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Wolfgod
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Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Thu Jul 16, 2015 2:58 pm

I started working on this world pitch; it's an idea for a shared world where multiple writers can produce short stories (or whatever) based in the same shared reality. I thought I would run in past you guys for ideas and feedback.

World pitch:

Eighteen Eighty-Eight (or 1888)
Wild Fantasy West

Imagine a world much like our own, but blending low magic fantasy with the wild west/victoriana world. Steam tech, magic, dragons and gatling guns all hammering away alongside each other. A half-Cherokee gunslinger with runic six-guns acing off against a savage minotaur and his flaming obsidian axe. A Nile Dragon battling pith-helmet clad Redcoats on their riverboat as they push into darkest Africanus. (The Redcoats are saved at the last moment by Lady Smythe-Dashley, who drops her parasol and routs the wyrm with a blast of arcane fire).

Nations and cultures would all be smash fusions of actual Earth cultures, called by alternate names. For example, there is no United States, instead a group of rebellious Celtic Empire Colonists united with the Five Civilized tribes and Six Nations to form the Columbia Nations. (Examples: France is smaller and called Gaul; the low countries are the Benelux Republic, the Prussia-Poland and Austro-Hungarian-Rumanian Empires still hold sway over most Germans; etc).

Magic is a powerful force in the world; taught at the great universities and used by native shamans in different ways. The universities teach Magic as another branch of science - arcane theorems, thamaturgical proofs, and Newton's Laws of Magic; while shamans and primitive folk use the same powers intuitively. The Laws are more science than art; energy and matter can neither be created or destroyed by magic, only shaped by the wizard's will.

Wizardry is not the only supernatural force in the world - the Faith stands against mortal evil and supernatural horror alike. Followers of God may rely on their faith to shield them against some otherworldly forces, while trained minions of the Kirk and Pope fight against more dangerous enemies. God's faithful stand not just against the forces of Hell, but against Great Old Ones which some scholars claim come from the primordial time before creation.

It's a magical wild west world. Some potential stories/scenarios:

Holmes and Watson investigate a series of horrifying events in Edinburgh - and are led to a sinister underground cult.
A gunslinger preacher and a cherokee shaman travel across the Mississippi to apprehend a demon.
A samurai teams up with a big game hunter to find the Jade Monkey before a band of ninjas can beat them to it.
A dragon raids a small settlement and threatens to return when their crops are in. The settlers must recruit a band of brave champions to defeat the beast when it returns.
While on a big dinosaur hunt in darkest Africanus, Teddy Roosevelt encounters a nexus of evil spirits bent on world domination.

And so forth.

Thoughts?
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Thu Jul 16, 2015 4:10 pm

That sounds really cool. Kinda like Jules Verne Shadowrun.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Fri Jul 17, 2015 3:04 pm

While I often like the ideas behind magitech settings, I usually find that they are put together without much thought on how magic would actually alter the progression of tech, especially when "magic" is more than just an alternate energy source (e.g., instead of coal-powered steam furnaces, the boilers are fueled by alchemical reactions contained by magical runes). When magic starts doing the things that we often have magic do, the "tech" part usually becomes mere trappings.

That is to say that the concept looks very interesting, but deserves careful planning to make it not feel cheap. When magic can heal the gravely sick, conjure something from nothing or break the bounds of equivalent exchange, you begin to shake foundations. If it is common and powerful, you have to stretch to explain why the tech exists. If it is rare and weak, then it's nothing but a mere curiosity - some window dressing to make your setting different. If it is rare but powerful, then you have to explain why its wielders don't rule the world. (This is the crux of the Tippyverse argument against the status quo of most DnD settings.)

The only real way that I can see to make it work and be worthwhile as a setting tool is to make it common but weak. The runic six-shooter is fundamentally no different than the pearl-handled, chrome-polished revolver the hero carries in an old Western; it just has a different story on why it's cool. A dragon and a mountain lion or a pack of wolves carry a similar amount of danger to the average frontier village. The minotaur clan and the Mohawk raiders threaten the wagon caravan to the same degree. Any -punk setting sets up some of its own applied phlebotinum, and every setting gets to get away with some handwaving, but magic always seems to get a bigger pass than the various pseudo-sciences, which always bothers me. Star Trek's warp drives or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's Nautilus are nice, little handwaves to make their story work and are applied elegantly enough that they are believable.

Incidentally, "FullMetal Alchemist" seems to be a nice fit for this type of setup. I should go watch that series again...
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Fri Jul 17, 2015 4:30 pm

Agreed. I was going for something reasonably low-magic; there are spell casters, and magical items, along with magical creatures and horrors, but overall magic isn't the 'solve-it' solution that would prevent the growth of technology.

The victorian age is also kind of a 'weak tech' age as well; you do have steam engines and rifles, which are big improvement on muskets and horses, but still haven't entirely replaced either. That world feels like it has more room for magic than a modern tech one.

I think the development of the science of 'magical laws' would help regulate what magic can and cannot do - just the general idea that you can't create or destroy energy via magic changes its application a lot. You *can* use your will to throw fire, but you're going to have to have some fire to throw, or at least some potential fire (depending on how exactly things work). Same for not creating matter; you could transmute lead into gold, but you are going to have to start with some lead.

I was thinking the same goes for healing magic - if you have a healer, then they can mend some wounds, but they're going to have to borrow from something else to do it. (I suppose that's getting fairly close to 'equivalent exchange' from FMA). Faith might work on slightly different laws, though I don't see the faithful as being able to 'cast spells' like a D&D cleric. Had a long discussion about whether or not the various faiths would even be comfortable with magic, and how much so. (Eventually I've kind of settled on Christianity at least being reasonably OK with magic, so long as you aren't using it to harm another living thing).
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Fri Jul 17, 2015 5:34 pm

All I've been able to think about for the last day is Captain Nemo and Nikola Tesla working to keep R'lyeh from rising. :shock:
It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit of armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Fri Jul 17, 2015 5:39 pm

On another note, I agree with much of Austin's point. Magic can quickly unbalance things, so I think strict rules are a good thing.

The concept in general makes me think Victorian Dresden Files. If there is a legend or religion about something, then it exists. I would probably use things for people of faith close to how Butcher did. They don't cast spells, but often there are odd coincidences that make things possible.
It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit of armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Fri Jul 17, 2015 10:17 pm

First, The Simpsons did almost this exact thing two seasons ago when they reimagined Springfield as a magical Steampunk world. Be prepared for those comparisons to be brought up at Comic-Con.

Second, I would read the essays by the editors in the Thieves' World anthologies, because they outline the rules that were set down for their writers to abide by, how they were to treat another writer's characters, etc. They also make you pity the poor editor who had to negotiate all of these stories meshing together, writers meeting deadlines, and, for one anthology, actually getting enough writers to submit their stories. These have been recently reprinted so they may be available through a library system not in Tulsa County.

Third, play through at least the first six hours of a game called Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. I have really enjoyed playing this game and it has some similar background elements to what you have outlined. In Arcanum, magic is practiced by those naturally gifted in those arts (or Faustian pacts), and magic-items can be afforded only by the wealthy or inherited through noble bloodlines. Technology is more homespun and accessible by anyone with enough ingenuity to make it happen. In Arcanum's universe, most magic is expensive and most of basic technology is cheap. But the weaker magic can last forever and the really powerful technology is also expensive (and all technology breaks eventually).

Fourth, historically, Christian leaders have been opposed to the idea or practice of magic, and they have also been opposed to technology to a lesser extent. Reasons for these oppositions have been because these acts/objects are considered wicked, are distractions, or are apt to make followers doubt their faith. It would be damned near impossible to keep Earth as it is with similar but different nationalities, indigenous tribes, and historical figures while also omitting the existence of or changing the values of our religions. I would counsel following historical precedents and playing it safe when mentioning religions.

Fifth, I would recommend you name a final arbiter/planner/editor/anthologist who decides what happens and what doesn't happen, even if it is naming yourself to that position. It would be helpful if that person set forth one major event that could be included in the individual stories if the writer desired. The story may be how the writer's characters are reacting to that event or the aftermath, which could end up being the whole story. Or it could be as simple as "the train was a little late because of [event]" but now the reader knows where in the chronology this story takes place.

Sixth and final [EDIT: this one got away from me, read at your own risk], don't sweat how powerful magic and technology are or aren't. The audience is always going to ask why the hero or villain wasn't running around doing that all the time. The audience asks these things because they are precocious little scamps. The writer doesn't let the hero or villain run around doing that all the time because that would be boring, or worse, unintentionally hilarious. I have not seen Avatar, but I understand that humans are trying to get a rare and poorly named mineral from an alien world populated by beings technologically a millennium behind the humans. So why didn't the humans bomb from orbit and then send in the miners? That breaks the first rule by being boring. In Star Wars Episodes 4-6, why aren't the Emperor and Vader mind-reading and force-choking every suspected Rebel from Coruscant to Dantooine? Well, at the risk of getting put on a list somewhere, that would be boring and then funny after awhile and then sad and then boring again and finally hilariously absurd. A common trope in stories with big magic and big technology is that it takes a long time to launch that doomsday/save-the-world device or cast that doomsday/save-the-world spell, because it needs to be shown that something of that magnitude takes effort and it gives the opposing forces in the story time to ruin those villainous/heroic plans. Also, defining how something works too precisely ruins the magic (and the magic-like technology for that matter). Going back to Star Wars again, which of these three is the worst: Jar-Jar Binks, Jake Lloyd, or Midichlorians? To me it is definitely Midichlorians. Previous to that, the Force was not defined more than what Yoda and Ben had taught Luke in Episodes 4 & 5, but then those came along and ruined everything. Another example, if you sat in the audience of a skilled illlusionist and you were sly enough to figure out the card tricks and the coin tricks but you have no idea how they got out of the cage and got that tiger in there instead and you were dumbfounded when they levitated over your chair, but then they locked the exits and spent the last thirty minutes of the performance showing the audience how they did every trick then you should feel cheated. Making stuff too powerful should be like art: you know it when you see it. Which brings us back to the world czar I had proposed earlier. Let them decide when the story outline is pitched to them if something fits or doesn't.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Mon Jul 20, 2015 1:20 pm

I must say that this is still the best group I know of for having discussions involving fantasy world building. We should form a council and charge consulting fees to other world-builders. :D

Shawn – yes, I’ve already been thinking of Tesla as well. Not sure I’ll do anything with him, but it’s tempting! And Victorian Dresden Files would be an excellent result, if we can manage it.

Nice post Jason! Thank you for all the effort. ;) Should I ever go to Comic-Con and be on a panel, I’ll brace myself for the inevitable Simpsons comparisons.

I was thinking of Thieves’ World when I suggested the idea of a shared short story world to Phil. I didn’t know there was a behind-the-scenes to read, I’ll see if I can find that. Could be very helpful. (thought I don’t expect anything to be dead-tree publishable; mainly I think we were thinking ‘web serial’ or the like, just to see what, if any short stories/graphic novelettes gained any audience at all).

I’ll look at Arcanum. It sounds pretty good and might inform the development choices I’m trying to make for 1888.

Magic and Christianity is a complicated issue. I agree with you that I don’t want to mess about too much with people’s deeply held religious beliefs. However, I also don’t want to exclude faith entirely (which is what normally happens) or let it be rigid and inflexible. (All the following is my opinion, and isn’t necessarily accurate doctrine for anybody, but I think it might give me enough leeway to do what I’d like to do) To dig WAY deeper than what the reader should ever encounter, magic has been in this world since the beginning; it’s not a recent emergence like Shadowrun or even necessarily a hostile force. IMHO, faith would’ve adapted to the presence of magic somewhat differently than it has in our world. Christianity does have segments that are clearly anti-magic; that said, ‘magic’ in traditional Christian definition always involves interaction with the forces of darkness, and that’s what makes it forbidden.

Most magic in 1888 isn’t trucking with the forces of evil; most magic is merely using your free will (which was granted by God at creation) to manipulate the natural forces of the world. That’s why it works according to natural laws, and could be argued that it isn’t a supernatural force at all, merely a hypernatural force. Or something like that.

While there are sects of Christianity that maintain that all magic is indeed evil and forbidden (I’m thinking they would make delightful witch hunters), the bulk of Christians would regard magic as a natural force no different than steam or hydro power. However, any dealing with the forces of darkness (Faustian pacts is a delightful name) would be seen as evil by all mainstream Christians (and I’m guessing most major world faiths).

Broadly, I’m thinking that Christians would be generally discouraged from using magic to harm other living things; and forbidden from messing about with any dark arts/Faustian bargains. I think some kind of militant order (Knights Templar?) would have dispensation from the Pope to use magic violently (because they are carefully trained to avoid dark arts, or some such plot flummery). Protestants would run the gamut from ‘magic is a natural force and we should all use it all the time’ to the aforementioned Witch Hunters. The bulk of the Protestants would likely agree with the Presbyterian Kirk of the Celtic Empire; magic is a natural force, but should not be used to harm living creatures. (blasting spirits and supernatural things is OK).

As Shawn mentioned, I’d like to see ‘true faith’ work something like Dresden; there might be the occasional holy relic or some such, but for the most part the faithful have the same options as everyone else, but might benefit from the occasional incident which can be seen as miraculous (by the faithful) or fortunately coincidental (by the skeptical).

Anyway, that’s far more than you probably wanted to read about that. :D Does all that seem to be playing it safe enough?

I’d assumed I’d have to be the arbiter of the stories. You got me thinking about the ‘singular event’ and I think I’ve had a rather fun idea for one:

In the year 1888, the lost island-continent of Atlantis resurfaces in the mid-Atlantic ocean. The ancient civilization seems long dead; but the handful of brave adventurers who have returned report harrowing tales of lurking creatures, bound spirits, traps, etc. The handful of artifacts and treasures that have been recovered have electrified the world. Most of the Great Powers have laid claim to Atlantis (on various pretexts) and disputes over the ancient relics may spark a global conflict. (While this may having nothing to do with a given person’s 1888 short story, it could create a catalyst, or introduce a new Atlantean artifact/spirit/moldy tome; the raising of Atlantis could be related to Elder Gods or other nasty forces … could be really useful). A writer can do, or say, or theorize whatever they like about Atlantis and Atlantean things, so long as they are prepared for that to be ‘wrong’ (You can give a character a magic Atlantean artifact that does Y, but later on the fiction might decide that Atlantean magic can do X but not Y, in which case your artifact wasn’t Atlantean).

Totally agree on the sixth point. I’d like to have enough rules for the world so that another writer feels like they have their bearings, but not so many rules that they can’t tell a creative story or have fun with the world.

Anyways- interesting discussion points that are making me flesh things out in a splendid way. This seems really fun to me.

(Also curious to hear from Mark)

*Edit*

Phil suggested that we re-term religions; Christianity becomes 'The Faith' and we call God 'Deus' or some such; thus giving us any leeway we need as writers to fiddle with whatever we want. I thought it was a good suggestion.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Mon Jul 20, 2015 3:22 pm

What's the relationship between firearms and magic? Were firearms first developed in response to magic or because of magic? Do guns use fire elementals? It would seem that in a world where magic has always been around, the inner workings of things may be quite different. Do trains run off of steam elementals? I'm imagining that there's learned people apart from magic users, what do the non-magic academics (natural scientists, engineers, etc) think about magic?
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:01 pm

Very good questions!

I suspect that certain natural scientists could explain the functioning of firearms via magical principles and/or laws. But my, they would serve to level the playing field between spell casters and the non-casters, wouldn't they? They're a bit easier to use and more deadly than a bow or crossbow, which would be the next best thing.

I don't have answers to all these kinds of questions yet. I suspect I would prefer to allow either if it's possible - there are locomotives that run off coal and are entirely mechanical, but perhaps there are others - expensive, private models, perhaps - that run off magic in some form. The rough guidelines that have been discussed so far are something like:

Europe: Science heavy; with scientific magic
Africa: More magic, less science, but with lots of monsters and scary things, chaotic
Asia: Magic heavy, science moderate; much more mystical than Europe but a little behind
North America: Balance of magic and tech, but very wild and unstructured
South America: Mystical but primitive compared to much of the rest of the world; still owned by Spain/Portugal
Atlantis: Heavy with ancient magics but without science; extremely dangerous and unpredictable

*edit*

Jason, do the Thieves' World essays have a title? I can't seem to find them on Amazon.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Tue Jul 21, 2015 8:30 pm

I agree with Phil's suggestion.

I was about to go on this long tangent regarding guns until I realized that I was in agreement with Dustin, I was just looking at the situation from a different direction... But I would like to suggest that armor never left favor and would still be used by armies, police forces, and anyone else wealthy and paranoid enough to afford it. Why would armor still be around? Runes. You can put them on anything but the sturdiest would still be armor.

The Thieves' World books can likely be found at http://www.abebooks.com. The editors were Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey (possibly CJ Cherryh on one?). The essays were usually the Afterword in the books and I don't think they were available elsewhere. I found most of them for about $3 a piece with free shipping.

Is it possible that dead civilizations wouldn't have died due to being blessed with an unhealthy dose of magic? Or are we wanting to keep everything as familiar as possible? Before anyone just answers "Yes" to the second question, I will point out that Atlantis just got raised!
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:36 pm

Oh, I do rather like armor, and it would be a durable place to keep runes and enchantments. And I think I was just assuming that the Samurai would still be wearing theirs. Plus, a world with magical swords here and there might also retain a bit of armor here and there.

I'm pondering the slight variations of this world versus ours. I'd like to keep things mostly the same, but slightly different; and I'm restraining the urge to run off willy-nilly and rewrite history to a degree so Byzantine that nobody else would care to write in such a puzzling world. So, for example, I'd like to slightly rename most Great Powers, and fiddle with some other cultures, but try to keep history roughly the same; Napoleon might have been Emperor of the Gallic Empire, but still tried to conquer most of Europa with his armies (and resorted to Necromancy towards the end), but was beaten at Waterloo by Lord Wellington of the ACE (Anglo-Celtic Empire; like Great Britain, only led by Ireland and Scotland) and General Blucher of Great Prussia (GrossPrussia). Or something very close to those lines.

As for dead civilizations? Probably, if it makes a great story.

What I'm thinking of doing is only drawing 'in ink' in areas we're actively working in; so, the ACE, Columbia Nations, etc - those would be developed because we're actively writing stories in them. China, Japan, etc - we talk about them, but I'm leaving them 'in pencil' until somebody writes in that area. So, if you needed the Incan Empire to still be fighting Hispania in South America, or the Phoenicians to control Corsica, or the Cimmerians to still be running around the steppes of Rus ... yeah, we can probably accommodate that, even though I won't call it out specifically.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Wed Jul 22, 2015 11:26 pm

I have been thinking about a story around the southern quarter of the Mississippi River area where the main antagonists are a group of Pict bandits/pirates.

Why Picts? Visually, they are kind of awesome. They haven't been overused in popular culture (I'm looking at you Scotland and Ireland.) They really got stuck in my head for some reason when I was thinking about the story. Every story in America seems to have attacks by Indians. Why always with the attacks by the Indians? I fought my initial urge to have the characters being attacked by Sicilians dressed as Indians.

I'm not 100% committed to using them and wouldn't have my heart broken if they got replaced by another group actually indigenous to the area.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Thu Jul 23, 2015 12:50 pm

That's a perfectly awesome storyline. :)
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Thu Jul 23, 2015 3:31 pm

Do the usual magical beasts exist? Are there Native American shaman griffon riders?
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Mon Jul 27, 2015 1:54 pm

I think yes, to both questions.

In my head, there are the usual magical beasts, which tend to be everywhere, plus regional magical beasts. So, while you might well have Cherokee shamans riding a Griffon, you could also have one riding a Thunderbird. Or a Chinese sorcerer riding a Chinese Dragon fighting a Japanese wizard riding a Japanese Dragon.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Mon Jul 27, 2015 4:31 pm

Maybe the Thunderbird is a dragon also. Instead of 'colors' of dragons, could there just be regional variations? The Thunderbird may be a winged, feathered dragon. The Chinese dragon also has feathers, but is more snake-like. The Japanese dragon is also snake-like, but the Japanese and English dragon don't have feathers.

Here, I made a Venn diagram:
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Tue Jul 28, 2015 9:31 am

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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Wed Jul 29, 2015 2:13 pm

Greg,

I am certain at least one member of the Royal Society has published a treatise on the Grand Unified Dragon Theory. At least two other members have published editorials in the Times attacking his work as flawed and obviously incorrect, especially in regard to the dinosaurs of Africa ... :D

Fun Baroque adventuring world! That's essentially what I'm doing, only a different time period.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Wed Jul 29, 2015 5:35 pm

Sir Edmund Wingate, the renowned naturalist, is setting sail to Xochitl, the capitol of the Tenochtitlan City-State to further his research on the unified theory of dragons. He will leave harbor on the HMS Eagle on Friday, March 13th. His previous studies have led him to believe that the Britton Isle Dragon and the Colossal Sea Serpent are one in the same. Letters and drawings from the Oriental kingdoms of Qin and Nippon suggest that they have dragons similar to the Colossal Sea Serpent, but with feathers. Wingate is investigating reports that Tenochtitlan is also home to feathered dragons, and in some cases in the more primitive world, magical pacts are struck with these beasts. The Britton Council of Magic has, of course, dismissed this sort of agreement as ungentlemanly. Wingate assures the public that his travels are purely scholastic in nature, and will esteemed as such. After his visit to Tenochtitlan, he will sail north to the Columbia Nations to investigate legends by the Five Civilized Tribes of a "Thunderbird", which Wingate also believes is draconic in nature.
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Re: Eighteen Eighty-Eight

Thu Jul 30, 2015 9:21 am

See, that's a story hook or adventure hook right there. Or just a cool character other stories could reference.

Such fun.
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