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Vacant Ritual Assembly #5
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/25/2018 07:00:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the Vacant Ritual Assembly ‘zine clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC and notes on recommended files/media, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look. It should be noted that the pages are laid out in the standard 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) pamphlet style for many OSR-zines, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper – in theory. In practice, printing this one out yielded issues for all printers I used, which may be relevant to your interest. I am not penalizing the pdf for that, though.

As before, the default OSR-rules assumed herein are the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules. The content is suggested for mature audiences.

All right, we begin with an article by Judd Karlman, depicting “Koster’s Knob” – a hobbit shire depicted in an INSPIRED and gorgeous two-page isometric map by Todd Gamble, with reasonably player-friendly annotations added instead of the annoying numbers that break immersion. The map may make this worth getting – and while it looks like something straight out of picturesque Tolkien, the place has a great twist: You see, the halflings here grow (pipe)weed. Halflings that venture forth are semi-shunned, called Kosterbacks…and there is a local slang word for wizards that settle down and refuse to leave. Think about how often that must have happened for that to develop! Iron cages where the shunned and doomed are left add another, slightly sinister angle to the latent, implied arch-conservative xenophobia, and indeed, ALL points of interest on the map get read-aloud text from locals, kosterbacks and such wizards, painting a vivid picture indeed. Sample stats, brief tables for criminals, encounters, etc. are included as well. A total winner! Loved this!

Fitting and supplemental here, would be the introduction of the Pipe Arts skill, which allows spellcasters to forget prepared spells to heal – spell level times skill ranks. Cool! 3 sample weeds are provided, including silver values and unique effects.

Kathryn Jenkins presents a new LotFP-class p next, the Ritualist, who is a variant magic-user. The article has a black background and white text, just fyi. They have no spell slots and but ONE spell, which they must roll for. The idea here is to depict a more grim type of spellcasting – the class, basically, has to sell their soul, risking possession and constant loss of hit points – permanently, mind you! This is paid for with the one “spell”, soul selling, which is not presented in LotFP’s usual format and rather as a component; the article suffers a bit from calling the ritualistic magic spells, when they’re more like curses or items. We also do not get a class table or the like, so yeah – this is, presentation-wise, a bit rough and could be more precise; at the same time, I enjoy this rather…grim type of magic. For e.g. a quasi-historic/medieval low fantasy game, I’d most definite contemplate building on this engine, particularly since the sample “spells” provided net some guideline.

The next section depicts “The Synod” – a grimdark quasi-Catholic anti-version of that Church – and frankly, I liked this article. The organization and its deviations seem interesting enough to potentially warrant expansion to a full book at one point. One of the factions here would be the Sineater wolves, basically “sacred” (haha) lycanthropes drawing from a few of our lesser known and obscure pieces of real-world mythology. Beyond stats for these, we also have a nice, brief section on lycanthropy and PCs.

We close this installment with an interview with none other than James Edward Raggi IV, the man behind LotFP.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the pdf is also pretty precise, but could have done a slightly better job regarding the ritualist. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and the artworks and particularly, the cartography (by Todd Gamble!), are astounding, considering the low price point. The map this time around is bereft of immersion-breaking numbers or spoilers, which is a big plus. However, the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version represents an unpleasant comfort-detriment.

Clint Krause, Judd Karlman and Kathryn Jenkins deliver a neat little ‘zine – Mr. Karlman’s article alone makes this imho worth getting, and the ritualist could have been pure gold, had it gotten more room to develop its cool ideas; even in its current, pretty barebones state, it’s interesting and very much relevant for the right campaign. In short: While this installment of Vacant Ritual Assembly doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the previous one, it still represents a file that’s very much worth getting. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #5
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/20/2018 04:54:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Vacant Ritual Assembly ‘zine clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC and notes on recommended files/media, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look. It should be noted that the pages are laid out in the standard 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) pamphlet style for many OSR-zines, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper – in theory. In practice, printing this one out yielded issues for all printers I used, which may be relevant to your interest. I am not penalizing the pdf for that, though.

As before, the default OSR-rules assumed herein are the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules. The content is suggested for mature audiences.

We begin this issue with an article on “The Abstract” – no, not the general notion, but rather an etablissement where dope-fiends, disgraced scholars and other patrons cavort in the hazy twilight. In short, this sounds like my kind of place. Here, you can meet Albertus Crowe, leader of the esoteric Severn Circle, Gretchen Silt, the rather wealthy “whore of Sable Priory”, a man caught in the lotus-dreams of Narcosa (nice nod to Rafael Chandler et al.’s massive community project) and the dope-victim Vole, ever stumbling around on errands for his fugue masters. 8 esoteric discussion subjects and a nice artwork kinda made me actually want the place and its eclectic crowd to be real. For one pace, this is an impressive little section.

Speaking of Narcosa – we get a mini-adventure in the setting next, namely “The Lotus Eater” – to briefly discuss it, I need to go into SPOILERS. Players should skip to the Spoiler-end.

..

.

Only referees reading this? Great! So, Francolo Pennington is a young and privileged dilettante, escaping his rather overbearing family with Amber Lotus – however, his dreams have become persistent between highs, and so he fashioned himself Czar in his own narcotic dream. If you’ve played “What Remains of Edith Finch” – it’s that type of scenario, only that his physical body remains comatose and alive. In order to “free” the lad, the PCs will have to physically kill his avatar in Narcosa! We get a one-page handout (well-crafted!) and a 1-page hex-map, as the PCs explore this part of the ephemeral drug-vision land! Strange villagers, sporest of the smoke wolf (yes, with stats) and weirder things (particularly if you have the FREE Narcosa-book!) await, and we even get some rumors! The PCs, ultimately, will make their way to the Godhead Citadel, the symmetrical, head-shaped (smoke billowing from the eyes) lair of the Czar, where he makes for a nice boss. Really cool mini-adventure! While the maps don’t come with a player-friendly, key-less version, I still was rather happy with this one.

/SPOILERS.

A guest joint venture with Anxious P is up next, with the Oolai Cloth-Skins and Blackhides as two cultural traditions, where alligator priests sew magical cloth in strange rites to select few; 6 different magical effects are presented alongside 4 different drawbacks; where regular cloth-skinning leaves parts of the body exposed, Black-hiding essentially creates a warrior/killer-caste of folks sewn, from head to toe, into magical black alligator hides… 4 different prices demanded by the Oolai sewers are included. INSPIRED! I adored this grim and twisted little article. My one complaint here would be that it’d have been nice to get a suggested approximate SP-value for these…services.

After this, we take a look at another mini-hex environment, the barbarian territories, where three dreaded barbarian tribes loom; Glacierhorde, Skiverhorn and Gnashmaws. The first worship mighty Ghosthide (lavishly depicted in a great b/w-artwork!)…and much like the other tribes, we get multiple stats for members and “gods” of the tribes; for the sSkiverhorn, that would be Impalor, the Armored Death, a triceratops-y godbeast. Gaining favors from these titans is noted, as are mechanically-relevant benefits from doing so. If you’re playing e.g. “Wolf Packs and Winter Snow”, then this should be a must-have section; even if you don’t, it’s very much worth getting, ending the content section of this issue with a summa summarum verdict of all killer, no filler.

The interview this time around is with none other than David McGrogan.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are back to a more precise standard than previously. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and artworks and maps are surprisingly copious for a humble little ‘zine; as a whole, aesthetics-wise, this is pleasant indeed. The pdf has no bookmarks, however, which serves an unpleasant comfort detriment.

After the disappointing third issue, Vacant Ritual Assembly is back with a bang! Clint Krause and Anxious P deliver one amazing little ‘zine that oozes ideas and cool things in every single component. The Narcosa-adventure is suitably weird and does not suffer from last issue’s magic item inflation; stats are precise and the writing is smart – this is by far the best Vacant ritual Assembly installment I’ve covered so far, and is definitely worth checking out if the weird and outré are even remotely to your tastes. Considering that this pdf is super-inexpensive, I feel justified in rounding up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. Were it not for the lack of player-friendly versions of the maps (srsly – this has really nice ones for a ‘zine!) and bookmarks, this’d have received my seal of approval sans hesitation. Definitely recommended!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/13/2018 13:46:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Vacant Ritual Assembly ‚’zine clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC and notes on recommended files/media, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look. It should be noted that the pages are laid out in the standard 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) pamphlet style for many OSR-zines, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper – in theory. In practice, printing this one out yielded issues for all printers I used, which may be relevant to your interest. I am not penalizing the pdf for that, though.

As before, the default OSR-rules assumed herein are the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules.

The first article herein depicts the “Dragon trench”, inspired by a real life site in Missouri . the trench ostensibly was created by a dragon crashing down onto the earth with incredible force, The location features a brief introduction, a nice b/w-full-page artwork and a stylized hexcrawl map spanning two pages – the hexes use cut-outs of the cover art as a backdrop, for a weirdly artistic use of resources that I somehow ended up enjoying. A hex is noted to span 5 miles and 6 rumors and an event/weather table is provided for your convenience. The section includes a mini-bestiary of 6 creatures – fairies require that you make up effects, and there are 3 sample plants with supernatural effects, though annoyingly, no silver values for them are provided. This is particularly relevant, since one of them can prevent spell slot loss upon casting a spell, which can be super potent.

The region itself comes with 7 keyed locales noted, though these, as a whole, are pretty potent – some guy has boots of water walking, while an intelligent +3 longsword, sans drawbacks, just awaits being found. I consider this, magic-level wise, to be somewhat overkill, considering the dangers faced. Not a big fan. Furthermore, magic item formatting is inconsistent throughout the installment.

The area also contains the Dragon Clan, a legacy organization that fights the minions of The Sting, the big antagonist here. Their VERY brief write-up doesn’t tell me that much about them, and the map for the fortress they inhabit is solid. The section also introduces the falconry skill and notes stats for the critters and use in combat. Fun aspect. Stats for 4 notable knights/dames are provided, alongside stats for their squires, dubbed “The Lost Boys”, which got a chuckle out of me.

After this, we are introduced to the Thundercloud druids, the primary source the Ghoul Market (see VRA #1) has for fairy amber, an order of druids that wield a new type of flintlock musket. These druids also fabricate three types of flutes that act as spells in a can. Odd: The Play Wind skill used to activate them isn’t fully depicted, as the falconry skill is. My favorite aspect of this article would be the brief symbol language provided for Ogham. Notes for PC thundercloud druids are provided.

After this, we take a look at the timberwives, who get my favorite illustration herein – and no, the reason for this is not the exposed nipples featured here, but rather the badass, dynamic pose. They are horrific thralls to father Sycamore, neither fully human nor plant, and manage to evoke more atmosphere in their one page than any article herein before them. I liked them. Stats are provided.

The next article, based on a traumatic experience with stinging insects, includes the stats of the aforementioned lord of stinging creatures “The Sting” (not to be confused with the weird wrestler), and we get a nice map of a wilderness locale and an associated little dungeon themed around this adversary and the creatures and folks serving the being.

The final section of the pdf sports an interview with Rick Saada on the roguelike he wrote.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as tight as in previous installments, formatting is simply not as tight. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and artworks and maps are surprisingly copious for a humble little ‘zine; as a whole, aesthetics-wise, this is pleasant. The pdf has no bookmarks, which serves an unpleasant comfort detriment.

Honestly, after #1 and #2, I was rather disappointed by this installment of Vacant ritual Assembly. While Clint Krause’s imaginative potential shines through here and there, this is, as a whole, a rather vanilla experience. Now, don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy the idea of taking a childhood mythology and developing it into a location/module, but the supplement doesn’t do that compelling a job here; the innocent eyes widened in abject terror at the sight of stinging things is not truly conveyed; more hazards and terrain features/peculiarities would have done wonders there. The installment, in short, feels less refined – which can also be seen in the rules-language hiccups and omissions.

All in all, I did not get much out of this installment, though that may be different for you. However, if you do end up using this, be well aware of the rather powerful magic items littered throughout, which imho not only lack LotFP’s usually unique flavor, but which also are in no true relation to the challenges faced. As a whole, I consider this to be a rather sparse mixed bag, my final verdict clocking in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price-point and appealing aesthetics.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #2
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/19/2018 08:34:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Vacant Ritual Assembly ’zine clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/introduction/suggested reading/listening/watching, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

As before, the rules assumed here regarding OSR-system employed would be LotFP. As such, it is intended for mature audiences and has a weird/dark fantasy vibe. The pdf sports vulgarity, if you mind the like.

The pdf’s proper content begins with a d66 table of names, with male, female and family-name column provided, and family names focusing on a somewhat English/French-style: Chamberlain and d’Aguillon, for example. This is followed by a nice, painless page that depicts the different, classic zodiac signs, assigning a +1 ability score bonus and suggesting personality traits for the signs. Solid, if not exactly mind-blowing so far.

This changes immediately on the next pages: On a two-page spread, we get a top-tier, gorgeous isometric b/w-map of the forlorn fishing village Dretcher’s Bay. Seriously, I was utterly flabbergasted to see a map of this quality in a humble fanzine, and the map is annotated in a player-friendly, key-less style, thus not breaking immersion. Led by three crabber captains (who come with mugshots on the lower border of the page), the place is pretty miserable, but ties seamlessly into the next article, on carcinology, where the naturalist living in Dretcher’s Bay shares his observations on the local bell crabs and highlights the costly sea coat. And yes, aforementioned Bell Crabs get monster stats. Oh, and there is the issue of the nephropids, lobster-like humanoids that live on a nearby island, making for a further complication for the region. Scratchy pencil-artworks add an illusion of looking into a notebook, and the read-aloud text for these crunchy bits adds to this conceit. Heck, we even get a size comparison.

The next double-page spread deals with the secrets of Acray, ruins nearby, swallowed by the sea. The article mentions briefly e.g. the presence of a dolphin sorceress (alas, sans stats) and loot to be found under the sea, as well as Bell Crab icons noting where these dangerous beings can be found. This is a nice addition to Dretcher’s Bay, though here, we only get a keyed version – no player-friendly version is included, which is a bit of a pity, for the top-down map is pretty nice.

After this, we have a guest article by none other than Anxious P, known for creative and unique artworks in various OSR-supplements. Here, we learn about oarsmen and the strange fares they may demand – from years to fingernails and vitality, this section makes paying the price…interesting. This one also comes with a d66-table of various woes the oarsman may confess to. Another winner!

After this, we take a look at brief sidetrek module inspired by a LotFP-artwork, intended for low level characters: Long ago, a Cyclops roamed the world, doomed to roam the world for the sin of treason. The titular eye has very potent effects and comes with full stats as a magic item. The Cyclops, doomed, died one day, and when an insane backwater guy found the tomb with its cyclopean motifs, he managed to create a misguided pseudo-religion of sorts around it. The hillbilly-ish man has since spawned a clan (called “Behelden” – and yes, the author knows this is no word!) of devoted beings. Wandering monsters and a solid map accompany this mini-adventure, and we get stats. While a player-friendly, key-less version of the map would have been nice, I consider this to be a solid sidetrek.

The ‘zine concludes with an interview with Greg Gorgonmilk.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. The b/w layout deserves special mentioning, as does the artwork and cartography – this ‘zine is absolutely GORGEOUS and aesthetically-pleasing. The cartography of Dretcher’s Bay alone makes the low $2.00 asking price of the otherwise pretty brief ‘zine totally worthwhile. The maps are really cool, but I wished they were layered or came with player-friendly versions. Unfortunately, the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Clint Krause and Anxious P provide a surprisingly inspired installment: Anxious P’s article is great and the connected articles on Dretcher’s Bay are amazing, generating a cool, compelling atmosphere. The crunch-density increased in comparison to #1, and all without compromising the atmosphere. The adventure side-trek is slightly less amazing, but considering the extremely low price, this is absolutely worth getting if you enjoy the slightly odd. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #2
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/05/2018 06:23:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this OSR-zine for LotFP clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of introduction/editorial/recommended reading/watching, 1 page advertisement/back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, laid out for pamphlet-size (A5, 6’’ by 9’’).

The reviews of this series of ‘zines were requested by one of my patreons.

The first thing you’ll notice past the introduction is a black background, with white letters – this stark contrast ties in well with a visual element depicting a white, smeared ankh, which also is an indicator that there is an entry to the mythical ghoul market nearby, a means to access this strange hub of dark transactions, where players may not only purchase magic items, but do so by permanently lowering their ability scores – the concept noted here is “essence”, and while the pdf comments that it’s a good way to get rid of excess Charisma for power, for example, though, if your game is like mine, that may be a bad idea. The article also sports a sample stat-array for ghouls and mentions a couple of interesting pets/beings to purchase, including wind whales and ego raptors, which come with prices noted properly in silver coins, but without any mechanics to accompany e.g. the nice idea of ostrich-like egoraptors, which can “fly in short bursts. Faster than a horse.” Okay, specify. Alas, the pdf does not do that.

Nice here: The place also sports dirgists, four-armed bards that play dissonant bagpipes of ghoul bones, offering services as fortune tellers. Salves also may be purchased, and the write-up also notes fairy amber, which can be attached to items to render it magic, stacking with itself, though every subsequent addition has a chance to render the item nonmagical. This…can be kind of problematic for LotFP’s more story-driven aesthetics, rewarding lucky players with a bonus-extent that is not necessarily assumed by the math underlying the system.

Anyways, one of the coolest aspects here would be the skinsmith, a corpulent cyclopean demon that can be found here. This entity gets its own article, which no longer sports the black background. The demon hearkens to Diablo’s butcher in a way, but actually offers some services that include reviving the dead, adding replacement/additional limbs, etc. The additional limb aspect could have used a bit of clarification – does an additional arm provide an additional weapon wielding capability, for example? If so, there would have been nice ways to balance that advantage via LotFPs rules, but we don’t get this. More crunchy would be that the demon’s services to revive the dead may come with a list of 12 sample mutations/grim alterations. Cool and elegant (and studded with proper rules), the being can also carve magical tattoos, which allow for the 1/day casting of a spell as if it were regularly prepared; it may also be cast 2/day, but the second time is burns the user for minor damage and loses its potency. Only magic-user spells qualify – thankfully! Anyways, I like this, though I do believe there should be a stated limit on the amount of such tattoos a given character can have. His final service would be the preparation of artisanal cadavers.

The next article depicts Vespero, the antiquarian, who receives a surprisingly amazing b/W-full-page artwork. This fellow is basically a magic item peddler bearing the accoutrements of a plague doctor, which is pretty damn cool imagery. He also comes with a handy GM-work-sheet to track stock, and his presence interacts with how settlements behave regarding purchasing opportunities – no complaints here, I really enjoyed this fellow. While we don’t get stats for the vendor, considering his role, I’m good with that.

We once more return to the black background with a white text, with a one-page article depicting Luminari, Lady of the Golden Lamp, a deity that resembles a firefly with human arms; lamp maidens follow the bidding of the being, and it is said, she can guide you into the dark recesses of the forest. This brief article comes with stats for a being that may be a servant of the entity itself…and it is creative, sports great use of evocative prose and is really fun to read. I can see her, coming down to drink the fire… Really potent stuff.

Next up is a brief low-level adventure, “Brahnwick is dead”, which takes place in the fully mapped thorp of Sylvan Lake. Huge kudos: We get a player-friendly map here!! That is a big plus, so you actually can print out one map. Heck, the houses of interest similarly are fully mapped, going beyond what I expected to find here (though here, we don’t get a key-less, player-friendly iteration). The module is basically a mini-sandbox that takes place in a village in the throes of madness, where looting goes on a damn has burst. It is a nice, free-form setpiece that is easy to integrate without much fuss. It didn’t blow me away, but the maps mean that it’s easy to quickly prepare and spontaneously run.

The next 4 pages sport a fantastic artwork on one page and use the remainder of the space t conduct an interview with Chris McDowall, creator of the “Into the Odd”-game (review forthcoming). The final article is a DIY manor – it’s fully mapped with a keyed, but no key-less version, and sports a worksheet that you can quickly fill out. Handy!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, I noticed no glaring formal issues, though the rules-language components for some of the evocative concepts could have been tighter. Layout is definitely remarkable. This magazine looks surprisingly professional and the artworks and impressive maps make this one of the best-looking ‘zines I’ve read so far. That being said, I had issues printing this with 3 different printers, until I finally caved and reviewed it basically from the pdf. That was a bit of a bummer. Speaking of which, the pdf, alas, sports no bookmarks, which is a comfort detriment.

Clint Krause’s first VRA-installment is a pleasant surprise, as far as I’m concerned. It is a very stylish, neat little installment that sports quite a few fantastic, dark fantasy/horror-ish elements that are pretty evocative. The prose, as a whole, must be considered to be an impressive feat, though I couldn’t help but feel that a slightly tighter focus would have benefited the pdf. I wanted to see more on that butchering demon, more on the ghoul market, more on luminary… you get the idea. I do enjoy that this is unpretentious and irreverent in that it suggests stuff to hack and references other books, mirroring the DIY-aspect of OSR-gaming sans compromising presentation-quality. As a whole, I consider this to be a success, and the installment is available for PWYW. And know what? This is very much worth leaving a tip for. While it’s somewhat brief, it’s worth taking a look at if you enjoy dark and weird fantasy. It’s not necessarily a milestone, but even if you dislike all of the content, I wager you’ll still appreciate the surprisingly nice cartography. All in all, I consider this to be worth checking out, and taking PWYW into account, I consider this to be well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #6
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/23/2017 02:00:31

Original review on the blog.

Vacant Ritual Assembly #6 delivers flavorful and thematic content for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP). Or other OSR games. It is choke-full of grisly locations, adventures, encounters, and factions. And it comes with an interview that introduced me to another interesting old school game.

Spoiler Alert!

First, you'll get Grigoro's Wonders Untold. It is a traveling circus full of weirdos. It comes with some background info that could add plot hooks for your players. But nothing very obvious. You have orange siamese yeti, a demon that is charmed by human society and the enslaved ghost of the owner.

Next is an island adventure by Kathryn Jenkins called From Dunnholt It Rises. It has a dark tone and horror theme with the plague, rats, witches and an island's heart that can be eaten. I like the two evil factions that play against each other: the witches vs. The Good Doctor. But the adventure looks very linear, so that is a downside.

Then there is a campaign hook plus a faction that players can join. Again of the macabre vein. The Gallows on Heretic Hill and A Light in the Black detail an interesting in-world-justification for "resurrecting" players as undead agents. That helps mitigate the mortality of old school games. And it offers a way to send players on missions for the faction, the Noosefriars.

You'll also get a mansion crawl by Kreg Mosier, Death Planted the Esther Tree. I love the pretty maps and the adventure premise. A cursed demon tree that was once the household's daughter and now wants revenge. There is also a curious illness: the Ebonwood Rot which transforms you into an Ebonwood Tree. It would be devious to confront your players with this...

The zine also features some monsters and weird encounters: The Grimsly Hill Cherubs and The Lathnos Sugar Cane Crop (by Anxy P.).

Every issue of VRA has an interview. I know that some people have no interest in that. But I found them mostly worth reading. This one has a conversation with Emmy Allen. She wrote a game that was unknown to me. Wolf-packs and Winter Snow is a prehistoric fantasy game with influences of LotFP, Warhammer Fantasy and ACKS (Adventurer Conqueror King System). It also has random world generation. That sounds mighty alluring to someone like me, so I'll need to check it out.

Look'n'Feel

The paper quality is much better, one of my main gripes with VRA. Layout, font choice, boxed text make this easy to read. Nice artwork round up the appealing production. Like many zines, this is not a fancy art book but a good looking minimalist booklet nonetheless.

tl;dr

VRA zines are always a delightful read of the bizarre and gruesome kind. This issue lives up to the high quality of the previous copies. It even has more content than before.

Even if you don't use all the material, there is something you could use. I find that most entries are easy to insert into your campaign if you like the tone.

P.S. Reviews of previous issues can be found here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #6
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Don't Walk in Winter Wood
by Lars L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/10/2016 14:00:45

Nice, to the point. Minimalistic horror. Reminds me of Dread and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Don't Walk in Winter Wood
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Don't Walk in Winter Wood
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2016 10:48:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of credits/thanks/reference, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is this? The simple answer would be that this is a cooperative, narrative, rules-light HORROR game set in a vaguely colonial setting in the United States. Society is one of rough and closely-knit, often isolated communities. Superstitions run wild and even well-meant belief may seem barbarous to us. Transportation is still mainly defined by equestrian means and print books are rare and expensive. AT night, it is still candles that are used to pierce the dark. Against said backdrop of, quite literally, dark times, there is the village. On its east side, there is the Winter Wood...and pretty much everyone agrees that its strange, unseasonal cold is not natural. The perpetual fog, its nature as unexplored and the people going missing - all of these mean that it is a place usually not visited.

Children grow up with folklore pertaining said dread wood - the first would be supplemented by Indian legends, underlined by e.g. The Algonquin Legends of New England, and war chiefs may still haunt this place. Similarly, the cowardice of erstwhile settlers may have brought the ire of a woman scorned, deprived of her husband upon the place - strange, legless apparitions and vanished women do not bode well...

The sad tale of Nelly Anderson supposedly has her taken by a strange crone of clouds and changing eye-colors; the purported Roe Witches, caught, according to statements, in some pagan rites and thus executed, replaced with effigies...deer with wolf-like, sharp teeth...and then there would be the soothsayer Caleb, who averted calamity from the village, only to give his life...consorting with a strange trophy...

Within the forest, there is a hole, which may lead to hell...and there was a strange tendency and occurrence of a grave robber paying dearly for his crime. A strange, horribly mutilated, perhaps undead bear, Scarfang...and, of course, wars and skirmishes among the colonial powers have also cast a dark shadow on this land. The chittering tress and a tale of cannibalism and, purportedly, eternal youth...and Mr. Buglesuede...the grey wolves and the dread meadow in the midst of the foreboding woods...oh, and those ghosts on the Indian hill... it is not wise to thread where so much darkness gathered...

The village does have a series of entries pertaining folk wisdom: Red thread around the throat of women does supposedly cloak them from evil. White grass supposedly kills you, inciting horrible hunger; doors are warded with iron nails or crucifixes and there is a secret sign to ward versus evil...of pagan origin, some belief. Similarly, the burial customs sport silver coins under the tongue and separate paths are taken home after burials. Of course, children's games are about dares here...but is it smart to recite the rhyme about the women of Roe?

So this would be the basic set-up - complex, evocative and suitable dark. How do you play it: Well, you have two types of players: The Walkers, each of which controls a single character. The second type would be the Watcher, who is basically the GM of the group. You need one six-sided die per player and some sort of object you can use as tokens. That's it. Regarding atmosphere, a dark place, slightly cold, is obviously ideal.

Character creation is dead simple: Make up a name, concept, motive - there you go. As a default, actions are described in the past tense and 3rd person, thus making it akin to the cooperative telling of a story. Whenever a character comes across something frightening or harmful, he hands the walker a cold token. Entering the wood nets you cold token #1. To determine whether you encounter something and for conflict resolution, the basic system is easy: You roll the d6 and compare it to the cold tokens you have: If you roll more than the cold tokens held, your result may become less pleasant - in short, this does mean that things escalate further, increasing the pace in the latter stages of a game. Upon gaining 6 or more cold tokens, you are taken out. And that's it. As simple as can be, right? Yep, but also deceptively efficient.

The game continues to provide a section on building proper scenarios for the game - these steps are simple and contain the notion to build a premise, then the woods, mood and climax of resolution. Sound advice regarding the generation of folkloric fear (subtlety is king, my friends, and so is the rule of omission) bespeaks an obvious knowledge regarding how to run evocative horror. (Fyi: A solid b/w-conceptual map of the area's provided.)

The pdf also features ready-to-play scenarios, which focus on saving a girl from a witch's curse, strange lights in the woods (love that one's antagonist(s), but won't spoil it here; there's also a gory take on a classic creature's haunting from American mythology; there are foolish kids, seeking to steal totems..The sample scenarios with their details mean that, basically, you can just take this pdf and play sans any preparation.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard in b/w and the book is intended for A5 (9'' by 6'') in size, so you'll rather have a booklet-style offering. The pdf's artwork is thematically-fitting photo-montage-ish artwork I enjoyed. The pdf has 3 rudimentary bookmarks, but I'd strongly suggest printing this out - navigating this in its electronic iteration can be distracting and none too comfortable.

Clint Krause, with additional material by Daniel Bayn, Jason L Blair, Rafael Chandler, Jeremy Keller, Daniel Moler and Jason Morningstar, has created a ridiculously simple, amazing little game that shows that horror needs no vast rules. This game is simple, works amazing as a means to show non-roleplayers how amazing RPGs can be, understands its genre and generates a truly evocative, disturbing atmosphere. The fact that you can play it literally with one die, if you want to, makes it a perfect companion for urban exploration or trips in the wilderness...or spontaneous games on days like Halloween, amidst the darkness... You can explain the rules in less than a minute and a watcher who has read this book (and has a good memory) can literally run the game without a book! Handing off, deliberately, slowly, a cold token can be nerve-wracking and the various ideas presented should carry a ton of games.

This is as simple as it gets and as efficient as it gets. This understands proper horror. An awesome, inexpensive little game - 5 stars + seal of approval. Get this!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #5
by Eric F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/11/2016 14:41:53

Right out of the gate Red Moon Medicine Show continues to impress me with their Lamentations of The Flame Princess fanzine, Vacant Ritual Assembly issue #5 which is going to be the last one for awhile now. At least until Klint Crouse and his crew decide to do another issue. So let's dive right into the pdf of this issue. This is a pretty jam packed issue with lots of factions and content the pdf is perfectly timed out to use and drop right into the deep end of your Lamentations games.

Issue #5 Includes:

New Artwork from Jeremy Duncan, Aaron Hamric, Olli Hihnala, Sean Poppe, and Xolis

Koster's Knob: A ready-to-use halfling village by Judd Karlman.

Weedwise Wizarding: An accounting of the Knob's more popular strains of pipe weed. New "Pipe Arts" skill.

The Ritualist: A new LotFP character class framework by Kathryn Jenkins.

Unholy Inversion of Hope: A grimdark, psuedo-Catholic religion from my campaign.

The Sineater Wolves: A heretical order of lycanthropic monks. Rules for lycanthropy.

On The Raggi: An interview with James Raggi IV, author of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

This fanzine is like a shot in the arm of old school Pre code horror comics fun and games for a Lamentations of the Flame Princess blended with a fine coating of David Lynch and Mario Bava splatter punk sensibilities. This is followed by a ready to drop in Halfling village for your campaigns and its a quality adventure setting piece. I don't want to spoil it but its very nicely done. Weedwise wizarding is that herbal gardening and popular pass time of the Halflings including new skills, strains, and high weirdness for LoFP this is another thing that Dragon Magazine sort of hinted about. But here the adult pass times of the Halflings are revealed. The Ritualist is a welcome addition to the pseudo historical and Gothic brand of adventuring of LoFP but could work in other old school OD&D style games. There plenty of room here to twist and bend this class to your home games to make it work but I liked what I saw. The Unholy Inversion of Hope is a shot in the arm and a very grim and nasty piece of pseudo Catholic styling of a religion. The piece drips with lots of potential to be a giant factional pain for characters and PC's. There's also plenty of fodder here for further NPC's and adventure hooks. These are guys your going to love to hate.

I absolutely love the Sin Eater Wolves! Finally some decent rules for Lycanthropy and a heretical order of monks to boot! I'm a werewolf kinda guy and and this faction really hits the spot. There is enough adventure meet on the bones to really bring these guys home and with a bit of work they can be a perfect addition to a Red and Pleasantland campaign. Lots of adventure fodder and further bits of wonderfulness to add into any old school OD&D style game. This for me was one of the highlights of issue five. Another interview with James Raggi and a nice in depth piece on the creator of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I honestly have to say that Full Moon continues to produce some of the best pieces of gaming material for Lamentations outside of official releases from Raggi and company. Five out of five stars for a very well put together fanzine that you can use all kinds of horror related LofP or OSR games.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #5
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The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/27/2015 20:08:28

The anachronism... it burns. This location reads/is mapped like a mansion out of Jane Austen, not something for the LotFP timeframe, let alone something that'd work with any sort of typical OSR renaissance/medieval/ancient fantasy.

On a more minor note, the spatial relation of the eight levels and dozenish outdoor features is left to be inferred from the details of the keys, which end up unclear. It could have used a half page or so describing the overall arrangement of the spaces, which would be a reasonable replacement for the wasted "blank page to track monster hit points". The second-lowest level has a layout that reads like a d&d convention, rather than having any clear relation to the narrative reason for the existence of that level. There's also a completely unexplained mystery in the second-to-last location (#50); there's no motivation, no viable cause within the bounds of the module for why that event happened 10 years ago or presents itself to modern explorers in the way it does. This reeks of authorial laziness.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/07/2015 22:29:49

Vacant Ritual Assembly is an OSR (primarily Lamentations of the Flame Princess) focused ‘zine published by Red Moon Medicine Show. They are done in B&W and provide a mixture of house rules, inspiration, adventures, maps and interviews.

Issue 1 starts with some house rules and recommendations for inspirational reading/ viewing/ listening. Next is the ghoul market, where all sorts of interesting (and occasionally distressing) items are for sale, two of the inhabitants of the market (the Skinsmith, who rebuilds flesh, and Vespero the Antiquarian, a fixer) are described in greater detail. A handout for Vespero’s shop in the market is provided as well. A petty god, Luminari, Lady of the Golden Lamp, gets a brief but evocative description. The adventure locale of the drowned village of Brahnwick is presented with maps of the area and surviving building. An interview with Chris McDowall, author of Into the Odd is included. And it concludes with a map and blank key to Greycandle Manor.

Overall, a good collection on interesting resources and you can sample it inexpensively as it is Pay What You Want.

All of the issues of VRA have interesting and inspirational material, while light on rules they provide a wide range of old school wackiness and adventure which should be usable in any game (though requiring a bit more work to adapt to something like Pathfinder).

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/07/2015 22:26:37

Vacant Ritual Assembly is an OSR (primarily Lamentations of the Flame Princess) focused ‘zine published by Red Moon Medicine Show. They are done in B&W and provide a mixture of house rules, inspiration, adventures, maps and interviews.

Issue 3 starts with an introduction, table of contents and recommendations for inspirational reading. Most of the material in this issue centers around the wilderness of the Dragon’s Trench area (the history behind which is quite delightful) including several organizations (heroic and villainous), multiple places to explore, new monsters and a full dungeon in the Grand Vespiary. An interview with Rick Saada, programer of the roguelike Castle of the Winds 2 concludes the issue.

The Legend of the Dragon’s Trench provides a lot of potential play either as straight exploration adventure or a major part of a campaign setting. It is a very fun read and many strange ideas to be used or adapted.

All of the issues of VRA have interesting and inspirational material, while light on rules they provide a wide range of old school wackiness and adventure which should be usable in any game (though requiring a bit more work to adapt to something like Pathfinder).

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #2
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/07/2015 22:25:48

Vacant Ritual Assembly is an OSR (primarily Lamentations of the Flame Princess) focused ‘zine published by Red Moon Medicine Show. They are done in B&W and provide a mixture of house rules, inspiration, adventures, maps and interviews.

Issue 2 starts with n introduction, table of contents, recommendations for inspirational reading/ viewing/ listening. The resources begin with a table of names, then a simple astrology table for characters. Then we arrive at Dretcher’s Bay, where monster crabs are hunted among underwater ruins and strange creatures prowl, an excellent place for adventure and treachery (with two maps). An article on the Oarsmen and their unique ability to travel along with a random table of woes that drive them on follows. A short adventure, With Thine Eye Beheld, introduces a crazed cyclops-worshiping family cult, appropriately disturbing. Lastly, an interview with Greg Gorgonmilk about his Dolmenwood project wraps up this issue.

Another useful collection of bits and bobs with Dretcher’s Bay useful for either a quick adventure locale or as part of an extended campaign.

All of the issues of VRA have interesting and inspirational material, while light on rules they provide a wide range of old school wackiness and adventure which should be usable in any game (though requiring a bit more work to adapt to something like Pathfinder).

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #2
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The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2015 04:20:27
http://dieheart.net/stygian-garden/

Clint Krause from Red Moon Medicine Show has impressed me in the past with his weird OSR fanzine Vacant Ritual Assembly (reviews here: http://dieheart.net/?s=vacant+ritual+assembly). The issues are creepy and strange and full of inspirational material for a small price. It’s one of my favorite zines and definitely worth a look if you like spooky old-school stuff.

Now he has written an adventure: The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem is a module for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) and similar retro-clones. A haunted house and its surroundings serve as a location for a creepy venture for low-level characters. Apparently this was a Kickstarter which was funded successfully in early 2015.

Please note: I received a review copy of the softcover print and a PDF from the author. This is a reading review, I haven’t played the module. And it contains SPOILERS!

First, let me say that I am not familiar with LotFP. I neither have read the game nor any adventures that were written for it. Thus, I can’t compare it to other works which are geared towards the European 17th-century horror feel of the game.

Having said that, with The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem Mr. Krause manages to convey a tone of strangeness and baroque bizarreness which should be in tune with LotFP. This is where this product shines and which makes it different from standard EDO-fantasy. The color of this module is mostly evident in the descriptions of the monsters. Many of them sound like they sprung from a faerie nightmare: the gigantic Grandfather Toad, Archer Cherubs made from stone, a plant called Stranglecreeper, the Marble Knight, acid-spitting Gargoyles and more. Still, there is some humor to be found in the forgotten manor: shitting goats, buzzard dandies or cheeky statues.

The product starts off with an introduction of Abelia Prem, a noblewoman who was obsessed with finding the mystical Stygian Rose but who suffered from dementia in her last years. There is a rumor table to get the players started.

The adventure consists of three main locales: the Manor itself, the Grounds and the Stygian Garden.

The book is organized according to these locations. There are several maps with map keys and corresponding entries. The maps look modern and are easy to read. They are of a more digitized aesthetic and not so much of the old-school variant (i.e. the maps of msjx). There is also a very nice illustration by Todd Gamble of the Manor Grounds which gives you a good overview about the locale. To my delight, there is also a player version so you can show that to your table without spoiling anything. At the end of the book, there is a separate bestiary which repeats the monster stats and also a page for tracking monster HP. That’s very nifty. As a nice gimmick, the product closes with an In Memoriam where you can write down PCs that died. I also like the appendix with Abelia Prem’s plants. The map entries are well written and I like that the author used bold text for important bits (monsters, items, points of interest). It doesn’t save you from reading the module carefully, but it doesn’t look like you’ll accidently slip too much GM information in most cases.

Where The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem falls short for me is its logical progression which is probably due to the premise of being location-based. In most cases, PCs will start roaming the Manor as an entry point and then continue through the Grounds to the Garden. You can leave out locations but for closure you’ll presumably progress/crawl till the riverbank (A -> B -> C). Personally, I’m more a fan of modularity but a location-based module has physical restraints.

My next criticism ironically goes into the opposite direction: There are some “shortcuts” which will bring the PCs faster to their goal but which will make them miss out some of the most interesting sites of the adventure (at least if they don’t double back and explore everything).

On the other hand, what I really like about the ending of the module is that there are different possibilities about the river and the rose, it doesn’t need to be the river Styx and there doesn’t need to be a Stygian Rose. Mr. Krause included a simple table to roll on or you can decide.

Visually, the product is finely put together. It’s a neat softcover with 24 pages in half-letter size (pocket sized, feels most similar to A5). The cover looks neat although I’m not sure who the lady is supposed to be. Perhaps Abelia Prem in younger years? The interior artwork (black & white) is also impressive.

tl;dr

Altogether, The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem is a compelling module with a very good setting and tone. I’m not sure if I can judge this objectively because I already have a high opinion of Clint Krause from reading his previous works. I have some minor quibbles but nothing severe. Depending on how much the PCs want to explore and how many random encounters you want to throw in, this should give you and your players several hours to sessions of fun. For what it’s worth, I totally recommend this product even if you’re not into LotFP (like I am). While it’s a bit eerie, it doesn’t try to shock or disgust you but lures you in with its strangeness.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/30/2015 03:23:29
http://dieheart.net/vra-zine-four/

This 22-pages-magazine is written with Lamentations of the Flame Princess in mind and thus contains weird and gothic horror stuff. I’m a subscriber of the zine and so far I have been impressed by the quality of the work.

The zine begins with an editorial, a campaign update of Krause’s group and some media recommendations (i.e. the From the Vats adventure by Gavin Norman).

The Abstract describes a strange drug den hangout with some weird occupants.

ALBERTUS CROWE Crowe is the charismatic leader of the Severn Circle, a fraternal order of occultists and mages who lurk throughout the realm. Crowe is the author of an influential grimoire entitled The Last, Most Glorious Fuck, a controversial sex-magic autobiography […] For me, this was mostly a fun read and nothing I could use immediately at the table.

The next item is the gem of this issue: The Lotus Eater, a small adventure inspired by Rafael Chandler’s Narcosa setting book. This is a great plug-in module as the players will be transported into a parallel realm. There is a hook which draws the players in and then they can encounter strange things in The Domain of the Cruel Lotus Czar. There is the Smoke Wolf who resides in the a sporest (spore forest) and the Godhead Citadel, a small dungeon within a stone head. So strange! The dungeon is a bit static but all in all, the adventure is pretty neat. I like how the players can cleverly incorporate background information into the solution to this quest.

Next up is a guest post from Anxious P. called The Oolai Cloth-Skins and Dragon Blackhide Bastards which describes the strange mystical practices of the Oolai People who weave fabric onto their children which give them special powers. Interestingly, the author provided a method for the PCs to get access to the cloth-skins, too as there are shunned practitioners who sell their services to foreigners.

Another strong entry is Furious Gods, a small hex map with three barbarian tribes. They worship entities like a Ghost Ape or Impalor, the Armored Death, a giant dinosaur triceratops (!). The Gnashmaw tribe keep velociraptors as cattle (?). There are guidelines for playing as one of the barbarian tribes and stat blocks for the trips and their champions.

Finally, we have an interview with David McGrogan. He is the mastermind behind Yoon-Suin, an oriental old school setting book (which is genius!). The interview was interesting to read because he explained how Yoon-Suin came to be, about game prep, about how he writes and more. I really find McGrogan’s view on world-building fascinating perhaps because it aligns a bit with my own.

TL;DR

Another great issue of a weird old school fanzine. There is a lot of inspirational material as well as things you can use in your campaign. Again, this is for those of us who like grotesque and eccentric stuff. If you like straightforward fantasy without gonzo elements this might not be your cup of tea.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
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