Sunday, May 31, 2015

GURPS101: More Human Than the Humans

GURPS Monster Hunters is one of my favorite gaming series of all time - and not just because I got to playtest or have wrote a bunch about it - I genuinely love the premise. I've always been partial to the horror genre, especially the kind where the protagonist knock some heads. I still regret not being able to playtest GURPS Horror when given the chance, but cie la vie. A while back someone asked me to discuss the Experiment template from Monster Hunters (I've been steadily chewing through requests, so if we haven't gotten to yours I will - just give me some time). The "Protean Man" is a another concept I'm fond of and given my background with such games as Nightbane, Beyond the Supernatural, and World of Darkness I'm quite familiar with its use. Body horror is one of those subjects that folks usually either love or go squickity-squick... I'm one of those weird people who are somewhere in the middle. For example, I love John Carpenter's The Thing, but have issues reading Scott Sigler his work however brilliant it might be.

The Experiment from Monster Hunters occupies some of the in-game themes and out-game roles that the Inhuman does (otherness, non-humanity, etc.), but in a different way. Whereas the Inhuman is a product of the setting's paranormal laws, the Experiment is the product of man. Specifically, the product of man thinking that he is God. Despite Monster Hunters' fairly light tone overall...this does bring a certain dramatic weight to the role. A Inhuman vampire might be trying to redeem himself for his past sins and may very well not be responsible for his current plight...but the Experiment is literally sin embodied. He is hubris given form in the most literal context. He might not have asked for what happened to him (and it can be argued that neither did the theoretical vampire), but he is another man's ego in the flesh. Just think about that for a minute. His inhumanity is not the result of a attack by a fellow monster or some curse or accident of birth: his was planned and executed by someone who thought they could do better than God, Mother Nature, evolution, etc. That lends some gravitas to the role that you might not find anywhere else.

Now, on a more game-mechanistic side of things, you could do a lot with the Experiment template. For example, psionics might not be naturally occurring. They could be due to a vampiric breeding program to make humans more subservient to their own mind control powers, except that one out of a thousand resulted in a human who was a little bit psychic. Before the vampires knew what they had done they'd accidentally bred psionic powers into the human population. You could do this with any number of paranormal abilities. To create such a character, the following lens might be useful:

Experimental Psi
+0 points
Attributes: -4 to ST, but +2 to IQ.
Advantages: Exchange Bioenhancement Talent for Parapsychologist 2. • Pick 60 points worth of Psionic Talents or Abilities instead of Bioenhancement powers. • Add both Bioenhancement Talent and Bioenhancement Abilities to the second choice list as optional traits.
Skills: Exchange the Primary skills for the Expeirment with those for the Psi, but add Autohypnosis, Biology, and Body Control to the Background Skill choices.

One thing that's become increasingly popular is "steampunk." A possible variation might be to swap "wetware" with "hardware" and make a character who looks and feels more like a cyborg than River Tam. GURPS Ultra-Tech would ideally by the perfect starting place, especially some of the worked cyberlimbs - you'd just need to adjust the required the temporary disadvantage modifier. For example, a "steampunkish" arm might look like:

Steam-limb (6 points): Arm ST+2 (One arm; Temporary Disadvantages, Maintenance, 1 person, weekly, -5%; Nuisance effect, shows up on medical scans, -5%) [6]; DR 2 (One arm, -40%) [6]; One Arm (Mitigator, -70%) [-6]. If it's an obvious replacement limb (this assumes something that's covered with some form of "flesh" looking material), add Unnatural Features 5 [-5] or Supernatural Features (Unnatural Limb) [-5], and/or Nuisance Effect, Reaction rolls worth -5% per -1 in reactions.

Picking Over the Bones
There are a lot of things that could be done with the Experiment template - you could fill a book with "booster" abilities and different takes. One fun thing might be to create different sorts of Experiments through the use of optional lenses. For example, what about magical experiments? Or attempts to create "hybrid" monsters that cinema seems so fascinated with (angel/demons or vampire/werewolves). Do you have anything you've made for your game's Experiments? Any particularly successful stories of using such characters in your game?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Melee Academy: The Feats of Samson

The Biblical figure of Samson (or "Sampson") from the Book of Judges (chapters 13 to 16) is an interesting guy. Basically, he's the Christian version of Heracles (and has interesting ties to that particular mythological figure as well). He did some pretty cool things, things which any PC in any campaign would love to do. But before we get to those, let's first examine a couple of relevant statistics. Namely, how strong is Samson? (Note: This is sort of off the mark for Melee Academy posts, but fits better there than any of my other blog series. After all, it's about a big strong guy laying the smack down on his enemies.)

Samson's Vital (Combat) Statistics
Let's assume that Samson's ST is enough to move at least one of the columns of the Temple Dagon (which he destroyed, see below). This gives us around a ST of 0, but the passages relating to Samson specifically say that he wasn't strong all the time - only when the spirit of God empowered him. As a game designer (and specifically for GURPS) this screams to me "Super ST." So let's just assume that Samson's ST is a flat 21 "all the time" and that his enhanced ST is 160. Since it's directly stated that Samson's strength and power comes from YAHWEH, that means we could treat it in one of two ways. The first is to use Super-ST with the Divine Power Modifier and use Samson's Nazirite vows as its base cost. Such a Vow might look like this in GURPS: Vow (Nazritie) [-10]. Such a vow would require the character to abstain from alcohol, not cut his hair in any way, and to stay away from corpses or graves. So Samson has Super-ST +11 (Divine, -10%) [396]. Alternatively, just treat such "Divine Strength" as a form of Blessed (pp. B40-41) worth 40/level. Of course, if you only need a boost in ST every once and a while, you could just buy Blessed (Heroic Feats) for ST to gain a +4d to ST for the same price which is almost five times as effective.

I'd probably also say that Samson has a high HP, maybe twice his ST - but with the Divine Power Modifier. I know, that seems weird, but when he violates his Vow he is treated as if he were a completely normal man and seems less indestructible. Of course, using that logic you could add any number of "brick" traits (DR, Injury Tolerance, etc.), but lets ignore all that for now and concentrate on his ST score.

With a ST of 21 he's doing on 2d-1 with a punch, but since the guy slays hundreds of Philistines with his bare hands (and thousands with the jawbone of an ass...) I'd give him Brawling or Boxing (probably both - also Wrestling) at at least DX+5. Along with a DX of 15 or 16, he's good to go for unarmed combat. Actually, I'd probably give him Claws (Blunt) (Divine, -10%) [3] and four Crushing Strikers (Divine, -10%; Limb, -20%) [4/each] as well, good for another +2/die of damage. So punching someone would be around +4/die (for a Boxing punch) or +3/die or a Brawling punch). So a Boxing punch would be 2d+7 (14 damage average), while a Brawling punch would be 2d+5 (12 damage average). That's enough to render an average man at 0 HP or less from a single hit.

And that, of course, is ignoring the obvious potential of grappling with such a high ST...a choke to the neck (p. B371) would kill most anything Samson could get his hands on.

Out of the Eater, Something to Eat
As a young man Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman - Timnah - despite the objections of his parents. While on his way to ask for her hand in marriage a lion attacks Samson. Using the stat-block on p. B456 we see that the Lion has a ST of 16. Assuming Samson goes first, he can easily get his hands on the creature, spend 1 FP, and then rip the lion apart. I'd call that a an All-Out Attack (Determined): Wrestling Grab to the Neck (skill 21) followed by a Neck Snap using his enhanced ST level (159). Assuming that both rolled a 10 on the contest, Samson inflicts a whopping 17d+34 (93 damage on average) - that's enough to put the lion at -5xHP instantly.

Out of the Strong, Something Sweet
After annoying his groomsmen with a riddle (which they end up extorting from his would-be bride) and losing a bet, he goes and kills 30 Ashkelonian Philistine for their garments in a rage. Now, it doesn't say that these men are fighters of any kind (though Philistines in general seem to be a "warrior" people as presented in the Bible). So how long would it take for Samson to kill 30 men? It depends on if they were in groups or not. Even as angry as he was I don't see him targeting people in groups of more than five. He may have been the Incredible Hulk of the Old Testament - but he was also pretty smart (but not with women - nope, he had Hulk IQ when it came to women). Since he could inflict 14 crushing (on average with the Boxing skill) per punch it would only take around 4 hits per target to literally beat them to death.

With the Jawbone of an Ass
After taking refuge at the rock of Etam, an army of Philistines finds Samson, takes him prisoner, and tries to escort him back for judgement. Samson, being God's own little Roid Rager gets angry, finds the jawbone of a donkey (an ass) and then proceeds to just destroy the Philistines with it. I'd call that another form of Blessed. In this case, something like this:

Blessed (Dues ex Arma): Whenever you really need a weapon, you always find one at hand. This can be a an actual weapon you find just when you need it or an improvised one. For the latter, you ignore the penalty to wield it as a weapon as well as the breakage penalties. Additionally, once per game session you gain the benefits of Weapon Master (p. B101) for your found/improvised weapon for one minute or until the end of the current combat you are in (whichever comes in). 10 points.

Designer's Notes: Rules Exemption (Weapon Breakage) [1] + Shtick (Always has a weapon when needed) [1] + Shtick (Weapons used for this advantage count as holy attacks) [1] + Cosmic Modular Abilities (Divine, -10%; Limited, Improvised Weapons perk only, -80%) [1] + Weapon Master (Only weapons gained from this advantage; Divine, -10%; Limited, 1 use/session, -60%) [6]. The discount on Cosmic Modular Abilities uses the "true value" of the total limitations per GURPS Power Ups 8: Limitations (p. 00), while the larger discount is because at -50% you can purchase Accessory for a near infinite number of objects, since there are only 52 combat skills - and about half of them (at best) are useful for in this instance. 

Bringing Down the House
Despite Samson's strength he's undone by the same thing that undoes many men: boasting and/or a woman. After Delilah cuts of his hair, the Philistines gouge out Samson's eyes, imprison him (he seems as strong as any man after he violates his Nazirite vows), and put him to work turning a millstone. Eventually, the Philistines parade him in front of their temple to their god (Dagon). Samson pleads with YAHWEH for his old strength just one more time....and God responds. Samson then proceeds to topple the temple by shoving the pillars holding the roof up "so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it." Let's assume that the pillars have a 4 ft diameter, were 30 ft long, and made of granite - thus each column weighed just under 65,000 pounds (64,732 lbs.) or 32.5 tons each. The Basic Set says you can shove or knock over your Basic Lift x 12 - doubled if you got a running start. That's almost enough to shift one of the pillars, but lets assume he used Extra Effort to increase his ST and dumped his FP - after all, he's going to die he's not going to need it. Another possibility is that he used Power Blow (since that's something that GURPS Supers says "bricks" can have, I don't see why Samson couldn't have it)

Picking Over the Bones
All of the above assumes either "instant" feats of strength and/or Hollywood influences on the story. "Realistic" Samson might have a much lower ST (in the high 30s at most) since the Temple of Dagon might not be as grand as the movies make it out to be. Yet another way to look at the things Samson did would be to use GURPS Powers: Divine Favor and consider each one to be a miracle (or prayer). For example, you could create a learned prayer for boosted Samson's Strength or Blessed (Dues Ex Arma). You could even say that Samson had nothing to do with toppling the temple, but instead God sent an earthquake...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sicatra - The Bloodied and the Banal - Game Session 1

Adventuring Party
Altehr'un (PC – Brawny Avatar – God of Harmony, Clockwork, Timekeeping, and Glass)
Amorenai (PC – Versatile Avatar – Goddess of Athletics, Beauty, House cats, Love, the first Moon, Music, and Songs)
Ghermukhannu (PC – Agile Avatar – God of Guile, Journeys, Monkeys, Mischief, and Travelers)
Imir (PC – Brainy Avatar – Goddess of Time, Fate, Space, Portals, Rebirth & Beginnings, and Starlight)
Jin-Yunna (PC – Versatile Avatar – God of Enlightenment, Logic, Psionics, Riddles, and Unarmed Combat)

Gram (NPC – Brainy Avatar – Semidivine being who determines where the dead go in the afterlife)
Jortha (PC – Versatile Avatar – Goddess of Naval Warfare, Oceans and Seas, Sailors, Storms, Watercraft, and Wind)
Malakai rue Mors (NPC – Versatile Archetype – Godsbane and Bonecarver)

The Story Thus Far… The PCs has fallen from the 10,000 Heavens. While they have access to some of their abilities, but they are only their “core-most” powers. Bound into an earthly form (akin to an avatar “husk”) they’ve either directly witnessed or heard tales of gods dying in this incarnated state (something that happened early on during the Giant’s Rebellion before the use of avatars). Luckily, they knew that something was going to happen, just not what. Shortly after the Giant’s Rebellion, Imir formed a group – the Watchers of the Eternal Flame (named after the primordial note of Fire and its location between the material world and the Void) – to keep track of the giant’s movements. Later on, this group began to keep track of some of the other god’s goings on at Imir’s command. After the fall they’ve done their best to locate some of the other Watchers, all the while looking for Imir to find out what’s really going on. They’ve found their way to Khath – imperial capital of the Draculari Empire – as that was one of the meeting places to go should anything happen. They’ve laid low in the city (or outside it), but have recently received a missive from Imir herself directing them to make their way to one of the noble’s estates up Khath’s spiral. As the sun goes down they find their way heading there…

Altehr'un, Amorenai, Ghermukhannu, Imir, & Jin-Yunna
Weather: 24º F; 12 mph winds from the east; foggy
Eighth Month, 5th Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
Khath, Veneficia

Meeting half-way to the rue Mors estate, the three deities warmly greet one another before heading inside. Alterhr’un notices someone watching the estate and tells Imir and Ghermukhannu (who’d been there for several weeks) what they’ve seen. Imir “reads” her vassal, Alterhr’un’s, mind and replays the event. Not liking what she sees, she moves up her plan to get them out of the city. She explains to the others that while Ilios’ godly form may have been destroyed, he had an avatar on mortal plane at the time that survived the psychic backlash of his death at the hands of the rogue band of divinities. Ocmos, god of loss struck the final blow that landed the mortal blow on Ilios and caused severe memory loss in his avatar. Imir, ever faithful to her husband wants to restore his memories so he can help bring about order to the chaos that they find themselves in.
            Jin suggests that they use the various underground pathways originally built by the dwarves to make their way to the docks. Atnos (god of the sun) and Rayna (goddess of archery and messengers) who are both children of Ilios and Imir, take up watchful positions as the others go to Malakai’s lab since that was where he’d wandered off to. Moments after they come in several men – Zytarrin (god of slaughters and massacres) Cultists – burst in through the windows and doors and begin attacking. They are quickly put down, though Jin knocks one out for questioning. They immediately leave for the docks through the underground passages. Once they reach the docks they find them on fire and burning to cinders, and Jortha (goddess of the sea and storms) fighting against Autorrin (god of natural disasters and accidents).
            Autorrin tries to flee as soon as he sees the others coming for him, but Imir captures him in bubble of slowed time. Despite her anger at burning the docks and Jortha’s ship (The Sea Bitch’s Wrath) Imir doesn’t kill Autorrin as she can sense that while he is being malicious, he has not violated serent (the “divine” order). Instead, she imprisons Autorrin in Knowhere (her personal extraplanar demesne) till she can decide what to do with him.
            After Jortha begins to complain about lack of a ship, Malakai offers the use of the one he’s made as a presentation to the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Technology. Heading back toward the upper spires, they break into the Imperial Academy. One inside they perform some last minute repairs and additions (sped up thanks to Alterhr’un’s mastery of all things clockwork). Jin and Alterhr’un’s create a clockwork device imbued with psychic energy that can turn the ship completely invisible thanks to mind-magic.
            Before they can activate the device, several grappling hooks are launched at the sides and more Zytarrin cultists scramble up the hull of the ship. Alterhr’un and Ghermukhannu led the way taking down several cultists, but are stopped when Rezina (goddess of sickness and poison) begin peppering them with arrows from atop her perch on the mast. The others move in for the kill as Imir and Jortha protectively shield Malakai…

Weather: 24º F; 12 mph winds from the east; foggy
Eighth Month, 5th Day, 802 of the Fifth Age

Khath, Veneficia

Sunday, May 24, 2015

GURPS101: How to Build a Spell Thief

Recently, Shieldbunny from the Steve Jackson Games forums asked:
I've been kicking around the idea of building a character based off of the spellthief class in That Other Game. For those of you that don't know, the idea is a stealthy character that steals the spells from her enemies minds to cast herself. After some thought, I'm not exactly sure how to model this. So, as my DM's usual answer is, "Go ask the Forums.", I come to you, the experts, for advice.
Since I'm not entirely familiar with Pathfinder, I went and did a quick check of the SRD. It certainly is an interesting class, but it's wrapped to tightly in that setting's game mechanics. Essentially, the main ability of the class is to be able to steal the spells of another caster and use them once. That's all well and good for a system that uses Vancian Magic...but not so much for GURPS. The underlying assumptions are completely different. Vancian/DnD style magic is like the Ron Popeil of the magic world: "You set it and forget it!" You study your spells, affix them in your mind, and then they disappear once cast. GURPS magic is more a skill that once learned you can use as much as you want - as long as you have the energy (FP or HP) for it.

As noted in that thread Leech, Neutralize, and Modular Abilities could all be pressed into service to create this ability. I think I'd use Neutralize as a base - even though Leech with a suitably modified enhancement might be a better way. So if I were to make an ability to "steal spells" for GURPS, I'd do one of the following:
Spell Thief: Neutralize (Power Theft (Accessibility, Spells only and one at a time only, -80%), +40%; Increased Range, LOS, +40%; PM, -10%; Ranged, +40%) [105]. Notes: Make a Quick Contest of Will with your subject who you must be able to see (this takes normal range penalties, p. B550). Success means you gain one spell randomly chosen that the victim has. This lasts for minutes equal to your margin of victory. On a tie or failure, there's no effect (critical failure means you can't use this ability for 1d hours). If you can somehow detect the subject's capabilities (i.e., what spells he knows), then you can make a Perception-2 roll, spend two FP, and target that specific spell. 105 points.

Stealing Spells as a Enhancement for Leech
Alternatively, taking someone's spells might be better served as an enhancement on Leech.

GURPS Powers, p. 96
Stealing skills may be possible through the following modifier.

Special Enhancement
Steal Skill: You steal skills instead of HP. Drain occurs at the rate of 1 point in a skill per level of Leech. Excess drain due to having a higher level of Leech than the total number of points in a single skill do not give extra points in a skill (e.g., you cannot gain more points in a skill than your victim has). You use your attribute to determine final skill level in all cases. For example, if you have a DX of 12 and your victim has a DX of 14 and Karate at DX+2, your skill would be 14, not 16. If Leech has a Power Modifier, you can add your Power Talent as a bonus. This is instead of any other bonus granted by any other Talent you may have. Points drain away at the rate of one per second, unused ones first. You can add Extended Duration to increase this time. Cost depends on what type of skills you can steal. Add an additional +20% if you can decide what skill you take.
  • All skills: +100%.
  • A broad group of skills: all Technological skills, all magical spells, etc. +80%.
  • A medium-sized group of skills: a subset of one of of the above (e.g., all spells from one college or all skills used to operate a vehicle) or all skills of a particular type (e.g., Combat Skills Only or Social Skills Only). +60%.
  • A small group of skills: a further subset of a medium-sized group (e.g., all missile spells) or all skills from a particular skill category (e.g., all Melee Combat or Ranged Combat skills). +40%.

Thus a special ability to steal spells might look something like this:
Spell Thief: Leech 1 (PM, -10%; Ranged, +40%; Requires Will vs. Will Roll, -15%; Steal Skill, Spells only, +80%) [49]. Notes: Make a Quick Contest of Will with your subject (this takes normal range penalties, p. B550). If you success you drain 1 point from a randomly chosen spell from your subject and you gain it for 1 second. Your skill level uses your IQ-2 plus Magery (or whatever Power Talent the Power Modifier is for on this ability). Your victim loses the ability to cast that spell as long as you can use it. If you have some means of detecting what spells your victim has, make any IQ roll to target a particular spell. 49 points.

Picking Over the Bones
This might be made even cheaper by using the Steal Skill spell (GURPS Magic, p. 158). You could even specialize it so you can only use the spell to steal other spells via an optional specialization. So a build might look like this: Charm (Steal Skill) [1] + Magery 4 (One Spell Only, Steal Skill, -80%) [9] + Steal Skill (Spells) (A) IQ+5 [4]. That's cheaper than either Leech or Neutralize and uses GURPS Magic and nothing else. Still, some settings might not use the standard magic system or have multiple systems and the previous two options might be the better way to go. Use Accessibility if only one system's spells can be stolen if there are two or more types of magic. How would you build the ability to steal spells? Go another route not presented here? If so, what?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Monster Hunters Campaign - The Broken Night

Today’s Gamemaster’s Guidepost is yet another departure from the standard fare I’ve been producing. In fact, it’s a radical from anything I’ve ever posted on my blog. This is something that I’d normally held in reserve for a Pyramid article. But I decided that I have so much already in that grouping that it was time to take a chance. So here it is. A worked (short) campaign example for GURPS Monster Hunters...

            ...Magic has always been around. It’s the very fires of creation. The stuff of the primordial. It’s a natural part of the order just like the spirits, gods, and loa that men pray to…but what of psionics? Are psionic powers just the human potential to be more than they are? Or are their origins far more sinister than anyone has ever realized. For example, why do vampires seem to have similar telepathic powers to some human psis? It’s because the vampires bred them into us…by accident of course, they didn't want their food to fight back. It all comes back to the blood, doesn't it? Power in the blood. Eternal life (and damnation) in the blood. A secret history written in the blood of the innocent, penned by the damned, and hidden from the light of day for hundreds of years… Crimson Bonds is a campaign setting intended for Monster Hunters...

...was originally about 1,700 words and meant as a short Appendix Z-style article. It actually started life as a workable backdrop for a Pulp Action campaign that I eventually decided not to run. When Pyramid #3/8 Cliffhangers came out I polished it up a bit, wrote it in the style guide format, and then…promptly hid in the vault because I was too scared to submit it. I recently thought about getting all these short little backdrops for Monster Hunters together and combining them into one long article or short supplement (sort of like GURPS Zombies: Day One), but I don’t know if that’ll happen or not. There would need to be a demand for that sort of thing, despite what folks clamor on the forums for, settings and adventures sell extremely poorly. I think Zombies: Day One is probably a bit of an experiment myself to see if that’s still true or if things have changed, but that’s getting far off topic.

...if you're not a patron, why not consider becoming one? A dollar down gets your foot in the door.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Designer's Notes: The Vanishing Sun

"The Vanishing Sun" was one of those articles that I'd been thinking about for a while. Something peculating in the back of my skull for about a year. I'd gotten the idea while working on some private commissions for a fantasy campaign and thought "Man, wouldn't it be cool if this was kind of like Treasure Island?" It's one of my favorite books in the world and I've read it at least a hundred times. After that the idea sort of gelled after my mother was humming a song from Brigadoon and I had a dream about being trapped in Prismo's Box Room from Adventure Time. It was actually one of the harder things I've written with nearly 60 hours of writing time, over 70 hours of editing/revision time, and around 10 hours doing "final checks." Sadly, I didn't have any usable material afterward as it all got used up in the article. This was also one of the rare articles I wrote with little to no crunch and in a topic I rarely dip my toes in: sci-fi. I don't like labels and I don't want to be called "this guy" or "that guy," though I really don't mind being "the RPM/MH guy," because those are two things I really love. Basically, as a writer, I want to do it all - and I think I'm succeeding at that particular goal, at least that's what my body of work tells me. :-)

So a couple of changes from the original that the playtesters, reviewers, or I didn't like/wouldn't fit:

  • The system was originally a binary solar system, but after I made Walter Milliken's head twist off his shoulder, rocket power its way to me from a few states away, and headbutt me, I removed it.
  • The Avaxi were going to receive a full racial write-up, but I discarded this in the early stages because I a) didn't have enough space and b) I felt it was better for GMs to assign stats he or she liked.
  • The Quicksilver Born were almost called the Star-Damned (for obvious reference to the Village of the Damned), but I thought better of it. I like the Quicksilver Born better anyways.
  • The Paragon was going to get a random roll table for what could be discovered in each room, but I realized early on that that was not going to happen for space reasons.
  • I'd also planned to give a spaceship entry for the Rover's cobbled together ships, but again, space requirements said "no."
  • Overall, I'm happy with how it turned out, I just wish I'd had another 1,500 or so words. I would have also included some MH5 stats for the Avaxi if I'd have thought about it. Do note, you could totally play an inhuman Quicksilver Born if you trimmed some stuff down.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sicatra - Vengeance For the Fallen - Game Session 1

Adventuring Party
Altehr'un (PC – Brawny Avatar – God of Harmony, Clockwork, Timekeeping, and Glass)
Amorenai (PC – Versatile Avatar – Goddess of Athletics, Beauty, House cats, Love, the first Moon, Music, and Songs)
Ghermukhannu (PC – Agile Avatar – God of Guile, Journeys, Monkeys, Mischief, and Travelers)
Imir (PC – Brainy Avatar – Goddess of Time, Fate, Space, Portals, Rebirth & Beginnings, and Starlight)
Ka’Johnar (PC – Versatile Avatar – God of Horses, Logic, Sacrifice, and Tactics)
Sulio (PC – Versatile Avatar – God of Illusions, Mirages, Personas, Chameleons, and Performance Art)

Gram (NPC – Brainy Avatar – Semidivine being who determines where the dead go in the afterlife)
Ilios (NPC – Versatile Avatar – Death, the Dead, Endings, Treasures, Knowledge, Eclipses, Crows, Ravens, and Wolves)
Morag (NPC – Brawny Avatar – Semidivine being who eats the souls of the profaned dead)
Rayna (NPC– Agile Avatar – Goddess of Archery, Games, Messengers, Running, and Tracking)
Talutha (NPC – Versatile Avatar – Semidivine being who is the collector of souls)

The Story Thus Far…
The world of Sicatra has been turned upside down by the war between the gods of the 10,000 Heavens and the giants. Led by their Emperor, Kasmir, the gods have pushed the giants back from the four corners of the earth to their home nation, Avarda. Having besieged Avarda for nearly two decades the giants have held out, but their strength is fading. In a desperate move they have kidnapped the goddess Imir in a bid to force Ilios, the god of death, to surrender to them. Fueled by a cold rage Ilios begins to hammer at the Avardain defenses until they crack and Kasmir leads the combined forces in an assault against King Colborn, while Ilios leads a small group of trusted friends and allies to free his wife from imprisonment. The war that has lasted for centuries is coming to a close and will be decided very soon…

Weather: 51º F; 15 mph winds from the east; snowing
First Month, 12th Day, 4179 of the First Age
Cold Born Castle, Avarda

The small band of deities make their way inside Cold Born Castle thanks to Sulio casting an illusion to make them all appear to be giants themselves and Amorenai’s smooth-talking. Once inside they go deeper into the castle to locate the holding cell that Imir is in. They find it rather quickly thanks to Ka’Johnar’s supreme logic, but before they can sneak in and rescue the goddess of time they are found out by several members of Colborn’s Royal Guard. The fighting is intense, but brief. Ilios, in a rage at his wife’s mistreatment unleashes waves of pure death on the castle and hundreds die as he goes from room to room reaping and destroying souls. His anger cools briefly as his wife (Imir) requests that he not punish those who are not responsible. Reaching the throne room the gods find Colborn on his throne and when they demand he face justice for what he’s done he commands his guards to kill them. As the gods face wave after wave of foes, Ilios gets close enough to engage with Colborn. Sulio whips up an illusion that is so masterful it becomes real, while Ilios strangles Colborn to death before shoving a bone dagger (the bone belonging to Colborn’s dead son) in his heart. Declaring the war over, Imir offers amnesty to everyone who surrenders right then and there (which they all do).

Weather: 51º F; 15 mph winds from the east; snowing
First Month, 12th Day, 4179 of the First Age
Cold Born Castle, Avarda

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: You Need a +2 or Better Weapon

...I used to hate hearing my DM tell me that phrase. What do you mean this awesome weapon I've worked hard for can't do diddly and squat (and diddly left town with Bo). Oh, it used to make me so mad. I remember actually keeping weapons I'd never use if they were a +3 or better weapon just so I could take the non-proficiency penalty to use the thing so I'd do SOME damage to whatever I was fighting. As I got older, I understood why the system was in place and even came to use it myself - though I was no where near as stingy with the magical weapons as my DM (my brother) was. I recently polled my readership on what they might like to see as a topic on my blog and this very thing came up. So I figure, hell, I can get behind this..but how to write it up for GURPS? Well, that takes a few conceits that make it near impossible to use outside of anywhere except something like Dungeon Fantasy. First, let's take a look at what "+1 or better magic weapons" might mean in GURPS as we are all aware of (and blissfully thankful for) there is no such thing as "invulnerability," just like there is no such thing as "instant death" with no way to resist. It might suit some game systems, but not a point-buy one. Still, approximations can be made (as GURPS Powers suggests on p. 118). First, determine the most damage that can be dealt from all the sources you wish to be "invulnerable" to. For our purposes, let's say that the most damage that can be dealt is around 6d+18 (barbarian ogre's high ST, Weapon Master, high-quality weapons, etc.), and round that off to around 50 points of damage. To stop all of that we'd need DR 50. Let's further assume that anyone can get a magical weapon enchanted (e.g., any weapon with any enchantment counts as a magical weapon for this purpose) or can use magical spells that cause damage. If DR 50 vs. everything is worth 250 points, then DR 50 vs. magical weapons or magic is worth 200 points. For weapons that have either +1 Puissance or +1 Accuracy, this is worth 210 points, for those with with +2, this is worth 225 points, and those with +3 this is worth 249 points.

Alternatively, using the same cost could give you Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction 8), which would reduce the damage, but not let you ignore it. This may be the better model for a game system like GURPS just because "you hit it, it shrugs it off" gets old and boring and will lead to players deserting your game or at least no longer being interested. This also makes it so each level could be buyable as a power-up for some powerful races. "Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction) (Not vs. magical weapons, -20%) [20/level]" might be available to delvers.

Consider also that Supernatural Durability (Magical weapons or spells) is a third option and quite cheap compared to the others. In this case however, you still take damage - it just can't kill you.

Picking Over the Bones
Of course, all of this is assuming you're not just saying "this monster has this trait!" and moving on. This is done often enough in Dungeon Fantasy that were I doing such a thing in my games I would ignore the point costs altogether. The whole point of creating such a framework is to enhance the flavor of combat for some monsters, not add needless calculations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

GURPS101: Will as HP

Over on the forums, Anders asked:
A special type of undead are gastar, who consist entirely of psychic energy. This means that their HP = Will, and each time they get damaged they lose Will as well. And when they reach 0 they are destroyed. The second part is easily covered, but what about them losing Will when they lose HP? How do I model that?
At first I thought Modifying Other Characteristics (GURPS Power-Ups 4: Enhancements, p. 10) would have been the way to go. When I was writing my article "Mind and Body" in Pyramid #3/69: Psionics II, I used "Based on Will" to substitute for ST for basic damage for the psi-sword ability (see p. 18 for that ability). So using Modifying Other Characteristics we add "Based on ST, HP Variant, +20%" directly to Will so that you could use your base Will as starting HP. So if you had a Will of 11, your starting HP would also be 11 - even if your ST was 0 (like many insubstantial beings or spirits). One thing I noted in the thread was something that I screwed up on - you wouldn't lose any levels of Will if you lost your HP anymore than you'd lose levels of ST when you lost HP. Using this method would result in HP costing 1-point per level - it'd be cheaper than regular HP by far. Of course, you'd need to spend some points starting to get your HP to your base score so you wouldn't see if cheapening the cost till higher levels.

This might not be a good way, in fact, as Langy points out, it's kind of a disadvantage in most campaigns because Will is usually limited to 20 and HP up to 30% of that. To make it even more a disadvantage you could use the following: Whenever you suffer damage you lose Will as HP with all its incumbent effects. So if you took 3 injury, you'd lose three levels of Will, which would lower your skill levels, make your more resistant to supernatural attacks, etc. While I have nothing to back up the numbers, that feels like a -60% limitation on Will, so 2-points a level.

Another method might be to create a entirely new form of Fragile:

Psychic Projection: You are a spirit, "psychic construct," or similiar being. You base your HP on your Will score instead of your ST. You may buy additional HP at the usual cost, and losing HP has its normal effects, but when resisting any effect based on your Will, use the lower of current HP or Will to determine your roll. Add Fragile (Unnatural) if you dissipate once you are reduced to -HP. If you based your HP on your Will, but have no other effects for lost HP, then this is a -0-point feature. Otherwise, this is worth -20 points.

Picking Over the Bones
I'm not sure there are many other ways to do this particular trope. It's a fairly common thing (I'm also thinking that this sort of set-up would work for some of the Protoss from Starcraft too). So there are three methods that might work, what other ways do you think this could be modeled?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sicatra - The Twisted Vault - Game Session 5

Adventuring Party
Bashir Al-Sah’a’den (PC – Desert Elf Scout/Holy Warrior of Justice)
Drej the Spider (PC – Half-Elven Dark One Thief/Wizard)
Perilous Moonglow (PC – Unknown Meistersinger/Mystic Swordsman/Thief)
Sir Rolf Stoneshield (PC – Earth-Infused – Knight)
Tantalus von Darkon (PC – Human – Necromancer)
Guinevere Raynes (PC – Nymph – Holy Warrior of the Harvest)
Bil Doorsbane (PC – Half-Ogre – Brute)

Marko Blinz, Jr. (NPC – Dwarf ­– Squire [Secular Squire])
Talia Albinus Carnus Severus (NPC – Half-Elf – Unknown)
Tanor Rynson (NPC – Human ­– Squire [Holy Squire])
Vanor Rynson (NPC – Human ­– Squire [Holy Squire])
Wrykin (NPC – Human – Barbarian)

Muriss (NPC Ally – Orecile – Animal Companion)
Nebrija Dhamari (NPC Ally – Elf? – Unknown)
Alex Larre (NPC Ally – Servitor Skeleton)

Note: This was ran as a MIB demo at ROFCON 2015.

The Story Thus Far for Guinevere Raynes and Bil Doorsbane…

Having come in the same cavern as Sir Rolf and Tantalus, Guinevere and Bil had been sent by Skorza to investigate the villager’s disappearances at the outer farms, while the others went right to the copper mines. After checking out several farms, they followed a trail back to the mines and manage to make it their before Sir Rolf and Tantalus. They met Talia and her Warband, who directed them inside. Once inside, they took the North door, while the rest of the delvers had taken the west door. They ended up in the kitchen where the animated objects quickly subdued them and put them in the pantry until the others found them, freed them, and as a group they continued to try and discover why the villagers were disappearing…

Weather: 82º F; 3 mph winds from the south; overcast
Tenth Month, 12th Day, 789 of the Fifth Age
Lidis’ Workshop, Al-Madina, Tahwah-Sa

Hearing a noise in the pantry, Perilous and Alex free Guinevere and Bil from their temporary imprisonment. With Sir Rolf and Tantalus vouching for them, the augmented party continues inward. Following a corridor to the west, they’re ambushed by a series of Watchers at the Edge of Time. Despite the Watcher’s superior ambush capability, they’re quickly dispatched thanks to both luck and skill (mostly luck) even when they call in reinforcements. Making their way down the corridor, they come to a heavily trapped double-door covered from jamb to knob with death runes. Unable to check for further traps, Bil steps up and begins chopping down the door until both lay unhinged. The room the magical trap had been guarding was…sleeping chambers - however unoccupied. Once again looting the room, they manage to fit the colossal bed made of petrified dragonbone in Bashir’s jaimya. After stealing all the clothing from the racks, Perilous dressed Bil up in some of the finery (including a magical sash which enhances the wearers gravitas). It’s Tantalus that discovers the secret door behind the magical mirror leading to a meditation chamber where a ragamuffin of a man is seen “holding” a sphere of utter nothingness. After a short battle in which Guinevere slammed her shield into the strange man’s groin, followed by Bil launching Perilous at said groin - heel first (hitting it again) - making him stagger back at which point he disappeared as the black orb of nothingness came to his hand. Bashir, in a stunning moment of skill, tracks the Ragamuffin Man through the portal he created causing the gate to stay open long enough for everyone to pass through.
          Once on the other side of the portal lay the giant cavern and the entrance into Lidis’ workshop. There the Ragamuffin Man has summoned giant toad-men, more Watchers, and a force field that protects him as he conjures greater and greater numbers. The adventurers devise a plan mid-battle with Nebrija, Drej, Rolf, and Guinevere keeping the Ragamuffin Man’s minions off of Bashir, Perilous, Tantalus, and Bil while they go after their master. Tantulus casts a dispelling, which Bashir “channels” into an arrow before unleashing it at the force field. As soon as the field is down Perilous and Bil rush forth and begin slicing at the Ragamuffin Man. Perilous takes off a hand and jumps straight up as Bil lunges with his glaive, hitting, but not penetrating the Ragamuffin Man’s defenses. Perilous hops onto the hafted weapon as the two fight and look for an opening in his defenses. Eventually, Bil launches Perilous into the air and fakes out the Ragamuffin Man, only to have Bil slice of his other hand. The blow is so powerful it actually keeps going and cuts the Ragamuffin Man in half killing him. Perilous packs up the floating black orb and the Ragamuffin Man’s corpse (to identify who he is later). Soon after the cavern start to shake and the ceiling starts to fall down on the adventurers who rush back outside just in time before the mine collapses. As they look up into the sky, they see a rip in the very fabric of reality appear on the side of the mountain and things begin to pour out. In desperation, Perilous uses the sphere and after a brief battle of wills, forces the rift closed. But it’s too late; the creatures are heading for Al-Madina and the innocent townsfolk there.

Weather: 89º F; 7 mph winds from the south; overcast
Tenth Month, 12th Day, 789 of the Fifth Age
Old Copper Mines, Al-Madina, Tahwah-Sa

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Hurt Locker: Metatronic Generators for Monster Hunters

GURPS Monster Hunters 5: Applied Xenology is out to day and man it is AWESOME. No, to be fair, I got to see if beforehand so I knew of its awesomeness, but seeing it released is pretty great too. New rules for magic, monsters, and making Monster Hunters totally non-magical if that's something the GM wants. Such shiny. Much fun. Wow. The one thing I couldn't get PK to shoe horn into the book was more tech and gear. There really was no room anyways, but it was the third time I'd tried to use some quick-creation rules for gear and had it smacked down. I ended up putting them in a Pyramid rticle, so they'll see the light of day sometime...maybe...possibly...perhaps. This is a hole for the techie in my opinion. He already gets a bit left beyond by the other powered templates. So how to boost him more? Why, let him use the rules for "Metatronic Generators" Pyramid #3/46: Weird Science, of course!

Techie-Made Metatronic Generators
One-off or limited use items are de rigueur for the various fiction sources that inspired Monster Hunters and very much in-genre for games featuring aliens and heroic scientists. To simulate the former, simply use the "One-Time Use" modifier which reduces the final cost by 1/5, the latter requires a but more work. First, define what "limited use" means. If it means you can only have a set number of generators at any one time, then the optional rules from the box When Standing Waist Deep in Gasoline, Avoid Matches (Pyramid #3/46: Weird Science, p. 20) are perfect. What if it means that the device itself is fragile? Such inherently limited gear would require Temporary Disadvantage, Maintenance. Represent a lower starting HT (all generators begin with a HT of 12) as a -0.5 CF per -1 to HT. This is incompatible with the Rugged or Resilient options. If every breakdown requires a major repair, treat this as a Nuisance Effect worth -10%. Optionally, if the device is utterly destroyed after a single use (normally, even one-use device can be scrounged for parts), add "Backlash, Destruction, -300%" to offset the cost.
         For rules to actually create the device, see GURPS Monster Hunters 2: The Mission (pp. 24-25). Simply compare the final cost of the generator with the list found there and go to town.

Example of Techie Metatronic Generator Creation
Eddy and his team are trapped in a warehouse by a group of humans who have been fully taken over by cybercytes. They're low on ammo, have no way of communicating with their home base, and their technomage has been infected and unless he can get treatment and soon he'll become their enemy. Eddy has little to work with in the warehouse, but he's done more with less. Eddy's player decides he's going to build a one-shot electromagnetic pulse "bomb." The GM rules this is either a type of affliction limited to those with the Electrical disadvantage or an Innate Attack with the Surge modifier. Eddy's player chooses the latter. Since the design he has in mind is going to cost $10,000 to build, it'll take 1dx20 minutes and give a -1 to skill rolls. The GM rules that the components for the EMP bomb are easy enough to find and rules that the warehouse has what is needed. Eddy rolls a 1 for the time required, but deems 20 minutes too long and takes a -9 to his skill to assemble the device in only 2 minutes. With a skill of 21 and a -10 to his roll, Eddy succeeds on a roll of 7 and his latest invention: the Cyber-Splinter Bomb is made. Because he didn't have time to properly shield the circuits he built in a limitation that makes it totally unusable afterward - but this doesn't matter as long as they can get away from the cybercyte-men.

Cyber-Splinter Bomb
A large device the size of a thick textbook that's essentially a very large and very powerful one use battery. Activating the bomb requires a full minute as it charges up, after that it can be triggered and results in all machines within a 32 yard radius taking 8d burning damage with the surge modifier. All those who take damage must make a HT roll at -1 per two points of penetrating damage. Failure results in them being stunned and may make a HT roll with a penalty equal to the original penalty to recover. This is a one use device and its components cannot be reused for another similiar device! It's a hunk of useless metal and fried circuit boards. Small, $10,000, 3 lbs. XS or 2xB. LC2.

Statistics: Burning 8d (Accessibility, Only those with the Electrical disadvantage, -20%; Area Effect, 32 yards, +250%; Backlash, Destruction, -300%; Emanation, -20%; Side Effect, Stunning, +50%, Surge, +20%; Superscience, -10%; Weakened Without Immediate Preparation, -20%) [15].

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Designer's Notes: Outlaws and Arrows

I was one written article away from finishing the wish list in 2014. My brain was starting to become mush, and nothing in the Vault was working for the Wild West theme. Now, some of you might know this, but for the rest: I'm a huge fan of westerns. Huge. Old, new, whatever, their is something about that genre that stirs my imagination the way few things do. I briefly toyed around with the idea of muxing space and western to create a Firefly-like article, but trashed it because I'd only seen one episode of the series once. Instead, I started off with the idea of an alternate history american frontier where magic and monsters were real. Where the role of the gunslinger was taken over by the "bladeslinger," a fierce swordsman bearing a magic weapon of his own making that gave him power and the ability to kill monsters and madmen alike who plagued towns. Bladeslinger duels would be fought in such a way that those who won gained the powers of their opponent's weapon, making them better. It was sort of Highlander meets Young Guns meets Yojimbo in the weird west. I eventually discarded it because I just couldn't make it work the way I wanted and instead sought some easier fare. At first, I thought "Men and Manitou" might be the way to go, an article on combining Monster Hunters and the wild west, but that opened more doors than I wanted to deal with so I settled on Action and the western genre instead. It took only around 40 hours between writing, a little research, book-checking, revision, and editing. After that I actually didn't write anything for GURPS for a few months since the wish list was "done" as far as I was concerned. I had relatively few outtakes on this one, but I did chuck a single lens for cowboys (see below). One thing I really wanted to, but didn't was detail rules for tracking, bounty-hunts, and rules for high-noon duels.

Outtake: Cowboy Lens
The following lens was removed due to lessened utility (frontiersmen covered it pretty well) and word count:

20 points
Buckaroo. Cowpoke. Midnight Rider. There is no other single figure that stirs up imagery of the Wild West more than the cowboy. Despite the glamorous depictions, a cowboy’s way of life was a hard one and bred a group of hard men.

Skills: Animal Handling (Horse or Bovine) (A) IQ [2]; Gun (Pistol) (E) DX+1 [2]; Lasso (A) DX [2]; Navigation (Land) (A) IQ [2]; Riding (Horse) (A) DX [2]. • Pick five of the following: Gun (Rifle or Shotgun) (E) DX+1 [2]; Whip or Stealth, both (A) DX [2]; Games (Card Games) (E) IQ+1 [2]; Fast-Talk, Gambling, Heraldry (Animal Brands), Navigation (Air), Packing, Teamster, Weather Sense, all (A) IQ [2]; Musical Instrument (any), Naturalist, or Veterinary, all (H) IQ-1 [2]; Carousing, Hobby Skill (Whistling), or Singing, both (E) HT+1 [1]; Observation, Survival (any), Tracking, all (A) Per [2]; You may also spend any number of points to raise another lens or template skill.
Advantages: Characters with this lens can put any number of character points into Increased HT [10/level], Animal Empathy [5], Animal Friend [5/level], Fit or Very Fit [5 or 15], Outdoorsman [10/level], or Rapid Healing or Very Rapid Healing [5 or 15], GMs with Power-Ups 2 can also allow the Good with (Animal), often specialized in horses, or Call of the Wild perks.
Disadvantages: Add Bowlegged [-1], Code of Honor (Cowboy’s) [-10], Odious Personal Habits [varies], Sense of Duty (any) [varies], and Wealth [varies].
Social Traits: Cowboys were often recruited into cavalry units to serve as irregulars and scouts; such characters will need to take their templates Duty and/or Rank. Despite the vital jobs they performed, most cowboys were disdained as uncultured layabouts. To represent this, cowboys can take a negative Reputation.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

GURPS101: Latin Isn't the Only Magical Language

During a recent character creation session, two of the three players choose a name based on a Latin word or phrase. One ended up discarding his choice later and the other mixed his up so it was a bit more different. But this made me think, "Why is Latin the first thing that pops up into people's head as a "magical" language?" I admit, I'm often guilty of this too, but it really made me think. What's the impetus here? Why just Latin? Is it a English speaker's thing? Aren't there some other languages out there that would be awesome as a pseudo magicky gimmick? Yes, yes there are. Here are a few of my favorites:

Aklo: The tongue of the ancient serpent folk of Valusia in the Cthulhu mythos, this is the ritual language discussed in most translations of the Necronomicon. It was mentioned in the original Lovecraft Circle’s tales inn several places, including The Dunwich Horror, as with the incantations of the half-human Wilbur Whateley and his sorcerer grandfather, named in some places Noah Whateley of simply Old Whateley. It was the language originally used by Old Whateley to call Yog-Sothoth to Earth to father Wilbur and his twin brother, and to destroy or banish the latter.

Aramaic: Often called the "language of Christ," it's been steeped in mysticism within the last few decades thanks to its close association with the Son of God. After all, the word Thaumaturgy comes from "thaumturge" which means "wonder worker" (wonders aka miracles).

Enochian: Enochian was pretty much invented by John Dee and Edward Kelley, but if their claims are true then the language might be especially potent in a magical sense because it was handed down from on high. Sometimes called Angelical or Adamic, it's the language that was spoken in the garden of Eden. It uses the same constructions as English (apparently) and a font for game handouts can be found here.

Etruscan: Etruscan is the language of the eponymous ancient peoples of western Italy, it influenced Latin early on and might be considered a precursor of that language. Interestingly enough, the Etruscans had a belief system that was part ancestor worship, part polytheism, and relied on a system of seers and haruspices (those who divine through entrails). It might be perfect for magics that divine the future.

Pali: Pali is a dead language known for being the language many of the earliest Buddhist scriptures are written in. If that doesn't draw you in that I don't know what can. Think about it. This long-dead tongue which one of the most interesting religion's earliest texts are written in. Check out this online dictionary here.

Sankrit: Is another dead language that is still studied today because of so many texts written in it - especially the Rigveda. Those who study Kalaripayit (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 168) might learn secret mantras (spells) whose source of power may lay in it's link to this ancient tongue.

Sumerian: Another oldie but goodie (please don't hit me for that pun), you can't go wrong with magic's language being one of the first tongues spoken by man (that was recorded at least).

Picking Over the Bones
My list might work just fine for campaigns based on Earth - but what about those taking place on other planets or far into the future? Tolkien created his own language by distilling aspects of Middle English and various other tongues. Ambitious GMs could do the same. In the past I've used Holly Lisle's "Create a Language Clinic," which I highly recommend to any worldbuilder, GM, or author - it's quite useful. In the end, even a veneer of the strange and exotic might be enough - just don't add too many apostrophes or dashes...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

GURPS101: Spell Kits for Casters - Cryomancer

Fire tends to be the “go-to” element for spellwork that damages the target. But what of ice?
Cold can kill just as easily as heat can. It’s the extremes of temperature that kills…so why
don’t we see more “cryomancers” in fiction or RPGs? They can make the ground slippery,
preserve a corpse, silence an alarm bell with a shroud of ice, or create barriers of solid ice.
Things fire (which has its own special effects uses) can't do. Well, it could be that they are not
“sexy” enough, or maybe it’s just tradition. Regardless, casters concentrating on ice and snow
can be as dangerous – or more dangerous – their fire-using brethren...

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