The Raining City, Strasa

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The first arc of my campaign is coming to a close tonight.  As such, I'm beginning to work on the next part of the game which will have little or nothing to do with the first.  It should be a shorter chapter in the overall story, but an important one.

I would like to send my players to investigate the strange murders of two travelers, refugees from another, abandoned world.  I originally saw this mystery taking place in a place I was going to call Old Tennor Port, but I've since had an idea I like more, and is more in line (I think) with the Rule of Cool.

I would like to hear from the community on this one.  What images, styles, and themes spring to your fertile minds when you think of a place called Strasa, the Raining City?

I imagine a tall, spire-filled city of granite.  Storm clouds are always overhead, as they have been for centuries.  The occasional rowboat plods through the canals that snake through the city while rain-slick sidewalks and footbridges allowing pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages alike to traverse the urban environment.  The residents of Strasa can most often be seen wearing leather garments; long, leather overcoats to keep their bodies dry, tall leather boots to keep their feet from soaking in the many puddles in the city, and leather hats with wide, floppy brims to deflect the rain from their heads and their eyes.

Among the wealthy, sheepskin is the most popular material for it's light property and it's waterproof quality, but unfortunately it ruins much more easily that the cheaper and more durable cowhide.

Parchment is only ever used for internal documents, bookkeeping and the like.  If a message is to be sent in the Raining City, it is most often delivered orally by a specially trained class of eidetic messengers.  Those messages that cannot be revealed to anyone, however, are written on small plaques of glass with a special paint that never washes off but only becomes visible when it is dry.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
Also, I think that only the wealthy can generally afford to send those plaques with any frequency, and they are easily discarded in the canals.

I also see this city between two hills, originally at the bottom of some (now) underwater valley.  Perhaps the city was built up from ruins of the sunken city, which could also explain why so many of the structures are so tall.  Every few generations, to deal with the ever-rising water level, the city rebuilds the streets and bridges, and seals off the lower, flooded levels that their forebears occupied.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
Wow, this idea is really cool.

One thing I thought of though, is that instead of wearing bulky leather garments every time they go outside, all the poor and middle class people wear loose pants, vests and no shoes while outside. Each building and home could have a small atrium with towels and fireplaces for them to hang their stuff.  Everybody carries a small waterproof bag with them, with extra pants and shirt for indoors.  Or, the men just walk around shirtless and only put on clothes inside. 

Great concept. A few thoughts...

1. I love the idea of flooded lower levels as the water rises and obviously it opens up lots of possibilities for exploring the underwater parts. One idea that might be fun to play with is that whenever people come upon a trapped air bubble under the city, they only have a short amount of time to loot or rest before the air turns bad... from a couple of hours down to a few minutes, depending on the size of the bubble and if they're using torches for light. I can imagine a fight where everyone starts taking increasing penalties or ongoing damage as the air runs out.

2. A consequence of having continual rain is that there would be a constant level of background noise. It might well be that the rich and powerful, rather than living in high towers, actually live in windowless rooms, right in the centres of the largest buildings where they can enjoy that rare commodity... silence.

3. Depending on the government and the prevalence of magic and so on, lightning powers would potentially be outlawed as being too dangerous in a constantly wet environment.

4. If the canal network is fairly extensive, there could be a sub-culture that lives entirely in houseboats, simply rising with the waters rather than having to move house every couple of generations.

How about this for an idea?  The local constabulary are made up of mostly Watersoul Genasi.  They're valued for their mobility and amphibious nature. 

Also, what makes this city so attractive?  I could see the perpetual downpour coming from a natural 'gate' into the Elemental Chaos.  This would, to my mind at least, make it a valuable trading post and waystation for those looking to go from one plane of existence to another.
Thanks for your replies, ideas, and positive feedback!

@ArthurHoneyhill:  That is a great piece of flavor that will definitely be incorporated into the local customs.  Maybe the PCs will get strange looks for being fully clothed all the time, and possibly chided for leaving bulky, dripping wet clothes in other peoples' homes unless they start traveling like the locals do.

@ThatGiantMan:  Points 2, 3, and 4 are great ideas, and I will also be using them.  Thank you!  As far as point 1, I had already planned a session that involves investigating an abandoned level of the city that is filled with air via magic.  Halfway through, the magic will be dispelled by the person using the area as his hideout, and they will have to succeed at a skill challenge to get back to the surface as frigid water rushes in around them.  I haven't decided the consequences of failure yet.

@El_Shawno:  That is a great question.  What about this city makes it important?  What about this city makes people want to stay here?  The gate to the Elemental Chaos or the Elemental Plane of Water could make an interesting twist.  Perhaps the city is such a novelty that it can survive almost entirely on tourism, or Strasa is the home to the realm's preemininent sculptors.  Or it could be conceivable that the Raining City houses several powerful magical academies, and their meddling with the natural world is why this place has seen centuries of downpour.

For what other reasons could you envision this city being an important fixture in the world?  I can't wait to hear more of your ideas.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
I love the idea of this city, man.  Out of curiosity, how do you imagine the area surrounding the Strasa?  I think the concept's great, but I'm having difficulty with the structure of the city.  Was it originally built in a valley or something?  I guess I'm imagining the rains filling up the valley over time, so Strasa's basically in the middle of a lake at this point.  Is that sort of how you see it?  I can't figure any way the city would flood that high otherwise.

I'm liking the idea of only using paper and parchment internally, because they'll just get ruined in the rain.  I like the idea of messenger birds too, like ravens, soaring through the city, delivering news or signals.

This city is really, really cool. 
I'm incredibly impressed with the thought and imagination that's gone in to making Strasa. I was wondering where the city is actually located, though. Hidden among the mountains? In the midst of a swamp? How has the constant rain affected the local flora and fauna?
@milkducks:  I do see it as exactly that, a city that is now in the center of an ever-rising lake.

@dfn55:  In the immediate vicinity of the valley, I'm seeing fields and hills that flooded and muddy.  Traveling to and from the city by foot is messy at best, and at worst boots get stuck in the mire and clothes are easily soiled.  I think I need some more help imagining the surround area. 
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
Perhaps Strasa is in the centre of an ever-rising lake, which itself is in the centre of a swamp that is becoming more and more wet.  Travel into and out of the city and swamp could be done on wooden causeways. 
That's sort of what I was thinking, Arthur.  Also, I'm just about to start a new 4e game, and I've decided to give this city a shot; it seems different from other story hubs I've used in the past, and when I pitched the idea to my group, everyone seemed to think it was great.  I'm pretty excited about it.  I'll let you know how things turn out.
Here's another idea:  Since much of the surrounding countryside is mud, regular wagons and draft teams are useless.  Instead, goods are hauled from a series of satellite villages on the edge of the deluge to ferry stations on the edge of 'Lake Strassa' on flat bottomed skiffs pulled by teams of mud golems.  In short, Strasan mages have made a virtue out of necessity and are now reknowned for their golem-creating skills.
Guys, your responses are so amazing and helpful, I'm happy you all found the idea as interesting and engaging as I hoped it would be.  Your collective imaginations are giving this city more life and character by the post.  Thank you very, very much.

@milkducks:  I am absolutely thrilled that you like the city so much to use it in your own story.  Please let us know how it goes.

@Arthur & El_Shawno:  Those are some genius ideas!  I like the idea that the surrounding countryside is almost impassable by normal means.  I think I'll work on the golem-crafting aspects later tonight with some background on the art of artifice.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
I've made a few minor changes to my story's version of Strasa: rather than a city of granite spires, it's more or less made up of brownstone (; instead of eidetic servants passing messages around, the city breeds a special kind of raven, known for its skill in mimicry (most carry tiny cases on their legs, however, so small scrolls of information could also be passed in a more conventional manner) - it's very common to see these blackbirds flying overhead throughout the city.

Also, in my world, Kord is primarily a god of Storms.  Amongst the savage tribes of the world, he's also seen as a god of battle and warfare, because to those peoples, storms represent war and chaos.  Among more civilized folk though, like the people who live in Strasa, Kord's pretty much just the god of Storms.  Having sid that, Strasa is sort of a holy city to his followers.  The cleric in my group has already said she plans to be a cleric of Kord.

The city was originally built in a valley, and after centuries of rainfall, now looks like it essentially rises up out of a lake.  The area surrounding Strasa is a dreary marshland, home to foul bullywugs, war-like tribes of lizardmen, and deadly crocodiles.

I've decided that my first story will be a sort of murder mystery.  I figure Strasa could be kind of a creepy place, especially at night.  And it might be a great opportunity to tell a scary story.  I'd like to set up scenes where the group's hanging out in a local tavern; it's warm inside, the fire's going, people are being loud and having fun, but something's wrong.  There's a kind of uneasy feeling in the air.  Outside, the rain is pouring down, and stormclouds are gathering overhead.  A crack of lightning streaks across the sky, and one of the more perceptive players notices, as the flash of lightning illuminates the night, that a lone figure is standing outside the window, looking in on everyone.  If they try to investigate it, they don't find anyone there.  Soon after, you can have them find a dead body or something. 

I dunno, Strasa seems like a super creepy place.  I'm looking forward to using it.

Everyone in my group is also really excited.  Hopefully, we'll begin playing next weekend.
One thing that sticks out to me is that after that long of constant rain, there would literally be NO green within the city. Any area that would be ground/turf/landscaped would have long since washed out, turned into massive sinkholes, or simply eroded. Yet without dry times, cement/mortar won't set. Without magical assistance (likely only in the wealthy, municiple or temple areas), the ground would be simply stacked blocks or slabs of granite. This could make for unstable footing during combat or skill uses of Athletic/Acrobatics, as the slabs rock or 'bounce' when weight is encountered.

edit: Leading to colloquellisms like "unstable as a Strassan beggar's two step"
So many PCs, so little time...
The city of Strasa was originally founded on the shores of the old lake Strasa, a small but deep pristine valley lake at the convergence of several major rivers, which flowed over the valley cliffs in massive beautiful waterfalls that served as inspirations for generations of poets and artists. The beauty and natural wonder of the surrounding countryside attracted nobles from across borders. Upon a central hill that formed a peninsula into the lake, these nobles built universities and estates, theaters and temples, all magnificent and shining. Land quickly ran out, as the wealth and status of the city attracted more and more aristocracy, who came to see the famous plays and enroll their children in the best academies. So they began to build up, creating elaborate towers that flaunted the wealth and power of their owners. In order to protect their homes from the misty drizzle thrown up by the crashing water falls, the nobility erected powerful wards to keep out water of their estates, some of which still stand today.

The Worker's Towers and Cecil's Wall
While the central hill of Strasa remained dry and stable, the rest of the valley was occasionally flooded and the working class consistently had to rebuild their lowlying homes, until they learned how to develop flood resistant architecture. Some of the working class also began to live out boats, though the aristocracy viewed this as an invasion of 'their lake', which led to increasingly hostile relations between the classes. A pragmatic Dwarven engineer, Cecil Flanhammer, presented a solution to the city council, noting the ingenuity of the working class in their attempts to stave off the floods, and began the construction of a massive public housing project on the backside of the hill. While not as magnificent as Strasa 'proper', the Worker's towers were functional and structurally sound, with deep Dwarven made foundations. Cecil considered the projects a great success in city planning, providing many public amenities, such as clean water, market spaces, public halls and roof top gardens. The nobility, however, felt that they had been ripped off, and that the interconnected structures were eyesores that were infringing on their right to a good view. No longer able to seperate themselves from the masses by height, the nobles of Strasa conducted their second major public work, a massive wall to block the lower class parts of the city from view. It became known as Cecil's wall, despite it's construction going to a rival engineer. The wall served more of a symbolic purpose than defensive, and many of Worker's tower's had sky bridges that led into the wall, to facilitate the steady flow of workers and goods that needed to enter the city. 

The Rains Begin
Then the rains came. No one knows why for certain, but they came all right. At first it was tolerated. The lowlands that were occupied by the poor and working class flooded first, and forced crowding into the Worker's towers. Using the solid structure of the towers as support, many illegal buildings sprouted off the sides of the towers to escape from the rising water. The rains kept coming, and the first waves of nobility sought other homes. The council began to invest heavily in solutions to the rain, seeking any means to stem the problem be it divine, arcane or mechanical. This stirred a wave of innovation, especially in the field of artifice, as mechanical pumps, waterproofing alchemy and rain powered technologies became implemented. The artificers rose from the working class sections as well as the nobility and bred a new middle class of problem solvers, that are the forebearers of the Strassan government today. 

Restructuring of Strasa
It was quickly realized that the rain wasn't stopping, and that all of the solutions that had any value weren't stopping the rain, just dealing with it. The nobility began an exodus, aside from those who were already too invested in the city itself. The flooding of the surrounding wooded hillsides turned them into marshes, and even though they sat on the edge of the diluge they were horribly ruined. This led to an influx of woodland elves into the city, who crowded the slums to even greater extremes. Eventually the rules that divided the classes began to break down, and the working class spread into Strasa proper. Cecil's Wall became less of divide and more of a central avenue, it's height and many gateways providing easier travel than the increasingly flooded streets below.

The Rain Renaissance 
The engineering class rose to importance during this time, with several major guilds achieving major political importance. Likewise, the academies and universities turned their focus to more practical pursuits. The attempts to stave off the rains by any means necessary had brought an incredible diversity of rare and strange goods into the city, including many that were prohibited elsewhere, and some smart moves by the guilds insured a steady flow of new materials. With an abundance of materials and increasingly easy water travel, Strasa became a center of trade for those willing to brave the rains for a deal. The availability of prohibited and illegal goods, as well as the anonymity provided by thick rain cloaks also brought a significant underworld element into the city. 

Who will stop the rain?
However, it's been a long time, the rains keep falling and the waters keep rising. Strasa is getting tired. Most of the lower levels of the Worker's towers and Cecil's Wall are underwater. The engineering guilds are more political than skillful, and they say that entering an academy will make you mad. With every generation, the population shrinks, and Lake Strasa grows, increasing the distance from useable farming land. The marshlands that formerly housed the friendly woodland elves are now filled with lizardman tribes and bullywugs. Strange creatures move beneath darkened waters. And still the rain falls...

That's what springs to my mind when I think of Strasa the Raining City. Use what you will.
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Some more interesting locations and environments

Old Lake Strasa
Old Lake Strasa refers to the original boundaries of the lake pre-Rains, and runs along the valley cliffs to the north and east of the city. Though Lake Strasa is now greatly expanded, it has always been a deceptively large lake. The rivers that flow into the lake carry much more volume than the winding Bressk river that leaves it, even at it's current swollen levels.  Some scholars postulate a connection to the Elemental plane of Water, or that it is a major tributary to the vast seas of the Underdark, but what they can agree on, is that wherever the water is going, it isn't going fast enough to compensate for the rain. A few have even postulated that the Rains come from the bottom of Lake Strasa in an infinite loop. Despite the popularity of arguments about the nature of the lake, no one knows for certain as the bottom of Old Lake Strasa has never been found. Many deep expeditions do not return, as any mechanical or magical failure means certain doom in the dark depths of Old Lake Strasa. Those who have attempted have reported strange networks of tunnels that begin hundreds of feet down the chasm, that appear to have been carved by inhuman hands. Due to the high risk and several cases of madness the academies no longer fund exploration of Old Lake Strasa.

The Falls
The Cyrandies is a churning mountain river fed by glacial snow melt in the summer and coastal rains in the spring. It has many tributaries but makes a strange bend away from the coast and heads inward to Lake Strasa where it creates the Hierophant, an awe inspiring avalanche of water that is hundreds of feet wide and a hundred feet tall. Or at least it used to be. It's still impressive but the water has risen a lot and the Rains tend to blur it's visibility from a distance. The other major falls is the Hoplites, that lie closer to the city itself and constitute a great number of smaller waterfalls that mix and mingle with each other. The Hoplites are highly irregular and hide many cranies and nooks that can be discovered if one paddles carefully, and the area used to be a playground for young nobles seeking to explore. Since the Rains new rain-fed water falls have begun to shape, making the whole area unpredictable and dangerous.

Mudway Bridge
The citizens of Strasa did not sit idly by as the waters rose and the floods knocked out all major paths of entry. Though the original highway to the city ran parallel to the Bressk river, this lowlying road often flooded pre-Rains, and was used predominantly in summer and fall. When the highway was flooded, Strasans took the Woodway, an easterly heading path that wove through farmlands and the forests of the woodland elves. It was an easy but not straightforward path that was easily triple the length of the highway, following ridgelines that afforded a view of the picturesque valley. When the Rains came this became the only legitimate land route outside of the city. However, in order to get onto the Woodway, one had to cross the lowlying regions east of the city, which easily flooded. Building on preexisting dikes and levees, the Strasan council comissioned an emergency construction of a roadway. Through extensive manual labor the workers managed construct a earthen rampart across the lowlands, just in time to see it flooded over.

It was first wave Rain Renaissance artificer Harvold Ghremin who came up with a solution. Harvold crafted the first generation mudpaver golem. These golems resembled mounds of dirt and gravel rather than the standard humoid fare, but could absorb and animate loose material and grow to massive size. In addition, they contained a small water elemental that worked to absorb water and spray it out, preventing the mudpaver from completely disintegrating. By sending mudpaver golems back and forth across the bridgeway, they deposited large layers of sediment at a much faster rate than a human hand could accomplish. This massive accumulation of muck and mud across the rampart gave it the name "the Mudway" to the locals, who could expect to be thoroughly soiled by the time they crossed it. One problem was that the mudpaver golems were slow and took up a lot of the space on the rampart, and it greatly limited the time available for goods to cross. However an intrepid tradeshalfing, Borvin Swiftwater proposed using the mudpavers as pack beasts to haul ferries to and fro the city. Though the Mudway is still maintained for foot travel, it functions predominantly as a railway for the massive ferries that carry goods and supplies into the city.

Cecil's Wall
Though it once divided the city, Cecil's wall is now considered a main thoroughfare that connects Strasa. Built by under the supervision of Thravan Hosterweil, a powerful human patrician, the wall was 50 feet thick at the bottom and rose up nearly 50 feet where it was 15 feet wide. Built as a symbol of power and wealth, it is elaborately designed with ornate gatehouses and marble columns. It contains rooms and passageways throughout it's solid structure, though the bottom levels and the foundation levels are flooded. Though initially created to block out the view of the lowerclass Worker's Towers, Hosterweil built skybridges connecting the Towers to the wall, ostensibly to allow for servants to access into the city, but also to allow the city guard easy access into the fortress like structures. Of course, nowdays the gatehouses are used as offices and docking stations, and the ramparts are opened to allow for travel along the length of the wall. The walls have been expanded at the top, and particularly near the sky bridges, the wall is connected with other structures.

Wroughthammer Pits
The sinking nature of Strasa is good for the building industry, especially the Wroughthammer Guild and the Sellmasons. Originally the Wroughthammer guild was responsible for providing raw materials for the growing city of Strasa and opened the Pits to provide for the insatiable demand for quality granite. The Pits isn't in Strasa proper, but it's located in the high hills West of the Hoplites and the stone is delivered to the city via the Mudway ferries. The brutal conditions in the quarry are beyond even dwarven standards and the Wroughthammers use a combination of disposable goblin labor brought in by the black market and golems, including warforged. Occaisionally prisoners of Strasa will find themselves delegated to the pits, where they may soon fall victim to treacherous rockfalls, and the ever beating Rain. The Pits also ship large amounts of rubble and debris to Strasa, and used as landfill. The Wroughthammer Guild is currently working to subjagate lizardfolk tribes in the area, hoping their aquatic nature will give them better resistance to working in the Rain. 
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Sorry if I'm flooding this thread. It's a really cool setting and I have a lot of ideas. Though I don't know how well these ideas fit with FormerlyCurious's story, I'm going to keep throwing them out there and people can use them as they may.

The Ferryman Institute of Practical Necromancy
Citing the need for an aquatic workforce and using significant quantity of blackmail, Yvelen Sarismoss successfully lobbied the Strasa city council for the issuance of Necromancy licenses that granted the bearer legal rights to raise and maintain undead for nonviolent purposes. With this, Yvelen was able to open the Ferryman Institute to train budding young necromancers in the Art, without the pesky incursion of self-righteous paladins. Though rumored to be an extension of the hidden College of Secrets, a Vecna worshipping religious order, the Institute operates openly and it's graduates are more-or-less respected in the city. Ferrymen are called on to perform numerous and varied tasks, and use their skeletal servitors to do minor underwater repairs, retrieve sunken items and scavenge for goods. Though the main curriculum is dedicated to raising the dead, the Ferrymen Institute also offers courses on construction, diving, surveying and navigation skills. Those who show the necessary drive are often offered deeper initiation into the cult of Vecna. Graduates are independent contractors, but there is a respectfed hierarchy and they often meet in the remodeled cathedral of Pelor that serves as the Institute's headquarters. Here they exchange news, service their boats and skeleton divers, and trade recovered items and secrets. The current headmaster of the Institute, Quaron Ivikor was a pupil under Sarismoss and has a place on the city council. Sarismoss still runs the Institute and the cult from a state of necromantic stasis as she attempts to become a lich before the last of her life force runs out. From this stasis she observes the city through the eyes of the undead controlled by the Ferrymen, searching for the final components of her ritual...

The Librarium of Ioun
The Librarium is at war. With water. Hundreds of thousands of texts and parchments are at risk with the rising water and even the learned scholars of Ioun don't have the magic to hold it all back. Though much of the Librarium was effectively looted by the exodus of nobility who withdrew their personal collections and sometimes more, the building still contains untold quantities of unique books and scrolls authored by Strasa's once burgeoning academic community. With the coming of the Rain, the scribes and librarians have done their best to shelter this store of knowledge, continuously moving books higher and higher up the tower, comissioning additional rooms and expansions for storage and study. The result is the Librarium becoming the most complicated structure in all of Strasa, a maze-like agglomeration of hallways, staircases, studies and exhibits. It is nearly impossible to find the book you are looking for without the help of a librarian or a scrying ritual, and sometimes both are required. A constant effort is made to re-catalog all of the texts, but disagreements over proper placement and the upward migration of books prevents it from ever becoming a reality. Despite the affiliation with Ioun, there was a schism with the local temple of Ioun, and they are headed by different leadership and play different roles in the community. The current head librarian, Poland Ulheath, is a wiry spectacled cleric of Ioun of indeterminate age and boundless energy, who has made it his goal to resist all attempts to remove texts from Strasa, even for purposes of safe keeping. Books are not for loan, due to the dangers of water damage and Ulheath's paranoia.

The Temple of the Tempest
Kord had little following in Strasa til the Rain came, but he rapidly grew in popularity as people sought to appease the mighty storm god. The Temple of the Tempest stands as testament to that. Located on top of a Worker's Tower, the Temple is a relatively recent construction that stands dominant on Strasa's skyline. Unlike most other buildings, it is designed to be exposed to the elements and the rooftop serves as a place of worship. It is well designed, and has an excellent system of water drainage, pouring the water down and around through chutes to create water features and fountains. Lightning rods jut ominously from the Temple, drawing the crack of thunder, the Voice of Kord, to the ceremonies. The head priest, a dragonborn paladin called Mytark the Bold leads enthusiastic prayers and ritual sparring in the pouring Rain, claiming that the Rain will wash away your sins. It has become a point of pilgrimage for the followers of Kord, and it draws a lot of strange folk into the city, strange folk who aren't afraid to fight...
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This is great stuff, Shovel.  Amazing stuff, actually.  Good work!
This is great stuff, Shovel.  Amazing stuff, actually.  Good work!

Thanks mate! I'll see what else I come up with, but I'll also take requests for random stuff.

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My game will begin this weekend, and my players are pretty excited.  I've decided that an ageless, immortal aboleth, called "The Abiding One", has wormed its way up through the flooded, labyrinthine tunnels of the Underdark to the bottom of Old Lake Strasa.  As it lurks beneath the water, its very presence warps the minds of the weak-willed.  The Abiding One is an alien and unknowable being; its goals and motivations are beyond mortal comprehension.

An unfortunate old human fisherman by the name of Caddis has fallen completely unto the aboleth's horrifying influence, and carries out its dark will unflinchingly; he lures unsuspecting victims to the water's edge, or grievously wounds them before violently dragging them under to be consumed -body, soul, and memories- by the Abiding One.

The aboleth uses its psionic powers and mastery of illusions to cover its own tracks, and should Caddis' activities become discovered, the Abiding One would consume him as well, and thoroughly enjoy re-living the old man's killing spree later on.

Shovel, all of the responses that have come in so far have been great, but you are my freaking savior!

My creative side has an odd quirk:  either I can come up with a really neat idea, but I struggle to fill in the details, or;  I can take weeks coming up with a basis that's fundamentally flimsy, but I literally brainstorm forty-plus interesting details to work off of that basis.  Doing both is hard for me for some reason.

So, when I say that the amount of thought you put into this is a boon, what I mean is "Will you go out with me?"

Milkducks, I really like your idea for making Strasa a semi-horror (or at least a very creepy) setting is superb.  The aboleth is a very nice touch!  I don't know if I'm sold on the asthetics of the brownstone architecture, but really anything would work.

The main source of inspiration for this idea was the movie Dark City (with William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly), if that gives you any idea of the tone I wanted the city to embody.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
I like it so much I simply must find a way to land it in Wonderful World.. perhaps I could hang *a* raining city somewhere in the ..oh good ness! I almost forgot. I have a region called The Sky Lakes. They are basically .. lets say the united kingdom, japanese islands, and the florida keys collected and tossed about ten thousand miles into the air. The orbit around a 'the great deluge' a water fall the size of the moon pouring out into the world. The Sky Lakes are the birthplace of the many colored Mans. The *most* human of the species of The Wonderful World (r) :wink: The most common player race are 'Blooms' also known as the walking flowers. They cannot speak.. they communicate through an intricate frond sign language. These descriptions are excelent inspiration for imagining the weather of the Sky Lakes

Thanks for posting this! I still think I am going to hang a raining city in High Skies closer to the source of the deluge. A pirate's cove. Hidden away.. and full of booty! :arr:

:: You can find me on online in one of the 8 dark corners of the internet ::

Milkducks, I really like your idea for making Strasa a semi-horror (or at least a very creepy) setting is superb.  The aboleth is a very nice touch!  I don't know if I'm sold on the asthetics of the brownstone architecture, but really anything would work.

Thanks, man.  The brownstone-themed architecture is really just aesthetically pleasing to me, more than anything else; feel free to ignore it, if it's not something you're into.  I can remember being a young boy, I guess: my grandparents owned a nice brick/brownstone home, trimmed with dark woods (alders and oaks, I think), and I guess it just felt so nice and safe and warm inside.  We get some nasty rain and snow storms up here, and looking out the old glass windows of that house was just great.  I guess I think of memories like that when I think of Strasa; I think of comforting homes, full of warm colours; I think of baking bread and spiced wines; I think of little sanctuaries where people huddle together and share stories when it's bleak and storming and cold outside.

The granite spires idea fits well with Strasa, I think; I can totally see where you're going with it.  But to me, it doesn't feel like a place I could live in.  It feels a little too cold and unfeeling.  I don't know much about how feasible it is to have brick or brownstone buildings in a place where it never stops raining, but I like the idea of sitting in a nice comfortable brownstone tavern, warmed by a great brick fireplace trimmed with brass, sipping spiced ale and hot soup, staring out an old glass window, warped by time, into endless rain.

That's the Strasa I'm using for my story, anyway.

The game went really well last night.  If you want me to post my campaign journal here, I can certainly do that.

Absolutely, please do!  I'm glad to hear your game was such a rousing success.  I'm looking forward to reading what you have.
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
Absolutely, please do!  I'm glad to hear your game was such a rousing success.  I'm looking forward to reading what you have.


Shovel, all of the responses that have come in so far have been great, but you are my freaking savior!

My creative side has an odd quirk:  either I can come up with a really neat idea, but I struggle to fill in the details, or;  I can take weeks coming up with a basis that's fundamentally flimsy, but I literally brainstorm forty-plus interesting details to work off of that basis.  Doing both is hard for me for some reason.

Glad that my ideas were so well recieved! I find that I do my best work when I can take someone else's good ideas and run with them, and you've definitely provided an excellent starting point. I really love world-building, and I can only run so many worlds in my own campaigns, so it's fun to work on new stuff. If you've got some feedback on what you liked and what you didn't like as much, I can steer future posts in that direction. I've got a few more ideas and hopefully I'll have some time to spell them out, but if anyone has specific areas you'd like me to work on, I'll gladly explore them first!

So, when I say that the amount of thought you put into this is a boon, what I mean is "Will you go out with me?"

 I'm flattered, but I'm already taken

Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
The main source of inspiration for this idea was the movie Dark City (with William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly), if that gives you any idea of the tone I wanted the city to embody.

Fine, fine film. 

Would the citizens of Strasa be amnesiacs, too? 

Would there perhaps be a group of unknown, unseen caretakers who maintain the city for their own purposes?

If so, I can't imagine they'd appreciate an aboleth parking itself on 'their' turf.  Maybe they'd manipulate a party of adventurers to take care of this problem so that they wouldn't have to show themselves.  Just throwing anohter idea out there. 

The game went really well last night.  If you want me to post my campaign journal here, I can certainly do that.


The game went really well last night.  If you want me to post my campaign journal here, I can certainly do that.

I hope he didn't die

Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
Agreed.  milkducks, where'd you go?
I'm actually looking forward to D&D Next. I think that every edition had some really awesome qualities, and every edition has truly awful design flaws. I don't expect Next to be any different, but if WotC is actively trying to incorporate the good bits into one unified whole, then I do expect it to be worth playing.
Game report?

:: You can find me on online in one of the 8 dark corners of the internet ::

Hey guys.  No, I didn't die; I've just been really busy with school.  Things have been pretty hectic around here, lol.  I wanted to get my campaign journal up here the day after our first session, but I couldn't get around to it, and all of the sudden, we'd played our second game, and then it felt like it was just too much to write down all at once.  We're about to start our third session, and things are going really well.  I know it's late, but I'll let everybody in on the story so far:

The PCs are the founding members of a well-known adventuring company called The Raven Watch (or just "The 'Watch", for short), who operate out of Strasa.  The group consists of Akkarin, a Human Staff Wizard whose lust for knowledge and arcane power led him to help form the Watch; Virgil, a veteran Human Sword-n-Board Fighter who once served in the Strassan City Guard; Phaedra, an Eladrin noble-girl who got caught up in a whirlwind romance with a thief named Mal, who taught her how to be a rogue, and ended up framing her for muder when a heist went south; and Victoria, a Kalashtar (in my world, simply psionic humans) Cleric of Kord, who psionically-detected Phaedra's innocence, and saved her from the noose.

The Raven Watch have their own headquarters in Strasa, but most of their "downtime" takes place at a tavern called The Brazen Foal.  It's run by an old warrior named Granger, who once led an adventuring party called "The Wild Horses", who were responsible for defeating a Lich that once threatened Strasa.  The Foal is actually well-known throughout Strasa as an "adventurer's tavern", where those who live by their swords and sorcery go to unwind, and share tales of their adventures.  It's a warm and comfortable place, known for its spiced breads and ale.  It's also relatively safe, and free from riff-raff, since it's not exactly the kind of place where you go to start trouble -- everyone being a retired adventurer, you know?

I have three primary plots going at the moment.  In the beginning, I essentially let the players in on what each of them would be all about, and allowed them to choose which one they were most interested in following.  All the plots continue to unfold, however, even though the 'Watch is only actively traveling down a single track. 

The three plots, for example, are like this: one involves the Abiding One, an ancient aboleth that's emerged from the sunless, black seas of the Underdark to Old Lake Strasa.  It is the force behind a string of murders, committed by those under its psionic influence.  This path is sort of "Lovecraftian" in the way its presented; the second plot involves a growing Lizardfolk threat in the swamplands surrounding Strasa.  The warlike, scattered tribes have been uniting lately, under the black banner of Zessith, the self-proclaimed "Chieftain-of-Chieftains".  The treacherous Lizardfolk are only a minor threat at the moment, breaking supply lines and kidnapping locals from time to time to sacrifice to their venomous god, Zehir, but their power is growing week-by-week, and all the Council's resources are being poured into quelling this threat before it runs out of control; finally, Granger has reason to believe that the Lich his adventuring company put down years ago is returning.  If that's true, then all of Strasa could be at risk.  Is the threat legitimate, or has Granger let years of paranoia get to him?  If it's true, has the Lich simply willed itself back from oblivion, or is Strasa's Necromantic Academy somehow responsible?

The PCs decided to go down "The Abiding One Path", so that's the direction we're headed.  Of course, the other two storylines are continuing to advance while they deal with this threat, so later on, Zessith will have proven that the Lizardfolk's faith in him is well-deserved, by using his tactical brilliance to continuously thwart the Council's efforts to put him down.  Basically, he'll be a much more powerful foe.  Same goes for Granger's Lich; it is indeed being brought back from the void.  If the party had decided to follow this track, they'd have been able to stop it from being fully returned, but since they're going after the Abiding One, the Lich will be brought back into the world, and will be a force to be reckoned with later on.

Maybe I'll do another post now?  Break it up a bit?
Man, so great that you used this cool idea! I love the setting so much. How did the players react to it? Has the constant rain impacted things in any unexpected ways?

Your lich storyline might benefit from something like this artifact. Just happened to stumble upon it earlier and when I read your summary it flashed back to mind.

Definitely want to see more
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First Session:

The first game went pretty well, considering that two of our players were completely new to 4th Edition, and hadn't even played 3rd edition for about 10 years.  We play near a computer, so to help set the mood, I used YouTube to play the sound of rain and thunder on a river.  Interesting note: did you know that if you type "repeat" after "youtube" and before ".com", and follow it with the URL of the link you want, YouTube will just repeat the same thing over and over?  I use that keep it playing the whole game.  I think, and the players agree, that the sound of rain in the background helps them get into the story a bit better, so it's something we'll continue to do as long as they party is in or around Strasa.

The story began in The Brazen Foal Inn and Tavern, on a particularly dark and stormy night.  The 'Watch is well-liked at the Foal, because the old-timers like to hear the new stories they bring in, and because they've been doing a lot of great things for Strasa lately, and Granger respects that.  For a  few days, I explained that each of the PCs have had this feeling of "wrongness" that just won't go away, like an itching at the backs of their minds.  It's keeping them from sleeping properly, and everyone's just a little bit on edge, and in need of some relaxation time at the Foal.  Everyone else at the tavern seems to be having a great time, but none of them can shake the feeling that something's just wrong.

There's been a string of disappearances throughout the city lately, and everyone's been looking to the 'Watch to set things straight.  Even so, they've been unable to slap together any suspects, solid motives, or even patterns to the disappearances.  At any rate, given the poverty level in some areas of Strasa, and the rising number of homeless throughout the city that nobody would miss ... it's entirely likely that there are far more people missing than have been reported.

At some point during the night, when lightning crashed and briefly lit up the shadowy streets of Strasa, two of the characters noticed a figure standing just outside the window to the Foal, staring in at everyone inside.  They only glimpsed him for a moment before darkness fell on the Raining City once again, and when Virgil stood up to investigate, nobody was there.  Later on, a strong gust of wind blew open the heavy wooden door to the tavern, sending game chips and parchments spiraling into the air for a moment.  When Victoria stood up from her table to gather up a few things, something dripped down from the ceiling onto her forehead; something warm and wet and thick -- blood.

She and the other players looked up to the ceiling, and saw it dripping down from the rooms up above the tavern.  Virgil drew his sword and rushed ahead of the others to investigate.  When he kicked open the door to the room, he immediately noticed the streaks of blood indicating that someone was dragged out the open window.  He ran over, looked out, and saw that same strange figure from before, dragging a bloodied and struggling man toward the edge of the canal.  Virgil shouted out to them, and the figure dropped the man and ran off through the streets.

On their way out the door, the 'Watch informed Granger of the injured man in the street; he told them he'd tend to his wounds, and that they shouldn't waste any time going after the would-be murderer.  So that led us to our first Skill Challenge: a chase scene through Strasa's streets and across the rain-slick rooftops to catch this mysterious figure.

During the chase, the world around them seemed to warp and shudder; alleyways yawned open where none had been before, while others slid shut; some of the everburning lanterns that lined the streets took on otherwordly colours, while others extinguished outright.  Some of the more Insightful members of the 'Watch recognized the happenings as an Illusion, but were unable to fully pierce it.

Finally, the group caught up to the man they'd been chasing.  They threw him to the cobblestones and tossed back his hood.  The old man revealed beneath seemed somehow incapable of the feats of strength and speed they'd witnessed earlier; this frail man had no strength in his arms, and the way he choked and gasped for air, it seemed as though his body were about to give out entirely.  Still, he shouted in-between labored breaths in a language nobody understood.  He spoke the Deep Speech; the otherwordly tongue of nightmares and Those-Who-Watch.  Unable to make any sense of his ramblings, Victoria attempted to make Telepathic contact with the man (a move I, somehow, did not expect).  Since Telepathy ignores language altogether, she was able to understand him; he repeated one phrase several times: "The Abiding One will come for me."

Victoria pieced together fragments of the man's memory (I figured, "What the hell, why not?") and witnessed a memory of him sitting on the docks, and seeing a strange black mass writhing beneath the water.  Just as it was about to breach the surface, she lost contact, and the 'Watch suddenly found themselves surrounded by sodden, twisted figures that crawled up from the canals.

Roll for Initiative!

Since that was the only fight I had planned for the evening, I designed it to be pretty tough.  There were a couple of close calls, and I honestly pulled a few punches, because not everyone at the table was totally familiar with 4th Edition, and I didn't want anyone to drop on the first encounter of the first session, lol.  In the end, they made it through. but the old man they'd been pursuing died -- his body gave out under the stress of the chase.  There was nothing they could do.

That's pretty much where we ended that particular session.  In between that night and the next game, we decided that the 'Watch brought the story to the Council of Strasa, and were rewarded for their work.  The Council, stretched thin by the growing Lizardfolk threat, authorized the 'Watch to operate with their authority in their investigation of this "Abiding One", whom the PCs believe was involved in the disappearances.

Which brings us to Game 2 (I may not be able to write up a full breakdown of Game 2 right this minute, but I'll have it up soon.  Also, we'll be playing Game 3 tonight, so expect more soon.  Again, sorry for making you all wait so long for this stuff.  I've just been really busy.)

Wonderful writeup and fantastic adventure! It sounds like one heck of a time. I really like your design of the different paths.. do they all converge at some point in the future, or run parallel but affect one another in different ways?
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Played our third session last night.  It was probably our best so far.  Each of the players gains a better understanding of their characters each session, and things are really moving along nicely.  I'm prepared to post my campaign journals for Sessions 2 and 3, but I don't have time today; Easter, and all that.
Happy Easter to ya, and to all... can't wait to see those writeups.   Really loving this city and the storylines.
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Second Session (We're catching up!)

Okay, let's get this started:

Having prevented the attempted murder of one of the Foal's patrons, the PCs report their findings to the Council, who have offered a reward to anyone who can put an end to the recent rash of slayings / disappearances.  The 'Watch has reason to suspect that the old man they chased through the city is not the real threat, so they report what they know of the "Abiding One", as well.  The Council is, of course, interested in learning more, but are unfortunately stretched far too thin at present, dealing with Zessith and the Lizardfolk threat, so they ask the Raven Watch to continue the investigation, and empower them with the ability to act with their authority while doing so.  This gives them access to areas of the city they might ordinarily not have, amongst other things.

Cursory investigation reveals the old man to be named "Caddis", and that he's worked as a fisherman on the poor side of Cecil's Wall for many years.  He had no family to speak of, but he did own a humble house boat; the PCs decided to start their investigation there.

During their search, Victoria discovered a journal hidden beneath Caddis' pillow, the final pages of which describe the fisherman's encounter with a writhing black creature beneath the waters, and his subsequent descent into madness.  Having looked into the eyes of the beast as they emerged from the dark waters like three great lanterns, Caddis' mind was assaulted with visions: he glimpsed the great sunless seas of the Underdark; ancient, alien ruins, rising out from the roiling surface of a black ocean; and a massive, fiery heart, which beat a savage rhythm through his mind like the sound of a thousand horses, all galloping in union.

That last image stuck with Caddis, because he recognized its location: in the time of his youth, many years ago, he played in the maze-like cisterns beneath Strasa; one older section of tunnels leads to a central chamber that he knew quite well.  According to the vision, that was the resting place of this nightmarish heart.  Unable to eat or sleep since he encountered the Abiding One, what choice did Caddis have?  He had to investigate.

The final entry in the journal describes how he gathered up his strength, and ventured forth into the dark and watery bowels of the Raining City, in hopes of putting an end to the otherwordly rhythm that refused to leave his mind, and was almost certainly driving him to the brink of madness.

At this point, the PCs have more-or-less discovered that Caddis was not a "villain"; simply a pawn of the Abiding One who lost his mind to its formidable psionic strength.  They resolve to stop this creature, no matter the cost, so that other innocent men like Caddis aren't corrupted.  They decide to follow in his footsteps, down into the city cistern, to try and find the fiery heart he describes from the vision.  Perhaps, if they can destroy it (assuming it even exists), they can disrupt the Abiding One's sway over its victims.

So they gathered up their sunrods, acquired a recently-updated map of the cisterns, and headed down.

Following the map toward the central chamber described in the journal, the 'Watch eventually happens upon a large and ghastly collection of dead bodies, stacked alongside the edges of the walkway.  They're in various stages of decay and dress, though they're almost all disgustingly bloated, from being half-submerged in water all this time.  The hallway smells absolutely foul, but it's the only one that leads to the Heart, so the PCs soldier on.

As they continue, they encounter more and more bodies, and then they hear something that really makes them uncomfortable: the creaking of pipes, and the rushing of water.  Drainage grates open up all around them, and the PCs decide to make a break down the tunnel, but up ahead of them in the darkness is a flurry of movement, just beyond the edge of their vision.  As they make their way forward, they realize they're coming up on the biggest pile of bodies yet ... and this one's moving; the dead begin to crawl and grasp ahold of one another, forming a wall of bodies to prevent the living from passing into the next chamber.

With the water quickly rising, and dead fingers grasping out toward them, the 'Watch had only moments to act.  I presented this encounter as a Skill Challenge, basically.  I think it went pretty well:

Virgil did his best to just hack his way through the wall with his longsword, but for every rotting limb he cleaved apart, another reached out to block his path; Akkarrin used Area-of-Effect Cold spells to try and snap freeze the drainage grates shut, and was pretty successful; Phaedra located a central drainage mechanism, and did her best to jam it with her Thievery skill.  On about round 3, Victoria did something I didn't expect, and she really turned the tide of the encounter: she used Turn Undead on the wall, forcing them back, and scattering them all throughout the corridor.

They were pretty close to the end of the Skill Challenge anyway, so I ruled that the move earned them the extra successes they needed to win it.  Everyone thought that was pretty cool.

So then they made their way into the central chamber, where they encountered the fiery heart described in Caddis' journal.  The water there was foul and thick, like mucus, and it seemed to bubble up and almost reach for the PCs as they walked near the edge.  The chamber itself, unlike the rest of the cistern, wasn't completely dark; the Heart itself illuminated the area with a malevolent, fiery light.  It burned above an altar of sorts, errected on the opposite end of the chamber, and before it were a collection of Bullywugs, seemingly worshipping it like a God.

When they noticed the 'Watch, all hell broke loose.

Roll for Initiative!

I placed a couple of Blue and Red Runic tiles on the board in several locations, and at the start of every turn, alternated them (Blue became Red, Red became Blue).  Blue Runes did nothing special, but the Red Runes dealt Fire Damage to anyone standing on them at the start of their turn.  So, the way they were set up on the board, the players had to really think about their positioning, and the direction they wanted to head.

I re-skinned some Kobold Slingers, describing them as Bullywugs, and had them use their Glue Pots on anyone standing on the safe Blue Runes, so they'd hopefully be stuck there when they shifted to Red.  I also re-skinned a Hobgoblin Warcaster to be another Bullywug, and used his push powers liberally to knock players back onto Red Runes.

All in all, that encounter was pretty fun.  I'm excited to do more stuff like that in the future.

As it turns out, Virgil speaks Primordial.  He says its because I said that Bullywugs were a common problem in the swamplands surrounding Strasa, and that he wanted his character, as a former member of the Guard, to be able to speak their language.  Fair enough.  Once the group was down to just one bloodied enemy, Virgil got ahold of it and rolled a Natural 20 on an Intimidation check.  The Bullwug ended up revealing to them that the Heart in this chamber is, indeed, a source the Abiding One's power.  So far from the seas of his birth, it requires these fonts of power to focus its psionic energies.  There are 3 such Hearts in Strasa, though he admits to only knowing the location of this one.

Appreciating the information, Virgil shows mercy on the Bullywug ... and ends his life quickly.

Using their knowledge of Arcana, and a judicious amount of brute force, the 'Watch dissipates the Heart, casting shadows throughout the chamber once again.  When they light up their sunrods, they notice that the mucus-y water has been instantly cleansed.

And that's pretty much where Session 2 ended.  All in all, I think it went really well.  Session 3, however, was the best yet.  I can't wait to write that one out again.  I tried some different DMing approaches, and I think the players really liked it.  In fact, Virgil's player called me the next day and said he had just about the most fun he's ever had playing D&D.

So, yeah.  Stay tuned for Session 3.
Also, just wanted to point out that I know the Abiding One shouldn't really require fonts of magical energy to focus its psionic powers.  Unfortunately, the players are only Level 2 at this point, so an Aboleth is so much more powerful that it's not even a contest.  I needed to figure out ways for the low level group to somehow affect this ancient, other-wordly creature, without actually, you know ... fighting it.  So they've dealt with its agents, and now they're learning that it needs these fonts of power to focus its mind, since its so far away from the seas of its birth.  Those are things the 'Watch can handle right now, you know?

They have no hope of defeating the Abiding One directly, but if they can weaken it by destroying these Hearts, maybe they can force it back into the Underdark.  That's a start, at least.  When they're higher level, they'll have the option of taking the fight to the Abiding One on its home turf, which could be really interesting.

Also, I really wanted to play up the Abiding One as this creature of unimaginable power.  I want the players to fear it.  I want it to warp the world around it with illusions, and give people who encounter it nightmares.  I want it to be unique, I guess.  So I never even describe it as an aboleth.  In my version of the world, maybe it's the only one of its kind, you know what I mean?  I don't imagine an underwater city where hundreds or even thousands of these things live.  That's just ... way overboard.

If it's a single, unique monster, who's terrorized the world since the race of Men was young, that's a lot more memorable, I think.
I think that's very cool, and it's a good way to introduce the characters to something way beyond them right now.

Maybe you could describe it as actually still being in the underdark, locked in a magically sealed chamber for millenia.  It has only time, and over the long, dark years probing at the wards it has finally found a weakness. 

It has been able to slip a part of its consciousness through to start manifesting in the world above and is seeking the details/components for a ritual to fully free it. That gives a compelling reason for this powerful being to need relatively low-powered thralls; those with lower mental defenses are the only ones it can affect at this point... but it's getting stronger. 

This kind of setup lets the enemy progress in power along with the players, and sets up a lot of cool possibilities.

Awesome job with this very cool campaign so far.. can't wait to hear more.
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