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Mount Saint-Mikkel, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 12:11
By Tollkraft Dondrobat Productions OSR (5e?) Levels 4-6

In a secluded corner of the countryside, on top of a hill stands Mount Saint-Mikkel. An ancient power awakened there and since then, the region has been subject to raids by the undead.

You have been assigned to solve the problem… Baron Solreigh was surprisingly honest when he recruited you: if he offers a pouch of gold to whom will end the troubles that afflicts the mount Saint-Mikkel area, it is because it’s very dangerous. He has not received news from any of the two groups of men — one of soldiers, the others composed of its five best knights—he successively sent there. And if he’s going to lose more men, he’d rather they not be his own!

Reports mention an ever-growing troop of the undead swarming the villages around mount Saint-Mikkel—an old priory and pilgrimage destination long declining— leaving only death and ruin in its wake. Listening to the call of adventure and your lust for gold, your group of Adventurers is on its way through the countryside. After a few quiet days, you can finally see the lonely and age-old silhouette of the priory sitting at the top of the hill through the morning mist…

This 26 page adventure uses six pages to describe sixteen linear encounters in a “dungeon” with undead. It’s ok for something linear like this; the encounters don’t overstay their welcome. But, neither are they particularly interesting (with two exceptions.) I wouldn’t Hate Life() if given this to run five minutes before a con game. Nor would I EVAR go out of my way to run this though. 

For the rest of this review let us assume a minimal level of competency by the designer. Descriptions are not too long, some ok use of bolding, etc. Nothing to write home about or change the existence on earth, but doesn’t make you hate life either. Great, now we can ignore that boring shit (that is usually the easiest to fix, hence my harping on it.) Also, this isn’t really an OSR adventure. It’s written for some French RPG, but essentially converted to 5e while being labeled OSR. The linear nature (and forced combats) would therefore make it more 5e than OSR.

The adventure does two interesting things. First, it occasionally handles a skill check well. In one notable example, you find a cave if you are following footsteps … OR you can make a PER check if you are not. That’s how you handle a skill check in the OSR. If you search you find the fucking trap, otherwise you fling yourself to the fickle hand of fate. There’s also a read-aloud or two that is done right, noting that a roof looks unstable implies donger when exploring the room, for example. Hints in the description to the player are what develops true player skill, not the min/max CharOp bullshit that passes for player skill.

There are also The Knights Who Went Before. You end up meeting three of the five. The first, in a cave, a broken man who you can bring out of his misery, perhaps. The second, a ghost, who tries to possess a party member so he can continue his oath to defeat the evil. The third, currently possessed by The Demon (and thus the big bad) can actually be saved by separating him from a cursed sword, and keeping him separated for an hour or two as he regains his senses. This is so much different than the usual “corrupted forever” or “just fight and stab stuff cause thats the part of the game were in” dreck that usually happens. There’s more nuance here. It FEELS more real because of it. It’s not just a pretext for a combat. That’s good design.

It makes some of the usual mistakes. Long sections of italics in the read-aloud. The read-aloud says things like “you are startled” and “you see”, both using a “you” perspective and telling the players what their characters think/feel instead of writing something that MAKES the players feel that feel. You have to make a STR test to walk up a hill. It uses a fancy illuminated font for the keys in the text, making it harder to find the associated key.

A couple of things of special interest. First, the maps here are … interesting. Rather, they kind of LOOK interesting. There’s a decent overland map (that I think is probably never used?) and a detailed dungeon map. Both of which are essentially illegible. Too dark, not enough detail, or, perhaps, the pertinent detail is lost in the colors. You just can’t make out what is going on, where the cliffs are, etc. Which is too bad, it looks like it could have been an interesting complimentary map. I mean, if it weren’t a linear dungeon.

Then there’s the handwaving. I saw this in the context of the page count. Six pages for the adventure, recall. And yet certain parts of the adventure are handwaved, essentially everything but the room keys proper. Asking around in villages gets you that undead block the road and that there are mines under the monastery that you can use to get in. It’s literally handled in one sentence, also verbatim for what I typed there. And there’s nothing about the region around the monastery, the undead on the road, etc. If your party wants to try that there’s nothing there to support the DM. GO DOWN THE LINEAR DUNGEON BECAUSE THATS WHAT THE dESIGNER WANTED YOU TO DO. A page, to cover rumors in the village and/or the region around the monastery, the undead attacks, etc, would have been great. Just a fucking page, for context. To add something for the DM to run and support them. But, no.

So, is it offensive? Well, no, not overly so. Is it something that I would ever want to run in a million years? No. Not at all. The knight thing can be stolen for a better adventure, but that’s about it.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview is ten pages and you get to see the map and the first three or four rooms. This gives yo ua good idea of what you are buying, so, a good preview. Take a look at that map; looks interesting, right? And the formatting of the room keys is ok also.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Overview of Outlaw: Crime in Clement Sector by John Watts From Independence Games For Cepheus Engine rpg & Original Traveller Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 06:49
" As with all societies, crime is a part of Clement Sector.  It is a constant throughout history and the future is no different. Some player characters may be engaged in criminal activities while other characters may be members of law enforcement trying to stop such criminals. Outlaw: Crime in Clement Sector details crime throughout the setting and how each of the many independent worlds of Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wild Wild West Wednesday: The Night of the Skulls

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 01:37
This post appeared over at Flashback Universe a couple of weeks ago. Consider this a teaser and reminder that Jim and I are doing a Wild Wild West rewatch over there...

"The Night of the Skulls" Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret
Directed by Alan Crossland Jr.
Synopsis: West is a fugitive after appearing to shoot and kill Artie. It's a ruse, they leads him to a secret organization, rescuing fugitive criminals for a sinister purpose.

Jim: This episode really encapsulates some of the things we've been discussing the past few days.
Trey: That's right, folks. We talked about WWW even when not getting ready for one of these posts! But yes, I feel like it brings weirdness I like to see. Sure, a villain building a band of fugitive criminals for some caper, we've seen before, but it's the details: the skull make up and colorful robes, the kidnap hearse, the trial, and the insanity of the main villain and his motley, chosen group all lend what I view as the essential WWW touches. 
The writers are reported to have said: "We saw The Wild Wild West as a comic book type show, so we camped it up." I agree with their approach!
Jim: There is a good bit of humor in this episode. And the third act cliffhanger with West shooting Artemis (again) is one of the better ones. 
Like you,  I really liked the cloaked skull faced cabal in this episode-- though I found it amusing that the "girl of the week" Lorelei just got a domino mask.

Trey: Emblazoned with a skull, though.
Jim: I'm always impressed with the dining rooms of these secret, criminal cabals. The stylish chairs and sumptuous dinner makes a nice juxaposition with the various notorious thugs and murderers.
Trey: I feel like we may have seen that same table and chairs in a previous episode, but I'm not sure.
Outside of the camp and presentation, I think it's well done episode, with a fair amount of action and stuff for both Artie and Jim to do. There's a hint of friendly rivalry between them here which I think works. 
Jim: I was impressed with Artie in three different disguises. I found the aged minister at the funeral particularly good. It's no wonder he was nominated for an Emmy for this role, albeit not until the fourth and final season.
Trey: The only complaint I have is that Skull Judge and his crew are really quick to believe West has turned villain. I mean, even if he murdered Artie in a crime of passion, it seems a stretch that he's willing to help you overthrow the government.
Jim: That's the least of Skull's problems with rationality, I think.
Trey: True!
Jim: I have to say, seeing him rant at the end about how he's the rightful president of the United States hits a little too close to home!

On Abstraction and Saving Throws

Hack & Slash - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 20:30
Modern systems seem to assume a baseline representation - i.e. I rolled twice, so each roll represents a swing of my sword or I can possibly move up to 10' a second, so in six seconds I move 60'.

At first blush this seems to make a lot of sense, but if you look at it too closely the abstraction inherent in hit points and saves breaks suspension of disbelief. i.e. Hit points suddenly becomes literal wounds dealt by specific sword blows. There are 3 saves reflex, will, and fortitude, and they literally and in a direct and visceral way represent 'getting out of the way' 'resisting with your mind' and 'enduring with your body'.

But wait - you made that reflex save and you're still standing up? You failed that fortitude save and didn't fall to your knees? When the saves represent literal specific things then it breaks suspension of disbelief. The 'three categories' of saves also seem very trite and videogamey.

But what of old school saves you say? Abstraction, and this indeed is why they are cool.

A Dungeons and Dragons old school game is not like a aerial-view action RPG that we are simulating with dice—good gods, it takes hours to fight a single combat that way. Instead it is much more like the surface of an atom. We have a general idea of what's going on down there, and we get bursts of specific information (say location OR velocity) and we use our imagination to draw the rest in our minds.

Take old school saves for instance. Paralyzation/Poison/Death magic, Rod/Staff/Wand, Petrification/Polymorph, Breath Weapon, and Spells.

But what do these mean? What do they represent?

Why that's the coolest thing about them! Nothing specific at all! All we know is success or failure—the actual means of that is up to you. (and your classes general ability to handle that specific kind of threat is built into the numbers)

Let's say your wizard makes a save versus spells—he inscribed arcane counter-spelling runes in the air before him to disperse the magical energies. 
Let's say your paladin makes her save versus breath weapon—she holds her shield up and her gods divine grace splits the fire of the dragon in either direction.
Let's say your thief makes his save versus rods/staff/wand—he holds forth his reflective amulet and the beam hits it and bounces away.

The point is, that the game doesn't tell you how you make your save—that's part of the discovery of what's happening and the fun. Logistically it's a lot more fun to come up with answers for why things happen then trying to plot out a specific sequence of events that is occurring every six seconds. Also, you've got a lot more room for awesome and rule of cool in your descriptions.

So how to decide which save to use for a trap? Paralyzation/poison/death magic has to do with 2 things—toughness and divine grace.
Rod/Staff/Wand has to do with rays, artificial magic generation, and device based effects.
Petrification/Polymorph has with emotional and physical resilience. Self-control is a big factor here.
Breath Weapon has to do with area effects, luck, and grace.
Spells is a catch all category and the general domain of magic.

Clerics have the best saves versus paralyzation/poison/death magic.
Mages have the best overall starting saves and the worst high level ones
Fighters start off with the worst saves (by far) but eventually have the best saves.
Thieves start off slightly better than fighters, but end up slightly worse at 20th level.

This post was originally published on 12/29/10, and is linked on Links to Wisdom.Hack & Slash 
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Talon Sector NPC - Trader Ka Zee & Her Type R Subsidized Merchant starship ("Fat Trader")

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 18:29
 Cepheus Engine rpg has allowed us to take quite a bit of liberty with some of our adventure  plotting when it comes to this Eighties inspired campaign that I'm currently running. And its been interesting running across one of our favorite original Traveller rpg ships-  Traveller RPG Type R Subsidized Merchant starship ("Fat Trader"). Traveller RPG Type R Subsidized Merchant starship ("Fat TraderNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Updating the 35-Year-Old GM’s Ten Commandments for Today

DM David - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 12:15

Back in 1987, Dragon magazine issue 122 published “The GM’s Ten Commandments: Ten dos and don’ts for game masters everywhere,” a list of tips that author Rig Volný likely wrote 35 years ago. Since then, play styles and advice for game masters have evolved. How well have the commandments stood the test of time? Roman numerals count off the original commandments; my updates appear in boxes.

I. Do not consider the players as adversaries.

The article explains, “In role-playing, the situation is not one of GM vs. players: It isn’t a fair fight.”

In 1987, many GMs framed players as adversaries. Now, everyone sees this as a bad mindset, but today’s advice goes farther.

1. Be a fan of the characters.

The Dungeon World (p.162) game recommends thinking of the players’ characters as protagonists in a story you enjoy. “Cheer for their victories and lament their defeats. You’re not here to push them in any particular direction, merely to participate in fiction that features them and their action.”

As a fan, GMs still get to test characters. In Your Best Game Ever (p.93), Monte Cook recommends game masters take this approach: “Have a playful attitude of, ‘I’m making this really challenging for you.’ This isn’t adversarial, just a way to—on a metagame level—inject a bit of tension into the game. When the PCs are victorious, the players will feel even greater satisfaction from believing that you were pushing them to their limits.”

II. Never say “You can’t do that.”

The original article cites two cases when a GM might make the mistake of telling players, “You can’t do that.”

  • When players want to attempt something very difficult or even impossible.
  • When players want to violate their characters’ alignment.

“The point of this commandment is that it gives the players a degree of control in the game—one that adds desirable unpredictability. This makes the GM ‘play’ the adventure rather than just direct a prewritten script.”

Sometimes as GMs, we imagine our games will follow a particular path, all according to our plans. Perhaps we devise a clever puzzle or challenge and want it to work so players can appreciate our ingenuity. Perhaps we lay twists for future sessions. Sometimes we favor a game that sticks to the comfort of familiar rules rather than one that strays into untested judgement calls. When the game veers from plan, we feel tempted to nudge or even wrench it back on course. Remember this temptation, because the GM’s 10 commandments will suggest ways to avoid succumbing.

When players try some stunt that might launch the game in an unexpected direction, let them. “If a player attempts a difficult task, have him make a difficult die roll.”

The article acknowledges that some tasks are impossible, and then suggests giving the player a clearly impossible die roll such as a 7 on 1d6 to avoid saying, “You can’t.”

Usually players who ask to attempt something impossible are confused by the situation in the game world. For example, they picture jumping a 3-foot wall when they actually face 25 feet of stone. Asking for a roll of 7 on a d6 just feels like mockery. Instead of this suggestion, substitute guidance inspired by my 4 Unwritten Rules No Dungeon Master Should Break.

2. Whenever players attempt a difficult or risky task, make sure the players know the odds and the likely result of failure.

For impossible tasks, you can say, “You can’t.”

As for a character who violates a good alignment by attacking innocent people, the article suggests letting in-game consequences result. “Don’t tell him he just doesn’t do that sort of thing. Let the local constabulary enforce his conscience.”

In 1987, Dungeons & Dragons emphasized alignment as the one rule that limited a character’s behavior. Characters whose actions failed to match their alignment faced punishment. However, as long as characters remained true to their evil alignment, then torture and murder just rated as good roleplay. By the ethos of 1987, any game master who interfered with a player’s freedom of action was guilty of an abuse of power. Now, gamers focus more on how disruptive that sort of play can become.

3. Decide with your group about the sort of game everyone wishes to play and insist that players create characters that fit that game.

As a game master doing the heavy lifting, you deserve at least as much say as the players. If you want characters in your Curse of Strahd game to play do-gooders who help folks, rather than evil types seeking an alliance with Strahd, ask players to imagine characters who fit that campaign.

As a player, your first role-playing obligation is to imagine a character who can cooperate with the rest of the party to achieve the common goals of the game. (See A role-playing game player’s obligation.)

III. Don’t overplan.

“Overplanning prevents the GM from meeting the actions of the players with flexibility and interferes with spontaneous creativity.” This commandment circles back to avoiding the temptation to limit players to particular path. “If the GM prepares extensively for the players to do A, B, or C, and they do D instead, he is faced with the temptation to dismiss a good plan as irrelevant to play.”

The commandment still holds, but in The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea offers a more useful refinement.

4. Prepare what benefits your game, and omit what does not.

All GMs and groups are different, so what you need to prepare to run an RPG session varies. Mike’s Lazy Dungeon Master argues that most game masters benefit from less preparation rather than more, and then describes the steps most likely to benefit a session.

For me, preparation lets me reach past the “stereotyped situations” that I might improvise to find more evocative ideas. Lazy Dungeon Master (p.21) recognizes the same dynamic when it recommends preparing secrets for a session. “Sometimes thinking up ten secrets is hard. But as you wrack your brain for those final few, you’ll often come up with the most interesting ones. It sometimes takes great mental effort to dig deep into one’s mind and find the diamonds buried within.”

The article gives the example of a GM who spends 12 hours designing a dungeon lair just to see the players find a way to skip it. Dungeons rate as higher-prep scenarios. To avoid such wasted design, ask the players to outline their plans for your next session so you can prepare with more certainty.

IV. Keep adventures within reason.

This commandment recommends two types of restraint that seem unrelated to me.

  • “Don’t engage in stereotyped situations.”
  • “Don’t cheapen magic, gold, or fantastic creatures by making them too common.”

The article cites examples of the “stereotyped situations” that GMs should avoid, including ultimate battles between good and evil, one-dimensional characters, and totally evil bad guys. As a counterpoint, Dungeon Master 4th Edition for Dummies (p.54) advises, “Don’t be afraid to make your villains totally evil. The worse they are the more satisfying it will be for player characters to defeat them.” Games that avoid overused tropes can feel fresher, but this tip fails to merit a commandment.

The second limit seeks to avoid D&D’s classic problem of magical loot breaking the game. “When a beginning party starts to collect scores of magical items, the members begin to obtain a degree of strength that is often out of proportion with their level.” Thanks to item attunement and better guidance on treasure rewards, today’s D&D game does a better job of avoiding this trouble, even without a commandment. (See Too much magic kept breaking Dungeons & Dragons—how fifth edition fixes it and What is the typical amount of treasure awarded in a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign?.)

As for the bit about cheapening fantastic creatures by making them too common, tastes vary, but in most D&D worlds “monsters are everywhere.” The Dungeon Master’s Guide (p.9) gives advice for DMs who prefer to imagine worlds with rare monsters.

V. Run the adventures in color, not in black and white.

The article cites an example of boring play to avoid.

Player: We ask around to see if there’s a tavern in the town.
GM: There’s one a mile up the road.

Instead, the author recommends acting out the scene, complete with an accent for the NPC. In many situations, acting as an NPC creates a more vivid and dramatic game. Dungeon Master 4th Edition for Dummies (p.54) explains, “Whether an NPC serves as a walk-on or has a minor or major role in the story, play each one as an individual. Roleplay! Nothing makes an NPC come alive like roleplaying a key feature to give him or her personality and pizzazz. For major NPCs, such as the dastardly villain or the regal king who hires the adventurers, roleplay to the hilt. Even the lowliest kobold minions, though, really come alive if they have distinctive voices—even if all they ever say is, ‘I am slain!’ Ham it up, act it out, and make each character memorable in the scene.”

5. Roleplay your supporting cast as if you are a player and each NPC is your character.

The article’s example of getting directions leads me to a quibble: The example expands a two-line exchange between player and GM into inches of text, wasting time by exaggerating the importance of a minor moment. Because the GM gave the bystander so much attention, the players will keep talking, seeking the apparent importance in an inconsequential exchange.

Typically, an interaction without (1) a goal and (2) an obstacle only merits the sort of summary in the “boring” example. See How to Use Scenes and Summaries to Focus on the Best Parts of a Role-Playing Adventure. If the bystander happens to have more backstory to share, you might drop into character for a more colorful delivery. For a full scene, introduce a minor obstacle for the players to overcome. “I really shouldn’t say. The sheriff doesn’t approve of adventurers. Not since that last bunch.” Now the players need to find a way to overcome the NPC’s reticence, and the information shared seems worthy of attention.

Next: Can I update commandments 6-10 into exactly 5 more tips? Check back next Tuesday.

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The Ruined Tower of Zenopus Goes Platinum!

Zenopus Archives - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 06:06


Updated Image for the DMs Guild Product Page

I meant to post this earlier, but last month the Ruined Tower of Zenopus achieved Platinum Best Seller status (1001+ copies sold) on DMs Guild. The burst of interest from the in-depth video review by captcorajus put it over the top just before holidays. Thanks, cap!

The Ruined Tower was released on January 22nd, 2020, which means that this Friday marks its one-year anniversary. I'll make another post then to mark the occasion.

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

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Beta Max Black - War Among The Stars - Stars Without Numbers & Cepheus Engine Rpg Campaign Session Set Up Mark II

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 21:17
 This blog post is going to pick up right from last night's session report. Because game events have been heating up. The player's PC's made it back with the A.I. from the mecha from last night's game after Greg's marine Private Strawberry Shortcake was pushed infront of the M.A.R.K. 13. This was done  by his wife Cathy's character so the rest of the party could escape. RIP Shortcake your Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Blue Mage

Hack & Slash - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 20:00
A Blue Mage is a Spellcaster that gains abilities by experiencing monster attacks. This allows them to use attacks exclusive to monsters or enemies. The downside is that they must be subject to the attacks first. This is a Labyrinth Lord Class.

Experience  Level Energy Hit Dice (1d6) 0 1  1 1 1,500 2  3 2 3,000 3  4 3 5,000 4  6 4 10,000 5  7  5 20,000 6  10 6 40,000 7  12  7 90,000 8 14  8 180,000 9  16  9 280,000 10  17  +2 hp only 400,000 11  18  +4 hp only 540,000 12  19  +6 hp only 660,000 13  20  +8 hp only 780,000 14  21  +10 hp only 900,000 15  22  +11 hp only 1,100,000 16  23  +12 hp only 1,300,000 17  24  +13 hp only 1,500,000 18  25 +14 hp only 1,700,000 19  26  +15 hp only 1,900,000 20 27  +16 hp only

Level Breath Attacks Poison or Death Ray Petrification or Paralyzation Rods, Staves, and Wands Spells 1 16 14 13 15 15 2-3 14 12 10 15 14 4 10 8 7 13 13 5-6 8 7 6 13 12  7-8 8 6 5 11 11  9-12 6 5 4 11 10  13-16 6 4 3 9 9  17-19 4 4 2 9 8  20 2 3 2 7 7 
They fight as a Fighter. They may not use any armor and may only use daggers, light hammers, clubs, and slings. If for any reason they receive training or proficiency in any other weapon, they fight as a Thief.

Blue Energy: Blue Mages have Energy. Their constitution modifier affects their energy pool. A first level Blue Mage with a Constitution of 16 has 3 points in their energy pool.

Blue Missile: Blue Mages can conjure and fire a bolt of force. This bolt is as a long bow arrow and they may fire it as a fighter of their level proficient with a long bow. It costs 1 energy to use and does 2-9 damage. This does not count against the limit of their spells and abilities

Blue Magic:

  • Blue Mages may learn special monster attacks and abilities once they have been the target of them. 
  • Once targeted by an ability they may choose to learn the monster ability. 
  • Learning an ability takes 1 turn after combat.
  • They then may use the monster ability by expending 1 energy point
  • Blue Mages may also learn spells, by being the target of a spell. This takes 1 turn after being the target of the spell.
  • They can then use the spells by expending a number of energy points equal to the spell level
  • Blue Mages may not know more spells and abilities total greater than their level + their Constitution modifier.
  • The ability or spell is learned, even if the Blue Mage dies from the attack.
  • If the Blue Mage is protected by spell resistance or a globe of invulnerability, they will not learn the ability. They must be affected, personally, by the ability
  • They may learn an ability regardless of the success or failure of their saving throw versus the attack.
  • They must be a target of a spell or ability to learn it, seeing it is not enough.
  • Energy points are refreshed after a nights rest.
Azure Consumption: The Blue Mage can attempt to learn passive or defensive abilities from creatures by eating them. They must save versus poison after consuming a corpse to learn the ability. Otherwise they are sick and vomit up the corpse which is ruined. A whole corpse must be consumed and this takes 1 turn.
Each of these passive abilities counts against the total number of abilities the Blue Mage can learn. Each passive ability 1 point of energy to maintain, reducing the available energy to cast blue magic. These abilities are always 'on' and cannot be turned off to regain access to the reserved energy points.

Examples of Blue Magic:
Surviving a Basilisks gaze, will grant the ability to petrify. Touching an opponent can force a save versus petrify to avoid being turned to stone
Surviving a Bat's Confusion swarm effect, will grant the ability to confuse opponents. Select a target to be the subject of a phantasmal bat swarm. While under the effect of this swarm, an opponent makes all to hit and saving throw rolls with a penalty of -2 and no spell casting is possible.
Surviving a Bear Hug. The caster grows claws and can attack as a bear, with 1-3 damage with each melee attack, and an additional 2-16 damage if both attacks hit.
Giant Killer Bee poison. The caster grows a stinger (on their hand, forehead, wherever) and can make an attack with it. On a successful attack the opponent must save versus poison or die. If they survive, they take 1 damage a round from the stinger. The stinger being ripped out is painful, and the caster takes 2d6 points of damage.
Surviving a Red Dragon's Breath. After surviving a breath from a dragon, the Blue Mage may spend 1/3 of their total Energy Points points to breath flame. This is a cone 90' long, and 30' wide at the terminus. Creatures within this cone take damage equal to the current hit point total of the Blue Mage, but may save vs. Breath Weapon for half damage

Examples of Azure Consumption:
Eating a Fire Beetle, will grant the ability of biolumisence. The caster can cause a part of their body to glow, casting light out to a distance of 10'
Eating a Displacer Beast, will grant the ability of displacement, subtracting 2 from all opponent's to hit rolls and giving a bonus of +2 to all saving throws

After battle, the DM should delineate the complete abilities available for the Blue Mage to learn, and allow them to decide if they want to learn them or not. It takes 1 turn to learn an ability. If a Blue Mage knows the maximum number of abilities they can learn, they have the option to trade out new abilities for old ones. The ability is a magical effect which means, for example, the caster doesn't actually have to fly around opponents to confuse them.

Conversions should be made so that the Blue Mage can have useful abilities of the opponents in the spirit of the original ability e.g. Dragons breath takes 1/3 of the energy points because Dragons can use it 3/day, The stinger of the killer bee doesn't kill the caster, but does hurt him.

1st Edition: Abilities learned are permanent, and may not be traded out.
S&W: Blue mages have a saving throw of 15 (as a magic user) and have a +6 versus any monster effects or attacks

A 3.5 version is here.
A Pathfinder version is here.
This post was originally published on 2/26/13, and is available in digital & print in Hack & Slash Blog Collection IIIHack & Slash 
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The Singing Ice, D&D adventure review

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 12:11
By Désirée Nordlund Self Published Generic Level ?

The party enters a castle that at first seems to be abandoned. But something is not right. It is empty and cold but clean and cared for. The princess has been turned into a beast. The spell will not be broken until a special crystal is placed in the highest tower. If that is done, it is proof that the princess learned to ask for help.  The crystal is found on the other side of a portal, guarded by a dragon that should not be awoken.

This eighteen page adventure attempts to present a strongly evocative fairy tale vibe. Rather, it comes out as an outline of an adventure, abstracted, rather than an adventure, leaning on the excuse of “it’s a system agnostic adventure.” Weak writing and a dearth of encounters lead to a snoozefest.

Reading just the publishers blurb you can see the hows and whys of me selecting this adventure for review. It’s got a fairy tale like thing going on, at least from that description. The classic elements of an abandoned castle, princess, highest tower, crystals, and dragons. What’s not to love! I am a fan of the classics, well done! But this ain’t it.

There’s a lot going on wrong here in this adventure. There’s a kind of genre mismatch in places, with the adventure never really committing to the fairy-tale/mythic vibe and waffling back to a traditional D&D like vibe at times. While attempting evocative writing, or at least stating it is trying to do that, it instead comes across as somewhat boring writing, lacking evocative descriptions (for the most part) and a writing style that makes me think the designer might be some kind of fiction writer, confused to the current genre they are working in. And then there’s the adventure proper, the encounters and the like. This being a “generic” adventure for “all systems” there are no stats, which is almost always a mistake. Not much meaningful interactivity is present. 

The interactivity here is either missing or wrong. We get, maybe, one combat, maybe two, and little else beyond that. A crawl through some flytrap like plants, a talk with The Beast from Beauty fame, and a talk, maybe, with a farmer. Perhaps a trek up in the snow. (More on that later.) “This place is dark and you need to find your way through it” or “It looks scary but s harmless” is not interactivity. It COULD be interactivity, but, as presented, it’s just an OUTLINE of an adventure. A generic framework. There is not enough specificity to ground it down to an actual adventure. Further, There are a couple of times where interactivity is actual missing that should be there. The Beast who can only be killed by stabbing her in the heart. How do we know that? Were there clues to discover in an empty castle? No. It’s just a note for the DM. 

There’s an appeal of genericism here that is unwarranted. It’s almost always unwarranted. You are rewarded with things “like pearls and diamonds as a thank you.” No. No we are not. We’re awarded with something SPECIFIC. Something that does the work for the DM, inspires them to run a great game. And generic text like “like pearls and diamonds” does not do that. Nor does things like “its really cold out” or “you could get exhausted” as the extent of the mechanics. This is done in order to keep the adventure generic/system neutral, but to what end? Just stat it for 5e, or OSR, or write the fucking thing for Polaris, a system that this adventure is SCREAMING for. Bad DM’s won’t use this adventure and good ones will restart it/run it on the fly. But, what you WILL get is the specificity to tie things down to the ground. To be concrete.  

“You walk along …” or “You walk up to the gate …” or “You see …” betray a writing style that is focused on some kind of novel experience. Adventure writing is not novel writing and, I think, few of the skills translate well. Adventure writing is TECHNICAL writing. You must have a text that is completely optimized for running it at the table. And, a part of the optimization is to have a terse and evocative descriptive style. Chaos, that is perfectly organized, as I like to say. But that’s not the writing here. It’s clearly meant to be a kind of scripted plot, with moments outlined, and it’s written as such. But the correct framework, even for a story based adventure (as opposed to a traditional 5e plot one or OSR exploratory one) is not that. You need to present situations, interactive ones, things that the players canmake interesting decisions about. 

And the embedded URL’s don’t work, just three days after publishing this on DriveThru. And the directions in the text for room layout are inconsistent, with gates SE and NE being interchanged. 

One quick note about ESL. I get the sense this is a Scandanavian-native speaker. I’m pretty generous with ignoring language issues as long as meaning comes across, and it does. And their English is better than my Scandanavian (hmmm, is that insulting, to lump each country in to the generic “Scando” group?) The language issues are probably not an issue in this adventure, at least where meaning is concerned. A quick english language check by an english editor could have been in order, though. More importantly, are the evocative language issues related to the ESL thing? If so, it would be the VERY first time I have seen that … so I’m inclined to say no. But, it really just isn’t that evocative. 

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages, that show the main adventure text, the start of the adventure. So, it’s a good preview. Note the main hall description, for both good (fairytale!) and ill (evocative writing.)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Trek Endeavor: Hard Rock Catastrophe

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 12:00

Episode 4:
"HARD ROCK CATASTROPHE"Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Chief Engineer Officer 
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Eric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science OfficerJason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer
Synposis: Stardate 6054.1, answering a distress can from a Saurian colony, Endeavour finds the planet's settlements are suffering periodic attacks from giant rock monsters. The crew discovers that the monsters have been transported to the planet by an ecoterrorist group trying to destroy all cities. They fail twice in stopping assaults from the creatures, but do discover a pheromone which may control them, and the location of the terrorists' base.
Commentary: This is a published adventure written by Christopher L Bennett, who has written several Star Trek novels I've enjoyed. It ties in to the Animated Seris episode "Mudd's Passion" and makes several references in chapter titles and the like to kaiju films.
The Saurians (of Saurian brandy fame) have been seldom seen on screen, at least until Discovery.

Dungeon Geomorphs Project is Live!

Oubliette - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 21:19

 I just launched 7 day Make100 Kickstarter project. Over half of the rewards have already been snapped up so if you want in better be quick!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Using Two Cultclassic Films As Bridge Gaps Between Hostile rpg, Cepheus Engine Rpg, & Original Traveller rpg - Setting the Battle Field Up

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 18:51
"The bombs fell. Nations wielded varied and monstrous weapons against one another. Fires, clouds of poison, and worse have swept the world. Now only the savage Wastes remain: haunted by mutants, deranged robots, and genegineered monstrosities. But from the fire, heroes and villains rise: tribals, survivors, mutants, all the warped remnants of Humanity. Armed with primitive weapons, pre-Collapse Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cowboy Bebop and the Pulp Solar System

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 15:30

The anime series Cowboy Bebop may not seem to have much in common with the sort of stuff you'd find in the pulp magazine Planet Stories in the period around World War II, but I feel like there are more similarities than one might think:
  • The action occurs in version of the solar system where a number of bodies are habitable. Sure, Cowboy Bebop says that were terraformed, but the story takes place in the 21st Century and the terraformed versions of the Galilean moons and the like are as fanciful as anything from Planet Stories.
  • Jet is a former cop and Spike and ex-gangster. These sort of hard-boiled backgrounds certainly wouldn't be out of place in pulp fiction of the 40s, and not unheard of in science fiction.
  • Both draw on influences like Noir and Westerns.
Sure, there are also a lot of differences, as are bond to happen when two works are the products of two different cultures and half a century. But it does some to me you could do something resembling Cowboy Bebop that fight squarely in the pulp context (in the era where bebop originated), or say pull Eric John Stark into a world more like Cowboy Bebop.

'Crash & Burn' - Cepheus Engine Rpg PC Workshop & Session Report One

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 07:00
 So tonight there's been a DM's meeting & we're putting together another Hostile rpg Setting Cepheus Engine rpg one shot. Out on a Terran type worldlet in the 'Playing Out Among The Rocks' campaign setting a crew of marines & a special team of mecha recovery experts are trying to grab an A.I. called 'Alexander' from the wreckage of a Russian-influenced Confederation 'Robo Jox'. This worldlet Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bet Max Black - Stars Without Numbers & Cepheus Engine Rpg Campaign Session Report - Escape from Sador One Shot

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/16/2021 - 07:29
 Tonight's Stars Without Number & Cepheus Engine Rpg fusion game one shot  was anything but serious. Tonight's session  took place within the Talon sector. The PC's awoke aboard  the tyrannical warlord & space pirate  Sador's war ship the Hammerhead. Sador is a minor pirate warlord who rules over the Malmori empire with his eye on the Talon Sector. He's been expanding his 'empire' by Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 30: The Battle of Glovermore

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 01/16/2021 - 03:46

We opened this session double checking our rules for wilderness travel on horseback. The DMG page 58 gives a rate of two 30 mile hexes a day for normal terrain by a light mount and one 30 mile hex a day for a warhorse moving over normal terrain. Last week’s session took 2 days for the cleric/assassin to arrive at the Octagon building and 6 days for the party to go to the archeological dig and back. So at the time of the game, that party was still one day out into the future and thus out of play. We can pick their thread with the Shield of Nergal again during the following session!

It had been a long while since we had checked in with the other party over in Opar with the cavemen and the mushroom people. Somehow, most of the players that were here for the last session at this location were pretty well all reunited. Very surprising!

Had to tell one player he was running his second level monk that was the sole survivor of Spirit Cooking of the Rich and Famous and not the Lawful Good cleric with the Pegasus. The ridiculous Bob Dobs that had wreaked havoc in the Undead Quarter was back. As was the newer characters Chadria the Chad-Medusa magic-user and Hans the assassin. Fluid the Druid, the stupendously high level Druid was also back in action. This group of player characters could not be ANY MORE DIFFERENT from the other one!

The biggest loose end from this group’s previous session was the Dark Crystal. We had a few weeks of time for Chadria to experiment with it. It shocks most organic material that comes in contact with it, but a female mushroom man (?) that touches it changes colors. Chadria gets some kind of psychedelics from the mushroom men and communes with the Dark Crystal… after which he appears to have some sort of psychic bond with it. The crystal levitates and follows along behind him wherever he goes.

Fluid the druid meanwhile has an influx of trollops looking for a way to drop out. Business in general and the nightlife in particular has been lousy for them ever since hundreds of goblins had established Nilbog in the crater just outside the city limits.

Finally, with everything caught up it was time to decide to figure out what the group wanted to do. I think this took a fair amount of time as it involved a lot of planning. The players wanted to take their caveman army and any mushroom men that could be spared and then have everyone in the army bring a faggot of sticks with them. The idea was to go smoke the frogmen and maybe even the sorceress out of Mount Glovermore. And them mob them with the insane mount of force at their disposal.

Gosh, looking at those rates of travel this is going to take six days to get to Mount Glovermore even though it was only two 30-mile hexes away. On the way there they sight another group of flying creatures that circles around and then heads off to the norteast.

The players show up to Mount Glovermore and I really have to set the scene again. It’s a granite slab at a relatively steep angle heading up to the big Danny Glover head. I decide it takes one turn to go up to the mouth, but two turns to come back down. (Also it’s a thirty minute hike around the back of the head to the crevasse area from the mouth.) It’s too steep to position an army on the rock face, so the players put 30 mushroom men in their center, Fluid the Druid with Ringo Star and 30 cavemen on the right, and then Bob Dobs with 30 cavemen on the left. Chadria and Malalip are positioned on Danny Glover’s upper lip, awaiting anyone fleeing from out of the mouth.

At this point I have to just decide what happens given everything that has happened in the campaign so far. I make a d12 table with every possible outcome on it. Some indicate total surprise and very poor preperations on the part of the Mount Glovermore inhabitants. Others indicate the players have fallen into a trap. There are a couple of entries that are kind of nuts. I roll a d12 and the specifics of the session’s scenario are finally nailed down.

The players light the faggots inside of Danny Glover’s mouth. His eyes light up and smoke starts coming out of his ears. Then a bit of a ways down, smoke starts coming out of a place the players weren’t expecting. They start to reposition to investigate this location, but then at the very bottom of the rock face, a cunningly hidden rock-portcullis is raised and frog men start marching out of it.

Fluid the Druid is quick on the draw and casts Entanglement on some seeds he had scattered in that area by their gate. I decide that 30-60 frogmen get out of the passage before it is blocked. They take harassing fire from Malalip the monk. A body of 30 frog men collide with Bob Dobs’s group of 30 cavemen. This is total chaos and not really real medieval warfare so I rule that is is a total free-for-all. Five cavemen get exchanged for 15 frogmen and the frogmen lose their cohesion, fleeing into the jungles. (Note: I forgot to give the cavemen their free attacks to a fleeing foe. But this did not impact the substance of the battle, so no matter.)

After the way is cleared, 145 frogmen spill out of the mountain crashing into the players’ line. They finally get a good look at the enemy captain: monkey head with ridges, trumpet-like ears, huge flat green eyes, flat misshapen nose, pig-like rubbery torso, fat, stingered tail, humped back, insect-like arms and claws, and suction cup tentacle legs. This monster was more inspiring than I had anticipated. The players were REALLY IMPRESSED with this one. Somebody said it was like a He-man figure or something.

What followed was a full turn where the frogmen hacked away at the entangled vines while the monk continued to to harass them with ranged weaponry. Chadria attempted to commune with the Dark Crystal and ended up sensing some sort of ominous force directing the frogmen below. Fluid took his group of 30 cavemen and repositioned them by the mountain entrance.

Now I was imagining the battle as if there were five different rectangular chainmail units in play. The bloodied caveman unit was being attacked head on while the second group of cavemen flanked the mob of frogmen. On the players’ right, the monkey man’s army of frogmen crashed into the mushroom men. For the second round of battle, there was an even exchange of 10 frogmen for 10 cavemen on the players’ left. On the right, the frogmen were down 20 and the mushroom men had ZERO casualties. The cavemen made a morale check after seeing their unit cut in half. Meanwhile the frogmen on the right fell back in dismay at the awesome power of the mushroom men. Fluid the druid then unleashed an insect swarm on the weird monkey man.

Things were looking pretty strong for the players going into the third round. But then the mushroom men whiffed on their attack and lost a third of their fighting force. Meanwhile on the players’ right, an even exchange of 10 frogmen for 10 cavemen went down. Somehow the five remaining cavemen in Bob Dobs’s group made their morale check. (The bless he cast on them at the beginning of the battle did the trick.) Everything looked like it was about to collapse for the players. Chadria was trying to use the Dark Crystal to demoralize the frogman army on a psychic level. This didn’t have a visibile effect, but then Hans the Assassin realizes that the insect-swarmed monkey man in a prime target for an assassination attempt. I cross-reference his level with the level of the monkey man and get the percentage chance. And holy moly! wouldn’t you know the guy actually made it. This triggered a morale check for his frogmen. This was evidently so dismaying to the frogmen that they threw down their weapons and begged for mercy.

For the fourth round of combat, the remaining frogmen face 30 cavemen on one side and 20 mushroom men on the other. Thirty frogmen bite the dust and the rest beg for mercy.

Thus ended the Battle of Glovermore: 25 of the original 60 cavemen dead, 10 of the original 30 mushroom men dead. 100 frog men killed and 70 frog men captured. The coolest NPC I ever made also dead.

(Note that these combat turns took about 15 minutes each. I switched to 1:5 for the first round and then 1:10 for the rest. I would roll to-hit and damage normally and divide the damage by the average hit points of the units to get the number of kills. The next time I do this I would probably not roll damage but instead use the average damage for the unit’s weapon type. I would definitely track total damage a unit has taken rather than just raw casualties so that the “no effect” results would be less harsh. Finally you can let the players attack normally if they wish and then divide total damage by the scale and just add that to the tally. Players asked about their chance of being killed when attached to a unit. I suggested possibly stealing the rules for that from Commands & Colors: Ancients. But it really isn’t a huge chance.)

The mushroom men had successfully stalled a threat to their foothold in the world for minimal losses.

The cavemen had enough frog legs to sustain the federated tribes for the rest of the winter. Ringo Starr directed his men to dress the kills and deliver them to caves throughout the northeast.

The players still wanted treasure. They bullied the grovelling surrendered frogmen and the drug out chests full of loot in an attempt to placate the players. I ran through the treasure type results for the frog men multiplying results by 6. A reasonable amount of coin ensued but then… I actually got the magic item result. Multiplying that by 6 gave 12 magic items. Oh well. If I knew what the result should have been I wouldn’t have rolled for it. The luck on the magic items was perhaps balanced by the ABSOLUTE WORST outcome for the gem value roll.

My friend Bdubs1776 says that the dungeons of my campaign are like npcs. There is always one that the players get taken with and it never quite makes sense and you can’t really control it. But yeah, Mount Glovermore is THAT DUNGEON in this campaign. Oh, and after talking to the frogmen (Hans the Assassin speaks french) the players now know that the sorceress is on the second level somewhere.

Finally, this game demonstrated that we could run Chainmail-like combats in the context of a normal AD&D session and NOTHING REALLY MAJOR CHANGES. It took a good ten minutes to resolve each turn, but the payoff for the investment seems to be about worth it. (Less chance of PC death for better treasure is what it looked like. Though if the players had been defeated, Fluid might have covered the fleeing characters with a fog, but Malalip and Chadria would have been captured more than likely due to their position on the rock face.)

Anyway, while I was crunching through the turns I remember apologizing for it taking time to sort it all out. People were like, eh… noone’s ever done this before! Don’t know what the next big battle will be or win, but we all know now how it can be done. Even relatively low level AD&D characters can have a significant place on the battlefield.

Treasure and Experience

100 XP for Chadria ONLY for the scroll.

6289 gold value in coin and gems divided up by the players comes out to 1257.8 each.

20,095.5 XP for monsters and treasure. 55 henchmen with 5 player characters means it is divided 32.5 ways. XP shares for players comes out to 618.

Gotta divide up the magic items later. Don’t forget!

Oh and Hans the Assassin took the stinger from his fallen foe.

Cast o’ Characters

Chadrian — Half-Elf Fighter/Magic-User that looks like Chad-Medusa (Session 26, 27, and 30) 0 + 31 + 718 XP and 1257.8 gold.

Bob Dobs — Human Veteran/Acolyte (Session 22, 23, 24, 27 and 30 )XP at 1517 + 698 + 1097 + 31 + 618 = 3961 XP for 1980/1500 as fighter/cleric. 1376 + 330.5 + 807 + 1257.8 = 3771.3 gold.

Malalip the Initiate — Level two monk. [Sessions 18, 19, 21, 27, and 30] 2250 + 106 + 400 + 31 + 618 XP. All saving spent on training. 63 + 1257.8 gold. Sole survivor of level 10 of The Tower of Ultimate Darkness. Potion of Strength 18/00.

Fluid the Druid, Initiate of the 2nd Circle — Level three druid. [Delve 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, and 30] 4000 + 106 + 369 + 400 + 618 = 5493 XP. Should be broke from training. 63 + 160 + 1257.8 gold. Procurer of the fabled Boobs of Opar. Potion of Strength 18/00.

Hans the Assassin (Sessions 27 and 30) 31 + 618 + 700 XP and 1257.8 gold. Note: the 700 XP is for assassinating the monkey man.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Beta Max Black - Turning Up The Eighties - Stars Without Numbers & Cepheus Engine Rpg Campaign Session set Up

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/15/2021 - 23:58
 During last night's game session several PC's were rolled up that didn't quite fit & then today there was a visit from DM Steve. We're getting back together tonight & another old campaign is now haunting me as a dungeon master! 'What happened to the Talon Sector?! Did your former Stars Without Numbers campaign disappear in a smoke cloud of redundancy? Did it evaporate in the morning light of oldNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Playing Out In The Rocks' Cepheus Engine Rpg PC Workshop & Session Report One

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/15/2021 - 17:21
 Last night's PC workshop was anything but serious with the players slinging dice & doing all of the Covid 19 purcautions (again). This work shop was to generate PC's using the Cepheus Engine rpg rules & Hostile rpg setting. Holy crap was this Eighties inspired sci fi madness from the ground up. This is my original campaign setting with stuff tacted on. So last night's character creation workshopNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Exploration and Science Fiction Settings

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/15/2021 - 12:00

 On a pulp science fiction reading kick lately (mostly stuff out of Planet Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories), I've come to conclusions about something in the structure of these stories that has previously bothered me. It's not uncommon for these stories to take place on a "Io no one has ever explored" or "a seldom visited Ceres" or the like, despite the fact the story suggests fairly developed civilization or at least trade lanes around these bodies. Why is (for instance) Ganymede a thriving colony world and Callisto unexplored?
The problem is not so much with the stories as with my expectations of them. I'm used to thinking space as divided into explored and explored territory, something like Star Trek or the like: here is civilized space, there's a border, there's the hinterlands. Sure, you might have outposts in the "wilderness" or "uncharted worlds" in otherwise fairly civilized areas, but mostly the unexplored is demarcated from the known. It's model inherited, perhaps, from simplified views of the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World.

These pulp studies model themselves on somewhat more modern conceptions. I think we can loosely place in them in three categories:
  • The Jim Bridger Model: I'm wandering around areas others have passed through, seeing things they missed.
  • The Amundsen/Hillary Model: Let us prepare to go to this place no one has yet been able to reach.
  • The Shipwreck/Crashed Bush Pilot Model: People avoid this place because there isn't much to recommend it. I'm hear and I don't want to be, and I've found something weird.

Model Three and One mostly differ by intention, and can overlap.

These three models suggest a setting that is mostly explored, or at least explored around the edges and the primary exploration of the current age is "filling in the blank spots" to varying degrees.

Their are obvious parallels to traditional D&D style fantasy settings. The classic "wilderness exploration" game looks more like Star Trek, but the dungeoncrawl sort of game is more filling in the gaps exploration.

In making a sci-fi setting it seems to me you'd want to think about what sort of exploration you want to have (if that's going to be a focus) and the implications of the size and layout of setting "space."


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