Looking for VFF Publishing?

What’s VFF Publishing, you ask? Why, it’s my publishing imprint! Yes, I write and publish novels. This blog is about gaming, but I see no reason not to redirect you to the Visions of Fantasy & the Future site if you’re curious about what I write. I write fantasy and sci-fi. You can buy my novels at Amazon and other fine sellers of literature.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beyond the Rim, part 1

The following post is written from an in-character point of view by the rodian scout Kelko Gen. It contains spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s Edge of the Empire adventure Beyond the Rim.

SWEotE logo

Since blasting away from Mos Shuuta and that miserable dirt-ball planet, Tatooine, we’ve been busy fixing up the ship. We had to borrow some money to get things working again and I took the opportunity to rechristen the ship. Banshee. It took a while, but it fits better than Krayt Fang for us. I think we’re more likely to run screaming from a serious threat than to start biting it to death. At least, that’s my intention. I didn’t take all that time to acquire a ship just to die in a futile gesture of heroics for someone who won’t appreciate everything we’ve sacrificed.

Some time during our trip to The Wheel to meet up with our twi’lek benefactor, we discovered a droid the former occupant of our ship was keeping. I didn’t catch its designation, but Braddock surmised it was a bounty Trex captured. Well, anything to mess with that nasty Transdoshan is tops with me, so we activated the droid and invited it to accompany us to our meetings on The Wheel. The job the twi’lek had for us to was simple: go to a remote planet, find a long lost ship, and salvage some junk from it. The ship has been missing for so long it’s almost legendary at this point, and he just happened to have another droid for us to take along, IT-3PO, who once belonged to the former captain. Our stowaway droid started talking about double-crossing the twi’lek and keeping whatever salvage we recovered and selling it for our own gain. One of the humans wanted to haul jets right away (I think it was Maximo…it’s hard to tell those two apart; I should make them wear name badges), but I vetoed that idea. We needed to buy supplies and do some research while waiting for IT-3PO. The job was not to abandon our one passenger and do the job without him…it….whatever.

Now, I might not be above stealing from the rich to give to the poor (me–in fact, that’s usually a pretty good policy because those rich guys usually earn their money on the back of hardworking folk like me), but a deal’s a deal, and we already owed this guy. We surreptitiously deactivated the droid and stowed him in our cargo hold while we stocked up on supplies and equipment we would need on our expedition. (The droid’s player had to leave early to deal with a family emergency.) There was serious talk of slapping a restraining bolt on that droid, and despite our decision to NOT do it, we bought some anyway…just in case. I made sure Banshee had medpacs and space suits, just in case, while the others bought whatever they thought they would need. Once again, Maximo was short on money, so the rest of us had to make sure there was enough food and a space suit for him. For a brief moment, I thought about not getting a space suit for him and then, if we lost pressure I’d see what happens to a squishy human when exposed to total vacuum. I figured that might get messy, so I relented. Azira did some pretty brilliant research and got us an exact location and an efficient hyperspace route to the planet where this ship allegedly went down, so if nothing else, we’ll get there in one piece. I hear the planet is crawling with nexu. Good thing we have an expert planetary scout with us. (That’s me.)

IT-3PO took his sweet time getting to us, and it turns out, a 5-pack of rodians (they give honest acquirers of unlicensed antiquities like me a bad name) wanted him worse then we did. The two humans gave chase, causing all manner of commotion in The Wheel while Azira and I wisely stayed behind with the ship. I already felt like talking to too many people on the station would jeopardize our expedition, and I didn’t want to take the chance that someone would break in and steal my stolen newly-acquired ship. I helpfully called station security and eventually they brought the two humans, along with IT-3PO back to us. The charges against our humans were fairly serious (public endangerment, joy riding, vehicular theft, assault, etc.) and I only think a couple of the charges might have been embellished. Fortunately, the proper application of credits to the palm of someone in authority works better than those high-paid attorneys of which the Coruscanti Snobbery Elite are so fond. I’m going to have to start a ledger or something, because said money always seems to come from MY pockets. I don’t even like humans!

Maybe they’ll earn their keep on this planet we’re going to.

We got a distressingly late start on the night’s session and I blew both knowledge rolls I made, so I didn’t get back into the swing of using the dice. There’s still at least 2-3 sessions of this by my estimate, so I’m looking forward to playing with this system. Plus, it seems likely much of the next session will take place in a planetary wilderness and that’s just Kelko Gen’s cup of tea errr…caf…coffeine…whatever the Star Warsy equivalent is. We’ve started discussing what we’re going to do after this Star Wars adventure is finished and I shared the revelation I had at Gary Con that I wasn’t burned out on GMing, I was just burned out on GMing Pathfinder. It seems likely we’re going to spend some time playing one-shots of various systems to see what’s a good fit for our group. I already have an idea for a fun Fate Accelerated one-shot (1938, Nazi-controlled cyborg gorillas…that’s all I’m sayin’).

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Pathfinder Wrap-Up

We spent 11 months and 2 parts of a 6 part Adventure Path playing Pathfinder before I started to dread running the game. I don’t think that’s a statement on the quality of the adventure path or the quality of the rules system, but Pathfinder is basically a refinement of the d20 System, i.e. D&D 3.X, a system I played for most of the last fourteen years. When D&D 4E came out, I was weary of D&D 3.X. I had seen its flaws (which don’t bother some players) and while Pathfinder fixes some of those, is it just as complex as that system is, and the complexity made it a chore for me to game prep. There was a time when complexity didn’t bother me because game prep was my primary leisure time activity. The older I get and the more variety I inject into my leisure time, the less time I want to spend on complex prep for a game I only play every other week.

In short, my preferences have moved on.

I’m not the only one at the Doctor StrangeRoll table who has grown tired of Pathfinder. Several of the players have expressed a desire to try out systems with less complexity. My main beef is that as characters grow in power, running the characters become largely an exercise in mathematics, from a mechanical perspective, and certain tasks become trivial. That can be good and bad. The math, frankly, bores me. That tasks become trivial, well, I have mixed feelings about that. For experienced character, some tasks should be trivial. I believe every task (at least, dramatically appropriate tasks; I’m not talking about things like opening an unlocked door, riding a horse down to the village square, or mundane things like that) should have a chance of failure. No one is infallible, and sometimes failures can create good drama and character-defining moments. With Pathfinder (and d20 systems in general), I feel like players are encouraged to optimize and specialize to the point that their characters become little more than collections of stats rather than characters. This can be mitigated, of course, by the GM writing all of his own material so that the challenges they encounter are tailored to them exactly. I realize it is impossible for published materials to cater to everyone, but I have neither the desire nor the energy to devote to a 100% custom Pathfinder campaign. The game no longer fits my preferred GMing style.

In the last two years and three months, my group has played three variations of D&D: Basic D&D (which I defined WAY back in 2012 in this post), D&D 4E, and 3.X/Pathfinder. AD&D is all that remains for the core Doctor StrangeRoll experience. I’ve deviated from my initial purpose a bit, since I have not revisited any of the adventures we played at the beginning with a different system, but I still think we’ve gotten a good taste of what each system has to offer. As it stands right now, I’ve enjoyed Basic D&D most. My players, of course, probably have different opinions, but it seems to me that the role-playing was stronger when the mechanics were less complicated.

That’s not to say one cannot have really good role-playing with complex mechanics, but I’ve noticed that many players have trouble moving beyond the mechanics when they are complex, the players are busy and tired when we game (we game on Friday nights, after everyone has had a week of work and 3/5ths of my group are raising kids, too). Other people have noted that when a game’s mechanics concentrate on tactical combat, it takes special effort to have games that are more than tactical combat. We’re all busy, we’re spinning many plates at once, and I think rules light is in the future for the DoctorStrange Roll group.

Good thing AD&D is able to be more rules light than d20 and more modern versions of the game.

So, what does all this mean for the Licktoad Goblin Pirates and the Skull & Shackles adventure path? Based on the brief conversations with some of my group, it’s likely the goblins will enjoy being wealthy after selling their booty in Port Peril and will create a colony of goblins at Tidewater Rock. They’re semi-respected pirates now, but their futures will be written by others (maybe me, if I ever get to write a Pathfinder novel for Paizo). Most players in my group don’t want to recreate the goblin pirates in a different system. I understand. Being a stabby, choatic anarchistic goblin can be fun in small doses, but most players want more complex characters than that and find it hard to identify enough with a goblin to make them transcend who they were born to be.

For the next several sessions, we will be playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, specifically “Beyond the Rim.” Blog entries describing that game will likely have spoilers galore! Consider this a warning. I’ll also be nice and include a spoiler warning at the top of each post…if I remember.

After “Beyond the Rim,” we’re probably going to do a few one shots. I want to introduce the group to Fate, and one of my players expressed an interest in running another session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (in which I play Dr. Cornelius Constance, a time-traveling scientician from the 19th century). One of the one shots will definitely be AD&D though (either 1st or 2nd edition) so that I can finish my analysis of D&D through the editions. By the time that happens, I’m sure D&D 5th edition will be available. I don’t know if I’m going to incorporate that or not. Right now, I have no desire to play another edition of D&D. Between Basic D&D and AD&D 2nd Edition (the edition my most formative years were spent playing), I don’t need a different edition of D&D for anything. I am tired of the edition treadmill. I miss the days when we could mix freely between Basic, 1E and 2E and it more or less worked because the systems were that similar. Since 2000, a new edition of D&D (I do not count 3.5 as a separate edition from 3.0) is basically a new game. Some trappings are the same, others are different. If I want a different fantasy game I can run Savage Worlds, or Dragon Age, or HackMaster, or Dungeon Crawl Classics.

No one edition of a game is going to be all things to all people. Is there a perfect game for you? Perhaps. Maybe you’ve already found it. What is my perfect game? I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I’m not sure I want to. Trying new games is too much fun.

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Gary Con VI Report

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

For those of you who don’t know, Gary Con is an annual game convention held every March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to honor the memory of the father of role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax. Their focus is on the one thing Gary loved most: gaming! I’ve been going since 2010 or so.

Wednesday is usually a quiet day at Thursday – Sunday convention. Arrival. Check-in. Settle into room. Get badges. For many, it is the longest continual socialization time of the convention.

This year, many people attended a pre-con party at Frank Mentzer’s home. While I would like to have gone, when I heard smoking would be allowed in the house (albeit confined to one room away from most of the guests), I had to decline. Any amount will play hell with my wife’s asthma, and we’re both sensitive enough to it that the lingering smells on everyone’s clothes (our own included) would be a problem. Contrary to what many smokers think, non-smokers CAN smell it on them for hours and hours and it gets on us, too, when we’re around smoke. When it induces respiratory problems, that’s an issue. Nevertheless, I’m sure everyone there had a great time, and I’m sure many stories will come out of it that will be told for years to come.

After checking in and getting settled, we decided to try to rustle up some gaming action. I brought with me Sentinels of the Multiverse, Project Ninja Panda Taco, and Edition Wars, but was unable to drum up any interest. Rather than assume it was because the games held no interest to anyone but myself, I will instead assume that my Game Master badge intimidated everyone. Instead of gaming, we joined some friends for dinner and conversation, which was just as good as gaming, in my opinion.

Thursday was a fairly low-key day. I started off by wandering around, visiting with Jolly and Barbara Blackburn of Kenzer & Co. (and Knights of the Dinner Table fame) and visiting the Dealer Hall. My first game of the day was supposed to be a HackMaster game at 10AM, but I screwed up during registration and signed up for a 10PM game by mistake! Resigned to my failure, I wandered around some more and purchased some old Spelljammer supplements out of pity for myself (they were still in the shrinkwrap, so I essentially bought NEW items from the ’90s!). My next game was in the afternoon, a Savage Worlds game run by Gygax Magazine called “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1940.” I played Indiana Jones. The other characters in play were Ms. Fury, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. We had a few empty chairs, so no one played Tarzen, The Rocketeer, or The Shadow. There were car chases, Nazis, and zeppelins, as you might expect from a pulp-action game. It was a lot of fun and further cemented my wife’s preference for Savage Worlds over Pathfinder. I, too, have been leaning towards less crunchy systems over the last couple of years, and Savage Worlds and Fate are quickly rising to the top of that list for modern RPGs.

In the evening, I ran my first Paranoia game, “Groovin’ to the Oldies.” I ended up running two sessions of that particularly adventure, and will talk about my games later.

Friday started off with my second Paranoia session. The rest of the day was very low key and I only had one game in the evening, a Top Secret game set during the Cold War called “Operation: Good Night.” We took the role of western spies assigned to extract a Soviet defector from East Berlin. It was interesting to play an RPG set in setting I was somewhat familiar with, having grown up in Germany during the Cold War (though I never visited Berlin). Our group ended up having two moles, but we accomplished our primary objective without any gun play. It was a good game, though a little more gritty & realistic than I was expecting.

Saturday was the big day at Gary Con. It was the busiest from an attendance standpoint, and from a play standpoint for me. My wife ditched both of the games we were scheduled for (one of which was a game I was running!) because she was personally invited by James M. Ward to play in his female-gamer-only game “Monty Haul’s Lesser Tower of Doom.” I, of course, was perfectly OK with this, since when a former TSR luminary and con Guest of Honor invite you to his game, you don’t say no. Publicly, I acted hurt and betrayed that she ditched her husband’s game for another GM’s game. :D

I started my day with “The FATE (sic) of Skull Island.” It was another pulp-action game set in the 1940 (I’m sensing a theme here), but using Fate Core. I had the books from the Kickstarter, of course, and I played in a Bulldogs! game at Gen Con two years ago, but I rated my comfort level with the Fate system at “Not at all comfortable.” This game changed that. I played a Dashing Barnstormer named Henry “Hank” Jericho, Captain USAAC, Ret., who was a veteran of both wars. From the event’s title, you might surmise that King Kong was involved…and you would be wrong, but his larger cousin EMPEROR Kong was. We had great fun and when the game was over, I had to dash downstairs to run my Star Wars game (WEG, 2nd edition Revised & Expanded), “A Simple Job.” All four of the players who showed up for my game had been players with me in the previous Fate game, so at least no one was waiting for me since I scheduled the games back-to-back. As with the Paranoia games, I’ll talk about my Star Wars game later.

After dinner, we tried to scare up some interest to play Edition Wars, Sentinel of the Multiverse, or Project Ninja Panda Taco, but again, my GM’s badge intimidated everyone. We instead got involved in a couple of games of Bang! The Dice Game and Cards Against Humanity. Never before have I felt guilty for liking a game (and I know there are folks out there who absolutely LOATHE Cards Against Humanity). We noted that the game at least took shots against EVERYONE and not just any particular ethnic group. Still, I understand the loathing some people have for the game, I just don’t particularly agree with it.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

Sunday was Gary Con’s slow day, and my day started early with another Top Secret game, this one set in the modern day, run by the game’s creator, Merle Rasmussen. It featured a lot of trading and negotiation, but felt very action packed. It was a ton of fun and all the players received a printed version of the adventure “Operation Rendezvous Oasis” (which will also appear in issue 4 of Gygax Magazine) as well as a new-in-box, shrinkwrapped copy of Merle’s first game, SQWURM from 1979! It was a blast. Originally, I tried to get into Jim Ward’s Sunday game, but due to registration hiccups, there were a lot of games I couldn’t get in, and I didn’t even think to try to get into this one. I figured since it was Merle’s first convention appearance in 30 years, and Top Secret is still pretty popular, that I wouldn’t have a chance. To my shock, there were still seats when I finished registration, so I quickly saved my spot.

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

After the game, I ran into Harold Johnson in the Dealer Hall. I’d heard he was running a book shop in Lake Geneva, so I wanted to talk to him about what it would take to get my books in his store. When I showed him my books, he was excited and wanted all the copies I had with me. My novels are now carried in the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva, WI. This pleases me to no end, since Lake Geneva is essentially the birthplace of D&D and without D&D, I probably wouldn’t be writing.

When we returned to the hotel, Gary Con was essentially over, but we managed to play a couple of games of Elder Sign. I now have another game added to my “To Purchase” list, and I bought the electronic version for my Kindle Fire.

Gary Con was a rousing success for me in many ways. My books are carried in a book store now, and I had a lot of fun. It was the best Gary Con yet. There were hiccups, to be sure (we never got to play in the Gary Con Joust as no one was ever officiating when we’d try to play), but overall, it was great. My games…well, I’ll consider them fun failures. All three ran too short. The length was the only failing of the Star Wars game, so I could beef it up with another encounter, and run it again with no other modifications (though I would like better miniatures for the vehicle segments). The Paranoia game, however, is a different story. I got all the jokes in there (I referenced disco, Saints Row IV (Dubstep Gun), Fraggle Rock, Borderlands, The Simpsons, and the Matrix), but the game was so deficiently lethal, it played more like a wacky Gamma World game than a Paranoia game. There were 2-3 deaths at most out of the 6 characters in play, far from the 400%+ death rate I should’ve had. I just didn’t have the right mix of pre-gens and Secret Society missions. I think if I add two more encounters and change up the pre-gens to all be Red clearance (I had a mix this time just to change things up) and re-write all the Secret Society missions to focus more on interparty conflict, I can get it to the right length. The ending though…I like the ending. As a response to criticism I received last year (about always ending with a button press nuclear explosions), I changed it so the button press either reboots the sector or [SPOILERS] ends the Simulation, ala The Matrix. The criticism was about the button press, not the nuclear explosion, so I misinterpreted that, but I really like the idea of Paranoia taking place in a simulation run by our Insect Overlords to keep humans occupied before they toil in the underground sugar caves (there’s your Simpsons reference…from the 90s). Oh well, they can’t all be home runs, and since both groups chose to End the Simulation, I have a perfect excuse to not run Paranoia next year since there are so many other games I want to play and run. I’m considering running all my games in costume next year, and I’ll have to fit the games to the costume so that would mean I need to run Star Trek, Fallout, and a western. I have a year to work on that.

Thanks to Luke Gygax, Dale Leonard, Gene Drebenstedt and the rest of the Gary Con staff for a great convention! I’m looking forward to next year!

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Goblin Skulls & Shackles – Sessions 16-17: X Marks the Spot

As the Licktoad Pirates assessed the damage done to their new home in the latest sahuagin raid, the goatherd approached them with something he found on one of the sahuagin bodies. He presented his masters with an amulet made from coral and a strange metal and what appeared to be a treasure map. While the goblins thought the amulet was interesting, more interesting was the map which led them through the Shackles’ islands and archipelagos to a location known as Mancatcher Cove.

They sailed Sea Spite into the cove and spent the better part of a day exploring the cliffs and caves trying to match something up to the riddle written on the map. They found an area which seemed to fit, but couldn’t quite match things up the way they were comfortable with. It was not until dawn, and the shadows and sun showing the skull face alluded to in the riddle on the cliffs, that they found the answers they sought. They were in the right place, but now knew enough to dig in the soft earth at the base of a crude statue.

Naturally, they were disappointed that the shaft they dug led not to treasure, but to a wooden floor. Clearly, it had no place buried in a cave, so they broke through, revealing a shaft leading to darkness and water below. They dropped down into dark, flooded tunnels. Fortunately, Spack Jarrow prepared them with a water breathing spell, and they had a potion as well. Since goblins could see in the dark, they had little trouble navigating the sun-starved tunnels and quickly found themselves in conflict with sahuagin (along with their pet sharks!). After defeating the first wave of guards, the Licktoad Pirates were able to explore more and found an odd, dry cave with plants (despite no way for sunlight to reach them), bedding, and someone’s possessions. (This was a legacy area dealing with Isabella Locke, Ms. Not-Appearing-In-This-Campaign.) They swam on, back into the flooded tunnels. They made their way through sahuagin guard barracks and found a bloated sahuagin in a nursery quick to defend her charges. They dispatched her and found hatcheries, destroying every developing egg before discovering a captured locathah queen (whom they also killed), finally deducing that she was the source of all the eggs they just killed. Being goblins, they did not ponder why there was a captive locathah supply eggs to sahuagin, but just shrugged and pressed on.

The Licktoads found the area in which the sahuagin kept their pet sharks, but were able to avoid being chum(s) by using a magical ring of animal friendship they found back in the dry cave area. In the shark pen, the amulet Spack Jarrow took from the goatherd drew him toward the western wall. A sediment-filled crevice led to another cave, and with the help of a summoned earth elemental, they were able to remove enough sediment to enter in. In the cave, they found a ship’s anchor, and a shriveled, dessicated human chain to it. The chains no longer bound him to the anchor, however, and the mummy of the Ancient Mariner swam forward to attack Spack Jarrow, bearer of his amulet’s twin. The ensuing battle was the most challenging (thus far) of the Licktoad’s careers, but they were still able to defeat him.

Further exploration allowed the Licktoads to discover a series of caves that led back to the cove. They noted its location and returned to exploring the flooded caves. The Licktoads swam into deeper tunnels, eventually finding a sort of throne room. The king of sahuagin and his concubines attacked, and nearly killed Spack Jarrow with his cruel, coral trident. Each blow caused Spack Jarrow to slow and harden, as though the goblin was turning into coral. The battle raged, for the second time in as many hours, they fought for their lives were victorious at last. (The mummy Ancient Mariner and the sahuagin king were the first truly challenging combats of the campaign for the Licktoad Pirates.) Thorough searching revealed the sahuagin’s treasure, and a mighty haul it was!

With patience and magical assistance, the Licktoads returned to Sea Sprite with a magical chest containing the spoils of their efforts, a kingly haul. They returned to Tidewater Rock to give the stewards their share, then headed for Port Peril so they could properly count their plunder and sell off the items they didn’t need. But what adventure awaited the Licktoad Goblin pirates in the metropolis of Port Peril?

…and thus ends book 2 of the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, Raiders of the Fever Sea. I modified it a bit to get things moving again because the sandbox nature of the middle of the book was really dragging. Instead of dragging it out for several more weeks making sure they were able to assemble all the clues from all the events in that section and peel the map off the body of Isabelle Locke (it was an elaborate tattoo), I decided to have them come into possession of the map following the sahuagin raid on Tidewater Rock that occurred while they were at Rickety Squibs paying off their debt. It was faster. The campaign momentum suffered greatly due to weather-related complications around the holidays, so I needed to get things going again because, frankly, at one point, I didn’t really want to play Pathfinder any more. They also completely missed getting the amulet from the sahuagin way back in session 13 (which I ran in December), which was a big part of the enmity between the sahaugin and the PCs. It just goes to show that these adventures that hinge on one event serving as a catalyst can be completely derailed through PC actions. They fled from the encounter that would have given them the amulet, not because they were afraid of the sahuagin, but because they just didn’t want to be bothered by them (which is totally appropriate for their characters, but sequence-breaking, nonetheless). For some reason, it took me a while to understand how crucial it was that they end up with that amulet. That’s part of the problem with the Paizo adventure paths, the only real problem I have with them: there’s a lot of detail. So much detail that is never really passed to the players and is only there for background for the GM, that it’s easy to miss something. They really need an outline at the beginning of each book detail what important plot points must occur for the adventure to proceed the way it’s intended. The way the goblin pirates were proceeding, there was no real plot for them to pursue once they cracked the rock because not only did they not have the amulet that would draw the sahuagin in for revenge, they didn’t have the alliance with Lady Agasta Smythee because they slaughtered everyone at Tidewater Rock (Lady Agasta was the first to die!). Once they claimed Tidewater Rock, they really were masters of their domain and didn’t NEED the plot. They were debt-free, owned a ship and controlled an island fortress. For a couple of weeks, I actually considered letting them find a Spelljamming helm. Then I came to my senses and realized if I was having trouble with sandboxing in the relatively small area of the Shackles, letting them fly throughout all of D&D/Pathfinder Space (i.e. The Prime Material Plane) was not going to make that job any easier (though the idea of goblin pirates in spaaaaace is very amusing to me).

With the end of book 2, I am going to take a break from GMing for a bit. I had planned to do it at the mid-point (i.e. the end of book 3), but I want the break now. After 17 sessions of Pathfinder, the complexity of the rules set is wearing me down. Thank goodness using the adventure path keeps me from having to prep NPCs and monsters! I’ve also found a complex rules set hinders my ability to improvise. I used to wonder why I found improvising games like Paranoia and the West End Games version of Star Wars MUCH easier than improvising a D&D 3.X/Pathfinder game. Some of the players have also mentioned growing weary of the rules-heavy nature of Pathfinder. My wife, in particular, has difficult with the rules because the medication she’s on affects her memory and there is a LOT to remember in a Pathfinder game, especially if a player wants to understand why something is done a certain way.

I don’t know how long my GMing break will last. In two weeks (during the next scheduled game), I will be in Lake Geneva, WI at Gary Con VI. I’ll be GMing Paranoia (2nd edition) and Star Wars (WEG d6, Revised & Expanded) and playing Top Secret (with the creator, Merle Rassmussen!), HackMaster, Savage Worlds, and FATE. Two weeks after that, the group will reconvene and we’re going to play Star Wars: Edge of the Empire again. I will once more take up the mantle of Captain Kelko Gen, the arrogant Rodian pilot. We’re playing a mini-campaign, using Beyond the Rim. Frankly, I can see him dying at some point because I was pretty darn reckless in the last adventure, though I was lucky enough not to get shot, beaten, stabbed, or eviscerated by Gammoreans. Maybe having a ship will cool his jets.

After the Star Wars game, who knows? Will we pick up Pathfinder again? Will we decide to convert the campaign to a different rules system? Will we leave the goblins to continue their pirating lives and play something else entirely? Frankly, even I don’t have the answers to these questions. The answers may not come until after Gen Con, depending on how quickly we progress through the Star Wars game.

Expect a Gary Con summary post in a couple of weeks. I won’t commit to more than one for the weekend, but you never know!

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Interlude – Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: Escape from Mos Shuuta

We’re changing up our gaming schedule, so instead of back-to-back Pathfinder games, one of my players volunteered to run the Beginner Box adventure for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Since I plan to take a short break from GMing Pathfinder at the conclusion of Raiders of the Fever Sea, we decided this would be a good opportunity to make characters for an alternate game and get a handle on the system. So, just FYI, the rest of this entry is just sick with spoilers for the Beginner Box adventure, “Escape from Mos Shuuta.”

TL;DR Summary: I made an amoral scout/pilot/treasure hunting liar of a Rodian and we had a LOT of fun.

SWEotE logo

Kelko Gen

Captain’s Log: independent freighter Krayt’s Fang, Captain Kelko Gen dictating (translated from Rodese)

I can’t believe we had to steal this Corellian piece of Bantha poodoo. Still, it’s better than not having a ship, and far better than being stuck on that dirtball planet. Too bad that Trandoshan left his lizard stink all over the ship. I wonder if opening all the hatches and letting all the nastiness blow out into space will make things smell better?

Anyway, after getting busting out of prison, I tracked down my Bothan friend, Azira. She’s still a little idealistic, but we didn’t have time to philosophize. I also met up with a couple of human mercs (whose names I still can’t remember, honestly, they all look alike with their smooth, squishy skin), though I think one of them is a bounty hunter. I hope my name never comes across his target list. I’m not sure how we all ended up on the run from Teemo the Hutt’s goons in Mos Shuuta, but I wasn’t getting made into a jacket by those club-wielding piggies. We ducked into a cantina. I sidled up to the bar and ordered a drink. Azira clung to me and we tried to look casual. The humans ducked into booths behind us. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had a sexy female dangling on my arm or if the humans were just making too much damn noise, but we didn’t fool the piggies for long and they came at us. After spilling my drink, I blasted one of the Gamorreans, and even Azira got in on the action with her little pistol. One of the humans got his nose splattered, but honestly, it was an improvement, although, I was surprised to see a human’s face get even flatter than it already was. After dealing with the goon squad, the Devonarian bartender told us the best way to get offworld: steal a ship, but we were going to need to replace some hypermatter injector thingie first (I just fly ‘em, I don’t know what makes them go).

Fortunately, one of the few resources Tattooine is rich in is junk stores. So, we found a junk shop and tried to pick up the replacement part, but Azira just had too honest a face (I know, it’s unheard of for a Bothan). The owner didn’t buy her story that were there to pick it up for the ship’s captain, and he locked down his store and sounded an alarm. We hauled jets out of there and hid in the scrapyard while Stormtroopers responded to the call. Since when did the Empire give a space slug’s butt about crime on Tattooine? Fortunately for us, the junk store owner abused his droid and Azira was better at sweet-talking droids than she was humans. The droid agreed to go back in the shop and get the part for us if she did a few minor repairs on him. The droid was more than happy to screw over his boss. (Note to self: do not buy an R5 unit. Addendum: Make sure whatever droid you buy gets a restraining bolt.)

Naturally, just getting the part wasn’t good enough. We also needed to disengage the docking clamps holding the Krayt Fang down in docking bay Aurek. The only place we could do that was Spaceport Control. Fantastic. The bounty hunter feigned heat exhaustion (not much of a stretch, honestly) just outside the control center and as I tended to his needs, we kept an eye on the personnel inside. The other human and Azira snuck around the side entrance to try to find a way to slice into the system. They must’ve been successful because they came back out with no alarms blaring and no one in pursuit. Now all we had to do was get to the docking bay and steal our ship.

Unfortunately the Stormtroopers caught up with us on the way to the docking bay. They started blasting us, but we blasted right back, so they pulled out vibroknives and tried to shank us. Stupid stormies bringing knives to a gunfight. We ended their miserable existence, and if we hadn’t shot their armor full of holes, I would’ve taken some. My clothes have proved to be poor protection from blasters, vibroknives, and clubs. The docking bay was guarded by a couple of battle droids. I wanted to just blast them, but Azira managed to sweet-talk them into letting us deliver the part to Captain Trex, after all, we were the technicians who were going to install it. I don’t know why she’s better at sweet-talking droids than organics, but whatever. I’d been clubbed, shot at, and nearly stabbed, so my temper was a little short by then.

Captain Trex wasn’t as easy to fool and he ordered his droids to blast us while he tried to eat the merc’s face and take our hyperdrive injector thing. You’d think four cheap battle droid would be pushovers, but these things Trex had would give Stormtroopers a run for their money. They nearly took Azira out, but in the end, we reduced them to parts. We weren’t able to vaporize Trex, though, and I can only hope that A) he bled out on the docking bay floor, B) he didn’t hear me say I intended to skin him and make a coat out of his hide, and C) the engine wash from us stealing his ship incinerated his stinky, scaly, carcass.

For the record, we totally didn’t steal his ship. It was MY ship to begin with and I was taking it back from him. I seem to have very poor taste, though. I never liked the YT-1300, and I don’t know what I was thinking painting it the color of rust. (Note to self: maybe I can rename the ship Rust Bucket…or Trex’s Folly heh heh heh). This stupid thing! I think it transcribed my chuckle. Anyway, I think the old Counselor-class cruisers are much nicer ships. I always wanted one with a nice luxury pod under the cockpit with a two-level apartment and a nice swimming pool. Yeah. Just gotta find more artifacts and sell them. Did you know some humans, particularly Alderaanians, get really uptight when you sell antiquities to the highest bidder? It’s junk! Who am I to argue when someone wants to give me a bucket of credits for some ancient religious icons?

Well, we blasted off just fine, but the hyperdrive was still broken. One of the humans, um, the one with hair, I think, or wait? Do they both have hair? Well, he had a stimpack left and got Azira back on her feet. She ran to install the injector thing while I performed miracles flying the Rust Bucket and evade the TIE Fighters that decided they needed to shoot at my ship. The humans were pretty good with the ship’s guns, but it was my piloting that saved the day, because I am A. Mazing. I got on the comm and told the Imperials to stop shooting holes in my ship, but the Imperials required explosive maintenance before they actually stopped. Azira got the part installed and we headed off to scrub the ship’s records. I can’t let it out that I let a Trandoshan commandeer my ship like that. How embarrassing.

Braddok Tal and Maximo! That was their names! I ought to make those humans wear armbands or something so I can tell them apart.

And thus ended our Edge of the Empire Beginner Box adventure. We made characters before the session started. It took four of us just about an hour to make characters from scratch, and that was with some book sharing going on and only one player (GM not included) having had experience with EotE character generation. Had we all been familiar with the system, I bet we could all make characters in 20 minutes. Character generation seems to hit the sweet spot (for me, anyway) of being simple and relatively fast, but with enough flexibility that characters can be unique. The Obligation system helps a lot with that because you get to work out your backstory while you’re making the character and it’s a good way to give all the characters in the group a reason to be together and know each other. Sure, it’s still possible for THAT One Player to create a loner who logically would have nothing to do with the rest of the group, but a decent GM can head that off before it starts.

The system itself may seem complicated, with its icon-covered dice, but in practice, it runs very smoothly. Within an hour, all the players had gotten the hang of the dice and we all enjoyed how the results affected the flow of the narrative. A miss was not just a miss. It might have set up an advantage for the next person. Likewise, a success could set up a challenge. Of course, there were complete failures and spectacular triumphs, but the mechanics never boiled down to metagamey number crunching (I have +10 that, and I get +3 to this, so I only need to roll a 2 or higher to succeed!)*.

Since “Escape from Mos Shuuta” was just an introductory adventure, it’s difficult to do a comprehensive system review, and that sort of thing ain’t my game anyway. I enjoyed the game. It felt like Star Wars, as much so as anything I’ve played since the days West End Games had the license with their D6 system. Our GM commented a few times that we were probably overpowered for the adventure since we made characters instead of using the pre-gens, but honestly, we flubbed enough dice rolls that it was still challenging. We blasted off from Mos Shuuta in the Krayt Fang with one PC unconscious and my character sucking on 1 remaining wound point. The only real advantage we had is that some of us had slightly more powerful weapons than the pre-gens, which just made the combats shorter when we did hit. In the first fight in the Cantina, my character’s carbine did a whole lot of nothing since I couldn’t hit crap, even though it was in melee range. I’m sure we even missed some rules for firing while engaged in melee, but we were all still picking up the system. Subsequent adventures (which won’t happen for at least a month) will probably be even more challenging.

So far, I do like what Fantasy Flight Games has done with the system. I won’t be running EotE at any conventions any time soon (mostly because I run “Dead Games” at Gary Con), but it might just become my go-to system for Star Wars game around my home table. The era of play is my favorite, as is the subject matter. I’ve always preferred the Star Wars underworld and Rebellion-era stuff to anything with Jedi. Jedi are problematic for me for a number or reason too lengthy to go into here. Would I like to have a real lightsaber and be able to do cool Jedi stunts? Hell. Yes. Do I want them in my Star Wars games? Ehh…not so much. In D6, Force use was a little wonky and tended to make your character suck at everything else. In the D20 variants, the seemed too much like overpowered magic-users compared to other characters (in my experience). And of course, there’s always the problem that canonically, Jedi tend to work alone or in pairs, and if you have one Jedi in the group, you always have several other players who want to be Jedi because no one wants their character to be overshadowed by the superhero (notice that in the movies, once Luke starts doing Jedi stuff, he’s usually off on his own…that’s TEDIOUS to GM). It’s like having one or two players play Captain America and Iron Man, while everyone else plays the police who are “helping” the Avengers.

* Please note, and I resent the HELL out of the Internet for making me type this: There is nothing wrong with the number crunching metagame. There are some players and GMs who enjoy that sort of thing and to them, that IS the game. I personally have grown weary of it and I really appreciated the opportunity to create a character where I didn’t have to worry about nerfing myself because I didn’t optimize a certain way. If you enjoy the number crunch of certain rules-heavy systems, you enjoy a different type of game than I do, but my preference in NO WAY de-legitimatizes your brand of fun. There is room in this world for all kinds of games. I like what I like and you’re welcome to like what you like. As long as we’re all having fun, then there is nothing wrong with any of it!

More importantly, after 13+ years of playing systems where the number crunching is an integral part of the game, I have come to realize that I really don’t enjoy it anymore. Not. One. Bit.

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Goblin Skulls & Shackles, session 15 – Paying Debts

 Pathfinder-logo

Skull & Shackles LogoAfter cleaning up the bodies, the Licktoad Pirates left some of their more trustworthy crewmates (Sandara Quinn, Rosie Cusswell, and Owlbear Hartshorn, in charge of Tidewater Rock and returned to the high seas. The plan: return to Rickity Squibs to sell off plunder and re-supply.

Three days out of Tidewater Rock, while Ent Cleastwood was on lookout duty, sails were spotted on the horizon. The ship appeared to be a Rahadoumi schooner loaded with booty! Captain Spack Jarrow gave the order to pursue and Sea Spite closed in on her quarry. Before they were able to get into catapult range, a creature took off from the deck of the Rahadoumi ship and flew towards Sea Spite. It was a manticore!

As the beast approached, Brodo Faggins directed the catapult crew to try to fire a shot at it. Meanwhile, Captain Spack Jarrow worked magic to summon lighting from the cloudy sky. Miraculously, the catapult’s shot hit the manticore. A lighting bolt scorched the creature, but it was able to summon the strength to launch a volley of spikes from its tail, impaling Gargornne in a last-gasp attack before being brought down and crashing into the sea.

During the battle with the manticore, the enemy ship maneuvered into position to use its ballistae on the Sea Spite. The ship was close enough for the crew to read her name: Sanbalot. The merchant crew managed a few ineffective shots before another lighting bolt killed half the gunnery crew and a boulder from the Sea Spite’s catapult destroyed one of the ballistae.

Sanbalot’s captain and marines fell just as the ship entered boarding range. The inexperienced merchant crew struck their colors. Captain Spack Jarrow offered the crew a choice: join him or die. Only the lone remaining marine was defiant. The rest of Sanbalot’s crew were informed they would sail with the Sea Spite until they reached Rickity Squibs, where they could leave or stay.

Once they reached Rickity Squibs, tales were told of their exploits, including the cracking of Tidewater Rock and nine of the merchant crew chose to stay with the Sea Spite. The Licktoad Pirates offered Rickity a trade: the Sanbalot in exchange for wiping out their debt. The deal was acceptable. The goblins resupplied their ship and headed back to Tidewater Rock. When they arrived, they learned the sahuagin had attacked twice while they were gone. The Licktoad Pirates resolved to deal with their nuisance once and for all….

Another cakewalk for the goblin pirates. I think the sandboxy parts of the adventure are designed to be easy, so the PCs don’t experience a TPK while they’re just sailing around being pirates. The real challenges should come while they’re dealing with major plot points of the adventures rather than the “let’s spread tales of our derring-do and badassery” phase. Since they’re coming up on a couple of major back-to-back plot points, we’ll see.

Once they’ve finishedI plan to take a short hiatus from Pathfinder and GMing. One of the other players has offered to run a few sessions of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I may write up those adventures here, and maybe even do a review of the system (which I’ll cross post to various RPG forums and sites that accept such reviews).

I’ve been enjoying the goblin pirate game and I will return to it to see the Licktoad Pirates’ adventure to its conclusion. I don’t think Pathfinder is the right system for me anymore, however. It’s a fine system, don’t get me wrong, but after playing the d20 system and its variants for nearly 14 years now, I yearn for something simpler. I’ve been playing D&D since 1982, everything from Red Box basic to 4E & Pathfinder. The most fun I ever had with the game was 2nd edition AD&D. I’m curious to see how these Paizo adventure paths would translate into a system like AD&D or even Savage Worlds, and once Skull & Shackles is done, I might try Reign of Winter using Savage Worlds. Depending on how the players feel, I may even convert the game during the Skull & Shackles adventure path (though I doubt that will actually happen; I think the character would feel totally different and the transition would be very hard on some players).

The simple fact of the matter is: I can no longer devote the time and energy necessary for a complex system like Pathfinder. My interest in modern versions of D&D, including D&D Next (or 5th Edition…whatever they end up calling it) is lower than its ever been. I’m weary of buying the books all over again because enough has been changed that conversion becomes a pain-in-the-ass. It’s a game, not work. I don’t get paid to GM, so if I don’t have fun doing it, it’s not worth the effort. Paizo makes Pathfinder easier than 3.X ever was thanks to their adventure paths and books like the NPC Codex, but the rules for every situation, the ability for players to game the system to the extent that they can, no longer appeals to me. I get that being able to crunch the numbers and nearly break the game are part of the appeal for some people; that the gaming the system is THE GAME for some players, and that’s fine. It’s just not what I’m looking for these days.

But, that’s all talk for the future. There are still a few more sessions left of Raiders of the Fever sea, and after that, a short hiatus and four more books in this adventure path. The Licktoad Pirates have only begun their terrible career on the high seas of Golarion!

Categories: Pathfinder | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Goblin Skulls & Shackles, session 14 – Cracking the Rock

When last we left the Licktoad Pirates, they had arrived at Tidewater Rock. The ballistae on the guard towers tracked them as they sailed past the front of the fortress. The goblins decided a frontal assault was suicide. The continued sailing, around the island and contemplated a different plan: a stealth assault from behind. The Licktoad Goblins would take a dinghy under the cover of darkness and make landfall on the far side of the island. They would cross the fields and orange groves until they reached the back of the cover. In the middle of the night, with the light of the waxing moon partially obscured by clouds, they were undetected as they approached the tower.

Captain Spack Jarrow cast a fly spell upon Brodo Faggins and he flew up to the top of the tower. Meanwhile, the monkey goblins climbed, helping their comrades up the side. As soon as they were at the top, Captain Spack Jarrow dropped a silence spell to cover the roof and Brodo Faggins killed one of the two patrolling guards. The other goblins took out the guard on the opposite side. The roof was theirs.

They made their way down the stairs and into the main dining hall. Being the middle of the night, it was deserted. Brodo Faggins checked the door to the other room and entered, finding a lady asleep in her bed. He moved to slice her throat. She survived the initial attack long enough to scream, undoubtedly waking others in the tower, but was killed before she was able to get out of bed. Captain Spack Jarrow removed her head and tossed it down the stairs, towards the commotion they heard of the other residents rushing to aid their Lady. His ultimatum was simple: Surrender or Die.

While the rest of the goblins awaited the tower’s guards by the bottleneck of the dining hall door, Brodo Faggins utilized his fly spell to fly out of the tower’s window and take pot shots at defenders rushing by the arrow slits. He felled two before the tower’s major domo reached the dining hall, enraged by the mutilation of his lady love. He attacked Captain Spack Jarrow with fury, but fell to the combined attacks of the Licktoad Pirates after only striking one blow. The two guards accompanying him managed to fire two shots from their crossbows, but fell as they turned to flee.

The rest of the defenders, including the tower’s servants, believing they were overrun, surrendered. The Licktoad Pirates were victorious and Tidewater Rock was theirs.

In the aftermath, they discussed what to do with the servants and guards. The two elderly servants and the goatherd would stay at Tidewater Rock and tend the crops and livestock. Their ward would be taken to the Sea Spite and locked in the brig for now, despite his protestations that he would gladly serve as a cabin boy. The remaining guards would be pressed into service as well. As the sun rose, a pirate flag flew over Tidewater Rock.

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The swift victory of arms probably would not have been possible with conventional PCs. Goblins have mega bonuses to stealth and the monkey goblins have a climb speed (rather than need a skill to climb). The adventure never considers the group might attack at night from above (and neither do the residents of Tidewater Rock; it’s a remote tower home rather than a proper fortress). What was supposed to be an encounter of guile and diplomacy turned into a slaughter, but the end result was the same: the PCs cracked Tidewater Rock and now had a home base from which to operate in addition to having a ship.

For their level, these Goblin Pirate PCs are underequipped, but are so badass, I can see them totally derailing this adventure path at some point. Of course, not everyone will remain ignorant of their cover-of-darkness stealthy ways forever…

Categories: Pathfinder | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Doctor StrangeRoll’s Year in Review

I started this year running a D&D 4E Eberron game and ended it running a Pathfinder adventure path (Skull & Shackles) with a tweest, all Goblin player characters. We also had isolated sessions of Paranoia (2nd edition), Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space, and Savage Worlds (Space: 1889 and Realms of Cthulhu). At Gary Con, in addition to Paranoia and Ghostbusters, I also ran Hollow Earth Expedition and played Star Frontiers (Did you know PDF versions of this TSR classic are still legally available online?). Reapermas also happened, and I’ve barely touched that pile of minis with my paints. The end of the year was stupid busy. It interfered with my gaming and game-related pursuits, but I did finish the first draft of my fifth novel, so there’s that (more about that over at vffpublishing.com)

One of my goals for 2013 was to play more different games, include something using Fate. Well, that didn’t happen, but I still managed quite a variety, some of which was even with my home gaming group! I’m going to continue that goal in 2014. I want to try to play or run Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, something with Fate, Numenera, and more Savage Worlds.

When I started this blog, the point was to run classic adventures through all the available systems of D&D. That didn’t work out quite as I envisioned, but since the start, we have managed to play everything except Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t count D&D Next at this point because the game is not out yet. I’m not interested in running games with play test documents at this time, but I don’t discount a D&D Next game as a possibility in the future, though personally, I feel like I’ve had it with the edition treadmill, plus, the older I get, the less I like rules-heavy (aka crunchy) systems, and D&D hasn’t been rules light since the days of Basic D&D (I would classify AD&D as rules-medium…depending on how you houserule your game).

Most of 2014 will be a continuation of the Goblin Skulls & Shackles game. They’re about 1/3rd of the way through the second part of a six part adventure path. At the conclusion of book 2 or book 3, depending on how long wrapping up book 2 takes, I will probably take a short break from Pathfinder to run 2-3 games of a different system (or play test games I’m running at Gary Con in March). I hope to be able to wrap up Skull & Shackles by the end of 2014. Once that is finished, I will probably run the AD&D phase of Doctor StrangeRoll, most likely using AD&D 2nd Edition.

Where does Doctor StrangeRoll go from there? Probably Savage Worlds (for some reason, running the Reign of Winter AP using Savage Worlds appeals to me more than running it in Pathfinder) or a Star Wars game. That’s looking into 2015, though, and a lot can happen in a year.

To all my readers, I wish you a 2014 filled with good friends, good gaming, and all the joy and good fortune you can stand!

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Goblin Skulls & Shackles, Session 12-13 – Adventures on the High Seas

I didn’t update from the last session and the details are all lost now. I am a slacker. Truth be told: life got in the way. Hopefully, with the holidays done and behind us, things will settle down and we’ll have a regular gaming schedule again.

The Licktoad Pirates sailed the Sea Spite on the high seas for days, scouring the horizon for sails. One night, they spotted a sail, but it vanished before they were able to catch it. The next night, they saw another sail, but again, it vanished from sight before they could catch it.

On the third night, a fog arose and surrounded the ship. Looming out of the fog was the ship they failed to catch on the previous two nights. It attacked from port astern (could’ve been starboard…goblins always get them confused). The ship, Deathknell, was a fabled ghost ship, and it’s captain, Whalebone Pilk was out for blood. As his brine zombies attack, he directed their actions from the Deathknell’s command deck.

Although they suffered casualties, the Licktoad Pirates fended off the brine zombies while Garagorrne peppered Whalebone with arrows. Captain Spack Jarrow swung across the gap and delivered a fatal blow to Whalebone, a blow so mighty, it caused the Deathknell to sink! (At least, from the goblins’ perspective.)

With no land in sight, they continued on their way. Several days later, they found a listing fishing trawler. Upon investigation, they found it had been the victim of an attack of some sort, but someone had gone out of their way to cover up the evidence. Brodo Faggins and Captain Spack Jarrow stayed aboard the trawler investigating, while the others returned to the Sea Spite and prepared to cut the trawler loose and immolate her if there was an ambush waiting. Brodo opened up the hatch to the main hold and was greeted with crossbow fire. He slammed the hatch shut, while Captain Spack Jarrow shoved several of his own crossbow bolts through the latch. They returned to the Sea Spite, and cut the trawler loose while Ent Cleastwood threw alchemist’s fire at it. The trawler went up in flames

After it burned to the waterline, they noticed three sahuagin swimming after them, intent on boarding and attacking the crew. Captain Spack Jarrow ordered the ship to sail away, and they left the fishmen behind. A few days later, land was spotted, and open that small island, a small fort and tower. Fishguts tentatively identified it as Tidewater Rock…the elusive destination for which they’d been searching.

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