Do I Have to Do it “Their” Way?

If the world was open? If it had its own OGL? If it were free to distribute AND had a good system? Heaven!

Pathfinder Second Edition vs Dungeons & Dragons 5E

Please forgive me. This post is not intended to start an online donnybrook over whose system is best. **Disclaimer:** Play whichever system you like. Decide for yourself what you prefer. Thank you!

Yesterday I was discussing whether or not one should play/run/create content for D&D 5E strictly for rules-as-written or homebrew. Homebrew is awesome! But with 5E being the top dog in the industry right now, it’s also the one most people are playing with/creating material for. I love 5E for this reason.

I used to dog on Pathfinder pretty hard when it started. BUT…

Yeah. I’m guilty of that. I’m sorry family. It’s true. I used to think it was strictly intended for all the Third Edition D&D players that couldn’t handle Fourth Edition. BUT! I came around. Just in time for Pathfinder Second Edition.

Lessons learned, I LOVE Pathfinder 2E! The mechanics are great. The classes are pretty cool. It’s flexible. Paizo learned from their previous edition. The main rulebook is heavy enough to defend my home from burglars… It’s all good. Some day I might do a full review.

There’s another catch with PF2E, though.

If you are playing D&D 5E as written, you’re playing in the default setting of Forgotten Realms. There’s also Eberron, Ravnica, and soon I guess they’re releasing Spelljammer and possibly Planescape. If you go online there are literally hundreds of other campaign worlds and settings along with conversions of older settings. Please don’t panic. There is plenty of room for more. The Open Gaming License literally opened the floodgates for more world building than anyone ever imagined.

Pathfinder 2E, not so much… While Pathfinder Infinite has opened their world to creators, it’s pretty much their world. I don’t mind this, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for world building. That’s unfortunate. So, yay, I can homebrew PF2E, but then I have to figure out how literally everything translates into PF2-ese. So, yay Golarian.

I will say Starfinder, which is more or less Pathfinder in space, just opened up considerably with the Galaxy Exploration guide. That’s cool. Space is infinite. The Universe is literally infinite and that’s without alternate dimensions. It would be foolhardy to lock players into one star system or one planet for a space game.

I see this happen with other games.

I collect RPGs like mad. I love games. I love mecha and anime games especially. Alas, many of them seem to fall into one of about three categories. 1. They have their own very specific campaign setting/world. Again, yay, but it’s not what I’m looking for. 2. They’re too generic. A lot of games have great mechanics, but just don’t go far enough into what I was looking for in their game. 3. Last, they don’t have any kind of OGL attached. Which means they’re literally the only source of material for that game.

I understand companies having exclusive rights to certain properties. Ask anyone who used to work for T$R or West End Games about Lucasfilm. They’ll probably cringe. Star Wars was especially tough to work with, from what I hear. Ugnaughts anyone? Margret Weis Productions had a deal with Battlestar Galactica RPG. A lot of established properties don’t want people willy-nilly adding to their setting and then publishing it, which thoroughly wrecks the official canon and creates all kinds of plot holes. Seems fair to limit creative access, right?

But why lock an indie game possibly with its own unique system, into a specific setting? Seriously, I would love to work for just about any game company on almost any system. (I have a few disclaimers, but we’ll leave that for another day.) But if the world was open? If it had its own OGL? If it were free to distribute AND had a good system??? Heaven!

I might not exactly love D&D 5E for certain mechanics.

But at least the OGL lets us create our own worlds, classes, characters, and so on with an established system that actually does work pretty darn well. Ironically, PF2E is based on roughly the same mechanics. There are a LOT of d20 based games. At this point, if I’m publishing on DrivethruRPG, my intention is to do something d20 based or a superhero game like ICONS. The only other generic systems I’ve really enjoyed so far have been FATE and Open Legends. Again, I’d have to spend some serious time developing within those systems because there are certain things kinda missing that I’m looking for mechanically. (Again, that’s another discussion.)

I love Paizo’s take on d20. I think the Starfinder/Pathfinder mechanics are well thought out. I think PF2E is loads of fun. I almost taught my kids to play it before D&D 5E. PF2E has not become the runaway train of supplements that its predecessor did. I look forward to their upcoming releases and writing some adventures set in Golarian probably just for fun. Maybe not for publication. Starfinder Infinite material might be a possibility, depending…

I love D&D 5E because I’m building my own very odd, wacky, very fun (hopefully) campaign world. With some help from the Universe, I might even publish it. And I have some “generic” fantasy stuff that I’m again planning for DMsGuild hopefully in the near future. Pathfinder Infinite might be another story. I don’t know yet.

I’m also working on a more solidly constructed portfolio to show off some of my writing talents. In the meantime, if you are interested in hiring me as a writer I am quite available. Heh heh. No seriously! LOL! Please hire me? Heck, if you’re local I’ll even walk your dog or something.

Until next time, take care.

Does It Have To Be “Official?”

No one, and I mean NO ONE should ever tell you what you can and can’t do with your campaign, your world, your ideas, or your content. If it’s your table and your world and they don’t like it, they can go kick rocks.

My friend Elzie recently posted an interesting thread on Twitter that I wanted to comment on in depth. Sometimes replies and Tweets don’t cover it all.

So, my short answer to all of this is- Absolutely NOT!

My long answer is: there are a LOT of variables here. If you’re trying to publish official content on www.dmsguild.com, then yes, you need to stick to the rules as written for the most part. Otherwise, if it’s your campaign, at home, or published anywhere else under the SRD, then- freakin party on!

Seriously, if you want to re-skin your orcs to look like pink bunny-eared primates, then go for it! No one, and I mean NO ONE should ever tell you what you can and can’t do with your campaign, your world, your ideas, or your content. If it’s your table and your world and they don’t like it, they can go kick rocks. The Tolkien people are not going to sue you for altering orcs and neither is Wizards. Run the game you want to enjoy.

Descriptions go a long way!

I have mostly new players. I’m pretty determined to ban access to the Monster Manual and other such books during play these days. I’m going to describe the creature the party is facing in detail and let the group decide how they want to handle it.

The trees around the road go dead silent. The group’s horses stall and become skittish looking toward the large tree with a long, thick branch over the road ahead. They see a large beast, perched in the tree, with the body of a panther only having leathery, bat-like wings, and a long spiky tail. It stares out through the dusky twilight at them with its red, glowing eyes and long, protruding fangs gleaming in the last little bit of remaining sunlight, watching them approach. Its talons are spread wide and its tail is wrapped around the tree for balance. This predator looks like it means business. What do you do?

That description will probably have the intended effect much better than “You see a Wyvern perched atop the tree over the road ahead. What do you do?” Because if I ran it as an official Wyvern, it’s not going to be nearly as memorable or potentially terrifying. Not to mention it’s a re-skinned Wyvern, with a few added features that aren’t listed with the original.

Now, my wife, who loves all things feline both in character and out, is probably going to try to tame, befriend or otherwise not kill this creature seeing it isn’t overtly evil or aggressive. Which, I’ll possibly allow the attempt because it’s good roleplaying opportunities and more fun than a straight combat encounter.

In the past, I’ve had groups that would have dug into the Monster Manuals trying to find out how much XP the thing would be worth. I mean, it’s literally XP with wings! Heck yeah we go all murder hobo on it.

Then again, as a DM, I get to have fun with a large, winged, apex predator with stealth and a breath weapon in mostly open ground in poor lighting conditions. That’s going to suck for the murder hobos. Especially if it flies off and comes back to torment them in the dark. Gook luck trying to take a long rest with that thing lurking nearby. heh heh heh…

Who’s to say what’s considered “official?”

Even the designers of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons could sit at your gaming table and play a character fully aware that it’s not Rules As Written, and be just fine with it. Are we there to have fun or bicker over official content? Again, if you’re not attempting to publish anything, does it really matter? Personally, I think not.

Now there are a few exceptions and exemptions. Obviously if you’re running a game for Adventurer’s League set in a specific world you probably want to stick to “their” descriptions as written because those players are likely expecting “official” content and will go onto other games in the series. The players could get lost if you change/alter the settings and descriptions too much in an official module. Convention games are also kind of a sticky wicket depending on the expectations of the players.

That having been said, if you tell your players at your table for your home game, “Hey, my world is different than anything in the published settings. Here’s some of what you can expect…” Then, yes. Absolutely homebrew whatever you like. I know I do it all the time.

I regularly adapt all kinds of things I will never attempt to publish.

I watch a lot of anime. I’ve been a huge fan of Rouroni Kenshin, Inu Yasha, Chrome Shelled Regios, and Ninja Scroll for years. I’ve had players come to me and ask for homebrew versions of Sango’s boomerang, the Tetsusaiga, and the giant wolf demon from Inu Yasha and I gladly obliged. I’ve statted the Wing Blade Sword among other things in the past from various samurai anime. I’m absolutely in love with the dite concept in Chrome Shelled Regios and will be resolute when it comes to implementing that style of weapon in the campaign I’m working on.

Heck, I have plenty of ICONS characters that are knockoffs of DC, Marvel, Image, and various anime characters. I’ve translated my own personal DC Heroes (First Ed) character into a half a dozen different systems. His concept was based on Marvel’s Iron Man. Admittedly, I’ve had my own spin on the character for 30 years, and he looks very little like Tony Stark.

I’ve used and borrowed from Avatar: the Last Airbender and Satelizer Bridget in the past, too. Had an absolute blast with it, but could never “officially” publish any of it for fear of getting sued. I’ve even created derivatives from Super Why (Kids TV show,) Teen Titans, Young Justice, and the Outsiders. Nothing is off limits at my table when it comes to creating adventures and settings. However, there are plenty of restrictions when it comes to publishing.

Publishers, designers and media lawyers expect you to respect their copyrights and trademarks. It’s much the same going the other way. Obviously I want my ORIGINAL material to be mine, to my own credit and never stolen. It’s only fair to everyone to do your own thing and get credit for it. But this all applies to published material, not what goes on at your table at home, or even during an actual play podcast.

So many good points!

This is one of my favorite topics, if it’s not obvious. I’m not even a lawyer, but I have found this topic to be fascinating ever since I took Media Law in college. It’s amazing what you can and can’t do.

Again, if you’re working on something for dmsguild.com or planning to publish your material anywhere, you have to be somewhat compliant to the “official rules.” If you publish to the DMsGuild, then yes, you are literally doing R&D for Wizards of the Coast and they can/will take whatever they want, rewrite it, publish it, edit it, whatever and they >might< even give you credit. If you publish elsewhere as a third party publisher under the Open Gaming License, WotC can latch onto your work and/or tell you to cease and desist if you’re violating the OGL and/or going beyond the bounds of the SRD and trying to pass it off as “official.”

Personally, I love the notion of publishing to the DMsGuild because it gives us a chance to show off. You can put work out there in an official way as a portfolio piece. Everyone, WotC included, gets to see what you’re capable of. You might not get hired to be one of the big guns in their office, but wouldn’t it be terrific to be acknowledged and asked to work on more, possibly commissioned projects? There are benefits to proving you can do things in an official capacity.

My personal goals are to get to that Electrum and Mithral rating on both DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG some day. I would love to get an email from any company that effectively says, “Hey. We really like your stuff. Come work with us.” I can do all these things. Name a system. It doesn’t have to even be D&D. We can play within whatever official rules you want to name. I’ll make it work.

Anyway, until next time. Take care.

Breaking Into the Industry

I’ve been getting turned away by publishers since Gygax ran T$R and the RPGA was still around.

I saw an article today that really made me stop and think.

I guess it’s not your grandpa’s TTRPG industry any more, but still. This article from Flagons and Dragons really is cause to pause. Here’s the article: https://medium.com/@FlagonsNDragons/is-money-destroying-ttrpg-91627fd8981e

I have several points in the article that caused me to raise an eyebrow, but I’ll just touch on a couple of points from my old guy gamer point of view. Yeah, I’m “old” officially. I turn 49 in June. Sigh. My last trip to Gen Con was almost 20 years ago. Dude… But we’re not here to discuss that.

Yes, D&D in particular has become big business since 5th Edition happened.

With Critical Role and D&D 5th Ed causing quite a stir and pushing the game into the limelight, we’re no longer just nerds rolling dice. Obviously Hasbro has money to go around from years of action figures and board games. It’s truly sad that the lawsuit baggage follows D&D around like a hungry revenant or a pack of ghouls. This has not changed since, um…. ever? Those new to the game might not be aware the #TTRPG world is littered with bitter lawsuits from way back in the day.

I don’t think it’s fair to say “money ruined the game” so much as greedy people are ruining the game. That’s been the case for a long time, as the article mentions. D&D 2nd Ed was a result of Gygax’s divorce. You can’t even hint about a lawsuit in front of certain Palladium folk. Same thing with Paizo if I’m not mistaken. The current debacle over Dragonlance is probably going to kill whatever chance we had of the 5th Ed official setting. It’s sad.

What hope is there for the future?

There are a lot of fresh faces in the #TTRPG field. Again, it’s not just all of us old farts sitting around a table laughing and rolling dice. Yes, books have gotten pretty pricey. As the article mentions, you used to be able to outfit your entire gaming library for less that $50 USD. I think my 1st Ed PHB was $15? Maybe? Now you can’t even get a pdf sourcebook for much less.

And who thought it was a good plan to charge paper prices for PDFs? Seriously, if you want to talk about greed? There you go. Bless One Bookshelf for their creations, DriveThruRPG, DMSGuild, etc… They’re great sites and they help new designers get pdfs out for (usually) reasonable prices. Which is not to say I approve of certain industry giants who dominate the market and charge the same for pdfs as they do for print.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” –Snake Pliskin, Escape from L.A.

So, I tracked down one of these $35,000/year jobs the article mentioned. Then, I sighed the old familiar sigh when I read the requirements:

Not naming the company who posted this. My goal is not to shame, just to educate.

“Previous published game design experience.” Gosh, it’s like 1985 with T$R all over again. It’s like saying, “We won’t hire you until you’ve been in the industry for a while,” but then no one will hire you to give you the experience you need to get into the industry.

Solution: Self publish a pdf or know somebody with their own company. Only back in the day, there were no pdfs. It’s still the same old, tired, song and dance. Pretty sure the people you’re looking to hire already have jobs. Just sayin.

The rest isn’t all that surprising or hard to come by even for someone fresh out of high school or more likely college. Although I would be curious to hear what “Deep hobby or professional experience” looks like sometime.

And as another side note, the preferred qualifications made me sigh the same old sigh again. A year or more self-employed or freelance game design work and “Experience as a game designer and writer without formal guidance…” Seriously? No offense intended to whomever wrote this description, but I think you’re reaching considerably. Without formal guidance? So, no editor. I mean, I get it, but if I was doing all of this as a self published writer, why on Earth would I want to drop everything and work for any other company?

We’ve had other recent events in the RPG industry that really make me scratch my head. Paizo employees just formed a union because they wanted better pay, benefits and working conditions. Jolly good for them. Interestingly enough, Pathfinder Infinite and Starfinder Infinite started at about the same time. There is no such thing as coincidence, folks.

What are the odds?

Do I personally think I have a snowball’s hope in Hell of getting hired? Not really, but what’s the best that could happen? I did apply for the one quoted above, btw. The problem is, and I suspect this for many of us, is that my actual resume and my gamer resume look nothing alike. Gaming has been my hobby for the most part and my side hack at best.

Is being a game designer/writer my dream job? Ya think?!? Of course it is! I ate, slept, ran and played RPGs for years before I “settled down.” My college degree is in Sociology/Journalism. Think about it. People + Writing/Editing = RPG Industry. There were no classes in 3D printing or Diceology back then. Heck, I’ve watched the publishing industry go from print and hand-drawn layout to completely online publications and I still have the border tape and Pica ruler to prove it.

I’ve been getting turned away by publishers since Gary Gygax ran T$R and the RPGA was still around. Gen Con was still in Lake Geneva for crying out loud. The first two RPGs I ever ran both came from T$R and came in a box with dice you had to ink yourself. I remember Star Wars RPG before it was a 30th Anniversary reprint. I used to play with one of the original play testers for that game.

Writing for RPGs has literally not changed in almost 40 years. You need a good imagination, a grasp of game mechanics, and a certain degree of map-making as well as writing skills. It hasn’t, sigh, changed on the publisher end, either. As I mentioned above, it’s pretty much easier to start your own company before you can get hired by the big guns. If you’re going to do all that, why not just stick with your own company?

I still drive by the abandoned building that used to be The Game Shop (Yes, that was literally the name.) where I bought my first books, minis, and dice. I still have the dice, too. The thing that amazed me the most about old-time game stores was the cottage industry that sprouted around the various game products. People sold minis they painted for resale. Writers sold copies of rulebooks they printed and stapled themselves. Art and jewelry used to be sold right alongside comics in many places.

Grouchy old men used to talk about 14mm scale Historical battles in front of the same counter where us nerdy kids went to buy the latest copies of Dragon and White Dwarf. Anyone could make a game with little cardboard chits and plain paper hex maps and get it published locally if they had a little startup cash.

The RPG industry has the greenest of grass roots. Only the labels and the technology have improved. There was literally a company here in Iowa that started in a little old abandoned schoolhouse. They published the most epic and phenomenal D&D 1st Ed adventure modules. Why did they break up? Beer in the vending machines. Even if that were legal, the fistfight that ensued because the employees were drunk wasn’t. Tis sad, but illustrates a point. Indie RPG publishers can turn a few dollars even off of licensed properties. Just maybe no beer in your office vending machine?

What’s the takeaway?

The original article is basically correct. The RPG industry is a cottage industry first and foremost. Big corporate mentality might work for games such as Magic: the Gathering and Warhammer 40,000, but the RPG industry has always been and industry by fans, for fans, and primarily made up of fans.

I hate to say it, but D&D may be the top dog forever, but the massive wave of popularity the game is riding currently will eventually die down. WotC is already gearing up for a new edition as early as 2024 in anticipation of this happening. If you look on Kickstarter today, the number of 5E products from indie publishers is phenomenal. (Hey, I’ve backed some. I get it.) Looking at DMSGuild.com, the number of published alternate rules, adventures, and supplements puts good ole 3rd Ed to shame. That’s quite a feat if you think about it. (Yes, I went there.)

I’m not even anticipating people getting burned out on the hobby. The fire has been lit. RPGs aren’t going to up and vanish overnight. The hobby will still be going years, if not decades from now. Board games have been around for, um… ever? RPGs can probably expect good longevity. I think the large corporate mega-giant RPG companies may never become a thing, however. The industry will probably keep going, just more spread out and diverse.

Also, if by some fluke a game company exec reads this:

Stay safe. Game on!

Campaign Worldsmithing

I want there to be a rich, positively huge world. I want to build a world so big that my first group might have to hex crawl at first just to find their way around. Nature will be lush and grow very rapidly…

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to building a fantasy new campaign world for the Fifth Edition of the World’s Most Renowned RPG and deciding what all I want to have go into it. I know several things I don’t want that I’ve seen over my many years of running games that are too numerous to list here. I will go over the highlights of some things I think would be fun.

First off, I want there to be a rich, positively huge world. I want to build a world so big that my first group might have to hex crawl at first just to find their way around. Nature will be lush and grow very rapidly, which is why there could be ruined cities buried beneath the dirt and in the trees. Needless to say, druids and shamans will have a fun time.

Awesome Warforged Samurai
Image created using HeroForge.

Speaking of classes, I want to bring back some old favorites of mine and build upon the preexisting ones in ways that haven’t entirely been covered yet. Samurai will play a large role in things socially and politically, as well as their weapon-mastering cousins- the Kensai. Obviously I plan on Ninja, Shugenja, and the Wu Jen making a comeback. I keep looking at ways to integrate Sohei as well without sacrificing any of the PHB classes.
Races: Simply put, I love elves. There will be lots of them. There will be several of the old favorites and a race somewhat similar to the Warforged of Eberron fame. I also want Gnomes to play key roles, too,

Dragons: Here there BE DRAGONS!!! I love dragons. I don’t think enough campaigns or adventures feature enough of them. Fizban’s Treasury looks to be a fun book for me to draw resources from. I also have some great ideas that I need some serious art talent to have help with. Not everything can be done up with stick figures and protractors.

I love dragons!!!
Image c/o WotC. Used without permission.

Ancient and recurring evil: Part of my style of D&D has always been good vs evil. Since I know Blizzard will never cut a deal with WotC ever again, I figure I can incorporate some Diablo style elements into my game. I’m also a big WoW fan, but I want to stay away from some of that material for fear of looking too much like WoW. I may borrow bits and bobs such as magic items and monsters, just with my own spin on them.

I’m angling for this guy and his bros to show up in a game someday.
Used without permission. Please don’t sue me. Thank you.

I know WotC has said they plan to resurrect two of their old campaign worlds, and possibly a third sometime before 2024’s revision of the game. My educated guesses so far are: Dark Sun, Planescape, and possibly Spelljammer. We’ll see what they do. I think they should bring back Mystara and possibly Greyhawk. Honestly, I think the rights might be a bit tricky on some of the older properties, though. I’d also love to see Birthright or Al-Qadim, but I’d bet against those after seeing what WotC put on DMsGuild as a disclaimer regarding some of their older games. (Personally, I think they’re trying to hard to appear sensitive, but…) I’m seriously doubting OA will ever make a comeback in any way.

Anyway, my world will pull a little from Birthright. I loved the way Regents were connected to their lands and gained powers from it. What if any character could draw additional powers from their homeland? Or if they had spirit helpers? What if rulers could shut down their borders by spells or natural abilities? Yeah… Makes me salivate. Lol!

I plan on rebuilding the weapon list from scratch. Like many DMs, I take great pain in what has become of some of my favorites as well as those of the players. The same can be said of the armor table and many spells. It will be time-consuming and I won’t have it all worked out right away. Spell revisions and changes tend to take a long time.

Of course, no world would be complete without the presence of many of the classic monsters. The undead will certainly make a large appearance. Sorry, as hard as I try to avoid the clichés, I know there will be liches, vampires, skeletons, and zombies to fight. We’ll also see the standard spread of elementals, hydras, manticores, yokai, kodama, and dozens of other creatures from European and Asian sources. That’s kinda my thing.

I want the campaign to center around exploration first and foremost. We can dig into politics and religions once the campaign has been going for a while. I really want this to be the type of game where the PCs get to decide where they’re going. I want to try to avoid any heavy-handed NPCs and massive secret agendas that no one can do anything about. (Sorry, burned out on FR and Eberron that way.) I also want to avoid NPCs looking at the group and saying, “Been there. Done that.”

My intention is eventually to start putting pieces on here and some pdfs out for some of my basic things, such as weapon and armor revisions. I don’t want to charge much/anything at all until I start getting some basic maps made and a little bit of the lore written. Eventually I’m going to have enough built up to consider a Kickstarter or getting some money together for artists and possibly mapmaking. By the time 5.5 or 6.0 rolls around, I might have something concrete.

If you made it this far, thanks for hanging out with me. I appreciate you! Stay safe and see you again soon.

Near Brush with Imposter Syndrome.

I take my writing very seriously, even for the hobby.

I’m plugging away on my latest sourcebook idea and I started doing a little research in an effort to avoid too much overlap with what others have done and make sure I covered most/all of my bases. I made a discovery that almost derailed the whole project. I froze in my tracks when I noticed a fairly big name in the industry did a sourcebook on almost the exact same topic. The. Exact. Same. Topic.

My thought process spun out for the better part of a week. I didn’t even have the heart to keep going. I was pretty bummed. I mean, who am I to compete with that guy? My book isn’t going to be nearly as cool or sparkly, right?

After agonizing for days over this, (because I take my writing very seriously, even for the hobby,) I finally broke down and spent the two bucks on DMSGuild to pick up a pdf copy of the book. Surprise!

Much to my surprise, it looks nothing like what I’m working on! I was actually kinda shocked that this came from what I consider a leading writer in the industry. I mean, yes, it’s clean, thorough, and well-composed. But it’s way shorter than I expected for the money.

*Side note, I’m not naming names because I don’t want to cause any undue ill will toward this person or sound like I’m trying to brag. He’s got some good stuff. I’m continuing on doing what I know how to do without borrowing a word from it. All’s well.

I learned something today. Actually a few of things, to be honest. First, I do belong in the tabletop RPG industry. This is my jam. Second, there’s more than enough room for newcomers, even at this point in 5E’s development. Third, it’s not a competition. We’re all crazy. Maybe a better way to say that last part would be, there’s plenty of room to stay competitive without stepping on one another’s proverbial toes. It can be done.

So, on that cheerful note, I’m getting back to work. I have tables to craft and flavor text to write. If all goes well, my new sourcebook should be getting uploaded to the DMSGuild in a couple of months. No more brushes with Imposter Syndrome. I promise.

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