Jul 262017

Dave Chapman.jpg

Working with IPs can be a very challenging topic.

To take something that has already been created and working with that IP to transform it into an RPG that does it justice is a tricky exercise that requires a deep knowledge of both the original IP and the RPG design process.

Dave Chapman is one guy who knows a lot about that, since he was one of the responsible people to create Cubicle 7’s Dr. Who Roleplaying Game.

He kindly agreed to come to the show to be interviewed and I gladly proceeded to do so.

¡Hope you enjoy the show!

You can listen to this podcast in iTunes and Stitcher too. You can download the episode from here.

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Thank you for your support.

Jun 072017

mythickingdoms.jpgFour Horsemen present: Mythic Kingdoms  clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1/2 page of editorial, leaving us with 13 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

By Endzeitgeist

Mythic kingdoms? Do we need the combination of mythic rules and kingdom building rules? My reply here would be a yes: While the kingdom building rules do a great job in simulating the machinations of a regular realm, and while Legendary Games’ superb books expanding upon them add aerial and underwater warfare and the like to the fray, it is a fact that the rules do not really account for wars between truly fantastic nations…or a fantastic nation going to war with more mundane civilizations. The question of what happens if Eldorado or Xin-Shalast went to war with mundane realms? You can answer that. Such fabled realms usually have fabled leaders – at the very heart of a mythic kingdom, thus, sit mythic heroes (or villains). The blending of the individual and the kingdom level is as seamless as possible, via two mythic universal path abilities, the 1st tier mythic leader and the 6th tier mythic kingdom; the former affects a settlement you govern, the latter the whole kingdom.

But what are the advantages? Well, you can grant the settlement/kingdom mythic advantages…but these must be paid for with mythic disadvantages. Each of the entries thus features a line to affect settlement and kingdom. And the mythic advantages are AMAZING. I mean…ouch. I get why you need disadvantages to balance them out. If a place, for example, has the army advantage, it receives an army of undead, golems, guardian spirits…that replenishes every day. The only way to defeat it permanently is to eliminate the source of mythic power – i.e. the characters.”We were impervious to the darkness, guarded by the ancient protectors, for as long as our kind king rules…” Yeah, this quality alone pretty much writes its own adventure….or even campaign.

The mythic advantages retain this exceedingly impressive level of quality and imaginative potential: Do you want a settlement or place that has the option to magically exile the unwanted? That can be found herein. A blessed holy city/realm to represent the fantasy-equivalent of Jerusalem/Mekka or Prester John’s realm? In this pdf. A realm prophesized to become something great? Oh, do you want a city of doors and portals that can be accessed via special keys (mythic magic items also depicted within)? A place that can be returned t via keys? Yeah, if that sounds like this nets you the tools to simulate a war with Sigil…you’d be right. What about a mythic kingdom that seems to move, being hard to find? One with legendary buildings? A repository of vast knowledge? A place with different gravity? Yup. You can making flying kingdoms…or those that bring forth particularly powerful beings by virtue of increased gravity…or a tyrannical realm, where the tyrant’s domination literally crushes those under his dominion. Magical planar traits, morphic fey realms, kingdoms that can actually *move* or those protected from negative influences…yes, this has the means of making a kingdom on…for example the negative energy plane…or making simply the city of brass. Fabulously wealthy or technologically advanced realms similarly lie within the realms (get it? sorry, will punch myself later for that…) possibility.

Now if sword & sorcery, fantasy or pretty much any other literary genre have taught us anything regarding such larger than life nations, then that they also generally tend to have a fatal flaw: Mythic disadvantages are the calamities, the chinks in the resplendent armor of these legendary nations. These, in turn, are no less unique and worthy of storytelling: Some mythic kingdoms may be struck by apathy, a crushing world-weariness; perhaps, the kingdom has been beset by a catastrophe that sent it beneath the surface of the earth…or it suffers from a horrid curse affecting magical objects. Perhaps the very people are cursed…or flow of time or gravity behaves erratically. Dead magic, restless dead stalking the streets, places that are tumbling through the planes…or those simply unnatural – if the advantages are what makes a kingdom presented here awe-inspiring, then these are what makes them grounded, what ultimately makes them an evocative place for adventurers to visit, save or condemn.

Now I already mentioned enhanced structures: Taverns with phantom steeds or ghostly carriages; healing chapels that rid pilgrims of curses – the pdf features a ridiculously simple and concise way of presenting such places. The rules presented comfortably fit on one page, but frankly, are impressive in their elegance. And then, there would be three sample settlements crafted with the rules presented herein: The clockwork fortress of Null, the Dread Necropolis and the planar crossroads that wanted to be the center of ever-changing limbo.


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed neitehr formal, nor rules-language hiccups. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf sports 2 decent full color artworks and one b/w-piece. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Stephen Rowe’s Mythic Kingdoms are pretty much everything I hoped they’d be. When the horsemen asked what we’d like to see and I posted “Mythic Kingdoms”, I almost immediately regretted it; why? Because I end up disappointed more often than not by the particular execution of a concept near and dear to my heart. It is with some trepidation, but also hope that I opened this pdf; after all, Stephen Rowe is a supremely talented designer.

Well, to cut a long ramble short, he has surpassed himself here. In German, there is the colloquialism of the “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (literally: Egg-laying Wool-milk-pig) to denote a fantastic tool that does everything at once. Mythic Kingdoms is pretty much the eierlegende Wollmilchsau of the theme, succeeding in phenomenal ways beyond my expectations. It seamlessly stitches the levels of character, settlement and kingdom together, provides a bridge between the mythic character and the kingdom, without losing the importance of the mythic character in question. The advantages and disadvantages both universally resonate with the truly fantastic, taking ample inspiration from mythology. The fact that the respective pieces of content can be applied on both a settlement and kingdom level is similarly amazing. Oh, and, as an aside, the book is exceedingly cool, even if you do not play a mythic game; the advantages and disadvantages, frankly, can be utilized by GMs beyond kingdom-building or mythic game-play to add the sense of the epic to teh respective environment.

In short: This is a little masterpiece, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval as well as nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Whether you want more magical settlements or kingdoms, consider this a must-have purchase.

Endzeitgeist out.

Four Horsemen present: Mythic Kingdoms is available from DriveThruRPG.

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Thank you for your support.

Jun 062017

savageabilities.pngAdvantageous Abilities: Savage Abilities clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This pdf was move up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

So, this pdf begins with a handy and easy to comprehend “How to Use” – basically, these abilities may increase the CR of the respective adversary to which they are added and creatures with CRs of less than 1/2 similarly halve their impact on the respective critter’s modification. If in doubt, a save is based on DC = 8 + proficiency bonus + relevant Ability modifier. The abilities themselves are categorized in 3 groups – passive abilities, active abilities and reactions. Easy, right?

Well, let’s look at the passive abilities, shall we? These range from CR +0 to CR +2 and a total of 10 are included. At CR 0, we have, for example, the temper tantrum, which imposes disadvantage on all Charisma checks made to reason with the creature while it’s under the effects of rage. Gaining temporary hit points equal to the damage dealt with bites would be a CR +1 example. There is also an option to crit in particularly bloody manner; on a failed Con-save, allies of the victim nearby must save or be poisoned and take minor psychic damage. The combo of psychic + poisoned is slightly odd to me, but honestly, I’m nitpicking here. The CR +2 modification allows for vorpal slashes – and actually has two different mechanics: One old-school and unforgiving, one that is kinder on the players. Kudos for featuring both!

A total of 8 active abilities are included; these range in CR modification from CR +1/2 to CR +2, with some having fitting refresh conditions – e.g. the  temporary hit points granting and disadvantage imposing battle cry. Minor complaint here: The battle cry should have a proper range. An ability to ripout and eat the heart of recently deceased foes is similarly nice and is prevented from being cheesed by the opponents (so why didn’t he carry a bag of kittens around?) by actually having a nice caveat to prevent such a logic book. Big kudos!  Somewhat weird due to its nomenclature: The legbreaker-ability allows the creature using it to force a saving throw when hitting foes with a bludgeoning weapon, reducing movement to 0 on a failed save…but this handicap can be overcome on subsequent rounds…which does not sound like breaking to me. Similarly, I think that having flying or swimming speeds should probably still allow for movement. Yes, I am nitpicking here, though these are a bit more serious. Bonus damage in exchange for suffering attacks with advantage on subsequent rounds can be an interesting boss-fight engine tweak.

The pdf also features two reactions at CR +1/2 and CR +1, with a frightened-inducing reactive stare and the option to add proficiency bonus to a non-proficient save if below 1/2 maximum hit points.

Big plus: The pdf is considerate and reproduces the Proficeincy bonus by CR and XP by Cr tables on its last page. Nice one.


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good, bordering on very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column standard and is pretty printer-friendly, with a nice stock image in full color thrown in for good measure. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Kelly & Ken Pawlik’s latest collection of advantageous abilities is a welcome, inexpensive little customization toolkit for GMs looking to add some unique tricks to their adversaries. The abilities generally are solid and can make for some nasty surprises. What more can you ask of such a little pdf? Well, there are a few hiccups in the intricate details here, but none are truly glaring. Hence, I feel completely justified in rounding up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. For the more than fair price, this is definitely worth getting.

Endzeitgeist out.

Advantageous Abilities: Savage Abilities (5e) is available from DriveThruRPG.

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Jun 012017

The Worm Within is the first novel in the Chronicles of Future Earth, a setting created and written by Sarah Newton.

By Paco García Jaén

Based on Earth in a very, very distant future where civilizations have come and gone and the world has suffered for millennia, left-behind ruins, glimpses and legends of what once was, the novel narrates the events that take place after an ancient and powerful threat is accidentally awoken. At the Chronomancer’s Tower, forces are set in motion to find the source of the threat. At the Autarch’s palace, machinations grow as self-interests move the wheels of intrigue bringing the end of the world closer than anyone thought possible.

This novel follows Iago, a young apprentice with a hidden past, and a group of companions delving into the world’s past and present to stop what could very well be the beginning of the end of a new cycliad.

And it is quite a journey.

Before I go on with the review, I must offer a disclaimer. I have known Sarah for as long as I have known of Chronicles of Future Earth – 17 years. This was her setting for an RPG we played and we went adventuring in the very universe this novel introduces. And I loved every second.

Well … not the time when my friend destroyed a few shelves of ancient books with his finger just to find which ones were magical. I was shocked someone could be so careless with books.

Anyway … the point is that we had a great time.  I have been a huge fan of the setting since even before it was published and I am good friends with the author. I am also very aware of her other novel and game in the Mindjammer setting, and know how well she writes. So I was bound to like this novel.

I just didn’t expect I was going to like it so much!

When I received the advance preview copy of the novel, it took the best part of 10 minutes to start reading it. And it took Sarah the best part of 20 minutes to throw me into the action. Pretty much from the start, fearlessly, the novel throws you into the world and the characters with just a few brush strokes to paint the very basics of both characters and their surroundings.

To start with I found that a bit disconcerting. Names of lost eras come and go. Places, creatures, people, objects, societies… it all comes in a whirlwind of activity that takes some time to process. This is coupled with the fearlessness of the author to throw you right at the deep end of the action pretty much from the start. A bit of chaos of information that little by little takes shape as eventually one becomes fully familiar with the ideas of pantheons, magics, politics and geography, as well as characters and a very well accomplished sense of ancient history.

The thing is, even though it feels a bit chaotic, it actually makes perfect sense in the context of the novel. An unknown situation is what the characters face and an unknown situation is what the readers get. As the plot unfolds, things become clearer for both characters and readers at the same time, thus helping with the pace and the familiarity with the threat, as well as making a better connection to the world and its history. By the end of the novel, you feel you have been there a long time and, without even realising, you have become very familiar with the world in the book.

The map at the beginning, even though a bit small due to the constraints of the book, gives a very handy visual clue to the journey the protagonists follow, as well as the scope of the world, considering it only represents a fraction of the whole place.

This is also important because it gives us a very clear idea of how well the world is created. How much sense it makes. And, personally, it makes me curious to know more about the cities, mountains, rivers and territories.

The plot is not something revolutionary, and it doesn’t need to be. Something has been found that puts the world at risk and it falls on the shoulders of the few and the unprepared to defuse the situation, or at least try. Taking place in two different locations and involving two different sets of characters, the plot evolves amidst intrigue and slightly predictable subterfuge in a crescendo of action that keeps you entertained throughout the novel.

Characters are very well crafted. Even though I can’t help but think we haven’t seen all they have to offer, relationships are explored and personalities grow with surprising detail that goes from the genesis of their friendships to their sexuality and emotional involvement. From the naive innocence of Iago the apprentice, to the churlish dignified traditions of the Pilogiarch or the troubled past of the priestess Appia, all of them show their vulnerabilities without shame or remorse and they grow stronger because they become closer to us. Suddenly someone from a dodgy background can be just as noble and someone who comes from a place of knowledge can have his world turned upside down.

One thing Newton doesn’t shy away from is, actually, fantasy. I know this sounds silly, but bear with me.

It is much too often that I read fantasy novels and they don’t get out of the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Halflings. Medieval fantasy can be a bit trite at times. The Worm Within is not. Far from elves, here we have Viriki and other species, more alien and insectoid than mammal. And they are not just alien in their looks, but also their customs and behaviours are well reflected, giving us societies that, although vastly different, live together and mix well with each other.

Nods at real life situations are scattered around the book. So much so that it feels in places like it’s giving a very subtle yet powerful slap in the face of bigotry and shows a diversity that feels as natural as appropriate.

I could keep going on about this book for hours. Seriously. With a plot that engages without being overtly revolutionary, there are enough twists and turns in this novel to hook you and make you want more and more. And I haven’t even gone into how well written it is. How meticulously the words have been chosen to convey the right meaning and the right tone. And how that writing is used masterfully to reflect the changes in societies and social strata within the societies.

The sheer richness of the environment will be more than enough to paint some wonderful and mighty pictures of scenes that feel you are in them and leave you wanting more. And just as well because there is a trilogy to be finished.

This is the start of an absolutely fantastic new series and I would recommend anyone to jump on the wagon right away because this is already brilliant … but the best is yet to come.

May 232017


A company that has been going on for longer than most, Chaosium has brought some of the most emblematic and beloved franchises to the RPG world.

Glorantha, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu… all of them prolific lines that have been supported by many thousands in many languages over many years.

And yet, the company has also gone through some very rough times in the last few years. So much so that a lot of people thought it would go under. However, it was rescued by a rather terrific group of people, one of them I had the pleasure of interviewing.

Jeff Richard is the Creative Director for the company and, being an accomplished game designer with a passion most would envy, he has a lot to say, not just about the past, but about the future of the company.

And he is a fun guy to boot!

You can listen to this podcast in iTunes and Stitcher too. You can download the episode from here.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Thank you for your support.

May 182017

Book of Lairs contains a significant array of set-piece locations you can easily drop into your game.


Book of Lairs is a massive book that clocks in at 109 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with a total of 102 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, before we do…what is this? In short, it could be considered to be a massive companion tome to the even more massive Tome of Beasts, but that would be only the tip of the ice-berg. Basically, this massive book contains a significant array of set-piece locations you can easily drop into your game, with the opposition making partially use of the monsters from the Tome of Beasts. While the book does not contain the statblocks of the opposition, it does provide rules for e.g. traps and obstacles, if featured in the respective environment. The respective lairs come with gorgeous full-color maps that feature the keys; every keyed location points towards an area, including a sequence of read-aloud text. The respective lairs are intended for level 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14 and 15 – though several lairs e.g. are provided for 3rd level.


All right, this is about as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. So yeah, potential players should jump to the conclusion, even though I will try hard to not go into the nit and grit of the respective storylines told by the environments.



All right, only GMs around? Great!

Mike Welham goes first and provides a nasty old dockyard, where ratfolk have set up shop alongside some nasty wharflings and doppelrats; a suitable sidetrek challenge for 1st level PCs. 3rd level PCs may explore the lost halls of everforge, penned by Shawn Merwin – a dwarven hall now abandoned, where they may be just in time to prevent the ascension of a flame drake to its more powerful, probably too strong, iteration!

Also at this level, Mike Shea’s “Den of the Rotten King”, where a dread wererat king lords over the denizens of the underworld, which may be nice, but it pales before Mike Welham’s trip to the Clockwork Tower – with the complex devices and interaction with the environment makes this one of the strongest offerings herein regarding its mechanics. At 4th level, Shawn Merwin provides a lindwurm lair in the titanic ranches of no other place than Yggdrasil! Oh, and add in some ravenfolk for added complication and you have a great lair.

Also at 4th level, Steve Winter invites us to visit the Castle of Sand, situated next to a gorgeous oasis…and yes, not all is here as it seems…but I’m not going to dispel that particular mirage here in the review. Brain England’s Pirate’s Cove for 5th level characters brings us to an almost archetypical pirate hide-out…that houses darkest horrors and a blasphemous cult instead! Mike Welham’s All-seeing eye deals with a cult that has been on the wane…and features some disturbing motifs regarding eyes and the like – it does not have to turn sour…but then again, what would you do if you saw a disturbing cluster of eyes floating towards you? Yeah, thought so.

6th level PCs can look forward to a trip to Shawn Merwin’s alchemists’ guildhall – which may, map-wise, be one of the most conservative lairs herein, but it does feature an interesting component regarding the opposition that astute PCs may well notice….and the true villains here are perhaps not what the PCs expected. The Hive, penned by Mike Welham oncegain, would deal with the complex beholden to the feared spawn of Arbeyach and thus can be pictured best as a complex with a nasty termite/insect-theme.

Brian England takes us to the almost classic Temple of the Deep Ones at 7th level, where the PCs face off versus coral drakes, deep ones and similar critters. Not my favorite one, though the map provided for this one is truly gorgeous and colorful. James J. Haeck’s Monument of the Thunderer, set in and on a gigantic dragon statue, certainly is one of the most amazing maps in concept herein and the lair, as such is high-concept and rewarding, though the opposition faced…well, isn’t. The foes featured per default here are a bit bland. The same can definitely not be said about the 8th level “House of Reeds and Whispers”, a wonderful, dark and horrific little set-piece that almost feels like it was penned by Richard Pett, and not Jon Sawatsky. Yes, this is intended as a compliment, Mr. Sawatsky, for the atmosphere here is neat indeed. If you are looking for a no-frills sword & sorcery-vibe, I’d certainly recommend Shawn Merwin’s Tomb of the Scorpion King.

Marc Radle’s dark forest has a direct tie-in with the umbral tower lair and represents basically a druidic area with a threat of shadow-themes eclipsing it; the location is per se solid, if less than what I expected from the evocative cartography. Shawn Merwin and Wolfgang Baur then proceed to take us to exactly said tower, which not only spotlights my beloved shadow-fey, it also offer advice for adapting it to  temperate forests and features even a brief chase and some nice environmental options – another highlight herein. Marc Radle’s Warlock crypt (9th level) redeems him – once again, we get the evocative themes we have come to enjoy from his writing, with the King in Silver and similar fexts making for unique foes, even though the map isin’t as amazing as that of some other complexes.

Enrique Betran’s Aboleth Grotto is a classic take on the trope and makes for a fun environment to explore, making good use of TOB’s new critters…but it falls behind Robert Aducci’s Bloowood of the Cruor Circle – which makes perhaps the coolest map I have seen for the dark druid theme…pretty much ever. Oh, and the adversaries also are neat. Shawn Merwin’s Imperial Ghoul Outpost is per se nice, though I have an issue with the new material, which deals “1 point of necrotic damage” on a hit – is that +1 or does it convert 1 point to necrotic damage? Not sure there.

Jon Swatsky’s cistern may not look as impressive as some of the other locations featured herein – but it represents one of the more challenging lairs in the book, if handled correctly by the GM, featuring some cool, unique environmental issues to deal with…

Steve Winters brings us back to the sand-choked tropes of sword & sorcery with the fane of serpents…including rival adventurers. As an aside, I combined that one with Legendary Games’ shrine of serpents in my own game…worked rather neatly! Wolfgang Baur does show where his reputation comes from with the “Sky Stairs of Beldestan” – not only is this 14th level lair’s cartography gorgeous to behold, the environment depicted is absolutely fantastic – and with traveler and pilgrims as well as death lurking at the top, this location just oozes pure style. Speaking of which: The kobold-commander-in-chief also presents the citadel of the void dragon, situated at the very edge of space; lack of air and the unique layout are just some of the obstacles to contend with here and yes, this lair is just as fantastic as the stairs. The final lair herein would be from the pen of none other than Jeff Grubb and pit the 15th level PCs against an umbral vampire. Yes, it features a soul organ and the complex is shaped like a star of David, adding some occult notions to the lair and ending the book on a high note.


Editing and formatting are very good on both a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous, gorgeous full-color artworks, though fans of kobold press may be familiar with some of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Cartography is at once amazing and the biggest drawback of the book: If you do want to get player-friendly versions of the maps, you’ll have to purchase them separately on the Kobold Press-store. I kinda get why, considering their quality, but it is still something that would gall me…particularly if got the print and it didn’t have them. I do not have the print version of this book, so unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea if it features the player-friendly iterations of the maps or not.

The designers Robert Aducci, Wolfgang baur, Enrique bertran, Brian Engard, Jeff Grubb, James J. Haeck, Shawn Merwin, Marc Radle, Jon Sawatsky, Mike Shea, Mike Welham and Steve Winter have done a per se great job in this book – there is not a single bad lair herein; all of the locations are evocative, fun and feature something that would qualify them as worth being used. In the quality of the writing, there is not much to complain about.

I have seen a couple of posts floating around the internet that claim this is almost system-neutral…but I’d vehemently disagree there. This is very much a 5e-supplement through and through that intends to maximize its potential audience by appealing beyond the confines of its rules-system. And the evocative locations succeed in just that; this is a nice purchase for other systems as well…but this flexibility also somewhat hurts the direct usefulness of the book. You see, the creatures featured herein do not sport stats. This is intentional to maintain a broader appeal, and due to this book’s status as a companion tome to the massive “Tome of Beasts.”

However, this also means that you really *NEED* Tome of Beasts to make the most use out of the lairs presented herein…unless you’re as versed as yours truly is and know what a “fext” or an “alseid” is, what powerlevel you’d use there, etc. So nope, I would not consider this book as such a good supplement for other systems….the maps, though…heck yes!

When used as intended for 5e with the Tome of Beasts, the consequence of the lack of stats herein is that the book demands a lot of page-flipping, as you have to look up the respective critters in the ToB, which represents a comfort detriment I considered somewhat annoying; similarly, I get why official D&D-supplements can’t be quoted by page. Why this can’t be done for the book this is a companion to, though, baffles me. I found myself searching quite a bit in the ToB-pdf while using this.

As a whole, I really, really loved most aspects of this massive books; the writing is excellent, the maps for the most part stellar…but the book does feel a bit inconsiderate, with its externalized player-maps, with its book-flipping sans page-numbers for stats that should imho be inside these pages. If you’re willing to put up with these admittedly minor hassles when using this, you’ll get a superb collection of material, but personally…I never quite managed to shake off that little sense of annoyance. So yeah – quality-wise, most definitely a true gem and, if that was all to judge, this would get my highest accolades. But having no player-friendly maps included is a huge deal for me and, combined with the slightly “more-difficult-than-need-be”-handling of the book, I can’t go higher than 4 stars as my official verdict.

Endzeitgeist out.

Book of Lairs for 5th Edition D&D is available from DriveThruRPG.

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