wait in their rooms to die. Well, when the adventure tells you where there are monsters. “You may want to have your party encounter a kobold here” is not adventure design. The walls are supposed to be crawling with kobolds, but there are non listed. Dozens of footprints, but not dozens in the adventure. This basic keying data is fudged. I understand there may be a role for that sometimes, but not as a general purpose in a basic adventure!

While I haven’t touched on it in awhile, this is a good example of why I like humans instead of humanoids. The kobolds add nothing to this adventure. They are just 1d3 hp bipedals to be killed. Why kobolds then? What makes this special? I would argue that it, in fact, makes the entre world LESS special. When monsters are the norm they lose their appeal. Human bandits would have worked better.

As a one-pager this would be a servivable first level adventure. But not as written. No way. Just more dreck.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages and is worthless.

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