Monthly Archives: April 2018

Index of Old School Ideas for Pathfinder

I admit it–I lost track of what Old School gaming ideas I did Pathfinder versions of.

So, time for an index!

Multiclass Hybrid Classes

These are ways to have the feel of 1st and 2nd edition multiclass characters, by creating a new class for Pathfinder. These work a lot like hybrid classes (and there aren’t combinations for things already covered by hybrid classes–who needs a cleric/fighter when you have the warpriest?), and don;t duplicate things that already work fine with pathfinder’s multiclassing rules (a fighter/thief already works well, and if not just take levels of slayer). These new multiclass combo rules give a balanced way to have the same kind of character feel the old multiclass combinations offered.










And over at my Patreon, my patrons can enjoy the Illusionist/Fighter!

Other Concepts

There are some Old School ideas worth porting over beyond multiclass character combinations. here are three!

“Druidic” Bard (the Anruth)


Randomly Acquired Psionics


CODEWORLD Campaign Setting

CODEWORLD is a campaign setting that borrows heavily from a number of popular cartoon, comic, and toy franchises where the heroes and villains all have fascinating codenames, like Black Adder, Magnum, Overkill, and Code Blue.

It could be used for a heck of a supers or super-agent game, or even the backdrop of nearly any modern, sci-fi, or science-fantasy game system.

This is a world with four color action, but no masked superheroes to speak of. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, but lovingly so.


Rank One Code Groups
These are the largest, and best-known code groups. They are among the most important forces on Earth.

POLYMECHS are sentient, sapient robots able to take on multiple forms–normally one that is roughly humanoid and one that closely resembles a vehicle. They are divided into the GUARDROIDS (which include Morality Circuits that cause them to struggle to act in ethical ways and protect weaker entities), the dangerous WAR MACHINES (which are locked into carrying out ancient military operations despite their original foes having long-since been exterminated), and the COMPUTECHS (which are free-willed but lack anything recognizable as ethics, and function on pure pragmatism).
The three groups all originated in different extra-terrestrial societies, with the WAR MACHINES the oldest (having destroyed all the biological entities that created them), the COMPUTECHS nearly as old (having survived as probes and exploration surveyors for a culture that died out long ago when their system was consumed by a red giant star), and the GUARDROIDS only a few centuries old (having evolved from assistance-AIs created by a race that suffered a slow decline as devolution caused them to be less and less viable, even as younger civilizations attacked them, including the WAR MACHINES).
All three POLYMECH groups were ravaged by a 3-way internecine war that left their numbers radically reduced and their resources depleted. The WAR MACHINES seek out new worlds (such as Earth) and seed them with enough of their kind to conquer it and turn it into a support planet for their endless conflicts. The GUARDROIDS attempt to send a unit to stop such efforts and preserve as much of the invaded world’s culture as possible, and the COMPUTECHS think it’s a bad idea not to keep an eye on any world where the other two POLYMECH forces are fighting.
Because their advanced technology is well beyond Earth’s tech base, and support is far way, all three factions prefer to remain camouflaged as much as possible on Earth, revealing themselves and their true battle forms only when absolutely necessary to achieve a major goal.

S.T.E.E.L. is the Special Taskforce on Espionage and Enforcement of Law. It is an international force, operating alongside but separately from the U.N., which draws its members from the elite forces of most of the Earth’s nations. S.T.E.E.L. operates only against threats deemed by all its supporting nations to be a serious risk to the collected nations of Earth, which generally includes international terrorist cells (most often MAMBA) unaffiliated with any member-nation, extraterrestrial threats (including WAR MACHINES in specific, and POLYMECHS in general), and lone madmen and apocalypse cults. S.T.E.E.L. has its own chain of command, its own (small) fleet of military air, water, and land vehicles (including a single submersible aircraft carrier, the U.N.S. Ironside), and an extraterritorial prison for extraordinary prisoners (Codename: Limbo).

PROJECT HELM is a semi-independent division of S.T.E.E.L. that uses vehicles enhanced with retrofit POLYMECH technology, which was confiscated by S.T.E.E.L. after several early clashes with the WAR MACHINES, and partially reverse-engineered in conjunction with a COMPUTECH who felt giving humans more advanced technology was the only way to maintain a balance of power on Earth.
Since the POLYMECH tech used by PROJECT HELM is retrofit, and its neural inputs are still too advanced for any mechanical or computer input device to control, PROJECT HELM operatives use helmets with neural relays to allow pilots to  learn how to control specific “Great Helm” vehicles that have various POLYMECH tech in them (some of which are capable of partial transformations, such as from car to boat, or motorcycle to powered armor).

MAMBA is a ruthless terrorist organization, built by a coalition of billionaire oligarchs who seek the means to anonymously impact international politics, and manned with the spies and operatives of failed states, renegades of nations with recent revolutions, zealots who challenge the status quo at any cost, and angry repressed people willing to allow the ends to justify the means. While no nation on Earth publicly supports Mamba, enough powerful people with vast resources support it to give it a huge (if decentralized) military branch and incredibly effective cybercrime, covert operations, and assassination branches.
MAMBA generally seeks to gain power at any cost, and has had infrequent but not unproductive collaborations with the WAR MACHINES. The most far-reaching of these was a project where the WAR MACHINES aided MAMBA scientists in building incredibly advanced mecha known as the FOE-BOTS, which were used to artificially boost the apparent size of the WAR MACHINE presence on Earth in an effort to convince the nations of the world to capitulate. However the FOE-BOTS are cheap knock-offs of true POLYMECHS, able to change form from battle mode to some camouflage state, but not functioning beyond the most basic level in that camouflaged mode, and requiring human pilots to operate. While that plan failed, the FOE-BOTS division of MAMBA remains one of its strongest units, and are the most common antagonists of PROJECT HELM.

Rank Two Code Groups
Rank Two groups are either significantly less numerous than rank one groups, or less powerful, or a combination of both, but they still play important roles in world events even if they aren’t as well known.

CALIBURN is a solo hero who appears to be the last of the STAR KNIGHTS (who place their life essence in soul rings so their android knight bodies can fight eternally against the vile FEL GHULS, a semi-unliving race of space sorcerers and shapeshifter). However, he has done his best to equip a small group of young people who have a natural talent to see FEL GHULS true nature even when they are shapeshifted, creating the STAR SQUIRES, who have spirit disks that boost their natural psychic abilities in random ways when triggered, giving them a new set of powers (and codenames and costumes) whenever they are used, but which can only function for one hour out of every 24.

The FEL GHULS wish to create the Negalife Ritual, which will kill all life on the Earth and raise their FEL TYRANT, an elder god that sleeps beneath the Pacific Ocean.

KAIJU are giant monsters created by the FEL GHULS to subjugate the world. Opposed by the RONIN FORCE of giant robots that represent the only joint effort between the GUARDROIDS, CALIBURN, and S.T.E.E.L. Because the KAIJU threat is unpredictable and requires massive firepower to oppose, and are most often fought in international waters, the RONIN FORCE is largely left to handle such matters with little outside interference. While most of RONIN FORCE are giant mecha with multiple human pilots there are two exceptions, LASER LEOPARD, a giant robot controlled by a transplanted STAR KNIGHT soul-ring with no memory of its previous life, and ROCKET OMEGA, the enormous POLYMECH transforming ship that brought the COMPUTECHS to Earth, but has sense decided the FEL GHULS desire to wake their FEL TYRANT is the greatest threat in the galaxy.

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Starfaring Species in Really Wild West (part 3 and finale)

This is the third and final part of a series of articles looking at how to contextualize the starfaring species of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game into the world of the Really Wild West, a setting hack that uses the science-fantasy rpg for a campaign with magic, monsters, and weird science in an alternate Earth in 1891.

When looking at the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species for things I can use to tie them to a fantasy-science-fiction-pulp version of the real world, sometimes I have gone with cultural or game ability elements… and sometimes I have leaned on fantasy versions of biology, as is the case with shirren, vesk, and ysoki.



Shirren are big bugs, which means they should have evolved someplace that supports larger arthropods. The largest land-dwelling arthropod currently in existence on Earth is the coconut crab, which is found on islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Assuming they originated in the same regions in the timeline of the Really Wild West, shirren would have built their own island cultures (perhaps in conjunction with other species, perhaps not), and spread in Ancient times as trade blossomed throughout the Indian Ocean. This takes our ancient shirren to China, Egypt, India, Java, Somalia, and southeastern Europe. While they would have spread worldwide from there, I assume those regions along old trade routes going through the Indian Ocean still have the largest, most integrated populations of shirren. That gives me guidance on what cultures they might be drawn from, and what traditions they could have, without claiming something small-minded like “Arabs are shirren” (which erases real Arabs and eliminates numerous cultural advancements, historical figures, and real-world ethnicities from being part of RWW, and is also pretty structurally racist).


Australia leads the world in reptile biodiversity, so that’s where I am having my vesk evolve. That has vesk populations being tightly concentrated in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding islands. I’m guessing I’ll need to add a frontier wars or “Lizardman War” (as the colonial powers call it) between the British Empire and various vesk groups at some point, and chances are the vesk lost. But by now, they’re at least partially integrated, and some will have travelled throughout the British Empire, despite suffering a fair amount of racism. While vesk likely have a lot of native culture that impacts their fashion, those that travel abroad are likely to adopt Western clothing sensibilities when in western nations, including the Really Wild West.

Note that this is a change from my original thoughts on vesk, which was to make them the product of Doctor Moreau’s anthropomorphization of animals. I can hold on to that idea for more minor species (as I add them), but it ended up feeling too limited for a “core” species, and had some connotations I wasn’t comfortable with.


In the real world, rodents are populous on every continent except Antarctica. They date to the Paleocene on the supercontinent of Laurasia, spread across landmasses, crossed oceans, and pretty well got everywhere (even Australia) on their own, without human intervention.

So as much as I am tying most starfaring species to specific region of the Really Wild West? Ysoki are everywhere.

And they got there first.

With cheek pouches as built-in bags (allowing them to carry goods—even water—long distances before the invention of sacks or gourd-bottles), bonuses to Stealth and Survival, and darkvision? Ysoki were the main competition with humanity for global domination. Much as there were Neanderthals and other cousins to homo sapiens sapiens who didn’t make it, there were multiple lines of ysoki through the ages, though none of this is well understood in the RWW year of 1891.

In general, every culture has a ysoki element to it. There are sure to be exceptions—Egyptian cat-worshipers may not have taken to ysoki citizens, some ysoki clans likely existed in regions without significant human presence.

But the core assumption in Really Wild West is that ysoki are everywhere from the most remote, paleolithic cultures, to the suit-wearing bankers of New York.

Speaking of context!

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Be Your Own Brand

I’m not doing #ATTRPGMaker, but a lot of people I know are, and they all hit “What’s Your Brand?” today. And suddenly, I feel like answering.

My brand? My brand is Owen K.C. Stephens.

I love the fact that so many people are willing to employ me in one capacity or another (and honor me with the trust to all do so at once), but with 20 years of this under my belt, I know that I can’t depend on any game, trademark, or company to necessarily be around for as long as I want my career to last.

But, obviously, *I* will be here as long as I am here.

So yes, Paizo, and Green Ronin, and Rogue Genius Games, and Rite Publishing are all things I strongly promote. Starfinder, and Really Wild West, and Pathfinder, and Pathways are all lines I have staked a lot of time and effort in being part of.

But that’s all part of defining my one core brand, which is me.

My name. My professionalism. My reputation.

Hopefully, both industry folks and customers have some idea what adding me to a project means. Obviously lots of people have never heard of me, but my focus on myself as a brand is to try to make sure that when they DO hear of me, they do so in the context of the image I want to project.

And, hopefully, that makes adding me to other brands a benefit to those, as well.

The one thing you get to take with your wherever you go is your name. Things might change so the rights to games I work on get restricted, or companies that pay me might be struck by asteroids. And I think it’s *very* important I give my very best effort to everyone who hires me. I never “save something back” to promote my own brand at the expense of another.

But by making sure I do the best I can for everyone who hires me, I make THAT part of my brand.

I try to do the same in social media, on forums, and even in public. And by doing my best for everyone who hires me, and being professional in all game-related dealings with the public, I can build my brand at the same time I do my best to promote the other brands I am paid to work with.

Speaking of my brand:

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New Video: The Aftergame (episode 1)

I’ve uploaded to YouTube the very first of my gaming-and-geekery podcasts, The Aftergame… still in Beta!
This is a special episode filmed at the magnificent AFK Tavern in Washington State, with special guests Mercedes Lackey, Chris Pramas, Larry Dixon, Jacob Blackmon, and DJ Trishy!
No specific topic (not with THAT list of guests!), but a lot of Q&A, and interviews with fabulous creators, and a Crown of Bacon!
(And discussion of the Eagles from the Hobbit, and new book series, and RPG plans and products, and freelancing, and tons of other stuff!)
Want to see more content like this? You can support me through my Patreon!

Setting/Writing Prompt: Lok

The Geigamorphs can become anything, and turn anything into more of their kind, and mix with anything. No one knows where they came from, but they are destroying the world.
But every once in a rare while, when two Geigamorphs meet, the attack one another. And if one dies at another’s hand, it always turns into a weapon. No one knows why, and what random is entirely random.
That weapon never changes, and it can kill Geigamorphs, though not easily. But it can only be wielded by someone it locks onto… and that’s a one-in-a-few-million chance, apparently also at random.
And when it does? That person gains vast strength, endurance, resilience, and speed. And? Their physical form never changes again for more than a split second. If wounded, they heal. If they eat, it just goes away. If they were groggy when they were locked? They’re groggy forever.
You get a lock weapon near enough someone who it can lock onto, it’ll pull them to it.
So the last lines of defense send “loks,” people set in a single physical state forever, into zones with lots of Geigamorphs to find more lock weapons. then they take those to population zones, to lock them to someone.
And that person’s life changes forever… but their body never changes again.
They’re a Lok.
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The Evil Dragons Do (Microfiction)

“So, do you think all red dragons are evil?”

“What are you naming as ‘red’ dragons? I care not what color a dragon is, nor the color of its breath unless it is directed at me. The blazing dragons of the suns are creatures of rigid law, not evil, though crimson in color. The infernal hellfire dragons of the lower regions are no less ordered and no less flame-hued, but certainly do have the save supernatural infusion of evil as is common to their fiendish neighbors…”

“No, I mean regular red dragons. Chromatic dragons. ‘Normal” red.”

“Ah, the Ascandeth, the fire-blooded tyrants of ash and unforgiving mien. There is no doubt that their numbers are filled with those who crave power and wealth, and do not care what means must be used to gain it. Dragons, you must understand, are only barely mortal. They are descended directly from the blood of gods, and the blood of the Ascandeth is fiery and harsh.

“They are hatched already speaking two languages, filled with the cunning and knowledge nearly that of an adult human, with all the drive to meet their core needs of an infant, yet the power to fly, burn, and make demands directly. Every Ascandeth is born with all the urges to be murderous and uncaring, and the power to enforce such desires immediately.

“Does every Ascaneth then take steps down that path within hours of cracking from a shell and never varies from that increasingly-well-worn route? Surely not. They are creatures of free will, and some must—by accident, or intervention, or through the sheer internal moral fiber to sense that the rights of other creatures have value—have avoided becoming agents of pure evil.”

“But I have never met one.”

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Sigils and Sorcery

Sigils and Sorcery

And entirely random campaign setting idea.

In the Age of Achievements, the Empress of the Bhan created the Sigilbhan, a massive, complex rune that granted her and her agents the power to detect and quarantine evil outsiders and undead, so that no matter how powerful they were, they would be locked away rather than return to the outer planes and reform as new horrors.

Sadly one of the Empress’s son, Drau, believed that as a loyal agent of the empress he deserved rewards and power for working to promote good and overcome evil, and asked to be given the power she used the Sigilbhan to lock away. When she refused, telling him that the reward for doing good was a word with more good in it, and his actions did not prove true virtue if he performed them only to receive worldly rewards, Drau secretly swore to take the power by force.

Drau created his own rune, the Feldrau, which could infect the spirit of those it touched, and used it to turn many of the people of the world into drau-versions of themselves.

It is unclear if the people were once all one, but as the feldrau tainted those it touched, the became the drau-elves, drau-dwarves, drau-gnomes, dra-orcs, and drau-folk humans.

Drau lead an army against the Empress, drawing on the power of the Sigilbhan to grant his drau-forces powerful sorcerous abilities, shadowed versions of the true magic of the sigil.

He believed the Empress could not defeat Drau without shattering the Sigilbhan, which held vast planar evil within it which would be unleashed. The Empress tried to leach more power into the minor sigils of her agents, but when that did not stop Drau, she shattered he Sigilbhan, destroying or altering all Bhan and driving Drau and his most powerful agents mad with the sigilshock. Then, before the dark powers within the Siiglbhan could escape, she healed the Sigilbhan with her own soul energy—ceasing to exist in any form. The Sigilbhan now has no mistress, and it’s form is imperfect, leaking fel sorcerous power into the world.

The Bhan Empire fell. Darkness, both supernatural and just that born of fear, greed, hunger, and jealously, tore the empire apart. Lesser evils that had hidden in the edges of wastelands of the Bhan Empire rose and spread, causing wyverns, and giants, and aberrations to overrun much of the world.  And brigands, tyrants, and thief kings did much the same.

But the Sigilbhan, sigils, and sorcery continued. Nearly two centuries have passed, and scores of small kingdoms, city-states, and warlords have arisen.

The sigilbearers have inherited minor sigils, those given to agents and nobles who rules under the Empress, though such power is inherited, and while sigls have great power of light, such power *can* be used for evil.

The imperial church worships the person of the Empress in the form of the Sigilbhan–they know her sacrifice destroyed her intellect and consciousness, but believe the remaining sigilbhan, which mostly just fuels the sigls and slowly leaks the dark powers used for sorcery, is a deity and if enough belief and good will is focused into it, it shall be reborn into a true deity.

Sorcerers take the fell planar power leaking from the Sigilbhan and use it to create powerful magics. Though the source of their power is vile, the sigilshock destroyed the most powerful feldrau sorcerers, leaving Imperial agents who had studied drau as the most powerful source of sorcerous study. Most sorcerers claim they *must* convert the power of darkness leaking from the sigilbhan into other magics, or it will turn into native demons and haunts… though the imperial church generally disagrees, and sorcerers are sometimes tainted, and become drau.

Where there were once a single people, the bhan, there are now many groups—though most humanoids acknowledge they are ethnicities of a single people, and can generally interbreed. And of course, some are the drau, who appear no different than their non-drau brethren until they ingest so much fel energy their eyes, hair, or both are bleached to a uniform white. Most towns fear the drau, but it is hard to say who is and isn’t until a drau has vast powers.

The Power (And Risks) of Options over Set Abilities in Starfinder

This is something I have thought about for more than a decade, and which I want to write about in greater length someday. But a power I recently wrote up for my Starfaring Gunslinger (for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) really drove the point home, so I thought I’d share the core idea.

Options of a set power level are more potent in making effective/overpowered PCs (depending where you are on the potency curve) than set abilities of the same power level, as long as the most effective use of those abilities is obvious.

So, what do I mean by that?

Well first, I mean that if you are building the class features of a new class (for example), and you give it +3 to a specific skill (let’s say +3 to Acrobatics), that is less potent than giving it +3 to any class skill. These have exactly the same game mechanical advantage (+3 to a bonus added to a d20 roll), but +3 to Acrobatics can only be used a single way. If a specific character build already has all the bonus to Acrobatics it needs (perhaps because a player is making a character that doesn’t rely on Acrobatics), the +3 is wasted. But the flexible +3 can be put anywhere it’s useful, making it easier to have different character builds make use of it, making it more useful to more characters.


Not all skills are equally useful to all character builds. If, for example, a player thought that Acrobatics and Profession (dancer) were equally useful in a typical game, that player might place the +3 in the profession skill and assume they had made an equally-potent choice. There MAY be cases where that’s true, but not understanding the most effective use of skills makes that flexibility more likely to lead to frustration for that player.

(The skill rules, in general, do a pretty good job of telling you what each skill is used for, making the relative effectiveness of each fairly clear. But maybe it would be worth the extra complexity to either balance them better, or show why they aren’t equally weighted, despite using equal resources to access.)

In the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, this idea influences most class abilities. Rather than get a lot of flat assigned abilities, most classes have at least one variable power set you pick, and many have lists of abilities made available ever few levels. Gear boosts, envoy improvisations, magic hacks, and so on, give a range of options PCs can pick from to make a character that is effective the way they play it.

At the same time, if you don’t know when an ability is most likely to be useful, you may pick something you think will come up a lot, only to find it requires careful set-up or a play style your group does not support.

Which brings me to the ability that set all this off:

Spotter’s Observation (Ex): [1st level][Language-dependent, sense-dependent] As a standard action you can gauge the distance to a specific target you have line of sight to, and give advice to your allies on what factors may affect ranged attacks against that foe. Any ally you can communicate with (either directly or through comm units) halves any penalty from cover or range increments they take to ranged attacks against that target until the beginning of your next turn.
If you have the get ‘em or improved get ‘em envoy improvisations, you can use spotter as part of the same action you use for those abilities rather than as its own standard action.

Hopefully both the name and the way the ability is written makes it clear that this is an ability for someone who wants to play a support role, and who has allies likely to make powerful ranged attacks against foes that are far away, in cover, or both. It gives special options to the envoy, because envoys already work well in this role and have a great deal of synergy with something like this. If your group includes a technomancy who prefers status effect spells and a melee solarian and a melee soldier, this ability is a bad choice in terms of potency. If the group is playing a sniper squad who want to handle most issues from 1,000 feet away at mini8mum, it’s a great one.

Speaking of Great Choices

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Starfinder Species in Really Wild West (Part 2)

We went over why it’s worthwhile to consider where the species from the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have major population centers in the world of Really Wild West (and why we won’t be using them as stand-ins to replace the humans of any real-world culture) in the first post in this series, where we also looked at the RWW take on androids. We continue our look at this idea with the kasatha and lashunta. It’s worth repeating that these touchstones are designed as one set of options, not absolute rules. Just as humans from differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds can be found on every continent, so too can our new sentient, sapient species be found in every culture of the Really Wild West.



Since one of the big defining traits of kasatha is that they have 4 arms, there’s an obvious temptation to have kasatha be linked to Hinduism, because of the prevalence of multiarmed deities in Hindu. However, Hinduism is a massive, modern religion with tens of millions of worshipers, in which things like what a deity carries in each arm can be important, and about which I am not an expert.

Looking to tie the multiarmed aspect to something less crucial than gods, Greek mythology has numerous multiarmed humanoids such as the Gegenees, and Hecatonchires. Though these are presented as giants, that just also gives me a place for Shobads. And there’s lots of ancient and closer-to-18901 history involving Greeks that is fascinating and interesting, which can help serve as context for kasatha players.

So if the Greek empires were all mix of human and kasatha, by the modern era of Really Wild West that can be expected to have large populations throughout Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Greek ships were visiting the Americas by the early 1600s, and a significant Greek community developed in New Orleans during the 1850s. By the 1890 there were tens of thousands of Greeks in North America alone, many of them from the Ottoman Empire.


One of the defining traits of lashunta is their telepathy, which makes placing them in the world a bit tricky, because what westerns think of as telepathy doesn’t really have any notable real-world equivalents, even in theory or fiction, prior to the 1800s, which is too late to form a culture from that is well established by 1891. However, the Japanese idea of ishin-denshin (literally “”what the mind thinks, the heart transmits”) certainly seems similar to telepathy. That idea seems to have developed in China where it has links to traditions of Zen Buddhism.

So, having lashunta have developed in Asia, with strong populations in places where Zen Buddhism is prevalent (China, Japan, Korean, Vietnam) gives cultural texture to how the actual power of telepathy in Really Wild West might have been viewed in varying real-world cultures. It’s important to note that lashunta don’t replace any of those real-world cultures or the religious and philosophical advancements they created. But it does give context for how to view a fictional species in a historic framework. And all those nations have rich histories that include massive exploration, trade, and diplomacy as well as immigration which can place an Asian-origin lashunta anywhere in the world a player wants to be from (even before allowing for lashunta families who may have migrated from those nations centuries ago).

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