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Origins 2012 Recap

Several days ago, I posted about my first day at Origins. Things were going very well and I was enjoying both the roleplaying games I was playing and the board games I was running. Now that the convention is over, I’m pleased to say that the great experience I had that first day carried over through the rest of the convention as well. And contrary to the previous years at Origins, I didn’t have a single bad game!

I don’t know how interesting a full recap of my events is to others, but I’m going to go ahead and post one anyway! ūüėÄ

Thursday

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionI got up bright and early once again for an 8 AM game of¬†The Avengers using¬†Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. I’ve always liked the¬†Mutants & Masterminds system for doing a good job of emulating the superhero genre while still allowing it to be somewhat tactical and crunchy if desired. And after being blown away by this year’s summer film¬†The Avengers, I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play in it.

I grabbed Captain America (my favorite superhero) as soon as the sheets came out. It turns out that this group of Avengers was from the comics, rather than the summer film, so we had Iron Fist and Black Panther available rather than Hulk and Thor (the GM did note that Thor would likely be too powerful given that he tended to be the Avengers’ magic bullet rather than an equal member of the team). I had to get a recap on who Kang the Conqueror was, but ultimately, I was able to enjoy the session despite not being nearly as well-read in the comics as the other people at the table. And in the end, Cap was able to help his fellow Avengers save America from yet another supervillain threat. The GM could have been a bit more enthusiastic, but all in all, it was a great session.

The rest of the day consisted of me running not one but two roleplaying games. First up was¬†A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was an intro to the¬†Traveller roleplaying game (Mongoose Publishing version) consisting of both character creation and a quick scenario (feel free to see part 1 and part 2 of my review of Traveller). I had a pretty eclectic mix of experience levels with two players who had never played¬†Traveller, one who just started GMing a campaign but had never played, one who played about ten years ago, one who played when the first version came out in 1977, and one who not only played since 1977, but works for¬†Terra/Sol Games¬†which sells nothing but Traveller supplements!

Players old and new enjoyed creating characters. To my surprise, every character had average or above average stats with multiple 12s being rolled at the table. Almost all of the chosen careers wound up being military occupations, so it was definitely a battle-hardened group. To my surprise, the players were deathly afraid of the Aging Table, so our characters mostly ranged from 34-46 years old with only one character adventuring at the ripe old age of 54. As a result, group character creation only took 1 1/2 hours, which was the shortest that I have ever had it take.

The scenario I ran was a pretty basic one where someone hires the crew to do a field survey on a recently colonized world, but it quickly becomes apparent that their patron is motivated by something else. This time, it was a search for psionic artifact that the government had placed there as an experiment to diminish aggression, but with prolonged exposure, it wound up making beings far more aggressive. The team recovered it and decided that the best way to deal with their treacherous patron was to space him. Not all that heroic, but it was an interesting turn of events.

In the evening was¬†Stargate Universe: Rescue using the¬†Savage Worlds system.¬†Stargate Universe was the third (and currently last) show in the Stargate series. Although admittedly the first episodes were very poor, the show got quite a bit better about halfway through the first season and had a (in my opinion) stellar second season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save it from a premature cancellation from Syfy Channel’s chopping block (or from Syfy’s vendetta against all sci-fi shows if you’re bitter about Sanctuary and Eureka¬†also getting prematurely cancelled and being replaced by yet another paranormal show). The final episode was left pretty open-ended with everyone in stasis pods and Eli alone on the ship, looking out at the stars.

So I created a scenario that provided at least some closure to that. One and a half years later, the Lucian Alliance had managed to recapture Destiny by leading a covert strike on Langara and using their Stargate to dial the ninth chevron and gate to Destiny (and I decided that a successful ninth chevron dial to Destiny immediately drops the ship out of FTL). So what does Stargate Command do? They send their A-Team to get it back! So we had Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, and Col. Telford leading a rescue operation on Destiny.

The whole explanation of how that turned out is too long for this blog post, so I hope at some point to write up how that went and how our group decided to provide a partial conclusion to¬†Stargate Universe. Oh, and in case you’re wondering,¬†some time ago, I did write up a conversion for using the Stargate setting in Savage Worlds, but it’s undergoing a complete overhaul to bring it up to the same level of quality as my Elder Scrolls conversion. So if you’re a Stargate fan and you want this, stay tuned!

Friday

Friday began with the new board game¬†Oh My God! There’s an Axe in My Head! by Game Company 3. After hearing about it from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild Patriarch since I joined the Guild, I decided to try it out (apparently the company they originally hired to print it didn’t pull through, but they broke away from them and it’s finally coming out).

In this game, you are all delegates meeting in Switzerland to negotiate treaties following World War I. The Swiss have hired axe jugglers as entertainment, but they have suddenly gone crazy and are chucking axes into the crowd! So now you’re left to negotiate treaties while dodging axes flying past you. Oh, and you can pick them up and throw them at other delegates too! It was a fun game and I decided to splurge for it.

In the afternoon was our Battle of Endor LARP. This was intended to be the Wings of War LARP (without full cardboard planes) adapted to the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. On paper it sounded great and we prepped it for 21-42 people (which happened to give us a whopping 21 credit hours for the purpose of getting free rooms).

Unfortunately, only one person (who was from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild) showed up, so we obviously couldn’t run it. I think there were two main factors that kept people from signing up. First, it was classified as a LARP, but wasn’t a typical LARP and so it probably didn’t appeal to the right crowd. Had we advertised it as “GIANT Battle of Endor” much like the popular “GIANT Settlers of Catan,” and advertised it as a miniatures game (kind of a macro-miniature game I guess) we might have drawn the right audience. Second, they placed us in the farthest room of the farthest hotel adjoining the Convention Center, meaning there was no potential for walk-ups. It’s unlikely that we’ll try this again in the future, but it was a valiant attempt.

Then in the evening was The Price of Success, a Firefly game using the Savage Worlds system. In this game, we got to play the remaining crew members of the Serenity after the Miranda incident (minus Kaylee who was back on the ship). I got to play Malcolm Reynolds!

The game used the increasingly recycled scenario of the characters waking up without any memories of the last day and having to retrace their steps to figure out what happened. In the process, we found out that, among other things, Jayne got caught up in an underground fighting ring (and became the hero Clobberin’ Cobb!), River had helped Simon cheat at cards in a casino, and the rest of the crew crashed a party Mr. Niska hosted for his (very ugly) daughter. The author said that at some point he would post the characters and scenario online and I’ll be sure to link to them when he does.

EDIT: Less than twelve hours after I post, it’s up online! Check it out at Dragonlaird Gaming!

Saturday

Saturday I started off with the D&D Next playtest. Yes, I am allowed to talk about it, but I would like to save that for a later post about what I think about D&D Next as a whole.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceIn the afternoon, I ran¬†A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court, a¬†scenario for¬†Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Although the tickets sold out in 20 minutes, I was surprised to find that only four people showed up. I felt bad for the people who told me during the convention that they wanted to get in the game, but couldn’t because it was sold out.

The players decided to try something I’ve never seen done before: they wound up choosing both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same group. Fortunately, the players who played them were able to have a lot of great banter off of each other. Accompanying them were Donna Noble and Rory Williams (without Amy apparently).

In this adventure, the characters found themselves in the time of King Arthur. (When is that time exactly? Forget that you asked, it gets in the way of the story!). After being sent to look after the missing Knights of the Round Table, they ran into a suit of armor with a Vashta Nerada inside (who fortunately was prevented from leaving to wreck havoc among Earth), a downed spaceship, and a cage that housed a creature that looks remarkably like what Earth people would call a dragon. Oh and they discovered that Merlin was The Master!

There was a very epic ending to the scenario in which The Master was using Blood Control (from the Sycorax) to control the dragon to destroy Camelot. The companions decided that King Arthur needed Excalibur to slay the dragon. But where do they find Excalibur? They came up with a very creative solution: they remembered that Excalibur was sometimes called “The Singing Sword,” and so they decided to rig up a Sonic Screwdriver with a standard sword to create a Sonic Sword! Then they gave it to Donna, who was dressed in blue, to be the Lady of the Lake (she at least called herself Lady since she was a Noble) who badgered King Arthur until he took it. During this time, Rory taught Lancelot CPR, which likely evolved into the legends about him being able to lay on hands.

And then the epic showdown came when the Tenth Doctor confronted The Master and told him that what he was doing was wrong. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor snuck behind the unsuspecting Master and knocked the Blood Control device out of his hands. Rory smashed it to bits and Donna yelled for King Arthur to attack as the dragon plunged toward him and his army. With everyone chipping in story points for extra dice, King Arthur rolled a whopping 73 to slay the dragon (mind you 30 is “Nearly Impossible”). And so we decided that the tale of King Arthur slaying the dragon would be a legend forever.

The group let the Master get away and we decided that the final scene of the episode was The Master getting into the downed ship and the Vashta Nerada’s ominous shadows closing in.

Finally, I ran Night Train for the Deadlands setting of Savage Worlds. Did they survive the scenario that is known for resulting in many TPKs? That’s a story that will have to be saved for another post!

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Playing a Game You’ve Always GMed

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceI’m a big¬†Doctor Who fan and picked up¬†Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space¬†from Cubicle 7 about as soon as it came out. Since then, I’ve GMed the game many times, including at Origins 2011 and at GenCon 2011. But this is one system that I had never got a chance to play because I could never find a GM. Consequently, I think that I kind of got burned out with Doctor Who because I ran it too much (I also retired my scenario involving Blackbeard the Pirate after having run it 8 times).

Fortunately for me, The Wittenberg Role-playing Guild had their weekly “Friday Night One-shot” and this week’s game was¬†Doctor Who, run by Amber. Finally, a chance to play a game I’ve only ever GMed! Although she was borrowing my set of the books, Amber chose one of the sample adventures (Arrowdown) which I fortunately had not read. So I sat down and got a chance to play the Tenth Doctor alongside Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, and K-9.

And you know what? I absolutely loved every moment of it!

Even though I consider myself to be a fairly skilled GM, I think there’s something to be said for playing in the games that you love the most. I love¬†Doctor Who and have really enjoyed presenting some great stories to the players, but I think I found out last night that I kind of missed being one of the people on the other end not knowing the answers and trying to figure out the mystery. I think it also reignited my excitement in the game after having been burnt out by it. (And I’ll be running “A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court” at Origins this year).

It made me think again about if a requirement of being a good GM is to be a player every once in a while. Not only do you have someone to compare your own GMing style to, but I imagine it also helps a GM stay in touch with what a player is actually experiencing. It also seems to help you get passionate about your own setting. I suppose if you have a good experience playing in a game, it helps you want to give that same experience to other players.

So I’ll pose two questions to my readers: Are there any settings that you’ve always wanted to play in, but have only gotten the chance to GM (or vice versa?). And does a good GM need to be a player every once in a while to improve?

2011 in Review

Happy New Year! The Gregorian calendar may have ended, but the world didn’t. And you know what? I predict that we’ll have the same outcome when the Mayan one ends. To celebrate the world not ending, I’d like to reflect a bit on what happened this past year, both in the role-playing game industry and my blog.

The Blog

First of all, this was the year that I finally created The Journeyman GM¬†and wrote weekly posts on a variety of topics. According to WordPress’ spiffy¬†year end statistics, I had a total of 2,900 views this past year, which is fantastic for a blog just starting! The most popular post was my Predictions About D&D 5e, thanks largely to a cross-post on Reddit. One of my favorite posts, which seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle, was this one¬†in which I got some really solid RPG advice for climactic battles based on the last Harry Potter movie.

I’m really thankful for all of you who read this blog. The site got several visitors from users searching for “D&D 5e”, “Journeyman GM”, “River Song”, and interestingly, “dynamite explosion.” To my surprise there were a number of international visitors to my site as well. All in all, I just want to¬†thank you for the support you’ve given my blog. You deserve a cookie!

The Industry

This year seemed like a fairly mellow year for the role-playing game industry. Wizards of the Coast had a pretty light release schedule, which some have seen as evidence that they are starting to end-of-life D&D 4e. Pinnacle Entertainment also had a pretty light year with their biggest release being a Deluxe Edition of the core rules (which I reviewed here and here) and a reprint of their 50 Fathoms¬†setting. Cubicle 7 released The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild¬†(reviewed here), but didn’t have any big releases for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.¬†Mongoose Publishing wrote in its year¬†State of the Mongoose¬†that it was tough year for them and, from what they could tell, the rest of the industry.¬†I don’t recall anything ground-shaking being released from any company at Origins and GenCon. All in all, it was a fairly mild year.

The Industry in 2012 and Beyond

The Wasted West, Now Reloaded!

I think that 2012 will be a much better year for at least some companies!¬†Pinnacle Entertainment has already announced that they have about 20 products in the pipeline, much of which is new content and the majority of which is Deadlands-related (a complete fan-compiled list can be found here, which rumor has it was compiled by your’s truly). Of particular note is Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded, which is the Savage Worlds¬†version of the sequel setting to Deadlands¬†in which the year is 2094 and the world got nuked. No matter what you think of it, you have to admit that having a post-apocalyptic Western setting is pretty original. And although Pinnacle has historically been very tight-lipped about release dates, Shane Lacy Hensley has definitively said that after the many delays that have come, it will be released in Spring 2012.

I’m betting that other companies are going to be making big announcements, but they will be for products that will be released in 2013. You can see from this¬†fan-compiled list¬†(not by me) that¬†Wizards of the Coast has announced four books, a few map items, and some miniatures. All but one is going to be released before GenCon. Since this is uncharacteristically quiet for Wizards, my guess is that there will be an announcement for D&D 5e sometime soon. Mongoose Publishing even openly stated that in 2013 “the stars will be right” for D&D 5e, and I suspect that they have some insider info as a company that has published D&D supplements in the past.

And let’s not forget that Fantasy Flight Games now owns the Star Wars license. They have already announced two new games for this coming Spring (Star Wars: X-wing and the creatively titled Star Wars: The Card Game), which I got to demo at GenCon. But ultimately, I bet that there will be an announcement this year of a Star Wars RPG¬†with a 2013 release date. If you’re curious, I already made predictions about it¬†here.

The Blog in 2012

Expect more posts on a roughly weekly basis throughout next year. Like this past year, I’ll largely be switching between reviews, general role-playing game thoughts, gameplay summaries, and whatever else I feel like. If you’d like to see more of a certain type, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to consider it.

One Final Note

There’s a project that I’ve been working on for some time now that I’m (hopefully) going to be releasing later this year as an officially licensed Savage Worlds¬†product! There should be an official announcement by this summer, but at the end of the day, it’ll be done when it’s done!

Picking a System to Evoke the Setting’s Feel

I’m a fan of different role-playing game systems. Each one offers a unique way of playing your game and each focuses on different aspects. One thing I’ve noticed is that some systems do a better job at evoking the “feel” of the setting as others. By evoking the feel I mean setting the general tone, encouraging the characters to do the things that are important, and allowing sessions to focus on the important themes of the setting. That’s not to say that a system that evokes a certain feel forbids characters from acting contrary to it, but it makes it easier to do the things that the setting are all about.

Saving the world since before you were born!

Consider¬†Doctor Who, the popular British sci-fi show about a time traveller and his companions who, unbeknownst to the world, saves Earth time and again from alien creatures. A big aspect of this setting’s feel is that it’s generally upbeat. Although there are certainly times when things get serious or when things turn out irrevocably for the worse, generally the Doctor saves the day and the wrongs are righted. This is almost always accomplished through ingenuity (and often a¬†deus ex machina). And combat is virtually non-existent, you either run or use your ingenuity to defeat the bad guys, rather than resorting to violence.

So a system for Doctor Who¬†would need to emphasize all that. My go-to system,¬†Savage Worlds, would be a terrible choice for it. Most of the rules in¬†Savage Worlds¬†are for combat. Consequently, characters that are created are generally going to be good at combat. The problem is that they’ll probably use that first. After all, why run when you can pull your sidearm out and shoot at the creature chasing you?

It could work with a skilled GM, but I think it would be more trouble than its worth to make a¬†Savage Doctor Who¬†feel like the TV show.¬†Fortunately, there’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, which I’ve talked about several times on this blog (I’ll write a formal review some day). A lot of that comes from rules that are specifically designed to capture the feel of the TV show. For instance, there are lots of rules for solving problems (especially through talking, moving, and doing), but characters lose all their story points when they engage in an act of unprovoked violence.

My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy until...

Lately I’ve been catching up on Burn Notice, a TV show about a former CIA spy who has been blacklisted. Along with a few of his companions, he uses his training to do jobs of questionable legality, but he has a strong code of conduct; he will do all he can to right the greater wrongs in the world. For instance, he’ll sneak into a corporate facility and steal classified data if it will help root out a corrupt businessman who is harming someone who has come to him for help. Combat is not out of the realm of possibility, but it is usually a last resort.

One of the things that makes the show fun to watch is seeing some of the creative solutions that the characters have for their problems. For instance, one episode had them temporarily hiding a tracking bug by putting it under the hood of a car next to some metal, then grounding it to the car’s sound system in order to create an EM field strong enough to disrupt the transmission (unfortunately frying the sound system in the process). So to capture the feel of the show, you’d probably need a system that allows for that kind of granularity.¬†Savage Worlds¬†might be a poor fit because a single Repair roll to pull off the aforementioned trick just isn’t quite as satisfying as actually creating the plan and making it happen.

I don’t know of any systems that are a perfect match for this kind of behavior, but I think that Cortex¬†by Margaret Weis Productions¬†would be a closer fit. One of the things I like about it is that to do a task, you pair up an attribute and a skill. So to fast talk a guard into letting you inside, you would use Intelligence and Persuasion. But trying to lower the price of a car by giving the salesman a Bernie Mac handshake would be a roll of Strength and Persuasion. The combinations of the attributes and skills provide more varied actions and would encourage the more creative solutions¬†seen in Burn Notice.

At the end of day, I think that a skilled GM and a willing group of players can make any system work with a particular setting. It may not be an optimal fit, but I think they could make it work if they put the effort into it. But it’s still worth trying to find a system that supports the overall feel of the setting.

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the WildThis semester, I’ve been playing in a weekly campaign in Middle Earth using¬†The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild, a new role-playing game from Cubicle 7. It’s set in the northern parts of Middle Earth after the events of¬†The Hobbit¬†and allows you to play Dwarves, Wood Elves, Men from the Mirkwood areas, and Hobbits. Cubicle 7 is planning to release future sets that move the timeline closer to the War of the Ring while also moving geographically closer to Mordor.

The game comes in a box set containing two books (one for “adventurers” and one for “loremasters”), two maps of the region, and a set of six d6s and one modified d12. The d12 has the numbers 1-10 and an “Eye of Sauron” symbol for a critical failure as well as a “Gandalf Rune” for a critical success (a normal d12 can be used too with an 11 being the Eye and a 12 being the Rune).¬†The basic mechanic is to roll a number of dice equal to your skill level and roll the modified d12 along with it, adding up the total and trying to reach a target number.

Both books are in beautiful full color with a lot of original art that generally matches the style and appearance from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings¬†movies (as opposed to some of the illustrations in the books printed prior to the movies’ release). It really does a good job of capturing the feel of Middle Earth and helping to get everyone excited about playing in the setting.

Character stats are derived from three aspects: their race, their background (i.e. their race-specific upbringing and reason for adventuring), and their calling (i.e. their profession as an adventurer). Each race has six backgrounds and there are a total of six callings, although it wouldn’t be that hard to create your own. One of the players in our group created a custom calling that they called a “Shadowhunter.”¬†My character was a Hobbit named Drogo Brownlock who was a Bucklander and felt called to be a Treasure Hunter. I kind of saw him as a burglar like Bilbo, but he was actually good at his job.

Another aspect of characters is their Wisdom and Valor stats. Each is used to resist the influence of evil, with Wisdom helping against corruption and Valor helping against fear. But they are also an indicator of how much the character has grown personally during the adventure. With each point of Wisdom, the character gains a special ability (similar to a D&D feat) to mark how they have learned special talents. Nothing special there.

Valor really impressed me. When you increase it, your character gains some sort of special or magical item, either as plunder or given as a gift. At first, that may sound a bit strange, but it fits well with the Tolkien theme. When Bilbo tried burgling from the fearsome stone trolls, he likely upped his Valor stat afterwards and consequently he found Sting in the plunder. The Fellowship visited Lothlorien and, because they increased their Valor stats after going through the Mines of Moria and faced all sorts of fear, they were given gifts from the Elves. It’s a mechanic that may be a bit strange at first, but it really does help fit with the theme and make those special items truly special.

Gameplay is divided into two phases, the Adventuring Phase and the Fellowship Phase. The Adventuring Phase is much like you would find in any fantasy role-playing game. You decide to go on a quest, you fight, you save the day. The Fellowship Phase represents an intermediate time where character development is taking place. This may be taking a journey to visit someone, making a return visit to your homeland, spending your treasure, or establishing a safe haven (a.k.a. freeloading off of Elrond’s house). Stat advancements are purchased during this time, so it also represents taking time to train skills or to receive gifts (like the aforementioned Elven gifts). Each player is required to share (preferably as a short story) what their character is doing during that time. All this is probably more suited for long term campaigns rather than one-shot adventures, but¬†it really does support the storytelling and character development common in Tolkien’s works.

Combat is rather simple with characters either being in either a Forward, Open, Defensive, or Rearward battle stance. In the Forward stance, they are more likely to go first and have a lower target number to hit their enemy, but also have a lower target number to be hit. The remaining stances raise the target number to hit the enemy, but also raise the target number to be hit. Ranged attacks are only allowed from the Rearward stance, but a character can only be in a Rearward stance if two or more characters are in the close combat stances. Characters hit by normal attacks lose Endurance, which may cause them to be wearied or too tired to fight effectively. If a piercing blow is delivered, the hero is wounded (and if already wounded, they are dead). Although it may seem rather lethal, it encourages players to run if things are looking bad. Tolkien never felt the need to give much detail to battles (the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep is incredibly short) and this system enables these sorts of fights to take place quickly and easily while still maintaining the overall feel.

The biggest problem I have with The One Ring is that the books are poorly organized. For instance, our group were playing a premade scenario and were told to make a “Corruption Test.” It wasn’t listed in the index and we couldn’t find any reference to it in the chapter on Adventuring Mechanics. Turns out that it was buried in the chapter describing Character Advancement under the section about Wisdom (where you wouldn’t think to look if you don’t know the two are related). Similarly, it took us a long while to figure out how attacking and damage worked in combat because it was vaguely written and in a strange place in the book. It’s not impossible to find what you’re looking for and there isn’t anything missing, but it shouldn’t be this hard to figure it all out.

There’s also some weird quirks in the system. My Hobbit had the “Cooking” speciality meaning that I knew how to cook and didn’t need to make any die rolls for it. However it also says that the action of cooking is handled by the Craft skill, which I was untrained in. We joked that this meant Drogo could cook at leisure, but if he ever had time pressure or had to make it really good, he would panic and forget everything he knew.

Also since every roll includes the modified d12 and a Rune symbol is an automatic critical success, it means that one in every 12 times the character can accomplish whatever they try to do. It’s cinematic, but can get a little ridiculous at times. One of our players tried to jokingly cheat this by rolling his untrained Search skill and saying, “I’m looking around for the secret ruins that nobody has seen in a hundred years. Do I see them?” and rolled, hoping for an automatic success.

Although it does some things poorly,¬†The One Ring¬†does does a lot of things very well and includes a lot of unique mechanics that help evoke the feel of the Tolkien setting. I’m enjoying playing it and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a game system for playing in Middle Earth.

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