Fight!

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Originally posted August 2008

I bought Soul Calibur IV on Saturday, and [info]pallandrome and I have been playing it in shifts for huge blocks of time over the last four days. Thus, it is not unusual, that my game designerly brain last night turned to making a tabletop game to simulate such action combat. What follows is a mostly-unfinished ramble of design for a CCG-esque game meant to simulate martial arts fighters (it also owes a lot to the latest Marvel Universe RPG).

Fight!

A Card Game of Fantasy Martial Arts Battle

Setup

This game is designed for two players. Each player requires a deck of Fight! cards, a pool of 10 or more objects to serve as Concentration counters, counters or other way of tracking up to 100 or more health points, and access to a shared pool of 50 or more objects to use as Time counters. Additionally, it is helpful to have a simple grid, ruler, or counters to keep track of the distance between the fighters.

Each player places 10 Concentration counters in front of his or her playspace as well as the health meter.

Behind these counters (closer to the player), the player should create four distinct areas: attack, defense, movement, and grapple. The player may wish to label these sections, as the sections will be used to store counters and for the opponent to keep track of impending maneuvers.

The players place the Time counters in between one another. The movement gauge should be placed next to the Time pile.

Both players shuffle their decks, and draw 5 cards to start. The player that acts first can be determined by coin flip or other method and should change from round to round.

The Deck

Cards in the deck can be maneuvers, modifiers, or events.

Maneuvers make up most of the cards in the deck. These are special attacks that make up the majority of techniques within the game. Each maneuver card lists a Concentration total, a Time total, whether it is instant, hold, or charged, the damage, and any special effects.

Typically, damage for maneuvers is equivalent to the card’s Concentration total multiplied by its Time total (e.g., a Concentration 4, Time 3 card does 12 damage, while a Concentration 2, Time 3 card does 6 damage). This damage may go up if the card has difficult requirements to use (range, certain events in play, etc.), or down if it has additional special effects (knockdown, etc.).

Instant cards must be activated as soon as their Time total is met (described below). If the player has not allotted enough Concentration counters to the card at this point, the time counters are lost and must begin accumulating again (the current Concentration total remains unchanged). Hold cards stop accumulating Time when they reach their Time total, and can be activated whenever desired by the player on his or her turn. Charged cards are hold cards that continue to accumulate Time past their total, and may have special effects or extra damage based on being overcharged.

Modifier cards stay in the player’s hand, and can be played as an instant effect whenever their conditions are met. For example, a modifier card might add +2 damage to any grapple-based attack.

Event cards are placed to the side, face up, when the player chooses to activate them. They change the conditions of the battlefield. For example, an event card may move the opponent closer to the edge of the fighting ring for every movement counter he or she plays to move away from the player who placed the event; after a certain number of moves, the other player cannot move away further and may be subject to cards that knock the target out of the ring.

Play

Each turn, the acting player places as many maneuver cards as desired face down in their appropriate sections (grapple cards go behind the grapple section, attack cards behind the attack section, etc.).

The player can then move 1 Concentration counter from his or her concentration pool to a face-down maneuver or section (i.e., a Concentration counter can be played on the attack section to begin a basic attack, the grapple section to begin a grapple, the defense section to begin a block, or the movement section to move).

After placing Concentration, the player moves one Time counter to each face-down card.

Now the player can unleash attacks and actions. If the player has multiple options, he or she can choose which order to use them. If other options become available as the result of an action, these options can also be used in this turn (e.g., a rush attack card has a special effect of allowing 2 Concentration to be moved to another attack, such that it can now be used this turn).

Each card that is activated invokes its listed effect. It must have the requisite Concentration and Time totals to be activated. If it is an instant card, it must be used on the turn that its Time total was met, or its Time is removed at the end of the turn.

Modifier and Event cards can be played as desired during this sequence.

In addition to activating cards, if the player has placed Concentration in the sections, certain effects occur. Concentration placed in the attack section can be unleashed when desired to do a basic, non-ranged attack that does damage equal to the number of Concentration counters currently applied for that effect. Concentration placed in the defense section can be spent to reduce the opponent’s incoming damage on his or her turn before it is applied to Health and Concentration. Concentration placed in the movement section allows the player to spend it as desired to move one step closer to or further away from the opponent. Concentration placed in the grapple section is required to begin placing Concentration on most Grapple maneuvers (this serves as a warning to the opponent that the player is beginning a dangerous but hard-to-execute grapple maneuver).

Concentration is returned to the player’s Concentration pool as soon as the action or maneuver it is invested in is executed.

Unless otherwise noted on the card: maneuver cards are discarded as soon as the maneuver is activated, modifier cards are discarded as soon as they are played, and event cards are discarded when their event is removed from play.

When the player is ready to end the turn, he or she draws a single card from the deck and play passes to the opponent.

Damage

Assuming the player meets the attack or maneuver’s prerequisites, damage is applied to the opponent.

If the opponent has Concentration counters in the defense section, each counter can be returned to the Concentration pool to eliminate 2 points of incoming damage. Certain cards in the hand or the defense section may also interrupt and reduce incoming damage in certain circumstances (and this is the main time players are allowed to act on the other player’s turn).

Any damage that passes through the opponent’s mitigation is applied directly to the opponent’s health. For example, if the opponent had 50 health remaining, and suffered 10 points of damage, he or she would then have 40 health remaning.

In addition, if the damage inflicted on the opponent’s health for a given attack is greater than the number of points left in the opponent’s Concentration pool, the difference is applied as Distraction damage. The player can remove Time counters equal to the Distraction damage from the opponent’s maneuvers of his or her choice. For example, in the situation above, if the player’s 10 damage attack hit the opponent while only 4 Concentration remained in his or her pool, the player could choose to apply 6 points of Distraction damage. The player could then remove up to 6 Time counter’s from the opponent’s maneuvers. There might be a card that the opponent has steadily been adding Concentration counters to that looks like it might be a dangerous attack, such that the player can remove the current Time counters from it and delay it for several turns while the opponent must re-accumulate Time.

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Burnt Offerings, Part 2

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Goblin Education and Infestation, or Ghastly Goings-on at the Glassworks

The day after their boar hunt, the party decides to look for adventure around the town. Setting off to the Curious Goblin bookstore, Haggor and Balekh start browsing the overpriced books for ones on adventure, magic, and martial arts. Taeva and Veshenga get bored quickly, but Veshenga remembers the rumor she heard about the Varisian seer Madame Mvashti. She leaves Taeva, who wants to wait for the boys to finish, and cuts through the alley to the nearby oracle’s house.

Madame Mvashti gives her a warm welcome as a kinswoman, after confirming that she is not part of the Sczarni. Offering up a Harrow reading, Veshenga is shown her cards and, though the past makes some sense to her, the future is largely unhelpful. The seer complains about the death of the god of prophecy making such things little more than entertainments, before bidding Veshenga to come by to hang out at any time.

The books on adventure are somewhat lacking, so Haggor and Balekh bug the bookseller to give them the inside scoop on local hot spots. He suggests they talk to the local sage, who has a theory about the Old Light. They also ask about who would know the most about elves and goblins in the region, and he offers that he heard the local elven ranger and warder, Shalelu, entered town last night. They decide to go speak to this woman before visiting the sage, and grab Veshenga as she’s heading out from her visit with the seer.

At the Rusty Dragon, they find that their target is already being queried by the Sheriff, and he invites them along to hear what she has to say. At the mayor’s office, she spins a tale of burned farms and goblins on the march, certain that they’re being organized by some bigger power for ill ends. Hemlock decides that he needs to go to Magnimar to try to get some soldiers in case the goblins are planning another attack. He asks the party to maintain a presence as the local heroes, hoping that will ally some fears in the city. After he leaves, Shalelu invites herself to lunch with the party, and in return shares her knowledge of goblins.

Afterwards, they finally make their way to the local sage, and hear his outrageous theory about the Old Light being a weapon of war. They can’t seem to figure out how to get into it, though, and leave unhappy.

Later that week, the party is flagged down by a distraught woman with her two children. Her son was apparently complaining of a monster in the closet for days, and she didn’t believe him. The night before they had woken to a goblin killing the boy’s dog and trying to eat him. They rushed out, but couldn’t find the sheriff or figure out what to do, so they came to the heroes. Rushing to the house, the party finds the woman’s husband brutally murdered and partially eaten by a feral goblin that had been lurking in the closet. They dispatch the monster, but there is nothing they can do for the husband. They barely manage to keep the wife from suffering a breakdown, and turn her and the bodies over to the church.

Serial Numbers Filed Off 5: Holding Out Against Darkness

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Originally posted June 2008

Because Harbinger of Doom demanded it… (Mild spoilers for Wall-E)

Rookies (D&D)

In the last century of man’s residence on this plane, Archmage Forthright brought forth wonders. Great cities rose, forged of pure magic, and enslaved outsiders and permanent enchantments raised the standard of living of even the lowest peasant to a paradise. Mankind bent the wilderness to suit itself, and the world became a work of art.

But the world was not meant to be so twisted for so long, and the walls of reality grew thin. Demons and devils spilled into the world, wreaking havoc. Creatures were twisted into monstrous forms and lashed out against men. And magic could not be used to solve the problem, as the mightiest workings needed to face down the invaders merely opened the door for more.

The Archmage proposed a desperate plan: the greatest of cities gathered the peoples of the world into their hearts and the greatest mages of the lands worked in unison to break through the weakened walls into other dimensions: safe places like the Feywild and the Astral Plane, where protective magics could be worked to keep humanity from the dangers it had wrought on its world.

And left behind were the Rooks: warforged golems, bound elementals, geased faeries, oathbound undead, and any other creature that could be trusted to fight eternally for the vanished humanity. They were entrusted to clean the plane of foul creatures, seal any portals left open, and prepare the world for mankind’s return.

That was centuries ago. Your band is amongst the last of the Rooks, hundreds having fallen in the drive to take back the world. But take it back you have: though the ruins of civilization still gape to the sky, only rare pockets of terrors remain in the wilderness.

Soon, the strange crystal golems will phase into this plane again, and you will share your success, telling them to summon man back to his world. But what happens when you find out that much of humanity has long been warped into demihuman races by its stay amongst the planes… and that the extra-planar hosts aren’t yet ready to let their guests leave?

The Spider Clan (Mechwarrior)

Albert, “Khan of the Spider Clan,” was an elderly scholar of the Lyran Alliance. He had a thirst for knowledge, a way with people, and an excellent eye for Mechs. Over the years he traveled the stars, meeting with Inner Sphere and Clan alike, even before most of the worlds knew of the Clans waiting in deep space. He recorded details about all of his subjects in a codex, including details of their technology that he had mastered. Many considered him a friend, and the Clans even jokingly did him the honor of creating him a clan of his very own.

That was decades ago. Now, it is 3050, and the Clans force their way towards Tukayyid. Albert’s blood family has returned to his compound on a world near the new Jade Falcon border. They know little about the compound, save that it features advanced defensive technology to face off the greatest of heavy mechs, and comprehensive gene-locks to keep out spies and saboteurs.

And then a child of the family finds the long-buried codex, and its ancient systems engage with others on the network. Responding to long-buried sensors, the Clans realize that the secrets contained in the codex could ruin their assault, or give them the edge they need to punch a hole in the Inner Sphere.

Can a small family of scholars with a high-tech compound hold out against the massed Mechs of Clan Jade Falcon, and their mighty Khan Malgorath?

Burnt Offerings, Part 1

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Game Time: Late Summer, 4707
Real Time: January, 2009

Goblin Attack and Miscellaneous Courtings

The party arrives in Sandpoint on the morning of the Swallowtail Festival, hoping to show off their showmanship and, perhaps, finally find a hint of adventure after a long trek through a hot and listless Summer.

On arrival, the party enters a local tavern called the Hagfish. The bar surrounds a huge, scum-ridden aquarium that hosts the single ugliest fish any in the party have seen. While they just came in looking for breakfast, Haggor and Veshenga decide to try the bar’s challenge: drink and keep down a cup of water from the tank. Haggor does his best, but can’t keep down the swill, but Veshenga is able to pass the test and collect the prize of gold and silver coins. She wishes she hadn’t, though.

Later in the morning, before the festival, the group begins to set up and prepare for the day. Taeva begins trying to sell her skills as a locksmith, Haggor starts telling folks about the wrestling exhibition he plans to put on, and Veshenga makes certain of the time and place of the archery competition. This last involves a run-in with the proprietor of the White Deer tavern, who turns out to be the estranged brother of the town’s sheriff.

In the afternoon, Veshenga and Taeva compete in the archery competition. Taeva does very well, but Veshenga wins it with ease. They then head over to help Haggor with his wrestling exhibition, mugging for the crowd and warming them up to be thoroughly trounced.

As the high priest is calling the town together to consecrate the temple, suddenly, Goblins attack! These insane scamps prove to be no match for the party, however, and are quickly dispatched, with the party saving Aldern in the process. However, after following Belor Hemlock, they discover that the goblins were apparently a distraction. The body of the old priest has been stolen. A bit of expert tracking by Veshenga indicates that a demi-human, likely a male elf, human, or half-elf, seemed to be responsible. Taeva is not completely satisfied, and begins a thorough search of the town, exploring Chopper’s Isle for clues and finding nothing, and catching the local theatre owner in flagrante delicto.

Because of their heroism, the party becomes well known throughout town, frequently lauded as the saviors of the city. A few days later, a young lady approaches the party in the Rusty Dragon, hoping they can help with the rat infestation in her father’s general store. She claims that the problem is only big enough for one of them, though, and takes Balehk along to help. It turns out that she was just angling for an eligible male, however, and all that’s in the basement is a hastily assembled love nest. Balekh, fearing the wrath of her overprotective father, puts a tremendous effort into talking her out of this tryst.

Even later, finally catching up with Aldern, the party takes him up on his offer of a hunting trip. Throughout the day he proves a gentleman, talking about the party and his own life as an orphaned noble and mostly self-made merchant. Throughout, he seems to have a bit of a creepy crush on Veshenga, but that doesn’t stop him from answering the party’s questions about individuals in the town. They return from a thrilling boar hunt with several fine kills that are shared with the patrons of the Rusty Dragon.

Serial Numbers Filed Off 4: Gates

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Originally posted April 2008

Planescape: Ascending Primes

The greatest of the Sensates have begun to hear a new noise, a ripple from the fabric of creation. The greatest of the Fated have deciphered it, revealing a ritual of great power. The greatest of the Athar are certain that it’s a ritual to contact the true gods beyond the Powers.

The Powers are silent on the issue, strangely so. The streets of Sigil must be inked with the runes of the spell, turning the city of doors into one single gate. Standing at the center of the Outlands, where no magic should function, the ritual will send a single seeker through the torus of Sigil and into the unknown.

Assuming you can even gather all the materials needed for the ritual, how do you get a city full of factions, much less the Lady, to let you enact such a working? And what will you find beyond?

Fading Suns: The Fading of Men

Three Keys for the noble-kings under the sky,
Seven for the church-lords in their naves of stone,
Nine for guilded men doomed to die,
One for the builder on his dark throne,
In the gates of Sathra where the shadows lie.
One Key to rule them all, One Key to find them,
One Key to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the gates of Sathra where the shadows lie.
— From the Eskatonic Scriptures

Many have forgotten the sad affair of the Keys, which hastened the fall of the Second Republic. A brilliant pilot and engineer, it was said, discovered twenty philosophers stones in an ancient cache, and worked out how to turn them into universal jumpkeys with the help of human and Ur tech. They could open any jumpgate, no matter to where, no matter if it was locked, no matter if it was in the middle of reset. Some say they had other abilities built in, too: not the least of which was the power to adjust the Sathra dampers and jump engine of a ship to render it effectively invisible to all sensors.

Such power is dangerous enough alone, and great battles broke out over the upset balance of power. Then the builder revealed his master stroke: the one key he had kept for himself was bound to the others, and he could monitor them and selectively control their access to extort obedience from their owners. Eventually war was made upon him and his allies, and his ship was destroyed, the Key seized by a great leader, one of Alexius’ ancestors. He never made it home, and the One Key was lost to the jumplanes.

Now the Key has been found by unlikely travelers. And the Builder is somehow moving once again: the church elders say that the manipulation of the Sathra field by the Keys left him and others open to the demons between the stars, bound by the gates. His consciousness seems stretched across the gates, and the lesser Keys, seeking to bend men to another war and to open the gates to the dark between the stars.

The only way to stop him is to return the One Key to the Ur ruins from which it came, and hope that the ancient tech is enough to purge his consciousness from the jumpweb. But the ruins exist deep in lost space, and the Builder’s old allies are even now marshaling there for a great assault on the known worlds.

Pray that men have not faded with the suns, for their greatest strength is needed today.

Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords

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Introduction

For the past several months, I’ve been running the Pathfinder adventure path Rise of the Runelords. I’ve been writing up the adventures as they happen. I want to keep the rest of the stuff I’m writing for my players private so I don’t have to worry about whether or not content I’m repurposing infringes on what Paizo wants put online. Therefore, this seemed like an excellent place to post the campaign journal for the consumption of others.

This material should be considered to contain major spoilers for the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. Do not read it if you intend to ever play these modules.

Characters

There are four player characters for this campaign:

  • Haggor is a LN half-orc monk, trained in a strange brand of showy martial arts. He fell in with a Varisian caravan after his elderly teacher passed away, and is ever seeking greater wrestling challenges and more information about the secrets of his unusual martial style.
  • Veshenga is a CG half-elf ranger, trained in archery from a young age by her tribe of Varisians. Her father has kept the dark secrets of her birth from her, so she has turned out a good-natured and adventurous young woman. Yet she, like many half-breeds, is not altogether certain of her place between the societies of both parent races.
  • Taeva is a CN gnome rogue, specializing in twin blades and stealth but always on the lookout for a legitimate use for her less-than-savory skills. She’s frequently baffled why she can’t get honest work as a locksmith. She has been traveling with the tribe of Varisians for some time, for reasons of her own, enough to pick up some of their accent and become an honorary member.
  • Balekh is a NG human cleric, somewhat abandoned by his Shoanti tribe after bonding to Nethys, the god of magic, instead of an elemental spirit during his vision quest. He is searching the world for more mystical knowledge, and understanding of why Nethys came to him instead of a tribal spirit. He, too, fell in with the Varisians after long wanderings alone.

As we begin our story, the quartet has separated from the Varisian caravan in order to seek their own fortune.

Player Characters in the Rise of the Runelords Campaign  (Clockwise from top, Haggor, Balekh, Taeva, Veshenga)

Player Characters in the Rise of the Runelords Campaign (Clockwise from top, Haggor, Balekh, Taeva, Veshenga)

System recalibrating: Gumshoe

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Originally posted March 2008

I finally made some decent progress reading through Trail of Cthulu, Ken Hite’s new Cthulu RPG based on the Gumshoe System. While it has interesting ideas, I feel like it’s right on the verge of having a core mechanic, but, instead, is a hard-to-remember hodge-podge of similar but unconnected systems.

Currently, the system has several main traits:

Investigative abilities are bought with their own pool of creation points. There’s a lot of them, and you generally only have a few levels in them. The pool used to buy them goes up if there are only a few PCs, because the group is meant to have most of them covered. You spend them to get clues related to that ability without ever rolling anything. As long as you have points left, you can automatically find clues related to that ability. This is the most-touted mechanic of the system, so has to remain in (the ability to get clues automatically so a missed clue doesn’t stall the story).

General abilities are bought with another, bigger pool of creation points. There’s a lot of them, and the example characters have less than 10 levels in any of them, but the only limit on them is that your highest general ability can’t be more than double your second highest ability; the example explaining this points out you could have a general ability in the 30s if you wanted to make an idiot savant. In practice, general ability tests are randomized: you roll 1d6 against a median difficulty of 4 (higher for harder tasks, lower for easier). Before the roll, you can choose to temporarily reduce your ability to make success more likely, though you may not know the difficulty. For example, shooting a target is normally difficulty 3, so you might temporarily reduce your firearms skill by 2 to guarantee success shooting a particular target (1d6+2), or just roll 1d6 and hope to beat a 3. Once you’re out of pool points, you’re basically no different from a novice until a refresh.

Health and stability are purchased as general abilities, but work as both abilities and damage tracks. For health, you lose points when hit, there are penalty milestones at 0 and -6, and you die at -12. For stability, you lose points when something scary or horrifying happens, unless you can make a normal stability test against an average difficulty 4 (e.g., you stand to lose 4 points, so you should probably spend 3 points to guarantee hitting DC 4 with your 1d6 roll; if you only spend 1 point and manage to miss the DC, you’d actually lose 5 points total since the pool is both success currency and damage track). Stability also has milestones at 0 and -6, and you’re incurably insane at -12.

Sanity is bought as a general ability and you better not forget to buy it since you take arbitrary losses with no real way to prevent them. Unlike stability, sanity reflects the lie you’ve told yourself about the world to be able to live as a human, and low sanity is the result of comprehending the Mythos. Sanity is distinct from stability so you can portray both a normal crazy person (low stability) or an in-control Mythos survivor (high stability, low sanity). You lose sanity from seeing horrors, casting spells, or using your Cthulu Mythos skill when investigating to make uncanny leaps of insight, and you’re not supposed to use it quickly (stability loss is for normal scares).

Credit rating is bought as an investigative ability, but you get a minimum free amount from your career (but are also capped at a certain rating). You use it both to indicate your social class, determine your available funds, and spend it to investigate through hob-nobbing.

Re-tooling the system

To compile all of the above into a single mechanic, my current thoughts are:

  1. Expenditures for rolled skills are after the roll, not before the roll. If the DC was 4, and you roll a 2, you can then decide whether it’s worth it to spend 2 points out of your skill to make it a success. (Rationale: The investigative abilities are already set up to guarantee PC success if they’re willing to spend the resources, and I don’t think the drama of randomness is enough to go the opposite way with rolled abilities. Also, there’s not really any benefit to rolling extra-high past the DC, so you can really waste your pool if you commit a lot of points to a roll and then roll high. Also, this means that stability checks can simply be a tradeoff: blow stability pool to succeed at a high DC stress challenge or lose an arbitrary amount of sanity.)
  2. All traits have the same negative milestones of 0, -7, and -13. For damage-style tracks (stability, health, and sanity) these are the points where you start taking global penalties of a certain severity or lose the character (at -13). For most abilities, hitting a milestone imposes penalties: -2 to all rolls of that ability at 0, all rolls start being stressful and lowering stability at -7, and inability to use the skill at -13. (Rationale: This makes the traits more coherent and allows for higher difficulties on many tasks, as you can spend yourself negative if you’re willing to take the consequences.)
  3. All traits have positive milestones at 7 and 13 (with a maximum trait rating of 13 in any ability). For rolled traits, these milestones give you an extra d6 for all uses of that skill, even when you spend down the trait (so even when you’ve spent yourself negative, you still have a decent chance of success compared to those that are much less skilled). Investigative traits reduce clue costs by 1 to a minimum of 1 at the first milestone, and by 1 to a minimum of 0 at the second. (Rationale: This sets a standardized limit on skills, creates a nice reflection of the negative milestones, and gives higher-skilled individuals a consistent advantage on things they chose to specialize in even when they’ve been using their skills a lot.)
  4. Many skills are combined, such that there is a reason to buy them up higher than 1-3 points, particularly for investigative skills. A 13 point skill should bleed off in the course of an adventure at a similar clip to a bunch of related 1-3 point skills in the current game. Most characters will only have about a dozen skills. (Rationale: There are so many skills that there’s no space on the character sheet to actually track skill spends in the current incarnation, much less when I’ve added negative milestones to every skill).
  5. Stability, Sanity, Health, and Credit rating are bought separately from skills. Each career gives out minimum amounts of each, and each career totals the same amount of minimum points between them, then characters get a certain number of points to customize these (possibly up to a maximum in each trait based on the career). This breakdown would probably work as 10 and 10, so each character has 20 points spread between the four traits. (Rationale: Each of these traits is profoundly different from the other abilities, and valuable enough that they’re roughly balanced against each other. Also, characters can widely diverge by spending too many or not enough points to raise them as general skills. This way, career has a solid effect to differentiate characters without completely removing differentiation within the career.)

Edit January 2010: The Alexandrian came to many of the same solutions as I did about the system.

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