GMs - What do you choose not to throw at players?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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I think most GMs have certain options given in the Pathfinder books they just don't like to have players go up against. Personally, I don't use save or die effects as GM. I outright ban Raise Dead, Resurrection, Reincarnate, and anything of an equivalent effect under the metaphysical rules of the setting (Which state that dragging a soul back from beyond the veil of death will get you a badly damaged husk at best). Since you can't get back a lost character, I don't throw around things guaranteed to kill a PC on a failed save. I very rarely use traps, because I don't like them. I don't like giant spiders, so I don't use those. Don't think I've ever used a plant creature that wasn't a treant. I've never used a mimick or doppelganger.

What's in the rulebooks that you guys just choose not to have players encounter?

Lantern Lodge

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Swarms.

I hate them as a player and do not inflict them on my players.

Yes, I know they are countered easily enough, but I resent the golf bag on principle.


I'm not much one for swarms, either.


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My CRB, even when they really deserve it...


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Oozes. Anything easier than painfully difficult and horribly life threatening


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I never do random encounters

Lantern Lodge

Easy choices that affect the campaign significantly.

Scarab Sages Owner - Game Knight

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My old rule for home games always was "The GM has access to the same books as you. Core + whatever splats you're brave enough to delve into." (In the case of alignment specific books, the printed corollary).


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Nothing, really.


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I sometimes hold back on the number of minions the BBEG has in the interest of saving time. I have occasional players who drive over 2 hours to attend my games and I try to end at a reasonable hour so that they can make it home safely.


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I try to avoid Save or die and save or suck spells like dominate and word of death and the like, as long as the players didn't at least have the chance to find out what they would be facing.
Nothing less fun than losing a character to a single failed save.


If a bloodline or mystery gives a save or die spell as a bonus spell I'll replace that with something else unless I'm confident the PC will make the save with the amount of rerolls they're given. Save or suck spells however are fair game.

Another thing I intend to avoid are x3/x4 crit weapons and enemies. 18-20/x2 crits can be fine depending on the enemy.


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Meaningless situations, like goblin babies, that can make this game seem like less of a game.


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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I sometimes hold back on the number of minions the BBEG has in the interest of saving time. I have occasional players who drive over 2 hours to attend my games and I try to end at a reasonable hour so that they can make it home safely.

Have you considered troop creature types? They substantially reduce the time for large groups of enemies


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I limit save vrs die situations to one non-boss encounter per campaign. One at the mid point, generally. The final battle usually has the possibility of a death or two.

I don't do random encounters. Instead, I build them ahead of time, though, I may consult a table of random encounters for an idea, but they aren't rolled in-game. I have dozens of encounters at hand, ready to pull from in a pinch, and try to allow opportunities to avoid them if the players wish.

We don't dungeon crawl. I wish we would from time to time, but the players don't respond well to it.

I've never used a tarrasque or Cthulhu.

We don't use grapple or other combat maneuvers that often. I think we are just too old school the think about them.

Probably the biggest thing we avoid is high-level play. We love levels 1-6 the most and are done with a campaign by level 11, but this is slowly changing. We usually play on a progression between slow and medium, but this, too, is changing. My current campaign is going to the cap for the first time in 15 years.


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Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

Sundering, or at least use it very sparingly. As a GM, I can throw monster after monster at them, with little/no loss when they get ripped to shreds. But permanently damaging a character's weapon is a bit harsh when they cannot find a caster high enough level to Make Whole a high level weapon.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Rust monsters- A holdover from the "gear is more important than who you are" days of design. I know people who love them, because they cause characters to react with more terror than things which might kill them. To me, that's a bug, not a feature. Sir Goodguy the Brave should be more concerned with saving the villagers trapped in Lord Nastybad's dungeon than in making sure his armor isn't destroyed. Arbitrarily tossing that out as a "gotcha" just irritates me. If a bad guy's going to use sunder,I generally drop hints of that by having the party find shattered weapons and broken shields well before they need to face the guy.

I don't do random encounters (which seems pretty common based on this thread). I'll pick something off of a provided random encounter table that makes sense to spice up a given scenario, but often published materials have enough combat in them already, so sometimes I don't even go that far. I do sometimes roll for "random sign of what's out there," though. Table says "dragon," well, they see a dragon....flying in the distance. In real life, sometimes meeting a bear in the woods is just seeing it scoop some salmon out of a stream and wander off. The same holds true of fantasy creatures.

There are species I find silly and/or redundant and/or personally uninteresting that don't show up, but that's largely down to preference, rather than mechanical or story considerations.


I try not to use save-or-die and save-or-suck spells much.

Not much ethical dilemmas. Good is good and Evil is evil. I would say there is more ambiguity on the Law/Chaos spectrum.

I also try not to throw too many APL+3 or +4 encounters. I find players have more fun kicking ass then getting their asses kicked.

I find the whole One PC scouts and deals with traps role, and situations that only allow one player to participate in general, to be detrimental to table fun. I encourage everyone to be able to participate in adventuring situations, social situations, and combat.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Mind affecting magic. We're currently playing 2PC campaigns and mind affecting things can be effectively 'save or lose' in that situation.


Fergie wrote:
I also try not to throw too many APL+3 or +4 encounters. I find players have more fun kicking ass then getting their asses kicked.

I tend to throw those out, but usually the CR is inflated by high numbers of weak enemies because I want the party to level up already!


Oxylepy wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I sometimes hold back on the number of minions the BBEG has in the interest of saving time. I have occasional players who drive over 2 hours to attend my games and I try to end at a reasonable hour so that they can make it home safely.
Have you considered troop creature types? They substantially reduce the time for large groups of enemies

Actually, no. I'd forgotten about the Troop encounter. I just read it over on d20pfsrd, but I'm still not clear on one thing. Is a single attack (or iterative attacks if they apply) by a PC all that is needed to hit a troop and deal damage to it?


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I cannot recall and am far too lazy to bother getting up to find it. I think it was in one of the bestiaries and have legionnaires as the image for the one creature that used it. They are effectively swarms of small or larger enemies. They can be found here

I just let people smack them around as if they were not a huge group of creatures (unlike swarms). Swarms save themselves because their size makes them far too small to hit adequately and it's hard to imagine millions of spiders with a pool of 500hp really feeling that fraction of a hit point from smashing 10 of them. Troops, however, are easy to smack individuals of (treating millions of individuals in a troop as a swarm, though, if you're running around in a mech suit) and thus lose HP accordingly.

It will save a buuunch of hastle for you guys and you can have much more believeable groups working with your BBEG. If you want them fighting a hundred goblins because the Ogre King commands it, awesome, it will take like a half hour of playing kick the gobo and suddenly you all feel really good about yourselves.


I tend to avoid swarms. Also I find incorporeal creatures a bit on the unfair side for players (especially a party with no cleric), so I don't often use those either.


A few things I'm gonna stray away from are non-native outsiders, constructs, and undead. It's not a mechanics reason, I just see a freaky aberrant dungeon having troubles making aberration copies of them due to the funky soul stuff going on with them.


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Dragons.

I get all excited, and then they fail to deliver. I blame myself, not the dragons.


Ciaran Barnes wrote:

Dragons.

I get all excited, and then they fail to deliver. I blame myself, not the dragons.

See this is why I made freaky aberrant dragons that can spew whatever type of breath weapon they want and never let them be alone. Kinda hard to prepare for them when there's no one energy type you know is coming.


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Its a APL 4 at this point.

I've been hesitant to toss wights or ghouls at them. Energy drain on one hand and 2-5 rounds of paralysis on the other.

I've run a couple "GM only" play tests with their character sheets. I have a strong fear it could TPK them - and they have a 4th level cleric. Paralyze is nasty.

Silver Crusade

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Also swarms. I have never seen anything kill the mood at table like a swarm. I've also gotten a lot of lectures about how parties should be prepared for swarms. But even in a prepared party, half the players are down to throwing flasks for 1d6*1.5 damage, which at higher levels is ridiculous. Unless I've got an alchemist or a fireball thrower, no swarms smaller than tiny.

I also tend to cut repetitive encounters from APs. Mainly because if I had to fight those same rogues in Council of Thieves one more time, I might have just let them have the city. I don't do xp, so if I feel like an encounter is just the same mooks holding up the story, they're suddenly not there.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Oh! Level-drain monsters that do it via physical attacks.

Wights, Vampires... nope. Just strikes me as silly, a legacy of the wargaming roots of D&D.

I convert any vampires into Ravenloft-style (as opposed to PF or World of Darkness) Nosferatu whenever possible.


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More than a few enemies, though I've seen some god houserules that make me reconsider.


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Cole Deschain wrote:

Oh! Level-drain monsters that do it via physical attacks.

Wights, Vampires... nope. Just strikes me as silly, a legacy of the wargaming roots of D&D.

I convert any vampires into Ravenloft-style (as opposed to PF or World of Darkness) Nosferatu whenever possible.

Level drain, especially if you knock down the HPs each time as well? I guess its "a little" easier to get them back now than D&D, but still sucks. Plus, if they fail the 24hr save - its screwing up your APL math for ever.

At same time - I guess maybe its like the rust monster - terrifying IRL.

You really want your -players- (not their PCs) to sit up straight at the table and quit surfing facebook on their phone and start scanning their sheet for every possible good idea.....toss a few CR appropriate level drainers at them.

Probably...now that I think about it, the thing I fear most as a player. Maybe more than death of the PC straight out?

Dark Archive

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I tend to avoid weapons doing full damage on a party's first adventure in the campaign. At least I do when I designed the adventure. I'll use enemies that deal a d3 or d4 damage. Instead of normal longswords I'll give the guards of an evil and corrupt ruler rusty weapons that deal 1d4, or maybe 1d6-1 damage. Similarly I'll lower AC for that first adventure. I want the players to have a chance, yet still be in danger. Nothing's more off putting though then half the party going down to one attack each in the first encounter. So I try to avoid doing that.

I too am not really a fan of "save or die" effects. And traps, I use them but I'm not a fan of escape or die traps.

I have used traps for comedic effect though. In one campaign the rogue critically botched his Disable Devices check. On an easy trap (dc 10 since the person who set it up was incompetent). One of the players standing near the rogue then failed he reflex save, badly. I rolled damage and the trap was going to outright kill the poor guy. So instead I had him pinned in place since the spears had just barely missed, every part of his body (but he couldn't move).

Rogue then proceeded to critically botch 10 more disable devices checks. Each time he botched it, I added a new, ever more ludicrous aspect to the trap. Still without actually harming the wizard stuck in the middle. By the time the rogue finally disarmed it the trap was this massively overblown and rather silly spinning mass of blades and rotating spears of doom contraption.

Course, the players then rearmed the now rather ridiculous trap and used it quite effectively. I figured the rogue was botching disarming the trap so badly, he was actually improving the trap each time.

Granted, that group did have a (probably house) rule where a natural 1 on disable devices always fails.

Scarab Sages

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I'll throw pretty much anything at my groups, but never Save-or-Die. It's a touch ridiculous. That doesn't mean I don't use those spells/effects, though. Any save/die save that is failed reduces the character to -1 HP automatically. Still a chance to live, and really scary, but doesn't feel like as much of a cheap shot.


Can't call it something I've chose not to - but would advise others to use with caution.

Early levels, I've found Ogres to be particularly more deadly than CR 3 would indicate. I like them, I've used them, but they're a sleeper TPK just waiting to happen.

+7 to hit, 2d8+7 damage, and Large so a 10' threatening range.

That's 16 avg damage 9-23 range. Enough to one-shot most 2d level PCs, and some 3rd.

On Crits: avg 32 damage (18-46 range). That's 1-shotting everyone except a 3rd or 4th level fighter. Tighten your chin strap when that great-club is swung at you.

Its typically gone something like this: Ogre loses ini, group attacks, gets a couple hits in, maybe 1/3-1/2 of its HP. Ogre misses; group attacks, a couple misses, but a little damage Ogres over 1/2; ogre misses again. group gets a couple hits, ogre looks bad..is near dead, "initiate trash talking about how weak-sister ogres are"; Ogre hits fighter for 20HP putting him down to 5, everyone starts screaming -Medic-! OMG that would have put me below 0 (or wizard says, I'd have been straight up dead).


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GM 1990 wrote:

Can't call it something I've chose not to - but would advise others to use with caution.

Early levels, I've found Ogres to be particularly more deadly than CR 3 would indicate. I like them, I've used them, but they're a sleeper TPK just waiting to happen.

Yeah there's a few monsters like that. Orcs as written are brutal at level 1 with high strength, tons of effective HP, and a 2H critfishing weapon. We almost had a TPK in one group. If it weren't for the town guards having a BAMF we would have been goners, and even then my investigator was 2 HP away from death thanks to a crit. Only the bloodrager was able to take a hit and still stand.

TL:DR Orcs are not level 1 enemies!


I try not to throw total surprises at the PCs, I usually foreshadow events in some way. For example: the PCs spot some tracks in a dungeon that suddenly stop. This is a hint to check for traps. Likewise if the PCs fail their perception checks to spot an ambush they will come across some clue in the ambush site that they are walking into a dangerous situation, if they catch on they might get a round to buff or retreat. And if an NPC is going to betray them, they will do something suspicious before they do.

I rarely use save or suck effects for obvious reasons.

I don't like orcs or halflings, not sure why, so don't use them. If need be I will substitute a hobgoblin or gnome.

I rarely use ability drain or damage, I don't like that mechanism I prefer keeping things simple and sticking with hit points.

I don't use deadly traps. Traps are designed to raise the alarm, slow or imprison (preferably with some method of escape). My reasoning is that I would never put a deadly trap in my own home and risk accidentally triggering it.


I tell players I won't use tricks like Aboleth's Lung or Skinsend + Injection Spear unless they do so first.


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SoL effects... They are just not fun.

Nothing worse than having your character's fate come down to a single die roll. Specially when you always have at least a 5% chance of failure no matter how high your bonus or how good your tactics.

I use these effects very, very sparingly. They might become more common at high levels when the party has access to stuff like Breath of Life. But still... they remain not-fun, so - even then they aren't a common tactic.


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Thing thing I most avoid throwing at the players is coddling.

I'm willing to throw everything else at them, though I try to only throw things at their PCs; throwing things at the players is probably rude.


Aboleths.

They would be dangerous enough if they were normal land based monsters, but throw in swimming rules? Ded PCs.


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Brother Fen wrote:
Nothing, really.

I'm along these lines. I try to tailor my encounters to the group I have at the time, but there's nothing that I have specifically taken off of the menu.

For example, my newbie group (this is their first campaign, ever) typically sees relatively simple encounter structure with rather straightforward monsters/NPCs.

My other group consists of people who have been playing Pathfinder/DnD for 10-30 years, depending on the person. I don't have to pull any punches with them.

Edit:

After reading more of the thread, I figured I should expand my answer.

Again, it depends on the group I'm running. My newbie group hasn't seen much in the way of SoS/SoD spells yet, but they're pretty low level still (around 4th). I don't plan on beating them up with such spells until their understanding of the game has improved greatly. The more experienced group is much more optimized and experienced, and they actually expect to see enemy casters using those spells. They even ask "why not" if an encounter with such a caster doesn't see such spells used.

The "moral dilemmas" situation also gets tailored to the party. My newbie party is very role-play heavy, so while it hasn't happened yet, I believe they'd have a fun time arguing about such a situation (based on what I've watched them do over the last few months). My more experienced party, however, isn't interested in such things, and would rather hand-wave the situation away than spend 30-60 minutes role playing it out. Consequently, I wouldn't bother with such a situation with them.

Typically, I try to prevent putting the party in a position to deal with something before they have the capacity to do so. No ability damage/drain until the party has access to Lesser Restoration; no Save or Die until the party has Raise Dead; etc. I think it's unfair to throw something at the party that they simply cannot deal with (as opposed to something they just didn't plan for).


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Saldiven wrote:
Brother Fen wrote:
Nothing, really.

I'm along these lines. I try to tailor my encounters to the group I have at the time, but there's nothing that I have specifically taken off of the menu.

For example, my newbie group (this is their first campaign, ever) typically sees relatively simple encounter structure with rather straightforward monsters/NPCs.

My other group consists of people who have been playing Pathfinder/DnD for 10-30 years, depending on the person. I don't have to pull any punches with them.

Edit:

After reading more of the thread, I figured I should expand my answer.

Again, it depends on the group I'm running. My newbie group hasn't seen much in the way of SoS/SoD spells yet, but they're pretty low level still (around 4th). I don't plan on beating them up with such spells until their understanding of the game has improved greatly. The more experienced group is much more optimized and experienced, and they actually expect to see enemy casters using those spells. They even ask "why not" if an encounter with such a caster doesn't see such spells used.

The "moral dilemmas" situation also gets tailored to the party. My newbie party is very role-play heavy, so while it hasn't happened yet, I believe they'd have a fun time arguing about such a situation (based on what I've watched them do over the last few months). My more experienced party, however, isn't interested in such things, and would rather hand-wave the situation away than spend 30-60 minutes role playing it out. Consequently, I wouldn't bother with such a situation with them.

Typically, I try to prevent putting the party in a position to deal with something before they have the capacity to do so. No ability damage/drain until the party has access to Lesser Restoration; no Save or Die until the party has Raise Dead; etc. I think it's unfair to throw something at the party that they simply cannot deal with (as opposed to something they just didn't plan for).

Yep, this right here covers the majority of it. Knowing when, where and how to push any given group of PCs is one of the bigger parts of the "art" of DMing. But when those encounters play out well, they will be some of the most memorable that group has. Then the group realizes their play has elevated and you can keep things at a higher level until they get complacent, over confident, etc, and bam... it happens all over again.

But nothing is off limits at my table either... it's just a delicate balancing act of challenge for any given group.


The big one that I will never ever ever ever use is antimagic field. This is something that is guaranteed not to be fun for anybody but a cruel DM.

First off, it takes a bunch of character concepts and says "Sorry, but you are going to play as a commoner with a crossbow for this fight. Everything about your character is meaningless."

After this slap in the face to a bunch of characters, then it's time to spend an hour* figuring out what everybody's numbers are without any magical boosts. *time may vary for especially innumerate players.

Pro tip: For complex characters, it may be easier to figure the numbers by building a new version without the magical effects.

Finally, once you've gotten all of the characters ready for a fight - it's a boring fight. The martial characters are doing all of the things they normally do and the others are firing crossbows and slings. Not very fun for anybody.

-----

As for sundering, save-or-die or some of the other things in this thread, I use them to scare players. I'll put out stories and rumors about the people that use these tactics.

When they do meet them, there's an added level of tension in these fights. They know how dangerous their foes are and they put all of their effort into killing them quickly. Which means that they aren't focusing on killing the other things on the battlefield.

When the party has prepared well it is fun for the players. When the necromancer's finger of death keeps hitting death ward, it's well worth the money they sunk into that wand. When the sunderer hits the adamantine greatsword that they bought specifically for him, it's cool for the party.

Lantern Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16

After a near ill fated scenario, I will no longer combo stinking cloud and black tentacles.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

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It's a sliding scale based on level for me...I'm not sure that I consider anything "off limits." Swarms can be annoying to run, it's true...but they also hammer home the utility of AoE attacks. I don't like to run them often though. Generally SoS spells are ok, but I don't like to use SoD spells until they can be fixed. I rarely have enemies CdG PCs because that's just rude - and usually tactically unsound to boot.

When PCs are level 1-3 enemies tend to use bad tactics, as well as be weak. Storyline and encounter difficulty should ramp up, so by the time the PCs are in their teens they can handle nearly anything. If the party is level 15+ I'll throw anything at them. In fact I will specifically design adventures to be impossible. I trust my group to come up with a plan I didn't anticipate, and a high level group has remarkable resources to escape if things go poorly.

Grand Lodge

Nothing is off limits at my table. In fact, I find it a challenge at times to find content that sufficiently challenges my players so I'm always on the lookout for something that will make them do a double take and strike true fear into their hearts.

For example, I really enjoyed throwing a couple Nabasu's at them at the end of book one of RoW. There were 6 level 4 PC's (with 1 level of mythic and one of the PC's was preoccupied, I won't say how as I don't want to add a spoiler) and, while they really had no issues dealing with the Nabasu's, they knew they were up against something really nasty so they pulled out all stops/resources to ensure no one failed a saving throw.


Black Powder Chocobo wrote:
After a near ill fated scenario, I will no longer combo stinking cloud and black tentacles.

Iron Gods Spoiler:

Zoud tactics:
The final boss in book three combines Cloudkill, Stinking Cloud, Solid Fog, Web, and Wall of Force against the party, assuming things work out such that he can stack them all. Man my veteran party was crapping their pants, but they were literally high-fiving when they finally killed the boss.


Philo Pharynx wrote:


After this slap in the face to a bunch of characters, then it's time to spend an hour* figuring out what everybody's numbers are without any magical boosts. *time may vary for especially innumerate players.

<5 minutes for the entire group.

I keep copies of the players characters in Herolab. Just uncheck the gear and go.


I don't hit players with save or die spells, but that's the only thing. Swarms, rust monsters, energy drain, incorporeal stuff; all of that's on the table. To me, those kind of challenges are the only things that represent real peril to the party. Both as a PC and as a GM I like the idea that the game world is cruel, and doesn't care if the PCs live or die, so it's on the PCs to be ready for anything. Otherwise I find that PCs get lazy and complacent.


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I've started to dislike anything that leaves characters with long-term negative status effects. If I inflict a disease on a character, is that fun for anyone? Or does it just mean tedious book-keeping?

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