Last Updated: June 28, 2022
In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss sentient items in tabletop RPGs. We look at the rules for sentient/intelligent items in DnD and Pathfinder, and we discuss why and how you should bring these items into your game in a way that’s fun without being disruptive.
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Materials Referenced in this Episode
- RPGBOT.Podcast Episodes
- DnD 5e
- Pathfinder 2e
- Gamemastery Guide (affiliate link)
- Other Stuff
- Critical Fails Episode 37 – Getting Whomped
- Dr. Marten’s Boots
- Easy Roller Dice (affiliate link)
The skirmish was swift and brutal, leaving blood-stained steel gleaming in the torchlight. You step over the dead catching your breath weapon held loosely in your grip. What were those beasts protecting so fervently you can see it now, lying upon a makeshift altar of broken flag stones and fragments of wood. A sword, clearly ancient with an ornate hilt, emblazoned with long forgotten sigils. Dust cakes the blade, though its edge is unmarred, likely as sharp as the day it was forged. An enchanted sword you realize clearly born of esoteric sorcery. You reached for it, then hesitate. Such a mighty gift left here, untouched for so long. Its guardians lie dead. You ear out a breath and snatch the weapon from its resting place. “Hello,” it says. You immediately dropped the sword. It clatters to the ground with a ring of steel. “Come now,” the sword intones in your mind. “You took me up, now I’m yours. Where shall we go? What shall we do? It’s been so very long since I’ve ventured beyond these crumbling ruins.” This description is called An Itelligent Weapon by dScryb. Describe your world. Follow the link dScryb.com/rpgbot and use the code RPGBOT5 for $5 off your first purchase.
Welcome to the RPGBOT dot Podcast. I’m Randall James, your rare awakened podcast microphone and with me is Tyler Kamstra.
and Ash Ely.
All right, Tyler, what’s happening?
Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics in dungeon fantasy games: we’re going to talk about intelligent weapons. Well, intelligent items more generally. So very frequently, you will find these as weapons, which is why people always go straight to weapons. But intelligent items are a roleplaying tool and a game mechanic that most people completely overlook in games like D&D and Pathfinder. You might go your entire career and never see one of these items, which I think is a terrible tragedy. So today, we’re going to give people some help with how to work these items into your game, why you might do that, what the benefits are, and how to do it without causing problems.
Awesome. Yeah, I think you highlighted a really awesome section from the PF2 Gamemastery Guide, and I think it’s almost worth opening up with because I think it really opens the eyes to like, what is the power of bringing a sentient item into your game?
Yeah, absolutely. So so I’m going to read this word for word because someone smarter than me wrote this down for us. “Introducing an intelligent item is an effective way to subtly alter the party dynamic. An intelligent item works well when its personality makes it a natural complement or foil for its partner, the PC investing holding or otherwise interacting with the item. An intelligent item that can communicate only with that particular PC is also a great way to engage players who are a bit quieter, or those slower to speak in a scene where all the PCs can talk to a particular NPC. Due to their inherently limited agency intelligent items are less of a risk for stealing the spotlight than other NPCs who travel along party.” Like, that neatly summarizes it. Like, it is in a lot of ways an NPC with very, very limited capacity to act, to communicate, and otherwise to cause problems.
Yeah, I think that where I want to go immediately is let’s talk about Gollum and the ring.
Yeah, that’s a good comparison. So Gollum is a good example of an NPC in the party. Like, they are free to come and go and, and Gollum frequently does. They’re free to do anything that a creature with a body can do. They have their own will, they have their own goals, and that frequently conflicts with the party and, like, in any given challenge, the party could reasonably be like, “Hey, we’ve got our Gollum NPC right here, why don’t we just make him solve this problem for us? Because he’s clearly better equipped than the party.”
For, like, climbing walls and looking for fishes?
But, but there’s a certain amount of trust because ultimately, like, that creature can attack, it can do great harm. Versus if we take the ring as like a semi-sentient item. It does have a will of its own. There is some desire that it has and it grant skills to its bearer. But the party doesn’t have to worry about the ring of the same way the party has to worry about Gollum and in interactions with, with other NPCs the ring is much less likely to ruin that interaction versus Gollum asking what’s in his pocket says
yeah, and the other thing about the ring is, it is… So I guess we have to describe what we mean by intelligent weapons because there can be, like, sentient weapons and intelligent weapons, I think. So like, a sentient thing has, like you said, a will of its own but doesn’t necessarily have a voice or talk, it just has a will and an agenda. But like an intelligent item might be able to talk. From my mind, I feel like for that a better example would be Jarvis before he became Vision in, you know, Iron Man. He was constantly talking back and forth with with Johnny Depp. He is an intelligent AI, but the concept is essentially still the same.
Johnny Depp? Did I said, Oh my god, I meant Robert Downey Jr. I got Johnny Depp on my mind because of the friggin trial.
No, that’s awesome. There’s this moment where I’m imagining the Iron Man suit, doing the like the drunk walk. “But you have heard of me” and it’d be great. Yeah.
Stupid Amber Herd trial.
One other thing I want to comment: you talked about, like, this intelligent item having the ability to speak. Quin-gon Jinn taught me that the ability to speak does not make you intelligent.
True. That is true. But it’s, like, I guess it sounds better and nicer than just talkie weapon. Or… talkative.
I guess, at least in 5e, that’s a real thing, right? Like, you have to have an intelligence of 3? 5? 7?
I think it’s like six. I’m pretty sure apes… Apes have an intelligence of five. And I think they’re, like, the smartest thing that doesn’t speak a language. There are a couple of creatures that have lower intelligence that understand a language but can’t speak.
Like dogs. I think they are all magical dogs, now that I think about it,
Like a blink dog?
Tyler has a blink dog.
I sure do. And we might hear him barking on one of our audio feeds tonight.
Perhaps more than one. So some other cool examples of, like, sentient or intelligent items in… let’s go, like, broad media. Because I think one of the things that we can do both as players and as Game Masters is, is think about, how do these things impact the stories that we love? And then are those the things that we want to bring into our game? Can we leverage the same techniques to make what we’re doing interesting in our own tabletop games?
Yeah, so there’s a lot of great examples we can draw from various media. Video games are probably a good, accessible example. The the first one I came up with when we were writing down notes for this episode was the sword in Skyward Sword. Because you have this weird spirit woman who pops out of the hilt of your sword to give you hints. And they, they very clearly wrote that character because they’re like, Okay, people were really annoyed by Nani inmmm
Ocarina of Time.
Thank you. Goodness. People were really annoyed by Navi saying “Hey, listen” all the time. So what if we, instead of just having her say “Hey, listen,” what if she also forcibly paused the game?
And made you take the hint?
It’d be a lot better.
So… boy, awful execution. But the concept of like this, this intelligent thing, lives in your sword can give you hints on how to like, here’s how you use all of your items, especially the sword, but otherwise doesn’t really have any way to interact with the world. Decent example, kind of rough execution.
And I will say, though, that, in my mind is a fantastic reason for a Game Master to bring in an intelligent item. So I know I do this all the time. I think it’s a pretty common trope, right? The NPC as the voice of the DM, you know, I don’t want to literally just give everything to you. So I’m just going to have somebody come along. And if you find yourself struggling, like this thing is gonna you know, like the old Wizard who doesn’t actually do anything doesn’t help during combat is going to pick his head up occasionally would be like, Oh, I remember a factoid that will help us here and it’s great. Thanks, DM, and we get to move on, by by by GM fiat. I say that to say like they’re doing the exact same thing. You are going to get stuck. You’re gonna forget the particular mechanics, so if you fail this three times, I’m going to make this word spirit come out stall you for 30 seconds and you’re gonna hate it.
Yeah, or if you know that your party is going to make some bad decisions, you could just have a web and go “hey, that seems like a really bad idea.”
“Did anybody forget the lava? You all forgot the lava, didn’t you?”
So there’s some there’s some other, like, less in-your-face examples. The Borderlands game franchise has a few weapons that will talk to you and I realized we’re talking dungeon fantasy. So the crazy space madness that is Borderlands, kind of a weird comparison. But there’s at least one gun in, I think, Borderlands two that generally complains about your behavior and just tells you you’re bad at every opportunity. The sole purpose of this weapon is for comedic relief. It’s a decent gun when you get it if I remember right, but it’s like, if you were better at this, you wouldn’t need to reload and other such advice.
Well, it’s not such a terrible example. Because Borderlands did come out with Tiny Tina’s wonderlands, which is basically D&D, but as told by Tiny Tina, so…
I still have to look into that one.
It’s weird. It’s weird.
I don’t know if it’s on the list. It’s on a list.
Yeah. But it’s a it’s a good example of an item that has like very limited function, it is intelligent, the players will get some novelty out of it. And, like, in in D&D, you might reasonably carry that around for a super long time. And every once in a while you’re like, Okay, we need to solve this one problem. Ugh, we’re gonna have to deal with the the intelligent chime of opening that tells us that we’re bad every time we have to pick a lock.
Like, it doesn’t have to come up all the time. But you’ve always got that there is a storytelling device in the back pocket. So if you as the DM are just like, I really want to pull this out to bother the players just put a door in front of them, but they can’t pick for some reason.
I actually have a story about this. Because when I was writing my evil campaign, I let people pick a very rare item if they wanted to. But in exchange, that item would be cursed, and I wouldn’t tell them what the curse was. So for my friend, he wanted this really powerful weapon, I forget what it was. But basically, what I came up with was that, well, me and Colby, because we were writing at the same time, was that every time he missed an imp would appear on his shoulder and talk and talk smack about him about how bad he was. It really started to irritate him. And I was just like “you wanted this. You agreed to this.”
You can put it down. You can walk away,
Yeah, you could just leave the sword. And he didn’t use that sword a lot as a result. It was a really good sword.
You know you’re going to the boss fight, it finally comes out of the bag of holding. Yep, awesome. Yeah, I had a similar item. So Azuredge is a intelligent item, brought up in Waterdeep Dragonheist. I ran a game in that setting, but I did not run that module. But I brought Azuredge in. One of the things that Tyler read to us earlier from the PF2 Gamemastery Guide, was this idea that if you have a particular character, or I shouldn’t say character, a particular player, who isn’t as likely to speak. A great way to get them in on the conversation and kind of motivate them to speak, give them the opportunity where otherwise they’d probably rather just sit back and let other people drive things is to give them a sentient weapon. So I did this, and if anything was important came up, I tended to run it through that player, or through that player character in this case. But more generally, I used the sentient item to constantly heckle the party every chance I got. So it was kind of a double edged sword. It was an axe, but it was a double edged axe.
Very funny. Very funny.
That’s what I’m here for. And yeah, it was wonderful to both, like, drive getting that player more engaged on a regular basis, as well as occasionally just, you know, give crap to the players.
I remember that item. That was a lot of fun. The lawful good sentient item in the party of chaotic neutral murder hoboes.
Yeah, it was 100% a murder hobo set where their mission was to save Waterdeep from the zombie apocalypse. And they weren’t into it. Like they were going along, but it wasn’t necessarily their big thing. So then have having this item be like “look, I’m really powerful. And I would like to save the city. I think that’d be pretty cool.” Yeah, it was definitely helpful. Okay, so I want to pull out my favorite intelligent item of all time. The electric potato herself. Glados.
That’s another excellent example.
Like, I you know, okay, I’m gonna I’m gonna throw it two out here because I really I feel like they’re the same character just at different points in their life. Cortana and Glados, right?
Yeah, they’re both AIs.
They’re voices driving the characters actions and occasionally driving them crazy.
Yeah, that’s a really good comparison. Like, the… While they are with the player, they have extremely limited agency. Like they can talk they can offer insight and opinions. They have a personality. They have goals. But basically they can and do anything on their own because they don’t have body. But yeah, the like, those, those two AI’s are both generally considered more intelligent than the player.
Yeah. And also, I think they’re both driving the character towards doing something because without that motivation, I think in both instances, the character’d be like, can I just walk in and like kill things? Or go through portals? Can I walk around shoot my gun? That works for both of them. How about that?
And they’re both villains at various points, I believe. Like, doesn’t Cortana go bad at some point?
In the later games, I mean, spoiler for like an eight year old game at this point. But yeah, in the later games, there’s this problem with… was it, I think they call it degeneracy. But it was basically a mechanism for describing why this beloved character would be going crazy.
Teah. Oh, sorry. I’ve read a bunch of the Hallo novels. I was really into it for a while the. So it’s rampancy. The smart AI would last about 20 years and then basically, all of its idle time was spent thinking about, like, existence in a meta sense and they would gradually think themselves insane. So you had smart AI like Cortana that had like a very specific shelf life before they had to get before they generally went crazy and had to be replaced. And then you had dumb AI, which was like, intelligent enough. It was like an intelligent talking Wikipedia, basically. But it didn’t… It didn’t have like freedom of thought. And dumb AI was used in like, certain equipment, like you’d have, like a GPS thing for your squad of soldiers and be like, it has a dumb AI so it will like really orders and figure out like routes and stuff for you and offer insight but it wasn’t smart enough to be like, “I have real opinions about things.” But yeah, smart AI. Cortana. Think yourself crazy.
Knowledge Engine versus, like, true intelligence.
Neat. Yeah. So so I feel like like GLaDOS GLaDOS and Cortana both, right. Those are fantastic ways of bringing your character into a game for the sole purpose of guiding the players and providing the additional facts you know, for for a Game Master as the voice of a GM. So I think there’s a lot that we could take away from that to bring into our own games.
For sure. Well, one of my favorites and something I think you should probably avoid using in DnD is the prototype medic power armor in Fallout three. This is a real deep cut, but their voice was great later. This is medic 2 power armor! Very Arly Urmi. But the thing that you probably want to avoid with intelligent weapon intelligent items was what this thing would do: it wouldn’t let you stealth. Like, if you were stealthy and close to an enemy it would give away your position by going “hooey!” and stuff like. I think if you want your players to hate you, then yeah, you can do that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’m imagining the Rogue like going out ahead and the Paladin wearing the armor.
I guess every time they crit fail you can be like your your sword just gets really excited and goes “Woo! Let’s get some!”
Alright, well let’s look at some mechanics of these things. I feel like we’ve we’ve set the stage we’ve given some good examples. Let’s look at how we actually do this. So D&D, I’m I’m only familiar with the mechanics back to third edition. So third edition and fifth edition and Pathfinder first edition, like, all intelligent items have ability scores. Like a humanoid. They don’t have strength and dexterity because they can’t move, but they’ll they’ll at the very least have intelligence, wisdom, charisma. And that kind of helps form their personality at a super basic level. They’ll generally also have senses and they’ll have an alignment because they’re intelligent and have a personality and some items can have a special purpose which is like whatever the item was built for. Like we brought up Azuredge earlier. If I remember right Azuredge’s whole thing was protect water deep and also dwarves something like that.
But yeah, that’s about right definitely protect the Waterdeep. Something about the dwarves.
Yes. So your your intelligent item in D&D will have like ability scores which influence what it’s capable of doing, how smart it is, those things. It’ll have an alignment and a purpose which will tell you like who who created this and why. So you might have a chaotic evil sword that is built for the purpose of like destroying some city or like a neutral sickle made by a Druid and its whole deal is it wants to kill a particular weed or something dumb like that. There’s a lot of flexibility here.
In, so, in these systems magic items can also frequently attempt to influence the behavior of whoever is using them. Which is… this is where intelligent items can either be a problem or can be a whole bunch of fun depending on the item. So items with higher charisma in 5e can generally influence the wielder more because it’s an opposed charisma check. In 3.x items had an ego score, quote, unquote, which is like some combination of the things that the item could do. Basically, the more powerful it was, the more of an ego it had. And it would use that ego score to try and influence the player. And if the player lost badly enough, or if they lose badly enough in 5e, the item could essentially just dominate the player and say, like, “Okay, I am now driving your body for a few minutes while we do some stuff, and you’re just gonna have to deal with that.” So like, intelligent items always have this ability in 5e. It might not be super easy for them, especially if the item has poor charisma, and the player has really good charisma. But that threat there, like creates this interesting dynamic, especially when the player and the item have like opposing goals. Like if I have that chaotic evil sword that wants to burn down the city, and I’m the protector of the city, like, Ah, we’re gonna have a fun time here.
Yeah, yeah. The item that comes immediately to mind is the Sword of Kas or cos or however you pronounce it, where if you draw it and you don’t immediately bathed in blood, you have to do a charisma check or a dominates you until you bathed in blood. Oh, yeah. I know that there’s
If only you and your friends are in the room…
Asher E 21:53
Yep. Yeah. We actually saw that and critical role with Grog. Spoilers, but yeah. But yeah, I think also lawful sword, like good sorts can also do that. Like, if you start doing evil enough deeds, they’ll be like, Okay, I’m taking over. So…
I put a stop to this.
Absolutely. So Azuredge in particular, so it’s thing was if you try to control it against its will, and against its will, would be if you were probably doing something against the city of Waterdeep itself, it had the ability to become 10 times heavier than normal. And it can magically adhere to any medium or larger object or surface that it comes in contact with. So even if you were strong enough to pick it up, if it hit, let’s say a wall or anything like that of the sort, and it wasn’t happy with you as a wielder, it could literally just stick to it. And now your host. So imagine that in the middle of a fight.
The Mjolnir solution, just like I’ve decided you’re not worthy. You can’t pick me up now.
That makes a lot of sense. Yeah.
So Pathfinder 2e has some rules for intelligent weapons, or sorry, intelligent items. And they’re weirdly shallow for for PF2. Like, I say this a lot. But PF2 very, very frequently takes a mechanic that just doesn’t work and 5e and is just like, here’s this extremely robust mechanical system that we have built. This is one of those bits of PF2, where it was basically forgotten. Like, we get like a page and a half of text on how intelligent items work. And none of that explains how to actually create one yourself. So there are some cool things in there. The tools chapter in the Gamemastery Guide has a list of item quirks that you can use. And it’s it’s basically just a, a huge table of weird stuff that you can make a magic weapon do. And in PF2, which is a game where you accumulate, like, a huge number of magic items you’re expected to have up to 10, generally. You don’t want to put these quirks on everything, but if you’re going to bother making an item intelligent, maybe give it a cool quirk. Like as an example, the item gets hungry and you have to feed it wood shavings like that’s that’s one of the things table. Yeah.
I love that!
Yeah, you can like you can use this table you can roll on it randomly and come up with weird stuff to put on a magic item. And yeah, for for intelligent items where you want to give it a personality, giving it a quirk or two is a really great way to make it feel unique.
And some of these works were actually be like awesome storytelling device. So one of them it’s the title of the quirk is lucid. Creatures asleep within 10 feet see the item in their dreams.
Well, but yeah, imagine using that as a storytelling device where occasionally, like, the sword appears or the shield appears in the players dreams and all the players dreams and they each have to deal with like having this dream. You don’t want to beat the players over the head with it. But having that occasionally it’s like, Hey, we’re heading to something pretty big. You feeling good about it? Yeah, I was trying to Sleep though. I’m gonna wake up rested. I hear what you’re saying. Let’s go with the game plan one more time. No, you’re a shield. Let me go back to sleep! Like, that, that can be a lot of fun. It gets to the point where they actually put the the item in a bag of holding just so it’s actually not technically nearby.
That would work.
Another one which you know if you’re… right, if you have somebody who doesn’t love bugs, insect attracting. Harmless insects swarm around it.
Does emotional harm count?
A little bit, yeah. Yeah, harmless is carrying a lot of weight there. I would consider in the right circumstances, like, Oh, you want to make an intimidation check? Do it.
So the PF2 rules also have a little bit of text implying that creatures with poor will saves are more vulnerable to being taken over by the intelligent item. But there’s also no rules in PF2 for how intelligent items take over a player. Like, there’s clearly some text missing there. Maybe we’ll get that corrected someday? Who knows?
Tyler, I believe it involves a wheel save.
I would assume so.
Sure does. I’m gonna make a reflex save to have my sword not take over my body.
Because that’s my instinct. To not do that.
You can’t possess me if you’re over there.
The item has like, you know, the boomerang effect where when you throw it, it comes back your hand. It’s like, ah!
All right, well, why don’t we talk about making some intelligent items. And I don’t mean like your character crafting a magic item. Like let’s say, you are a real-world person, and you are designing an intelligent item that you want to bring into your game in some fashion. Let’s go through how we do that. Because the rules aren’t super specific in 5e, or PF2. And I think we can offer some advice here. So the first thing you want to start with is, what is the item gonna be? Rhe vast majority of intelligent items, I’ve seen our weapons and like, that’s an easy thing to do because, you know, it feels very heroic to have an intelligent weapon and take that into battle and do stuff with it. There are some intelligent shields that I can think of. And then generally, in terms of like, official published examples, that’s kind of where the list ends. But I mean, there’s a huge laundry list of items that we could use. Why can’t they be intelligent?
I think a really an interesting way… item that you could use for a sentient item would be either a spellcasting foci or spell book. I know that they do this in Naddpod and like most recent arc, the which Emily experts character has a sentient spell book. And it’s kind of a comical personality. He’s like a worry-wort dad kind of spell book. But you can I think it would be interesting as But even you don’t have to make it comical. Like you can make it serious like a relationship that a person has with their spell book could be really interesting. It’s sort of like the relationship that witches have with their familiar except if you’re familiar could talk which I suppose you could also do.
In my general opinion, armor is also a… think long and hard about doing intelligent armor.
Think long and hard about whether or not you want to deal with the social implications of wearing an intelligent creature.
Yeah. It’s um, it sounds great. Like what’s the problem? What are we stuck on?
Well, Randall, I’m gonna put you on as socks. And then we’re gonna…
No, but like, if this is what I’m made into, this is my shape. I might as well fulfill my purpose. What is my purpose?
If you’re socks, it’s keeping my toes warm.
I guess you could also make that into comedy. Be like, “hey, can you wash me out? Because you stink. I don’t have noses and even I can even I can tell that you are just rancid dude.”
Why am I wetter on the inside than the outside? What is happening here? I’m sure glad I could be your faceplate. Not a single one of those sword strikes got past me.
Yeah, that’s the other thing. You also have to deal with like that you’re holding a sentient person in front of you to like shield you from blows. So every time you get hits like ow. Ow! OW!
It’s getting real hot in here. Maybe we… I mean, but here’s the deal. Like if you flip that on its head like let’s say it’s my sword and I’m running around with this intelligence sword, I’m constantly just banging it into things right? Like, that’s its thing.
Some swords are into that. Sword of Kas. Really, really like stabbing things.
Maybe we get some armor. Oh, that’d be terrible. That’d be so terrible. Alright, so I’ve got my armor, and if it takes over, it runs into battle. Like it takes the joy of battle. But the problem is I’m a Bard and not, like, the fighty like stab people Bard, like, hide in the back and like offer haste. I was only here for the inspiration. But every time I fail in combat, every time I fail a roll against this thing, I am forced into the middle of combat.
I mean, that is interesting. If we have a sadist sword, we should have a masochistic armor.
Give me more! Give me more!
I didn’t even know taunt!
Well, there’s our inspiration, I guess.
So that’s gonna happen.
Yes, a masochistic armor. Let’s do it. Let’s make it
it’ll be really good armor like in its defense?
Yeah, really good.
Also, slightly cursed and that you can’t just take it off.
That’s always a classic curse, you can’t take it off or put it down or whatever.
We can make this really powerful, powerful armor like maybe like Tony Stark power armor level of armor. So it’s a powered suit.
When I think of an intelligent weapon, I tried to think of four things about that item, like we’ve decided what the item is going to be. Maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s a set of armor, maybe it’s a shield or whatever. So four P’s: power, personality, progenitor, and purpose. And that’s right, I cracked open up thesaurus and looked up a synonym for creator so I can make these all P words.
I like your energy.
What else was I gonna do with my day? So power is generally the first one that people will think of. It’s what does this item do? Like what are its stats, if you’re going to do 5e or 3.x, it’s going to have intelligence wisdom, charisma. I honestly can’t remember if they have constitution and 3.x. I should have looked that one up, shame on me.
But here we are.
Here we are. So in addition to those ability scores, like the item is an… it’s still a magic item, it’s going to have stats of some kind. Like your your hyper intelligent Wizard wand is still going to be like, maybe it’s a wand of the warmage plus one or something like that. So figure out what those stats are for your magic item. And if you if you just want to put intelligence onto an existing magic item, that’s perfectly fine. Like a plus one, wand of the warmage, still a pretty decent piece of loot for a lot of casters. So just Yes, slap intelligence onto that if you need to.
I really don’t want to downplay that. Like if the idea, if your goal in adding a sentient item into your game, is to give a voice of the GM, 100% take a well balanced item that belongs in your party today and slap onto it the ability to occasionally offer things that are gonna help the party move forward. Like that’s a perfectly wonderful way of introducing this without worrying about missbalancing, and like breaking combat from here to the end of time.
It also makes it hard for the party to justify throwing the item away if it gets annoying. Like if your Warlock has a plus one wand of the warmage, they’re real happy eldritch blasting things that plus one to hit. And they’re unlikely to give that up even if the personality of the item is mildly inconvenient.
Yeah. You got to make people want the item, especially if you want it to stick around.
I think the other thing though, was like make it very clear or at least have the item lie about it. Like you know, my name is MacGuffin, and I am required to advance the story, so you probably should keep me with you.
Yeah, no, exactly.
And at the same time, it’s probably a good idea to have the item’s effects be useful enough that the party wants to actively use the item. The only intelligent item I’ve ever received as a player was a magic long sword, which was great for the character. But the problem is, I already had a better magic long sword than the one I got. So the new long sword had two things about it. It was a plus three sword and this was in 3.x, so like, good but not amazing. And once per day could cast true resurrection on the wielder, which is real nice. It was a single like it was a single player campaign. So if I died, I was dead without this thing. So it saved my life a couple times, but all it did was hang out on my back and offer encouragement and once in a while it would resurrect me.
Sometimes that’s all you need from a friend.
We call that friend “Cleric.” Okay. So the second P you want to hit is personality. Like we’ve given this thing stats, we have declared it intelligent, we have given it some function that it does. What is this thing’s personality? And previous episode was creating good characters. And a lot of that same advice applies here. Like the traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws, those are all still good things that you can use for your sword. And like if you… sword. For your intelligent item. And if you want to fit everything you need to know about this intelligent item into a small format, like you can grab an index card and on one side, like right, plus three sword, draw stick figure of it, and on the back like trait, ideal, bond, flaw. There’s your intelligent item. The, the PF2 item quirks are a great way to flesh this out a little more, you can make it do something weird. We talked about a couple of quirks earlier like the one where it pops into your dreams. Randall, you suggested a shield talking to people and offering battle advice while they’re sleeping.
I love that.
Alright, so I want to take the next P here. Progenitor. Congratulations to you kind sir, for bringing that word to us so that we can keep this four P’s. I think this could actually be really interesting if you can fit it into the story that you’re trying to tell, or into the module that you’re running. So this thing was created. Why shouldn’t it be created by the same forces that have set whatever thing you’re working through in motion? Going back to some of the examples we gave early on like, one of the coolest things for GLaDOS was the reveal that she was originally and you know, Portal and Portal 2 spoilers for those at home. So ear muffs if you’re worried. The big reveal was that she was actually the secretary of the guy who… Cave Johnson, the guy who created the facility that you’re working in, and they didn’t finish the ability to, you know, digitize and turn a real human being into an AI before he died from, you know, cancerous chemicals that he created himself so there your go. And so like, towards, towards the end of I think portal two, there’s this speech of it’s like, you know, if I don’t make it, I want you to put Carol in here. Because, you know, she’s the heart and soul of this place. And if anybody can keep it going forever, it’s going to be her. And it’s like, oh, you’re not just this obnoxious robot who’s trying to kill me. You were a real person who loved this facility and really wanted it to run well. And then you took it to an extreme. But I say that to say like, that’s a fantastic example of progenitor. You know, we talked about as our edge the, the soul in Azuredge was a person who loved Waterdeep. I forget all of the details, literally all of the details except for that. But right this this character, who has long-since dead was put into the into the axe so that the axe could protect Waterdeep for all time. That’s a cool origin story. And it kind of fits in motivating the personality of the axe and how it chooses a wielder. You know, basically everything about it kind of comes from that time. So I really think if you’re making your own magic item, getting this right, and making it matter, can make it more meaningful to your players so that your players are more excited to keep this item around. And it can also be, you know, I use MacGuffin lightly a second ago. But I almost want to flip that on its head. It could really be a key part of the story that finding it is critical and that keeping it alive around and on your side is also critical.
Yeah, I agree. And I think that you can turn on an item from a MacGuffin into an into an actual meaningful thing. Because the problem with macguffins is that they’re just an object that people want. But it’s different when it’s a… when it’s an object that people want that also has a personality. I mean, there are human macguffins but those are those usually are flat characters. So if you make this character interesting, then you can you can take what you would originally conceive of as a MacGuffin for your campaign and make it into something interesting. And I do think progenitors are really important. Just like your progenitor is really important. Your parents. You can think of a creator of a magic weapon as sort of a parent for that for that item. And maybe you could have an entire quest arc where you tried to track down the creator of a certain item and that can inform how you view that item.
Okay, now you’ve just motivated me to another item and I want to get this out here real quick. Okay, it is it is a wooden armor, including a face shield. But it’s actually incredibly strong. Its desire is to become a real person.
Are you making Pinocchio?
Maybe. The negative, the flaw. Every time you lie, the nose on the face mask gets longer. You know, it’s… You got me. Okay. It would be a lot of fun!
It would be fun.
Until somebody cast fireball
What would happen when it became a real human and you were inside of it though?
We don’t talk about that. Okay, you know, it’s weaving like the meta of what’s happening in real life. You know, occasionally you play campaigns and you add somebody to the campaign part of the way through, like, congratulations, buddy. You get to come in, but you have to play the real boy. Just gonna take the armor off, we’re gonna put it over here. It’s gonna stay up. It’s gonna be great. No, you’re a… Oh, yeah. 5e… what is it in 5e?
Thank you. Yes, yeah, you’re Warforged. 100%.
You know, I, I almost ran a campaign, it almost got off the ground. Like, I released Monstrous Races a couple of years back. And my friends were like “we need to play this.” Rocco, who now writes for the site wanted to play an awakened swarm of animals that occupied a suit of armor. So I, I wrote a template, specifically for this character, to allow a swarm to inhabit armor like a mech. So it’s kind of, it’s kind of the exact opposite concept. But if you took the intelligent armor, it’s like, here’s this intelligent armor occupied by intelligent squirrels. And at some point, if we need like a guest character, the intelligent armor will go wander around for a little bit and we’ll have a separate intelligence swarm of squirrels.
Okay, so it’s like the episode of episode of Futurama where Bender kept dividing himself in two over and over again until they ate part of the world. And then they created a giant binder robot out of the very tiny vendors. And then all those tiny vendors fought…
Yeah, there. Yeah, exactly. Bought the giant. And then they destroyed each other.
Perfect. I love that. I think that’s great.
Boy, the show notes are gonna be weird today.
Yeah, absolutely. Monstrous Races, by the way, available on the DMsGuild. Still a cool book. If you weren’t aware, Tyler Kamstra wrote a book. An entire book. Yeah, what did you do? You took the monster manual, the original monster manual, you took every monster from the monster manual and you created a playable race from that monster.
Yeah, there’s also rules for building your own races. Like the race design in 5e has evolved a bit. So like, custom origin rules will cause some mayhem there. But it’s still a lot of fun. And a lot of the races are still fun to play. Like, hey, if you want to play a level one Tarrasque Fighter, that’s an option.
Like instead of being dragonborn, like why, like, Let’s go all the way. Like, what if you know, I’ve got a party of five, we’re each going to play a metallic dragon and it’s gonna be amazing. I feel like we’ve actually, you know, we’ve been doing this for almost a year, we’ve literally never talked about the book. So I’m glad you brought it up. I really do not think we have. So hey, link in the show notes, folks. It’s available in DMsGuild.
Check it out.
Yeah. All right. Well, let’s, uh, let’s get back to the topic on hand. Hey, why? The purpose of your magic item.
Why is not a P?
Yeah, the purpose of this item. Why does it exist? Presumably, your your progenitor created this item with some kind of purpose. And that purpose should in some ways inform this item’s personality and behavior. Now it’s an… like, you can play against typing you like here’s the plus to sort of burning down this one city. And maybe the sword has a change of heart is like, eh, what if I didn’t? But the the purpose for which the item was created can still offer some insight into how it behaves, how it’s used, it might even inform like, hey, what powers do I want to give this thing? So you might jump around in these steps. Like, if it’s a sort of burning down this one city, maybe it does fire damage? I don’t know. The the 5e rules for creating magic items has a table of special purposes, which is a great starting point, but definitely go beyond the table because like a table of example options can never quite capture the nuance that you likely want for this item. Yeah, I feel like in this case, the… what the table really does is it gets the creative juices flowing. It gives you a good basis… basic… perfect. It gives you a good basis for like what you could do and then allows you to build build on top of that like to really fit the story that you’re trying to tell. Alright, so the four P’s. Power, what is this thing do? Personality, what is this thing like? Progenitor, who made this? And purpose, for what purpose did the progenitor make this?
All right. Do you folks want to try to make an item? I feel like we’ve kind of been doing it throughout, but I think it’d be a lot of fun.
Yes, let’s make an item. Okay.
I have tables that I can roll on for us as well.
Oh, do it, do it! I love a random table.
It’s great. All right. So what are we thinking in terms of like, what kind of item are we making?
I have an item already that I’m going to bring to the team.
Do you want me to roll that out? Or if we want to roll on table first?
I like tables, personally.
Let’s roll on the table? Let’s do this. Go go.
Well, first, we have to figure out what item we’re making sentient because I don’t have a table for that.
All right, so…. so Randall, what item should we make sentient?
Okay, with all the discussion that we’ve had for it. Boots!
Okay. Now here’s the question. A pair of boots. Is it one sentient item? Or is it two? And do they have different personalities?
That is a wonderful question. I did not consider it when I brought this up.
Or is the brain divided between the two boots.
What happens if you separate the boots and it’s the one intelligence?
They suffer, and they might even break.
Yeah, okay.I like this. Alright, so one personality in a pair of boots and it does not like to be separated. Got it.
Cool. All right. Let’s see if how it communicates then first. Oh, it can talk. And it can read and understand one more language.
Okay. So it can talk but it can only say the words flip and flop.
I love it! Flip, flop. What’s its alignment? We’l see.
Okay, I want to add to this, the boots are all like janky. And so, you know, like if you rip the front of a shoe, it actually looks like a mouth that’s talking.
That’s what they look like all the time.
Just toes hanging out.
Yeah. Hey, no, don’t, don’t put that your foots not gonna fit in here. Get it out!
So I just rolled. This, these boots are a chaotic good.
That make sense.
Chaotic good talking boots that say “flip flop”.
They’ll kick, they’ll kick evil people, but occasionally they’ll tie themselves together when you walk.
Okay, so let’s, let’s go with the 5e method. Let’s get this thing some ability scores. So, in 5e, you do the four D six drop the lowest for ability score. So who’s got dice handy?
I’ve got dice.
I’ve got some Easy Roller Dice.
Let’s see. Okay, so that’s going to be a 14.
So we’ll say 14 intelligence.
Let me give you a set with the easy rollers.
Go for it. What did you get?
I got a 10.
Okay, so 14 intelligence, 10 wisdom. And I got a 12 for charisma. So this thing is smart, slightly charming, but average wisdom.
Okay, well, you know, it got turned into boots, or it is boost. So.
Yeah. Boy, there’s a question you should ask was this a person before it was a magic item?
What do we think?
Well, I guess we have to… are we ready to nail down a progenitor or is that, is that the stage we’re at?
Well, I do want to say that I rolled for its purpose.
Okay, good. Good.
Yeah. What’s the deal?
It is a glory seeker, which means this item seeks or noun as the greatest magic item in the world by establishing its user as a famous or notorious figure.
Okay. All right. So let’s ask the question. Do we want to talk about who created the boots? Or do we want to talk about what they do for the wielder?
Okay, so I feel like we can jump around a whole bunch because you don’t need to do all the P’as in order because you know, they’re going to inform other decisions. So if it’s a glory seeker, it’s going to do something that makes the wielder awesome. And the…
probably either made this for someone to make them to make them awesome, or made it for themselves to make them awesome.
What about flying boots?
Oh, there you go. Yeah.
Chaotic good, intelligent flying boots.
And I’m gonna say that someone like a Hermes-inspired character made them.
Hermes, the Greek deity?
Yeah, the Greek god.
No, the accountant from Futurama.
Oh, yeah, there you go. Perfect. Hermes Conrad.
One of the bonuses: really good at the limbo.
I actually kind of like that a lot.
Write it in, write it in. Might as well.
They make you fly and you have advantage on checks to limbo.
Do you want to roll some magical properties for this thing?
Well, yeah, now.
Oh, wait. I want to ask your question real quick. And I want to know do you think this is opening it too much? So let’s say you get like a 20 or 30-foot flying speed. Do we also want to give like a plus 10 to ground speed? Or is that too much?
I think that’s fine.
It’s an artifact-level weapon or item?
Yeah. Gosh, what rarity are flying boots? Remind me. I want to say rare.
I think they’re rare. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah, a plus 10 foot bonus to your move speed isn’t going to break anything. There aren’t a lot of magic items that do that. But I mean longstrider’s like a 2nd-level spell. It’s not gonna, it’s not going to hurt.
So the winged boots allow you to fly for up to four hours all at once are several shorter flights. And that’s an uncommon item.
Oh gosh, it’s only uncommon.
Oh, wow. Okay.
So yeah, sure. Let’s give him a plus 10 ground speed, too.
No burrow speed, though. We’re not going to we’re not going to be ridiculous here.
Well, if I fly straight down fast enough.
Yeah. Yeah, burrow with your face. That’s the other item we need to make is mole feet. Anyway, keep going. Okay.
So in terms of magic properties, we have minor benefits, major benefits, and we have detriments. How many of each do we want to give them? Do we want any detriments or just all good?
Let’s let’s go for one of each just to show it off a little bit. But…
Sure, yeah. All right. So minor beneficial properties. Let’s see. I got a 75, which is… okay, while attuned to the artifact, you can use an action to cast one second level spell chosen by the DM. After you cast the spell roll a d6. On a roll of one and five. One to five, you can’t cast it again until the next dawn.
Interesting. Okay, so if we want this thing to be a glory seeker, I feel like it should be something heroic like, Oh, well. Hey, how about heroism?
Is that a second level spell?
It’s first level but we get upcast it.
Yeah, you and a buddy.
That’s perfect! I like that. That’s great. Um, okay, Major Mathmagic by the way. 98. Ooh.
That’s a good number.
Yeah. While attuned to the artifacts. You can’t be blinded, deafened, petrified, or stunned.
Well… yeah, that’s really good. And hey, having any of those things happen to you. Not super heroic.
Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t want to interfere with your heroism and glory.
It prevents other people from interfering as well.
So detriment time. Let’s see what we got. 32. While attuned to the artifact, all holy water within 10 feet of you is destroyed. Interesting.
Oh. We’re getting to a progenitor, I would say.
So. Okay, so it’s a glory seeking item. It makes you…
That destroys holy water.
You can fly.
You can fly. You’re immune to a bunch of status conditions you can ask to heroism which gives you temporary hit points and makes you immune to fear. It’s got high intelligence, okay charisma, and not a ton of wisdom. So I’m gonna say whoever created this was like Artificer, eldritch knight, Wizard, one of those. I’m thinking, like, eldritch night feels very good for this.
I just, so I have a thought this is. Maybe this is an atheistic Wizard or Wizard who hates like organized religion. Like I want, I want people to share… I want I want to make a hero who isn’t beholden to the gods, because you know, there’s always everybody’s like, Oh, the gods chose this guy. No! Definitely not that.
Okay, yeah, I like that.
Yeah. All right. So major detrimental properties.
Okay. I want to toss this in real quick. How does Strahd feel about Holy Water?
Probably doesn’t like it a whole lot.
Doesn’t like it. No.
Doesn’t like it at all? Okay. What if a vampire created these boots? And it’s actually the origin of the myth for vampires having a flying speed.
Oh, that’s… That’s interesting.
Interesting. Well, this might this might clincher because I just rolled a really interesting major detriment.
So nine while you’re attuned to the artifact, you determine your alignment daily at dawn by rolling a d6 twice. On the first roll, a one to two indicates lawful. Three to four indicates neutral or a five to six indicates chaotic. On the second roll, one to two indicates good. Three to four indicates neutral and five to six, evil.
Wow. So your alignment just flies all over the place. That’s interesting.
How do we justify this?
Okay. Okay, I think it would actually be fun instead of the player having that manifest. What if the item has that and then the player just has to adjust?
Oh, I really like that!
So on the boots are like “let’s save that orphanage” and then you take a nap in the orphanage and wakes up, it’s like “burn it down.”
Oh, that’s great!
Asher E 55:09
I love that. What is the boots have different conflicting personalities in it?
So who’s winning today? Okay.
A pair of boots with multiple personality disorder.
Now I would be… like, if we were going to go with boots that argue with themselves, I would probably make them either like a very minor magic item that doesn’t have a whole lot of effects. Because then you could just use it for comedic relief, or I would use that in a very small party. Otherwise, like, you’re going to take a lot of spotlight time having shoes argue with each other.
For sure, for sure. So if you really only wanted to be funny, and you only wanted to bring in, what if once you put feet in them, they couldn’t talk anymore. So it’s the whole like, I take my boots off to sleep. And so when we go to sleep at night and we wake up in the morning, I have to deal with these two shenanigans. And the rest of the time I just get to fly around and be awesome.
I think at that point, I would just carry mannequin legs around, just put them in the boots just to keep them quiet.
It’s like I need a woodworker to make me one of those feet tree things be true. Not the feat tree like you know, I want to do cool stuff, but literally, I’m gonna stick something in these shoes.
Alright, so I’m gonna bring in the PF2 item quirks table because I still think this is really fun. So each of you roll me a d10.
Okay. 50. Er, sorry.
We’ll make that the first digit. 5.
5. That’s what I meant. I rolled a d100 Instead.
Okay. 51. So that gets us the hair altering quirk: the user’s hair color changes. There’s no further detail given to that. So you know what, let’s just lean into the chaos. What if it’s randomly determined every day? So like, you put on the boots in the morning. The boots randomly determined their alignment. Your hair color changes to match. How about that? So like, each alignment has a matching hair color.
And the rest of the party is just “Oh no. Oh, no.”
The boots chose murder this morning.
If you’re neutral evil. Maybe it’s just like black and ends covering one eye. “Arlight. Let’s do this.”
Mustache inexplicably curls into handlebars.
Where did you get eyeliner? It’s four o’clock in the morning, and we’re in middle of the dungeon.
Don’t think about it.
Much like Tobey Maguire in Spider Man 3.
Yes, exactly. That is a sentient magic item. The venom suit.
Yeah, that particular movie. Yeah. Yeah.
Dang, we should have thought of that as an example earlier in the episode.
It’s like an eldritch tattoo. But…
Okay, so we have our item. It’s a pair of, it is a pair of paired boots that either share a personality or have two distinct personalities that don’t get along. It is… the base item is winged boots, but it can also cast heroism at 2nd level once per day.
Does the fail, shenanigan, uh…
Yeah. It’s got 14 intelligence 10 wisdom 12 Charisma so it’s smart, slightly charming. Not real, like, not really “with it.” The alignment and your hair color are determined at random every morning. And then ash remind me the the stuff we rolled on the artifact tables, which we also should have called out: Hey, you don’t have to reserve those just for artifacts. Use them whenever you want.
Asher E 58:57
The, which one the detrimental or the beneficial properties?
Oh, so you can’t be blinded. deafened, petrified, or stunned. It allows you to cast a spell. You already mentioned the changing of your… changing of the alignment. And then what was the other one? Oh yeah, destroys all holy water.
That’s right. Okay. Yeah, so so we have this item that has some really cool effects makes you fly cast heroism. We talked about maybe a plus 10 foot moves speed bonus. makes you immune to a bunch of conditions. Like, these are good boots for a Fighter looking to go out and play the hero. Like, you’re immune to petrification I’m gonna go fight a Medusa. These are cool boots. But you might also wake up in the morning with chaotic evil boots and crazy hair. So there’s a drawback. It’s got a personality, that’s going to be a little wild. So like the DM has plenty of room to make this an interesting item any time you talk about it.
I love these boots.
Me too! If the DM handed me these these I’d be like, please, I want this chaos. We talked about their appearance: they are open up the toes, which is either how they talk or they talk out the top, but can only talk when your feet are in them like that. We’ll leave that up to the consumer.
What do we want to name these boots?
Ah, I feel like with 10 wisdom and some, like crazy alignment thing, the name needs to be really, really dumb.
How about Stevie’s Mega Awesome Boots of Super Heroism?
Yes! And the’re red and they have a lightning bolt on ’em. They’re like Dr. Martens, but red and they have a lightning bolt. Perfect I love it.
Send this off to Griffon’ Saddlebag, be like “hey, we’ve got something for you.”
It’s excellent. And if you don’t think so you’re wrong.
Our question of the week this week?
Okay, so question of the week this week comes uncom from our good friend Stubbenz, both on Twitter and on Discord. Have there been any mechanics either official or homebrew that you’ve loved on paper, but that just didn’t work when you brought them to the table. So I think we talked about this on the success episode, but critical success and critical failure decks like they look like so much fun. But I’ve just never been able to make them work out well at the table. Games with built in critical hit tables, sometimes they can work, but a lot of times they’re just arbitrarily punishing for players. Like, they always look like so much fun, but I’ve never been able to make them work in a way that was as fun as they look.
For me. I think it would be crafting. I always wanted to have like a sort of crafting system, where you like, I think at one point I had like this intricate… it was this supplement this homebrew supplement called Surviving in the Wild. It was like you harvest certain materials from different animals and it will give you like, different effects for whatever equipment you make, or there’s like these two different plants. The different plants have like these different like little symbols that have effects and you can combine them into different potions and stuff like that. And it seemed like a really cool system on paper. But it just never really clicked with me or my players. People would forget about it. They would forget to do that stuff. Or it just felt like busy work and more accounting when D&D already has all of that accounting. So I still want to find a way to make it work, but it is… crafting in D&D is hard. Unless it’s like project based I feel.
Well there’s a fun future episode: crafting.
Yeah, actually did uh… so Frog God’s had a text. Did that come out? I’m trying to remember now.
I have it on my shelf right next to me. I’m reading through it. So far. I’m enjoying it.
Okay, Tome of Alchemy, is that it?
Tome of Alchemy, Yeah. Well, we’ll we’ll save that for a future episode, though.
I only say that to say, Ash, there could be an answer.
I hope you’re right. I really do. We actually talked about crafting on crit fails. And we were just like, Yeah, I don’t think it can be done. I’m looking forward to being proven wrong.
It would make everybody very, very happy.
Yes. What about you, Randall.
I’m thinking it through. I guess this is probably more personal failure. But let’s go ahead and bring it out there. So actually, I ran this campaign for Tyler and a few other friends. I wanted to do a… essentially a zombie campaign. I actually, I really enjoy the genre. It hasn’t completely played out for me yet. Although at one point I’m going to burn out. But I love the idea of racing against time, every time somebody falls another zombie is created, like what are we going to do in this environment? And so I ran this game, but ultimately the mechanic of like, well, how do you make something undead? Okay, no longer suffers from any of these status effects. If it falls, unless it falls from a magic weapon, roll a die and see maybe the creature gets back up and you have to keep fighting it. The punchline is I feel like that’s interesting as a mechanic here and there. But as a general like, well, what if everything around me is undead? It really sucked. And I think I don’t think that’s a problem with the mechanic itself. So I’m cheating a little bit Stubbenz, I’m sorry. But trying to use that mechanic as the basis for most of the monsters in your campaign is it gets boring and it gets old, I think to the players very quickly. One of the things that I figured out part of the way through that is more interesting is the shadow mechanic. Because the shadow has the likelihood of like turning you into a shadow as well, in a way that the undead doesn’t have that mechanic. And so I think like if you were going to try to build a campaign on something, either merging the undead and the shadow mechanic or just strait up like, forget the undead, all of my, like all of my undead. How do I say this?
I think you’re, I think you’re mixing up undead and zombies specifically. Like the zombie resiliency is the thing where they get back up, and only zombies have that.
Oh, ah, yeah, no, you’re right. You’re 100%, right. Yes, yes, yes.
Zombie game. So like 99% of the undead we ran into were zombies.
No. 100%. Exactly. So building, building a campaign around the zombie resilience, where one of the things you’re doing is just adding zombie resilience to every character, every creature they fight, it does become incredibly boring. And I basically jettison that part of the way through because it wasn’t really going to work. So yeah, take everything I said earlier, and just replace undead with zombie resilience. It still stacks. But I think the shadow is really interesting. And so doing, you know, playing a game where you basically say, look, all of these undead things are really just shadows wearing the undead mask. I think that’s a lot cooler.
I’m Randall James, you’ll find me at AmateurJack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @JackAmateur.
I’m terrible at Kamstra you’ll find me at RPGBOT.net. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at RPGBOTDOTNET. reddit.com/r/rpgbot. I did get that wrong one wrong last week. And of course patreon.com/rpgbot.
And I’m Ash Ely, you can follow me on Twitter @GravenAshes.
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a little behind on the transcript. Check back soon!