Itchy Adventuring Finger

When we [BriH, Edgcltd and I] wrote and released our 50in50 adventures we studiously avoided including any explicitly Rolemaster Stats (I was naughty and created a new monster or two along the way) to make them system neutral.

Since we released them we have sold over 2,200 copies.

Writing adventures is a bit of a fool’s errand as a great number of experienced GMs will always prefer to write their own adventures and almost ever adventure will need tweaking to make it work with your setting and campaign.

Since the end of the 50in50 we have had more ideas bubbling away in the background but we have not had the time to implement them. Isn’t that always the case? Ideas are easy, finishing them is more difficult.

I have been experimenting with a few different formats this year. The first is the regular adventures in the fanzine. I did two different styles. The first was a complete standalone adventure. Do you remember all those cliched starting adventures I was talking about at the beginning of the year? I wrote them up and published them in the fanzine. I didn’t include any monster stats or detailed NPCs. I just pointed the reader to the right Creatures & Treasures or Creatures & Monsters page. For the RMu I only used monsters that appeared in all editions of RM from RM2 to RMu. For NPCs I used the stock NPCs featured in Character Law for the existing versions of RM and JDales random NPC maker for RMu. In effect I did not have to publish any copyrighted material to create a fully RM compatible adventure.

The fanzine has sold a little over 750 copies so far so it is a ticking over nicely.

The second thing I have been doing with the fanzine is to create an adventure path. I start work on the 7th instalment this week and it has all been building up to The City of Forgotten Heroes. Last month included getting to the island where the city lies and past the gate house into the city. There were sea encounters, swamp encounters and the gatehouse. This month will be the library, if you can remember that far back.

Those were experiments 1 & 2.

Experiment 3 was to produce a RM compatible module. It was called The Corrupted Jungle Collection and it was a set of adventures on the coast of a jungle covered strange land. The adventure was basically a sandbox with locations the characters could visit and different factions that they may or may not encounter and at least one obvious bad girl who had nefarious plans. It has volcanoes, cataracts, jungle chases and lost ruins, what is not to enjoy?

No one is going to get rich from writing adventures but they are good fun.

It doesn’t matter what format we have used from stat-less system neutral plot hooks to standalone modules to the adventure path every single one has sold. There is an appetite for this stuff.

I see Rolemaster at its lowest point right now. There is almost nothing going on to draw in new players to the existing system, ICEs social media is woeful simply because they lack resources. The very existence of a pending new edition is a put off to some potential new players, why buy into something obsolete? And to put it bluntly we are getting older and the average RM player must be getting into peak heart attack territory.

I said at the top that many experienced GMs like to exclusively create their own adventures. All these factors, no new blood, a thinning of the ranks, the pending new edition and a lack of interest from GMs makes writing adventures for RM a labour of love and not a way to make money.

But I still enjoy doing it.

Following on from the Jungle Collection I can easily see a Mountain Collection, a Desert Collection and so on to offer mini sandbox campaign in a wide number of settings and a chance to showcase a wide range of monsters and threats from natural hazards alongside them.

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Random Toys

I was playing a game (rpg) this weekend and it had some rather nice random adventure tables. The way the rules were written had it so you needed to roll one of every polygon dice. The first roll you give you a fact and direct you to a sub-table, the next roll gave you the next fact and moved you on to the next table and so on.

The results built up the mission the characters thought they were doing with a reward they believed they would earn, the actual destination and the actual rewards available, the boss threat at the end, the minions and a significant threat/creature between the start and destination.

The way things were set up gave 4x6x8x10x12x20=460,800 possible combinations of adventure. On top of the random adventure outline once the game started, it was a bit of a hex crawl, there was randomised terrain and weather.

There was not one discernible difference between the adventure I had at the weekend and many ‘paid for’ modules. There is no point in sharing the actual tables as the game was very much like Gamma World and the ‘monsters’ were mutant fungi and a mutated National Guard dude. Beside which they are the publisher’s IP.

The principle on the other hand on random adventures is not new. The cutest part was the built in possible misinformation which had the party planning for one mission and discovering something completely different on the ground.

Thinking in d10 terms I would not be too difficult to come up with 10 quest givers from village elders to town councils to enigmatic sages and mysterious gypsies. That is four right there. Building Quest giver x destination x reward using d100 gives 1000 possible. Here is the clever bit. We swap in the threats and real destinations to fit the game setting, a bit like biome based random encounters. So look at your map of your game world and pick 10 actual places, tombs, castles, ruins and so on. Then ten threats between the party and destination and the threats at the location and your boss figure. All of the threats would be local to add in more local flavour and to top it off you roll the weather for each day for the next ten days. The final component would be the actual reward/treasure.

This is the one change I would have made to the original rules. I would have related the real reward to the promised reward. In that way the differences can be explained as the effects of rumour or lost knowledge if you were supposed to be finding and returning an item. If the reward was purely financial from the quest giver then the characters should get what was promised.

Admittedly I haven’t created these random adventure tables but they do not seem to onerous. Much of it could come from creatures and treasures encounter tables, you just strip out the encounters that are not suitable. Weather tables are often found in setting books so we don’t really need to create that.

What really brings these adventures to life is the roleplaying. Why does the quest giver need the characters or the object, how does the quest giver relate to the rest of the local culture. That can go just as easily for a village or an NPC, villages are often in or on someone’s land so the adventure would ripple through the local news and rumour mills.

I have done this sort of thing in the fanzine when I wanted to give the characters encounters to keep them interested and busy between major plot points. I didn’t want the major events to be bang/bang/bang after each other but I also didn’t want to write dozens of side quests. I hadn’t considered start to finish random adventures complete with misinformation.

For anyone thinking of world building these could be interesting to try.

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The Mirror Tells Her Lies

Way back last year sometime I did a direct comparison between RMu, RMSS, RMc/RM2 starting PCs and those of other d100 systems like vsDarkmaster and BRP.

In all cases the starting skill bonuses were within a handful of percentage points of each other. To all intents and purposes you could play any adventure from any game system using any rule system and things would work with little or no changes. When I say little change it would be things like Zweihander has no #hits or hit points so you would have to fill in the blanks or you would need to know what AT to assign to the actual armour descriptions.

This only works with starting characters. As characters level up or advance they diverge rapidly. Zwei characters barely change for great blocks of time, BRP/OpenQuest/Runequest has characters improving across the board by by a few percent at a time and Rolemaster has stepped progression with each level but that could be two ranks plus profession bonuses. In the early levels RMu’s DB inflation has not really kicked in either.

By sixth level RM characters are toting around core skills over 100 including skill, stat, profession and some minor power items. Many d100 games max out at 100 so never break that ceiling.

Seeing as almost noone is writing adventures for Rolemaster AND Runequest conversion rules were published in the back of the RM2 C&T books we can mine Runequest/OpenQuest/BRP adventures for modules, cool locations, NPCs and so on. On DTRPG there are nearly 250 books in the RQ/BRP/OpenQuest categories.

What prompted this post was an adventure I saw posted on Kickstarter. It is the book named in the title of this post The Mirror Tells Her Lies. What made it stick out was this bit of the description…

“The Mirror Tells Her Lies” takes full advantage of this quality. It is a take on the moral quandaries faced by PCs, in a place where all the dark places of their souls will be used against them. It is a short adventure, playable in one to two sessions, designed for experienced characters and players who love roleplaying their characters as opposed to hacking away at everything they see!

Nearly all Rolemaster players and GMs are experienced. An ‘experienced’ RQ/BRP/OQ character is only the same as a 3rd or 4th level RM character. That means the adventure is quite possibly a good one for experienced players playing lower level characters, old heads on young shoulders.

If you can get the knack of doing the conversions to your preferred version of RM then I think these adventures could be a great source of inspiration. The adventure above is by Michael Hopcroft and is fully funded. It also says that it is the first of many. Lots of potential adventures there then!

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RMU Update: No Maneuver Chart Required!

Perhaps the most common criticism of Rolemaster over the years is that it is ‘Chartmaster’: overly reliant on charts for basic actions. I think everyone should rejoice to hear that RMu has now dispensed with the need for a chart to handle basic movement.

JDale just noted that the default method for movement in RMu is now what I call the ‘pay AP to move’ method (if you have a more succinct name for that by the way, please let me know!). Characters simply pay action points for movement, just as they would pay for any other action. You get to move up to your BMR for each point spent. Want to move 1x your BMR? Pay 1 point. 4x? Pay 4 points. There is a minor wrinkle in that to get to 5x (the maximum pace normally allowed), you have to spend your instantaneous action for the turn. But otherwise, the system is very simple. (In fact, it is similar to the system in Pathfinder2, though we started doing this in RMu first, before we’d even heard of Pathfinder2).

RMu does have an optional method if you want to try to combine movement with other actions. You can move at up to a run (x3 BMR) and combine your movement with another action, but those actions suffer the pace penalty (-25 x pace) if you moved during any phase while performing them. If you don’t like the complexity this adds, you can just not choose to use this optional rule.

You can read JDale’s description of how this works on the ICE forums, here:

All of this makes for a much easier system that allows RMu players to dispense with the maneuver/pace chart altogether.

And there was much rejoicing!

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Action Economies: Pathfinder 2 vs. RMu

Pathfinder 2 launched at Gen Con this weekend and I was lucky enough to play it there firsthand. The thing I liked the most about it was the action economy, which I think gives Rolemaster players (especially RMu players) a lot of food for thought. In fact, I think PF2 shows us the way towards a better solution for RMu’s ‘Walk and Chew Gum Problem’ than adding a Footwork skill. But more about that in a later post. Today, I just want to explain for you how the PF2 action economy works, because it is not only significantly different from DnD 5e and even from 3.5, but I think it is superior insofar as it is simultaneously easier to understand and richer in player choice and tactical depth.

First let me note that PF2 has so far gotten some mixed reviews overall. It seems to me that players who really liked the way DnD 5e pushed Theater of the Mind combat and went back to basics and simplicity tend not to like what PF2 is doing, while those who prefer greater depth in character customization and tactical choices are more sympathetic. One element of PF2 that has received near universal acclaim, however, is the action economy. Even negative reviews are praising the 3-action-and-a-reaction system of PF2 for being easy to pick up and fun to play.

Basically, the PF2 action economy works this way: each turn, your character gets 3 actions and a reaction, to spend in whatever order he, she, or it sees fit. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s not that different from RMu, in which characters get four action points and an instantaneous action each turn.

Nevertheless, there are some significant differences between RMu and PF2 beyond the fact that PF2 characters get 3 actions (and a reaction) while RMu characters get four action points (and an instantaneous action).

For one, PF2’s reaction is different than RMu’s instantaneous action. The PF2 reaction is a true reaction, i.e. one that you can use on another character’s turn rather than your own, whereas the RMu instantaneous action is more like what DnD 4e called a ‘minor action’, which is a quick action to be used on your own turn.

Another difference is that attacks in PF2 cost only one action. What?!?!?! Does that mean a PF2 fighter can attack three times in one turn? Yes, it does. But this is balanced by the fact that each action beyond the first suffers a cumulative -5 penalty. So if you had a +9 to hit bonus, your first attack would be at +9, second at +4, and third at -1.

Another big difference is that PF2 treats movement not like some different kind of action with its own rules, but rather just like any other action. This means that you don’t need different rules for movement; it is just a regular action. (Word, brother! Testify!) Each point you spend on movement allows you to move up to your movement rate, and you can use each of your three actions for either movement or attacks however you see fit. This is of course exactly what RMu does: give you action points that you can spend in any order on whatever you like. Unlike in earlier editions of Rolemaster, you don’t have to wait for the spell phase to cast a spell, the missile phase to fire a missile, the movement phase to move and the melee phase to melee. In PF2 terms, this means you could do a first attack at +9, a second at +4, and then move for your third action. Or instead you could move first, then do your first attack at +9, and second at +4. Or you could move twice, then finish with one attack at +9. You can even move three times if you like.

All of this makes for a very interesting action economy, because it often requires you to make some tough tactical decisions. Do you want to use your last action of the turn to move into a better position and thus set up a flank attack on the dragon for next round? Or do you feel lucky enough that you’ll connect with a last attack despite the big -10 penalty? Will you try to finish off that dragon and be the one to save your dying party member, or do you leave him to fend for yourself as you set up a your coup de grace? In practice, making these choices was a lot of fun, and added greatly to the drama at the table. I overheard two fighter-loving players saying they really liked the way this gave them more to do than just ‘one move, one attack; one move, one attack’ ad nauseam (which is essentially what 5e does to Fighters, especially at low level).

Everyone I played with at Gen Con picked up this new action economy very easily. Three of the guys I played with had no prior PF experience at all, and by the end of the session it was second nature. I will also note that no one complained that there was no pace chart to consult 🙂

This then is what Pathfinder 2 does, and by most accounts, it is great. It is an innovation that makes the game easier to play while also presenting players with interesting tactical options. The fact that RMu already has a similar economy bodes well I think for RMu, and I think has some lessons for us RMu players too. But I’ll save them for a (near) future post.

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Box of frogs

It is a rare day that I don’t know what I am going to blog about. Today is not exactly one of those days but one where there is so much I could write about that I am not sure where to start.

This could turn into one of Brian’s whiskey rants, but without the whiskey.

Value of Words

In the directors briefing Nicholas “Terry has now produced 26,000 words of new content for Haalkitaine”. When Terry releases these Shadow World books they sell as PDFs for $15.

Sean Van Damme, who you have probably never heard of but he is an independent writer for D&D 5e, Zweihander and other systems, has updated his Concordance series. This time adding 23,230 words of new content. The retail price? $2.99.

The problem is that I think $15 is exceptionally good value for money so ICE is not overcharging. The problem is that indie developers cannot sell equally good quality content at similar prices without some kind of big name behind them, which kind of defeats the entire definition of being an indie game developer.

Shadow World or Calidar?

Staying with Shadow World for a bit…

I don’t know much around Shadow World. I have played in the world but my GM asked me not to buy any Shadow World books because of the potential for spoilers.

So from a players perspective I remember sky ships, we visited a sort of bunker with modern day fluorescent tube lighting and I met a pretentious git with six fingers that our elven mage was fawning all over. I know about Essence storms, dragons, loremasters, that it takes place in the Space Master universe and you cannot sail around the world.

Converting from D&D or Pathfinder to Rolemaster is a dead easy task. Calidar is, in the author’s own words, ” Although written with role-playing games in mind, contents are non game-specific, therefore easily adaptable to most RPG systems. Guidelines are nonetheless provided in the book for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.” Each core book is only $9.95.

On Calidar the races arrived from the moons that orbit the planet, there are threats from space that overarch the petty threats that darken most people’s days. You can read more about it all here

The maps look pretty and there is plenty of source material.

It seems to me that most of what makes Shadow World unique is all the crap going on behind the scenes that the players will probably never get to hear about.

How big a leap would it be to, for example, take The Grand Campaign and remap it to a system neutral setting?

If you are curious you can read a bit more here:

Maybe there is something else that makes people really buy into Shadow World that I missed?

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Spell Law Deconstruction: Charm and Charm-like magic.

The Charm Spell. One of the four foundational spells that are required in fantasy RPG’s. (Sleep, Fireball, and Fly being the other 3). Rolemaster Spell Law includes several type of “Charm” magics, but they don’t feel well thought out in requirements, applications or effects. Charm types spells should not only be differentiated by their Realm assignment, but should also have specific mechanics: mechanics that might break the standard SCR/RR counter play.

Charm type spells can have a potent impact on gameplay: they can create an ally, remove an adversary from the “table” or bypass normal gameplay by using an NPC’s actions to further player goals. Charm spells can have a variety of effects: control, persuasion, influence or distraction. One well cast Charm spell can upend the course of an encounter or combat quickly. Basically it’s a force multiplier: take a combat of 4 on 4 and one successful Charm spell can tip it to a 5 on 3. That’s a winning advantage; especially in a combat system like Rolemaster.

For purposes of this blog and my recent work on BASiL (a complete rewrite!) I see “Charm” spells as covering a spectrum of effects and mechanics:

Charm. I see “Charm” as spells that act as a magical friendship. This may limit what the caster can ask the target to do and excessive requests may break the magical bond.

Enslavement. These type of “control” spells are most often used for controlling Demons, Elementals and other entities, but could also be used in Evil spell lists to enslave a subject. While this might be considered evil, it’s also very potent and conceivably allows a caster to have the target do most anything.

Master. I would classify these types of spells as sitting between Charm and Enslavement. The caster can ask the target to put themselves in harms way–even against their friends, but not unduly put themselves in danger for no reason.

Enthrall. This is more akin to Charm, but the target has an unnatural attraction or focus on the caster. These types of spells are like “Bewitching”, “Love”, or “Seduction”.

Mesmerize. A broad range of spells that subsumes the targets senses. Similar to hypnotism, but could be simple spells like “distraction” or “blind spot” or “tunnel vision” or more potent spells that act like a combination of Charm and Enthrall.

Certainly, my classifications might seem like a distinction without a difference, but they can also be used to differentiate these types of spells among the various Realms. Since I try to incorporate different functionality into the standard RM Realms, I would argue that these spells might also work differently even adopting standard RM (and not BASiL). What might these differentiations be? Here are a few ideas in no particular order of relevance:

  1. Most Charm type spells of any sort should be Mentalism or Channeling. Essence could have control spells for Demons and elementals, but the fundamental basis of charm spells is the subsumption of will or spirit. This is distinctly in the Realms of will, spirit and soul.
  2. Charm spells should have a range of efficacy. Charm, Enthrall and Mesmerizing should require the caster to be in intimate or interactive range (and a supportive environment) to cast. You can’t just mesmerize a target hundreds of feet away in a crowded combat can you?
  3. Some of the spells may require the constant presence of the caster to maintain the duration?
  4. Failure could mean that the target is aware that they were being magically influenced?
  5. Are there any other inputs that could cancel the spell’s influence or require a check of some sort?
  6. Do “third parties” (even the other PC’s) impact the influence of these spells or is it meta gaming?
  7. Should any Channeling based “Charm” spells incorporate the moral implications of the spell and the host Diety?

What I’m trying to get to here is a system–a protocol for most every spell that maintains the logical coherence, game balance and uniqueness of player ability. Yes, it’s magic so by it’s nature it doesn’t require logic. Right?

Anyway, appreciate any thoughts. As I’m finishing up BASiL: Mentalism these issues have become pre-eminent.

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Gen Con Initial Impressions

I’m here at Gen Con in Indianapolis, and hope write several blogs about my experiences. I’ll talk about what I’ve learned about mechanics — action economies, playstyles, and my personal favorite, shield usage — in later blogs, but since this is my first time here, I thought I’d just post general impressions first.

First thing that struck me was how large it was. It took us over an hour to get our badges (they wouldn’t send them to us by mail because we are in Canada), but the system was actually quite efficient; it just took long because there are tens of thousands of people here (I read something like 60,000, but can’t confirm whether that is accurate or not). One of my friends who is with me is a bit weirded out by crowds, so he is struggling a little, and going to take a break tonight.

I, however, am energized. I can’t help but remember that famous dialogue from Clerks, where Dante tells Randall, ‘You love crowds’, and he responds, ‘Yes, but I hate people.’

It is both unexpected and wonderful to be sitting in line at Starbucks, and instead of overhearing conversations about shoes or horrible bosses, you stumble upon people arguing about initiative order or debating whether they should make their Rogue ranged or melee. These are my people.

The vibe is happy and positive, and all the people we’ve played with so far have been really nice. The show floor is huge and I’m about to head out to the Pointy Hat Games booth to check out the Rolemaster stuff. I am GMing my Rolemaster session tomorrow, so I’ll have lots more to say later in the week. And I’ve learned a lot, mechanics-wise, that is going to shape my houserules for Rolemaster. So far, this is everything I hoped it would be, and I’m really glad my wife let me come 🙂

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Shadow World Mechanics: Essaence and the Moons.

The Kulthea and the Moons.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about game setting driving rule mechanics over the years, and one of the fundamental issues of Shadow World is how “magic” works in a world that exists in our own reality and universe. I expanded on our own views of Essence three years ago on this BLOG POST, but wanted to dive a little deeper now that I’m working on a few related projects for SW.

Ostensibly, the Essaence permeates Kulthea through a tear in our universe into another; the same universe from which the Orhanians originated. This is all well and good, but is really not much more than a hand wave that does little to ground the mechanics of magic in Shadow World. Plus, it raises an important question: where is the “source point’ of this tear? In my mind it needs to be on either Kulthea, one of the moons or on some artifact or techno-artifact somewhere in the system. Let’s examine the pros and cons of several of these options:

  1. On Orhan. This probably makes the most sense. The Gods live on this moon and being the choke point of this power helps explain their ability to channel to their followers on Kulthea–they basically control the well-head. We can than extrapolate that this fifth energy follows gravitational waves and therefore encompasses Kuthea’s magnetosphere as well.
  2. On Kulthea. Does it make sense to have the source of Essaence on Kulthea? The Pillar of the Gods would be the most likely location–it is a physical manifestation of the arrival of Essaence on Kulthea (via a wormhole/blackhole/etc) and would explain the power fluctuations around the region.
  3. Techno-artifact. I originally had the source of Essaence encased in some object (it was a mcguffin and I never identified it) at the Lagrange point of Kulthea/Orhan. This split the power between the planet and moon and allowed for a ebb and flow of power I use in my campaign.

However, I’ve been re-thinking my “Lagrange Point” solution and now am leaning towards #1. This still allows me to play with varying Essaence levels and solidifies the basis for the Orhanian’s “god-like” powers.

I’m pretty weak on orbital mechanics, but I understand that Orhan is on a ecliptic orbit and Charon is on a polar orbit. In my campaign this allows for a variance in Essaence (channeling) powers for followers of Orhan and the Dark Gods of Charon. Therefore:

  1. The Dark Gods are outcasts from Orhan. They were banished to Charon because it acts as a prison and limits their access to the Essaence.
  2. Charon only has normal access to the Essaence when it crosses the ecliptic–otherwise it has limited access to the Essaence elsewhere in it’s orbit. Thus the weakened nature of the Charon Gods and their powers on Kulthea. Channelers of the Dark God don’t have full access to their powers about 1/2 of the day.
  3. When Charon fully eclipses Orhan, then it is both ascendant with full access to the Essaence and it also disrupts Orhans connection to Kulthea. This is the “Night of the Third Moon”. Channelers of Orhan lose access to some of their powers. This makes the Night of particular relevance to Channelers all over Kulthea.

There are probably a few flaws in my approach, and while I don’t get the orbital timings exact during my game play it does add another strategic and narrative element to my SW campaign. It also creates a “moon magic” mechanic that meshes in with current RM spell law without the specific lists found in the RM Companion. It also adds another unique setting driven mechanic to shadow World.

Anybody else do anything like this?

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Cities of Hârn

We have an English saying, which is in the same sort of vein as Murphy’s Law ( Anything that can go wrong will go wrong ) and Finagle’s Law ( hope for the best, expect the worst ). This one is to describe something as ‘just like busses, you wait for hours for one and then three come along at once.’

I know I have already posted today but I just got an email about the Hârn kickstarter and it fired two thoughts.

The first was that plenty of people seemed to like Hârn as a rolemaster setting. The whole thing being d100 based made adopting material fairly easy and the harsh realities of Hârn fits well with those that like their Rolemaster gritty and dangerous.

The second was the way that people, even to this day still reuse the Pete Fenlon maps and floor plans from the old MERP books as they have never found anything better.

Keep those floor plans in mind when you see some of the images below.

So I had an email from James Eisbert at Columbia Games, the publisher of Hârn promoting their kickstarter, Cities of Hârn.

You can check it out yourself here

But it is this sequence of images that got me…

If we look at that last panel in detail you can see how they have atomised every possible common form of door, ladder, stairs and surfaces. That is going make setting difficulty mods pretty easy.

I also liked the whole zooming in from city to building to interior scope.

If you world need maps and cities then I think one could do a lot worse. If you buy in at the $1 level you get the first PDF immediately which I think is fair. For a dollar you get to see what you would be buying into.

It looks good value to me.

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