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Author Topic: Blake's playtest game  (Read 9649 times)
Blake Hutchins
Member

Posts: 614


« on: October 21, 2002, 12:24:58 PM »

CHARACTERS FOR “THE MASTER OF NIGHTMARES”

Decided to start a new thread to get this going.  See the "Playtesting tonight" thread for the setup of the Master, the setting, and the NPC minion.

Players
We had three players: Matt, Shawn, and Mike.  Of the three, only Matt brought experience with narrativist mechanics (he was one of my Pool players).  Shawn and Mike had played DnD and Shadowrun.  I’d never gamed with either of them before.

Character Creation
This process went for about an hour.  I read them a description of the Master and Fraulein Stahl, then went through the Chargen rules step-by-step, in order.  When we got to the More/Less part, I added some notes and discussion from the forum, focusing on asking the characters how they fit into the community of the asylum, and what the Master would likely use them to accomplish.  We bounced some ideas off one another, mostly about the More/Less traits.  I offered them the guidelines of communication, perception, restriction, movement, or odd to help them focus their ideas for traits.  It seemed to go well, and everyone found a place to fit in without too much difficulty.

The More/Less Traits posed the most trouble, in part because they really were different than anything we’d had to do with other games.

Finally, I asked everyone to consider an Issue that bound them to the Master.  We did this, and promptly forgot it.  In play, as I’ll post later, this particular trait didn’t seem to be relevant; nobody missed it, in other words.  Play moved so quickly and fluidly that there was no need for this kind of rationale of a minion’s motive.

The Minions of Herr Doktor Von Lichter

LUCIUS VON CLEEF - another, lesser doctor at the asylum under Von Lichter’s tutelage.

Image:  Balding, long hair, liver spots, wears black suit, carries black bag.

Self-loathing 2
Weariness 1

Less Than:
1.   Hands tremble and spasm uncontrollably unless Lucius is humming.
2.   Utterly unable to read numbers and letters unless suffering acute pain.

More Than:
Instinctively knows a person’s greatest fear unless Lucius is afraid of that person.

Significants:
1.   Ingrid Morgenschwartz, the mousy-haired owner of the pharmacy in Grustadt.  This is where the Asylum orders its drugs and other medical supplies.
2.   Lucius’s mother, whom he hates and wishes to please, a widow lodged in a fine house in town.

The Master uses Lucius to discover the worst nightmares of patients before they undergo the Master’s “therapy.”  Lucius is also responsible for any injections, blood samples, or other medical assistant work.


JAKOB – one of the Master’s patients with a special talent that makes him useful as a trustee and general assistant.

Image:  Albino, one pink eye, one gray eye, froth of white hair, marked by manic servility and emotional outbursts.  Dresses in plain white orderly “scrubs” in the asylum, or a plain black attire on “excursions.”

Self-loathing 1
Weariness 2

Less Than:
1.   Unable to venture outside in daylight without suffering pain and burns.
2.   Severe Tourette’s Syndrome unless ANGRY (fails social interactions with Townsfolk).

More Than:
Can lay hands on a sleeping person and thereby enter and utterly manipulate their dreams, though doing so is quite fatiguing for both Jakob and the subject.

Significants:
1.   Gretchen Lubensohn, the autistic patient in Room 3B, whom Jakob envisions as his potential wife.
2.   Johannes, the keeper of the Augenblich Tavern in town.  Jakob escaped there once prior to his trustee status, and Johannes was the one who captured him.  Jakob sees him as a great friend and believes he himself goes down there for an occasional drink and exchange of confidences, though he in fact has never done so.

The Master uses Jakob to help set the stage for therapy by making a good, comforting dream into a terrible nightmare, or to calibrate the timbre of a patient’s nightmares.  Jakob also gets to perform sundry unskilled menial tasks about the asylum.


HANS RUBIN – the Asylum groundskeeper

Image:  Tall, heavily bearded, swarthy countenance.  Coarse woolen greatcoat, heavy boots, broad-brimmed hunter’s hat.  Fond of carrying a woodsman’s axe and a large hunting knife.

Self-loathing 1
Weariness 2

Less Than:
Must respond truthfully to any question posed to him unless in church.
Horrifically intimidating visage unless in the presence of flowers.

More Than:
Ignores locks unless children are nearby.  (Doors, windows, boxes, safes, and the like all may be opened as if unlocked or unlatched except when the presence of children cancels this ability.)

Significants:
1.   Anya Rubin, the seven-year old niece of Hans, who lives with her father (Hans’s brother) and mother in town.
2.   Fraulein Stahl, for whom Hans has conceived a certain infatuation.

The Master uses Hans as muscle and to kidnap targeted townsfolk for “therapeutic experimentation.”

Comments on Character Generation Results
I was surprised how easily the players found useful roles to fill in the Asylum and how their choices of Significants went a long way toward populating the town.  I could immediately see ways to engage them in crises, either individually or in combination.  At the same time, the players reported the characters all felt pretty detailed and easy to step into, since most of the process wasn’t about juggling numerical scores.  They also had an easy time visualizing the setting (19th century asylum) and their own parts of that setting.  Hans, for example, created a shed on the grounds that served as his Spartan residence in addition to wood and tool storage.  Lucius described his paper-strewn office with the test-tubes and beakers towering above his chemical mixing table.  Jakob brushed off his hospital room as an “apartment,” and never mentioned it again.

[Edited to fix one of Jakob's Less Than traits.]
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Blake Hutchins
Member

Posts: 614


« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2002, 04:54:53 PM »

GAMEPLAY
This will be a tough recap in a lot of ways, as a breathless description of the game is something I generally try to avoid, focusing on player behavior instead of the emergent story content.  On the other hand, the transgressive content so drove the way gameplay unfolded that I don’t know if I can separate them and do justice to the analysis.  Bear with me.  As my friend and fellow player Matt posts, I’m sure he’ll catch me where I’ve misremembered whole swatches of detail.  In the meantime, I think it will be interesting to see what kinds of stories MLWM produces and compare it to other instances of play.

First off, we played Friday night the 18th.  Character creation took an hour, and gameplay ran about three and a half hours before everyone got too tired to continue (or maybe it was the beer...0.  However, folks were unanimous in wanting to finish the game, so we reconvened Saturday night and picked up where we left off.  We did hit Endgame Saturday, finishing play after about 4 hours.

It bears mentioning too that we had a spectator on the second night, a friend of Shawn’s who’d heard about what went on Friday night.

Beginning
As I hadn’t prepared anything more than the preliminary material about the Master and Fraulein Stahl, I wasn’t sure how to kick things off.  Fortunately, the characters’ Significants fed directly into Kickers, so I took the “Story Now” approach and immediately had the Master demand one of Jakob’s Significants (Gretchen) undergo a nicely traumatic “therapy” session.  I kept this pace straight through the first night and much of the second, shifting from one Significant to another and letting player reactions feed into the next scene.  I made sure the Master was demanding, all-knowing, and conveniently impregnable to persuasion.  I framed scenes very aggressively; there were no lulls in the action, and everyone stayed interested in what was happening on-stage, regardless of who had the spotlight.

The beginning had each character trying an Overture, often while following some order of the Master’s that jeopardized the particular Significant.  This phase accomplished three things: (1) each player gained immediate and visceral reasons to want the Master dead, and (2) each player tasted the futility of resisting Master, and (3) each player was forced into some act of betrayal against one of his Significants, establishing a strong guilt-based relationship with that person.

Since the Master was a psychiatrist, albeit a very broken one, I played him in a therapist style that drove hard for the Intimacy die.  Once players realized what was going on, they worked hard to one-up him on that, which led to some interesting roleplaying.  The Master had a harder time getting the Intimacy die with Hans, as his hatred of boots came into play and it was much harder for Master to conceal his disdain.

I’ll present this all in roughly the order in which the scenes occurred.

Here’s a summary what happened on the first night:

-   Jakob assisted in a therapy procedure for Gretchen, manipulating her nightmares to increase her already-existing agoraphobia.  Lucius helped target Gretchen’s fear.  Jakob tries a pathetic Overture in the dream, but it goes wrong, and Gretchen comes away with a terrible fear of pale men.  Any conscious contact with Jakob for the rest of the game pretty much always gave her the desperation die as a bonus.
-   Hans and Lucius went to town and took Hans’s niece Anya from the house, claiming some kind of bogus smallpox infection as an excuse.  It should be noted they took the girl in the absence of her parents, with Hans using his family connection as a lever with the housekeeper.  Matt as a player felt guilty as hell about this.
-   Hans tries an overture to Fraulein Stahl, gets to see her clumsy attempt to bond with Andre (a failed Overture).  Amazingly, he succeeds.
-   Lucius and Jakob go to the Pharmacy to pick up supplies, Jakob all swathed up in face wrappings and heavy clothing like the Invisible Man.  Once they enter, the bell over the door rings, and they meet Ingrid, the apothecary.  Lucius makes an Overture, which (I think) succeeded.  Jakob does his loony patient thing and has Lucius haul him out of there.  The Master had ordered Jakob to touch Ingrid.  I can’t remember why; I think I mixed his talent up with that of Lucius.  It was a great scene anyway.
-   Anya’s distraught parents showed up at the Asylum, wanting to see their daughter.  Lucius and Hans turned them away, with Lucius taking a doctorly approach by simultaneously reassuring them and playing up the smallpox scare; Hans assures them (truthfully) the girl will receive personal attention of Herr Doktor Von Lichter and that yes, she was absolutely in great danger.  Nice and creepy little scene.
-   The Master orders Hans and Jakob to kidnap Ingrid the pharmacist.  This was to become the scene that would really shift the game into high gear.  They went to the pharmacy in the dead of night.  Hans (ignoring locks) opened the front door and the bell over the door jingled loudly.  A light comes on upstairs.  Ingrid’s tremulous voice asks, “Is anyone there?”  Hans responds, “Yes.”  Things went from there with Ingrid’s fiancé coming down with a shotgun.  Jakob comes up behind this fellow and knocks him out with a pharmacist’s scale while Hans guts him with a hunting knife.  Hans then turns and chloroforms Ingrid.  Jakob keeps bashing the poor downed bastard’s skull to pulp with the scale, finally tossing the brain-bespattered object aside and rising shakily with a Tourette’s Syndrome tour de force commentary.  As Hans bundles the unfortunate Ingrid into the wagon, Jakob throws down the oil lamp, breaks some bottles on the floor, and sets the pharmacy on fire.  The two race into the night, returning to the asylum.
-   Master experiments on Anya and Ingrid.  One thing the Master habitually did was refer to any non-minion as a patient, identifying them only by their room numbers.  He chided anyone who failed to use this system in his presence.  Of course, Lucius and Jakob apply their More Than talents to make sure the two new patients are seriously fucked up in the therapy.  Hans gets to stand and watch.  Lucius makes a desperate effort to dissuade the Master from working on Ingrid, especially after he finds out about what happened during her abduction.
-   After the “therapy,” Hans tries to make an Overture to his now-traumatized niece while the drugs kick in and put her out.  It fails, predictably, and she drops into terrible nightmares dominated by her uncle’s hirsute face.  A despondent Hans goes out on the grounds with a bottle of potato liquor.
-   Lucius takes the now-catatonic Ingrid to her new room, tucks her into bed and then stretches out beside her.  It is the only thing he can think of to provide comfort, and I let it qualify as an Overture.

So much for the first night.

Middle
Night One just ripped along at a terribly fast pace with scads of energy, despite everyone downing four to six beers apiece in the course of play.  I hoped we could maintain the intensity and even ramp things up.  The players were excited, which was a good sign, and everything was still fresh in all our minds, as it was a one-two deal instead of a week’s hiatus between sessions.

On another front, I considered how to set things up for Endgame.  The middle game should start to drive toward that conclusion, I thought, and I really wanted to keep the pressure on.  I decided to have the Master react to the carnage the players had wrought, and to raise the stakes with the captive Significants.

Here’s what happened on Night Two:
-   In the early pre-dawn hours, the Master calls the minions together and says he has grave concerns about the reaction of the townspeople to the burning of the pharmacy.  Specifically, he believes the townspeople’s suspicions will be aroused upon only finding one body in the ruins.  There must be another body, he declares, or they will suspect foul play and turn everything upside down.  He gives Hans a list of patients and orders him to pick one, kill her, burn the body to “an appropriate forensic state,” and then slip the body into the ruins.
-   Hans picks a patient and has to murder her.  I described the girl as a mentally damaged, thumb-sucking innocent.  The only word she managed for Hans was, “Papa?”  A guilt-stricken Hans smothers her with her pillow, reasoning his axe would not leave her in a forensically appropriate state.  Before he does so, he declares her a Significant and makes an Overture.  More Love, more Self-Loathing.
-   The Master calls Lucius to his office to describe a new surgical procedure to implant a device into the brains of patients for an invasive dream therapy technique.  The first two patients are, of course, to be Ingrid and Anya.  Lucius tries to persuade the Master Ingrid is unsuitable, but fails.  Afterward Lucius goes to the surgery room to prep the patients for the experiment.
-   Meanwhile, a despondent Hans takes the body of his victim to the furnace room to burn the body.  Fraulein Stahl tells him Gretchen has somehow escaped.  Along the way he meets Jakob and forces him to take over the body-burning duties.  Jakob hauls the body down to the furnace.  Hans goes to hunt Gretchen.
-   Jakob spends much time trying to figure out how best to get the body into the furnace, burn it just so, and get it out.  Various kitchen tools are necessary.  On the way back from the kitchens, he discovers the body has shifted from the pose in which he left it.  As he investigates, someone bursts out of the coal pile and races for the stairs, screaming something about a sister burning.  Jakob cold-cocks this person with a shovel and discovers it’s Gretchen.  He tenderly wipes her face, then turns and shoves the dead girl into the furnace.
-   Lucius again tries to resist the Master as they prep Anya for surgery.  He fails, shaves off Anya’s golden locks, and draws the dotted lines where they will chisel into her skull.
-   Hans searches the grounds and catches a young boy peeping into windows.  The boy is a schoolmate of Anya and wants to find her.  Hans locks the child in his shed and trudges back inside, where he finds Jakob dragging the unconscious body of Gretchen out of the furnace room.  Hans takes her back to her room.  On the way he passes the surgery room and stops to inform the Master the fugitive has been caught.  A coal-filthy Jakob accompanies him, anxious about Gretchen.
-   Interrupted in the moment of beginning an important procedure, the Master curtly orders Gretchen deposited in the room with the other patients.  He is also angered by Hans’s boots in his operating room.  The ensuing tantrum puts all the minions on the defensive, everyone fails to resist, but the Master ultimately decides to delay the operation for one hour.  Particularly noteworthy was the exchange between the Master and Lucius about who should be the lead surgeon.  Lucius one-upped the Master on the Intimacy level, and made another Overture to Ingrid before leaving the room.  Jakob goes to wash off the coal dust and change into clean white garb.
-   Hans goes to the shed and (unexpectedly) releases the boy, telling him to bring Anya’s parents and other townsfolk.  Hans, it should be noted, did not directly disobey any command of the Master in doing so.  Afterward, he sits alone in his shed and weeps.
-   Lucius returns to find the Master has already begun the operation on Anya.  Another argument follows, at which time the Master orders Lucius to give Anya a pain-killer.  Lucius prepares a shot, secretly substituting cyanide instead of an anaesthetic.  He makes Anya a Significant, and then goes through some excellent roleplaying to grab the Sincerity die and make an Overture.  He succeeds, raising his Love to the level to trigger Endgame.


Endgame
I was pretty generous with allowing players to pick up Significants and make Overtures, provided they laid the foundation with roleplaying, and that circumstances supported the creation of the relationship.  Once Lucius triggered Endgame, we parsed the rules to determine he could not rise up against the Master until he had successfully resisted a command.

The struggle was on.

I told the players their destinies:  Hans was to integrate into society, Jakob would be killed, and Lucius was to kill himself.  Interesting range of outcomes, I thought.  Matt was disappointed at first, as he’d been planning an elaborate Gothic suicide scene.  At this point, I froze character scores and did not permit further Overtures.

Here’s how it went:

-   Lucius challenges the Master’s judgment about the operation.  Much of the discussion goes back and forth about who should get written up in the medical journals.  Lucius cannot yet bring himself to stick the cyanide into Master.  The Master finally cuts off the argument and orders Lucius to “give the shot to the girl and let us proceed.”

-   Jakob comes into the operating room to see the Master arguing with Lucius.  Disconcerted, he flees to check on the body in the furnace, which he has just remembered.
-   Hans emerges from his shed to look for Fraulein Stahl and seek what solace he can from her presence.  He finds Jakob coming out of the coal room blowing his hands, looking for oven mitts, and laughing to himself about hot-blooded girls.
-   The townsfolk arrive in a mob, priest, pitchforks, and all.  It’s mid-morning by this time.  The sun is out.  Fraulein Stahl cannot keep them out, and the townsfolk handle her quite roughly.  Hans and Jakob go to assist her.  Hans is confronted by his family, Jakob meekly turns himself in.
-   Lucius successfully resists the Master, but in the heated argument involved in doing so, he cannot hum, so his twitching hand loses its grip on the syringe.  It shatters on the floor.  He turns and shoves the Master away from Anya.  The Master snatches up a scalpel.
-   The townsfolk follow their noses to the body in the furnace and go hysterical.  Fraulein Stahl tries to resist and is beaten further.  Hans surrenders.  Burly men haul him and Jakob outside into the courtyard.  Hans spies his brother and calls out he will lead everyone to Anya.  The townsfolk release him.  Jakob, on the other hand, goes completely berserk upon being dragged into the sunlight.
-   Lucius and the Master begin a series of exchanges which took on the feel of a climactic narrative as Shawn rolled to see if Lucius could kill the Master.  It went back and forth.  Lucius chased the Master to the Master’s office, where they dueled with pistol and Freud bust and kukri.  Lots of Director Stance action here to describe what happened after the dice were rolled.  Lots of aggressive scene-cutting.  The battle culminated with a pell-mell chase to the stables, from where the Master drove the wagon out in an attempt to escape.  Lucius was able to leap aboard and shoot the Master in the back of the head with the second to last round in his revolver.
-   Meanwhile, Jakob went completely nuts, brained some townsfolk with rocks, shot a priest in the face, stabbed someone with a pitchfork, making incredible Self-Loathing rolls to commit mayhem on these people.  Once he broke free, he fled toward the woods.
-   EPILOGUE #1:  A stone’s throw from safety, Jakob was run down by the Master’s runaway wagon while Lucius tried to regain control.  (Did I mention it was winter?  White scrubs, albino, snow... bad combination.)
-   EPILOGUE #2:  Lucius went to see the townsfolk, told them Von Lichter was dead.  Then he approached Ingrid, who was awake and coherent.  She would not even meet his eyes.  He apologized, directed the townsfolk to the Asylum’s records and returned to his office.  There he found a vial of cyanide, but couldn’t think of anything to hum, and so could not get the cap off to drink.  He dropped it and fell to his hands and knees in despair.  A sharp pain in his hand distracted him, and he looked just in time to see the broken glass of the cyanide vial piercing his bloody hand.  There was just enough time for him to realize he was dead.
-   EPILOGUE #3:  The Rubin family is reunited with Anya, who is not too badly injured, though she is traumatized.  There is reconciliation between a repentant Hans and his brother, aided by flowers on the blanket Frau Rubin brought to wrap around her little girl.  Hans takes Fraulein Stahl, who is still in pain and therefore emotionally available, and goes with the townsfolk to begin a new life away from the Asylum.


POST-MORTEM
When we finished, there was a moment of silence, then we gave ourselves a round of applause.  It felt awesome, as though we’d really created something very, very cool.  It felt like a true collaboration.  We’d laughed our asses off along the way.

Player Reactions
This game provided a true pressure-cooker for characters, right from the start.  Just knowing how dysfunctional the setup was added immensely to this effect.  Mike commented that there was no way any other system would let them create characters like this.  After the first realization that no one could resist the Master, they hunkered down and got into it.  Another point here was that characters felt real and fleshed out despite the minimal numbers.  Mike said it felt as though the time was spent creating instead of number-crunching.

I think the players caught themselves by surprise.  Not to mention me.  You could have pushed us over with a feather when Mike describes how Jakob pounded on the head of Ingrid’s fiancé.  Likewise when Hans opened the shed door, axe in hand, to confront the captive boy.  Everyone agreed Epilogues were cool.

The game encourages the use of Director Stance.  I didn’t explain any stance stuff beforehand, but during the showdown with Master, Shawn took a free hand in having Lucius grab stuff appropriate to the setting.  Likewise with players in other scenes, notably Jakob’s description of the furnace room and Lucius in describing the contents of his doctor’s black bag.

There was something liberating in being evil, the guys said.  Once they let go of the idea of any idea their minions were heroes (quite apparent from the beginning), they jumped in and started to push the envelope.  Mike even described the experience of roleplaying Jakob as cathartic.

GM Reactions
Obviously, I ran fast and loose with the Overture rules and in creation of Significants, since I was trying to push the game forward as quickly as possible.  It was easy to keep up a fast pace, and gameplay definitely crystallized about the Significants.  That said, we didn’t use Lucius’s mother or the tavern keeper.  Even so, everything felt right.  No one complained about not getting enough opportunity to secure Love.  Some advice on pacing Overtures would be a Good Thing, I submit.

The Setting detail was easily brought to life.  There’s something about “nineteenth century asylum in the Austrian Alps” that clicked with everyone.  Matt’s a big steampunk fan, so we had plenty of creative energy engaged in coming up with bizarre props and sets.

Tension built in this game like a session of Jenga.  By the end, everyone was waiting for the structure to implode.  That’s good.  It felt as though things were getting worse, rising to a near-intolerable level.  As a GM, I found it easy to put the characters in crisis.  The Master is a great tool for producing player anxiety, simultaneously disempowering the character and empowering the player.

Fun character techniques abound when you work the Master/minion side.  Everyone had to get in touch with his servile side, but each character expressed it differently.  I, on the other hand, could be as mercurial and sadistic as I pleased.

The More/Less categories proved challenging for the players to craft.  We did some mutual brainstorming to help each other out, and I used some notes taken from the playtest forum, but it was still tough.  What was cool was each player figuring out what role he played in furthering the Master’s grand schemes and structuring the More/Less to weave into that.  All of these came into play, though Jakob’s albinism served as mere Color until the Endgame.

I really, REALLY like the bonus dice.  They did steer the roleplaying, if only to deny the Master use of the Intimacy die.  No one tried hard for the Sincerity die once they realized they could just as easily get one of the other two.  Can a player only gain one bonus die at a time?  That’s how we played it.  Let me say how cool it was to hold up these dice one at a time like a mini-session of Let’s Make a Deal.

Endgame was FUN, though perhaps involved too much die rolling between Lucius and the Master.  As Lucius hadn’t built up more Love before taking on Master (wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as I’ll discuss shortly), he had 8 dice to the Master’s 12.  That dragged things out, telescoping the conflict into a round by round series of snapshot resolution attempts.  I thought our Fortune in the Middle style descriptions were excellent, conjuring dramatic parallels to Holmes v. Moriarty above the waterfall, but still....  Hans had a peaceful Dawson’s Creek kind of family reunion ending that tapered off quickly.  Jakob had a few rounds of tearing up townsfolk before he broke free.  That left a few rounds of Lucius v. the Master.  I think it worked, but I was fully engaged every round.

It appears characters quickly enter a feedback loop wherein the chances of gaining Self-Loathing from an Overture are so great they’re practically 100%.  This means Overtures empower the Master almost as much as the player.

Nobody gained Weariness.  If anyone had, it would have disempowered what little ability they had in a hurry.  This is particularly true with respect to confronting the Master.  I gave Shawn bonus dice for cool descriptions, but he was still shy enough dice that – given the 1-3 success per die success range Paul asked me to test – he had to battle it out until Master eventually blew a roll.  If Lucius had gotten Weariness dice, he’d never have prevailed.

Suggestions

1.   The possibility of lowering attributes would be cool.  This wasn’t a major point, and it seems to undermine the dramatic march to destruction, but all the players wondered about it.
2.   Do not reveal Endgame destinies to the group.  Players were emphatic on this.  Hand them out on secret notes to each player.  This way it’s a surprise for the group to find out the ending.

I’m beat.  I’ll post some other thoughts tomorrow.  Doubtless Matt will too.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2002, 08:01:56 AM »

Hmm. I think you may have intimacy and sincerity mixed up above. Which was the more potent in play (higher die)? And which was the master not allowed to use?

Mike
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2002, 10:17:44 AM »

Blake,

What a brilliantly awful game! Congratulations. I can barely contain my curiousity to hear what your spectator thought.

I do, however, hope you and the players have learned a lesson from this experience. I think each of you should reflect long and hard on all the innocents who had to suffer as a result of your irresponsibility. Folks, how many times do I have to say this, you simply shouldn't mix intoxicants and gaming. Someone's bound to get hurt.

Paul

p.s. Beyond my curiosity about your audience member's reactions, I'm working up a big list of questions, and observations. Expect them later today, or tomorrow.
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Blake Hutchins
Member

Posts: 614


« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2002, 10:36:24 AM »

Intimacy is a red d4.  Sincerity is a white d8, and the Master cannot use it.  Rolling 1 to 3 produces a success.  Thus, the Intimacy die is the one everyone wanted.

Other comments:

      - Weariness is problematic as a trait.  There's no active use for it, and no particular reason to take it at the beginning, since doing so does nothing but undermine the character's effectiveness.  Self-Loathing at least makes the character more able to succeed in wreaking mayhem.  If Weariness could be used in a roll somehow, rather than simply providing a penalty (and thereby a bonus to the Master), that would be cool.  Everyone took Weariness, but nobody understood what it meant.

      - Also on Weariness:  some additional guidance on how one can acquire it and how easily it should be handed out would be cool.  I handed out ZERO Weariness.  On reflection, each point of Weariness has ENORMOUS impact, as it effectively neutralizes a Love point.  We didn't miss Weariness at all.

      - The use of d4s is awkward, and we were hampered by not having many on hand, as opposed to d6s.  I see no compelling gameplay or color reason to use d4s, to be honest.  When you're rolling 8 to 12 dice, better to use d6 as the base die and proceed from there.  That makes the Intimacy die even more important.  You might run some probability curves to see how success ratios are affected by a success range of 1-2 as opposed to 1-3.  Neither do I have a problem with the d4 bonus being highly sought after.

      - I produced a (forgive me) Master List of die rolls, so I didn't have to muddle through searching for them in the rules.  I suggest you include something like this in the next version.

      - The game covertly encourages Author Stance.  There's so much going on with Significants that you WANT to find reasons to interact with them.  My players sought out reasons to move themselves on and off stage as desired by the Middle portion of the game.  At that point, they were fully prepared to say, "My guy decides to go to the Library so he can run into Fraulein Stahl."  Very cool.  I saw it happening, but the players were so engrossed they remained unaware of what they were doing.  The Epilogues are a great way to wrap things up using this tool.

     - The consensus from our group is that MLWM needs another light pass and maybe a few tweaks, but that it could go out as is.  Everyone enjoyed themselves and thought it a memorable experience.

Thanks for the opportunity to playtest this, Paul.  Much appreciated.

Best,

Blake
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Blake Hutchins
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Posts: 614


« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2002, 10:58:02 AM »

I forgot to mention:  Lucius was at a point by Endgame where he pretty much couldn't succeed at an Overture without gaining Self-Loathing.  The odds were long, anyway.  At this point, each point of Love gained would lead to another point of Self-Loathing, which powers the Master's rolls.

Best,

Blake
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Seth L. Blumberg
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« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2002, 12:02:23 PM »

Quote from: Blake
Intimacy is a red d4. Sincerity is a white d8, and the Master cannot use it. Rolling 1 to 3 produces a success. Thus, the Intimacy die is the one everyone wanted.

That isn't how it's supposed to work. See this thread.

Of course, Paul promised to clarify that in the rules, and never did....
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2002, 12:06:19 PM »

Blake,

We're seeing a musical production of Night of the Living Dead this evening, and I've got to run. So right now I'll offer just a few observations and questions, in no particular order:

1) It's not articulated in the rules, but the way I've personally handled NPC minions like Fraulein Stahl is to not stat them, but treat them as Townspeople who interact in conflicts with PC's solely via Fear, Reason, and bonus dice. In rejecting stats for them, I was primarily motivated by wanting to avoid the possibility that an NPC minion might emerge as the one to bring about the demise of the Master. It seemed like far too deprotagonizing an outcome to the player characters were it to happen. I also didn't much care for the idea of the Master being able to order an NPC minion to kill or harm the Connections/Significants of the player characters. If an Connection were to come to harm, I wanted it to be through the actions of the PC's. You played Fraulein Stahl with stats. Did you ever feel uncomfortable about it?

2) The confusion about the bonus dice is unfortunate. The playtest document is unclear. It's the whole value of the bonus die that gets added to the sum of the other 1's, 2's, and 3's that come up on the other d4's rolled with it. Kirt http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3225">asked for clarification on this before his playtest, and it should have been subsequently incorporated into the rules document. The problem is that for some strange reason I only have partial moderator powers in the forum, and Clinton hasn't been able to figure out why. I can add and remove people from the user group, but I can't lock, split, or edit locked threads. I would have had to ask Clinton to unlock the rules document to make the change, and figuring the clarification had been captured in my response to Kirt, I neglected to do that.

This means the most desirable of the bonus dice is in fact, Sincerity. The average output of a single d4, summing everything rolled that isn't a 4, is 1.5. This compares to the average output of the Intimacy bonus die at 2.5, the average output of the Desperation bonus die at 3.5, and the average out put of the Sincerity bonus die at 4.5.

Can I ask, did you in fact sum the 1's, 2's, and 3's, when resolving rolls, or did you count 1's, 2's, and 3's as successes? Did you have any tie rolls during the whole game?

3) Did you have any Innocents?

4) You had a lot of scenes with multiple minions in them, in very stark contrast to the playtest I've been running currently for Matt, Scott, Danielle, and Tom. Did the players ever use the rules for minions aiding each other?

5) My text in the rules document about Love and Connections is, in retrospect, also somewhat unfortunately unclear:

"GM's are advised that as a Master's desperation increases, he'll begin to use the Minions to sabotage themselves and each other, by eliminating Connections from which they're gaining Love points, to cripple their ability to resist him."

That's supposed to mean that if a Connection dies, the minion loses any love they've gained from him/her. Players should track Love gained against each Connection they name for their minion.

6) I'm very glad to hear of the applause response to the Epilogues. Our group does the same thing :)

7) How did you handle the attempt by Hans to get Jakob to burn the girl's body? Pure roleplay? It seems to me that somewhere in the situation of a minion putting another minion to work for him, and among your comments about the uselessness of Weariness, might be a very worthwhile rule for minions resisting being used by each other. Hmmm....

Thanks so much for playtesting Blake. You and your friends have given me a hell of a lot to think about even beyond what I've written here. My emotional reaction right now is to be a bit self-critical, though, because I feel like I failed you guys a bit with the lack of clarity in my presentation of some of the rules. I guess discovering that stuff is what playtesting is for, but poop!

Paul
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2002, 01:39:28 PM »

Quote
1) You played Fraulein Stahl with stats. Did you ever feel uncomfortable about it?


No.  I didn't roll for her, just used her More/Less and had her there for color.  Part of the reason I wanted to stat her out was to exercise the chargen for myself before I had others do so.  Neither did I worry about her gaining enough Love to challenge the Master.

Quote
2) Can I ask, did you in fact sum the 1's, 2's, and 3's, when resolving rolls, or did you count 1's, 2's, and 3's as successes? Did you have any tie rolls during the whole game?


D'oh.  Nope, I counted them as successes, not a sum.  That clarifies Mike's comments about Sincerity and the use thereof.  Double d'oh.  I think what threw me off was adding numbers from a range on each die instead of using the entire die value.  I'm not aware of any system that uses a subset of a die range as a value for a sum.  Other than diluting the bonus dice, why not just use the whole range of each die?  For that matter, you could add a d10 for Selflessness.

Quote
3) Did you have any Innocents?

Nope.

Quote
4) Did the players ever use the rules for minions aiding each other?


No.  That's my bad.  Either they weren't in the playtest rules (I don't have 'em in front of me) or (more likely) I just spaced 'em.  Where that came up, we resolved it independently or via Drama/roleplaying.

Quote
5) ...if a Connection dies, the minion loses any love they've gained from him/her. Players should track Love gained against each Connection they name for their minion.


Ahhh... That would have been interesting.  Didn't realize this.

Quote
7) How did you handle the attempt by Hans to get Jakob to burn the girl's body? Pure roleplay?


Yeah.  Pure roleplay.  Funny as hell, too.  The minions were cooperative with each other, and followed a hierarchy based on their roles in the Asylum.  Lucius was at the top of the list, then Hans, and finally Jakob.  No one tried to resist each other, to my recollection.  If we did, I'm sure we used Fear+Self-Loathing v. the other Minion's Fear+Self-Loathing.

Even with the borked interpretation of the rules and failure to use all the elements, we had a wonderful time.  Our spectator enjoyed watching us, incidentally.  He couldn't help but react and kibitz (a bit too much, I think).

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2002, 02:06:10 PM »

Quote from: Blake Hutchins
Nope, I counted them as successes, not a sum.  That clarifies Mike's comments about Sincerity and the use thereof.  Double d'oh.  I think what threw me off was adding numbers from a range on each die instead of using the entire die value.  I'm not aware of any system that uses a subset of a die range as a value for a sum.  Other than diluting the bonus dice, why not just use the whole range of each die?  For that matter, you could add a d10 for Selflessness.


Hmm. Actually, the idea for only adding from a range of numbers is used in a couple of other systems. Imagine that the 4s on the d4s are 0s. In fact one could make d4s labeled that way. The resaon for doing this is so that it makes the bonus dice more important. In the original you counted just the ones and twos, which made the average .75 per die, which made the bonus dice collosally important. Now they are slightly less important (a tweak made after a couple of tests).

Just to be clear, if I rolled 4 dice on, say a connection roll, and a bonus Sincerity die, and they came up 1,2,3,4,8, that would be a total of 1+2+3+0+8 = 14. You always get the full value of the bonus dice. Is that clear?

BTW, I am with you on the whole Self-Loathing issue. Not sure I understand the problem with Weariness, however. Given the corections in the rules would these still stand, in your opinion?

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2002, 03:25:13 PM »

Hi Mike,

I grok the sum-the-dice purpose with regard to the bonus dice already, but thanks for the clarification.  I'm still not sold on the sum 1-2-3 on a d4, though.  Seems counter-intuitive.  Would rather just sum everything.  Let the Intimacy die be a regular bonus die, and let the rest stand as they are.  I'd suggested the possibility of a d10 for Selflessness or Sacrifice.

I haven't seen the rules corrections, and for some reason, I can't get into the thread reference posted here.  I'll have to hunt them up.  Would be easier if there were another sticky with rules updates, I suppose.  According to my current understanding Weariness serves no purpose beyond impacting die pools.  As a stat, it strikes me as completely passive, serving the function of a Wound level.  There is no positive or character-empowering/protagonizing purpose.  The only reason to pick Weariness is to increase the threshold of Love required for that particular minion to trigger Endgame, and perhaps to set up what Endgame result the minion's player desires.  Without taking a min-maxing approach, what is cool or attractive about picking Weariness at the beginning?  What benefit does doing so confer to the player?  What's FUN about it?

But... let me hunt up those corrections and I'll get back to you.

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2002, 07:25:15 AM »

I think that Paul is thematically satisfied with the three areas that he's chosen the bonus dice for. In fact, the mechanic was pretty much desigend to circle around them. As such, I'm going to guess that he'd be aginst adding Selflessness or any other category.

As to the "Why not count fours?" question, the reason is that with the mechanic as it stands, any roll can beat any other no matter how many dice are being rolled (one can roll all fours). If you count all sides, then a roll that has four times as many dice as another is unbeatable. The mechanic as it stands is just more volotile than what you propose.

That said, if that's not something that worries people, one could go with just regular d4s, d6 for Intimacy, d8 for Desperation, and d10 for Sincerity. This does water down their ecffects somwhat (and I think Paul may have even been enamored of the dice shapes to go with the colors he had selected; I'm not sure).

As far as Weariness, you take it high to have a lower Self-Loathing. For one thing, I think this represents a certain type of character better. That being the minions that are not hampered by self-image problems, but from being worn out. Further, the selection may have a big impact on the likely epilog outcome. A player can shooot for one from the start by making a certain selection of these stats.

That aside, a low Self-Loathing means it's much easier to get Love. Which may actually be a quicker path to endgame than the opposite tactic. While Weariness affects the total you need (and is thus additive in time), Self-Loathing affects each roll to advance (and is thus multiplicative in effect). Sure a character with a Low weariness may need a couple less points to get to where he needs to be. But if he never succeeds at a Love roll, his Self-Loathing will be so high that he'll never be able to resist the Master's commands which is prerequisite to killing him.

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #12 on: October 25, 2002, 09:19:17 AM »

Regarding the use of d6s, I meant making the standard die a d6, but leave the base three in their current shapes.  I'm not sold on adding a d10, just wanted to mention the possibility.  I like the three categories as is, and am certainly NOT advocating for addition of a new one.

I can understand if Paul has an aesthetic desire to use d4s.  I just don't see any compelling gameplay reason for using them.  Our group between us had a total of six, meaning many rolls required a second roll to complete, especially in Endgame.  It's a needless bit of inconvenience in a great game experience.  Plus I'm not terribly fond of having to go buy special dice to play a game.  Yeah, it's a few bucks, so it's a very minor quibble, but still.  These dice are like white elephants, more curiosity than useful addition.

I'm afraid I don't get your logic regarding the 4's.  The Master could, of course, already whiff with all ones at the same time the player could max out on his/her dice.  Thus, any roll can already beat any other roll.  Since the player also does not benefit from 4's as things stand, how does this make a difference?  It strikes me that the range of possible results is broader, but that the intrinsic probability ratios are not significantly altered.  Of course, I don't have more than a basic understanding of probability calculations, so feel free to enlighten me.

Regarding Weariness, my point was more that is serves a passive function and is thus not terribly interesting.  I'd like it to serve more of a purpose than a wound level and subsequent penalty to rolls.  I understand it impacts the onset of Endgame, but not too much.  If you take a gander at the "Master List" below, you'll note that Weariness impacts virtually everything - except acting on Overtures.  But when it comes to resisting Master, the extra Weariness takes a toll.  Also, it really depends on how Fear and Reason are set at the beginning.  We played with Fear 4 Reason 2, which meant most Minions had 0 dice or 1 die to work with against two dice for the Significant.  This makes the Bonus dice critical in these situations.  In any case, my players would likely not have gained so much Self-Loathing if we'd used the dice-sum technique rather than the successes technique.  This means your Minion gets a minor advantage in gaining Love at the expense of serious handicaps in all other actions.  My point is that starting with high Weariness verges on being deprotagonizing.  The only way you get a serious advantage on gaining Love is if you max out Weariness at the beginning.

Quote
MASTER LIST of ROLLS

MASTER CONTROLLING MINION:
Master (Fear + Self-Loathing) v. Minion (Love – Weariness)

TO MAKE AN OVERTURE:
Minion (Reason - Self-Loathing) v. Significant (Fear – Reason)

VIOLENCE AGAINST ANYONE BESIDES THE MASTER:
Minion (Fear + Self-Loathing) v. Person (Reason + Minion's Weariness)

MINION RESISTING ANOTHER’S ACTS:
Person (Reason + Minion's Weariness) v. Minion (Fear + Self-Loathing)

ENDGAME VIOLENCE AGAINST ANYONE BESIDES THE MASTER:
Minion (Self-Loathing) v. Person (Reason + Minion's Weariness)

KILLING MASTER:
Minion (Love - Weariness) v. Master (Fear + Minion's Self-Loathing)

TRIGGERING ENDGAME:
Love > (Fear + Weariness)

ENDGAME RESULTS:
    Weariness > (Reason + Self-Loathing): Minion flees.

    (Self-Loathing + Weariness) > (Love + Reason): Minion is killed.

    Self-Loathing > (Weariness + Reason): Minion destroys self.

    (Love + Reason) > (Self-Loathing + Weariness): Minion integrates into society.

    Love = 0: Minion emerges as a force of Fear in its own right.



Here's a quick question for Paul:  When you subtract, say, Weariness from Love, do you do so BEFORE you roll or AFTER you roll?  From the reference to pools reaching zero in the rules, I assume BEFORE.  That's how we played it.

Best,

Blake
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2002, 10:25:21 AM »

Wow, still much confusion.

First, to calculate a roll, this seems like an odd question:

Quote
When you subtract, say, Weariness from Love, do you do so BEFORE you roll or AFTER you roll?  From the reference to pools reaching zero in the rules, I assume BEFORE.


If my character has a 3 Weariness, and a 4 love, that means for purposes of this roll, I roll 4-3= 1 die. Then you roll that one die to get a result. It sounds like that's what you did, but it's ambiguous from your statement.

Quote from: Blake Hutchins
I can understand if Paul has an aesthetic desire to use d4s.  I just don't see any compelling gameplay reason for using them.
Well, if you keep the other dice (for which I think there is more of a compelling aesthetic urge from Paul, if any), then the d4s have been selected for their statistical output. That is, the results have been tweaked to come put at a certain rate.

BTW, if it's not clear, I was the one who designed a lot of the die mechanics.

Quote
Our group between us had a total of six, meaning many rolls required a second roll to complete, especially in Endgame.  It's a needless bit of inconvenience in a great game experience.  Plus I'm not terribly fond of having to go buy special dice to play a game.  Yeah, it's a few bucks, so it's a very minor quibble, but still.
I agree, personally. Dice shapes or colors hold no special meaning for me. All I care about is rolling lots. So, I'd agree that going away from d4s would be a good idea if at all possible.

Quote
I'm afraid I don't get your logic regarding the 4's.  The Master could, of course, already whiff with all ones at the same time the player could max out on his/her dice.  Thus, any roll can already beat any other roll.  Since the player also does not benefit from 4's as things stand, how does this make a difference?
If I roll 1d4, and you roll 4d4 and total them and compare, the best I can hope for is a tie with me rolling my max, and you rolling the min. if you have five times as many, then I can never succeed. With your method the rolls have ranges of 1-4 and 4-16 respectively. While with my method, the rolls go from 0-3 and 0-12 respectively.

This statment is one of the reasons that I think you might be having trouble with how this all works in my comment above.

Quote
It strikes me that the range of possible results is broader, but that the intrinsic probability ratios are not significantly altered.  Of course, I don't have more than a basic understanding of probability calculations, so feel free to enlighten me.
They are altered, but not too drastically. And since that ratio has already been tinkered with once, I could see altering it again if it made sense. But essentially Paul wants to have the bonus dice have a very significant impact on outcome.

With my system (counting 1-3), each d4 produces 1.5 points on the average. Each bonus d4 produces 2.5, each d6 produces 3.5, and each d8 produces 4.5. Thus, rolling a d8 is, on average, the same as rolling 3 of the base dice. Which is pretty potent.

That said, I've presented Paul with other options including, for instance, using d6s and counting 1-3. That's still more potent than the original game with an average of 1 per die.

Quote
Regarding Weariness, my point was more that is serves a passive function and is thus not terribly interesting.  I'd like it to serve more of a purpose than a wound level and subsequent penalty to rolls.


What purpose for instance?

Quote
...when it comes to resisting Master, the extra Weariness takes a toll.  
Didn't slow down my character in our playtest. Again, I think there's something funky with the dice rolling here.

Quote
Also, it really depends on how Fear and Reason are set at the beginning.  We played with Fear 4 Reason 2, which meant most Minions had 0 dice or 1 die to work with against two dice for the Significant.  This makes the Bonus dice critical in these situations.  In any case, my players would likely not have gained so much Self-Loathing if we'd used the dice-sum technique rather than the successes technique.
I suspect as much as well. Also, I've mentioned to Paul numerous times that the effect of the Fear/Reason ratio is huge. Consider how diferent a game it would be with a different pair.

Quote
This means your Minion gets a minor advantage in gaining Love at the expense of serious handicaps in all other actions.  My point is that starting with high Weariness verges on being deprotagonizing.  The only way you get a serious advantage on gaining Love is if you max out Weariness at the beginning.
Hmm. The funny thing is that only the Love roll is really protagonizing. All the "other" things that you do are just as fun whether or not you fail. Still, I understand your point, and would have also allowed for more protagonism in general terms. OTOH, the lack of ability to do things is what makes some of the play go.

And, as I've said, Paul is still balancing the value of the bonus dice. Consider that previously, the regular dice only counted 1-2 (average .75 per die, same as your game). That's why he went to 1-3.

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2002, 12:56:26 PM »

Absolutely.  Failure is fine (especially in this game).  That's not exactly what I mean by deprotagonizing, though.  In my opinion, failure becomes deprotagonizing when and if it results as the result of virtually all of a character's die rolls.  Sounds like you and I are on the same page here.

I asked about when the subtraction happens because I could see rolling all dice first while keeping track of which dice represent what Trait, and then subtracting those dice after the fact.  The only reason to do this is color.  It'd be cool, in a way, to see what your roll WOULD have been, e.g., "You would have succeeded, but you are too spent to keep your grip on Griselda.  She falls into the chasm."  Not a big deal, but given how I borked my other rule interpretations, I didn't want to take anything for granted.

Thanks for the clarification with the d4 mechanics.  That makes the design intent a lot clearer.  The bonus dice do become far more important.  I fully support a shift to a d6 mechanic, for what it's worth.

Paul has suggested having Weariness factor into adding dice for rolls against other Minions.  Alternatively, Weariness could perhaps be "thrown off" in some situations, maybe even as part of a gambling mechanic. Frex, add X Weariness dice to a roll.  If you lose, you gain (X-1) Weariness.  Spend Weariness to add Color to a scene (without affecting die pools).  I'm sure other uses could be found as positive incentives for taking Weariness at the outset.

Yeah, Fear/Reason has an ENORMOUS impact, doesn't it?  Sheesh.  I wonder how much of the game unfolded as it did directly because of a F/R of 2 rather than 1.

Best,

Blake
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