For the GMs out there--


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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This is for the ones who write their own campaigns, for the most part.
When you start out with a clear goal and set of circumstances you wish your players to deal with, how do you plan for the things that players do that surprise you and change what you have already made provisions for ? In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?


I would advise a slight change in additude onj your side. No player wants to be railroaded in to the story u have prewitten. i would only plan 2or3 steps ahead. be flexable and let your players make their own choices. IMHO the role of a GM is to provide the setting, and let them do what they want. provide lots of opptions.

you can plan for them to go left at the fork in the road and run into bandats demanding a road toll. if they go right move the bandats, or reuse the encounter some ways else. years ago i had a DM who railroaded me to death he expected me to do A B C... even tho i wanted to go right.

once we played outlaws, and the kings men came to arrest us. he wanted us to be arrested. well as you can assume we didnt want to be arreted so we ended up fighting a endless line of solders till we were knocked out to be taken away. it was a 4 hour battle and 50+ dead solders till he wittled us down. dice said we won, but the DM wanted us captured (for his story) so even tho we didnt want to be captured we were. BullS%$t half the group quit that night.

Be felxable and let your players enjoy their story too.

***stepping off the soap box***


Other than TPKs spurred on by poor planning or dumb actions on the part of a player or two, no character has ever 'ruined' one of my campaigns.

I find it's easiest to go into a campaign with general ideas rather than specific ones. Work your way backward for all the key events in the game, starting with the desired 'final boss' and his ultimate goal. The further away from that, the looser the metaplot should be. Quite often my campaign outlines start with 'PCs do their own thing for a few levels, and after they've managed to do something truly notable, they catch the interest of [Important NPC #1].'

Adaptability and flexibility are key. Also, false choices (PCs run into the same **** regardless of where they go) may seem attractive - and are fine for some encounters - but you don't want to use that device too much.


I've just started DM'ing for the first time for a group I've been with for a year. So far they've considered me one of their best GM's, because I allow them to stretch the boundaries of what they can do plot-wise, but eventually put them back on task. When you DM, your players should expect that there is some sort of plot they will follow. How they go about following it should be almost completely up to them. You are allowed to railroad a bit when things get to extreme, or they end up going in a completely wrong direction, but it's not supposed to be an extremely noticeable action, like the soldiers from the above post.

I planned for my players to get press-ganged into service aboard a pirate ship to start the plot for my campaign. It should have been simple - they rest a night at the tavern, the Captain bribes the barkeep and busts in and kidnaps them.Instead, they ended up gambling money away, murdering the barkeep, and starting a huge tavern brawl that ended in the tavern exploding. I allowed this, and when things like this happen, you should. All it did was make the Captain want such a band of fighters and their improvisation skills more.

You need to plan out dungeons, important plot points and the like beforehand, and leave everything in between to the players to figure out, with some helpful NPC's or quests to get them on the right track without railroading them straight towards the next thing, or having them become bored and wanting to see all the ways they can break your campaign.


I have had a player ruin an entire 2 months worth of planning before. I had created a massive world with intricate storyline. In it the players kept coming up on these strange ruins written in an unknown language that could not be decoded. I had gone through 5 game sessions and the players began to realize that they meant something. Well 1 guy in the party kept going over them and before I realized it he handed me a note with the message decoded. The party then went after the BBEG before I was ready for them too. They made it to the first gate of his keep before they were all killed. I kept explaining to them in all descriptions that the guys were too far above their experience but they continoued. Sort of ruined that game.

As for story oriented game. Well, I prefer one. Sometimes I GM must plan that certain people get away and certain events will happen NO MATTER what the players do. It may upset the players but that is the point. It is suppose to be that way. to get the story to progress. The whole group leaving because they didnt like getting caught.. well the story trumps the rules always. For any game that is not 4e.


yea i plan for the players to go with option A, i also consider a plan B and C, but some times they head tward D or E. I do my best GMing on the fly. one easy way railroading can be ok is you place them in a "military hirarchy" command structure, that can be funn too.


I think the short answer is as much as possible adapt a GMing style that creates a spontaneous story instead of a predetermined one. If you know that the King is looking for adventurers to explore the dungeon, that doesn't have to mean that your planning on making that the partys goal. If the party instead meets the king and thinks "wow this guys got a lot of stuff... we should plan a grand heist and rob the king!!!"... well that sounds like an exciting adventure too, maybe even more so. If you started out with the assumption that your characters and plots were there for the players to play with, not there to for the players to follow, then you should enjoy this as much as they do. And you actually get to ROLEPLAY your NPCs instead of just reading pre-written script.

That said, I think most good campaigns have some loose ideas of what the big moments and catalysts are going to be, and if you spent 8 hours building a dungeon that the king is going to send the party into, and you don't give them many reasons to do anything else, and you come up with several alternate contingencies for getting them into the damn dungeon, but the party only wants to hang out in the bordello or go wandering around in the wilderness that you didn't really map out very well, then I'd say the parties being a little obstinate.

Pathfinder especially isn't a system that's easy on the GM's free time, and so material that you put blood sweat and tears into should be something the party is trying to help you bring in, not something they are actively working to avoid. Often if it seems like this is happening, I find its not because of an obstructionist player, as much as someone trying to play a character who isn't a good fit for the campaign I had in mind. A good approach to take in this instance is to talk to the player and tell him something like "I don't think I did a very good job letting you know what kind of campaign I was planning on running during character gen. I've got a pretty cool adventure planned, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the character you've created. Could we work to adjust the character concept a little, or create a new character?"

And the other big thing is a business term: you have to be willing to "Kill your babies". If you find that the story as its being played just isn't going to lead to the big moment you had planned, the more you can teach yourself to let that moment die, and find the right moment for THIS story to replace it, the better GM and storyteller you'll be.


Phoenixsong wrote:

This is for the ones who write their own campaigns, for the most part.

When you start out with a clear goal and set of circumstances you wish your players to deal with, how do you plan for the things that players do that surprise you and change what you have already made provisions for ?

I try to make all of the NPC's, including psuedo npc's like evil organizations and what not, as rich and detailed as any of the PC's in terms of background and motives. That way if the players do something i didn't expect i can guess how they would react.

Quote:
In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?

Adventures yes, campaigns no.


I think it is important to keep an open mind when it comes to outcomes.

When I prepare my game, I do little more than populate areas, write up bad guys, and think of the time table they are acting on. I detail needed NPCs and figure out what clues and red herrings are around. That's it. I don't try to set up a story. The story is just the relation of things that happened.

Now, if you are good at guessing how your players will respond, or if you have players that go along for the ride, it can be easy to set up a story. That's not always the case. Chances are, when its not the case, it is because specifically the players don't want to play that and you have to respect that.

Here is an example: I had a game about warring city-states and wrote up a session where the party was suppose to enter a city and or help against its siege. When my players saw the situation, they weren't having it. They left the area and tracked through the wilderness to find allies. When I asked what they will do if the city falls while they are screwing around with it, they just said, "tough. They better try hard to hold out." The party had allies they could get help from and they weren't about to play along with all the stuff I wrote up.

I hid all the notes on that game and repainted them with other names and used them months later. They weren't wasted, they just went back in the bag. Until those events could reappear in a believable way, I just rolled with the punches and the players felt more engaged because of it.


I am about to be the "primary" DM for our group (we cycle DMs regularly with the same characters), and will be bringing out the primary villian that the PCs will be trying to kill (little do they know that even he is a pawn).

At any rate, the villian is set, the setting is on its way to being done, as well as the world history (I make my own worlds, with heavy inspiration from pre-made worlds, namely Forgotten Realms). I can generally count on my PCs to follow this bad guy and follow any leads I drop in about him because the entire party is good-aligned (easy plot hooks too - People X are under attack by Evil Thing Y - here's money, go save them). So I can generally count on them to go where I want.

That being said, my players are clever, and they will attempt to outsmart villians and also occasionally go off on unexpected tangents. In situations like that, you have to throw out your best DMing skills. Think about the motivations and goals of the people they're dealing with - the town guard might be persuaded to send out a few soldiers with you on a raid against goblins, but a cleric of some N god won't unless he has a good reason.

Basically, don't let your players feel like they're being led by the nose - give them choices, but include what they need to do to advance the plot in those choices. They'll generally find ways to wander into unexpected lands on their own.


I spend hours writing my campaigns out in a way that looks a lot like a pre-purchased module and the players always go off the beaten path that I have laid out. However, I am never to bothered by this because there are a few key things that make up a good DM, as I see it.

The first, what I am writing needs to be a guideline with some major points that I would like to hit. It may be written in a very strict way, but that is for my benefit and not to hold the players in place on the plot line. To do this I will not only write the major plot point, and a couple If this / Then that scenarios based on the reactions I actually expect the players to do. I also make sure that I write in the expected encounters and a few generic encounters that can be placed in just about anywhere that makes sense.

The second, I make sure that I am familiar with the major plot points and necessary information that the players may want to obtain. This allows me to be prepared to answer questions that the players may be asking of the citizens of the area while they investigate the plot line. There are always going to be questions that you were not expecting and making sure that you have your thoughts collected and you are familiar with the who's and whats of the plot line then you will be able to react to those questions.

Finally, a plot line should flow like water, and not run like a railroad. Be fluid, and be prepared to change what you were planning and how you react at the drop of a hat. The best way to say this, be prepared to ad-lib way more than you expected to when you started writing for the game. The players will have these ideas that you never did and they will want to act on them. To make sure the game stays fun you need to make sure you encourage that line of thinking, instead of showing an unwillingness to work with the players and close them off from their ideas.

An example of this, I was running a plot line where the players were trying to stop a group of poachers in the area and quickly they realized that these poachers had their fingers in more pies than just animal hides. This was turning into something with economic and political ramifications as well. While talking to a high up of the knight hood that represents this country the players asked a question that I answered in a way that sparked the idea that these knights may be involved. I never once thought about involving the knights (who consist mostly of Paladins) but the idea sparked with me and I ran with it. By the end of the night it was found that the poachers were smuggling their goods into the city because the squires of this knighthood where using their position in the knighthood to ensure that the gate guards looked the other way when the poachers looked to get into the city. The entire villain base on the campaign suddenly changed at that moment, and the plot line became more in depth than intended (meant to be a 3 level filler between level 3 and level 6, turned into a major event in the world and caused me to scrap the module I was going to run them through.)

If you are new to DMing these things may be real difficult to achieve because you just might not be used to this way of playing. But, if your players see that you are making a clear effort to keep them in consideration at all times and are willing to work with them to make the story flow then the players usually will pay you back in kind. One thing that I find many DM's do, either on purpose or by accident, is to develop a Me vs Them mentality. Remember that everyone is gathering to play a game together, not against each other. The more all work together to achieve this the better the game will be.


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Personally, I like when the players do things I never expected. My quests are generally just outlines and I'll often write-up a problem and not have any clue how it should be solved. I just follow the cues of the players. I've even gone so far as to completely free-style a quest off the top of my head. But that's me - I like to build sandboxes with a semi-optional main quest (like an Elder Scrolls game or an MMO).

On the other hand, I played in a group with a DM who had a great deal of trouble dealing with player creativity. He would try to think on his feet and goad us back on track, but this resulted in more than a few TPKs. We thought he sucked. He finally just came clean and said he hated how badly his adventures would go just as much as we did. So, we all decided to play as LG characters working for a religious order. We were given a mission, we did it. If someone asked for help, we wouldn't act suspicious because we weren't allowed to pass up an opportunity to help someone even if it put us in danger (and it often did). And we found that his stories were actually really awesome when we just played along. That was how we always played when he DMd. His adventures were totally on rails, but they were full of challenging fights, had great stories with well-developed characters, and were lots of fun (like a Japanese RPG).

There's lots of ways to DM, but everyone kind of has to be onboard.


Cathedron wrote:

Personally, I like when the players do things I never expected. My quests are generally just outlines and I'll often write-up a problem and not have any clue how it should be solved. I just follow the cues of the players. I've even gone so far as to completely free-style a quest off the top of my head. But that's me - I like to build sandboxes with a semi-optional main quest (like an Elder Scrolls game or an MMO).

On the other hand, I played in a group with a DM who had a great deal of trouble dealing with player creativity. He would try to think on his feet and goad us back on track, but this resulted in more than a few TPKs. We thought he sucked. He finally just came clean and said he hated how badly his adventures would go just as much as we did. So, we all decided to play as LG characters working for a religious order. We were given a mission, we did it. If someone asked for help, we wouldn't act suspicious because we weren't allowed to pass up an opportunity to help someone even if it put us in danger (and it often did). And we found that his stories were actually really awesome when we just played along. That was how we always played when he DMd. His adventures were totally on rails, but they were full of challenging fights, had great stories with well-developed characters, and were lots of fun (like a Japanese RPG).

There's lots of ways to DM, but everyone kind of has to be onboard.

+1 too often 1 or more players is working against everyone else or DM.. too often it is someone who has all the books, knows all the rules (and quotes them) and maby even DM their own group. If they all worked together and with GM the game becomes so much more fun.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I like to clearly separate out encounters, adventures and campaigns.

Encounters are very rail roady, they sort of have to be, but always be open to your players doing something weird.

Adventures, much more loosely structured but normally there is a clear goal. Hopefully the characters buy into that goal and sometimes you need a little meta gaming with the players to come up with the motivations. And sometimes you need to change the goals and the adventure itself.

Campaigns are evolving back stories that would happen if the characters where there or not. They can influence the the evolution of the campaign or not depending on what they do.

More than once the group has "gone off the rail" and had the world change around them, leaving them behind.
Which was food for adventures as they tried to work out what was really going on.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

When I was a young GM, I had many problems with players foiling my plans. I would get angry ect, because I spent so much time preparing... Now I have 2 contingency plans with similar CR levels prepared just in case they go off track.

There is nothing you should do to throw them off the path that they want to go down (other than throw hints that they might not want to go there yet, under-powered ect... however if you throw a warning and they do it anyways... well they were warned :P). If they do not feel that they are in control of their own destinies then they won't want to play with you. The whole point of role-playing is to have the freedom, something many games don't offer, which is why we play - choices.

If your players side-track your campaign, you can always come back to that part of the campaign. You'd rather steam in quiet and think of ways to fix the situation then let your players feel like they pulled a fast one on you.


For when I DM I create the world and have an "event" happen, if the PC's decide to act of this information given to them then they play into the adventure i have made, if not then the world will change without their characters input to whatever happens. Whether it is the over throwing of a king, a orc horde taking over a kingdom or Timmy falling down the well and dying. Back to what do due with them if yeah don’t play along. First i would say find the characters motivation, is it to become a noble, great wealth(which is easy to play), or access to libraries and information about a family member or thing. This always gives me something to give in as a reward to the players after doing their part in the adventure. Also I always leave things very open so as DM I’m not to restrict to be able to change things around when needed.


Phoenixsong wrote:

This is for the ones who write their own campaigns, for the most part.

When you start out with a clear goal and set of circumstances you wish your players to deal with, how do you plan for the things that players do that surprise you and change what you have already made provisions for ? In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?

Build a setting. Populate it with interesting detailed NPCs. Give it some history. Use geography to limit / slow down the PCs who try to "find the edge". Rough out adventures and lay them into the setting. Have "sandbox" adventuring areas (large dungeons, dark woods etc.). Make the starting location attractive as an adventure setting (I have a detailed city). Let the players find the adventures they want. Let them make friends and enemies (both of which will lead them into things they otherwise wouldn't go into).

The AP type adventure requires PCs who will, or have to go along, with it. Players tend to be happier when they feel they have choices. I've always found the sandbox / open game to be more fun to run and run in. That said, it takes a lot more basic ground work. The longer your game runs the more detailed, and interesting, it gets. Keep thinking / adding adventure seeds / ideas and detailing places to it. Expand it as you get the chance to work on it. I've used the same setting for over 35 years. When you work on it and keep it going it becomes more and more "real". After awhile it almost writes itself.

And no, never had a PC ruin my game. Get them involved, let them into a living / breathing world with some choices and they're usually too busy having fun to ruin your game.


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I've done it several ways:
Created world, (underground necropolis the PC-prisoners escaped into in 1st adventure breakout): I populated it with monsters and NPCs with specific resources/objectives in the city, and let fly. It was up to the PCs how to survive, hide from search parties/hungry monsters, and deduce that their former captors were exploring too, but for what?
I didn't make them do anything, I played my critters, they played their PCs. Since they wanted to thwart their former captors (and live), I didn't need to prod at all. I let my monsters do the prodding. :)

Ran modules: I've done this a lot, but always take time to write the PCs backstories into the mix. Missing your warrior father? (Good, he can be the Aboleth's charmed fighter.) Sister drowned? (Good, I have a water elemental worshiped by an evil cult who just may know something about that.) Family killed by bandits? (Do you mind if he had one-eye? Good, I have a pirate in Nulb whom you may want to be speaking with. She ended up sparing his life after him getting away several times. He repented, with mixed results.) Oh, and you, that guildmaster BBEG with the lizard looks a lot like your sister. (Good RPing when you actually have them talk out of combat first. Mother wasn't happy with brother killing sis, disowned him.)
Some of these seeds get planted way ahead of time, (15 levels later, in the Demonweb Pits, there's your missing father (different one) guarded by a Bone Golem.) Some of the more severe ones, I ask for permission to 'do something severe' (like the sister one), and when I can I add layers to the depth of enemy involvement so it doesn't stop at the first meeting. The PC's natural inclinations then feed into the worked story. I have the module critters be dynamic and adjust to PC actions more than the module asks for even.

I've also created worlds where the PCs have the run of the (dangerous) land. I usually start them with a 'bonding' adventure that sweeps them together, then let them stir up their own trouble once they know the land, the powers at be, and some teamwork. Other times, I come to an agreement with the players beforehand of what story we'll be running, occasionally with me presenting them non-spoiler outlines.
Example: Difficulty 5 (expect no PC to survive the whole arc)
Treasure 4 (excellent, but inconsistent)
Heroism 2 (any PC that can work with others allowed)
Overall: Treasure-driven dungeon crawl
vs.
Difficulty 3 (PCs should live barring bad luck/bad decisions)
Treasure 3 (standard WBL)
Heroism 4 (Heroic PCs preferred, even if goodness faked)
Overall: Complex social issues, noncombat risks abundant
They choose from the list
(and yes, they have chosen difficulty '5' before, one player asking "Could I maybe, just maybe, make it through with one character?" "Um, I doubt it." "But it 'could' happen?" "Yes, bu-" "Good enough for me." He died. A lot.)

Let me say one more thing:
There is no story without character, nor character outside the context of a story.
To try to predetermine a story without player involvement (either at inception as a shared goal in a linear story or as improvised throughout in a sandboxy story) is a faulty way to create a good gaming experience.
It's said in drama that 1/3 is the playwright, 1/3 the director, and 1/3 the actors. Talk to your actors.

Hope that helps,
JMK


Oh, and never had a PC ruin a game. Players could be a bit iffy (cheating, goading other players), but not PCs.
I had one PC walk away from an agreed-upon story (actually leaving the party behind to explore the world). I asked the player what his next PC would be as his current PC just left the story being told. (To me, PF is a communal storytelling game, not a MMRPG style game.)
He returned. :)
I had another PC 'cause too much trouble' by being a martyr. After facing the BBEG in an RPing scene that turned into a conflict where they were so overmatched that they knew to run, he remained, thinking they had to stall the bad guy or get TPKed.
Since the BBEG's allies were Frost Giants they waited behind while the Wall of Fire from the party expired, but the BBEG went through and faced off against PC. Note, the BBEG had just killed the old Frost Giant Jarl in 1.5 rounds. The PC was only 8th or so, and expected to die, being injured already in the escape.
He stood there, one hit from death, longspear in hand. BBEG runs up, rolls a 1. PC pokes, good damage, but laughable. BBEG full attacks, another '1' which is a fumble by house rules when back-to-back (ruining his other attacks too), also meaning the BBEG hit himself hard (but with plenty h.p. to spare). "What!" (I roll on an open table, so just showed him the dice.
The PC attacked, I think tagging on a Str. Domain surge (and maybe Destruction), 20. 20 to confirm. 20 again to reconfirm. Crap. Cheers around the table. (I don't use instant death, but do use compounded crits, if you keep getting 20's you keeping adding a multiplier if you can confirm it on the next roll. He did.) So my CR+6 encounter went haywire. The BBEG lay dead. The stunned PC scooted out.
Sigh. What to do? I had them witness (while still fleeing hours later) some flying creatures (demon allies) carrying the corpse off.
(We can rebuild him... make him faster... stronger...)
Anyway, that did earn the PCs much solace (at least from Frost Giant troubles) for several levels as they had no coordinated resistance (active enemy in pursuit) as they tried to fix some planar/magic issues in the region. Pretty cool.
JMK


If I'm creating a Campaign (or adventure), I start with the Beginning and the Main Evil Guy/End Encounter.
Next I point out some "Places of Intresst", but don't conect them timely to another.

For the first day I design three or four encounter and a red line for the first three.

For the next days I only create a few rough outlines of what I think the characters should achiev this day.

And I stay always flexible to adapt encounters/dungeons etc.
There is a good tip in the DMG for it:
As long as teh players don't know that you use the bandit stats you prepared for the orc encounter, they will think, that these were orcs.

This tip helped me at one of my adventures, where I planned that the characters should free the millers daughter from the lair of some evil goblins.
But.. the players meet and deside they want to clear the woods from bandits (I never mentioned the word bandit one time before!).
So instead of railroading them to the goblin lair, I simply change the location of the lair and instead of Goblins, I wrote "Bandits" over the stat blocks.

Result:
The players thought their free choice brought them to this lair and felt like in a sandbox game, even if it was railroaded.

Such a GM Style need a lot of "on the fly" adaption and experience, but as long as you don't have a rule-lawyer/metagamer in your party, you can easily do it this way.

So bring it to one sentence:

Be prepared but be flexible. :)


I started my first campaign with the option for railroading. All the players are halflings with at least one level of rogue, working for a thieve's guild. We started at level 3. This was a good way to get things started, and to get things to move along. They accepts jobs as given by the guild. However, what is happening now at level 6, is that the players have met four or so well developed NPCs, and there are another 6 or more who are all vying for control of the city.

I create encounters based around the different NPCs. These are triggered by the players, either by deliberately seeking out the NPC, or because they are in the NPCs territory. Sometimes I triggered an encounter to move the story along, or to give them more information, more leads to follow.

When you have encounters prepared you can adapt more easily to where the players are headed. Sometimes it is to their detriment that they choose one encounter before another, other times it is beneficial.

Sometimes the encounters I have prepared are not triggered for a few levels, which can be months or years of game time, and weeks or months in real life. Encounters are also often adapted to how the characters trigger them. And sometimes NPCs not yet encountered are altered to suit the story, sometimes changing alignment and factions.

Sometimes I will have two encounters trigger at once, and leave the players to sort out which clues belong to what NPC or faction.


One campaign I ran was Top Secret set in WWII. At first, things progressed very well, but as my players got into it, they began to really start thowing me curve balls. It became a race to see if I could adapt my campaign to suit the different paths they decided to go. It was a heck of a lot of fun, since these guys were all very smart and experienced players. I had cut my teeth on D & D, as had they, and when we finished that game, we had all learned some valuable tools for future games.
I did play with one other bunch where one guy did run the session completely aground. His character, who was a Chaotic Neutral Thief, decided to kill one character, assault and torture another, kill the third, then steal everything and leave. Needless to say, we were all a bit surprised.


Lots of good suggestions on this thread. I really enjoy the world building aspects of DMing. In my homebrew campaigns I start by creating a setting rich with history. The purpose is to seed the idea that the players are part of a much larger canvas that can be altered by their decisions. It also impresses on players that they should never assume that they are the ultimate power in the area. I then come up with a BIG problem (evil god ascending, invading numberless hordes of savage races, a mad king, etc...). From the big problem I work backwards, coming up with a dozen or more smaller problems that may or may not be related to the big problem.

I generally have the party to discover the BIG problem fairly early on, then they work through the many smaller problems in a search for a solution. How they decide to do this is completely up to the players. I do not worry about what they choose to do first, though some decisions may put the group at risk of a TPK. I don't fret about this. Having to retreat and regroup is not the end of a campaign necessarily.

Many times I am surprised at what the players do and need to adapt on the fly. This is what being the DM is all about. Improvisation is essential.

I drop lots of clues, hints, and misdirection, but I don't lose sleep if the players miss something. It is easy to drop another clue to replace the one they overlook. I have had some players attempt to circumvent large story arcs. If this happens just because the player comes up with an ingenious strategy that I haven't thought of, then I just roll with it and congratulate the player on smart play. If it is a player being a douche, then the other players usually step in to correct the behavior.


Be more flexible, don't plan too far ahead either. Remember that the world does not revolve around your players, have more than one plot shell setup and going on at any given time regardless of if your players know about it or not. Things are going on in the background or when they fail. Maybe someone else will stop some stuff, maybe they won't. Just because you have a dungeon crawl put together doesn't mean it has to be the dungeon you had in mind for it. If your players elect not to stop the big bad you hoped, maybe that dungeon is someone else's or gets repurposed to be the hiding spot for the macguffin that you threw in their chosen path as needed. They don't have to know that it was originally someplace else.


Liongold wrote:
Said cool stuff

This. ^^

I plan in generalities. I provide a setting, the initial hook, and I have a generalized metaplot that is slowly revealed and I adapt it to the crazy things players do. Players often add really cool expectations and ideas that are incorporated. That usually makes the players feel awesome for "figuring" out a piece too. Trying to predict more than 1 or 2 adventures ahead seems like lunacy to me and I'd rather save my most precious resource: time.


When I GM I use the illusion of freedom and design 3-4 dungeons/encounters and let the players decide what to do or where to go, I dont force them to do a particular encounter, I may mix up this with a bit of railroading, but I like to improvise when neeeded.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Phoenixsong wrote:
In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?

I must say, I raised an eyebrow when you started using terms like "errant player" and "ruined a campaign", as though a player who acts "in a way not planned for" is somehow doing something wrong or offensive. Is that how you meant it?


My normal GM is the best I've ever played with, and has taught me an amazing amount that I've been able to carry over into my own games. Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice he's given me is that it's the players telling the story, not you. Make the story fit your party, not the other way around.

Basically, just assume that, whatever story or plot you've written up, they will break it horribly, so be prepared to roll with it. Flexibility is key, even in the pregen adventures. I have yet to find a self-written or pregen adventure that my players haven't broken, then promptly turned it into something much more fun.

Best trick I've found for being flexible is to never hinge any part of your plot on a single binary action. I'm not saying don't ever have a "works or doesn't" scenario in your game, but just be aware that this sort of plot device will often times back you into a corner.

A couple of examples of what I mean by "binary actions":

Plot: The villain shows up to mock/fight the party, but escapes to later on harass the party.
What your party will do: Either a) kills them before they can escape, b) all die off, c) you have to box-text the villain out.

Plot: The party has to research/find a long lost piece of information in order to figure out a clue
What your party will do: Roll all 1's on their skill checks.

Basically, just do what you can to leave things open, and adapt your story to the players actions. It does require some quick, on-the-spot thinking, but you and your players will generally enjoy things a lot more when you craft the game to the story they want to tell, as opposed to the one you want to.

A few loose rules my GM taught me when I first started running some games myself:

- If you set up an ambush, your party will always spot them first, until you want them to. Then they'll all die in the surprise round.

- Your big boss will last, at most, 3 rounds of combat. No matter how nasty it is, your players will wipe the floor with it faster than the rules should allow. Conversely, your party will come very, very close to being wiped out on any given random encounter of monsters 2 or more levels below them.

- If an npc is supposed to flee at 25% health, the npc will be at 30% health, then be crit and die.

- Treasure is always to the left, horrible death is always to the right.

Sovereign Court

Illusionism can help to keep players on track.

Basically you just have to devise a set of interesting situations, encounters, etc. Make them flexible enough that they can be "re-skinned" as needed. Then just let the players do things, make plans, but whatever plan they come up with results in them being funneled into the thing you have set up.

As an example, you have a tiny dungeon with a corridor that reaches a T-intersection.

You're plot involves making sure that the players first interact with room A before they go to room B.

So rather than hope that they pick the right direction to go to room A, just make room A be whatever direction they choose to go down first at the T-intersection.

That's the basics, you can get a lot more elaborate, and the more you can improvise details the more you can make the illusion that the players actions have concrete meaning.

A more elaborate example is that the party needs to sneak into the BBEG fortress. Rather make an elaborate map with all sorts of specific details on traps, defenses, guards and whatnot, just make a rough outline of the complications the players should encounter as they sneak in.

Then just have the players make their plans. As they are planning you're just making mental notes. Obviously, you want the party to sneak in, otherwise the big set-piece battle with the BBEG wouldn't happen, so your goal here is just to make it seem difficult, even though secretly you don't particularly care what plan they make, as you're going to let them through anyways.

So they plan and then act on it. At this point you just put in a certain number of complications, be they traps, challenging terrain, guards, etc. Let their plan work for the most part, but insert a complication or two to just make it seem like the stakes are raised. Don't make the complications actually challenging, but just seemingly challenging.

Also make some secret rolls, write cryptic notes down on paper, and pause once in awhile and consult your notes. All of this is to send meta-game information to the players to make it seem as if they are in some world that is being simulated, when in fact its just an illusion.

Whatever their plan is, make it get pulled off. If it was brilliant, then just have the complications seem more like a breeze, if the plan was idiotic, then usually you really need to improvise on the spot so it seems like it somehow worked despite the odds. It's actually a lot easier to do illusionism if the players are competent. Its a lot harder if the players are morons who can't come up with any coherent strategy, or be disciplined with how they describe their character's actions.

Finally, if you want the illusion to hold, then you don't "talk shop" with the players about the adventure. You're not supposed to pull back the curtain and describe what was going on behind the scenes. The first rule of illusionism: Don't speak of the illusion. The flip side, if you do want to talk in the after adventure discussion, is still be GMing even after the session is over, and just make up a bunch of "behind the scenes" details, such as guards reacting in a certain way that led them away from the group, or whatever. Anything that fleshes out details that make it seem like a simulated world.

Ultimately, illusionism only works if you do it well. Which means having a flexible outline that can be morphed on the fly, and making sure that you're giving a complete performance, from your GM habits, to the after action talk that you give. If you pull it off then the players will talk for years afterwards about the cool plans they came up with and succeeded at. The master illusionist will be performing the entire campaign, and not lose their cool if they get cornered by players... at that point let it be sandboxy for a bit and actual simulation, but once you've collected yourself and relaid the tracks you'll be able to funnel them back into the cinematic meta-plot that no "emergent" story would ever be able to achieve.


Jiggy wrote:
Phoenixsong wrote:
In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?
I must say, I raised an eyebrow when you started using terms like "errant player" and "ruined a campaign", as though a player who acts "in a way not planned for" is somehow doing something wrong or offensive. Is that how you meant it?

Actually, I didn't. I have not had a player ruin any of my games, but have played in scenarios where someone had their own ideas about how things should go and acted upon them, even to the peril or displeasure of the other players or characters.

I can't imagine other DMs have not at one time or another done their best to try and guide their characters the way they needed them to go in order to achieve a goal which would benefit them in the long run. I can, as a player, understand how much creative play can make a campaign more fun. As a GM, I encouraged my players to contribute their ideas and would let them incorporate what would definitely work.
The bottom line is not to have so much structure that it's a big drag, nor have so little that characters (and players)run roughshod over eachother and the GM.
This post was not to fish for advice, nor anger anyone. As a GM, I have had a good deal of success. As a player I have learned as much from freedom as from structure. The success or failure of a session-or even an entire campaign-depends upon cooperation between players and between players with their GM. I was criticized on another post for saying the point of role-playing is to be creative and have fun. If that's not it, then what is it ?


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Well first off, i dont start out with a whole campaign planned out. With my group that is a mistake from the outset. There are 8 or so of them and one of me. They will think of things I didnt, and I HATE railroading them back into what I had planned. Instead I create a sort of kit and a world, and let them loose in it. There are hooks and there are characters and there are circumstances to start. And I have a rough idea of how they will change as things go along, but the most important thing for me is to adapt to what my players are doing. Even when I am working from a published adventure I try to work with what the players are doing and adapt to it.

If the players make an enemy of the king, he isn't a trusted ally in the coming war. Maybe then they have to find a new ally. Or maybe the kingdom falls and now they are in a resistance movement. I believe in keeping player agency and trying to make the world react to their action's as organically as possible.


PCs don't ruin games.
A capable DM can roll with any PC-supplied surprise.

For contingencies:
- Have extra NPCs sitting around.
- Whatever content was skipped previously can be discreetly updated/reused later and in a different place.
- Relax, be patient, and go with the flow.


Phoenixsong wrote:

This is for the ones who write their own campaigns, for the most part.

When you start out with a clear goal and set of circumstances you wish your players to deal with, how do you plan for the things that players do that surprise you and change what you have already made provisions for ? In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?

I defined one of the main attributes of my signiture setting as "chaos geography". This for two reasons.

1. I'm lazy and don't want to map out every detail of the world. Main areas are at fixed points, skilled navigators can find their way between them no problem, but the terrain between them can be a desert one day, a forest the next, and a frozen tundra the day after. (Think moving between crystal spheres in spelljammer, but on the scale of a single planet.)

2. If someone wants to go outside of where I have it planned for them to do, it's really easy to make something up and drop it on them so they can get pointed back where I want them.

It allows me to railroad the game into my predesigned areas without letting the players realise they're being railroaded. In the first session I describe the qualities of this world so players know what they're in for, and I never got any complaints.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I don't let them. If there is a fork in the road, and there are bandit to the right, and I want the PC to find them, then I will put a lava pit to the left. If they try to go around, then I will have dragons living in the woods of invisible hit point stealing creatures, who do just enough damage to get them to go the other way. The only way you are going to have a good game, is if you can make sure the player go where you want them to. If you spend an hour on an encounter, and the players want to go around, then why did you bother to make it? They are just wasting your time.

When worse come to worse, if they really are not going where I want them to, A God just takes over thier mind/body and moves them to where they need to go, like aeus in Class of the Titans, moving the chess peices....

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Ok, seriously, though, the answer is to have a well detailed area that the game is set in. If you are going to make your own campaign and adventures, rather than run pre-made then that means you are going to be pretty creative in the first place. That should allow you to come up with the details of where they are, who is atound there and what is around there. This means going off the path, isn't really going off the path, it just means they are taking a different route. If they do go to a place you aren't prepared for, do two things. Say "I wasn;t expceting this, Bear with me guys" and make it up. Also keep notes on anything you make up so it stays consistant. Let your players know, you are going on the fly, only so that if you have to change a little detail later to make it fit the story better, they know why. Maybe the innkeeper was an elf, but later you need him to be a human. Make the change that is best for the game, and you players will be fine with it.

Last, if this is a problem, where your players are ALWAYS doing it, then it is a bigger problem. Players that ignore the DM's efforts and always go thier own way regardless are not worth the time of preparing anything. Once in a while when it makes sense to go the other is fine. Doing it all the time on your DM just means you don't want to play in his game. In thoes cases, don't make adventures for them.

Shadow Lodge

I'd reiterate one key piece of advice - let no planning go to waste. Just because they didn't go where you thought, doesn't mean that the entire thing can't be reused later. Either reskin the goblins to castle guards or put it away for later. Even for your next campaign. Don't sweat it.

As to the 'players cannot ruin a campaign' - well I'd have to patently disagree. People can be jerks on both sides of the table, and we all know that. I had the 'joy' of seeing the players tank a campaign just before the end. Months-to-years of adventuring in, around, and over a central theme, and the final conclusion was denied due to inflexibility on one person's part.

It happens. And sometimes you can't just 'roll with it'. Hopefully you've never seen it and never will, but it does exist.


I tend to run exceptionally machiavellian antagonists against my Players... If we were discussing them in the form of tropes, I'd say that almost without exception my BBEGs have been Chessmasters.

Partially because of that, I've never actually had a player (or character) derail my game to the point where I couldn't recover it, in the 12 or so years I've been GMing. Not because there haven't been some who have tried (there were a few), but because I've always been willing to ask my players after a session "What do you think was/is going on?" I listen attentively, then sit down as soon as we've all parted ways and write down their best ideas.

Often I find out that the 'crazy' thing they did had a sort of twisted logic to it if one operated on certain assumptions. Then I just decide whether or not any of those assumptions might have actually been valid. Was that tomb that they ran away from a trap? Sure, maybe it was... in which case, it was probably designed to draw their attention and time there, rather than somewhere else. What plots might they mess up in their new locale that someone was trying to keep them from? Or was this a double blind, where the real thing was simply made to look like a trap so they would ignore it?

When all else fails and I can't decide which, I pull out a coin and flip it in the privacy of my own home. Heads the players were right, tails they were wrong. It seems to keep everyone happy... occasionally the more "hack and slash" types get to point at the plotters and say "damn you, if we'd actually paid attention to those messages we intercepted we could have stopped this!" and other times the plotters get to feel all cool about foiling something more important.

----

As far as planning a campaign... I approach this by requiring backstories from my players well before the first session starts (typically a month, sometimes more). I suggest they share these with each other, and even create links between their characters (I've even gone so far as to require it in one game), akin to playing Six Degrees of Seperation. And when I've got the back stories, I sit down and I read them... then I try to spot hooks that I can use as the "call to adventure" for the group at the start.

Once I find that call, I flowchart out a few possible places to go from it, based on knowing my players. And then I just let them run. If they seem at a loss, I'll have an NPC prod them towards one of the choices ("Have you looked at the scene of the crime yet? I tell you, I ain't never seen scorch marks like that before..."). But otherwise, I leave it up to them: My purpose is to present the problem, and then the worlds' reaction to their solutions to it.

One thing I always keep an eye out for is the plots that the players are setting them up for, based on the dramatic situations that they choose to either make or get involved in: It's been advanced by Georges Polti that there are only 36 dramatic situations which exist, and that all plots arise from these situations. Now, Polti's work has both admirers and critics, and debating the merits of his list over others is something that we could spend years doing (trust me; I've got a degree in a field where being exposed to those discussions is inevitable). The important thing is that if you can recognize the situation your players are putting themselves in, then the basic framework of the plot is already laid out for you. You just have to fill in the pieces and personalize it with interesting characters... the same as every other story teller before you that told a tale of that situation.


Malignor wrote:

PCs don't ruin games.

A capable DM can roll with any PC-supplied surprise.

For contingencies:
- Have extra NPCs sitting around.
- Whatever content was skipped previously can be discreetly updated/reused later and in a different place.
- Relax, be patient, and go with the flow.

I agree with this. It is virtually impossible to have a campaign ruined by a player in character if you are a good open minded GM.(Out of character is a whole different story)

GMing requires thinking and creating on the fly no matter how much prep you do. Sometimes your campaign will go in unintended directions for weeks or months at a time but can be gently guided and nudged to the general course you want to see it take.

I've had campaigns take years longer than expected to finish due to characters going in directions I didn't forsee. And every session the adventure was fun to see what decisions the players would make with the situations I handed them.

So no, there is no such thing as a PC broken campaign if you are an experienced GM.


mcbobbo wrote:

As to the 'players cannot ruin a campaign' - well I'd have to patently disagree. People can be jerks on both sides of the table, and we all know that. I had the 'joy' of seeing the players tank a campaign just before the end. Months-to-years of adventuring in, around, and over a central theme, and the final conclusion was denied due to inflexibility on one person's part.

It happens. And sometimes you can't just 'roll with it'. Hopefully you've never seen it and never will, but it does exist.

But was that for In-character reasons or the player being inflexible Out of character?

OOC I can understand ruining a game but IC no matter how stubborn, willful, and uncooperative a PC is it can always be roleplayed out. Even if that PC has to be left behind out of the story and a new PC brought in. Heck I've had parties where PCs had to put down another PC that was getting too close to the dark side. The story came to a halt for a session or two while the party dealt with him and the ramifications of their actions but got right back on track. And it was a great character growth moment for a lot of the PCs to boot.

So I guess I'd have to disagree with you there.


You will NEVER be able to plan for every possible action the PCs will take. Stop trying. Its futile.

A better option might be to plan for plot points to happen at certain times/intervals, but even then, determined players can simply find something better they want to chase OOOH, a butterfly! You could have an intricate "whodunnit" style game planned, and the players may get fed up, or bored, or have the urge to hit something with a sword till it stops moving, or something else entirely Lets go to the pub and have a belching contest with the locals!

Even if they do follow your plot, they could get hopelessly sidetracked on some random bit of nonsense you offhandedly mentioned He said the sewers didn't stink. Let's track them back to their source!

The best you can do is have a plan, but realize that your plan is really only the backup plan, in case the players run out of ideas.


I like to reserve some time at the end of each gaming session for the players to resume what happened and to discuss what they plan to do the next time we play so I am not completly lost from the start. It let's you see what the players picked up or remember the most which isn't always what you thought they had.

Scarab Sages

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

When I run published Adventure Path campaigns, I let the players know that they should have in character reasons to go along with it from the begining. In otherwods don't start the campaign until everyone agrees to the rails that will exist in the game.

When I created my own world, I did one early published aventure to just get the players used to the system, but then I just planned on some events and would let the players decide what to do.

My trick was after the end of an "adventure" I would ask the players what they would like to do next. Once they agreed on their next course of action, I would create the next "adventure" for them.

Also when creating adventures and encounters I had planned on three ways of solving/ending them. The easy way, the hard way, and some other way that the players will eventually really do it. Well I could not plan for the last one, but having an easy and hard way in mind, I could adapt as players come up with different ideas.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

noretoc wrote:
The only way you are going to have a good game, is if you can make sure the player go where you want them to.

Wow. Perhaps it just came across wrong, but stuff like this really makes you sound egotistical.


I don't plan anything really. I do some encounters. I prep a few dungeons. Stat some NPCs. From there I let the PCs go.

Instead having a defined adventure I have setting with a mood and theme that players can interact with. Then the players make thier own adventure. I like to play much the sand box style like the King Maker Series. I usually have some strong story lines going on, set events happen and the players are free to participate just let the events occur and deal with aftermath.


I plan relationships and events then let the PCs do what they will from there. For example in relationships the kings loves his brother but his brother is tired of the king and has made plans with the goblin king to ursurp the king but the goblin king has planed to betray the bother and joined forces with a necromancer... I think you get the idea. The an even is stuff like at this day and time the brother will attack, at another day and time an earthquake happens. The story is how the PCs interact with the relationships and events.


Phoenixsong wrote:

This is for the ones who write their own campaigns, for the most part.

When you start out with a clear goal and set of circumstances you wish your players to deal with, how do you plan for the things that players do that surprise you and change what you have already made provisions for ? In my campaigns, there was always someone who decided to act in a way not planned for and I would either have to adapt my campaign or try to guide the errant character back in the direction I needed him to go. Neither was easy at times, but doable. Has anyone's character ever ruined a campaign beyond saving ?

I don't understand the concept of having a campaign beyond saving because of PC action. The Characters do what they do, I adapt.

THe campaign I am currently running is themed, THe players have a real basic but important goal, but have no idea what they have to do to get there. Furhter I am perfectly willing to let them do what they want. If they want to go and explore a set of ruins, or fight the dragon in the Marsh of Tears so be it.

Most of my previous campaigns have been fairly free flow, with major goals only coming in at high levels.


mcbobbo wrote:

I'd reiterate one key piece of advice - let no planning go to waste. Just because they didn't go where you thought, doesn't mean that the entire thing can't be reused later. Either reskin the goblins to castle guards or put it away for later. Even for your next campaign. Don't sweat it.

As to the 'players cannot ruin a campaign' - well I'd have to patently disagree. People can be jerks on both sides of the table, and we all know that. I had the 'joy' of seeing the players tank a campaign just before the end. Months-to-years of adventuring in, around, and over a central theme, and the final conclusion was denied due to inflexibility on one person's part.

It happens. And sometimes you can't just 'roll with it'. Hopefully you've never seen it and never will, but it does exist.

Agreed on all counts.

Above I said a campaign cannot be ruined by PC action, Player action is a whole different kettle of fish.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Jiggy wrote:
noretoc wrote:
The only way you are going to have a good game, is if you can make sure the player go where you want them to.
Wow. Perhaps it just came across wrong, but stuff like this really makes you sound egotistical.

It was meant to, that entire post was satire. If the escalating absurdity wasn't blatant enough, the reply immediately following was by the same poster:

noretoc wrote:
Ok, seriously, though...

Guess that's the problem with sarcasm over the internet; it's hard to differentiate it from extremism sometimes. ;)

Scarab Sages

Liongold wrote:
I would advise a slight change in attitude on your side. No player wants to be railroaded in to the story u have pre-written.

It's comments like that that have cemented my decision to only run Adventure Paths from now on. You come to my table to play the AP that we as a group have decided to play, if you don't want to stick to the campaign storyline, simple, don't play.

Seriously players need to let go of this assumed right that they can go where ever and do whatever they want and to hell with the campaign the DMs taken weeks if not months to write/prepare.

If you want to do want you want as a player fine, Skyrim comes out in November, good luck with that!

Geez some players are a bunch of ungrateful so and sos.
Reebo


Don't plan everything out from the beginning; come up with an overarching story structure and plot hooks, then roll with everything else. Let your players make of your plot hooks what they will, then gently guide it back to the overarching story as the game's ongoing. Only plan in detail one or two game sessions ahead, then as the game develops cater to and build upon the characters and their choices thus far. Players tend to be really happy and feel like their choices matter when you've integrated their actions into the story line on a fundamental level.

In a campaign I'm currently running, I already have the overarching story outlined. I know my long-term goal and where I want the campaign to end, and can keep things moving towards that long-term goal no matter where they go in the short term. Likewise, I know the medium-term goals and the breakpoints between "acts" in my story line, and what levels I want the PC's to be at each point. That's really enough to keep the game going as long as I plan the next game session in detail and keep it moving towards that long-term goal.

Spoiler:
In this campaign, act 1 involves the PC's selecting one of two nobles to lead a drow house. Act 2 involves that house rising to prominence in that city and how that happens, which is one of three ways (more or less) depending on who the party chose in act 1. Act 3 involves a major "natural" disaster (the death of a god) and how that city (and by extension, the house) capitalizes on it to rise to prominence regionally, one of about twelve sub-choices building upon everything that's happened before. The party ultimately makes the major choice in each act; some of them are overt, some not.

Depending on lesser decisions on top of the "major" decision in each act, there are about 72 different endgames I have outlined, that I'll discard and detail as the party makes the choices that preclude or lead to them respectively, that deviate wildly depending on party choices. One of my planned endgames has the drow initiating a full-on industrial revolution and becoming a regional power through technology, another has them opening portals to other worlds and forming a multi-universal drow confederacy, and yet another has them calling in a favor with a dracolich who just stomps the other cities into submission.

The only thing I have detailed on a point-by-point level is this weekend's game.

Anyhow, moving on...in the end, the only way the players can truly derail the game is by not having fun. Everything else is secondary. For me, beer is a wonderful tool for not throttling my players when they do something dumb or manage to completely throw my games into Totally Unrelated Tangent Land. Actually, I've trained my players to fetch me a new one, all I have to do is pretend like I'm at my wits end and about to throw an APL +4 abjurer and cohort at them to mercifully end the suffering and BAM! fresh, icy-cold IPA right in front of me. :)

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