Saturday, 9 January 2016

Black Science - Notes for a Cthulhu Superhumans RPG



A New Aeon of Black Science 
A setting for more than human investigators against the forces of dark alien science. This is something with my psychic rules I once thought i would write up as a monograph or game book years ago. Thought I would drag it out here. I could be convinced to run this or write a proper sourcebook or show my mechanics I guess. Possibly bits written on commodore Amiga on 3"floppy.

IntroductionWelcome to the world of black science. Where things walk among men that ought not to have. Where secretive cutting-edge science is just a pawn of alien gods and their unfathomable goals. Where with great power comes an even greater price. Where a bright spark in the infinite darkness can offer humanity a brief respite.
Call of cthulhu, basic Role playing and Superworld mash up pretty well and there were mag published superworld adventures with Dholes (where i dropped light artillery from orbit on them thanks to broken falling damage rules. I played a bit of superworld and it was probably my first BRP game and I quickly preferred it to Champions. I think now I would get rid of point system and have lists of created powers set at different levels and linked to origins. Once I got into TSR Advanced  Marvel Superheroes I never went back but the point of my Black Science Setting would be horror and fragility which BRP does well. Would fit into Laundry setting too. The pulp setting for CoC which never came out probably has some overlap. Zenith comic by Grant Morrison was awesome. Plenty of HPL in DC and Marvel long before he was cool.

In this setting the government know about they Mythos but keep it under wraps. Dozens of cults around the world have been wiped out but children taken from cults have been raised by agents. Many are tested for inhuman abilities but some cases have avoided screening despite best efforts so the subjects are monitored for life and even used as cultist bait. There are other background types but initially would start all off as cult kid hybrids being sent with handlers under false pretenses into former mythos areas to see if subjects react. Handlers may be required to kill subjects gone out of control.

My Inspirations for all thisPart of this evolved from having run several extended Coc campaigns which left the party with high sanity scores, artifacts aplenty, money and self published spell books for dummies in their secret clubhouse. They ran bootleg hooch through a gate from Boston to England (using donkeys to pass through the gate to minimize sanity loss). They had a lethal arsenal of mausers, trench guns, browning automatic rifles and tommy guns. A gangster character had never read a mythos tome yet had his many teachers had mastered and passed onto him every binding and banishment spell before going themselves went mad. At one point on their voyage to Ralyeh, I had them battle the many characters who had become monsters and madmen over the years. This kind of resembled a superheroic battle scene. With star vampires, byakee and creatures which had once been investigators. With shotguns loaded with elder sign slugs and powder of ibn ghazi. Even a great race lightning gun. When enough investigators survive long enough they will often amass enough firepower, magic and worldly resources to terrify any state authorities. Part of this campaign book is to provide the next leval of challenges for such campaigns.

Once every one knows all the basic monsters and methodology of 1920s terrorism standard CoC loses it's zing a bit.

My other inspiration came from my first Coc Keeper (Justin or Spike)who let players be psychic or a vampire (or even blind on one occasion) and managed to make every player regret it. It’s hard on sanity when you sense otherworldly beings nobody else can. Or you can see a grisly murder performed on site decades ago. Or you are contacted by a lost god from beneath a lake. One player thought it would be cool to be a vampire until his SAN diminished and he couldn’t help but brutally murder humans. This left dangerous red herrings for his teammates for a while. Fate whittled down his sanity till he had to be put down by his former friends, after he killed his own family. Still the star that burns twice as bright but half as long can be entertaining to play.

Lovecraft versus the SuperhumansMainstream superhero comics have elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. These comics were fueled by ideas in found in Amazing Stories and Weird Tales and other pulp periodicals. Older comic universes like DC and Marvel have many ideas inspired by pre WW2 pulp. Thus you see Marvel and DC include elements such as primordial continents and lost civilizations inspired by other mythos writers such as clack Ashton Smith and Robert E Howard. Dr Strange and Dr Fate battle supernatural horrors best left imprisoned aeons ago. X-men have battled demons trapped under stone circles. While Magneto for a time lived in a sunken alien city he raised from the ocean floor with his powers.

The Wild cards shared world novella series feature many mythos like elements from the Egyptian freemasons to the star faring Tiamat organism hidden in space and raining monsters down on the earth.

Hellboy straddles the world of supernatural horror and superheroes also with a rich mixture of history and mythology. Although few Dark Science players would trust a fishboy amid their ranks.

More esoteric comics dealing with the supernatural have become all too common from Hellblazer to swamp thing to Sandman thanks to UK writers. The English 2000AD comics featured likewise many Mythos inspired demons and aliens.

Writer Grant Morrison is especially noteworthy. The Invisibles featured a unique and esoteric view of the modern occult adventurer who occasionally deal with mythos like phenomena. His other noteworthy effort in this genre was of particular inspiration: Zenith – a serial story from 2000AD in the 80s.

In Zenith the superhumans were byproducts of the Thule society plot to breed host bodies for alien gods from other dimensions. The British gained German secrets and produced their own. The series deal with Zenith – a spoiled media darling and brat who is forced to confront his parents disappearance and battle the god Iok Sottoth. Eventually this leads to a multiversal war where heroes destroy whole universes to stop the old ones. Eventually it is revealed the former heroes of yesteryear were even more intimate with the elder gods than earlier imagined. Morrison mixes history, pop culture and the occult in a manner comparable to HP Lovecraft. Mixing elements of Nazi occult history with pop conspiracy created a mythic authenticity to his project of creating a unique English super hero strip.

Explorers of black science – more than human

Most Coc campaigns feature frail and vulnerable heroes alone in the dark. But there are a few mythos characters which could fit in quite well. Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow, August Derlith’s Dr Shrewsbury and Lovecraft’s Dreamer. These men acted without the mind destroying shock of the supernatural and even called on powers beyond the ken on mortal men against the mythos. The tone of Derleths Mythos is different to lovecrafts and traditional Coc (calling apon Byakee to fly to alien planets and Nuking Cthulhu is pretty hardcore). Lumley has organised humans who fight back and have many resources to call on like psychics and elder sighns.  Ceramic elder sign shotgun slugs anyone?

While many superhuman settings emphasize heroism, action and optimism aplenty this one doesn’t. Anyone who has real powers is either a product of alien black science or is abnormally open to the other dimensions they occupy. Conspiracies, cults and the government will hunt them to study and exploit them. Otherworldly beings seek to devour their godlike flesh or use them as hosts or worse. If the public even know they exist then they hate and fear them. Others fawn before them like worshipers before false idols – the masses swooning before state manufactured superstars.

Everyone expects super humans to be angels or devils, but not human.

Beings of more than human power may seem like the wonders of recent DNA technology but extraordinary men dwelled in primordial ages before recorded civilization. Have scientists just been duped to recreate the prehistoric order by hidden forces. Various sorcerers like Eibon have their traveled to other worlds, some even like other of Clark Ashton Smith’s heroes may travel in time or be immortal. Howard had Eternal champions and flashbacks to primordial prior incarnations. Fragments of this ancient world of sorcerers and supernatural near humans from time to time pierce the veil of time and haunt the super humans of today.

Investigators with powers will be more focused on survival and self interest than saving the world for its own sake. super humans cant ignore that mythos and state forces will take an interest in them. You cant stop the monsters that lurk beyond the veil of sanity but you can make life harder for them and protect yourself. On a good day you can save the world too.

While intended to suit a modern or near future campaign there is no reason ideas here could not be incorporated into a 1920s or gaslight campaign. Of course being able to shoot explosive beams might be quite hazardous on a vintage plane, airship or boat. One could also play this material as a source for new threats and leave investigators unchanged from standard campaigns but instead investigating a black science super human operative program or cult breeding farm.
Elite veteran investigators
Well armed knowledgeable mythos investigators recruited from field or trained by agencies. Freelance investigators are considered threats to be recruited watched or assassinated.

Sages
These individuals resist mythos induced insanity and can even restore sanity. While less of a public danger they are desirable to recruit and vulnerable to blackmail. Tend to be repulsed by violence.

ImmortalsMost immortals are cult sorcerers but some have been found sane and recruited by force. Can be hard to kill and cannot be completely trusted.

Monster and God Hybrids
Including deep ones, spawn of Iquatha or YogSothoth and others may be recruited but not to be trusted. When their sanity shatters their inhuman abilities increase. Psychic residue may also stimulate their powers. Some may preach hatred of their inhuman heritage but hat wont stop them monstering out.

Mutants
Humans modified by mythos agent contamination. Many are hostile to mythos but still may become monsters when the last of their sanity breaks.

Meta Humans
Humans modified into living weapons by mythos entities. Abilities often latent till exposed to life threatening stimulus. Power makes them arrogant and many are unstable.

Symbiotes - Biological
Humans bonded with a biological entity living off the hosts body. They increase survival odds of host to a point, even transforming them or extending monstrous appendages from host body. Eventually entity may violently exit the host to enter a new phase of life or find a new body.  

Symbiotes - Psionic
Mental entities posses a host human and use them as a vessel. Might include aliens, sorcerers, yithians and others. Many entities have powers

Dreamers
Dreamers are humans who travel to other planes in their sleep and are sensitive to psionic impressions of mythos activity. Interpreting their experiences in waking world dificult

Psychic
These sensitives can be invaluable for agencies and best not left for rival agencies or cults or monsters to find. Powers are invaluable but sensitivity may make them witness sanity shattering events others cannot perceive.

Sorcerers
Use magical knowledge from elder tomes and cults or even dream sendings of gods. Sorcerers are highly unstable and prone to madness and treachery. Some prepare for life after death and may manage to return as living dead or as crawling masses of worms or worse. Sorcerers have a number of spells and deals directly with demons and horrors beyond normal men. While such is a path to madness – some sorcerers for a time manage to dominate the forces of evil

Artifact WielderSome people become bonded to alien or mythos artifacts which may provide exotic abilities. Some can operate them safely while others suffer "curse effects". Some may appear as machines or organic or as magic artifacts.

Monsters
Vampires, ghouls, werewolves, proto-shoggoths and other forms may exist but most deteriorate into madness rapidly.

Time Travellers and Plane TravellersSuch travellers may know interesting information and may jaunt to other planes or times to escape or find facts. Such travel is dangerous and attracts gods. Some might only mentally travel like a dreamer.

Sanity
Powers being used for first time might cause SAN loss. Also witnessing another character explode someone might cause losses even for grizzled war vets. Heroic powers might induce insanity such as overbearing ego, arrogance, sexual mania, paranoia, sadism, unreasonable fearlessness etc. Isanities might suit certain types like a vampire even the psychic kind might feel a need to leave bloody corpses in public. Some types might change or evolve taking on a major physical change with each insanity.

Scenarios ideas

Super cultists making supermen – fanatics will do anything to get ultimate power – try strange science, black magic, bond with an alien symbiote, be a guinea pig, serve alien gods, trust ultraterrestrials, even train hard with a unknowable secret society. Some are just beginning in their black labs, some have been doing it for thousands of years with alien symbiotes and breeding programs. You can,t always believe where your powers come from. Government may well lie about that radioactive spider to the son of the spider goddess.

Investigations are common adventure mode but agencies often send in tainted agents to expose mythos activity in area or a agents tainted genes as a test. Sending investigators into long dormant sites might awaken dark powers on site or in a investigator. You might start off as x-file agents only to discover something real and have a more secret agency adopt you.

Corruption, conspiracy and Cthulhu – smoke and mirrors, wheels within wheels – flee or fight the secret organizations which smother the lives of super humans. Betrayal, hunted by mysterious enamies and cunning escapes are the rule here. Origin subplots can be separate or linked to campaign meta narrative.

The Quest – in Coc investigators seek to find knowledge and relics and spells to fight horror. Superhumans likewise search to find the mysteries of themselves and invariably come to hunt and battle others like them. An enemy is exposed and the super-naturalist must find a foes weakness, secret or lair to have a chance of stopping them.

Adventure and exploration – the adventurers find a location beyond the experience of normal men. Some lost world or place separated by space or time is glimpsed and has a chance to make amazing discoveries. Primordial lands, exotic beings, natural hazards and obstacles await them. Outre Worlds might be accessible through gates or transport by a entity. Limbo, dreamlands

Overspace entities are constantly breaking through and a bit of help from a sensitive dreamer or a cult can unleash horrible entities. Clues from local history may reveal past incursions.

Real world historyA possible influence on Grant Morrison is the book Morning of the Magicians – a supposed non- fiction pop occult and conspiracy book which deals with ideas found in late 19th and early 20th century occultism and claims Lovecraft was right all along. It tries to connect ideas like Athurian mythos and Nazi eugenics to actual alien space gods and beings from overspace who want to occupy our bodies. Super humans, mental powers and lost civilizations abound in Theosophy, Scientology and Ohm Supreme Truth. There is plenty of real world “non-fiction” ideas and beliefs to inspire and blend in with your own Black Science scenarios.

Some Game System notesI have gone for providing a wide range of character mods which could be applied quickly to generate new characters rapidly like the original Call of Cthulhu. If superhumans don’t die every session many may well go mad and become new obstacles for their friends, thus necessitating fast character generation. These mods are simpler to slap on a basic character than those point systems in Superworld or BRP but are compatible with both. These mods could be taken in multiples if the Keeper is alright with it – like a veteran investigator turned sage or an immortal with a symbiote.

In such a campaign anything from any BRP product could be used to describe other types of paranormal abilities. Even Nephalim or Stormbringer elements might be useful. Also any power might be adversely affected by interactions with different powers. A shaman might posses your sybiote. A sorcerers magic blade might ignore technological armors. Champions of antagonistic gods might involuntarily attack each in public. Agencies might pit gods and their cults against each other.

Black Science Campaign
One of the principle challenges of Dark Science is that it offers a new role playing experience and uses familiar and new menaces. Unlike many investigators, superhumans may fight back and may win. While superhuman investigators may include information gathering or combat abilities beyond
the norm the threat of madness and danger is ever greater. You could have to deal with a character whose psychometric abilities saw too much and is now screaming madly about the blood everywhere. Being bulletproof and stronger than ordinary men might make you take out the rank and file of cultists – but they too may have their own superhuman agents, monsters and sorcerers whose powers might regard you as just a normal. Dark gods might sniff you out as different all along. Nyarlathotep might be grooming you all along planning for your flowering into madness.

In the world of dark Science cults and governments also have more active presence on the investigators lives, actively pursuing them with elite trained agents then increasingly powerful superhuman operatives.

If you destroy a deep one nest and leave clues, you might find sailors, naval intelligence and fishermen all glare at you knowingly everywhere you go. Exotic assassins might strike after cult thugs fail a kidnap attempt. Deep-one Hybrid Sorcerers’, proto-shoggoths and other increasingly weird threats will assail them. Eventually investigators agree to never cross open water and the elders of Insmouth plots are saved for a more opportune time. Later the Investigators are later fleeing the Cthonians must cross the water, only to have a horde of deepones and Father Dagon attack. Likewise polar regions and Iquatha could be a hazard.

Also in Black Science, journeys to other worlds is more common. Dreamlands, Limbo the interstitial void of overspace are more accessible. Journeys to other worlds or primordial epochs are all possible. In Grant Morrisons Invisibles, characters dodge an explosion by jumping into another universe. William Hope Hodkinsons House on the Borderlands inspires one of the included scenarios. Many Haunted locations could exist on multiple planes at once. Possibly only the investigators can perceive creatures lurking in in an overlapping dream reality.

CharactersSome expanded notes on character types and stuff.

*Characters could be taken as vetran investigators from a traditional campaign. Even from a different epoch.

*Or they could be a standard character made as per your usual rules with one or more add on power options – noting that each of these have their own unique flaws and risks.

*Generate a character as per non-human race description like a ghoul or proto shoggoth or deep one or vampire

Power levels do vary. Some of the more deadly types might not be so useful to have around when their minds finally snap. Some types go mad faster.

In context of a campaign, keepers may wish to limit the availability of types to only a few, or limit which can be played. For an introductory campaign giving everybody a shared origin story is fairly straightforward. Perhaps different governments use different technologies from different gods. A team could all be military research prototypes or perhaps all modified by an alien species needing hosts for something else.

Mixed types are fine too. Some types are complementary or have particularly useful abilities. For example a Psychic, a Dreamer, a Veteran monster hunter and a Sage might work well together and be a fairly subtle able to hide among mortal men.

An experienced player group might have ideas for weird characters of their own after a while but you could introduce different more types. You could keep abilities obscure introducing character abilities gradually (as san drops). Let them solve the mystery of their power type. Perhaps pick backgrounds which suit their skills. A psychic investigator might actually be psionicly sensitive. A marine archeologist doesn’t know his dad was adopted from some Insmouth girl. A soldier finds he is invulnerable but takes longer to discover he has an alien god symbiote keeping him from harm. Players can have backup characters ready to go in event of injury, insanity or worse.

Vetran monster hunters and mythos busters
A team of vetran or elite mythos investigators who have weapons, magical relics, money, spells, sanity to spare and even magical healing is a dangerous force. When characters begin to act like super terrorists, clouding the minds of millitary base armoury guards to steal arms or killing a town sherrif in cold blood, or blowing up the silver twilight lodge while full of city officials then its fair to say they have crossed the line between men and monsters. They often work in teams from a central organization. This allows new investigators to be trained by experts while older ones had therapy. Their fellow humans would ordinarily turn on them and wouldn’t understand. Veterans might take minimum SAN loss for a few minor species or human gore.

The Theron Marks Society – most of the organization was killed and their headquarters burned to the ground. But perhaps some survived and with cashes and new identities be still active, more careful than ever before. They even have their own manual of methodology, which new groups may adopt as their inspiration. Whatever killed the original society or original survivors might not approve.

The Shrewsbury Guild – Students of Shrewsbury’s celano fragments who gathered to use his methodology to stalk the mythos. At one time a schism developed when one leader claimed that Shrewbury was an agent of hastur battling cthulhu. The Group was shattered and an many slew each other in the fued. The original team survivors have a new generation of students ready to fight. The Hastur Schism still haunts them and thus they hunt Dr Shrewsbury to solve the matter. Brief possible contact with Shrewsbury has not cleared the issue only confirmed his mysterious and increasingly inhuman nature and war against Cthulhu and his cult.

The Wentworth trust – After his first sanity shattering investigator, retired English colonel and even one time acting colonial governor recruited an organization to battle the mythos internationally. Using many of his own children before he himself died facing Ygolnac. One fateful evening one insane member claimed the whole trust organization was dangerous cult and that there were no monsters. A resulting gun battle in the library killed most of the original members. Wentworth’s friend Aubery Wilson has taken the reigns of the group and plans a new campaign to exterminate the old ones schemes.

SagesA forgotten feature from early editions of CoC.
Sages persons who for unclear reasons are different than ordinary men. Often living simple lives Sages take no sanity losses from any source and can also heal sanity losses in students, superior to normal therapy. Sages have many unusual skills and specialties. They spend their time researching, contemplating and just being. They can be capable of self defense but try to not fight unless pressed. On the downside sages usually do not interfere, they try to not stand out and avoid violence. Some mythos sorcerers, aware of what a sage is may negotiate leaving a sage alone if they do not interfere. A sage who gets in their way or has valuable artifacts is fair game. Many Sages have an elder sign.

Immortals
Immortals have through some means been made immortal they may have extraordinary skills and firsthand knowledge. The older the immortal the more enemies they will have accumulated.
Immortals may need some exotic means to sustain themselves.

Immortal Wanderer – the character takes sanity loses from doomed relationships with people or places so they keep moving every 20-30 years. Immortals can obtain more power through ritually slaying their own kind. They recover most injuries and can reattach limbs but decapitation or massive torso damage or incineration might kill them dead.

Eternal Champion – reborn in new bodies in different times and places to do battle with chaos. May meet other incarnations of enamies, lovers and friends all doomed by fate to relive their battles again and again. May recognize events from the primordial age being reenacted. Some might actually remember past incarnations and be reborn again if killed. They will have immortal enemies.

Immortal Wizard – Using some kind of ritual, rare substance or spell the wizard maintains immortality. Most require yearly treatments and are expensive and rare. Some grow ever rarer or more illegal every year. Potions with 3-4 exotic ingrediants and formula, ritual sex with virgins, draining the life force from others, human sacrifice, swapping bodies, contact a god or worse. d. 

Meta Humans
Bred them to be hosts for alien embrios or gods from overspace who tend to explode lesser bodies. Also made by races such as MiGo or Old ones or by scientists inspired by gods for their schemes. The processes which created these species were made from only a few species at first which were bred into newer sub species in more recent generations. There was a genetic arms race which these species were fought over for control. Perhaps old gods of myth were such beings. Such appear most like superheroes or gods of old. Each type has specific attribute bonus’s and a minor power in common with their types. While each has several additional powers at extreme level selected from a list for their type. Most meta-humans start naive as to their true status unless raised by state or a cult.

While frighteningly powerful – learning to harness their own powers often drive them mad. Also someone or several forces consider them property. Many metahumans have failsafe codes, weaknesses, phobias and other built in defects for their makers to control them.

Many metahumans have symbiotic costumes which assist their survival and are actually packaging made by their makers to brand and protect them.

Mutants 
Mutants have been exposed to some agent, possibly from the mythos which has resulted in the mutant having random featutres. While some are freaks, some manage to hide their exotic features. Many have odd hair and skintones. More mutations means higher risk for defective or distinguishing deformity. The taint of their mutation may have other symptoms and problems. Some have the taint in their bloodline, others have been exposed to strange radiations, weird slime or alien spores. Some mutations are consistant from one source others more random. Some mutants are a product of being in a contaminated environment which aids their bodies in adaption. Hidden caverns with strange radiations may create a race of albino mole people mutants. Some mutants evolve rapidly in play becoming inhuman.

Symbiotes
Humans with an alien life form bonded to them giving the extraordinary abilities. There are many kinds including biological and non-copreal entities. Some need humans to survive in our world. Some are familiars capable on independent action but needing the host to feed. Some are extra internal organs, possibly embrios of alien beings. Some are skinsuits providing protection from harm. Some are always invisible, others change shape or appear in moments of crisis.

Other symbiotes are spirit beings who normaly inhabit nonmaterial worlds. A shamans fetch or the spiritual twin of an Iraqi mysic could be examples. A georgean ghost ancestor or alien spirit might provide knowledge, see otherworldly beings and warn the investigator. Some spirits might give misleading or unclear messages or just not be present because they are hiding from something worse. Some have abilities to interact with the world or just one location. Some might be able to open a door or fling a pan of boiling water like a poltergeist. Some entities are malevolent and selfish exhorting the investigator to act unlike themselves. Some might be able to use your body when you deplete magical energies to unconsciousness or sleep or mind controlled.

Psychics
Users of mental powers using psychic energy to attain feats like magic to most people. The first uses of psychic powers may be a SAN damaging event like a personal tragedy. Psychic children with second sight are born through all history – some are praised and others are shunned. Some have their powers appear after an accident or exposure to another psychic. Some learn themselves, others belong to secret schools or had a master. Many forces may take an unhealthy interest in a psychic .

Dreamers 
Explorers of the dreamlands – those of HP Lovecraft and others. The dreamer may interact with others dreams or even those of supernatural beings like Cthulhu. A dreamer may have used drugs, been a natural or used an artifact or ritual. To some dreaming is something which draws them evermore away from the waking world. To others it is a nightmare which makes them fear to sleep. A dreamer merely sleeps and lets the psychic residue of his location influence his dreams. What he sees may be allegorical or shrouded in metaphor – or possibly he is able to interact with some local entity.

Magical and Technological Artifacts Technology of some alien race, cybernetic implants from the government or a functional time scanner might all be possible. Occult technology like a ring which makes you near invulnerable to impaling attacks, a summoners flute that calls byakee and helps being them or a magical enchanted blade which has an elder sign in the pommel. Such relics have a risk of attracting original owners but makes user able to fare along side other powers.

5 comments:

  1. This is uncanny because I was thinking about something just like this. I wanted to run a serious Supers game so I figured I would run Supers in Cuthulu modules which got to thinking about the possibilities....I'd love to see a sourcebook.

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  2. Have you checked out Ken Hite's Adventures Into Darkness? It's an overview of H.P. Lovecraft's Golden Age comics. This is set in a world where Lovecraft survived his cancer. A good setting with more superhero versions of classic Lovecraft characters.

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    1. I have it and used it but too "4-colour pulp" comic book for this scenario and game style - actually i wanted to mention in article but i couldn't remember name or how to find it

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    2. this game more like x-file where you are the object and subject of bug hunt

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  3. Glad I could help you remember! Cool post BTW.

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