Tuesday, September 3, 2013

[Q&A] Walt Ciechanowski (Victoriana 3rd edition)

[20:02] <+waltscie> Good evening! I'm Walt Ciechanowski and I'm the Line Developer for the Victoriana RPG by Cubicle 7.
[20:03] <+waltscie> Victoriana is a fantasy Victorian RPG that includes both sorcery and steam.
[20:04] <+waltscie> It's set in a world where there's tension between the forces of Entropy and Order, and Order is winning.
[20:05] <+waltscie> It's also historical, which means it delves into the social classes, the industrial revolution, social change, and the rise of nation states.
[20:06] <+waltscie> For myself, I've been working in the RPG industry for the better part of a decade. In addition to working for Cubicle 7 (and getting to work on Doctor Who!), I've also written for Dragon Age, All for One, DC Adventures, Mutants & Mastermonds, Witch Hunter, and other projects.
[20:06] <+waltscie> (done)
[20:07] <~Dan> Thanks, Walt!
[20:08] <~Dan> Would anyone like to start us off with a question?
[20:08] <~Dan> While we're waiting, I'll go ahead and get one of my own out there...
[20:08] <~Dan> Can you describe the setting in a bit more detail? How historical is it, for example?
[20:08] <+Abstruse> And the rules system, if you don't mind.
[20:09] <~Dan> (I'll call for a question pause there, as I figure those two will take a while. :) )
[20:10] <+waltscie> In spite of the fantastic elements, it's fairly historical, although we do use some of those fantastic elements to delve into alternate history. The base year is 1856, British India is on the eve of mutiny, Prussia is unifying the German states, and Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire are fighting Russia in the Crimea.
[20:12] <+waltscie> There are some deviations - America is having a harder time conquering the West (the First Nations have magic to help them out), Northern South America is united under Colombia, and the Crimean War is going badly for the Allies.
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[20:13] <+waltscie> As far as the mechanics are concerned, Victoriana, which just released its 3rd edition, continues to use the Heresy System developed for the 2nd Edition and used in Dark Harvest and Airship Pirates.
[20:14] <+waltscie> 90% of the time, you roll a number of dice equal to your Attribute and Skill. 1 and 6 count as successes and "6"s explode, allowing you to re-roll.
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[20:15] <+waltscie> You're usually looking for 2 successes (1 can be a partial success and is all you need in combat). Difficulty is measured in black dice. Each success on a black die cancels one of yours. If there are black dice successes remaining, then you've received a Foul Failure.
[20:16] <+waltscie> Black dice don't explode.
[20:16] <+waltscie> (done)
[20:16] <+MacAndrew> As someone who has enjoyed the 2nd edition, what would you say are the major new innovations in 3rd Edition?
[20:17] <+waltscie> MacAndrew: In addition to general rules clean-up, the big three are 1) the world background, 2) the inclusion of technological marvels, and 3) the Celestial Engine.
[20:17] <+waltscie> I'll take each of those in turn.
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[20:21] <+waltscie> In the previous editions, Victoriana used a "greatest hits of the Victorian era" background that was arbitrarily set in 1867. One of the biggest requests we kept getting in feedback was to have more detail to history. We noticed that many of the big events (the Crimean War, antebellum America, India on the eve of mutiny) fit much better in the 1850s.
[20:22] <+waltscie> We also liked the aesthetic (did I spell that correctly?) of the pepperbox pistols, which made more sense in an 1850s game.
[20:22] <+waltscie> So we decided to recraft the history to unify the material and added the concept of a character in-universe putting together her memoirs, so you see the world through her eyes.
[20:23] <~Dan> (Okay, that's mildly creepy. A commercial was just on for the movie "The Family", and Robert DeNiro said "memoirs" just as you posted that.)
[20:23] <+waltscie> 2) Victoriana has always had "steam" elements; first edition spoke of airships and mechanical limbs made possible by the fusion of magic and science.
[20:25] <+waltscie> Unfortunately, no rules were provided for "marvels" in either of the earlier editions, which put engineer-types at a disadvantage to the magical types, which had whole subsystems devoted to them.
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[20:26] <+waltscie> We rectified it in some of the 2nd edition books (most notably Faulkner's Millinery and Miscellanea and Marvels of Science and Steampunk) but with 3rd edition we wanted engineers to be playable in the core.
[20:27] <~Dan> That seems wise.
[20:28] <+waltscie> 3) We've added the Celestial Engine, which measures your inclination towards Entropy or Order. With Entropy, you find magic easier and you often get benefits for promoting creativity and change, but the weapons of Order (firearms and marvels) have an advantage on you.
[20:28] <+waltscie> If you're inclined toward Order, you are better with science, industry, and leadership, but magic obviously is problematic for you.
[20:29] <+waltscie> We've tied the Celestial Engine to Fate Points, so it's simple to apply in play.
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[20:30] <+waltscie> Finally, I'd also add that we strove to keep things backwards compatible. If you are running a 2nd edition campaign and don't want the new world background, you don't have to switch.
[20:30] <~Dan> (Howdy, jtbullet! Q&A in progress, #rpgnet2 open for general chat. :) )
[20:30] <+waltscie> If you don't want to incorporate Marvels, you can leave them out. You can also port Marvels and the Celestial Engine into a 2nd edition game pretty seamlessly.
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[20:31] <~Dan> (Howdy, Gemini!)
[20:31] <+waltscie> We also don't plan to revisit old titles anytime soon, so supplements like the Smoke and Jewel of the Empire work with 3rd edition.
[20:31] <+waltscie> (done)
[20:31] <+MacAndrew> Thanks, Walt. Sounds great.
[20:32] <~Dan> Hmm. I have some specific followup questions, but maybe we should expand on the setting a bit first. Can you say a bit about the playable races?
[20:33] <+waltscie> Oh, and for those who think we've been swinging towards "steampunk" lately, the next big supplement is the Liber Magica, which greatly expands magical options.
[20:34] <+waltscie> Dan: Technically, there are no "races" in Victoriana. What we have are subspecies, which admittedly map to "fantasy races" but they all consider themselves part of Homo Sapiens. There are no Eldren (elf) or Dwarf nations; the subspecies are as integrated as people with blue eyes coexist with people with green eyes.
[20:35] <~Dan> Hmm. That's an interesting approach.
[20:35] <+waltscie> That's not to say there isn't prejudice, as when it comes to the social classes some subspecies seem "more equal than others," but they all more or less live together.
[20:35] <~Dan> Similar to Shadowrun in that regard?
[20:36] <+waltscie> From a historical perspective, Victoriana is a world where the forces of Entropy and Order are at war. In the past, Entropy was winning and there were great magical nations, such as Atlantis, Lemuria, Hyperborea, etc.
[20:37] <+waltscie> Then one day came the Great Flood or Great Cataclysm, which destroyed those nations, sank continents and raised others, and ripped the most powerful magics from the world.
[20:38] <+waltscie> The survivors banded together to create the world as we know it, so from their point of view (colored by nostalgia) the subspecies have been integrated from the beginning.
[20:38] <+waltscie> Of course, no one in Victoriana today really knows what the antediluvian world was like.
[20:39] <+waltscie> So, similar to Shadowrun in that there's integration, but Victoriana's had it for millennia.
[20:39] <+waltscie> (done)
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[20:40] <~Dan> Gotcha. Cool.
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[20:40] <~Dan> So regarding Order vs. Chaos, I've always had a bit of an issue with that translating to "science vs. magic". Mind if I explain a bit and get your thoughts?
[20:41] <+waltscie> Sure, go ahead.
[20:42] <~Dan> Okay. Well, it's always seemed to me that science has to play by "the rules" and magic doesn't, which means that magic can subvert science but science can't directly counter magic. It's my thought that supernatural chaos would have to be countered by supernatural order.
[20:42] <~Dan> Is there some element to that in Victoriana?
[20:44] <+waltscie> In Victoriana, the basic conceit is that it would be a bad thing for either side (Entropy or Order) to win, and if an adventurer (our term for PC) goes too far in either direction she's removed from the game as a PC.
[20:45] <+waltscie> One could be pro-Order and wield magic, while one could be pro-Entropy and stick with conventional weapons when sparking revolutions.
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[20:46] <+waltscie> This is mapped celestially - the Old Faiths were more entropic in nature, while the Heavenly Host is inclined towards Order. There are also Demons and Devils that revel in Entropy, while Order has the Ophanim (mechanical angels)
[20:46] <+waltscie> Ironically, while the partisans on both sides would argue that their way is best, the most potent and wonderful creations in Victoriana are the result of magic and science working together.
[20:47] <~Dan> Right, I follow you there. To clarify a bit, does Order have a way to impose itself metaphysically on the world in the way Entropy can with magic?
[20:47] <+waltscie> In effect, magic is our in-game reason as to why those fantastic "steampunk" inventions actually work.
[20:49] <+waltscie> On the one hand, Order doesn't have to. It's winning, and the spells that magicians wield aren't as powerful or easy to cast as they used to be. There's also a magnetist (psychic) called the Goeticist. While technically a "psychic" what she does is ask for miracles, and the angels answer.
[20:49] <~Dan> Ah, I see.
[20:49] <+waltscie> Also, of course, there's the Celestial Engine, which diminishes magic, and firearms actually do work better when used against a magician.
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[20:50] <+waltscie> (I'd add to the above that the Celestial Engine diminishes magic when used by those aligned with Order)
[20:50] <~Dan> Gotcha. Cool.
[20:50] <+waltscie> done
[20:50] <~Dan> (Howdy, BPIJonathan!)
[20:50] <+BPIJonathan> (Howdy Dan, Walt)
[20:51] <~Dan> Speaking of the steampunk aspects of the setting, how high does the tech level run?
[20:51] <+waltscie> (Howdy BPIJonathan, long time no talk to)
[20:52] <+waltscie> Victoriana is still very much a historical setting. Marvels tend to be one-of-a-kind or just slightly ahead of technology. Aerostats (dirigibles) do exist, but they are a luxury of the wealthy and are in no danger of supplanting railroads or shipping.
[20:53] <+waltscie> A technologist may develop an electric gun or a rocket pistol, but the sidearm of choice is still the pepperbox, with the  revolver slowly overtaking it.
[20:54] <~Dan> Do I recall you saying that cartridge ammo has shown up early?
[20:54] <+waltscie> Most adventurers and supporting characters would have 1850s' technology, unless they spent points in adventurer creation to acquire them
[20:56] <~Dan> Are firearms still all cap-and-ball, though?
[20:56] <+waltscie> That may have been 2nd edition; we redid the gun lists for 3rd - the Gatling Gun is showing up a bit early, though :)
[20:57] <~Dan> Surely it's not a cap-and-ball Gatling. :)
[20:59] <+waltscie> No, I just took a glance, we're in the era of cartridges now
[20:59] <~Dan> Ah. That makes more sense.
[20:59] <~Dan> :)
[20:59] <+waltscie> We also have stats for the volcanic pistol, a neat innovation which put the powder in the bullet (caseless ammunition)
[21:00] <~Dan> So this is an exception to the unique tech theme?
[21:00] <+waltscie> The volcanic pistol is also "lever-action," which impresses one of the investors, a guy by the name of Winchester :)
[21:01] <~Dan> Heh. Awesome. :)
[21:01] <+waltscie> The volcanic pistol isn't unique - it's an actual period weapon.
[21:02] <+BlasterKyubey210> Huh, how experimental was it?
[21:02] <~Dan> The name did sound familiar.
[21:02] <+waltscie> We also have harmonica guns, which look like giant horizontal magazines. You shoot, then slide the magazine a bit to line up the next bullet.
[21:02] <~Dan> I've seen those! Nice. :)
[21:02] <~Dan> There were some really weird guns in those days. :)
[21:03] <+waltscie> The volcanic pistol's main problem was, in spite of calling its unique cartridge "rocket ball" ammunition, that the powder took up so much space that it didn't do much more damage than a .22.
[21:03] <~Dan> Huh.
[21:04] <+waltscie> And before anyone could get around to fixing that the revolvers went double-action and----the rest is history.
[21:04] <+BlasterKyubey210> Be honest though, the other Experimentals (period weapons or otherwise) can't be as worse then the Volcanic Pistol, right?
[21:05] <~Dan> So would you say that Victoriana has more of a "scientific romance" feel in terms of tech than it does a steampunk "everyone wearing gears" feel?
[21:05] <~Dan> As in, one Nautilus rather than fleets of submarines?
[21:06] <+waltscie> BlasterKyubey210: I'm not sure I understand your question, but most adventurers carry pepperboxes, derringers, and revolvers.
[21:06] <+waltscie> Dan: yes. Marvels are seen as toys of the middle class, as the aristocracy can afford the luxury of magic.
[21:07] <~Dan> How high tech is the military?
[21:08] <+waltscie> There are experimental submersibles and aerostats, but by and large the armies and navies are historical. Remember too that there's a fantastic element, so there are a few squadrons of wyvern riders on both sides of the Crimean War :)
[21:08] <~Dan> And, as I recall, giants carrying cannons? :)
[21:08] <+waltscie> Indeed! But again, not many.
[21:09] <~Dan> Speaking of magic, how powerful is it in the setting?
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[21:09] <+waltscie> For 3rd edition, I took inspiration from four-color comics. The fantastic elements tend to cancel each other out most of the time.
[21:10] <+waltscie> While magic is in its decline, it's still powerful. There are three main flavours: magnetists (or psychics), petty conjurers (think cunning folk) and hermeticists (ceremonial, scholarly magicians)
[21:11] <~Dan> (brb -- please continue)
[21:11] <+waltscie> There's also the maleficium, or dark arts. The core rules contain demonology and necromancy.
[21:12] <+waltscie> As far as combat goes, magic and science are on par with each other. The typical aetheric bolt does about the same damage as a pepperbox, and steely skin (a protection spell) grants a bonus similar to wearing heavy armor.
[21:13] <+waltscie> (done)
[21:14] <~Dan> (back)
[21:14] <~Dan> Hmm... Are magnetists and petty conjurers new to the 3rd edition?
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[21:17] <+waltscie> No, magnetists map to the mediums: clairvoyant (sensate), spiritualist (channeling), and goeticist (faith). The petty conjurer is still the petty conjurer, also known as an enchanter.
[21:17] <+waltscie> I also forgot one: the sigil scribe. 2nd edition introduced Rune Magic, Sigil Magic expands the concept to other magical alphabets.
[21:18] <~Dan> What can Rune Magic do?
[21:19] <+waltscie> Basically, each rune (or other magical letter) has meanings attached to it. A sigil scribe can craft a sigil with a specific intent related to that meaning, so anyone carrying it gets a benefit for the duration (usually in terms of hours)
[21:20] <~Dan> Cool. :)
[21:21] <~Dan> So how common are monsters in the setting?
[21:21] <+waltscie> So, for example, if you inscribe the Kuanen rune, one of the meanings is Concentration, so it may be inscribed to grant a magician carrying it a bonus to Concentration rolls when focusing magic during distractions.
[21:21] <~Dan> (oh, sorry -- please continue)
[21:21] <+waltscie> No worries, I'm finished with sigil magic now unless there are other questions :)
[21:22] <~Dan> None here. :)
[21:22] <+MacAndrew> I noticed Associations as a concept in The Spring Heeled Menace, is that new for 3rd? Does it affect char gen?
[21:22] <+waltscie> There certainly are monsters in the setting, but they aren't common, largely because they've been hunted out of civilized areas.
[21:23] <+MacAndrew> (oops sorry)
[21:23] <+waltscie> Still, there are always creatures in the shadows.
[21:24] <~Dan> Can you say a bit about the contents of the 3rd ed. bestiary?
[21:24] <+waltscie> MacAndrew: When we looked at Adventurer Creation, we decided on using "backwards design." At the start, the GM and the players decide what kind of campaign they want to run and craft an association around it. The associations in the book are really just examples that offer guidance on skill and option picks.
[21:25] <+waltscie> You don't need an association, but the point is to get the players understanding from the start what kinds of challenges they'll be facing.
[21:26] <+waltscie> From there, the player decides what her adventurer did before joining the association, which involves picking an occupation and, following on that, a childhood experience.
[21:26] <+waltscie> At that point, the player selects her social class and subspecies based on her background.
[21:27] <+waltscie> Only after the player has decided what her adventurer is doing now and her background and upbringing to that point, do we finally start delving into numbers.
[21:27] <+waltscie> This way, the player has guidance as to what attributes and skills her adventurer is likely to be good at.
[21:28] <+waltscie> Dan: We have embodiments of nature, goblins, undead (ghosts, vampires, litches, zombies), and zoanthropes (lycanthropes). We also have automata and clockwork zombies.
[21:29] <+waltscie> There are some fantastic creatures like wyverns, oceanic serpents, and unicorns as well.
[21:29] <+waltscie> (done)
[21:29] <~Dan> Are orcs and giants still there?
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[21:30] <+waltscie> Orcs have been upgraded to a core subspecies in 3rd edition. Giants are still there, as are steppegoblins.
[21:30] <+waltscie> We also have entries for the archons (peregrines, Old Gods, Karabim, and Ophanim)
[21:30] <+waltscie> (done)
[21:31] <~Dan> Were Old Gods in the 2nd edition?
[21:32] <+waltscie> Yes, but no stats - we have a "typical" stat block for them now, so you can compare them with the angels (karabim and ophanim). The demons are still in the book as well.
[21:32] <+waltscie> Another thing we did was simplify stat blocks. They're a lot more concise now.
[21:33] <~Dan> Kudos for doing that. I love stats for things. :)
[21:33] <~Dan> Now, do I recall correctly there being some controversy about your take on orcs?
[21:33] <+waltscie> While we liked the detail of the 2nd edition ones, they required the GMs to tally up dice for every roll and often overpowered them. We wanted something that was balanced and easy to use (not to mention take up less page space!)
[21:38] <~Dan> (Controversy that I thought was silly, for the record, if I'm remembering the situation correctly.)
[21:38] <+waltscie> The 1st edition defined subspecies in terms of "core" and "outsider." Core subspecies could be found all over the world, while "outsider" races tended to be more regional. First edition put the Orcs in Africa, which had quite understandable unfortunate implications.
[21:38] * ~Dan nods
[21:39] <~Dan> But you mentioned that they're now as ubiquitous as the other subspecies?
[21:40] <+waltscie> Second edition made it clear that it was not the case. For 3rd, I decided to upgrade them to a full core subspecies and gave them a bit of a Morlock twist.
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[21:40] <~Dan> Ah, I see.
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[21:40] <~Dan> (Howdy, LW!)
[21:41] <+waltscie> Most Orcs in England hail from the Orkneys :)
[21:41] <~Dan> That's hilarious. :)
[21:41] <~Dan> So speaking of somewhat controversial subjects, I'm curious about the depiction of religion in the setting.
[21:42] <~Dan> What was behind the decision to replace Christianity with a sort of godless Order-worship?
[21:42] <~Dan> (And I'm assuming that such is still the case in the 3rd edition.)
[21:43] <+waltscie> From first edition, fictional religions were used. It makes sense, given that they have to map to the cosmology.
[21:44] <~Dan> So the decision to go the Moorcockian route came first?
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[21:45] <+waltscie> My line developer predecessor and writer of the 2nd edition came up with the idea that the angels had no Godhead, which made sense given the tension between the karabim and the ophanim (there's no one to say "Hey, this IS how I want it to be)
[21:45] <+waltscie> Yes, the Moorcockian concept was in there from the start.
[21:46] <+waltscie> We've refined the religions as we've gone along to fit in with the celestial engine.
[21:46] * ~Dan nods
[21:46] <+waltscie> That said its obvious who the main influences were for each religion, but we want everyone to enjoy the game and not needlessly ruffle feathers
[21:46] <~Dan> I can see that.
[21:47] <+waltscie> It adds that element of fiction but allows the setting to be recognizably historical.
[21:48] <~Dan> My concern was that it almost seemed like Order-worship served as a sort of straw man to make Victorian faith seem completely oppressive and without any redeeming virtues.
[21:49] <~Dan> Not that it was a happy-go-lucky worldview, granted.
[21:49] <+waltscie> I think if you read through the 3rd edition you'll see that that's not the case. First edition was very focussed on creating tension for social revolutionary-type adventures, but Victoriana has drifted away from that.
[21:50] <+waltscie> Although the elements are still there, and you can certainly run revolutionary campaigns, but I like my shades of grey :)
[21:50] <~Dan> Yeah, 1st edition seemed a bit... strident. :)
[21:51] <~Dan> So are there any default assumptions as to what the PCs do? What were they called in 2nd edition? Gutter runners or somesuch?
[21:51] <+waltscie> It is great for what it is, but we found a lot of gamers using it for other types of campaigns. 2nd edition cast a wider net, and we keep that in 3rd.
[21:53] <+waltscie> As I mentioned above, we start with Associations, which give you the general flavor of the type of campaign you'll be playing. The Cobblestone Club are your 1st edition-style revolutionaries, while the Metropolitan Police - Aetheric Branch investigates preternatural crimes.
[21:53] <+waltscie> We also have advice in the GM's section for crafting campaigns, setting tones, and designing adventures.
[21:54] <+waltscie> We call PCs in Victoriana "adventurers" now.
[21:54] <~Dan> That definitely appeals to me more, for what it's worth. :)
[21:54] <+waltscie> It's hard to say "you're a gutter runner, exploring ancient ruins for the Royal Geographical Society" :)
[21:55] * ~Dan chuckles
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[21:55] <+waltscie> Or "you're a gutter runner, piloting your steam knight harness into battle"
[21:55] <~Dan> Heh. :)
[21:56] <+waltscie> I'll stop now :)
[21:56] <~Dan> Is there anything you'd like touch on in the time we have left that we haven't discussed?
[21:57] <+waltscie> The point is Victoriana is a wide canvas as far as the types of campaigns you can run. Pick what you like and run with it!
[21:58] <+waltscie> One important point that I touched on earlier is that we didn't want to invalidate what went before. If you buy 2nd edition support material today, not only can you still use it for 3rd  edition but we won't be doing 3rd edition updates any time soon.
[21:59] <~Dan> Also, do you have any relevant links you'd like to share?
[21:59] <+waltscie> There's a lot of undeveloped areas in the Victoriana world that we'd like to get to and we don't want to hinder ourselves by doing the same supplements over and over.
[22:00] <+waltscie> As for upcoming material, we have Streets of Shadow, a full-length campaign coming out over the next couple of months, followed by the Liber Magica, a supplement that increases magical options.
[22:00] <+waltscie> We're also working on an America supplement and the long-awaited Mars supplement.
[22:00] <~Dan> Mars, you say?
[22:01] <+waltscie> Mars I do say :)
[22:01] <~Dan> A popular subject these days.
[22:01] * ~Dan says, Rocket Age open in another window ;)
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[22:02] <~Dan> Will the America supplement have folkloric critters?
[22:02] <+waltscie> There's been a Mars supplement in the works for some time. I think we're finally getting there.
[22:03] <+waltscie> We're in the early planning stages for America, but yes, we'll be drawing inspiration from folklore.
[22:03] <~Dan> Tip: You must include the hodag!
[22:03] <+waltscie> Did I mention that California and Texas are still republics?
[22:04] * ~Dan waves a Texas flag! :D
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[22:05] <~Dan> Well, Walt, you're welcome to hang out longer if you like, but I'll need to head out for the evening myself. :)
[22:05] <+waltscie> I mentioned in a sidebar the possibility of a "Great Game" between the Pinkertons and Texas Rangers. I think that would make an awesome American-centric Victoriana campaign!
[22:05] <~Dan> Oh, Sweet. Yes, that would be awesome. :)
[22:05] <+waltscie> Thanks, Dan. And thanks everyone for your questions and tolerance :)
[22:06] <~Dan> Thanks very much for spending time with us! I'll have the log posted shortly and will send you the link!
[22:06] <+waltscie> Very cool!
[22:06] <~Dan> Have a great evening!
[22:06] <+waltscie> Thanks for having me!

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