Crazy fun: the X-Wing Miniatures Game

X-Wing Miniatures actual play 1

I have a mostly-love-but-kinda-hate relationship with Fantasy Flight Games. One on hand, they make a lot of really nice, really fun games, including some Casa Wedel favorites like the Warhammer 40k game Relic. On the other hand, they sell them dearly. And a lot of the games seem to suffer from some degree of component bloat: everything runs on craploads of cards and mountains of special dice, and sometimes the starter sets are semi-horked because they don’t include quite enough bits for the game to play cleanly. I always get the feeling that they’re trying to coerce me into an extra pack of their special dice at an insane markup.

But on the gripping hand, when you open the box, all the stuff is nice. Verging on luxurious. You may spend a lot on the box, but when you open it, you will know where your money went.

And on the I-don’t-even-know-which-hand-to-call-this-cuz-Moties-only-go-to-three-and-this-is-another-positive-point-anyway hand, most FF games have at least one mechanic that is innovative enough that I want to hack it and apply it to other games. From Relic, it’s the cardboard dials to track your character’s stats. Man, I would love to have those for so many other games that I play.

Anyway, the hate part of this love-hate thing is why I put off getting into the X-Wing Miniatures Game for so long. The starter set has a retail price of $40, street price around $27, for which you get all of…three ships. Two basic TIE fighters and one lonely X-Wing. Extra ships retail at $15 apiece, street price of $10-12. So if you want a 3-on-2 battle, you’re looking at about $50. Which I realize is small potatoes in the bigger world of miniatures games like 40k, where apparently you need to invest a few hundred bucks just to get started. Aaand you can cheat this a bit: the X-Wing starter box has several pilot cards for each ship, so if you have other minis to stand in, you can set them on top of the ship tokens and push them around just like the official minis. We’ve done this once and it works okay, but the official minis are so nice – miles beyond anything done at this scale for Star Wars before – that a good portion of enjoyment of the game is aesthetic satisfaction. The ships don’t look like stand-ins for the movie ships, they look like they flew right off the screen and onto the table. And stand-in models rather ruin that effect. (Curse you, Fantasy Flight, for making me want your expensive stuff so badly! I must punish you with a steady stream of greenbacks!)

So I circled around this game for a long time (much as I’ve been circling around FF’s Star Wars RPG), until a tentacle of Amazon credit pulled me into the Sarlacc Pit of X-Wing ownership. I had enough credit to get the starter box and one expansion, and I chose the Y-Wing for historical and sentimental reasons. It is a testament to the addictiveness of the game that when London got his allowance the very next weekend, we went out and bought the TIE Defender and E-Wing expansions (he doesn’t get that much allowance, but we pooled his dough with my available fun money). Here’s an in-progress shot from the game we played this evening, showing the TIE Defender at bottom center and the E-Wing on the right:

X-Wing Miniatures actual play 2

(London won, BTW. First his TIE Defender ionized Luke’s X-Wing, allowing the TIEs to shoot it to bits, and then the three ships had little trouble dispatching my E-Wing, despite serious damage to both of the standard TIEs.)

As the post title implies, the game is crazy fun. It plays fast – we’ve had some games run a bit over an hour, but nothing like the all-afternoon commitment required for Relic or BattleTech. It’s intuitive to pick up. And the movement mechanic is just brilliant. Every ship gets a little maneuver dial, specific to that kind of ship, and during the planning phase of a round, the players secretly set the maneuver dials for all of their ships. (The maneuver dials are the face-down discs next to the ships in the photo above.) So a huge part of the game is trying to guess where your opponent’s ships are going to end up, so you can get your own ships squarely on target. You’ll cheer when a prescient move gets your best ship on the enemy ace’s six, and groan when an unlucky guess dumps your fighter into a shooting gallery.

That maneuver mechanic is what I want to port from X-Wing to every other miniature-based wargame that I play. A huge part of why BattleTech takes so long to play is the paralysis-by-analysis that accompanies sequential movement for each ‘Mech. If all of the moves were planned and revealed simultaneously, the agonizing chain of move, react, react-to-that, react-to-that, etc., etc., that eats up most of the gametime would be nipped in the bud. Naturally this would require rules for what to do when units bump into each other, which X-Wing has, and which could be DIYed for BattleTech pretty easily. For fast-movers and jump-capable ‘Mechs, the number of possible legal moves is too large to simulate using a dial, but everyone could write down their ‘Mechs’ moves in secret and then all reveal in sequence. Heck, that’s what London and I did in X-Wing when we used the off-brand minis, and it worked fine. I guess death-from-aboves would be almost impossible, but heck, they’re hard enough anyway to only appeal to the desperate or reckless.

The upshot is that if you’re remotely interested in Star Wars and tabletop games, you should give this a shot. I’m glad I did.

These last two photos are mostly for my future reference: the squads we fielded for tonight’s game. With the three Imperial ships we have right now, the best possible Imperial squad we can field costs 83 points:

Imperial Defender plus 2 83-pt squad

And here’s a matching 83-point Rebel squad that does not include the Y-Wing:

Rebel E and X 83-pt squad

It’s also possible to make an 83-point squad that does include the Y-Wing, but with low-skill pilots on all three ships and very few upgrades. However, the Y-Wing’s turret-mounted ion cannon is so good that it kind of unbalances the game, unless the Imperials have something to match, and ours don’t yet. I suppose the next thing for us to try is the three Rebel ships versus the three Imperials, minus the ion turret for the Y-Wing. I’ll keep you posted.

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Thinking about The Force Awakens and spoilers

Force Awakens - strafing

The impending release of a new Star Wars movie – and a new Star Wars trilogy – has me thinking about the last time a new trilogy launched, back in 1999. My brother Todd and I took opposite approaches to learning about the film in advance.

I remember, a few months before The Phantom Menace came out, I was in a bookstore and one of the sci-fi magazines supposedly had the leaked plot of the whole movie. I read it, and a few months later, it turned out they were right. I always regretted knowing the story in advance. Even though TPM turned out to be…well, you know…movies are more fun if you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That was the first time I ever felt like I had truly spoiled something for myself by overeager rumor-hunting.

Todd skewed as far in the other direction as I’ve ever heard of anyone doing. Whenever a trailer or TV spot for The Phantom Menace came on, he would close his eyes, stick his fingers in his ears, and hum the national anthem. It sounds like a joke, right? But he did it, for real, and the first time he saw anything substantial from The Phantom Menace was in the theater, watching the movie. Being surprised.

Force Awakens detention center

I don’t know how The Force Awakens is going to turn out. There are positive and negative signs in several directions. On the positive side, none of J.J. Abrams’ movies have been as clumsy and poorly executed as the prequels – but then, none of them have been as clever or memorable as the Original Trilogy. On the negative side, a ton of movie merchandise is coming out on September 4, “Force Friday”, and it’s almost inevitable that some of this stuff will include spoilery details. But on the plus side, Abrams and Lucasfilm have been holding their cards very close to the vest about the movie’s plot and the arcs of the characters, especially Han, Luke, and Leia. (And least in terms of mass-release information – I’m not worried about what might be lurking out there where I’d have to deliberately go hunting to find it.)

Anyway, however good the movie turns out to be, I know I’ll enjoy it more than I would otherwise if I know as little about it as possible. So I’d probably better cut myself off from any further spoilers starting now.

Whether I’ll actually have the willpower to keep that up for another four months is anyone’s guess.

Posted in movies, sequels, Star Wars | 1 Comment

Starting a Star Wars: Dark Empire roleplaying campaign

Dark Empire trade cover

After spending most of the spring playing D&D, and most of the summer not roleplaying, London and I have been grooving more on Star Wars lately, and specifically on Dark Empire. I read all the DE comics to London a few years ago, but it’s been long enough that he has only vague memories of the storyline. He suggested that we start a new Star Wars campaign, I suggested Dark Empire, he started rereading the comics, and we’re off and running.

Dark Empire has always been my favorite Expanded Universe story. I like all of Timothy Zahn’s books but they’re basically technothrillers set in the Star Wars universe. They just don’t buckle as many swashes as the films, and they’re fairly tame in how much they change the universe (admittedly, that may reflect the constraints that Lucasfilm imposed on Zahn, rather than any lack of imagination on his part). Not so for DE – it’s filled with adventure, mystery, and wonder. The introduction of elements like the Jedi holocron and the Jedi ruins on Ossus give DE the feeling of a time abyss – there is deep history here, and unraveling it is as important to the characters in the story as it is to us reading it. The unified visual aesthetic of the comic really works for me, especially in the new vehicles it introduces, from TIE/Ds and E-Wing starfighters up to World Devastators and Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyers.

E-wing fighter

I ran a Dark Empire campaign for Star Wars: The RPG back in college, with Jarrod Davis – the guy who put our ship in Firefly and Serenity – Jarrod’s brother, Tyson, and Tobe Yocham, who had grown up in the same town as the Davis boys and whom I met in high school. London asked me today if I’d ever run a Dark Empire campaign before and as I answered him, I realized with a start that I ran that other DE campaign when I was 20 – fully half my life ago. Time to give it another shot, I reckon.

London said he wanted to play a straight Fringe campaign – our characters might take on cargoes for the New Republic or the resurgent Empire, but we’d be free agents, not beholden to any government or creed beyond the terms of our contracts. That worked for me – smugglers play big roles in both DE and DE 2, so having our characters start out with no formal affiliation suited the themes of the story just fine.

unloading on Byss

As usual, we’re each playing two characters to make a decent-sized party. London is playing an Ewok smuggler named Tyber and a Jawa tech named Deena. I have a Sullustan Outer Rim pilot named Valerra, and Dal Ravos, a Boltrunian outlaw tech. So not one human in the bunch – we’ll see how that plays out. Normally Imperials are xenophobic but the DE comics show Imperial factions buying up cargo space on anything that flies. Still, I’m looking forward to hamming it up when I describe Imperial customs officials and port authorities sneering down their noses at our rag-tag band of aliens.

We decided to start with medium cargo haulers. To my immense satisfaction, London put Tyber and Deena in a Mobquet Medium Cargo Hauler, which he christened the Condor. I had always though this ship from one of the DE backgrounds looked cool, so I called it a Snivvian Jump Hauler, named it the Rusty Bantha, and made up some starting stats:

Snivvian Jump Hauler

According to the SW:RPG 1E rulebook, characters that start with ships also start with debt, and I’ve always run my campaigns accordingly. Medium cargo haulers are a lot bigger than stock light frieghters, so the characters would have to start with more debt. I offered London a choice: his characters could owe 300,000 credits to a bank, 200,000 credits to a crime boss, or 100,000 credits to an Imperial warlord. He went with the crime boss and so did I. Haven’t decided yet who or what that being is, but I’m sure we’ll get to it in due time. Anyway, our characters have solid motivations to find paying jobs.

I don’t have a specific plot planned for the campaign – I believe in sandbox play and emergent storylines too much for that. But I did write out a timeline of external events from the comics, onto which I am grafting some schemes by various factions that will be grinding away in the background and occasionally influencing what happens to the characters, whether they decide to push back or not.

Dark Empire Fleet

My last step before we started was to write up a list of potential cargo runs that the PCs would hear about, and a secret complication that would arise with each one (or multiple complications, in some cases). More about the path that London chose, and the hijinks that ensued, next time.

Posted in Dark Empire, Expanded Universe, roleplaying, Star Wars | Leave a comment

Corpse Farmers, or Ravagetarians: a new postapocalyptic faction

green vehicle 2Where do people get their food, in the postapocalyptic wasteland? Piracy and cannibalism are fun for a while, but now and then you want to eat something other than decades-old canned dog food or your dead neighbors. Fruits and veggies, f’rinstance. Plus, if you could grow green things, you could trade them for fuel and weapons.

So, growing things is desirable, but in the postapocalyptic desert moisture and nutrients are thin on the ground. There’s one place where you can get them both in convenient lots of 100-200 lbs, however: the bodies of your fellow beings.

human skull planters

Enter the Corpse Farmers, or Ravagetarians, surely the most efficient of desert raiders. Normal scavengers will kill you and take your stuff. Cannibals will kill you, take your stuff, and eat you. Ravagetarians will kill you, take your stuff, eat the choice cuts, and use the rest of your mortal remains as mulch for their mobile gardens. But they don’t have to kill all the time – most of the other factions leave dead bodies in the wasteland on a regular basis. A good gang war or multivehicle road battle is practically a harvest.

fox skeleton with plants

The plants that survived the apocalypse are just as thrifty and adaptable as the humanoids. Seeds will germinate in the moisture of a decaying body. Roots thread their way along ribs and through vertebrae, drawing vital nutrients from the bones. Sure, it smells ghastly, but no-one ever went into farming to get away from unpleasant odors.

green vehicle

Being a mobile faction, Corpse Farmers have a particular problem keeping their plants out of the wind during high-speed road battles. Motorcyclists grow gardens in their sidecars, those with cars and pickups use trunks and beds. As vehicles get to be van-sized or larger, space is no longer a problem. The apex of Ravagetarian technology are the grotesque ‘produce trucks’, which neatly combine covered greenhouses above and flesh-rendering cauldrons below.

Human skull planter

Skulls are highly prized among Corpse Farmers as planters – especially human skulls. They hold dirt more securely than a regular flowerpot, and they’re easier to come by.

So keep an eye out for a tell-tale hint of green during your next desert chase. If the people in those vehicles don’t take your intestines for fertilizer, they might trade you some carrots. Just make sure you wash them before you eat – you know all too well where that food has been.

– – – – – – – – – –

Inspired by Maximum Road, and the seed lady in the new Mad Max movie.

Posted in Postapocalyptic, roleplaying | Leave a comment

Dinosaur Island: Across the Ogroan Frontier

Dinosaur Island sorcerors v2

Been a while since my last actual play update, and much has transpired. The PCs intercepted one of Malyar Ogroa’s emissaries, who bore a letter to Zelzennak Soth confirming that Ogroa’s army would meet up with Soth’s in two weeks to jointly invade the forest and crush Veletria Brightwing and the lizardfolk. We killed the whole convoy, of course, and made it look like simple predation by one of the local tyrannosaurs.

Now we have split the party. One group of PCs is going south to Diomedia to try and solicit aid from Zael Zotrin for the upcoming fight. The other group is sneaking into Malyar Ogroa’s territory to learn more about the disposition of his forces. The overarching plan is to gather Veletria Brightwing’s forces, possibly with help from Zael Zotrin, intercept Malyar Ogroa’s army, and destroy it before it can link up with Zelzennak Soth’s. That way we only have to fight one army at a time. If we can get Crogg Nur’s Neanderthals across the river in time, we might be able to reverse the 2-on-1 scenario (Ogroa + Soth vs Brightwing) in our favor, or at least make it into an even fight.

We haven’t been to Malyar Ogroa’s territory yet, so that means new tables.

Ogroan Frontier Encounter Table (1d20)

For when the players are exploring but haven’t attracted serious unwanted attention yet. Malyar Ogroa’s Picts do have villages and farms and so on, just not out on the frontier where the Watchtowers are located.

  1. nothing to see here, just grass and the occasional boulder or non-magical standing stone
  2. same
  3. same
  4. same
  5. ruin, empty
  6. ruin, inhabited by swarm of bats
  7. ruin, inhabited by pack of wolves
  8. ruin, inhabited by one or more Mome Raths
  9. wild animal – roll 1d4 on ‘Plains’ section of Dinosaur Island Monster Table
  10. wild animal – roll 1d8 on ‘Plains’ monsters
  11. wild animal – roll 1d12 on ‘Plains’ monsters
  12. wild animal – roll 1d20 on ‘Plains’ monsters
  13. Ogroan patrol – 6 gnoll mercenaries (see army table, below, for stats)
  14. Ogroan patrol – 12 hyenas plus controller (ditto)
  15. Ogroan patrol – 6 worgs with goblin riders (ditto)
  16. Ogroan patrol – 2 rhinos with Pict riders (ditto)
  17. Watchtower
  18. Watchtower
  19. Watchtower
  20. Watchtower

Battle Encounter Table: Malyar Ogroa’s Army (1d20)

I had some extra room on the third page so I added the Frontier Encounter Table and a short statblock for Watchtowers. PDF here: Dinosaur Island battle encounter table 2 – Malyar Ogroa’s army

Battle encounter table 2 - Malyar Ogroa's army p1

Battle encounter table 2 - Malyar Ogroa's army p2

Battle encounter table 2 - Malyar Ogroa's army p3

Posted in D&D, Dinosaur Island, roleplaying, RPG tables | 3 Comments

Denizens of Dinosaur Island: Watchtowers


New Monster: Watchtower

Not every standing stone on the rolling plains of Malyar Ogroa’s territory is a Watchtower, but enough of them are that interlopers must be very cautious. The Watchtowers or Seeing Stones are the sleepless sentries of the Pict king’s domain.

Armor Class: 17

Hit Points: 126 (11d12+55)

Speed: 15 feet

STR 25 (+7)  –  DEX 4 (-3)  –  CON 20 (+5)  –  INT 6 (-2)  –  WIS 6 (-2)  –  CHA 3 (-4)

Skills: Perception +4

Damage Resistances: slashing, piercing, cold

Damage Immunities: poison, fire

Senses: passive Perception 14

Languages: none

Challenge: 8 (3900 XP)

Actions: once per turn, a Watchtower can cast either of the following spells as a 3rd-level spellcaster. Both attack spells are ‘fired’ from the Watchtower’s eye, and can only be aimed at targets within the tower’s field of view.

  • Scorching Ray, range 120 feet, 4 bolts at up to 4 targets, +4 to hit, 2d6 fire damage per bolt
  • Lightning Arrow, range 30 feet, 1 target, +4 to hit, 4d8 lightning damage. Each creature within 10 feet of the target must make a DC 15 Dex saving throw, taking 2d8 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful save.

Intruders must be very careful about engaging the Watchtowers in combat. The magical bolts fired by the towers are visible from long distances on the plains, especially at night, and patrols of gnolls or worg-mounted goblins will be quick to investigate.

When settled on the ground, Watchtowers stand 8-16 feet tall. With some effort, the towers can rise up to stand on stumpy stone legs. Although they are slow they will trudge tirelessly after intruders, only giving up the chase if they fall at least half a mile behind, or if they lose sight of their quarry for a full minute.

Although it is not clear how or if the Watchtowers communicate, they are known to come to each other’s aid. For each minute of combat, there is a 1 in 6 change of another Watchtower approaching.

Unless it is blown to bits or knocked prone, upon dying a Watchtower will slowly settle to the ground, the light in its eye will go out, and henceforth it will resemble any other non-magical standing stone. For the first day after a Watchtower dies, its eye can be cut out – after that, the eye decays into non-magical stone and appears to have been carved into the surface of the tower in bas relief. A severed Watchtower eye is the size of a bowling ball and weighs 50 lbs.

Every watchtower has a unique, secret name inscribed on the back of its eye socket in a particularly meme-virulent dialect of Abyssal. Anyone who does not speak Abyssal who sees the glyphs in which the name is inscribed, or hears the name pronounced, must make a DC18 Wisdom save or go temporarily insane. Abyssal speakers must still make the Wisdom save but at DC12. Anyone who learns the secret name can command the Watchtower (assuming it is still alive), or use the severed eye to fire the spells described above. When used this way, the severed eye has 1d20 charges, each of which is good for one spell use. Once removed from the Watchtower, the eye does not recharge. When it runs out of charges, it turns into an inert sphere of non-magical rock and cannot be restored.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Both the visual concept and the name come from Barlowe’s Inferno by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, all I did was add stats and behavior.

Posted in D&D, Dinosaur Island, new monsters, roleplaying | 1 Comment

Denizens of Dinosaur Island: Octyrannopus and Rocketceratops


New Monster: Octyrannopus

Stats: as Tyrannosaurus, except with tentacles and a central beak.

Attacks (in addition to stomp and tail-swipe):

  • Tentacles: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., 2 targets. Hit: 15 (2d8+6) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the Octyrannopus has advantage to attack with its beak.
  • Beak: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., 1 target. Hit: 17 (2d10+6) piercing damage.

The Octyrannopus is a hunter and scavenger of the Haunted Jungle. At some point in the past a normal tyrannosaur either ate or mated with some Cthulhoid horror from beyond space and time, and now there are octyrannopods running around, being all disturbing with their slick wet tentacles and disturbingly blank giant squid eyes. They’re more cunning and more cruel than garden-variety tyrannosaurs (INT+5), and expert at attacking from ambush.

My party encountered their first Octyrannopus when they came out of their most recent dungeon. As they’d been killing guards on the way in, they’d dragged the bodies out and stashed them in the jungle so roving patrols inside the dungeon wouldn’t find their dead comrades lying around. Eventually they penetrated the inner sanctum, had a big fight with the boss monster, and solved the puzzle that was the focus and raison d’etre of the dungeon. Wounded, wealthy, and happy, they staggered out of the dungeon and BAM!, there’s ole Octyrannopus gorging itself on the dead bodies they’d hid in the woods. Thereby illustrating the Smithian principle that it’s not just where you are geographically that generates story-fuel, it’s where you are in a chain of consequences.


New Monster: Rocketceratops

Stats: as Triceratops, but with 2d6 rockets where the horns should be.

Attack (in addition to charge and trample):

  • Rockets: +3 to hit at 0-30 meters, +0 to hit at 30-100 meters, -3 to hit at 100-300 meters, fires 1d4 per turn. Hit: everyone in 15-foot radius from point of impact makes a DC 12 DEX save, taking 4d6 explosive damage on a failed save or half as much on a success. Alternatively, rockets may be used to deliver biological or chemical weapons (hallucinogens, poisons, spores, etc.).

The rockets are ignited by bio-electrical pulses. If a Rocketceratops takes more than 10 electricity or lightning damage in a single turn, roll 1d6 and consult this table:

  1. No effect.
  2. Half the remaining rockets had their ignition systems fried, and will fail to launch when triggered. (For more fun, wait until the Rocketceratops tries to launch them and then roll one at a time see if they work.)
  3. One rocket launches immediately on a random trajectory.  Roll 1d12 to determine heading (like a clock face, Rocketceratops facing 12:00) and 1d20 x 15 to determine the range in meters.
  4. Half the remaining rockets launch immediately on random trajectories. Roll heading and range for each rocket.
  5. All remaining rockets launch immediately on random trajectories. Roll heading and range for each rocket.
  6. All remaining rockets detonate immediately, dealing their normal damage to the Rocketceratops and to any creatures within the blast radius.

Unlike the Octyrannopus, which is a(n un)naturally-occurring consequence of trans-dimensional biological mingling, the Rocketceratops is a product of deliberate alchemical experimentation and genetic engineering. The horns develop normally, with hollow bony cores covered by a thick layer of keratin. Once the horns have attained full size, highly energetic compounds are deposited in the hollow spaces inside, until the horns are completely packed with what amounts to biologically-produced rocket fuel. The bony connection between each horn and the rest of the skull breaks down, and a cluster of massively enlarged neurons develops at the base of each horn. The neural clusters beneath each horn are under voluntary control – the Rocketceratops can deliberately trigger these neurons to deliver a powerful electrical pulse that ignites the rocket fuel and launches the horn. Aiming is fairly haphazard since the rockets are unguided. Rocketceratops brigades are therefore useless for pinpoint bombardments but they are effective against massed enemy formations, fortifications, and cities.

It is not uncommon to see a Rocketceratops fairly bristling with long metal pikes. Canny dino warriors know about the rockets’ vulnerability to electrical damage. They use the pikes, in conjunction with one or more chains dragging on the ground, as lightning rods to draw and dissipate bolts of electricity hurled by enemy sorcerors. For every pike sticking out from a Rocketceratops, jump up one die before rolling on the table above (i.e., 1 pike, roll d8 instead of d6, 2 pikes = d10, 3 pikes = d12, etc.), and ignore any results higher than 6.

Trying to remove a rocket horn from a live Rocketceratops is just asking to get shot in the face, but the horns can be cut away from the heads of dead animals with very little effort. The potential for PCs who steal Rocketceratops horns to accidentally set them off or detonate them is up to the DM.

– – – – – – – – – –


One third of the inspiration for the Rocketceratops came from the Mutant Dinosaur Generator at Goblin Punch, one third came from Jeff Rients and his NecroDinoMechaLaser Squad, and the final third came from the Rundihorn from Dougal Dixon’s book After Man: A Zoology of the Future – I always thought it looked like a rhino crossed with an antiaircraft battery. The font in the pictures is the Vornheim alphabet by Zak S.

Posted in Dinosaur Island, dinosaurs, new monsters, roleplaying | 13 Comments