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Author Topic: [Conspiracy of Shadows] Liars, Swords & Money: Part 2 (L  (Read 3393 times)
Keith Senkowski
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« on: September 03, 2004, 08:03:42 AM »

Hey,

So with GenCon and RPG burnout because of it, we finally got around to playing Part 2 of Liars, Swords & Money.  It was all about choices and how fighting an uber-secret evil conspiracy doesn't give you clear black and white choices.  I was using this political backdrop to set a precident, and it seemed to work (though the one player always seems to look for the clear black and white computer game answer).  As one of my players said afterwards, it is like when Mulder has to work with Krychek or the Cigarette Smoking Man for a greater good.  Part One can be read here and the episode prior to that here.

Scene One: A New Faction Introduced
Humberto interupted a kidnapping attempt of Father Danya by three men.  He yelled for help and drew steel.  He quickly brought the one man down and engaged the second, while the third backed up against the wall with a knife to Father Danya's throat.  Ruud arrived ahead of the rest of the protagonists and using his bow, fired an arrow into the hand of the hostage taker.  Humberto slew the man he was battling and together they captured the hostage taker.  He informed them he was working for the Merchant Council and that he was ordered to kidnap Danya.

The city watch was called and they arrived.  Ruud made a foolish comment about the forbidden books that Father Danya was reading and got into an arguement with the watch.  However, things got settled and the group decided that the next day they would go investigate the Merchant Council.

Scene Two: Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom
In the early morning, Humberto got a knock on his door (a 13 year old boy he made wet his pants).  It was a message from Geraldo (their merchant ally) to meet him at his brother's estate.  After breakfast, the protagonists went to Xavier's Estate.  At the gate, they find out they are not on the list, but after 30 minutes of waiting they are escorted to the house to meet Geraldo.

Upon entering the room, Geraldo seemed surprised to meet them.  He did not send for them and as far as he knew, neither did his brother.  Shovan immediately says, this is a diversion so that they can make another attempt on Father Danya and they turn to leave.  Then it hit.  A large explosion shatters the building and everyone is knocked down.  In the carnage, someone stops and takes the diary of the previous King's Hand from Ruud and says, "I'm sorry about this.  I really am."

Once everyone is up and about (severly dazed of course) a man comes running up from the gate to speak with Xavier (who was organizing the search for survivors).  At the gate the King's men were trying to get in to arrest the protagonists.  Xavier says he will hold them off as long as he can to return the favor of saving Geraldo (Episodes 1 & 2).  Geraldo then leads them out a side entrance to the compound where they are spotted by some guardsmen.  After a merry chase into the South Warrens (think ghetto) they lose the guards and find themselves in an alley outside the Broken Mug Tavern.

Scene Three: Things Get Complicated
The angry band entered the bar to get a drink.  They come to the conclusion that they need to find Hvinn, their smuggler friend, to try and get some answers.  As they try to leave, they were stopped at the door by a man entering saying, "Ahh.  I found you.  Let me buy you a drink."

It turns out he was the one that set the explosion, his name is Inigo and he works for House Talvan.*  He tells them that he can offer them a safehouse, help them find Lucian and an opportunity to work for his employer (aid Talvan in pressing his claim).  He also tells them that the book and the family tree they found is proof of his employer's claim.  He then leaves and tells them the location of the safe house (a plague marked house) and says to sleep on their decision.

Seeing this as a opportunity to lay low, they go to the safe house and begin to try and put everything together.  Shortly after getting there a knock is heard on the door.  After a bunch of shuffling they answer it.  It is Oro ca Laravina and he is there as a representative from the Merchant's Council.  The long and the short is that they want to hire the group for a gig (they are looking for Lucian too) in exchange for immeasurable wealth and to help them find Lucian.  Leaves them food and drink as a measure of good faith and tells them to contact him (send a note to the Black Rose) when they have made a decision.

So the discussion begins.  Which side will they choose? Will they turn themselves in to the King's Hand (who they got along with last episode) who Ruud favors since he is a king's man?  Will they align with the rebel house who tried to blow them up and stole from them?  Or, will they align with the Merchant Council, who tried to kidnap Father Danya?

They choose the Merchant Council and send the note.  Oro arrives an hour later and tells them he wants two things in exchange for immeasurable wealth.  One is to find Lucian (which they will supply men to them to help) and two is to assasinate the King's Hand, who is making trouble for them (a real kick in the pants this one).  They pump Oro for information and don't get much (he is essentially a lawyer after all) and ask for more time (1 hour).

When Oro returns for a third time, they tell him they will do it.  They really don't want to assassinate the King's Hand, but they felt they had no other choice (gotten in too deep).  He tells them he needs some time to set up a safe location to move them to (one of his men got his throat slit while babysitting the house) and leaves.**  

Scene Four: Another Faction, You Have Got to Be Kidding Me
Later that night they hear some scuffling outside the door, a gurgle and then a knock.  It is Inigo.  He knows about Oro's visits, claimes that the alley ambush (last episode) was orchestrated by either the King of the King's Hand and asked them once again to aid his employer.  He also mentioned that they are being watched by other men (not Merchant Council men) from across the
street.

They figured, what the hell, lets ask them in to get their offer.  It turns out to be an ambush.  Swords flash and bolts rain down upon Humberto and Shovan.  Ruud pulled a slat out of the boarded up window and killed the snipers while Shovan cut down the two remaining in the street.  They find a note with the name of a Tavern (The Black Gull) and a man (Hapka).  Deciding not to get side tracked they left with Inigo to go meet Vorno Talvan and see the proof (they hadn't really studied it before).

*House Talvan and the current king (of House Rudolvan) are cousins.  Rudolvan inherited the throne a few years ago, but Talvan claims that they are the rightful rulers.  They are on the verge of open war.

**They let slip about the book (which they found at Lucians which got stolen by Inigo) to Oro, but he had no idea what they were talking about.  The Merchant Council is interested in Lucian for some other unrelated reason.

On a whole it worked out nicely.  They caught on that none of the three sides is really very good or very evil, so it came down to choosing the lesser of two evils.  Ruud had the hardest choice because he had a good relationship with the hand and his father (prior to being killed) was one of the king's huntsmen.  He ultimately decided that his loyalty was to the throne itself and that if Talvan was the rightful heir, he should be in the throne.

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2004, 08:51:26 PM »

Hello,

I have shamefully failed to participate in Conspiracy of Shadows discussions since GenCon.

Here let me say: this game is excellent. I really like it, although there's a possibility of conflict of interest there, as CofS is clearly a Sorcerer spawn - a leaner, meaner, specific-setting version. Its mechanics are different enough to be different rather than just a spin, so it's definitely its own grown-up spawn. I regard it with a kind of awe.

Keith, one reason I've had a hard time responding to your threads is because you're only presenting transcripts. The characters do this, do that, and then do the next thing. It's not an account of play, which is really what we need to see to appreciate what the game is about.

Here are my questions which are designed to showcase how the game works.

1. Please describe the process of creating one of the supernatural menaces in the scenario.

2. Give some examples (not all) of the positive and negative descriptors among the characters, and how they were used during play.

3. Did anyone get a really rockin' series of successful rolls? How did that affect the outcome of that particular conflict? Did any NPC get such a series against the player-characters?

4. What is the nature of the conspiracy? Can you list its features just as you require them to be invented by the GM in the scenario preparation section?

5. Which ethnicities and national origins are represented by the player-characters? Did your players play "toward type" as described in the book, or do some tweaking to individualize characters as distinct from the common perception of their ethnicities?

6. Which moments during play were real payoffs for you as GM? Why?

Finally, what are you proudest of in the book's content? In which you say, "Yeah, I wanted to say that, and damn, here it is."

Best,
Ron
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Keith Senkowski
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Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2004, 10:22:43 PM »

Hey,

Oh man is this going to be long.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Here let me say: this game is excellent. I really like it, although there's a possibility of conflict of interest there, as CofS is clearly a Sorcerer spawn - a leaner, meaner, specific-setting version. Its mechanics are different enough to be different rather than just a spin, so it's definitely its own grown-up spawn. I regard it with a kind of awe.


Stop.  You're making me blush.  Seriously, Sorcerer was one of the key players in the creation of the game.  Both because it was the first successful indie game I stumbled across and also because the system scratched me where I itched when I was dfeveloping.  At one point I was considering making it a Sorcerer supplement, but I ran across some other mechanical ideas I wanted to use, which is what led to the final system.  

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Keith, one reason I've had a hard time responding to your threads is because you're only presenting transcripts. The characters do this, do that, and then do the next thing. It's not an account of play, which is really what we need to see to appreciate what the game is about.


Thanks for the response.  I'm more used to simply recording what happened for purposes of keeping everyone's memory fresh in the game than I am at explaining game-wise what is going on.  However, I will give it a go.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Here are my questions which are designed to showcase how the game works.

1. Please describe the process of creating one of the supernatural menaces in the scenario.


Well, for Liars, Swords & Money, Part 3 will end with a confrontation with a supernatural threat which they have never scene.  When I create my menace I kind of work backward from the system as I create the creatures Wake.  The Wake, for those of you that don't know, is the supernatural's effect upon reality.  The one for this scenario spontaneously creates locusts within 100 feet of it.

From there I then follow the steps in the book.  I chose a more traditional theme and made it's Mark (like a tell-tale in Sorcerer) that it's host always shows signs of rot and decay.  Its Drive is to gain a new and more robust body to inhabit.

Next I choose powers and weaknesses (Affliction: Drain FOR; Form:Incorporeal; Immunity: Wood, Possession; Witchblood Powers: Horror, Mind Speech, Spirit Hands, & Surge; True Weakness: Salt) and round it out with it's stats.

For other creatures, sometimes I just create a rough idea (like in Dog Day Afternoon) and let the players create it by taking narative control.  In that case a player may describe to me what he learned from his research.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
2. Give some examples (not all) of the positive and negative descriptors among the characters, and how they were used during play.


I'll give an example for each of the four characters.
Ruud (Survival): Is adept at tracking men despite dry conditions.
Humberto (Fortitude): Tends to suffer from nausea when encountering blood.
Shovan (Temperament): He has trouble keeping secrets to himself.
Elek (Knowledge): Has trouble remembering names.

I've noticed two things about Descriptors through play.  1) Some really have no mechanic tied to them, but Players that choose those use them as a guide to role-playing the character. 2) Some Players have trouble coming up with them when creating their characters.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
3. Did anyone get a really rockin' series of successful rolls? How did that affect the outcome of that particular conflict? Did any NPC get such a series against the player-characters?


This last session was mostly politicking and characterization, but the final fight had some interesting rolls.  The one cultist (who was a goon) kept rolling in range of 15-18 (which is really good) with his crossbow.  It had some scary results for the one character (Humberto) but he was pulle dout of harms way (by Shovan).  Ruud also exploded his dice (optional rule I added in Exposing the Shadows 1) shooting down snipers through a small slat with his Horse Bow.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
4. What is the nature of the conspiracy? Can you list its features just as you require them to be invented by the GM in the scenario preparation section?


Sure.  The core of the conspiracy is Shurgath, a demon prince.  Beneath him are the his Children, the Chosen, the Horde and the Prophets.  His Children are his seven children born of Witchblood mothers.  The Chosen and people that are magically turned into puppets to the will of his Prophets. The Prophets are his human allies who worship him like a god.  They all have ingested a black tar-like substance which enhances their powers.  The Horde is a group of mindless servants created by Shurgath when he drains all the intelligence out of a person.  They can spread like a disease as they too can create other members of the Horde.

The purpose of the conspiracy is to return the world to an age of ice and snow, where he and his Children can flourish.  He also seeks other hale women with the Witchblood to bare him more children as well as more Chosen and Prophets to create communities that will live on during the coming age.  Their purpose is for food and breeding stock.

The inner circle is strictly Shurgath and his 7 Children.  Below that are the Prophets (perhaps 50), who only recruit outside their families.  Of the Chosen there are tens of thousands in all walks of life.

The conspiracy has most of its influence among the common people and the merchants of the south.  They also control most organized criminal activity in Eskar and Amdrus.  This gives it virtually limitless access to funds and manpower, though the manpower is not always up to snuff.  it recently has gained control of a powerful artifact from the ender times that has allowed it to begin to change the weather.

To start the characters know nothing about the true nature of the conspiracy.  All they know to start is that people have begun to listen to new, self proclaimed prophets in the more remote areas of Eskar and Amdrus.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
5. Which ethnicities and national origins are represented by the player-characters? Did your players play "toward type" as described in the book, or do some tweaking to individualize characters as distinct from the common perception of their ethnicities?


The players chose ethnicities from all over the board (Eskari, Tarathan, Malindarin & Radian).  They tend to play towards type to start, but have tweaked them to make them more distinct from the stereotypes as they came to know the world and their characters better.  It is pretty much as I expected.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
6. Which moments during play were real payoffs for you as GM? Why?


The best part of last session was watching them go through an entire emotional range as they came to realize that noe of the choices were going to be easy.  We were standing on my buddy's balcony smoking cigarrettes and I had just dropped the bomb (asking them to kill the King's Hand) role-playing Oro (the swarthy lawyer-type) and they began to debate which choice would be the best (with each Player shining as they surpurbly role-played their characters).  It was great to see them come to inderstand that the entire thing was about choices and that fighting evil is never a black and white issue.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Finally, what are you proudest of in the book's content? In which you say, "Yeah, I wanted to say that, and damn, here it is."


Well I have to say I am proudest mechanics wise of the Descriptor/Destiny Pool system.  I wanted to allow the creation of truly unique characters without having to list a bunch of options (which in itself limits choice because they are limited by your list) and I did.  I also wanted to promote the taking of Negative Descriptors without creating a min/maxing sort of scenario and did with the Destiny Pool.

Outside of the mechanics, I love the Conspiracy Creation aspect of the game.  It was really hard to do, but I think the work paid off.

I'm also really pleased with the art.  I did most of it and there is quite a bit of art.  I'm really proud of the fact that I wrote, illustrated, layed out and published the whole damn thing myself.

Keith[/i]
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2004, 08:18:31 AM »

Hi Keith,

Let me try to explain positive and negative descriptors in this game. Correct me if I screw it up.

1. Every skill and every attribute has one and only one descriptor. It is unequivocally either positive or negative.

2. If it's positive, the score gets a bonus die when in the appropriate situation ("with my father's sword," etc). Very straightforward.

3. If it's negative, the score is used at its base value (not penalized for the negative descriptor! important).

4. For every negative descriptor across your character sheet, you get a die in your "Destiny Pool," which is best understood as an expendable pool of free-floating bonus dice to be used whenever/however.

So it's actually pretty simple - the positives make your score "one higher," and the negatives give you some role-playing fun and increase your bonus pool. It's a cross of Everway and Over the Edge.

Quick questions, 'cause my book is currently in the hands of one of my friends (who'd be very well suited to run it for us). The Destiny Pool gets used up, right? How much, in your experience of play - is it really limited?

Also, let's say my character has the negative Fortitude descriptor that one of your players' characters has:

Quote
Humberto (Fortitude): Tends to suffer from nausea when encountering blood.


What's to stop him from spending a bonus die every time he uses Fortitude, blood or no blood? In other words, the same positive effect of having had a positive descriptor, but without the positive descriptor's limited-circumstance application?

Best,
Ron
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Keith Senkowski
Member

Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2004, 08:43:29 AM »

Hey,

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Quick questions, 'cause my book is currently in the hands of one of my friends (who'd be very well suited to run it for us). The Destiny Pool gets used up, right? How much, in your experience of play - is it really limited?


Actually Ron, Negative Descriptors give a 1D6 negative die (so there is a penalty).  Usually have them roll a different colored die in addition to the dice they are rolling for the action.

My experience has been that Players are very hesitant to use their Destiny Pool in fear of needing it later.  Since it refreshes with the end of each story (which can sometimes be several sessions) it gives the Players Pause.  Oddly enough this occurs even when they acru temporary Destiny Points for taking limited Narrative control.

However, the one Player, Andy (Shovan) has no fear of using his Destiny Pool.  He uses them constantly and it always adds to the story (making incredible hits, saving allies, surviving near death experiences, etc).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Also, let's say my character has the negative Fortitude descriptor that one of your players' characters has:

Quote
Humberto (Fortitude): Tends to suffer from nausea when encountering blood.


What's to stop him from spending a bonus die every time he uses Fortitude, blood or no blood? In other words, the same positive effect of having had a positive descriptor, but without the positive descriptor's limited-circumstance application?

Best,
Ron


Nothing, but as I said, there is still the variable negative to the roll.  I've found that Destiny Points are only game breakers (so to speak) when running a single scenario, and even then not always.  I've had situations where characters had to make horror checks and the one player burned his entire pool (3D6) and rolled all 1s, suffering the effects of horror.

The Destiny Pool serves the primary purpose of giving the Players more control over the actions in the story (by giving them an edge).

Thanks for the Great Questions
Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2004, 09:39:51 AM »

Hello,

Ah! So if I had Fortitude 5, with that negative descriptor, here's what I'd be rolling.

a) Five dice to check or use Fortitude when no blood is involved

b) Five dice + penalty die to check or use it when blood is involved

c) No situation in which I'd roll five dice + bonus die (unlike another score which has a positive descriptor)

Got it.

You're familiar with my books and with the various writeups I've done for HeroQuest (then Hero Wars), Sorcerer, Little Fears, Violence Future, Le Mon Mouri, and other pretty hard-hitting games. Have you had any experiences with Conspiracy of Shadows which include over-the-line material for the players - and then they go ahead and embrace the new level of self-revelation to one another anyway?

Best,
Ron
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Keith Senkowski
Member

Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


WWW
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2004, 07:20:00 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Ah! So if I had Fortitude 5, with that negative descriptor, here's what I'd be rolling.

a) Five dice to check or use Fortitude when no blood is involved

b) Five dice + penalty die to check or use it when blood is involved

c) No situation in which I'd roll five dice + bonus die (unlike another score which has a positive descriptor)


Hey,

Argh.  Actually no.  Let me splain... no there is too much.  Let me sum up.

a) 2D6 + Fortitude + Skill when no blood is involved.
b) 2D6 + Fortitude + Skill - Penalty Die (!D6) when blood is involved.
c) Correct, sort of.  No situation in which you would roll 2D6 plus bonus die (unlike another score which has a positive descriptor).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
You're familiar with my books and with the various writeups I've done for HeroQuest (then Hero Wars), Sorcerer, Little Fears, Violence Future, Le Mon Mouri, and other pretty hard-hitting games. Have you had any experiences with Conspiracy of Shadows which include over-the-line material for the players - and then they go ahead and embrace the new level of self-revelation to one another anyway?

Best,
Ron


Yeah. At least I think we had our first moment in the last session.  It was a kind of small step, but I want to take it slow with this group before we start exploring really hard subjects.

The whole issue of choice between evil and loyalty to ones country came into play, particularly for one player.  He is the hardest to get to step over-the-line, but the way he handled this encourages me to take it a step further.  I've got one more episode about choices and loyalty and then I'm going to hit them with something hard.

My next Arc is going to tackle child abuse.  I think this will be the ultimate test for them (and myself).

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Ron Edwards
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Member
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Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2004, 07:23:22 AM »

Oops! Right. I forgot the 2d6 and skill. For "score," just read "dice total." Cool, I'm on it.

Here's another question: what about pacing? It seems to me that you're going kind of slowly, but then, I do the same when people really start getting into the NPCs and into one another's characters.

So have you introduced NPCs who are apparently extremely compelling for the group, including yourself? Who are they, and what major decisions have they been involved in somehow?

Best,
Ron
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Keith Senkowski
Member

Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


WWW
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2004, 07:39:41 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Here's another question: what about pacing? It seems to me that you're going kind of slowly, but then, I do the same when people really start getting into the NPCs and into one another's characters.

Hey,

Well, the first few episodes really crawled.  I had two new people to the system, both of which only every really played D&D in various forms.  I also had two people that were a part of the development of the game, but both really only played D&D in various forms and didn't fully get where I was going with the game.  It took them a while to get things going, but now episodes have begun to pop (though they could still use some improvement).  

This past one just might appear slow because not a lot of phsycial actions occured.  Instead it was filled with each character wrestling with their convictions and the choices they were going to have to make (some nice in-character arguements).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
So have you introduced NPCs who are apparently extremely compelling for the group, including yourself? Who are they, and what major decisions have they been involved in somehow?

Best,
Ron


Yeah.  Father Danya in particular (I introduced him).  He is essentially the disgruntled father/grandfather figure for two of the characters.  He is the one they turn to when they are confused, angry, happy, basically in any situation.  I've kept him from being a big part of the descision making process and instead gives advice (though not always good).

The one character I introduced as a kind of one off bad guy, but the one Player started a conversation with him and together we created this really compelling and sympathetic character on the fly.  It was great and they are looking to bring him into their network.  The best part about it was that I really had nothing to do with it besides reacting to their prompts and actions.

I think that is the best part of the narrative control aspect of Destiny Pools.  Instead of dictating information and having the players react to it.  I create a skeleton and they fill it out, but sometimes I have to reform the skeleton to support what they have invented.  I don't think they realize exactly what they are doing.  It seems to be a slow revalation to them that they are in control of the game and I work for them, not the other way around.

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
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