The End of the (Instant) Universe

The End of the (Instant) Universe

Last Thursday our kickstarter campaign for sci fi concept cards ended. It was, all things, considered, a rousing success.

The final tally was £5,544 and 244 backers. Thank you to all our backers – we couldn’t do this without you and we like doing this!

We have reached the stretch goals for two extra cards per deck, and three extra suit symbols.

What Remains To Be Done

Elvis may have gone home to live among the stars, but we still have work to do. There are a few cards left to write, more now we have reached that stretch goal, and we need to commission more art.

Then comes the process of proofreading. To be honest it’s my least favourite part of the job, not least because I’m not very good at it. Fortunately Ali is, and we have a couple of volunteers to aid in the process. It is very necessary, though – I am rather prone to making typos. By the time it goes to print I am confident that every error but one will be squashed (that one will show up three weeks later…).

After that is done we send files to the printers, and wait anxiously for them to send us boxes of decks.

Then we package and post them to the backers.

If you missed the Kickstarter it’s not too late to get in on the action – you can still join us on Backerkit

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KS Updates: Stretch Goals and Add-ons

Stretch Goals

On Wednesday Loz mentioned that we were going to be releasing some more of our Stretch Goals after we had a chance to triple check the details – and here they are:

Full-bleed Borders at £6000

Black borders are traditional on cards – but that’s partly because of printing technology, which has improved over time. On a larger run it’s perfectly affordable for us to add some detail to those borders, allowing the starfield effect to slowly fade out, creating a slightly deeper feel to the cards

The “Even More Art” Goal is at £7500

It’s a little over double where we currently stand – and is at the top end of where Kicktraq’s projections put us – but we have confidence that it will be reached.

While far from vital, it’s an improvement we would certainly like the opportunity to implement – we just need the funds to pay the artists.

£9000: 64 Cards

The First of our Sky-Pie goals, and the only one we’re announcing for now, is making the deck up to 64 cards – 16 of each suit, for a total of 2^6. The new cards are currently planned to be a full suite of jokers (one per suit, rather than just red and black) along with a Pilot and an Admiral for each of the suits – but the precise names are not set in stone, so let us know if you would prefer different bonus cards.

56 Shares: A 10 Page Solar System

We’re not marketers – we’re writers. So we want to harness your desire for our writing in order to gain the power of connections!

If the Kickstarter page is shared a total of 56 times on social media (we’ll be watching Facebook and Twitter, but let us know about others) in non-spam contexts, we’ll give every backer access to a 10 page piece detailing one specific solar system – with four inhabited worlds split between two very different species.

We picked 56, because we’re pretty sure that’s how many cards the deck will have when this goal is reached!

112 Shares: Another 10 Pages

Simple enough – the solar system gets more detailed, with more information about the culture on each planet, and some of the individual people living there.

 

Add-Ons During the Kickstarter

You can increase your pledge for more decks of the sci fi cards at the same cost as the backer levels – that is:

  • £12 per deck or
  • £30 for a full set of all three.

Assuming we reach the social stretch goals for the Solar System Setting Shard mentioned in the previous update you will be able to add that too – you will automatically get the PDF, but you may want a printed version. The cost depends in part on the printing costs which we are investigating – the simplest option would be to use something like DrivethruRPG’s Print On Demand service. Once we reach that point we will, of course, announce that.

After the Kickstarter

We are using Backerkit again as it seems to have worked well for us in the past. This means you will able to adjust your pledge at that stage too. You will be able to grab the above options then, but if you do so before the end of the kickstarter we are more likely to reach our stretch goals and you will get more!

You will also be able to add the fantasy cards at that point, too. We are not making them available as an add-on at this stage because we want to keep things focused on the current project – not least so we have a better idea of how many sci fi decks we need to order, and know we can afford to do so.

After That

The cards will be available in various retail locations. We have a retailer level (Generation Ship), and of course will let you know who they are so you can point your friends at them. If you know any games stores who would be interested in carrying our cards please point them at the Kickstarter.

Or you could try to find a shop which sells them here
Or you could try to find a shop which sells them here
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KS Update: Who are your most unusual characters?

If you’re anything like me you have dozens of characters, ideas for games and general strangeness floating around in your brain (That’s probably why I write them on cards…). Today I’d like to relay a couple of them to you, and ask what’s the strangest character you’ve come up with, whether you actually played them or not?

TBD-768, aka “Teebee”

We were about to start a superheroes-in-space campaign and Ali had a character worked out mechanically, but didn’t have a name. The character was a space ship brought to life by a hyperspace accident. As a space ship she needed a name that was suitable, so I put TBD (for To Be Determined”) and some random numbers. Weirdly she liked it and stuck with it, only adding the diminutive “Teebee” as the character was incredibly inquisitive and eternally upbeat and optimistic.

As the original crew were smugglers, and the contract between them stated that the payout for their current cargo would be split between the crew, and as the rest of them had died in the hyperspace accident that brought Teebee to life, she determined she deserved the money. These funds were then used to buy a near-indestructible humanoid robotic body from aliens, only to discover shortly after purchase that the body was stolen!

That character inspired this card

You could retain the upbeat attitude if you like.
You could retain the upbeat attitude if you like.

 The Incomprehensible Party

A long time ago we were going to play a Star Wars campaign. It never got off the ground for a variety of reasons, but we did propose the least comprehensible party ever – three Wookies and an R2 unit! This was back in the days of the West End Games system, which stated that if you played a character who could not speak common were only allowed to speak in character in imitations of the noises that character could make. This would result in the Wookies’ players only ever saying “Worraaagh” and the R2 unit’s player only ever making bleeping noises. As the GM didn’t speak either Shiriwook or Binary that would have made life difficult to say the least.

Probably for the best those characters never got played!

How About You?

So, share with us your weirdest characters – especially ones you could never actually play but are cool ideas none the less!

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Kickstarter Time: What do the cards mean:

For all Decks:

The main suit of each card defines it, or is what you notice first, while the numbers represent how strong it is.

For Characters

Hearts Represents Desires: 
Maybe they want to travel the universe or rid the galaxy of aliens.

Spades are Physical Descriptions:
They be very small or bright green and cybernetically enhanced

Diamonds Mean Professions:
Spaceship Captain or Interstellar Lawyer would go here.

Clubs are Connections:
Politicians or teachers are people who know people.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. A hidden mutation or a shady past with space pirates might go here. And it can modify the others.

For Locations

Spades Mean Physical Features
If it is decorated with star charts or really noisy it will say here.

Clubs Represent Dangers
From robust safety measures to death by exposure to vacuum.

Diamonds are Resources
The value within may be gold and jewels, or hidden knowledge.

Hearts Show Inhabitants
You could find the medical officer or a smuggler with a heart of gold.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. An alien hunter lurking in the shadows or impending staff walkout. And it can modify the others.

For Planets

Clubs Show Politics
A weak leader clinging to power or the beating heart of a star empire.

Hearts are Inhabitants
Scientists studying local plants or a teeming metropolis of billions.

Spades Represent Environments
There could be methane snow, or fourteen moons and two suns.

Diamonds Show Resources
Rare chemical isotopes or star ship building yards are found here.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. Hallucinogenic plants or long lost alien cities can appear unexpectedly. And it can modify the others.

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The Night Before Kickstarter

Tl;dr: Sci Fi Concept Cards Kickstarter launches tomorrow.

‘Twas the night before Kickstarter, when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The cards had been written on the computer with care,

In hopes that St. Kickstarter soon would be there;

The creators were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads

Well it’d be nice, wouldn’t  it? Not gonna happen though. We’ll be tweaking the page and trying to improve things right up until launch.

It’s akin to stage fright.

But that’s okay. Some things are scary and they’re still worth doing, This is one of those things.

We launch tomorrow at about 4pm (give or take a few minutes for last second typo spotting). This time we are offering three decks of Concept Cards, science fiction ones.

  • Characters – people from all over the galaxy
  • Locations – places you might find on a space station or a city on another planet
  • Planets – worlds scattered through the cosmos

 

Our first Kickstarter, about four years ago now for the first set of concept cards (called Character Cards back then because we didn’t know there would be more of them) was funded in a day, an our best was funded in four hours and ha taken more than twice its original target in a day – It would be wonderful to beat that!

To facilitate that, we’d love it if you would do a couple of things for us:

  • First go to the Kickstarter preview page and click the “❤ Notify me on launch” button near the top on the left. Take a sneaky look at the page while you’re there, and then on launch day try find what we changed.
  • Second: Spread this blog post, or any of our other social media posts (Facebook / Twitter) you see to anyone you think might be interested.

 

The faster the total rises at the start the more prominently Kickstarter will display the project meaning more people will see it, meaning a higher total and more people get to enjoy our work. A higher total means more stretch goals and a better product for you – and helps us stay in business to make more products in future.

So I’m off to tweak the page some more – you’ll have to do the dreaming of sugarplums!

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Sci-Fi Concept Cards: What do we Mean by Sci-Fi?

In space, no-one can hear you complain about the colour palette

 

As you hopefully know by now, our next major project is another set of Concept Cards, this time Sci Fi Concept Cards. (If you don’t know what Concept Cards are, take a look at the fantasy ones here.)

Science fiction is a huge genre – it encompasses everything set five minutes or more into the future, and some thing that are set in the past too – especially when you include time travel. We couldn’t possibly hope to cover all possibilities in one deck – characters would range from the Victorian dandy making strange steam powered inventions in his basement, via cyberpunk corporate salarymen, to star ship captains. While there is no doubt scope for some variants of those in each other’s sub-genres (the steampunk airship needs a captain), there are enough differences that we don’t think it would be helpful. In future perhaps these will get their own decks – but not right now. (n.b. In the Fantasy Epic Locations deck there is already one sci fi reference – the Urban Emperor, The Last of the Ancients, is a man in stasis wearing a bathrobe, and references both Red Dwarf and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

What we mean here, then, is the kind of sci fi that involves starships and blasters. From Star Wars to Star Trek, to Firefly, to Warhammer 40,000 and even Eclipse Phase and The Foundation Trilogy.1)Ste Note: I’m drawing a bit from Schlock Mercenary too

These settings feature relatively ubiquitous space travel, some form of interstellar travel, aliens, blasters and/or laser weaponry, huge threats larger than a person, a city, or even a planet, and so forth. There are exceptions, of course – The Foundation Trilogy only features humans, Firefly takes place entirely in one solar system, In Eclipse Phase interstellar travel is limited to Pandora Gates, and Stargate has present day humans exposed to a far more advanced setting.

How interstellar travel works is something which can help define a setting – for instance in 40k the Warp is incredible dangerous, while in Star Trek, travelling at Warp Speed is rarely a problem (barring unusual accident, which inevitably happen to the Enterprise). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has such unusual methods as the Infinite Improbability Drive (whereby it is incredibly unlikely you will simply teleport from one point in space to another, so if one can increase the level of improbability high enough it’s bound to happen), and Bill the Galactic Hero has the Bloater Drive (which works by expanding the space between atoms such that the ship is the size of the entire distance between the start and the end of the journey, and then condensing them back to normal.)

Then there is the question of psychic powers. These show up in many forms and are surprisingly common. In Star Wars the Force is a natural energy that connects all things, but in Eclipse Phase it’s caused by an infection by a sentient techno-virus, while in 40k if you overuse them you’re likely to get eaten by daemons (as is anyone standing too close to you). Regardless, they are usually rare and barely understood (even by the practitioners), but the subject of much research.

Faith also plays a surprisingly large part in sci fi. In Star Trek the Federation is atheist, but many of the other cultures are not – notably the Klingons are deeply religious, but they killed their gods for holding them back! But despite this exploration of faith, the genre doesn’t allow “gods did it” to be an explanation very often, and when it does the gods usually turn out to be extremely powerful aliens or fakes by people using technology or psychic powers.

Beyond all that there are new people, new places, new planets, and new ideas to explore. In Dark Heresy they are probably evil cultists hell-bent on causing death and destruction, and must be stopped at all costs, while in Babylon 5 the aliens have most likely come to the space station rather than the protagonists going to them, but the point stands.

And that, I think, is the key to science fiction –

Exploration of the new and the unknown.  

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References   [ + ]

1. Ste Note: I’m drawing a bit from Schlock Mercenary too

Lovely Layout and Wonderful Workflow

Not Actually Me

I thought I’d talk a little about how we go about producing the Jigsaw pieces (or whatever they get renamed to, see the post from two weeks ago – while you’re here, if you haven’t already, can you tell us which names you prefer?)

[Ste Note: This article talks primarily about Loz and Ali’s Workflow – next week we’ll talk about mine and Amy’s and about how our differences help improve the pieces.]

It all starts, of course, with an idea. That idea can come from anywhere – something we’ve read, seen, eaten or written can spark an idea, but it then needs refinement. Sometimes that’s a pretty simple affair, other times it can require significantly more time in the shower. We often discuss these ideas with each other (not usually while in the shower) to get them to a point where we can do something with them. I tend to write less and have more notes, while Ali tends to write a lot more at this stage, and keep the notes in her head.

This can be a case of limiting rather than widening an idea. Death Rites started with the idea that much of what we know of ancient cultures comes from their burials (as discovered when sitting round a campfire with a bunch of archaeologists!), so it could be interesting to look at fantasy cultures from a similar viewpoint – but the question then became *which* cultures? About whom would it be most interesting to describe their death rites? Of course many adventurers are buried inside a dragon…

Comments from our backers can feed into this process too – for example the Panoply of Annem Ka took on an Egyptian flavour because someone said they wanted to see things that would fit into an Egyptian, Arabic, or Persian type milieu. It could have just as easily been Mayan or Norse in flavour – or even taken something from Shinto, if the spirits in the items were not those of once-living people.

Then we go away and write a kind of proof of concept – it’s usually the first few pages, and then notes about enough of the rest that it’s believable that it could be completed relatively easily, in the required amount of time, and to the required length. We use Google Docs for this because we can all read and edit the thing at the same time without having to worry about file locks, or working on an old version.

 

Then we wait.

 

We ask our patrons to vote on which of three pieces they would like to see – each of the three pieces will be in the state described above. Once a piece is selected it’s time to get to work. We have approximately a month to take it from ready to vote to ready to release, and whoever is the named author has the bulk of that pressure – ideally it will be expanded to full length within two weeks.

It’s at that point that the collaborative features of Google Docs come to the fore – the rest of us will read over it and add sarcastic comments, correct typos, rework sections so the grammar is clearer, and question things which aren’t clear. This can be pretty brutal, but we all know it’s going to end up with a better end result so we’re pretty thick skinned about it.

We also look for art. Sometimes pieces will come to mind when writing (most dramatically in the as yet unreleased Dream Monkeys of Antoon, which was inspired by a rather odd trend amongst 17th century Dutch artists of painting monkeys doing human jobs!), other times we will draw from stock art we have bought, or from various free sources such as Wikimedia Commons. These images can require some modification, something Ste has been doing more of recently.

We try to make sure the images (and their captions) expand on the text rather than just illustrate it – for example in the piece named Dragons, (and the freebie excerpt The Dragon and the Convent) a statue has the caption “The statue which Caron crashed into is damaged, but still stands in the main chapel as a reminder.” – this then tells you something about the decoration of the chapel and the sentimentality of the dragon Caron.

Once the first pass has been done, and we have some idea of art, I do the final layout. I have built a template, which includes the basic shape, custom fonts and whatever else. For this I use Libre Office, mostly because I know it well. I looked into other page layout tools and none of them seemed to do anything much better than a custom template on Libre Office does. (In future, Libre Office is going to have a collaborative version, so I may end up running it on a home server and working in that instead of Google Docs, but that’s not stable yet.). This usually takes a couple of passes to get right, especially if we discover at this stage that the piece is too long, too short, has too little or too much art, or the art is unhelpfully distributed – art is never finalised until this stage for that reason.

Eventually we get to the proofreading stage – Generally Ali and Ste will do this, and they don’t always spot the same errors! It’s gone through many eyes already, but typos have an infuriating way of slipping past, so inevitably there will be a few errors that creep through and need fixing after all else is done. Nowadays that’s usually less than ten, but in the early days it was far more and I used to dread having to do significant work on the layout because so many spelling or grammar oddities had changed the flow significantly!

Eventually it gets released to the backers of the Patreon via DrivethruRPG.

Now, this blog post will need to be proofread before it goes up – I wonder how many typos I’ve made…

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Changes to Patreon Fees – a response

The Changes

Patreon are changing their fee structure, as of the 18th of December – it’s simpler, but almost without fail, it’s going up. More drastically they’re moving the onus of these fees from the creators to the backers.

Currently if you back a project for a given amount you pay that much (plus VAT or similar if you’re in the EU). Patreon then take their fees out of that and pass the rest onto the creators – they take a cut, plus the card companies take a cut, and so forth, and the end result is 2-10% of the amount you pledge goes on processing fees, and Patreon take another 5% – this means 7-15% of your pledge does not go to the creators. That percentage varies depending how much you are backing in total over however many projects you back, so the precise amount a creator gets is a little bit unpredictable.

However, the new structure passes that onus onto the backers – they will now charge a flat 2.9%, plus 35¢ per pledge (plus VAT or similar in the EU). They are also keeping their 5% fee. This means the amount a creator gets is far more predictable, and that creators get the amount you say you want to pledge to them. However it also significantly raises the amount backers pay. The amount the backer pays becomes ((<pledge>+2.9%)+0.35¢)+20%, and we get <pledge>-5%.

Of course Patreon have to charge for their services – they have costs, and being a business I’m sure they would like to make a profit as well. That is in no way the issue here.

Examples

We have three backers levels, at $1, $3, and $5, so let’s use those numbers. I’ll assume VAT at 20% as it currently is in the UK (but working in US dollars because that’s what Patreon works in!). Let’s also add a theoretical $25 pledge.

Your pledge  Old system                             New system

.                       You pay        We Get             | You Pay              We Get 

$1                     $1.20            $0.85 – $0.93 |   $1.66                 $0.95

$3                    $3.60           $2.55 – $2.79   |  $4.13                 $2.85

$5                    $6.00           $4.25 – $4.65   | $6.56                 $4.75

$25                  $30             $21.25 – $23.25 | $31.29               $23.75

Now, if you back a single Patreon project for a moderate amount of money, the change is not *that* big. However if you back, say, twenty-five projects for a dollar each, you’ve just gone from spending $30 to spending $41.50 (possibly a few cents less, depending how they aggregate  and round things) – yet if it were a single pledge of $25 to one creators the increase would be $1.29, rather than $11.50!

Art – a side note

On top of this, they’re changing the way creator’s pledges work. Currently if you create a project and get money in you can spend that money on other Patreons without any processing fees – if we pledge $5 to a project for, say, art we can use in our project, the creator gets $5. They are now going to be charging creators the processing fees on those pledges too despite the fact that as it’s an internal transaction from Patreon to themselves there are no fees for them to pay!

So what do we do?

Well therein lies the problem – we don’t really know!

We are not happy about this, and do not want to reward their behaviour. Further we fear this could be the beginning of the end for Patreon and don’t want to hang around too long on a sinking ship – we have already lost some backers, and expect to lose more when people see larger bills than they are expecting come January.

There are other platforms we could use, the most important of which is Drip, which is as far as I can tell, basically Kickstarter’s answer to Patreon – if you have a Kickstarter account you can back a Drip project already, but they are only allowing creators by invite at the moment, and we don’t know when that will change. (The name is awful, but the user base makes it worth looking past that for us!).

One thing we will definitely be doing is setting up “Subscription” bundles on DrivethruRPG – essentially it works as regular bundle except that not everything in it has been released yet, and is only added when it is. We’d probably look at 3, 6 and 12 month bundles, which would be paid up front. (as a side note, these would make wonderful Christmas presents for the GM in your life!)

We have a few options:

  1. Remain on Patreon for the time being. Possibly move to Drip when it opens to the public.
  2. Set up a subscription service via Paypal. Again, look at Drip when it opens.
  3. Shut down until Drip opens. This would be more palatable if we knew when that was – a month or two would be no problem, six months would be.
  4. Move to another platform. This would likely have a far smaller user base. When we were setting up this project much of our interest came from previous Kickstarter projects, and we frequently heard “But I don’t want to set up another account on another site” or similar.
  5. Move to a donation model and releasing everything for free (with donors probably getting pieces early) – again this would be via another site, possibly Flattr.
  6. Just release pieces on DrivethruRPG and allow them to be purchased when released. Using just the bundles described above has the drawback of lumpy cash-flow, both for us and for backers – a few dollars a month is much more palatable than one lump sum and then nothing – and DrivethruRPG has fees that are comparable to Patreon’s new ones (if somewhat more honest).
  7. Something else we haven’t thought of.

We really, really need your help here, so please tell us which of the options you would like (especially when you would spend money) in the comments wherever you found this, or by following this link and filling in the form. 

In Conclusion

Patreon have made what we consider to be a grave error in this change, but we are not sure what we should do in response. We do not begrudge them taking a cut – they have costs as well – but the hike in price, especially on those who spread their generosity around the most, is probably going to do more harm than good for us, for them, and for you.

While we’ve got you…

Last week we asked about your preferred named for our coming rebranding – changing platform would appear to also be unexpectedly on the cards for that rebranding. Can we ask you to tell us which names you prefer.

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Fantastic Food

Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus by Giuseppe_Arcimboldo

Everyone’s gotta eat. Well, except the robot and the lich I guess. Most of the time food is not an interesting part of a story – it’s something that is assumed to happen, like sleeping, travelling to the next location, or repetitive practice while learning something new.

It can become interesting though if it is somehow special, or if it is not available.

If food is in short supply, starvation becomes a possibility. If lots of people are starving, there can be all sorts of repercussions – MI5 claim that Britain is only four hot meals from anarchy, and that could easily hold true in fantasy worlds, possibly an even smaller margin if people have less to lose.

If the heroes are short of food, (perhaps trapped in a desert, or a dungeon, or a… um… dreadful diner), what would happen to them? The effects of starvation are slow but potentially deadly- 8 to 12 weeks is normal, but people have survived twice that without any food. Initially fatigue and irritability set in, the the body starts to digest its own fat and muscle reserves. Before long it has to move on to internal organs, and by then even if food is made available the victim may be too weak to even try to eat, and if force fed may suffer permanent organ damage. In a heroic fantasy tale, kidney failure does not make for a good story, so under most circumstances main character will probably manage to find food before organ damage sets in.

But what about when food is available?

Usually “and the heroes eat again” is not very interesting, so much so that in D&D “Create Food and Water” is a very low level spell which solves the problem entirely so long as there’s a cleric in the party.

Sometimes, though, food matters. George R. R. Martin is famous for his descriptions of what the characters are eating, and I seem to recall David Eddings describing a meal of bacon and gruel in rather more detail than was necessary.

A special meal deserves mention, though, whether it be in The Hobbit when the dwarves all show up and eat everything in Bilbo’s larder, or the welcoming feast for the new students at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. These feasts tell us something about the characters and the situations – Bilbo is a creature of comfort who keeps plenty of food in his larder, and Hogwarts is a comfortable and welcoming place (at least on the surface).

Food can, then, tell us things. If a lord throws a banquet and everything is delicate little dishes on fine china that says something quite different to a banquet where the centrepiece is a boar the duke hunted himself, and he tears legs off geese and eats them with his bare hands. But in either case it says that this person is rich, and likes to show it off in the form of entertaining and feeding his guests. In one episode of Batman the Animated Series, the extremely fat villain is seen to always be eating, while not allowing his slaves to do the same because they should be working – unsurprisingly he gets quite satisfyingly beaten up by Batman!

Let me finish on an anecdote: I was playing in an epic level D&D game when we entered a halfling city. I decided my character wanted to buy a cake (he was a by this time recovering psychopath, and wanted to treat the party to something nice), so I went into a nearby cake shop and asked for one. The halfling baker – seeing an opportunity to fleece a rich adventurer – upped the price from about two coppers to two silvers. Not knowing anything about the value of money, I apologised and offered a rare astral diamond instead – that was about a million times more than the cake was worth, but I didn’t wait for change. Being an enterprising halfling, he invested the money in some very special equipment, and from that point on magic potions in the form of cakes have been a running joke in our games! [ED: Ginger cake is an especially good source of fire resistance]

Now, I think it’s time I went and made dinner.

p.s. If you like the way we think, take a look at our patreon

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Posted in art