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Author Topic: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu  (Read 9645 times)
Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2006, 03:52:06 PM »

Ron,

Thanks for the excellent clarification on terminology. I hadn't even considered the difference. I was definitely assuming it meant the second, Sorcerer & Sword type, meaning.

I, um, yeah, I can see why it would be necessary to ask more pointed questions regarding strong setting. I'll have to mull it over and get back to you. I also wanna go back through TSoY, because I think you're tipping me off to things about the setting I had missed.

(This post was saved from the void by Firefox 2.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: November 16, 2006, 04:04:03 PM »

Hi Larry,

To be absolutely clear, I think the #2 meaning is best associated with InSpectres, Universalis, and Polaris. All of those games feature revision and addition the existing back-story right there during play itself, which does not happen in Sorcerer of any kind. The Sorcerer & Sword version is a very formal and between-story version of it, so that title doesn't serve well as the primary reference.

It's no big deal in the overall scheme of our dialogue in this thread, but I did want to be clear about that for whoever's reading.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2006, 01:19:12 PM »

Our third session, a couple of days ago

Hello,

Prep thoughts

I struggled a bit with preparing for this session, not really in a bad way, but in the sense that not too much content came to mind. I wanted to reach "up" a scale-level in thinking about the game, now that the basic and personal conflicts were either resolved or well on their way. I went back to the book and thought a little bit about the Year of Shadow and the Ammeni area.

Point 1 - The Ammeni noble houses were unified prior to that year, but in the hundred years since, they've been battling out a seven-way split.

Point 2 - The role of Ratkin in the area, as a potentially powerful ally for the Zaru, and their absolute lack of acknowledgment by the Ammeni, who consider them wholly animals. For our scenario, I'd stated that the ruling house in this immediate area had basically exterminated them after the last uprising. Was it time to consider any of the survivors, or any effects of their activity that persisted?

Point 3 - The potential of the Zu language, possibly one of the "great doors" in the Shadow of Yesterday - by "great door," I mean a confluence of system and other SIS features that will have unpredictable, extensive, and thematically powerful effects when utilized fearlessly through play.

My thoughts turned mainly to #2 and #3, and I came up with the notion of a dead white ratkin with an Ammeni spear through him, yet preserved in suspended animation of some kind by the Zu word "Life." I figured he'd be kind of floating there, suspended and glowing and "alive," full of some kind of magic. I came up with this partly because I like ratkin, partly because Tim K had mentioned them a bit back and I'd shut it down for a good reason, but now that's a way to keep the reason and not be such a shutdown, and partly because a resource is always a good element in a back-story as long as it's not a stupid quest (i.e. it's about using it, not getting it).

I kept it in mind here and there during the scenario, but ultimately no particular meaningful reason came up to use it, so I put it on hold. Now that I've posted it, will I use it? Probably not. The main reason why not is that after the session, it turns out that #1 above is probably more relevant to what's going on.

Thoughts on pool refreshment and the overall reward system

As I posted above, Tim K now had his character and her situation well-established in his mind. He proposed some pool refreshment in a much more focused, non-reactive way than he'd considered previously, and I made up a nice Zaru gentleman for her to do it with, named Enk. It became a three-way pool refreshment with poetry, sex, political conniving, and a reminder for me to develop another NPC. Enki became a rather poetic fellow, which permitted us to see another side of Delondra - her idealism.

One of the nice things about pool refreshment in Shadow of Yesterday is that it acts as a check on (or at least a contrasting moment for) the characters as purely vicious, XP-grabbing, goal-directed monomaniacs, because you have to connect in some way to another person. I take a little credit for this idea, from my old game design Fantasy for Real, and you can also find it in The Dying Earth, but Clinton has outshined both of these games by integrating it with the other reward/replacement systems in The Shadow of Yesterday.

What I mean is this - sure, you can add to the range of the stuff your character can do by hitting the Keys, taking new Keys, and hitting them, all the live-long day. That's the ... for lack of a better word, "obsessive" end of character change in this game. I like X, I do X, I get points which can be used to get better at X via more and better abilities, or if not, to switch to Y which is effectively just another obsession. But the pools are instead the fuel for the actions of the character, particularly in times of real adversity when you really need all the bonus dice you can get. So you can't just be Key-obsessed crazy-man, you have to take breaks and do stuff with other characters that's totally not about anything except indulgence and connection of some kind.

In isolation, the concept of "relax, live a little, self-indulge" as a character-recovery mechanic is a good one, but it's ultimately just a bit of Color. However, in combination with an entirely different mechanism of improvement, indeed an obsessive and me-me-oriented one, the two work together in a way that brings in far more content, and far more potential for building further scenes and having more stuff happen. (In fact, it points up one of the most important features of goblins ... because goblins represent the one way in which pool refreshment, for Vigor, becomes obsessive after all. Boy, they're messed up.)

And add to that, the fact that the details of pool-refreshment, in all cases, are left up to the player in terms of whether they are nice or vicious or anything in between. In both of the cases I've described so far, Toussaint and Delondra are pretty ruthless characters facing a lot of adversity, with a few successes but also a lot of brutal blow-back. Each player made sure to inject some positive elements to their pool refreshments; they didn't have to do this, but in doing so, in each case, the player made a significant thematic choice by doing so.

So I suggest really studying and applying those rules, for this game. Without them, the Keys are a hamster wheel; with them, the Keys are tremendous and stupendous. Put that interaction (Keys' development and replacement; pool refreshment) into a full setting-context, and that's how this game flies.

Events of the session

So the events of the session began with a connection between two general approaches to the situation taken by Pascal and Delondra. Pascal had decided to mobilize the Zaru via Arnaud; and Delondra meanwhile actually mobilized them via her activism, as well as wanting to get the Secret of Uz. Generally, both of these represent a challenge to Toussaint's newly-acquired power and thus our scenario is nicely stoked. Even better, concretely, according to both players, both of these entailed freeing Thuxra. That's a GM opportunity from hell; which is to say, when two characters independently want the same thing, make a big character-conflict stew via scene-framing, by saying that Pascal and Delondra arrive at the cells at the same time, which happened later in the session. (more on this later)

Ever have an NPC with no particular role or importance except that he's a necessary bit of opposition, and you either roll so well or so badly for him that he requires some kind of narrational presence after all? That would be what happened with the guy guarding the two women prisoners, who was first influenced by Pascal to beat Sidonie up (thinking it was ordered by Toussaint), then convinced that he should run off and guard Sidonie instead of Thuxra, and then failed miserably to prevent Sebastien from killing her (which was on Toussaint's orders, but still). He was the worst guard in the history of Ammeni guardsmen. It wasn't as if he was built to fail or succeed especially, I just rolled nothing but minuses for him all evening long. We decided he must have been completely stoned on Ammeni drugs or something. Maybe I'll make more of a character out of him for later, or maybe not.

While all that was going on, or the start of it anyway, Toussaint set up a deal with his allied Ammeni delegates, coordinating an economic cabal among silks, drugs, and prostitution. Having found his nastier side, he finally overcame his squeamishness of the previous session by dispatching Sebastien to kill Sidonie after all. I'm kind of sorry that I didn't frame a scene with Margaux; I want to develop her a little and will definitely do so for next time. I also think the slave girl Toussaint disported with in the previous session needs a name and stuff to do as well. (She did show up as part of Sebastien's art; it involved hot wax and the Secret of Inner Meaning, but enough said about that. I told you I had a talent for playing these sorts of characters.)

All right, so the first half of play concerned Pascal playing Deceit-games with Arnaud and the prisoners, Delondra refreshing her pools and sneaking back onto the estate, and Toussaint cutting deals and throwing his weight around among other Ammeni. As I said, the next move was the frame the two independent attempts to spring Thuxra from her cell into the same scene, and that took a couple of conflict rolls, with Pascal and Delondra entering into a temporary alliance. Which led to my next move being a fairly aggressive scene-frame - popping Toussaint into the scene too.

The climactic scene

Or, as Tim A said when I framed his character's presence right into the path of the goblin and the two Zaru as they crept to escape, "All right, little bitches."

Tim's not used to playing powerful, impressive characters - I saw this in our Sorcerer game when he consistently forgot to utilize his character's strongest score, and I saw the reverse in Space Rat when he was comfortable in the role of a different archetype. So this scene was really his opportunity to find his Inner Dark Lord.

For example, when Delondra tries to Uptenbo him, he uses React as a direct opposition. No problem there. But then, when he fails, he (quite reasonably) Brings Down the Pain ... and plotzes a bit about what this means. I engaged the rest of the group to help him out a little - how does Darth Vader win against a single leapy ninja who jumps at him with a bunch of fancy moves? He looms, that's all. No fight, no nothing - such things are beneath a True Dark Lord's notice. So Tim could stick with the React as his stated intent during BDTP as a winning and atmospheric move. It took him a bit to process this, but he did!

This was also related, a bit, to Chris being puzzled at a different point in the same scene. Basically, Delondra was switching her action, so Chris interpreted that "she takes an action to switch" as an opening during Pascal could escape the situation (specifically, Bring Down the Pain) by simply walking off. This was gamer logic: "he's losing an action? he's not doing anything? OK! I can do anything! I escape (or whatever)!" However, that does not apply one teeny whit to this game and these rules. The actual logic to use is as follows: you cannot escape Bring Down the Pain. You end it by winning, by losing all the way down, or by giving up partway through. That's it. Although your opponent cannot accomplish "something new" while he switches his intention, nothing whatsoever has changed about your options (roll for your intention or switch as well), and you will always face a roll.

Anyway, how did this scene work out? Basically, Toussaint dominated it, but there was one crucial sub-set of conflicts whose resolution is now a major turning-point of our overall situation (i.e. story-in-action).

Here's the list of what went on. Sebastien did kill Sidonie. The interesting thing is that Toussaint didn't know about the guard beating her, and at this point, he doesn't know whether Sebastien did it or not. I'm happy with that; unknowns are always important in a game involving Ammeni (or whatever version of the Borgias are featured for a given setting).

Thuxra met her end in a very interesting way. Toussaint had beaten Delondra by "resisting" her Uptenbo until she was Broken, and Pascal had been unable to flee when Toussaint overrode him. And somewhat comically, nobody succeeded in undoing Thuxra's gag for ages. Anyway, at this point, Pascal had successfully deceived Toussaint that he was totally innocent of all malice, and subsequently, Thuxra was kneeling before him and sincerely swaying him to accept her into his service as Pascal attempted to refute her. They tied.

... so I decreed that Delondra bought off her Key of the Pacifist (she is my only NPC with a Key, which at this point I had only established as a characterization device and until now hadn't intended to utilize as a mechanic), bought Secret of the Sudden Knife, and killed herself. (We can talk about how our group deals with ties in a later post if anyone is interested.)

To finish up, Delondra failed to escape when Toussaint asked her to say and listen to a proposition he has for the Zaru, at which point we ended the session. 

(follow-up post, coming up)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: November 18, 2006, 01:19:36 PM »

Responsive Situation-creation

Part 1: prepping

When prepping for a given session (starting or not), the primary task is to identify the questions that are inherent to the prevailing conditions. I will call them situational questions. They should be few, binary, and unavoidable either in the upcoming session or very soon after. Here are my examples for this game.

Session 1: Who will inherit the Ammeni house, and what will he or she do about the Zaru uprising? Will or will not the estate be blown up?

The point - these questions are what permit the GM to think up his or her "bandolier of Bangs" in Sorcerer, Devil-pumping scenes in Dust Devils, Spiritual Attribute tweakers in The Riddle of Steel, or specifically in The Shadow of Yesterday tems, Key Scenes. Or whatever equivalents apply to any game with such things. You should really process this point though, because trying to come up with such things without considering the situational questions first is a hopeless exercise.

Answers achieved through play: Toussaint inherits. The Ammeni/Zaru issue is left open. Not yet.

After any given session, identify the important details that can play pivotal roles later. In this case, it's the Ammeni signet ring which Pascal stole from the father's corpse and tossed to Delondra, who still has it. Note also that "not yet" is a perfectly good answer in many circumstances.

Session 2: Will or will not the estate be blown up? Will Toussaint establish respect for his leadership among other Ammeni houses? Does Sidonie get out of her cell? Will Thuxra establish control over Toussaint as she did with Sidonie?

Answers achieved through play: No (Delondra abandoned that Key). Yes, he did, killing the person who objected the most. No, she doesn't. No, she failed and was imprisoned as well.

Session 3: Will Thuxra be freed? Will Sidonie be killed? Will Pascal and Arnaud ally with the Zaru? Will Toussaint crack down on the Zaru?

Note how specific all these questions are. They are not, for instance, "how will Toussaint act toward the Zaru." That just leads to rambling and GM-helplessness during play. When you find yourself asking questions like that, reduce them to binary form: either he cracks down, or he doesn't, with the latter option exploding into a kaleidoscope of options that aren't your problem but rather the player's.

Answers achieved through play: Yes, but she kills herself. No, and she is killed. No, they didn't, although Arnaud's fate/actions are unknown. No, Toussaint did not and allowed the possibility that he will not.

And finally, setting up for Session 4: Does Arnaud establish alliances among the Zaru? Do Toussaint and Delondra establish a working accord of some kind? Does the slave-girl capture Toussaint's heart? Does Margaux capture Toussaint's heart? Does Pascal disrupt Toussaint's power or reinforce it?

As you can see, these questions don't tap into the larger-scale setting issues that I'd like to bring in more strongly, but a few days yet remain before we play again. You can bet I'll be thinking in those terms before the next session, and at least one more question at that level will be thrown in.

Part 2: during play

I trust you'll see where I utilized specific GM-task activity during the third session. This is, effectively, situational authority, practiced during play at a smaller scale than session prep or back-story creation. The actions are:

1. Having Arnaud run off by himself to organize the Zaru, according with Pascal's instructions to him, but doing it his way, without waiting for Pascal to return

- this is an NPC action, with me "playing the character" with one eye sharply cocked toward Pascal's Secret of the Companion

2. Combining player-characters' scenes, in that once Tim K and Chris had announced their characters' independent intentions to free Thuxra, I decreed they were doing it at the same time

- this is scene-framing, exerting situational authority over who is where at what time

3. Having Toussaint walk in when he did, i.e., after Thuxra was freed and all the other characters were about to exit the estate

- this is the same as #2 above

I'm discussing this issue in direct reference to Joshua BishopRoby's threads Explain to me how Bangs are not Illusionism (original title at Story Games) and Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down confusion (Forge). I am not confident that we actually reached agreement in those threads. I also want explicitly to disavow any agreement, at all, with his original posts in the Story Games thread. Here are the basic principles underlying the effective and necessary use of these techniques (very small Techniques, practically Ephemera) during play, such that the aspects that made Joshua uncomfortable or suspicious during his sessions (specifically The Shadow of Yesterday) are not actually problematic - not even a little bit - and have absolutely no relation to what people call "fiat," "railroading," or "GMing" in the sense of "story author."

i) Don't shove player-characters places, but do time their presence together if the places overlap, or place their locations together if the times overlap - note that in many cases, organizing such things can be handled through a roll - the game's existing ordering ("initiative") system will work perfectly for this purpose just as it does in its usual application.

The central concept for successful use: only apply this principle relative to players' announcements. Care about this totally eliiminates the covert railroading many people think is inherent to scene-framing.
 
ii) Establish and participate in an assembly-of-equals when it comes to announced actions and conflicts, so that people don't trap themselves in a scared corner (very common!). In other words, anything stated for the first time is available for feedback and editing through full-group dialogue. No one has pre-emptive speaking authority, although someone does have finalizing authority.

The central concept for successful use: in doing this, everyone must focus on and respect what the game (text or played) provides so far. You will find that any and all dispute about "could have," "would have," "but wasn't he there not here" and related stuff - which I have seen occupy upwards of 70% of total attention and dialogue during actual play - will disappear.

Also: this principle should definitely command and organize all decisions that pertain to (i) above. For instance, I asked Tim K and Chris if it was OK to frame their scenes into one.

(I have not yet been able to describe this principle in action for our Shadow of Yesterday game, and I think that practical knowledge seems to be very rare among on-line discussions of role-playing. In some cases, this is because they do not do it; in others, they do it but don't realize it. I've directly observed both versions many, many times among role-players.)

iii) Know and apply all the kinds of authority in a specific, organized fashion for a given game; do not deviate or 'port over other arrangements from (say) Primetime Adventures or Polaris. (See Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep and player authorship for the four types of authority.)

The central concept for successful use is that everyone must grasp exactly where authority of any of the four sorts lies, with whom, at what points of play. In reference to content authority, do not alter the back-story to taste unless people know that you can do so. For the present game, I discussed this aspect of Shadow of Yesterday content authority in my above post in some detail.

iv) Have NPCs do stuff in the sense that you play them dynamically as characters. They have lots and lots of latitude for action; open yourself to acting upon that whenever those NPCs have, in the framework of the particular game, to opportunity to act. It's far simpler than many people seem to think, and I've done my best to describe it in The Sorcerer's Soul and Sex & Sorcery.

The central concept for successful use: remove from your mind absolutely all need or expectation to make players do, feel, or play something specific in response. I recommend Joel's epiphenal posts in Confessional: I was an illusionist wanker!

Note: this principle should addressed by (ii) above, but just as players have rubber-stamp authority over announced actions, the GM has rubber-stamp authority over NPCs' actions. Playing the NPCs is what the GM "really gets to do."

v) In both orthogonal and oppositional conflict, rely fully on the order of action and effect as dictated by the resolution system being employed; exert no fiat. If the game fails to provide a means of dealing with these sorts of conflicts, then you as a group must invent one.

The central concept for successful use: trust the damn game. I was a little surprised at people's praise for the points I made in [Frostfolk] Carrying on, when discussing options for mixed orthogonal/opposed resolution in Levi's game in design. I can only say, learn the games I discussed there, play them, and trust them to work, because they do. You may find that you habitually exert far more fiat than you like, and expend vast effort to do so (it's tiring!). I suspect this has marred far more Sorcerer play than I care to imagine.

I dunno what to say to conclude this post. Ask, talk, compare, comment, I'm up for it. Tim A and Tim K, for golly fuck's sake, could you please post in this thread?

Best, Ron

edited to add links and to remove a little undeserved rudeness in my phrasing toward Joshua
« Last Edit: November 18, 2006, 01:42:11 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Paul T
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Posts: 369


« Reply #19 on: November 18, 2006, 02:22:31 PM »

Ron,

I'll be happy to jump in with a few questions! I'm hoping to play a game of TSoY soon, so this thread may come in handy.

1) I'd love to hear how your group handles ties.

2) Are you using the standard rules for Pool refreshment, or the ones where the character has to "win" the physical or intellectual contest to refresh their Pool? I can't seem to find that version, but I know I've seen it...

3) About situational questions:

Part 1: prepping

When prepping for a given session (starting or not), the primary task is to identify the questions that are inherent to the prevailing conditions. I will call them situational questions. They should be few, binary, and unavoidable either in the upcoming session or very soon after.

Do you have a process or method you use for coming up with Bangs from those situational questions?

(They most obvious being: For each situational question, come up with a Bang that puts a player into a position of being able to choose an answer for that question. So, if the question is, "will the manor get blown up?", have someone try to sell his character the only bomb in the village.)

Or is it more of "keep those questions in mind while thinking about the next session", or a similar, more intuitive approach?

In other words, what is your thought process in going from formulating those questions to preparing for the next session?

4. About this bit:


ii) Establish and participate in an assembly-of-equals when it comes to announced actions and conflicts, so that people don't trap themselves in a scared corner (very common!). In other words, anything stated for the first time is available for feedback and editing through full-group dialogue. No one has pre-emptive speaking authority, although someone does have finalizing authority.

The central concept for successful use: in doing this, everyone must focus on and respect what the game (text or played) provides so far. You will find that any and all dispute about "could have," "would have," "but wasn't he there not here" and related stuff - which I have seen occupy upwards of 70% of total attention and dialogue during actual play - will disappear.

I'm not 100% sure I'm following you here, so I just want to see if I've got it right. Are you saying:

-Any announced action or conflict is open for discussion (by the whole group), even though whoever has authority to anounce that particular action or conflict maintains final say.

and

-Such discussion tends to put everyone on the same page, which means you won't have people bickering over issues like, "but he couldn't have gotten there in time!" afterwards.

Is that about right?

Thanks,


Paul T.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: November 18, 2006, 02:50:32 PM »

Hi Paul,

Ties: in cases of plain old opposition, we use the textual rule that the defender wins, i.e., you have to beat the other guy's value to succeed.

There are two situations we treat a little differently. The first is tying with mutual failure, which we use as an opportunity for humor or for some other kind of intermediary information or event. In basic conflicts, that intervention or interruptor closes the conflict, but in BDTP, that's just our narration preparatory to rolling again.

The second is a bit more complex - in which both characters succeed (i.e. achieve 1 or better) at the same level ... and in which there exists some zone of potential interpretive overlap between their stated intentions. For example, in the second session, during the drug-affected power-negotiation among the four Ammeni present, Margaux was trying to influence Toussaint to kill Arnaud and Matthieu, and Toussaint was trying to influence her to kill Sebastien and Matthieu. They both succeeded but tied.

Solution: they agree to kill Matthieu, the character who they both wanted dead, and specifically not to kill either Arnaud or Sebastien. Worked very nicely. You can find such solutions in many, many situations once you start looking for them. If you really can't find one, then just step back to the default of the conflict being stymied or disrupted in some way.

Quote
Do you have a process or method you use for coming up with Bangs from those situational questions?

(They most obvious being: For each situational question, come up with a Bang that puts a player into a position of being able to choose an answer for that question. So, if the question is, "will the manor get blown up?", have someone try to sell his character the only bomb in the village.)

Or is it more of "keep those questions in mind while thinking about the next session", or a similar, more intuitive approach?

In other words, what is your thought process in going from formulating those questions to preparing for the next session?

H'mmmm ... I cannot imagine, given a fictional situation (characters doing stuff in a setting) and a set of these questions, not coming up with Bangs or the equivalent of Bangs which are best suited for that particular game system. The latter act is certainly more localized and more immediately situational than the former one, but once I have the former, coming up with latter is simply automatic. I have a hard time understanding how anyone would (or could) not do so. (Clarifier: When I say "coming up with," I mean either before or during play, doesn't matter.)

I guess that's what you're calling the intuitive approach. Before anyone thinks this is some sort of Zen or hazy thing, I suggest actually trying it just as I describe. Paul Czege is a good person to turn to for advice about developing it as a skill.

Quote
Are you saying:

-Any announced action or conflict is open for discussion (by the whole group), even though whoever has authority to anounce that particular action or conflict maintains final say.

and

-Such discussion tends to put everyone on the same page, which means you won't have people bickering over issues like, "but he couldn't have gotten there in time!" afterwards.

Is that about right?

Yup!

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: November 18, 2006, 03:06:30 PM »

Oh yes, I forgot to summarize the current Secrets and Keys.

Toussaint: Secret of the Sudden Knife, Secret of Uz, Key of Power, Key of the Overlord
Pascal: Secret of the Hidden Pocket, Secret of Adaptability, Key of the Coward, Key of Vengeance (all Ammeni), Key of the Guardian
Delondra: Secret of Swamp Lore, Secret of Kinetic Redirection, Secret of Uz, Key of Vengeance (Toussaint's family), Key of the Masochist

If I'm forgetting any, I hope one of the players will chime in with the information. I remember Tim A was thinking of taking the Secret of Contacts and using it to make Thuxra a half-Ammeni relative, but I don't remember if that happened.

Best, Ron
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