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Author Topic: Death, Combat Sorcery, and Punishment  (Read 8123 times)
marcus
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« on: November 18, 2003, 03:48:52 AM »

Very recent purchaser and Forum member here, so please excuse me if these questions have been answered elsewhere (although if they have, my searches have not revealed the answers)

1. Although it is stated that demons if they take more than twice their Stamina in lasting damage, this is apparently not the case for humans. As I read the rules, even a human who takes over 4x Stamina in lasting damage is still alive, as with a brief rest the character recovers to merely over 2x Stamina penalties, which means "intensive care" not death. I appreciate that Sorceror is the kind of game people are supposed to make up rules for themselves, and I realise from another discussion that some people are actually in favour of a mechanic where at least PCs never die, but to me providing for when a character dies is a matter of significance. I suppose, consistently with the existing rules, one might say that exceeding 6x Stamina means death, but this seems like a LOT of damage. Even when shooting a heavy pistol at a target, unless the shooter is highly skilled he or she is likely to run out of bullets before seriously endangering the life of his or her target (although the rule about being able to get automatic hits and double damage with the barrel pressed to the victim's temple does admittedly improve the odds).

2. P 85 of sorceror contains a rule to the effect that sorcery can be performed in a great hurry (such as in combat), but this reduces the sorceror's relevant score to a single die. This strikes me as a strange rule as it means an utter novice has the same chance as a paramount grandmaster sorceror. Wouldn't a better rule be that combat sorcery reduces the score by a set number of dice- such as 3- to a minimum of 0 dice, thus giving veterans with high scores a real chance to pull off such a feat, but novices very little?

3. Punishment, like other sorcery, is supposed to take at least 45 minutes to perform in normal circumstances. Demons really hate to be punished. How do you make them sit still long enough to take their punishment? As the rules allow you to punish your own demon automatically, I guess this is only a problem in Punishing other demons, but unless you can Punish a demon at a distance and without its knowledge (can you?), why would the demon just sit and watch you perform the ritual? Containing it cannot be the answer, as this ritual takes just as long. Or do you prepare a Contain beforehand, Summon the Demon into it, and then Punish it in situ? I assume this latter method is possible, but only applicable to demons not currently on Earth, so of limited practical usefulness.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2003, 07:17:26 AM »

Hi Marcus,

Welcome!!

These are great questions, so let's take'em one by one.

Quote
1. Although it is stated that demons [die] if they take more than twice their Stamina in lasting damage, this is apparently not the case for humans. As I read the rules, even a human who takes over 4x Stamina in lasting damage is still alive, as with a brief rest the character recovers to merely over 2x Stamina penalties, which means "intensive care" not death. I appreciate that Sorceror is the kind of game people are supposed to make up rules for themselves, and I realise from another discussion that some people are actually in favour of a mechanic where at least PCs never die, but to me providing for when a character dies is a matter of significance. I suppose, consistently with the existing rules, one might say that exceeding 6x Stamina means death, but this seems like a LOT of damage. Even when shooting a heavy pistol at a target, unless the shooter is highly skilled he or she is likely to run out of bullets before seriously endangering the life of his or her target (although the rule about being able to get automatic hits and double damage with the barrel pressed to the victim's temple does admittedly improve the odds).


My take is that if a character needs that intensive care - which means, as you say, that he or she took 4xStamina to have that much lasting damage remaining - then he or she better get it. At that point in play, I'm willing to cut a character some slack, but not much - if he or she is lying out there in the desert in this situation, or buried under a mound of garbage in the city dump, or similar, the character may well die. In play, this usually depends on a Will roll.

Different applications of Sorcerer can exist, though. If I were playing more Pokemon-style (something I've been wanting to do for a while), like a kids' cartoon, then death-by-damage probably isn't going to be a central issue. But default-Sorcerer, yeah - look out.

You might also be underestimating the danger in the game based on the number of successes - they can be substantial, especially when rolled-over bonuses from previous rolls are involved. Another very significant factor is the multiplier in the equation, which means that the differences between Stamina 2, Stamina 3, Stamina 4, etc, really change the character's potential vulnerability to long-term damage.

Both of these factors have resulted in gunfire, as well as weapons like crowbars or bicycle chains, being a real danger in many of my games.

Lastly, let's not forget the Lethal Special Damage rules - they are savage. Once these get going, even player-characters can be vaporized, eviscerated, or dissolved. Demons are very dangerous.

Quote
2. P 85 of sorceror contains a rule to the effect that sorcery can be performed in a great hurry (such as in combat), but this reduces the sorceror's relevant score to a single die. This strikes me as a strange rule as it means an utter novice has the same chance as a paramount grandmaster sorceror. Wouldn't a better rule be that combat sorcery reduces the score by a set number of dice- such as 3- to a minimum of 0 dice, thus giving veterans with high scores a real chance to pull off such a feat, but novices very little?


Nope! I love this question. The difference between a grandmaster and a novice is primarily found in the following:

a. Preparation, timing, and accuracy of conducting rituals when not in combat, to set up for future confrontations of whatever sort. In other words, a grandmaster already has the right demon and the right Binding-circumstances to use it properly, whereas the novice doesn't. The grandmaster typically doesn't use rituals in combat at all; he doesn't need to.

b. Knowledge - which is to say, asking the right questions via Lore rolls, both before and during the confrontation. This permits a concrete bonus, in the form of rolled-over victories, to the ritual rolls during combat. So if the grandmaster is going to use a ritual in combat after all, he usually gets a big ol' bonus by making some Lore rolls.

b'. You may or may not have discovered the "green belt" concept for Sorcerer - that any sorcerer may command any demon to do anything. This isn't a ritual at all; it's a plain old Will roll. That means that our grandmaster uses his Lore to dope out what this opponent's demon is all about, then uses the victories from that for the Will roll. The novice stands there gaping as his demons do what the other guy tells them to do (and while the guy's demons rip into action without needing to be directed point-by-point; see #1).

c. Damage is a great equalizer. If a demon takes a few hits, and if the snapshot-ritual hits while the temporary penalties apply (i.e. right away), it might be resisting with only a couple of dice. So timing and cooperation, usually between a sorcerer and his reliable demon, can take down much bigger demons with rituals if necessary, or (better) commands as in b'. [Note: this timing-concept applies very well to physical damage from a second hit as well - that's another reason that people end up taking 8-10 lasting damage from gunshots.]

Both of your questions #1-2 illustrate a major design feature for the game. In Sorcerer, player-characters do not wade into combat with their numbers all primed and cocked at maximum, like they do in most (say) White Wolf games. In those games, you start with beefed-up maxima and then damage whittles on them (historical note: they are all based on Champions).

In Sorcerer, on the other hand, characters tend to do two things in order to be maximally effective, preferably both. (1) They prepare - demon relationships, Lore rolls, picking the site of confrontation rather than waiting for it, and more. Sorcerer characters are very proactive (think Kickers). (2) They "fire up" during confrontations based on rolling-over victories into subsequenet rolls, timing their attack and defense options, and Will rolls. Most sorcerers are most dangerous after they take penalties equal to their Stamina, not before.

I don't want to go off on a tangent, but people who are used to Vampire or Werewolf are top-of-the-list least well-suited to understanding Sorcerer right away. They tend to wait to be attacked or provoked to attack, then wade in swinging, expecting the numbers on their sheets to take care of them. They also tend to get beaten to a pulp very quickly.

Quote
3. Punishment, like other sorcery, is supposed to take at least 45 minutes to perform in normal circumstances. Demons really hate to be punished. How do you make them sit still long enough to take their punishment? As the rules allow you to punish your own demon automatically, I guess this is only a problem in Punishing other demons, but unless you can Punish a demon at a distance and without its knowledge (can you?), why would the demon just sit and watch you perform the ritual? Containing it cannot be the answer, as this ritual takes just as long. Or do you prepare a Contain beforehand, Summon the Demon into it, and then Punish it in situ? I assume this latter method is possible, but only applicable to demons not currently on Earth, so of limited practical usefulness.


You are absolutely right that trying to Punish a demon with full dice (i.e. not a snapshot) while it's just standing there is a very good way to get directly attacked. This is an example of the same principle - you can do X, but X can likely get you killed, so don't do X.

Containing is the safest ... but don't underestimate the ingeniousness of sorcerers. It's not that bad to get a demon Contained in the heat of the moment, especially if you utilize some of the tactics described above. The same applies, if necessary to Punish rolls during combat - even reduced to a single die, using all those tactics can drop the demon's Power at least a bit. That has been used in many of my games to set a demon up for full-dice (a) Containing and (b) Banishing.

Punishing a demon at a distance requires combining the ritual with the help of a demon who can provide the necessary Perception ability, and (I'd think) a Lore roll to understand the target demon as well as possible.

The moral of the story is that if one plans to combine damage, rituals, and other rolls, one or more of the rolls may have to be penalized. Combining Lore and Will (demon-commanding) rolls into one's series of actions is absolutely key to minimizing that effect; that's the green-belt part.

Picking the right series of actions during a given conflict, relative to one's character's Kicker and the inherent moral issues involved in Sorcerer, is the black-belt stuff. To discuss that, relationships among player-characters and NPCs become the main topic.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2003, 10:25:30 AM »

On the punishment issue, the Sorcerer can just command the demon to sit there and take the punishment, too. This might be difficult, but, again, not impossible with the right rollovers, etc.

Also, consider that not all demons are imposing. Punishing a little punk demon is pretty easy. If his only power is, oh, say, perception, then what's he going to do about it?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2003, 02:31:48 PM »

Hello,

I was thinking, too, that one thing that makes Sorcerer very different from some superficially-similar games is that characters' scores don't really change very much, over time.

Taking a character through a couple of Kickers might get their 1's up to 2's, or their 2's up to 3's, but after that, score improvement is rare.

So the difference between a "novice" and a "grandmaster" is not a matter of either (a) starting vs. long-term played character, or (b) high scores except perhaps for Lore 1-2 vs. Lore of any higher value. You can play a "grandmaster" from the get-go, if you think you can handle the decisions, risks, and play-care.

Best,
Ron
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marcus
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« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2003, 01:35:15 AM »

Thanks, Ron, for the illuminating responses.

Your thinking on combat sorcery makes good sense- I had forgotten about the possibility of bonuses from preliminary rolls- a particular strength of your system, I must say. Your answer with respect to punishment is also a good one.

On the subject of death, however, even granted the points you make I still consider some statement about when a character is killed by damage is important. Of course, GMs being what they are, the rule may be fudged for a variety of narrative purposes- such as cutting deserving PCs some slack or killing off an NPC that needs to die for plot purposes- but I respectfully suggest there should be some rule in the first place. I say this for two reasons:

1. Notwithstanding the views I have seen expressed elsewhere in this forum, I consider that from time to time PCs must die. When such a death occurs, the players can be offended if the death appears to be as a result of mere referee fiat rather than being mandated by the rules. Without a "death rule", any PC that dies will die by a referee decision that may seem arbitrary. With a death rule, the player will find the PCs death easier to accept. If at any stage the GM wants to give a PC an extra chance despite the rule, few players will complain if they are saved by a deus ex machina or get an extra "luck roll" to avoid death.

2. It is useful for a player to know how much damage needs to be done to kill an NPC. Even if one has decided not to kill PCs, NPCs certainly have to die to move many plots along. Sure a GM can simply say after any wound "You pierce him through the heart- he screams in agony, collapsing to the ground and dying, with the words "the horror!" still on his lips" whenever the GM wants to see an NPC die, but if all deaths are arbitrary in this fashion the players will soon cotton on and start lobbying the GM to have an NPC foe die at the first scratch. One thus needs at least a rule of thumb for NPC deaths, regardless of one's attitude to the PCs.

Perhaps your players are less exploitive than mine, but these points are at least valid for the set of players I normally game with.


Back on the topic of Punishment, Mike's idea of simply commanding the demon to sit still while it is disempowered strikes me as taking the concept of command a little too far. Isn't this rather like asking a victim to hold still while you beat the hell out of him? Sure there are some people who might be so scared of their attacker they would do exactly that, but most would not listen but just run away. I realise that demon psychology probably differs greatly from human psychology, but surely the analogy is not completely inapt.

If the power of command really is this great, why bother with Punishment at all? Why not simply order the demon to partially disable itself by hacking off some part of its own anatomy? Instead of Banishing a demon, why not just command it to kill itself?
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erithromycin
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« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2003, 06:57:13 AM »

This may be more reflective of my own preferences, but isn't there something in the notion of telling someone(thing) to sit still while you beat the hell out of them? Doesn't that feel wrong, in some way?

Sorcerer is all about dysfunctional relationships, and, let's be honest, doesn't the whole notion have a certain air of strangeness? Some of the best moments I've encountered in Sorcerer play have come from that, well, unease.

"You know I'm only doing it to teach you a lesson".

Of course, given that Demons are all unfathomable and stuff, goodness only knows who 'you' and 'I' are in that. Eh?

drew
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2003, 07:17:16 AM »

Hi Marcus,

You might be interested to know that the various versions and drafts of Sorcerer went back-and-forth on the explicit-death issue many times. I do think the book supports the idea that player-characters die, using the logic: "If you need intensive care, and you don't get it, you die very soon." Does it out-and-out say that? No. I support that reasoning, however. Feel free to use this paragraph to show your players, if that seems like it would help during play.

I also think you may be overreacting to the other posts you've read here. "No player-character death" is only one possible Technique of role-playing among many, and I don't think anyone here wants to use that Technique all the time, or thinks that it's necessarily better than "player-characters die" as a Technique. I play lots of games in which one or the other is the case. If you're seeing that "people here don't think player-characters should die," then you're projecting a little and not seeing how local and limited the points they're making are.

You also might be missing Mike's point: the command that he's talking about does not force the demon to sit still and take the Punishment for an hour, for exactly the reasons that you point out. If a player tried that, then as soon as the Punishment ritual started, the demon would consider its obedience to the command ("sit!" etc) to have been satisfied and react to the initiated Punishment accordingly.

The proper rules-use would be to add any victories from the command to the dice of the Punishment. The ritual would still be a snap-shot, but it would benefit from the added dice of the first roll - basically, you've cowed the demon a little.

Another application might be to order the demon into a prepared Contain, and in this case, a successful roll would indeed put the demon in there (getting in is a specific, isolated act).

Overall, these are all great questions, but I think you might still be "settling" the framework of the rules into your mind. When a person is doing that, he tends to predict what his fellow players must or would do ... and yet the rules are so off-kilter compared to most role-playing rules, that such predictions are often very mistaken. A lot of what you're suggesting here, so far, seems to be "what if my player does this" kind of thinking. Which is great, in many ways - all the questions are good ones, very sharp - but once you get that framework of how the dice and role-playing interact in the game, resolving any situation during play is very easy. [The important point is that the GM has no unique authority over the outcomes of scenes, which is very very hard for many people even to understand, let alone accord with. But that might be a topic for a different thread.]

So I suggest merely passing the book over to other people who might be interested, and let'em start working it out too. I don't know if you've noticed, but Sorcerer is emphatically not written "for the GM." It's for everyone who role-plays the game, in whatever capacity. So the frequent notion that [GM + book] deals with [players + characters] doesn't apply at all. It's [people + book] instead. Once everyone's interested in playing and most especially, discussing how they want to customize their particular setting and premise for play, all of your questions, and any similar ones, become much, much easier to answer.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Forgot to add these in my first reply: Dungeons & Demons and Death (split from Dungeons & Demons). They don't present exactly the same issue as you're talking about, but a little bit in the first thread does correspond (and you can see that I generally play Sorcerer "death-wise" rather than "no-death").
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2003, 09:08:06 AM »

To follow up on what Ron is saying, I don't think that anyone is saying "no character death". I think that's an overstatement. What there is in Sorcerer is "no random character death". It only happens when it's good for the story. That is, the game never forces it on you as a mechanical result, but that doesn't mean that characters never die. In the last game we played, Julie's character was lying on the ground bleeding out, and Josh said something like, "The paramedics might make it in time." And Julie responded in the negative. She felt it would be better if her character died, and so that's what we did. Game ended shortly after that - including me narrating that my character had ended up convicted of mass-murder (only sorta true), and in an asylum for life - all as a result of losing a fight with the real villain, Ryan's character who got away with everything.

All of which is to say that if you play it, you'll see what we're saying.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
You also might be missing Mike's point: the command that he's talking about does not force the demon to sit still and take the Punishment for an hour, for exactly the reasons that you point out. If a player tried that, then as soon as the Punishment ritual started, the demon would consider its obedience to the command ("sit!" etc) to have been satisfied and react to the initiated Punishment accordingly.
Hey, I'd allow you to keep the demon seated for a whole full-lenght punishment if you made, oh, say, ten Will rolls or so. Probably with mounting bonuses for the demon over time as it neared completion. OTOH, my assumption is that you would usually set up a full-length ritual, and time the end of it with the demon's arrival. Or does the demon have to be there for the whole thing, Ron? I'd probably even allow a "Stacked" punishment (kinda like the "prepared Contain" that Ron mentions). That is, the sorcerer does the ritual, then "holds" it, and goes looking for the demon. I dunno, lot's of ways to make it work n addition to the standard Contain.

Uh, do the ritual whle it sleeps (roll Stamina to keep quiet the whole time)? Tie it up? Beat it up? Couple of shotgun blasts might do the trick. All depends on the demon and it's powers, I guess. :-)

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2003, 11:49:59 AM »

Quote
Notwithstanding the views I have seen expressed elsewhere in this forum, I consider that from time to time PCs must die. When such a death occurs, the players can be offended if the death appears to be as a result of mere referee fiat rather than being mandated by the rules. Without a "death rule"...

Well, there is a "death rule" you can use beyond GM fiat if that bothers you or your players: they have the option of "My guy dies" or "My guy survives."

I can read the horror in your eyes already! No, really. It works. Especially when you're addressing the Premise of the game, players will respond to the story and seek to add to it by highlighting the Premise, including using their own PC's death.

Why? "Survival" isn't the point. "What sorts of cool scenes can my guy create" is. And then let them.

Also, and similarly, methinks you over-emphasize the importance of the GM in "controlling" the game in Sorcerer, including "when characters die." It's waaay different than what you're probably used to -- I know it was for me.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2003, 12:20:17 PM »

Hello,

Mike, with respect, you're revving the engine while the guy is still figuring out the clutch and gears - ain't helping.

To clarify one point: no, you can't prep any ritual and "hold" it. Contain is a bit special in that you don't roll until a demon challenges it, so it kind of looks like "holding" it. But what you're suggesting isn't viable for Punish at all.l

Best,
Ron
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marcus
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« Reply #10 on: November 20, 2003, 01:30:05 AM »

Whatever might happen in the games in which other members of the forum have played in, the chances of my players' playing styles radically changing because the game is Sorcerer is pretty low. Realistically, if any of them are interested in reading the rulebook it will be to better plan tactics in the light of game mechanics, not so as to inspire them to a different plane of role-playing.

Inevitably someone is going to ask how much damage they need to do to an enemy to kill him or her. This is particularly likely if we were playing a Highlander-style game in which the death of an adversary was all important, or if a player was playing an assassin. I can just fob them off, but not indefinitely. If I hand them the rules to read, they will just come up with whatever rule construction that suits them at the time (like "Hey I can't be dead, the rules say there is nothing worse than critical wounds!").

Perhaps I am working from some paradigm incompatible with the spirit in which Sorcerer was written, but to my mind there should be a game mechanic that deals with matters as important as death. There is indeed a mechanic for demon death, so why not human death? Even if one has one rule for your average NPC and a different rule for players and other key characters, there is something on which one can hang one's hat. Of course, any rule can be varied by the dictates of drama if required.

If I may descend to crass matters of mechanics, perhaps a general rule of death for standard NPCs should be that, like demons, they die at 2x Stamina lasting damage (although with the possibility of "one hit foes" as suggested in the rules, if plot so dictates). The rule for PCs and major characters has already been suggested by Ron, being that they take 4x Stamina before being at risk of death ("intensive care"). The degree of that risk would then be determined not in accordance with any preset formula but in accordance with the dictates of circumstance or requirements of plot (eg if the major villain is supposed to live on to attempt to wreak terrible revenge, it should take quite a lot to kill him).

Presumably a particularly likely way for characters of all types to die is for them to be incapacitated in combat and then an adversary electing to inflict some extreme form of damage upon them, like decapitation (remember Highlander?). One could then just say "thye character is dead" without there being much room for disputing that fact.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2003, 06:24:59 AM »

Hi Marcus,

I'm having a little trouble understanding your goals now.

The text is what it is, and I can't wave a wand and change the words on the pages of your copy. I've given you the "designer permission," for whatever that's worth, to interpret the existing text in a lethal fashion.

Let me repeat that, just in case: A character in need of intensive care will die unless he or she receives that care. If time is an issue, the GM should apply the Currency to determine a suitable roll.

Your suggestion at the end of your post seems entirely compatible with that idea. You see it as an addition to the existing rules; I see it as already present in them. I"m not arguing with you about that, just pointing out the different ways in which we seem to approach the text.

Maybe we should talk about the Currency. Despite a couple of your phrases, I'm extremely mechanics-heavy as a GM, player, and game designer. They just might not be the kind of mechanics you're used to. I never resolve conflicts in Sorcerer through "GM says so," and I don't think the rules support that approach. We can follow up on that if you like.

Regarding your players' attitudes, I really don't think I can help you with that. Either they're going to enjoy the game, or they aren't, and either you can predict that without trying, or you can't. Right now, you seem to be saying that (a) you can predict their reaction without trying, and (b) they won't like it. If these are correct, and who am I to argue with you about it, then why bother?

Best,
Ron
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marcus
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« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2003, 11:54:06 PM »

Ron,

With your assistance (and that of the others who have commented), all the problems I raised in my initial post have now been resolved. We are not at issue. I have something that will satisfy both myself and my players. Thank you very much for your help
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