Title - Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk
Publisher - Wotc
Format - Hardback
Pages - 222
MSRP - $34.95
Rating - 3 Stars
Reviewer - Glenn Vincent Dammerung aka GVDammerung
Reviewer’s Note - I am and have been a long time Greyhawk fan. I do not have a dominant preference for a particular iteration of the Greyhawk setting, although I generally thought less of the From the Ashes era in terms of tone than any other.
Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk (ERCGH) is both a very good product (4 Stars) and a not so good one (2 Stars), yielding an overall impression of being average (3 Stars). I will explain.
The Plot (SPOILER WARNING)
The general plot of ERCGH is as follows.
Vayne, a lieutenant of Iuz, has discovered an subterranean passage through the Underdark that leads from the viscinity of Iuz’ capital at Dorakaa to the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk, just outside the Free City of Greyhawk. Iuz has sent Vayne with an army to capture the City of Greyhawk by surprise, using the underground tunnel. The timing of the attack is to coincide with the appearance in the City of Greyhawk of a number of notable Greyhawk personages who will be attending the funeral for the cleric Riggby and upon whom Iuz wishes to be revenged for their past actions against him.
Vayne is not confident of success and, having failed Iuz twice before, fears for his life if the attack on Greyhawk is not successful. To this end, he seeks an agency to use against Iuz. This agency is a simulacrum of the Witch-Queen Iggwilv that Vayne created using a strand of the real Iggwilv’s hair. The simulacrum is not as powerful as the real Iggwilv but is formidable nonetheless.
The problem is that the false Iggwilv is self-aware and wants to become an actual, living being, free from Vayne’s control. To achieve this goal, the false Iggwilv intends to use Zagig’s God-Trap, which Zagig used to achieve demi-godhood by trapping nine deities and which is still functional within the ruins of Castle Greyhawk. The false Iggwilv intends draw Iuz to the ruins of Castle Greyhawk, trap him in the God-Trap and siphon enough of his divine energy to facilitate her transformation into a living being - at which time she will become in all ways a duplicate of the real Iggwilv in knowledge and power. The hapless Vayne will unwittingly bait the trap to draw forth Iuz and die for his efforts, thereby fully freeing the false Iggwilv of any outside controls.
The PCs must 1) stop the attack on Greyhawk and 2) stop the false Iggwilv from achieving her goal and becoming, in effect, Iggwilv II.
There are several problems with the plot and how it is executed.
Much of the action takes place in the dungeons of Castle Greyhawk. These dungeons were previously described in detail in Greyhawk Ruins (WGR1). ERCGH only utilizes certain levels of the dungeons, some previously described in WGR1 and some new, and only describes those levels. Characters are imagined to successfully traverse the other dungeon levels to arrive at the appropriate levels. This is not satisfying. While a system of random encounter tables is provided if a DM desires to make the trek to the appropriate levels more memorable, this feels as tacked on as it sounds. Again, this is unsatisfying.
Once the PCs arrive at the various, appropriate levels that are described in detail, the encounters therein are rather humdrum. It is essentially “kill the monster” time. A huge part of the problem in this regard is immediately recognizable in the delve format that is as obviously keyed to the use of miniatures. This format is wooden. What is presented are a series of mapped out miniature battle encounters, each contained in a room. The effect is to create a “monster in the box.” While innovative terrain use might leaven the “monster in the box” formula, no such innovations are found here and the delve format is not a good one to begin with.
Making matters worse are how a number of major Greyhawk NPCs arrive and depart the adventure. For example, both Mordenkainen and Iuz show up to interact with the characters. None of these interactions are really meaningful from a PC perspective as the PCs either get to watch or listen to the NPCs. The worst example is Iuz, who the characters have a chance to conceivably attack. The adventure makes clear, however, nothing the PCs do will effect Iuz in the slightest. He has an appointment with the false Iggwilv and the God-Trap and the PCs are not to be allowed to derail the plot. Making matters still worse, if the PCs try to stop Iuz once he appears, Iuz will casually smack them down and then, uncharacteristically, let them live to go about their business unhurt. You see, the PCs have an appointment with the God-Trap, Iuz and the false Iggwilv and they cannot be allowed to derail the plot either. In case you have not guessed, once everyone assumes their preordained places in the God Trap, the PCs get to watch the proceedings for the most part. Even when Iuz is rendered feeble from the false Iggwilv’s use of the God Trap, the PCs are given no opportunity to take advantage before Iuz is teleported away to safety.
Then there is the whole false Iggwilv as main villain problem. First, one must get past the plot holes concerning how Vayne conveniently was able to find and identify a strand of the real Iggwilv’s hair to create the simulacrum. Second, one must get past the plot holes that see the false Iggwilv, allegedly under Vayne’s control, acting as if there were virtually no controls on her behavior at all, much less acting as any sort of catspaw for Vayne. Finally, one must get past the “Doombot” problem.
When the Fantastic Four fight Dr. Doom, only to see Dr. Doom revealed in the end as a Doombot, a robotic double of the real Doom, it takes something away from the fight. The false Iggwilv has this same problem as the major villain - she is not really Iggwilv. The difference is that, while the Doombot is only revealed as such at the end, the false Iggwilv is revealed as such fairly quickly. The false Iggwilv’s nature, necessary to propel the plot involving the God Trap, also undercuts the dramatic effect of the plot. This was a poor design decision.
At least some of the above issues could have been resolved if ERCGH had had more page count. But it did, you see! The authors simply chose not to use it for the development of the main adventure. ERCGH includes extensive material on the City of Greyhawk, the Green Dragon Inn, various Greyhawk personages and a number of sidetreks that have little or nothing to do with the main plot. All of this page count could have been used to further the adventure, instead it comes off as filler and as an attempt by the authors to try to squeeze a Greyhawk sourcebook, or at least a City of Greyhawk sourcebook, into what is supposed to be an adventure. This helps advance the adventure not at all. Put bluntly, most of this material could have been left out and the actual adventure would not have suffered but could only have benefitted for having more room to work. Of course, this is where the going gets good. You see the “filler” is better than the actual adventure!
Greyhawk Source Material in ERCGH
ERCGH is full of tributes to the World of Greyhawk campaign setting that have nothing to really do with the adventure. These easter eggs are marvelous if you are a Greyhawk fan, but I imagine they would go right over the head of most non-Greyhawk fans. The list is extensive -
First, ERCGH contains a defacto gazetteer of the City of Greyhawk to include a revised city map that makes the city seem more densely packed and thus realistic. While of little use in running the adventure proper, these sections will be of immense value to those new to the Greyhawk setting. The authors have quietly turned part of an adventure book into a City of Greyhawk gazetteer. Given that Greyhawk is not high on Wotc’s list of settings to support, the authors appear to have taken the last chance available to create something of a setting sourcebook so that it would be available to new gamers. This is a very good thing.
Second, within the context of the City of Greyhawk mini-gazetteer, the Green Dragon Inn is described in considerable detail, providing characters with a familiar place to call home within the City of Greyhawk. This is mostly new information. Again, while not strictly necessary to the conduct of the adventure, this is a great aid to the World of Greyhawk setting, particularly when combined with the mini-gazetteer, described above. The idea that ERCGH is as much Greyhawk sourcebook as adventure becomes obvious, again.
Third, as if to further solidify the utility of the above two points, sprinkled throughout ERCGH are references to the recent Age of Worms Adventure Path that concluded Dungeon Magazine’s print run, and Castle Maure, one of the more popular recurring Dungeon entries over the past couple of years. Of course, all of the authors work for Paizo Publishing that has, until recently, published Dungeon. These tie-ins to popular Dungeon Magazine adventures make the mini-gazetteer immediately of use to anyone using either the Age of Worms Adventure Path or Castle Maure. “See you can run a Greyhawk campaign with just what is available RIGHT NOW!” That seems to be the not so subtle message and it is a welcome one.
Fourth, in a stroke of near genius, ERCGH attempts to address one of the longest standing problems within the World of Greyhawk - how do you create new villains, while still grounding them strongly in the setting, without it seeming such villains just “suddenly appeared” out of the ether. The answer is Uerth - one of Oerth’s dimensional quintuplets (Oerth, the actual name of the planet where the World of Greyhawk campaign setting is placed, has four dimensional dopplegangers). As presented, Uerth is to Oerth as the Mirror/Mirror universe is to the regular universe in Star Trek. Uerth is darker reflection of Oerth. The heroes of Oerth are villains on Uerth and they have found a way to crossover, giving Greyhawk new villains who are tied to the setting through their well known counterparts. Thus we have in ERCGH:
The possibilities are endless. As Superman comic, bizarro world, as this seems at first blush, when you think about it more, it works and it works well. This is an extremely nice touch.
Fifth, ERCGH presents information on the demiplanes of Dungeonland (based on Lewis Carroll’s famous fiction) and the Isle of the Ape (a tribute to Skull Island and a king named Kong). This is a nice touch for Greyhawk old timers and a better service to Greyhawk newcomers, introducing in this way the World of Greyhawk’s fetish for demi-planes. There is also presented an excusion to the Abyssal realm of Hollow’s Heart, home of the Demon Prince Fraz-Urb’luu, as recently described in much greater detail in an entry in the Demonomicon of Iggwilv in the pages of the now defunct Dragon Magazine. All these excusions are necessary to the adventure while also being nice tips of the hat to the World of Greyhawk setting more generally.
Sixth, on the topic of planes, ERCGH offers a tantalizing suggestion of the multiverse before the existence of the Great Wheel, familiar to many from its exposition in Planescape. This is just marvelous stuff. At the same time, the illithid (mind flayer) city of Dra-Mur-Shou gets several mentions. While not directly tied to the multiverse before the Great Wheel idea, scholars of mind flayer lore will immediately see the connection as illithid’s are reputed to have entered the present multiverse as (perhaps the only) survivors of what had existed before the Great Wheel. (The exact origin of the mind flayers or illithids is open to debate as both the Spelljammer and the Far Realm mythoi, at the least, ascribe more prosaic origins for the brain eaters).
Seventh, Greyhawk fans will be familiar with the infamous map of Oerth published in Dragon Annual No. 1, wherein “Nippon” and the “Celestial Imperium” are identified. “Nippon” has all but been renamed after the fact as Ryuujin. The Celestial Imperium now appears to be similarly renamed Shaofeng. While these identifications are not certain, they are superior to the dubious names on the Dragon Annual map of Oerth.
The above seven points do not begin to encompass all of the juicy Greyhawk tidbuts scattered throughout ERCGH but they hit the highlights. From a Greyhawk fan’s perspective, ERCGH does not disappoint and is, in fact, a treasure trove of cool information, even if one must go hunting for it, but then that is half the fun. For the fan of the World of Greyhawk, then, ERCGH is a “must buy.”
How then to evaluate ERCGH? As just an adventure, it is subpar. As a Greyhawk book, it is superior. If I was rating ERCGH as just the former, I would give it a 2 Star rating and feel justified in doing so for the reasons set out. If I was rating ERCGH as just the latter, I would give it a 4 Star rating and feel justified in doing so for the reasons set out. As it must of needs be rated as both, I split the difference and give ERCGH 3 Stars as its rating. Saying this, however, I would recommend this title to every fan of the World of Greyhawk fantasy setting as a “must buy.”
One final note. As I see it, if there is an overriding difficulty with ERCGH, it is the combination of Wotc’s insistence on the awkward “delve” format of landscaped miniature encounters and Wotc’s refusal to offer more than halting support for the World of Greyhawk setting in print. Neither of these difficulties can be laid at the doorstep of ERCGH’s authors. While I feel the authors sacrificed the adventure to create more of a Greyhawk sourcebook, I take my hat off to them, even as I note the adventure did suffer for that choice. I do not envy the authors the position into which Wotc placed them but I am glad it was they who undertook the task.
Greyhawk is dead. Long live Greyhawk! _________________ GVD
Hi all -
So GVD gives Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk 3stars.
You pretty much give reasons as to why it gets that rating.
<edit removal of spolier>
So then....GVD and other CF! Postfest Winners, please give us a revamped EttRoCG, much like the fixing Return to the Keep of the Borderlands that was proposed by Russ or TalMeta (or someone else and I've forgotten who it is/was).
Would it be a simple aspect to modify the 2nd Ed. Ruins of Castle Greyhawk to fit the Expedition aspect of the module? Is it clear that you enter lvl 1 - 3 and then suddenly enter lvl 8, and filling in lvl's 4-7 from Ruins of Castle Greyhawk is easy? Is it possible to just use (out of our MM1-5, FF, + d20 monster books) new monsters from the 2nd ed adventure to easily fill in those gaps?
Of course that could be the title of the next postfest!
<edited to remove a couple notes and added a whole new thought to the mix!> _________________ Theocrat Issak
Last edited by TheocratIssak on Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
I have to agree that the parts that dealt with the City of Greyhawk and the world outside of the castle were the best bits. But I didn't personally find the dungeon levels as bad as you took them to be.
But I do agree that the Mordenkainen and Iuz scenes could have been better, but I'm sure that an inventive DM could come up with something better.
Good review, GVD, you hit the hammer right on the nail. When I first read ERCGH I had high hopes for the core adventure and was disappointed. But the writers did a nice job of including tons of extra goodies to satisfy GH fans, at least.
This strikes me as a fair and well-considered review. I was curious to hear GVD's final analysis of the product, and I appreciate the in-depth treatment.
As you imagine, we would have liked more pages (and more time) to fully flesh out the adventure. None of us are fans of the space-hogging delve format (and even less so after designing with it), and I'm afraid its limitations are far greater than GVD points out in this review. I think many of the combats in Expedition are still really fun, but the amount of author hand-tying this format presents is really remarkable. You cannot, for example, have one adventuring party fight against another, as the format allows, at best, two or three (and that's really stretching it) stat blocks per encounter. That leads to fairly simplistic fights against a limited number of opponents. Not ideal.
Surprisingly, the ratio of city to adventure content was dictated in the outline we received from Wizards of the Coast, as was the idea of treating the "middle levels" like wilderness. With that in mind, I treated the "gazetteer" section as if it was the last bit of official Greyhawk I would ever work on (because I'm pretty certain it is), and loaded it with as much cool stuff as I could possibly manage while still making it useful as a "broad strokes" city guide.
I'm glad you enjoyed all the easter eggs. I personally wrote most of the city chapters and broadly outlined the Hall of Memory level (which James completed), so it's nice to see most of that passed muster. Some of the most fun I had with easter eggs came in the form of the Wizards Guild test chambers the PCs must negotiate to get to the Mordenkainen encounter (also mine, alas). Some of the answers there involve really obscure stuff. I agree that a lot of the NPCs sort of end up being glorified cameos, but as you note you can run it more or less as a side-trek from an Age of Worms campaign with little difficulty, so a chance encounter with someone like Mordenkainen or Tenser might lead to much larger ramifications later in the campaign.
You cannot, for example, have one adventuring party fight against another, as the format allows, at best, two or three (and that's really stretching it) stat blocks per encounter. That leads to fairly simplistic fights against a limited number of opponents. Not ideal.
Hmm. Speaking as someone who has run the entirity of Paizo's "Age of Worms" adventure path, I can quite definitely say that 3e falls down greatly when you try to fight a group of NPCs. This is due to the length and complexity of the statblocks. That the Delve format prevented Erik and the gang from including such should be considered a bonus.
Indications are that 4e may fix this problem, in which case the limitations presented by the Delve format may be overcome.
Now, hopefully this adventure will be in stock when I travel to Melbourne this weekend...
With that in mind, I treated the "gazetteer" section as if it was the last bit of official Greyhawk I would ever work on (because I'm pretty certain it is), and loaded it with as much cool stuff as I could possibly manage while still making it useful as a "broad strokes" city guide... --Erik
So, ummm...Iquander, does that mean you'll be posting more to these boards? There's been a dearth of articles posted lately...
I try to hit the boards once a week or so. It's been a while since I contributed an actual article to Canonfire (I've mostly been focusing on paying freelance or Paizo stuff), but I've got a few files that people might find interesting provided I can rescue them from an old computer.
I try to hit the boards once a week or so. It's been a while since I contributed an actual article to Canonfire (I've mostly been focusing on paying freelance or Paizo stuff), but I've got a few files that people might find interesting provided I can rescue them from an old computer.
It is good to have you around. _________________ Plar of Poofy Pants
Well... I've toyed with the thought of writing to Dungeon or Dragon magazines, telling you how much I appreciated your work, but as sometimes happen, I thought "Well, there is always time". No, the time is up.
It's not on the "official" mail pages of the magazines, but I wanted to thank you for the work you did in the past years, and how happy I have been to see Greyhawk content in two great magazines.
Greyhawk is a quite overlooked setting in Italy, mainly because it was never translated, and many pieces of information are in out-of-print books... A bit hard to get (unless in electronic form).
That said, I cannot express my gratitude for... Well, everything you did.
And EttRoG is only the last good thing you did for us (and Greyhawk). Thanks a lot. :)
J _________________ Ars Arcana: reviews, articles, translations, message boards... And more.
See the adventure isn't anything I'll probably run. Castle Zagyg will be my Castle Greyhawk. What I am interested in is the source material that is presented along with teh adventure. _________________ Agape,
Thanks for the insightful and thorough review, GVD, and thanks Iquander for sharing your authorial comments as well.
I'm working on using this adventure in an AP-style campaign of my own design, and the commentary is helpful as I try to figure out how to make it work.
I'm not certain I agree with all of GVD's points--but I think to some extent that is because of differences in styles of play and what my expectations are for published material.
For example, I'll be running the campaign online, possibly for a party of as many as seven PCs. In this context, it makes sense to avoid room by room exploration of multiple dungeon levels that are extraneous to the adventure plot. The "dungeon as wilderness" scheme may be somewhat unsatisfying if you're looking for a campaign encapsulated in a dungeon (as the original Castle Greyhawk was), or if you are a stickler for mapping and finding the hidden bits of treasure that all those previous parties missed, and that sort of thing. However, I think I can work with it--maps of Castle Greyhawk's upper levels surely can be turned up in the city, and survival checks can determine how quickly and effectively the party navigates these transit areas. With an online campaign, I have time to make up interesting "random" encounters whole cloth to give a feel of danger to these areas without putting a monster in every room. Random encounters might even tie to the plot of the adventure, giving PCs an opportunity to learn tidbits of Vayne's plot through interrogation or captured documents and gear.
I would say, though, that the Tower of War levels are rather a slog. I may cut these levels down to a few key encounters, either by providing the PCs the means to bypass the bulk of the enemy henchfolks, setting it up more as an exercise in spying and sabotage, or by having them catch the Iuzite army base in a much more embryonic state. I might start the adventure at a higher level and reduce the number of encounters in this part of the adventure accordingly.
Likewise, I'm used to spicing up published encounters, and have a pretty good idea of how to make the two stat block encounter more interesting. I don't have a problem with altering the maps a bit to make for interesting terrain and other features to liven things up either.
The railroady encounters with Mordenkainen and Iuz are easily fixed by going off-script--although I don't really see that the outcomes are likely to change much, except in terms of the relationships the players have with Greyhawk's leading Archmage and number one villain. Iuz is, after all, a god, and the PCs are only 11th level or so. The climactic confrontations are with Vayne and Pseudo-Iggwilv. If Iuz actually crushed the PCs, or some other deity plane shifted in to rescue them, that would be deus ex machina. Iuz's appearance, in my campaign, will be something different-- a first-hand encounter with a villain they've been fighting through his proxies for six or seven levels.
The biggest difficulty GVD pointed out is the plot holes regarding the Pseudo-Iggwilv, especially the necessity of revealing her actual nature to drive the plot forward. I'm still working this over, and don't have my ideas for fixing it fully developed, but I'm thinking along the lines of setting it up so that the PCs are led to believe that this is the real Iggwilv, not the fake one, and that she is attempting to use the machinery Zagig left behind to effect her own apotheosis. Not quite sure how to do this yet, but it may involve the real Iggwilv somehow--perhaps Vayne is in cahoots with her, and certainly he isn't going to leave any evidence lying around that might tip off Iuz's more loyal servants as to what is really going on. In any event, I appreciate GVD pointing out this plot hole, which deserves to be plugged.
I'm interested to hear if anyone has actually run this adventure, and what they did to address the problems and make it work.
I've been doing some more thinking about those plot holes, and discovered some technical problems with the premise and events of the Vayne-Pseudo-Iggwilv plot.
Technical problem #1: According to the spell description for simulacrum, a caster cannot create a simulacrum of a creature that has more than double the caster's hit dice. Vayne is 11th level. Iggwilv is 30th. Although the module implies that Vayne has lost several levels by being killed and raised, and was thus once of a higher level, it seems implausible that pseudo-Iggwilv was created before Vayne said resurrections. At the very least, the backstory gets pretty convoluted if we try to have Vayne get killed and raised four times since creating the simulacrum. It is, of course, possible to raise Vayne's level or lower Iggwilv's, but if Vayne has as many levels as Pseudo-Iggwilv, it is difficult to make the final battle not seem anticlimactic. So, this technical problem is one more issue that must be addressed with any reworking of the core of the adventure's plotline. (Note that Vayne is a 16th level mage in Iuz the Evil.)
Technical problem #2: Even true resurrection can't bring back a dead soul involuntarily. I'm not fully up on my Deities and Demigods rules, but it doesn't seem to me that Iuz should be allowed to break this rule. Does Vayne really want to return, when he knows he'll just be tortured? (Granted that he faces little better as a petitioner). This reinforces the idea that the scene where Iuz appears and is captured by the godtrap ought to be run rather differently than scripted.
I will continue to chew on these matters, and will post if I come up with a good way to rework the plot without redoing the adventure completely.
On a different note, I downloaded WGR1 today and had a look at the maps, but not the write-up. It looks as though some of the levels detailed in ERG are based closely on the original WGR1 maps, though they aren't identical. The exception is the three levels presented in EGR's Tower of Zagyg, which do not match the three lowest levels in WGR1's Tower of Zagig. A solution to the problem of "unsatisfying wilderness-style dungeoneering" might be to use the WGR1 maps in conjunction with the random encounter tables and summaries of what is on each level to fill out the dungeon for a more traditional "dungeon-delving" approach to the adventure. This is a lot of work, but one doesn't necessarily have to fill out the whole dungeon at once, since there are signposts pointing to the parts that are relevant to the plot, and the DM can add more signposts as necessary--adventurers' maps, graffiti, tracks, forensic evidence, and such can serve to point off-track adventurers in the right direction.
Technical problem #2: Even true resurrection can't bring back a dead soul involuntarily. I'm not fully up on my Deities and Demigods rules, but it doesn't seem to me that Iuz should be allowed to break this rule. Does Vayne really want to return, when he knows he'll just be tortured? (Granted that he faces little better as a petitioner).
Surely as a worshiper of Iuz, Vayne's soul is Iuz's property to do with as he wishes. If he worshiped no god in particular, Vayne would simply be Vayne the Mane wandering the Plain (of Infinite Portals in the Abyss), not beholden to anyone's call, but as things are he becomes a petitioner of Iuz. If Halga or Althea raised him, he could refuse, but it doesn't sound right that he could refuse his god's personal summons.
And even if he could, Iuz could simply make things even worse for him in the afterlife.
I'm not sure you can say, at this point, that Vayne remains a loyal worshipper of Iuz. After all, he's basically plotting to imprison Iuz in this adventure. Granted that he hasn't formally announced his allegiance to another deity, but . . . I suppose how a given soul makes its way into the afterlife, and where it goes, is very much up to the DM's discretion.
It seems to me, though, that while Vayne remains evil to the core, he has become the sort of person who will move into the afterlife as a larva. He is irredemably evil, and has of his own free will rejected the patronage of a greater evil being. This means he is not subject to that being's call in the afterlife, but also lacks the protection that being offers, and is thus fair game for the night hags and their insidious market in the worm-like souls of the selfishly evil.
In any event, both of these technicalities can be handwaved away by DM fiat, but that might be questioned by one's players, depending on how attentive they are to these kinds of details.
I'm still thinking about how to work out these technical kinks when I run this adventure. I'm leaning toward making Vayne much higher level--my party is likely to be 6-7 PCs anyway, so running a 15th level wizard with a couple of minions against them (at 11th level or so) is a challenging, but not necessarily overwhelming fight. As for the Iuz scene, I think it can probably be shortened. He appears, says something that makes clear why he showed up and makes the PCs wet themselves with fear, then gets snatched into the god-trap. I'll make sure there's enough in Vayne's journal to make it clear that there is a simulacrum of the much-feared Iggwilv on the loose, and if that and the captured eladrin don't get the players investigating further, the lillitu sidekick can do something heinous enough to grab their attention, leaving a bloody trail to make it obvious where she is lairing.
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