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MarkB

Legend
I know this is a PbtA thread, but what are the differences in Forged in the Dark?
Different dice mechanic for a start. You still have the division of failure / success-with-cost / success (with Critical Success added on top), but it uses a dice pool mechanic, and it also has the concept of Position and Effect.

Position can be Controlled, Risky or Desperate, which defines the consequences of failure - Controlled might simply mean you need to try a different approach, while Desperate may result in serious harm or make it impossible to complete the task by any means.

Effect can be Limited, Standard or Great, where Limited usually means you've achieved only a minor success or made a small step towards your goal, while Great will result in a decisive victory or let you take on superior numbers.

The GM sets Position and Effect based upon the player's description of their intended action, but players can then mess with the odds - they can straight-up trade Position for Effect, such as choosing to downgrade from Risky to Desperate position in order to upgrade their Effect, or else they can act together to change the odds in their favour in terms of Position and Effect, or spend limited resources to gain extra dice to roll.

Plus there are moves, abilities and equipment which players can also bring to bear to affect the odds.

It tends to turn every roll into a negotiation, which feels like it would slow down play, but these actions tend to have a larger effect within the narrative than an individual check or attack in, say, D&D would, so it balances out.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I know this is a PbtA thread, but what are the differences in Forged in the Dark?
Different mechanical structure. The dice work differently, but the main new feature is position and effect, set by the GM with input to the player. Position sets the danger level of complications (controlled, risky, desperate) and effect the impact of success (limited, normal, great). This adds more nuance to rolls and clearly communicates outcome spaces. Other large change is the Resistance roll, where you resist a complication either mitigating or neutralizing it. This can cost a lot or a little depending on the roll (it's a random element so it's always a bit risky to resist). Otherwise a different injury system and a much more codified structure of play (freeplay, score, downtime). It builds off of PbtA such that it should be immediately graspable by someone familiar with PbtA, but has a lot of changes in mechanical structures.
 

innerdude

Legend
Is this something any of the rules sets point out? I don't recall seeing that guideline anywhere in Masks - and when it comes to Masks, if you're trying to emulate teen super-hero teams you're going to have 4-7 characters.

No, nothing specific in any rules I've seen (re: number of players). But from both my Dungeon World and Ironsworn active play experiences, 1 GM + 4 players was better than 5 players.

Several Ironsworn sessions only had 3 players, and the experience didn't suffer, and in many ways was more engaging, as individual character focus could have more depth.

5 players was particularly distracting in Dungeon World combat, with the way it handles initiative (free form reactive to player declarations).

Fewer players also helps with one of the elements brought up, which is managing the mental overhead of the "escalation cycle" of partial success / success with cost elements. Fewer players keeps the contextual areas of fiction necessarily smaller and easier to manage from frame to frame.

As I said before, 3 players is probably ideal, 4 players is do-able but you'll have to be on your toes, 5 is stretching the limits of GM ingenuity, and 6+ would be a flat out "No, that's too many."

Specifically for Masks, since you brought it up --- I've read the rules but haven't played it. It was my impression that there might be 4-7 members of the "Teen Titans" in the fiction, but some of them are likely going to be NPCs.

Sort of like in Buffy --- Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles are your PCs. Cordelia, Angel, Faith, Oz, and Spike, though often present and central to much of the series, are NPCs.

The first X-Men movie is really about 3 of the characters --- Wolverine, Professor X, and Rogue. (You could kind-of, sort-of argue that Jean Gray might qualify as a PC-level protagonist as well.)

Sure, Cyclops, Firestarter, and Storm are major characters with significant screen time, but the story isn't really about them. They're around and doing "stuff" with the protagonists, but it would be pretty easy to cast them as NPCs in an RPG. They're there when they matter to the protagonists, but not so consequential as to focus the story on them.
 

I know this is a PbtA thread, but what are the differences in Forged in the Dark?

There are a lot of specific differences, and just as PbtA games can be very different from one another, there's a lot of variety among FitD games.

But imo the biggest difference is that in FitD when the player gets a consequence, they can choose to resist it, usually by adding a variable amount of Stress points. Resisting might totally negate a consequence (the guard didn't see you sneaking around) or reduce it (the guard isn't raising the alarm, but they are coming to investigate).

Once your Stress track is full, you take a Trauma, typically meaning you're basically out of the session. Traumas are different from physical injuries, in that they usually can't be removed, they have lingering effects (you're paranoid, etc.) and if you get four of them, your character is retired.

Though Traumas are usually permanent, Stress is removed by doing something in downtime (play alternates between a score/mission phase, and then a downtime phase), like indulging in a Vice.

The PCs' ability to resist--at least until they're full on Stress--means GMs are maybe encouraged to move harder against them than in PbtA (if you're familiar with Brindlewood Bay or The Between, resisting is a little like putting on a Crown or Mask). Other stuff gets generated and accelerated, too. Gaining Stress through resisting consequences feeds into downtime activities and the narrative consequences those can generate. And the Traumas that result from running out of Stress are another kind of existential threat, in addition to whether you live or die. Also, in theory, racking up Traumas makes you more and more of a weirdo, which is fun to play. Resisting consequences isn't the only way to accrue Stress and start related things rolling, but it's a consistent one.


Another big difference is that FitD games tend to be more specific about the stakes of each dice roll. Based on the fictional positioning, including what the PC is trying to do, the GM might say that what a PC is doing is a risky action that will have limited effect (firing a slew of wild shots at approaching enemies while you run for cover, hoping to rattle them or keep their heads down for a moment) or it's a desperate action with moderate effect (you're standing your ground, gunslinger-style, and trying to drop as many as you can). A lot of stuff might factor into how dangerous or effective the action is, like how many enemies there are, whether they have armor, what kind of weapon you're using, etc. I'm probably making it sound more complicated than it is, but to me it offers a bit more structure to a given action than in PbtA, and that has its benefits and drawbacks.


I'm personally way more comfortable with FitD's generally more structured (but still very very open-ended) approach than with PbtA, because I'm still a trad little baby at heart. But they share a lot, especially the common dice roll result of success-with-consequence, and the overall emphasis on consequences driving the entire play loop, instead of constant GM prep.
 


innerdude

Legend
I'm personally way more comfortable with FitD's generally more structured (but still very very open-ended) approach than with PbtA, because I'm still a trad little baby at heart. But they share a lot, especially the common dice roll result of success-with-consequence, and the overall emphasis on consequences driving the entire play loop, instead of constant GM prep.

I've yet to play my first FitD game (hurry up, Court of Blades Kickstarter!), but my experience with Ironsworn was similar. One of the reasons I found Ironsworn easier to grasp was the additional structural layers it adds to the PbtA "core"--- the vow mechanic, momentum, assets, a slightly more expansive set of moves with more specific results, and the progress track (which are pretty much the same as FitD "clocks").
 


MarkB

Legend
A couple more things worth mentioning that are in common for, at least, the FitD systems I've used is the emphasis on established places and organisations. In Blades in the Dark you're part of a criminal gang, and choosing which type of gang is as important as choosing individual character playbooks. You'll advance your gang and expand your base through the course of a campaign, and forge alliances and enmities with a variety of different factions.

You're also operating within a structured city environment, within which you'll establish a base and territory, and as you carry out jobs in different parts of the city you'll interact with different factions.

Scum and Villainy works similarly, except that in place of a city you have a small set of star systems, and your characters are part of a starship crew, with your starship replacing the base and becoming an active part of both jobs and downtime.

This structure adds a lot to a campaign, but a GM coming into the system for the first time may find themselves needing to do more homework than they expected, and adapting these systems to different settings also requires quite a bit of prep time. I originally bought Scum and Villainy with the aim of running a Star Wars campaign, and coming up with a full set of Star Wars themed factions took a lot of writing and a lot of time on Wookieepedia. It's also a mistake to expand to a galaxy-level playing field, you need that tight-focused setting in order for the factional play to really work.

That said, once you've got a grip on the system, it's incredibly easy to improvise on-the-fly within any particular game session. I came into sessions with little idea what players were going to decide to do as their next job, and had no trouble putting together something for them within the time it took them to finish prepping for the job, and likewise when playing Blades in the Dark we frequently threw some curveballs at our GM and the scenarios he brought together in response never felt rushed or unpolished.
 

Thank you for the responses. I can see how the additional mechanical support helps some folks, but I really like the ambiguity that PbtA provides. I'd have to see FitD in action to get a good feel of it.

One more thing, which is kind of the original elevator pitch for Blades in the Dark.

A lot of FitD games have something that's basically a character sheet (or playbook) for the group. In Blades it's the Crew Sheet, where you mark off the territories and gambling dens and police-on-the-payroll and other elements you add to your criminal empire, as well as a separate crew XP track and crew abilities. In Scum and Villainy you have a Ship Sheet, where you pick upgrades to your ship, and your crew, etc.

But in both of those games those sheets are also where you mark down your current Heat points, and your related Wanted level.

To me, Heat (or its equivalent) is what makes FitD sing.

Kill someone during your heist? More Heat than usual. Kill a cop? Loads of Heat. At war with another crew or faction? More Heat for every score/mission you do. Need an extra die for a crucial roll? The GM might offer a Devil's Bargain, a one-time bonus that comes with a consequence, such as extra Heat (you leave evidence behind, etc.). The more Heat, the higher your Wanted level, meaning more and better authorities coming after you, and possible consequences or story beats to try to reduce Wanted/Heat.

It might sound like a super specific mechanic, but think about how many RPGs feature PCs as criminals or rebels of some kind. And it's a single rule that ripples out to touch on so many other mechanical elements of the game, but it also helps establish the consequences of being a loose cannon or pack of murder hobos, and sets up even more play loops. It's the first system I've come across where being a criminal feels criminal, and where the idea of being at war with another group has a cost (in addition to getting more Heat during a war, you make less money and have fewer activities during downtime phases--being a tough guy better be worth it).

In other words, FitD's structure and mechanics might make it seem narrower or more specific than PbtA, but what it does, it does really well.
 

payn

Legend
One more thing, which is kind of the original elevator pitch for Blades in the Dark.

A lot of FitD games have something that's basically a character sheet (or playbook) for the group. In Blades it's the Crew Sheet, where you mark off the territories and gambling dens and police-on-the-payroll and other elements you add to your criminal empire, as well as a separate crew XP track and crew abilities. In Scum and Villainy you have a Ship Sheet, where you pick upgrades to your ship, and your crew, etc.

But in both of those games those sheets are also where you mark down your current Heat points, and your related Wanted level.

To me, Heat (or its equivalent) is what makes FitD sing.

Kill someone during your heist? More Heat than usual. Kill a cop? Loads of Heat. At war with another crew or faction? More Heat for every score/mission you do. Need an extra die for a crucial roll? The GM might offer a Devil's Bargain, a one-time bonus that comes with a consequence, such as extra Heat (you leave evidence behind, etc.). The more Heat, the higher your Wanted level, meaning more and better authorities coming after you, and possible consequences or story beats to try to reduce Wanted/Heat.

It might sound like a super specific mechanic, but think about how many RPGs feature PCs as criminals or rebels of some kind. And it's a single rule that ripples out to touch on so many other mechanical elements of the game, but it also helps establish the consequences of being a loose cannon or pack of murder hobos, and sets up even more play loops. It's the first system I've come across where being a criminal feels criminal, and where the idea of being at war with another group has a cost (in addition to getting more Heat during a war, you make less money and have fewer activities during downtime phases--being a tough guy better be worth it).

In other words, FitD's structure and mechanics might make it seem narrower or more specific than PbtA, but what it does, it does really well.
Sounds a lot like Sons of Anarchy the board game. (Not a bad thing in my opinion)
 


hawkeyefan

Legend
I had no idea that Forged in the Dark is a take of PbtA. I own Blades in the Dark and Scum and Villainy as well and I'm pretty sure (and excited) that Blades will be the next thing I run, but that's still a way off.

That's great. Blades is an awesome game. The best thing I've found to do when GMing Pbta or FitD games is to think of my role as GM to be more like that of the player in a traditional RPG.

What I mean is, when I sit down to GM D&D, I have to have some amount of prep ready to go. This can range from a detailed map with keyed locations and detailed monster stats and traps, to some bullet points jotted down based on what happened last session. Whatever amount there is will vary from GM to GM per preference, but there will always be some amount of prep. You go into the game with that prep available to lean on.

With PbtA and FitD, that's less true. You aren't mean to lean on prep. The players are going to dictate a lot of things, so what you need to do is be ready to go off what they say. You can lean on the setting and you can lean on past events of play, but a lot of the time, you're going to be reacting to the players rather than them reacting to you.

It'll take some getting used to and you can ease into it. Very likely for your first session you'll have to take the reins a bit more to get the ball rolling. This may even be necessary for the first couple of sessions. In my first Blades campaign (which was the first for everyone in the group) I came up with the first two scores for the group. Then for the third and fourth, I offered them two options to choose from. Then after that, they started suggesting ideas of their own based on their needs ("we need a job that will get us some cash" or "we need a job that will be relatively calm and won't raise our heat" and so on). Then they started looking at the claim map (this is like a list of properties/locations that you can take from rival gangs, like a gambling hall or a vice den and so on).

Before long the game was pretty much running itself. The crew would come up with a score, and that would lead to new events and situations, and those would suggest new scores, and so on. It may take a while to get there, and that's fine! It's new, and you guys should acknowledge. If you think you messed up in some way, say so, and chat about it with the group.

A couple of my players are more introverted, at least when gaming, so I am developing concerns if these games will be ideal for them. Since they tend to go along with whatever game I want to run a short game to feel everyone out may be in order.

The thing is to just kind of rotate through everyone at the table and ask them what they do. You do this at each point of play... whether it's downtime or in the middle of a fight or whatever else may be going on. Don't prompt the group as often as you may in D&D, instead prompt each player.

Feel free to make suggestions. It may take players a little while to realize that they need to be more proactive, and some will be more comfortable with that than others. Again, it's new so nothing wrong with people taking some time to get used to it. Don't be hard on them and don't be hard on yourself.

I think that sometimes the perception for long time gamers is something like "I've been doing this so long, I should be great at it" and I get that. But when you play a game that functions differently than you're used to, it's going to take some time to adjust. Sometimes, it's harder for people who've already been playing RPGs for a long time. The player to take to Blades the quickest in my group was the one that was the newest to RPGs. I've heard many examples of this.

So again, be easy on yourself and your group. Incorporate all the mechanics a bit at a time. If you mess up a bit, don't sweat it. If you have a player who locks up, talk them through some options. You'll all get there.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
When it comes to smaller group sizes being preferrable in Powered by the Apocalypse games there are basically two important factors at work:

1. As games most PbtA games are much more focused on individual characters, their relationships, their personal goals, and their narrative journeys than as typical of more mainstream play. Running concurrent scenes is common. So are characters having different agendas. The more players you have the more highlighting individual player characters becomes difficult to manage at the table.

2. During the course of play as a GM you are spreading around the spotlight, deciding who the next person who gets to make a decision is. The general flow of play is like this:
  1. GM makes a GM move
  2. GM asks a specific player what their specific character does
  3. Player answers and we resolve it mechanically (if a move applies).
  4. Go to #1
Each interaction has a lot of meaning, changes the state of the fiction and places the spotlight/pressure directly on a single player character. With this process you have to be very mindful of who you are passing the baton to as a GM/MC. There's also a lot of back and forth between players and the GM compared to more mainstream games where outside of combat the overall group tends to be the contact point and players will often have more direct conversations among each other about what to do next.

That being said I have seen games with as much 7 players work pretty well if the GM is quick on their feet. It's not optimal, but in my experience, it is never really all that optimal.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
While these games are not remotely GM-less (they require extremely deft, conscientious GMing at every moment of play), the requirement of players is what is most unique.
Extremely deft and contentious. At every moment of play. That feels…exaggerated. I’m pretty sure the entry level learning curve isn’t quite that steep, for most of them. Am I misunderstanding what you’re trying to say, here?
 

Extremely deft and contentious. At every moment of play. That feels…exaggerated. I’m pretty sure the entry level learning curve isn’t quite that steep, for most of them. Am I misunderstanding what you’re trying to say, here?

Possibly?

Im assuming your phone autocorrected “conscientious” to “contentious?”

My point was two-fold:

1) There is an idea that, contrasted with say high prep Trad GMing, these games are somehow less GMing intensive rather than a different kind of intensivty. That needs correction.

2) The deftness and conscientiousness comes in the following way. At every moment of play:

  • Always hew to the games agenda.
  • Always constrain your GMing by the principles of the game.
  • Know the rules and follow them ruthlessly.
  • Know the game’s premise (in PBtA games that includes the End of Session reward relationship) and stay on top of it with each moment of framing and consequence.
  • Know the players’ playbook themes, the players’ interests as the relate to that, and PC dramatic needs. At every soft move and hard move you should be engaging with the first two and putting pressure on/providing opposition to the last one…all while you’re doing all of the stuff above…and also working hard to not recycle content/tropes.
  • Lead an interesting conversation which involves asking provocative questions (which you need to have a corpus of developed thought to even know what those might be), listen and absorb the answers, and incorporate them deftly.
  • Create decision-points that are stimulating from a gameplay perspective and provocative from a premise/dramatic need perspective.
  • Continuously update in your mind the ever-accreting setting that is, in large part, being procedurally generated in-situ. You have to stay on top of this in subsequent framing and consequences.
  • Play true to your NPC/hazard/obstacles instincts/tags/moves while you do all of the above.

So yeah. Extremely deft and conscientious GMing at each moment of play. Play won’t come close to falling apart (the systems are too nimble and sufficiently resilient to average GMing…I know this because even on my off-nights GMing, the games are still quite enjoyable), but it will elevate in proportion to increased deftness and conscientiousness in GMing. When I’m “my best self” the games are dramatically better than when I’m just “meh.”

EDIT - I hope that last bit heartens @Hex08 . Even if your first foray into running one of these games feels like a forgettable performance by your standards, these games have a “high floor.” It’s almost a sure thing your “meh” effort was at or above that floor and therefore enjoyable enough (assuming you’re running the games correctly - eg doing what I’ve outlined above).
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
And I guess this is why it doesn't work for me. It says that the focus is "see what your characters do" but in practice, because much of the time any action results in success with a complication, it seems more like the focus is "see what the world does to your character". When I play Fate, if I fail to interrogate a suspect, I can choose simply to fail and then try something else, or I might decide to use one of my character aspects, or I might succeed with a complication -- but the focus is on my character and what they do. When I play a PbtA game, that has not been the case. Very often my dice roll results not in a choice over what I do (accept failure, put in more effort, accept a consequence) but in the world taking over focus and doing something.

As an example, from AW p137 "Act Under Fire" the suggestion is that if you roll 7-9 on dragging a friend to cover, you offer the player a choice between one of the two of you getting shot. That sort of thing I found frustrating. There's no option to say "this is important to my character, I'm willing to burn something just to make it work", there's no option to say "I'd prefer to simply fail and try a different approach". There isn't even the suggestion that a player could choose a complication (although I'm guessing most GMs would allow that).

This is made more noticeable because when your character does something well, it's over fast -- you did it, you narrate it, next player. When you are in that intermediate state, there's a pause while the GM explains what's going on and your alternatives, and then you might have a question (like, how badly is my character going to be shot? Will my friend potentially die?) The focus has switched from your action to the complication. And because it takes so much more time, I found that when I played PbtA games, most of the time was not spent on seeing what my character did, but instead on understanding and reacting to what the world did when I didn't succeed completely.

I really, really want to like PbtA, and I've played maybe a dozen variants in home games and at cons. But it often feels like I'm along for the ride; there's no need to think or plan or worry about what my character would actually do, because a complication will come up and I'll just be reacting to GM intrusions.
The one thing that leaps out to me is differing expectations from many RPGs about who's rolling the dice.

For example, in D&D if I'm sneaking and an enemy patrol notices me, I don't have the option to "not stealth and try another approach". I tried my approach and got caught. There's no problems if the DM's dice end up with soemthing that I don't like, that's expected.

PbtA has only has the player rolling. So that roll is like both a player roll and a DM's roll in D&D. In other words, the exact smae things you would accept from a DM's roll in D&D, you need to accept from the only roll in PbtA. But because of having learned it one way first, that the player rolls things under their control only, it requires unlearning to understand and accept that the player's roll means more than that in PbtA. Any the consequences are not limited to "bad player roll" results, like a fumble - they can be anything a DM could deliver.

If everything in the world was calm and idyllic, a character rolling would always be a bad idea. But it's not - PbtA gives tghe GM rules that put tension on the players. If you don't do something, things will suck. So do something, and maybe you can make it not suck.
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
One final note ---

As a rule, PbtA favors smaller groups than other systems. A GM with 2-3 players is very much supported, and possibly even preferred.

4 players is do-able; 5 players would stretch the ability to account for the various character agendas. I personally wouldn't want to GM a PbtA group with more than 4 players, and the sweet spot would definitely be 3.
I found this really true. The "action economy" idea from other games doesn't come into play the same way in PbtA so the automatic scaling of power with more players isn't as extreme. And PbtA can easily run with the party split, and a lot of times that makes the most narrative sense for a scene.

What that means is that you don't need more people for the team, and with fewer you can give all of the players more attention, allowing you to have some not in scene but not feeling left out because you are giving them so much spotlight in other scenes.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
My first (and only) PbtA experience so far was running Masks for a bunch of players who had also never played any PbtA.

Before I go any further, all of the posters here gushing about how good Masks is? Amateurs! It's even better than that. :D

I had to unlearn a lot, and I'm still doing it. Now, even with traditional games I do a lot of improv - that's not the unlearning. This game might be easier for me to run if I hadn't so many hours of traditional games because some of the base foundation is different. "Play to find out" sounds like a snappy sound bite. It's not, it's a diamond core.

And the focus is something I had to unlearn. I've played a number of superhero systems over the years, with over a decade with actively playing HERO - the most numbers forward, can model everything, super hero simulation.

Masks doesn't really care about that more than the player and the GM have a reasonably aligned idea of what your power can do under normal situations. Masks when you "build your character", you aren't picking a class or something that is about primarily the features and abilities of your character. You're pretty much picking "what type of teen superteam angst am I most interested in investigating", with a side of who you are. Are you The Janus whom juggling your secret ID and "who am I really" at the forefront? The Doomed where doom literally is coming for you, and pushing your powers will hasten it just as mucha s give you more to do good with in the meantime. The Legacy, latest in a long line of heroes to live up to - or not? The Deviant, The Transformed, The Nova, and so on.

Remember when I said what you could do under normal circumstances? Want to beat up a goon using your powers? Know what you roll? Nothing - you succeed. You're a super, he's a goon.

On the other hand, does your Nova want to push her plasma control power to suck the fire out of the burning skyscraper - without killing all the people in it? Oh yeah, now it gets interesting.

And the same for the players in terms of unlearning. Relationships are a big deal, and in a teen super team there are times you'll be yelling, arguing, and storming out if it doesn't devolve to punches and lasers. You know what, that's okay. Death isn't on the table, the consequences of this add to the fun and the narrative unlike in a mission-success-forward game like D&D. Split the party and explore two different parts fo the villian's lair to try and find the hostages - it's okay. Basically, so many things that are verboten as "worst practices" in other RPGs are fine here.

And that's because the narrative you are developing together is the measure of player success instead of player success often feeling linked to character success like in more traditional games.

Masks gives fantastic GM rules - not advice, but rather goals, principles, and rules. I've read Apocalypse World and as the granddaddy that's it's legacy - it gives fantastic guidance to the GM how how to run a very particular game incredibly thematically.

And the games are more focused. I don't know if I could see a "big tent" PbtA - and if it loses that hard focus into creating playbooks it would lose a lot of it's appeal. For as much as I like Masks, I wouldn't use if for a general supers game, it's fine tuned around finding out about who you are as a teen super, when your friends, mentors, the public and even your enemies have their own views on who you should be.
 

Retreater

Legend
So I have a longtime player (we started gaming together in the late 1990s) who is a big fan of OSR systems. He has taken the lessons from our PbtA to change his DMing style in his home OSR game. He's gone from "the method of DMing from Gary Gygax's 1st edition AD&D DMG is the only proper way to run a game" to "I'm going to incorporate moves, complications, etc from Dungeon World into my OSR game."
I think that there is something to learn from every game system, and it's well worth trying out what you can to see what lessons you can apply.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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