Monday, December 11, 2017

Why LotFP Is The Best Game to Play With Strangers

The logic:

1. Game system is always less important than who you play with.

2. Dungeons & Dragons is the most widely-played RPG.

3. Anyone who likes any edition of D&D should be able to understand all they need to know to play Lamentations of the Flame Princess (or any other retroclone or old-school game) in minutes and will be within a stone's throw of a premise and theme that they've already signed on to.

4. Due to the art and marketing, LotFP offends more boring people than any other game.

5. LotFP offends no interesting people.

6. Therefore if you sit down to a table with people who've agreed to play LotFP, you have screened out a larger percentage of boring people than you have by choosing any other game while still drawing players from a diverse pool due to the bar for entry--mechanically and thematically--being extremely low.

QED
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Theft and Other Demon City Notes

Demon City's Downtime system is basically a re-tool of Jeff's Party Like It's 999.

The money system is basically from FASERIP

Contacts are a combo of FASERIP's Jeff Grubb's Genius Subplot Rule and the way they work in Night's Black Agents.

Combat is 5e's advantage/disadvantage on steroids. I think Jeff may have suggested something along one of these lines once.

The Tarot thing are relatively out of nowhere I think.

Motives instead of classes is more like Vampire than anything else I can think of that I read, but still pretty much out of nowhere.

Calm is obviously like Call of Cthulhu Sanity and probably nobody would want it any other way, though I hope Downtime puts a new spin on it.

Most of the feedback has been too good to be useful. Just a lot of "I like the__! and the__!" which is nice but the sample is kind of self-selected--they're backing it so they're getting what they want. If anybody reading has anything they just thought of, hit me with it.

I'm curious about how long-term play will work. In sunday's D&D game, we thought Agnes Steelheart was just fucking dead the other day until shenanigans restored her and it was clear it hurt. I want to figure out if the stack of rewards and interrelationships Demon City creates will eventually make that happen with a PC that's around long enough, or if you just basically have to choose between horror and that level of attachment.
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Monday, November 27, 2017

Things To Do With Salad and Styrofoam

So this is the Sandman:
...the Sandman is on set, starring in a Sci Fi Channel original movie. Somewhere in Hollywood.

Ding.

The Sandman's cell phone has rung.

Now, Sandman's wearing a lot of make-up and a mask which make it pretty hard to put a phone to your ear. So it's on speaker.

"Hey!"

"Hey Ela, I'm on set, what's up?"

"Can Poppy borrow the Lady Nine Bones Necklace from Arafel?"

"Uh, sure?"

"Cool, ok--have fun on set, sweetie!"

"Ok-good luck in the Maze!"

The call ends.

Sandman looks around to see the cast and crew staring, cocking its collective head.

"?"

"That was my D&D group."
So, a few weeks ago the party traveled to Hot Springs Island.

They hexcrawled their way across many hazards...
I used lettuce for the jungle








...and eventually stumbled on the remnants of an elven army cowering on a mountaintop a few miles from the great volcano.

The proud fair folk were suspicious of a party of mostly half-elves and--possibly worse--tieflings--but they camped together for the night.

They were then--of course--attacked by lizardmen. One of them hurled a globe of mutation at one of the basically totally incompetent elven princes (a second eye and then head began to emerge from the side of his neck) but the party eventually fought them off.



In the morning, the party asked the elves they'd just saved for help finding the volcano and the dragon egg inside, but, terrified, they politely begged off and hiked out into the jungle.

Agnes Steelheart burned with contempt at their cowardice "Good luck with your extra face, loser!"
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Also, somewhere along the line the party picked up two things:

1. Smudge the elf thief who sucks at rolling dice

2. 11 doses of a potion form Hot Springs Island that makes "the body and mind forget the last hour"

Also the cleric was drinking a lot of wine.

This lead to the following situation no less than three times:

Agnes Steelheart would get really pissed at how useless Smudge was in a fight.

Agnes would be like "Ugh! Men! Useless!"

Agnes would get knocked out and be almost dead (and, in one case, actually dead).

Agnes would awake to find Smudge the elf thief who sucks at rolling dice standing over her feeding her this potion, feeling fine but having no idea how she got there and not remembering any of the dice rolls that made her disgusted with Smudge the elf thief who sucks at rolling dice and thinking he was pretty cool. For now.
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So anyway just before this session I was trying to think how I'd write up this ruined temple they came upon and I was also like I need a muffin.

So I got in the elevator and there were three people and one of them had a big box with styrofoam sticking out.

"Hey," (lightbulb) "is that box all packing material?"

"Uh...." they thought I was going to yell at them about the environment "yeah?"

"Can I have it?"

So then I threw it together with some stuff I already had and proceeded to build a Temple of Mariyah on the kitchen table...
(Complete with the stryofoam head as the remains of a colossal sculpted head of Mariyah)









 I got pretty into it. I made a whole key of the secrets hidden under all the rocks and crannies.

I was fucking prepared...



...but you know how players are, spending all that work on something pretty much guarantees they'll be like "This looks scary, let's go fart in a pumpkin".

But, luckily, it went over...
(You can hear me yelling at them to shut up and enjoy it on this clip here).

Even better, though, there was a massive, brutal fight with a near tpk. The serpentmen had a hydra that almost bit everyone's head off until Arafel used the 9 Bones Necklace to get possessed by the Blue Medusa.

So we solved the Who Would Win In A Fight Between Medusa and Hydra question the Greeks somehow never got around to answering.

Medusa.

Then Medusa will then be like "Where am I?" because she wasn't the one who decided to possess this tiefling and then wander in a random direction (roll 40k scatter dice) and...oh dear...look right at one of those reflective pillars.
 Notch off one more dose of Rewind Potion.

Anyway it was a fun game. The cleric of Mariyah kept staring dazzled at the temple

"I love you, Zak."

"You take nine damage."
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Friday, November 17, 2017

These Are What The Planes Look Like Now

Click to enlarge
This is for a project on The Planes with art by me, Scrap Princess and a writer who is neither of us but is a secret for now.

The Planes in this version, courtesy of the art-brief I was given, are:

The Ethereal Plane: A swirly, misty transitive plane that is filled with failed, unfinished, and abandoned ideas, especially ideas from well-known fantasy heartbreaker RPGs.

The Elemental Plane of Air: Inside the hollow bones of a giant bird: dead and petrified. Floating. The bird is being torn apart and disassembled by an extremely slow moving elemental maelstrom. It will take eons.

The Elemental Plane of Earth: Walking the halls of a house that is being perpetually reconstructed. The Winchester Mystery House meets Frank Gehry's home. The ghost elementals of long-dead mineral miners.

The Elemental Plane of Fire: An asbestos-shrouded research facility that harnesses the perpetual energy of Fire. They are trying to turn the event of fire into a tangible thing. Ever-burning Pripyat trapped in the moment of meltdown. Manned by jinns of science.

The Elemental Plane of Water: A calm, highly-structured village spread across a misty island chain. The aesthetic of Mad Max in the waterways of a crumbling Vienna where scrap cars are boats. The elemental people here follow a strict, unyielding schedule.

The Quantum Plane of Absence: Everything that didn't make it into the book, provided without context. Surreal and meaningless (within the lack of context). The Cremaster Cycle meets Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. [replaces the Positive Energy plane]

The Quantum Plane of Presence: All things on all other planes, except forced into hazy, indeterminate meanings by new context. Slaves in the employ of a well-defined god who promises them meaning but never delivers. Eraserhead meets On a Silver Globe. [replaces the Negative Energy plane]

The Meso-Elemental Plane of Asepsis: Beneath an ultraviolet sun, lead-shielded outbuildings ring a bubbled field. It looks like an armored poppy farm: a Tank Girl biodome. Nothing is native to this plane. Short-lived outsiders, toiling in a hazy atmosphere of breathable, purple-white iodine harvest one dose of the Cure-For-All-Ills every thousand years. It will only grow here. They produce and age other cures like wine. Powerful men contract diseases just to experience the wonder of their cures.

The Meso-Elemental Plane of Decadence: A living flesh-city run through with veins of neon. It’s the excesses of the 80s and New Wave fashion filtered through the lens of Cronenberg or Yuzna's Society. Primitive, biological cyberpunk. Neon elementals who hypnotize with dance.

The Meso-Elemental Plane of Extinction: A crooked monastery high upon a mountain, visible only from a certain angle. Perfectly ringed by a spiral of clouds. At the base of the mountain: a party and temptation to stay behind. Visually influenced by Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain and Daumal’s Mount Analogue.

The Meso-Elemental Plane of Rot: Inside a bulbous dome insulted by pus. Rot-technicians and disease elementals. They catalog all the sickness in the metaverse. The CDC, except the inmates are running the asylum. A syringe smokestack injects plague clouds into the Material planes.

The Demi-Planes

(1) A garbage dump plane, all broken and lost things end up here.

(2) The living plane of Neth, except it's dead and in the process of merging with the Plane of Rot.

(3) A luxurious, interdimensional inn that connects all inns everywhere.

(4) A prison plane where languages are physical beings and kept imprisoned. If killed, a language ceases to exist everywhere.

(5) A generically-evil castle surrounded by a pile of fallen Paladins. Whenever a Paladin over-zealously swears to "thwart evil," a copy of them ends up here where they fruitlessly assault the castle and die atop the mound.

(6) A lush jungle plane that is home to an elusive, primitive tribe.

(7) A two-dimensional cave plane inhabited by shadows.

(8) An Escher-like palace.

(9) An infinite garden of flowers on a finite island.

(10) A throwback to the Lady of Pain: an endless, abandoned maze plane

I know very little about this project other than what's above, but Our Mystery Benefactor pays a fair wage, is patient and eloquent, and dwells in a vast manor where the light from high windows swims restlessly across the tiles in a criss-cross of silent halls.
And now in tasteful sepia!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some RPG Conversations That Will Never Happen, Courtesy of Vice

So Vice (or, more properly, one of Vice's hydra-head of affiliate sites) put up a thing a woman wrote about an RPG.

tl;dr on the article:  This mesoamerican game is not as woke as it wants to be and the art is bad, but the author gives it free advertising on Vice anyway.

Let me stress up front a couple things:

I personally think the game is racist and stupid, for some but not all of the same reasons the author does.

I don't think my opinion matters much--I think the opinion on wannabe woke games that matters most is the opinion of people who are in the group affected, and people who make these kinds of games.

I think the article is interesting because it points up some conversations these people will probably never have because in each case, at least one of the two sides does not believe in having conversations, in some cases both.

Here's a summary of the article and the points it brings up but doesn't resolve (and can't resolve because it's an article by one person, not a dialogue).

1. As a child the author used games as escapism, playing out fantasies of revolt they didn't do in real life.

2. Author asserts the purpose of RPGs is to aid in thinking about difficult things.

Conversation That Will Never Happen A:

These things are very often not compatible goals.


Conversation That Will Never Happen B:

Is it even good--at least for adult activists--to crave entertainment give them 1 above? Isn't it kind of sad and defeatist?

Conversation That Will Never Happen C:

Are people going around casually assuming all games are escapist fantasies and not realizing all the other things games are for?


3. The author was skeptical of an invitation to participate in an RPG.

4. The author feels the depiction of westerners landing in the new world overtly tries to depict them as bad in some ways, but not in enough ways for the author.

Conversation That Will Never Happen D:

Is it ever possible to say a person we all agree is bad experienced and overcame hardship? At what point does it become unnecessary or too much?

5. The author feels the depiction of the mesoAmericans sexes up the women too much and (I think?) de-emphazies their mesoamerican features.

Conversation That Will Never Happen F:

Yes. Can we also talk about the effect of just bad art in general? Like how much just unbelievably bad generic art makes games about historically overlooked indigenous people look like boring jerks with boring lives baking maizecakes out of straw all day?

6. The author objects to the presence of blood rituals and human sacrifice. Also it appears slavery is not deal with in depth and the author wants it to be.

Conversation That Will Never Happen G:

Can we please either decide which of "X is traumatizing let's not include it for the sake of the traumatized/"X is traumatizing we must go into it in massive detail for the sake of the traumatized" is the Official Woke Stance?

7. “European women characters can choose the unique class Dragon Rider (which is exactly what it sounds like), whereas indigenous women characters can choose Courtesan (which is exactly what it sounds like).”

8. The RPG writer was inspired by a novel, the author asserts its a problematic novel.

9. The RPG writer is apparently Mexican but not indigenous.

Conversation That Will Never Happen H:

Literally who gets to write what in games? Is it like "This is overlooked therefore everyone needs to write about it" or "You're not in the group stay away"? Give rules.

10. The game has a “Tolerance Skill”. 


Conversation That Will Never Happen I:

Isn't this hilariously twee? Is it more or less twee than Burning Wheel’s “Elf Sadness” mechanic? Is there a level of twee that Indie RPGs shouldn't be?

11. The author is scared that the fact the game is, well, an RPG, means that the players could decide to do colonialist things. Why this would be bad in a game isn’t delved into much, but presumably it is because the author assumes 1 above is the universal reason for playing games despite 2 above.


Conversation That Will Never Happen J:

Isn't that entirely the adult players fault? Are we literally trying to tell shit people to hide their shittiness?

Conversation That Will Never Happen K:

Let's say that happens. Then what? Did everyone at the table literally either feel oppressed or get more racist? What's the consequentialist argument here? 

12. The author then says Shadowrun’s politics are “a mess”. But somehow in this mess the author feels it encouraged stories the author thought were more good than bad.

Conversation That Will Never Happen L:

Your argument here is extremely subtle. Is it fair to hit authors over the head with a claim of moral wrongdoing when even the woke position is unclear and requires subtle arguments that even affected people have no consensus on?

13. The nut of the the thing:

Perhaps a way of understanding this is that Dragons Conquer America wants players to indulge in power fantasies of being both Cowboy and Indian. That doesn’t sit well with me. As an indigenous woman, I’m rarely afforded the opportunity to cut out Cortes’ still-beating heart and eat it as his soldiers quake in fear. But the options to enact violence against indigenous populations are many. A tabletop game that encourages me to play “both sides,” and create a party of indigenous characters working together with European invaders (no matter how historically accurate) feels bad in 2017. Especially when I can’t be assured that, in the end, we won’t still lose. Living as an indigenous person already means constantly being told that you lost.


Conversation That Will Never Happen M:

Are any approached besides "Hey but in the game you can win?" acceptable in 2017? Is there some precondition for them becoming acceptable?
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Monday, November 13, 2017

The Maze of the Blue Medusa, Goblin Market, Emergent Treasure and Hot Springs Island

This much is true: you can DM while holding a kitten

Here's how the party doubled their xp:

Trouble

So in the Maze of the Blue Medusa the party got in a fight with the obnoxious and imprisoned Milo DeFretwell.

DeFretwell then yelled a lot triggering a random encounter with some Nilbogs I think.

The Nilbogs were clever and dragged off a party member through a secret door.

It was also the secret door between the 2 sculptures in the maze where, if you walk between them, your eyes turn into gems.

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So....a lot of chaos and blind-firing later they extricate themselves.



Trade-Offs

Now, in other news they'd gone to the Goblin Market (chaos ensued, a goblin merchant stole all of someone's stuff then shrunk down and hid in a pumpkin, which pumpkin the PCs are still carrying around. The girls' last idea was to fart into it until he comes out but its best not to dwell on your friends' shortcomings)

...but the upshot is someone got ahold of the curse removing nut from the market.

So the gem-eye thing was removed with the nut and the gem-eye curse was in the nut, ready to be transferred elsewhere.



Tangents

The Maze, as those of you of wealth and taste such that you own a copy of Maze of the Blue Medusa may know, has an exit leading to the island of Eliator, where the inhabitants believe the Maze to be their underworld, and believe anyone coming out of it is a god.

The "gods"/PCs (whose previous relations with the Eliatorans have been...complex) arrive to find the villagers gone and the village burnt as bad breakfast.

A sole remaining Elatoran says that evil men came and stole them all taking them....to that distant island on the horizon!

The players there that week go "Sure, let's hit this side quest."


Trickery

This turns out to be Hot Springs Island.

If you don't know the gimmick, it's a system-neutral hexcrawl made to be super-immediately useful laid out by people who have been paying attention to the OSR RPG-design best practices and it also comes with a separate book--a "Field Guide" which is a partially-accurate guide to the hazards of the island written in-universe style which you can give to your group's Hermione and they'll love it and spew facts at everyone.
Also: she loves Hot Springs Island
(This worked exactly right. Ela Darling, Queen of All Porn Hermiones immediately took the Field Guide "Is it ok if I buy my own so I can read it?")

Anyway the important part here is soon there was a 20-foot-long 8-eyed centipede with 75 hp (I made it proportional to the cat toy I was using as a miniature) trying to pry open a giant crustacean on the beach and a cleric with a 4 Dex trying to sneak past it.

Shockingly a fight broke out.

It was pretty desperate, until the sorceress had an idea: pack a bunch of dead lobster around the cursed nut and shove it in the centipede's mouth.

This acorn bisque worked out. The party made quick work of the blind beast and scooped 8 eye-gems, each the size of a cantaloupe, out of its stupid face.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

It's Almost Like There's A Pattern

Green Ronin (publishers of Blue Rose, Mutants and Pointlesscrunch, etc) has a reputation for taking performatively woke stances while supporting bad business practices, cheating freelancers, and supporting harassment campaigns against rivals and is now either engaged in sexual impropriety or has hung one of their own out to dry without proof.
Onyx Path (publishers of the off-brand licensed World of Darkness stuff) and RPGnet have a reputation for taking performatively woke stances while supporting bad business practices and harassment campaigns and is either complicit in sexual impropriety or hanging one of their own out to dry without proof.
It's almost like a pattern.
It's almost like if you have a company where people lie all the time and don't think very hard about what they say, genuine abuse slips through the cracks really easily.
It's almost like when I complain about an RPG company I know what I'm talking about.
See also yesterday.
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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why The RPG Community Will Never Change

There was another RPG scandal recently--either an author at (performatively woke publisher) Onyx Path author and moderator at (performatively woke forum) RPGnet is a rapist or RPGnet let someone go wild with false rape accusations against a moderator and author on their site and just twiddled their thumbs in return, doing nothing to address it, then kicked the guy out.

(Oh and Edit: sexual improprieties happened at Blue Rose publisher Green Ronin just now too.)

And before that there was the sexual harassment.

And the other rapist on RPGnet.

And before that there was the stealing money from freelancers and Kickstarter backers.

And the sexist ads.

And the libel.

It's customary at this point for people to write screeds about how backward the community is and how nerds are insular and resist change and how We Need To Do Something but............that is all spitting straight into a firehose.

This will never end.

The RPG community--at least online--will always have an abusive shitshow going on and if you want to make game stuff you gotta come to terms with that.

Why?

Because 90% of the vocal people in it are one of these kinds of people:

The RPG Dude Who Just Wants To Roll And Is So Sick Of This Drama!!

This guy likes playing! This guy sees the RPG community as a resource (which it, among other things, is) and dips in and gets online to find something useful to use--or to buy--or maybe even to think about--and then takes it back to a game table somewhere. "Why" this guy wonders "can't everyone do the same? Why does anyone ever have a problem ever?"

This guy will never change because despite all of this he can't stop talking about how much he hates drama. He talks about it pretty much constantly and about how silly he finds it. He does not get that this is, in itself, extending the drama (it makes more people ask about it and more people know about it and more people voice opinions about it--which is The Drama in a nutshell).

But you couldn't possibly convince him of that because that would deny him the ability to come grouse about these highfalutin RPG folk and their drama and therefore deny him the ability to sell his salt-of-the-earth self-image of himself to himself as somehow noble and not just willfully ignorant about like, maybe, genuine abuse his clicks and dollars pay for?

Paradoxically, suggesting he then shut up about the drama and just go ahead and access the parts of the community that he and his game table actually benefit from makes him feel angry like Holy Shit is someone telling me what to do? And this creates drama.


Popcorn Guy

Popcorn guy thinks of himself a lot like salt-of-the-earth Just Wants To Roll guy, but is one notch more self-aware--he actually enjoys watching people fight online and will admit it to himself and say so. Sometimes he even helps by trolling or tossing trollbait or writing anonymous messages to folks he knows will attribute them to the people they're fighting with. It's all in good fun. :D !

Popcorn Guy will never change because he's got nothing else.  He fundamentally decided long ago not to have a life. Popcorn guy's idea of entertainment is--let's look at this objectively--not even Dungeons and Dragons but watching strangers argue about Dungeons and Dragons on his computer. This guy literally has such a low bar for an interesting life that there is no greater social reward you could offer him that would be more important than the glee of watching innocent people fend off crazy accusations online. Ending this would leave them only with their basement and their copy of Fate Core.


Cool Game Guy

Unlike the precious Guys, Cool Game Guy has produced interesting things. Cool Game Guy probably has a degree in something and has some life experiences, Cool Game Guy's takes on the drama are often nuanced and well-informed and take into account wider conflicts outside RPGs and consider social meanings and contexts--Cool Game Guy will write something and it will strike fellow Cool Game Guys as sane and middle-of-the-road and honest.

Cool Game Guy knows the history of games and maybe writing and art and knows that the quality of the work and the quality of the human do not always go hand-in-hand. Cool Game Guy has perspective and thinks y'all should just calm down.

However, Cool Game Guy will also never change anything because in the end Cool Game Guy tends to forget that they have (and benefit tremendously from having) an audience, which includes, you know, some people who are also smart and maybe even women and not-white people and queer people and people who do out-there stuff, due to people who stuck their necks out wayyyyyy farther than Cool Game Guy ever will. And if Cool Game Guy ever takes a risk, they The Cool Guy themselves will be stuck at the center of a drama they'll be damned if they don't fight and damned if they do.

Cool Game Guy will never accept that there are some things worth being aggressive and confrontational about because to do so would relinquish the sort of distance and ivory towerness and "perspective" that allows Cool Game Guy to make pronouncements that sound icily profound and get shared by all the other guys who have little enough skin in the game that a very eloquent "do nothing" sounds like legit advice.

This remove will serve Cool Game Guy well when he eventually becomes Professional Game Guy who can feel however they want about the drama but needs to avoid talking about it or telling the truth at all costs because the market will only punish them for caring about anyone else but themself.


Concerned Sadface

The Sadface insists they are not a member of any "outrage brigade"! The Sadface has feelings and doesn't understand why they don't have the right to have feelings!  The Sadface insists they don't have an agenda! They just feel a certain way!  And they want everyone to know that they feel that way about a specific person even if that sounds like a very specific accusation in a public place of what that person did that they can't prove and in fact isn't true just something they heard that makes them mad!

The Sadface believes in friendship and will support their friends and never ever check to see if their friends are telling the truth or whether the friends that they support are the exact kind of toxic people that they make abstracts complaints about all the time.

The Sadface talks a lot about empathy--but only for the people who play the same game as them or who talk about issues in the same language as them.

The Sadface will never change because The Sadface, above all, does not have the emotional energy to deal with tedious details like who said what when or did what when or whether the people that they're mad at (as opposed to the people they're mad on behalf of) are actually human beings. Paying too much attention to details about people they've decided to attack freaks them out and makes them cry. The only way The Sadface could ever change is:

1--Get enough therapy to realize that they have made some mistakes which extend the very abusive practices they rail against, and

2--Take the desperate and frightening step of risking actually pushing some of their friends away because those friends have done shitty things.

Current developments at RPGnet and Onyx Path and Green Ronin probably make The Concerned Sadface feel like the whole RPG community is a toxic mess and nothing is good (!!!?!), because they can't actually acknowledge the much scarier truth: a lot of the RPG community is just fine, the Sadface just had terrible judgment and has been backing the wrong horses for years because these wrong horses made the right noises about justice and safeness and played right into Sadface's fear of looking too deep into anything.


Righteous Troll

The Righteous Troll knows that what they're doing is technically dishonest but they've decided this is a war. They have a Nietzschean code--even though of course they never say that, because Nietzsche is for basic white boys and the righteous troll is Woke As Fuck. The answer to anyone disagreeing with them is a glib dismissal followed by trying to dunk on them in front of as wide an audience as possible. Who cares if you got the right guy? The point is you launched the drone strike and everybody felt good about it, not that it landed on the target or improved anything.

The righteous troll believes that they are a chaotic good vigilante in a war of all against all where the only possible way (or at least the only possible easy way) to get more justice (or at least more attention) is to be constantly, achingly dishonest in order to mobilize those earnest Sadfaces against people you don't like.

This Righteous Troll will never change because there's literally nowhere else for them to go.  Changing their schtick or leaving games for some other place would be impossible because the only things on their resume are obnoxious troll skills and social capital they developed in front of a vanishing audience who was like 13 at the time and thought griefing people about Mega Man X was cool.

Going "Oh fuck, I just made up random shit about people for liking games I don't know for 10 years sorry everyone" just isn't practical at that point. Pretending they didn't just use accusations about rape, racism and sexuality as a political football against internet strangers for most of their adult life is probably the only thing keeping them from committing suicide.



The Professional

The Professional doesn't much contribute to the drama, it's true--except occasionally paying people who create it to stay in the business--which is probably the greatest most concrete contribution that you could make actually, if you think about it.

The Professional doesn't want to take sides despite the fact that of course the Professional has created things and the space to do create these things was the result of people having stridently taken sides in times past.

On the one hand it's hard to blame The Professional for not playing a game that will only cost them money and which will only earn them hate and pain and lose them followers or fans--on the other hand the tragedy of it is The Professionals are the only ones who could genuinely solve these problems by themselves. They are the only people with the reach and perceived moral authority to go "Hey! Quit beating on each other you little assholes!"

And this will never change because there just isn't enough money in the RPG business to get The Professionals to risk even a fraction of what they make taking a stand against someone who is causing trouble for all the little people.
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So, yeah, this is your game community. Because you asked for it.

As with everything else: If you didn't vote, you can't complain.
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Monday, November 6, 2017

they sag, shedding, onto Ikea chairs

New creature with Demon City stats.

STRANGERS

Strangers feed on the anonymity of the city. Literally. Any residential building containing only occupants who do not know each others’ names and with at least five units will begin to attract Strangers. They put in applications like anyone else, generally have acceptable credit, and provide each other with references.

In public, they appear entirely human, but cannot go out in the same skin twice. The physical characteristics, style, and demeanor of theses skins, which rot off like peach peels after a day’s errands, cling to the local average.

Incapable of direct violence, but driven—like all species—to occupy as much space as they can, they spend their time attempting to quietly make human life nearby unpleasant so that real people will move. They make anonymous noise complaints, vote in favor of real estate developers, drive cars with piercing and hypersensitive alarms, cook meals they never eat solely to fill halls with inscrutable humid smells, interfere with cell towers, give 20s to only the violent panhandlers and call the police on the rest. At home they sag, shedding, onto Ikea chairs, buying credit default swaps, writing computer viruses, leaving drive-by comments on social media and masturbating to the worst porn. 

Strangers avoid any interaction which might cause someone to ask their name—they have none. If engaged in any remotely intimate way, they make an excuse and flee. There are whole buildings, districts, perhaps even cities occupied only by Strangers.

Design Notes:

Strangers create an off-beat mystery story, heavy on investigation: Someone follows a person who goes into an apartment building and never comes out, or catches a Stranger in a minor act of irritating sabotage, or breaks into an apartment to discover nothing but a pile of J Crew and a headless face on the carpet. The party must then find a way to understand the nature of the infection, how far it’s spread, and do something about it.

Calm: 1
Agility: 1
Toughness: 1
Perception: 4
Appeal: 2
Cash: 3
Knowledge: 3

Calm Check: 7
Cards: Tower (16), Hermit (9)

Special abilities:

Isolationist metabolism: Strangers do not need to eat or breathe—they live off the alienation produced by creatures passing one another with no acknowledgement.

Skinchanging: Strangers grow a new skin in their sleep, different than any they’ve worn before.

Weaknesses:

Strangers cannot commit violence or speak names. Their ability to lie or create any kind of convincing narrative is very limited.
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Narth

Some aliens--with Demon City stats.

Sorry I didn't paint a picture like, I don't know what they look like.

Extruding across the barrier separating their dimension from our own as if between panes of sliding, shattering glass, the limbs of the Narth penetrate our space as if across a fold or crack in the geometry of thin air. At present they are only experimenting—the humans they take are frequently returned to our space, but inscrutably reassembled. A man in Shanghai can hear anything but names, a priest in Nairobi has a copy of two-thirds of his own torso on his back and another man’s left arm, a mother of five in Marseilles can only move at right angles to lines of latitude, a teacher in Wales only exists at dawn. They have begun to experiment with communication, but lack a concept of grammar, linear time or pain: many human subjects have been returned only able to speak the 38 words that form the Narth’s message, but with no awareness that the words are important, that they go in any specific order, or that this was done on purpose or that they shouldn’t have been committed to the hospitals they’re in for these hallucinations. If decoded, the message appears to be offering 8 nucleic acid analogues and 3 new prime numbers in exchange for 582 higher quality test specimens.


Calm: 9
Agility: 7
Toughness: 4
Perception: 3
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 7 (though they lack many basic human ideas)

Calm check: 8
Cards: The Star (17)

Special Abilities:

Insinuation: The Narth emerge from bends in spacetime, appearing as if stepping around straight, invisible corners in mid air. For practical purposes, this is teleportation with unlimited range, although the majority of any Narth’s body will remain in its home plane, effectively anchoring it to one spot until it retracts and extrudes somewhere else, like a giant squid reaching out from a sideways sea. The limbs themselves are between 3 and 15 feet long.

Gestural detection: Due to the way Narth space intersects our space, while the Narth are in their own space they can detect continuities of gesture but not of space, time or visual appearance on ours. Essentially what this means is is their field of view onto our dimension can only take in individuals moving exactly the same way on the same planet at any given time. If the Narth focus (for example) on a woman in Iowa making a fist with her left hand, the observing Narth will not see anyone near her or the environment she stands in, but they will see anyone else making a fist in the same way at any time anywhere on Earth throughout history. (Their experiments are therefore biased toward dancers, soldiers and those fluent in sign language.) It is very easy for the Narth to detect identical machines this way. When extruded into human space they operate only by touch.

Dimensional Gap: If a human is pulled into Narth space after an insinuation, they will experience it as an excruciatingly slow-moving collage of dissolving black abstractions punctuated by electric bursts of pain. The Narth generally return a subject within 50 hours, but the victim will experience it has having taken years. Check against a 9 or lose a point of Calm and Check vs a 4 or lose a point of Toughness.

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My First Conspiracy Kit

Happy Halloween!

Here is a “fill in the blanks” style exercise you can use to start a Demon City campaign. Long-time readers may recognize it from before it's mutation into its current form... 


Characters and Set Up

1. Look through the library and choose a mastermind horror: a witch, a vampire, a cult leader, a demon, whatever—the only requirement is they need minions. We’ll call this the Villain. Who are they? Write it down.

2. Think of something the Villain would demand: sacrifices, food, information, money, etc and something their minions can continuously do to help the Villain get it—something that isn’t a major crime in itself, but that’s suspicious: buying up rare manuscripts or gems of a given type, aggressively proselytizing a new faith to children, obsessively photographing activity on certain street corners, running something that’s probably a drug front—and a reason the Villain wants them to do it. These are the Minions and their Task. Write down what the task is and name at least 5 Minions, in order of importance: Lowest Minion, Minion, Trigger-Puller Minion, Trigger-Puller Minion 2, Lieutenant Minion. Choose cards to describe them if you like.

3. There’s a murder or suspicious death. It’s one of these Minions. It was while they were in the process of their Task. Or a witness to the Minions going to extreme (perhaps criminal) lengths to perform the Task. This is the Murder. Write down who got killed, where and what they were doing when it happened.

4. The police didn’t realize the Minion involved in the murder was a Minion. They assumed the murder was random. They are aggressively uninterested in pursuing it further. But someone near the Task or the Murder victim—a rare book dealer, a city council member, someone who lives in the neighborhood, a victim’s family member—wants to know who is ultimately behind it all. Not who pulled the trigger, but who ordered it—maybe even evidence they can bring to the authorities. They have some status in the community. This is the Patron. Write down their name and occupation.

5. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the Villain has influence over officials in Demon City, who in turn have influence over the police. These are the Corrupted. Write down at least two names and some city job titles for them.

6. There is a fortune teller. Her demands are elaborate (Like: cut off your foes' bottom lips, thread these lips onto a wire, douse the lip-wire in oil and set it alight.) These rituals will produce accurate, useful information (she will read the cards)—but only once. Thereafter the rituals will produce accurate, useless information that the party already knows. This is the Oracle. Write down her name and method of divination.

7. There is a cop. This was his/her case, it’s down and s/he doesn’t want it back up again. This is the Detective. Write down their name.

8. The party will have to meet Contacts, tail suspects and people of interest, find bodies, and may eventually confront the Villain. These things should happen in interesting places. Write down 6 interesting places for these kinds of things to happen. Give the Villain a headquarters.


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Timeline

These things happen unless the party does something to make them not happen.

Day 1: Patron calls up the party and tells them there was a Murder of someone they know was connected to a lot of people all performing the Task. Connect the Patron’s desire for justice to the PCs various motives. If there’s an Investigator, tell them they’ll get paid.


The day after the PCs begin their investigation: Unless they are extremely low-profile the Detective approaches at least one of the party to tell them to stop nosing around the case, especially since s/he’s put it to bed—murder is dangerous and a lot of paperwork and s/he doesn’t want another body to write up. On the other hand, if they already have any information, s/he demands they give it up.


The day after that: The Oracle approaches the Party and tells them she can help.


Random Events

These events happen at a rate of one per day, starting the day after the Oracle approaches the party, unless the party does something to make them impossible…

Throw:

1. If the party have interacted with any NPC since they began other than Minions or NPCs named here (that is random bureaucrats, shopkeepers, etc) one of these people (whichever one who would have heard the most about the PCs' activities by now) is a spy for The Corrupted. S/he will shadow the PCs with Stealth 3 and report all of their activities to The Corrupted. If no such NPC has been met, keep this event in your pocket until one is met.

2. Another person connected to the Task has been murdered. If the means of death can be discovered, the party will find out it was the same as the first Murder, with the same Trigger-Puller Minion (1). This was a former intimate of the Villain who threatened to leave and tell people, and had to be silenced.

3. Another person connected to the Task has been murdered. A rival trying to outdo the Villain at the Task, and so interfering. A Minion reported it (likely via phone or email) to the Lieutenant Minion, who then assigned the murder to Trigger-Puller Minion 2.

4. The PC of the highest social standing (or Appeal, if their social standing is equal) is invited to a party attended by Demon City mid-elite (s/he may bring guests). The Patron and The Corrupted are present as well as a (perhaps disguised) Minion who seems to, in passing, know one of the Corrupted. This Minion has no idea who the Party are and is drunk enough to let slip information in casual conversation.

5. The Minions are nowhere to be found today. Astrological investigation (Intensity 3 Occult or asking the right people) reveals it’s an auspicious day for a ceremony of the kind most plausibly associated with the Villain. It will be either at night in a public place fit for the ritual or at a Minion’s home.

6. Trigger-Puller Minion 2 kills the Lowest Minion (or any other Minion who has had contact with the PCs) on orders from the Villain. They know too much and have outlived their usefulness.

7. A Minion offers to sell the party information about the Villain. They know very little (they have only been spoken to indirectly) but offer to collect information in exchange for protection. Depending on the nature of the Villain, s/he is either an honest defector or setting the party up for a double cross (the Minion may even pretend the Villain they are “informing” on is a regular criminal of some kind).  If the defection is real, the Villain will know and one of the Trigger-Pullers will try to kill them before they can do any harm.

8. The Patron reports they’ve been visited by one of The Corrupted. The Patron has been told to stop investigating and is scared.

9. The Detective turns up a suicide. The police (influenced by the Corrupted) don’t seem to care. The Detective’s home and/or car are full of new clues to the nature of the villain.


10. (Write your own event here.)
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Donate to the Demon City Patreon here.


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Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Horror's Deck

This is the second post about how tarot cards work in Demon City, (here's the first one.)

Rather than dice, the Host of Demon City typically uses a specially prepared deck of tarot cards. In most situations, the cards in the deck are used exactly like rolls of the dice—throwing a 6 of Wands is equivalent to rolling a 6, for example, as is throwing the card The Lovers—which is marked with a 6 at the top.

However, there are a few important differences.

Before each adventure, after the Host has decided what the ultimate creature or creatures will be lurking behind the events in the adventure, the Host should take the full tarot deck and extract from it a smaller deck to be used during that session—The Horror’s Deck. The Horror’s Deck should be used by the Host in every session until the Horror that formed that particular deck is defeated.

The Horror’s Deck should include:

-A few (typically 1-4) cards specifically associated with the major horrors that will ultimately feature in the course of the adventure—even if it may not appear in this session. For example, if the adventure includes a werewolf, the deck would likely include The Moon (18) and possibly Strength (8). The associations of cards with specific horrors is detailed in the Horrors section.

-A few cards associated with specific places or NPCs that are important in the adventure. For example, if a rich woman features prominently in the adventure, the Queen of Pentacles would appear in The Horror’s Deck, if an abandoned factory was an important location, an 8 of Cups might be in the deck. The connections of cards with specific ideas, kinds of people and kinds of places are noted on the endpapers of this book and in more detail in the Tarot section in the Host’s section of the book.

-Enough other cards that the deck contains at least one card worth each number one through ten. So: One card worth One (any of the four Aces—Wands, Cups, Swords, or Pentacles, or the Magician—the card marked 1 at the top), a single card worth two (two of Wands, Cups, etc or the High Priestess, the card marked 2 at the top), a single card worth 3 (3 of Wands, Cups, etc or The Empress—the card marked 3) etc all the way up through ten—so, ten cards allowing a random Throw of 1-10. These other cards should be chosen with an eye to making them as consonant with the ideas you want to include in the adventure as possible—if indulgence, passion and drunkenness feature heavily, feature the suit of Cups prominently, if violence and pain, then feature Swords, if money and power are important, use Pentacles, etc. Again, these meanings are detailed in the Host’s section. Note court cards—Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings—are worth 10.

When used in resolving action, The Horror’s Deck has a few kinks:

-The deck will often be slightly unbalanced—a deck including the Wheel of Fortune and the Knight of Swords has at least two tens in it. This is fine—sometimes horrors have an advantage, that’s why they’re horrors.

-The deck may also include cards worth more than 10 (like The Moon). Outside Action rounds, these cards are worth 10. In combat these represent two Throws—the first Throw is a 10 and the next round the same card stays on the table, representing the Host’s first throw for the next round and is now worth the second digit on the card. So the Moon (18) is a ten in the first round and then an 8 the next. Note this doesn’t necessarily represent the very next card—if the Host needs to throw 3 cards to stab and the first is the Moon, the Host still throws two other cards after as usual. If the Host wins the Clash (likely, they threw the Moon, worth 10 that round) and does damage, they still throw other cards as usual to determine damage. However—in the next round, when the Host declares an action, the first Throw they lay for that Clash will be 8. Everyone at the table will know this when deciding their actions—these high cards represent extraordinary efforts and all-out, committed attacks—they are likely to succeed, but leave the foe reeling, possibly open.

-Note that Judgement is worth 10, then 0 and The World is worth 10 then 1.

-If more than one of these high cards is thrown in the same Clash, they all stay on the table for the next round and the higher one represents the first Throw, the next highest the second (if there is one), etc. Unused cards stick around and are used in the following round.

-After each throw, as usual, the cards should be left on the table until the next Throw. If a foe is defeated, whatever cards are on the table when the threat that threw those cards is ended (captured, killed, otherwise defused) can be distributed among the players as rewards (see below), starting with whoever dealt the final blow or made the decisive move. Note that while the major horrors of an adventure decide what is in the deck, this rule for collecting cards can be applied to any foe faced along the way.

-It is possible to meaningfully defeat a hostile NPC without combat (for example, discovering evidence of their guilt and making it public) or meaningfully defeat a foe that isn’t a creature as such (like, say, a complex trap). In both cases, if the achievement is significant, the group should be eligible for a reward from among whatever cards are on the table when the achievement occurs.


Cards As Rewards:

-Players don’t actually “get” the cards, they just write down on their character sheet that that card is now involved with their fate. The Card remains in the Horror’s Deck and continues to function until the adventure ends and the party takes on a new case.

-Players don’t use cards like the Host does and vice versa. The rules are different.

-The specific PC reward associated with each card is listed on the endpapers.

-Players can use cards when the situation described in the reward (“Gain a Throw vs Calm loss at the sight of violence or death”) occurs, or, if a specific situation is not described, at any other time it would physically be possible, including Downtime (see below).

-The card rewards represent chance favoring a PC, not supernatural intervention—the card cannot make something otherwise physically impossible in the game world possible.

-Some cards allow a PC to Throw a number higher than 10. This means the card always wins in a Clash unless facing some unusual magic or a high card thrown by (say) an insane PC.

-It’s obviously hard to collect a card worth 10 as a reward—if a 10 is on the table when the enemy lost, how did they lose? It is possible, though:
The PCs can enact a crushing and earned victory—a PC uses a card reward that grants them a Throw higher than ten to deliver a coup-de-grace.
The foe can be humiliated: the enemy throws 10 in with a damage Throw and then, in the next round, seeing they are in danger, runs away unopposed (requiring no Throw). The party lets them flee and collects the reward.
Surprise: the enemy, after leaving a Ten on the table in some past venture, thinks they are safe and are killed in a round where they are distracted in the middle of performing an action requiring no Throw on their part.
Trickery: The PCs can get the foe to enact their own ruin in a scheme requiring no Throws on the foe’s part—such as tricking a vampire into drinking holy water.

-A player may only have one card ruling their fate at a time—so if they have a card when they defeat a foe, they must decide whether to switch it out or not—they cannot use the reward on the old card immediately just to hog both benefits.

-Players are free to review what the cards mean before making a choice.


Other Uses Of the Horror’s Deck:

The Host can use the cards in their Horror’s Deck in many other ways:

-Some foes will have specific attacks or effects that activate when a given card or combination is Thrown, noted in the Horrors section.

-Cards can be used to generate random NPCs and locations during the adventure, like any other random table. Using cards from the Horror’s Deck ensures a range of results in line with the ideas the Host wants to emphasize in that adventure—like a carefully built Random Encounter Table in a dungeon game.

-The Host can create specific events that will be triggered when a given card or combination appears in a given situation.

-Supernatural abilities allowing precognition or divination can allow a character to read the Horror’s Deck to gain insight into what is to come—depending on the precise method used, this will allow a general reading (what the cards broadly can imply) or a specific one (what the cards signify in this particular adventure) or both.
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Friday, October 27, 2017

What Really Happens At The Library

Part of writing Demon City is digging in to the tropes of investigation-based games and getting at the juicy gameable meat within--often with the help of people who know the worlds involved better than me.


Richard G, an expert on real life Going To Do Research wrote most of this for the game, I just edited it a bit and changed a sentence here and there...

Things To Know About Research 

Unless they’re right there in a library or the embezzler’s office, that initial Research Throw just means looking on the Internet. When that fails, you should go “Ok, nothing’s coming up on the Internet immediately. Do you want to try digging a little deeper?”


Digging deeper can involve a few different things:

-Have a Contact try it.
-Spend more time (maybe a week?—search variant spellings, leave requests on some forums, etc).
-Go to an archive.

…the third is the most exhausting, gameable, and has the greatest chance of success. Only 5% of archived information is even on the Internet—feel free to set Research challenges that simply can’t be done any other way (feel free to tell the player), and what is archived is often eccentrically indexed by barely-overlapping generations of underpaid staffers and unpaid volunteers into obsolete, proprietary paper and computer filing systems.

If you know a little about how archives work you can do two things: add some roleplaying color to an investigation that fleshes out your Demon City, and, once in a while, have an adventure about getting to the archive or (shudder) the depot before someone else does.

Archives

Storage formats get old and/or go out of fashion. Microfilm, fiche, photographic slides of unusual sizes, glass plate negatives. Photo negatives and prints are kept in deep freeze storage – you have to order them 48 hours ahead to warm up, and the archivist will want to know which photos beforehand because they can only be warmed up so many times. And you won’t know which photos ahead of time because nobody describes photos in the metadata.

Materials that are hard to scan/photograph because they’re big (blueprints) or fragile or mildewed or reflective. Attempts to digitize materials that failed to capture the important details (microfilms can usually be scanned but only in 1-bit colour (like a fax) –so you can see the data but can’t record it, except with a camera pointed at the preview screen.

Who cares? It’s all old stuff. We are concerned with the new.

Well, most infrastructure is old - buildings average 20-50 years, even if the computer system inside them is new, so if you want to know about the plumbing or air vents, that’s not online. Roads, foundations, geological surveys, city plans, interstate highway plans, birth and medical and education records – it’s all more than 20 years old and first recorded in systems that were antiquated then.

Requesting these things from the staff takes forever or charm or both. After that, the main challenge is that you might have to be a little stealthy about photographing the documents. Or the fact they might not be there. Then you have to go to the depot.

The Depot

There are the open stacks – that’s where the 5% that’s been digitized is kept. Then there are the closed stacks, which you can get into by charming the librarian. That has the stuff the chief archivist keeps on hand. Then there’s the depot.

The depot isn’t anywhere near the archive’s main building. It’s in an industrial wasteland where the buildings are cheap and truck access is bumpy but not crowded. Or it’s on a rented corner of the Navy yards, or “temporarily” housed on barges.

The depot is supposed to be double-sealed from the outside world – that’s supposed to mean a building inside a building, with its own electrical and heating and humidity control system and ideally slight positive pressure compared with the outside. In fact that kind of treatment is usually reserved for one room – the rest of the depot is a damp, leaky, badly lit concrete building with wire racks and cages where the artifacts are piled high on an organizational scheme known only to one person and their short-lived acolytes. You’re not supposed to be let into the depot unless you have special clearance – from the institution, possibly from the military, depending on where it’s located. Sometimes an archivist can let you in, sometimes clearance takes months to arrive.

All the doors in the depot auto-close (fire regulations – to keep the stuff inside safe, not you the visitor). All the lights auto shut-off after 3 minutes. The depot guy (or, less often, depot lady) carries a flashlight. Air conditioning units are loud. Leak locations are known and avoided.

If the depot crank gets into it, they’ll start finding stuff on their own to show you. You will learn stuff about them and the institution that makes it hard to work with either.

If you ever need to steal anything from the depot, request stuff that’s in the same cage or stored behind it. Chances are, the whole cage will be trucked out for the one item, so it’s not the depot crank’s fault if the other stuff in there gets damaged. The truck has no security beside obscurity.

Where else?

Maybe you’ve done all that and the thing just can’t be found. Maybe someone already stole it, suppressed it, or more likely just misfiled it. Maybe it’s actually on public display in the museum but nobody knew that.

All is not yet lost: The old, disgruntled archivist who nobody listens to will tell you to look in financial or insurance records. It’s amazing how much is reproduced in the insurance company’s archives.

Each department of a big institution keeps own records, often double-entered and cross-indexed with head office, so head office’s copy may be firewalled/redacted, but plumbing's might not be.

People hide things in ancestry records. Like, literally in the archive box. Their own notes, books belonging to the ancestor. If you go to the town where they grew up, you might find their diary, unindexed, with the immunization forms and diplomas.


Finally, quid pro quo works. Gifts are welcome, time spent chatting is maybe more so and if you can remember their grandkids’ names, less suspicious. Archivists and curators don’t have enough time to do a better job or know their archives better - they will ask you to share your research and photos, because you’re the only person to request that record in 50 or 100 years. Share what you can, because 6 months later they’ll find that other thing you needed and it’ll be your little secret.
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