Category Archives: Microsetting
This grew from the causal thought “What two ideas have I not seen jammed together before?” with the answer being “Minotaur mafia.”
The Bulls of Mingul
When the enslaved people of Mingul prayed for salvation from the scorpionfolk masters, or at least escape from the vast labyrinthine cave complexes the scorpionfolk build as their temple cities, at first no gods answered. The envenomed deity of the scorpionfolk was too dangerous to other gods, her poison able to slay even deities.
But in time the field mother and the sly trickster decided to risk their existence to help the enslaved peoples. They took cattle, who were under the aegis of the field mother, and turned them into something else using the tricksters bag of secrets. Tall now, and powerful, and unable to be confused to lost by the most complex maze, the “Bulls of Mingul” waged war on the scorpionfolk. The minotaurs, as they came to be known, worked with the enslaved people to free Mingul, drive the scorpionfolk into hiding, and build new cities above the vast cavern-cities the scorpionfolk one ruled.
But when the war ended, and the enslaved people were freed, the minotaurs had no further purpose. They had no history of agriculture as a people, no legends of their own, no traditions to call upon. They knew only pathfinding and war. And so they demanded the people give them food and goods, in return for protections. The people were willing to pay an army, but not to trade one set of masters for another. The minotaurs fragmented into great herds of criminals, one controlling each of the mazes beneath the cities of Mingul.
All crime in Mingul is controlled, one way or another, by a Herd Lord. Law and Order have grown in power, but none but a minotaur can move safely through the ancient scorpionfolk tunnels beneath ever city. Thus the minotaur criminals have a secure stronghold, and ways to move unseen through every city. Some become guards of course, and can lead peacekeepers through the dark depths, but their number are few, and those who track down their own kind too often are often found slain, their bull head severed and replaced with that of a pig. Meanwhile criminals of other races often take the “sign of the bull,” a horn-shaped brand, declaring their loyalty to one or another Herd Lord.
The Herd Lords still protect Mingul from outside threats, and see the good and money they demand as their just due. Most Mingul cities and citizens see it as easier to allow the Herds to control and monitor crime, and accept the occasional theft or beating as the cost of freedom and having a vast force securing the underground zones of their land from attacks by drow or other subterranean threats.
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Sometimes, you need something out of the ordinary for a fantasy RPG dinner scene.
Sometimes, you just need a laugh.
Top Ten Iffy RPG Dinners
“No, it’s not seafood. But it is peeled, coated in flour, pepper and salt, and deep-fried!”
“It’s a one-ingredent fusion food! Also popular with chimera crisps, griffon au grautin, and manticore fries.
“It provides both the hare meat and the veggies, all in one butchering.”
8. Owlbear Mole Poblano
“No not owl-bear-mole. Mole poblano. The sauce. It really brings out the, ah… the gamy flavor of the wild mammal-and-fowl meat.”
5. Mimic Meat.
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Tech Noir is a genre that mixes the tropes, themes, and archetypical characters and stories of noir and hard boiled fiction with science-fiction technology and aesthetics. It’s the genre of stories about illegal psychics on the run from a government that wants to put them in internment camps and the one ex-psy-cop who can help them escape; or a missing microchip that can hack any computer and the detective hired by corrupt cops to find it since it’s believed to be somewhere in Neon Town; or the billionaire inheritor of a megacorporation who wants to know why her parents were killed in an aircar accident, and doesn’t know who to trust so she turns to outsiders to solve the crime.
The Starfinder Roleplaying Game isn’t specifically designed to emulate Tech Noir, but if everyone in a group is willing to give the tropes a try, there’s only a few things that need to be adjusted for it to do the job quite well.
Tech Noir isn’t about killing monsters or taking their stuff, though both those things can happen. It’s about investigating, surviving, exploring themes, and earning experience points. The GM ignores wealth per level, and “treasure” may be as little as 5 credits a day plus expenses. Instead, you get to pick gear at every character level, with some gear getting special rules on how its recovered or recharged.
“Gear,” in this context, is anything that would go in the equipment chapter of the Starfinder Core Ruleook, so cybernetics and such count. You can even take “services” as gear, in which case they count as contacts (and treat “item level” as the npc contact level), but you have to go to them for help (no more often than once per game session)—they aren’t cohorts.
This equipment has a minimum item level of 1, but even at first level it’s important to know which gear fills which slot (since recharge/reuse rules are different).
Armor has no environmental protections, and always looks like typical clothing. Mostly suits and trenchcoats.
*You get one piece of gear of your level+1 or less. If it uses charges or batteries you never run out of supplies for it, though you do need to take time to reload normally, and you can’t use those supplies for any other equipment. If you lose this, it is restored or replaced within 24 hours or as soon as you get back to your base of operations.
*You also get one pieces of gear of your level or less. If it uses charges or batteries you get one spare every time you hit your home base. If you lose this, it is restored or replaced as soon as you get back to your base of operations (but not more often than once per 2 days.)
*You get two pieces of gear of your level -1 or less. If it uses charges or batteries you get one spare every time you hit your home base, no more than once per game session. If you lose these, they are restored or replaced near the beginning of the next game session.
*You get four pieces of gear of your level -3 or less. If you lose these, you’re out of luck until you gain a new character level.
*If you are 5th level or higher, you get four pieces of gear of your level -4 or less. If you lose these, you’re out of luck until you gain a new character level.
Tech noir adventures are much more likely to be mysteries than jungle exploration, first contact with new alien species, or raids into ancient dungeons—though tech noir CAN tell those stories, with an additional mystery/drama subplot.
In the first or second session of a new tech noir adventure, the GM should make clear why the mystery or complication of the adventure is. After each successful encounter, the GM must give the PCs a lead. No skill check is needed for this (though additional clues may be available with successful skill checks). The lead is, at minimum, a way to get to another encounter related to the mystery or complication, which in turn leads to another, and so on. After 13 successful encounters, the mystery or complication is solved (by shooting the bad guy and finding his diaries explaining everything, if nothing else). Noir detectives and agents often fumble about most of the story, getting jumped by foes they’ve never met and finding allies suddenly getting cagey for no good reason. By tenaciously pulling through, the noir protagonist eventually uncovers the truth. A tech noir adventure should be set up the same way.
Example of Tech Noir in Fiction
Blade Runner 2049
Ghost in the Shell (anime)
Source of Inspiration
Shadowrun—all forms of this RPG are well suited to draw ideas for magic-infused tech noir.
Garrett Files Series. These books by Glen Cook have no tech, but they combine noir with fantasy in a way that should be inspirational for anyone looking to create Starfinder Noir adventures.
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These sites are designed for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, but can be adapted to different sci-fi games as desired.
Each of these sites is popular and powerful enough to exist in the infosphere of hundreds or even thousands of settled worlds. While each planetary infosphere has its own local iteration of these sites, where residents on that planet can interact with it in real time, the offworld sections are regular updated by automatic downloads from the databanks of ships and transmissions from other worlds.
Each site also lists a focus. For every 5 ranks in Computers and Culture a character has (whichever skill they have the most ranks in – you don’t get twice as many foci for having ranks in both), they receive a focus in one infosphere site for free. (A GM may also use inforsphere site focus as benefits for things like themes or story awards.) This represents a strong understanding of how the site works (both technically and in regards to its culture.) Focus with each site gives you a minor bonus when you take specific actions, or allows you to take actions you normally couldn’t. This requires you to have access to the planetary inforsphere, and if the action requires the involvement of people on other planets, its effect is delayed until a ship or transmission carries the request to and from that world (normally double the time requires for a hyperspace trip.)
Blather: A popular venue for extremely short-form messages (known as “blats”), Blather is used both as a way to have public conversations and to push specific marketing ideas. Many Icons and leaders use Blather as a way to send a message directly to their fans, followers, foes, and the general public.
Focus: You can gather information (as the Diplomacy task) with a Computers or Culture check. The first gather information check you make each day takes no time, as it represents your general knowledge gained from being up to date on Blather.
Chekkit: A distributed messageboard with specific-topic sections (subchekkits) on tens of thousands of topics. Chekkit is largely free of corporate control (though it is owned by a coalition of companies) and is self-moderated by members. This freedom allows it to be used as a populist place for discussion, research, and crowdsourcing obscure questions, but also allows it to be used to promote and organize antisocial, bigoted, fringe, and actively harmful social movements.
Focus: You can attempt Diplomacy and Intimidate checks with individuals connected to an infosphere by driving campaigns of popular opinion in the appropriate subchekkits. This takes a minimum of 1d6 days, and you can’t have more than one pending skill check of this type at a time.
Infopedia: Infopedia is a user-driven repository of information, with articles written by, and edited by, the general public. In general this method produces articles with considerable accuracy, and it often allows subjects that do not draw scholarly notice to be thoroughly covered. However, it is also vulnerable to both accidental and intentional falsification of facts.
Focus: You can take 20 on a skill check for a skill you have no ranks in, even for checks that normally require you to be trained in that skill, but doing so takes twice as long as is normally required to take 20. Additionally, with a Computers or Culture check you can attempt to make a Bluff check to introduce a false piece of information to the search results of a planet’s infosphere. The base DC of this Bluff check is the same as the DC to discover the accurate information. Anyone who researches the question with a skill check result below your total to introduce false information cannot determine which fact is real. If they also fail the original research DC by 5 or more, they accept the false fact you introduce as true. Your skill check may be modified by the same kinds of modifiers that make Bluff checks more difficult, and the effective total of your check goes down by 5 per day as the general public corrects the misinformation.
MyFace: The most popular social media infosphere site through the homeworlds and their allies. Users have profiles with extensive personal information, and generally post thoughts, pictures, and even video of everything from their political beliefs to what they had for breakfast. A powerful tool for keeping in touch with friends who are far away, but also a massive tool for corporate opinion-shaping and data-mining and a growing encroachment into the privacy of everyone, as any public event may be broadly broadcast on MyFace.
Focus: You can disguise your online activity by using a false MyFace account as the sign-in and basis of everything you do. Individuals attempting to figure out who you are must make a Computers check with a DC of 10 + your Computers or Culture bonus, or they are fooled into assigning your online activity to a fake MyFace account. You also gain a +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks with creatures that you have successfully identified the true MyFace accounts of.
Speaking of Sites…
I got so excited I even wrote up a fifth, self-referential, site on my Patreon — the fundraising sci-fi site “Sponseor.”
This is a cinematic sci-fi timeline, and effort to create a rich history of advancing technology and the issues, heroes, and morality tales that lead to a moment rich for player character involvement. That moment might be at the end of this progression, or at any point along the way the GM finds interesting.
This isn’t an effort to actually jam all these differing stories into a single continuity, and I am not claiming RUNAWAY is actually the precursor to RoboCop. I am also aware that some of these do have official crossovers (half of then through Dark Horse comics), and I don’t care if I invalidate those either.
Nor am I trying to fit ever science-fiction movie in existence into a single reality. Just a specific subset I feel have some themes and throughlines in common that make for an interesting potential universe.
This is just a thought experiment, designed to place actual inspirations into slots where a pastiche of each *could* form a logical continuous timeline with just a little tweaking.
Each movie includes the year the movie was released, for clarity. No specific set time is suggested for when these movies should occur, but I assume the timeline runs roughly 200 years from 1970 to 2170. The timeline movies forward with each italicized breakdown of how the listed movies represent the events of that point in the timeline.
The Timeline (1970-2070)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The governments of the world come to accept that alien life is real and travelling the stars, but keep the information from the general public.
Crucial moments in the development of the world are impacted by a very small number of time travelers, resulting in multiple, overlapping alternate timelines, proof of some variant of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The Fury (1978)
Perhaps as a step in evolution, perhaps as a response to the first cases of time travel and alien contact, verifiable psychic phenomenon begin to sporadically manifest. The governments of the world alternate between exploiting and just killing such talents, but needless to say thigns often go poorly.
Aliens continue to visit Earth in small numbers and without the public learning, but such visits are not always friendly.
As technology advances, the wealthy and powerful begin to realize it can be used to control the lower classes, to focus even more power in the hands of the few.
As society groans under the need to provide for an expanding population and worsening natural resources, autonomous robots become increasingly common in advanced societies. Something they go rouge, and must be put down. Sometimes an increasingly tech-savvy criminal class makes use of them.
Suspect Zero (2004)
The number of individuals with psychic powers grows, and organizations begin to form to deal with them exclusively.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Predator II (1990)
The pressure on society begins to lead to the collapse of institutions and social norms. As the middle class ceases to exist, the underclass becomes increasingly violent and hard to control. The tiny sliver of the wealthy and powerful, and their increasingly independent corporations, seek to control the masses through any means. This is a rich environment for a small number of alien visitors to exploit conditions for their own amusement or gain.
Red Lights (2012)
Slowly, the scientific community begins to publicly study psychic powers, though skepticism remains high.
Governments begin to collapse and corporations gain more power. This leads to efforts to have corporate-controlled paramilitary forces, and to use cybernetic technologies to enforce obedience on a soldier-servant class.
Event Horizon (1997)
The strain humanity is putting on Earth is clearly unsustainable. The oligarchs and mega-corporations experiment with ways to spread to other worlds, though their reckless willingness to attempt anything that might succeed leads to horrific failures.
Total Recall (1990)
Thanks to advanced in space travel, humanity begin to move to new worlds, though all still within the solar system.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
The need for cheap labor leads to attempts to uplift other simians. But if we made apes intelligent and independent enough to serve as slave labor, they are intelligent and independent enough to rebel. Such efforts are outlawed.
Solent Green (1973)
The world is in near collapse. The upper classes have literally fantasy worlds to play in with their nearly unlimited wealth, while everyone else fights for scraps and is distracted by death sports. Early cyborg technology begins to advance to primitive androids, though these require fairly regular maintenance and human-augmented control.
(If society does totally collapse, a new timeline forms here, with Damnation Alley, Mad Max, A Boy and His Dog, and so on, eventually reaching Thundarr. Our timeline doesn’t go that route.)
Minority Report (2002)
The existence of psychics is publicly accepted, and they begin to be integrated into the government and corporate efforts to control a growing population that is increasingly dissatisfied and dangerous.
Blade Runner (1982)
The total collapse of human civilization is prevented by creating autonomous androids to serve as the ultimate slave labor force, while humanity begins to truly move to the stars. But only those who are healthy and talented are chosen my megacorporations to be shipped off Earth, and it turns out intelligent and independent android slaves have many of the same issues intelligent and independent ape slaves did.
Silent Running (1972)
Robots begin to be replaced by androids in most tasks, though simpler robot technology is more stable. Though some governments have gone to the stars, it is the corporations who have the money and resources to push the boundary of the final frontier. What they find doesn’t always go well for the corporate employees who find it.
Blade Runner 2049
Back on Earth, things still boil (details left out as spoilers for the movie)
Colonization becomes standard, and most android behavior issues are solved. But as humanity’s sphere of influence spreads, so does its interactions with other alien life.
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The Monday Bad Idea!
A modern supers game, where most issues are handled by the International Forces.
But if they can’t cope with something, it gets passed up to the World Hero Emergency Network.
“So it’s not I.F., but W.H.E.N.”
BONUS Bad Idea!
“Sir, I’m writing the the Military Action eXtreme Intelligence mandate protocols, and they need a to define default super-agent team for class 1 incidents. Should I indicate the
National Emergency Veteran Executive Reserve?”
“We could, but let’s not go straight to our most experienced agent team in such cases. I think we’re better served with that protocol calling on the Legion of Advanced Tactical Experts first, whenever possible. ”
“Ah, so the M.A.X.I.M. is better L.A.T.E. than N.E.V.E.R.”
I often play with new mythologies when writing up new campaign worlds, and some work out better than others. When making new mythologies, I like to remember that real-world mythology is often much, much weirder and more primal than the neat pantheons we often get in RPGs.
It’s a fantasy world. Have fun with it. And\ example:
“Think you that first came gods in man-form, in the shape of elf or dwarf was born divinity? Now, all these gods are but recent tribes, attested by those who build shrines to the power that look onto them.
Before the god tribes were the Hrimthur, the storm gods, and the Svadilfar, the horse gods. The Hrimthur sought to freeze or drown or shatter with wind and lightning all living things, and of all the first animals, it was the noble horse gods, the Svadilfar, who put the Hrimthur in check. Long were their battles, but in time the Hrumthur were driven back to the mountains and oceans, from where to this day their make their assaults in the storm seasons.
The Svadilfar sought to heal the world damaged by their battles, and the eldest and wisest of them, the mare Sleinyrsa, saw among the animals two that were more clever. She selected them, the female Freafar and her mate the male Wojanan, to aid in rebuilding the world. They were allowed to ride on Sleinyrsa herself, and thus became gods, and selectors of dead animals to also ride upon the Svadilfar. And this god riders became the tribes of tool-using gods, second only to the Svadilfar, and kin to the Raven King gods, who also learned of tools.
And from these tribes later come all the gods of elf, and gnome, and dwarf, and man.”
One way to add a little flavor to a person, city, or culture is to add a few useful phrases that take the same kind of place as “Who benefits?” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even just one phrase, introduced as part of a philosophy or something that’ll come up throughout a plotline, can help drive home a feel for a region,
There’s no need to overdo these, but I often find dropping in one or two can really boost player interest in a representative of a foreign or alien group. Here are some examples.
Gold sheds no tears.
The poison proves the plot.
Which god is thus glorified?
All accounts shall be balanced.
An arrow cannot recognize a king.
It need not be a dragon to burn you.
All who had the power to stop this are guilty of it.
All jackals scavenge, but even lions accept a free meal.
Those who pay the minstrel are the first to hear the song. (Yep, it’s a Patreon reference, snuck in as content. Mea culpa.)
The Setup is a one- or two-sentence “high concept” for an RPG campaign or similar background.
This one is for a Supers world.
At 11:59:59 EST, it happened. Not at every prison, but at most of them, worldwide. Perfect spheres of bizarre energy of unknown composition, unknown source, and unknown event. Each circle was between a few hundred and a few thousand feet in diameter. It became known as the Drama.
The Drama infused people, and in rarer cases animals and objects, with spectacular (and random) powers. There are more than 2 million adult inmates in the US alone, and less than 500,000 correctional officers. In the blink of an eye more than half the people in prisons had powers… and criminals outnumbered people trying to maintain order four to one.
The chaos was instant.
No one knows exactly how many people gained powers. It wasn’t every incarcerated prisoner, guard, and administrator, but it was many of them. And sine the Drama created spheres, some few folks who simply had reason to be near prisons were also impacted. Tens of thousands of children in detention centers. Scores of lawyers with need to be with a client late at night, as well as a few law enforcement officers, witnesses to at least one execution, and at least one bus full of student athletes coming back from a late-night basketball game decided in overtime were driving by a county jail and got caught in the Drama.
All told, estimates were that 2,000,000 people, give or take, suddenly gained extraordinary abilities, 60% of them hardened criminals.
Roughly half gained some knack at or close to peak human performance, regardless of their previous physical or mental condition. Geriatric prisoners became as swift, or as fast, as Olympic athletes. Correctional officers of causal intellect became geniuses. Hardened criminals became philosopher poets. Secretaries became world class martial artist. In most cases people were affected directly, but in a few cases the power was imbued into something else. The wild dogs who later formed the Pound Pack gained human intellect. Sgt. Damian Hammer’s riot shield became nearly indestructible. The Folsom state prison’s computer network became the world’s first strong AI. But these were rare exceptions.
This level of power was quickly dubbed “one inmate” worth of Drama power, and that got shortened to 1M within a day of memes and 24 hour news cycles. But while half the subjects of the Drama got 1M, some got more. Roughly half as many 1M recipients were 2M–gaining either two forms of peak human ability, or one thing with twice the potency of the greatest human. Gangbangers able to lift 2,000 pounds, con men able to speak more than 100 languages fluently, assistant wardens able to run at 50 mph. These people from the Big House, were eventually called Big Housers more than they are called anything else.
The distribution of power followed the same rough linear pattern, one additional “inmate” worth of power being given to a group as as big. Half as many recipients who got 2M were 3Ms, and half as many 3Ms were 4Ms who had quadruple the ability of the best humans. Though the numbers were approximate, that means the distribution continued until about 1,875 Big Housers in the US alone were 10Ms.
A 1M might gain a punch with 1,000 pounds of peak force. A 3M could hit as hard as a handgun bullet. A 10M hit as hard as an antitank round. And at about the 10M level, powers stopped being limited to things explained by science.
Flight. Telepathy. Telekenesis. Teleportation. Eye beams. Fire breath. Sonic screams. A 15m Big Houser might be “limited” to running at 375 mph and making 1,200 punches in 60 seconds… or he might have the power to turn lead into gold, or perfectly predict the next 15 seconds, or be able to regenerate a lost limb. Estimates place between 2,000 and 3,000 Big Housers in the US at 10M and higher, with a believed upper limit of 20M, but it’s extremely difficult to categorize such people. Red Hand, the crazed killer who can create a virus that causes insanity and stigmata, might be a 10M with a single inexplicable power–or he might be a 15M given his cunning, durability, charisma, and rumored ability to switch bodies. Slammer is just strong and hard to hurt, but is he 14 times peak human performance, or 18 times?
It’s been two years. More than 20% of the original Drama recipients are dead. Only roughly 10% have successfully been captured and incarcerated. Another 10-15% work for various governmental agencies, or actively work to protect the world against the rest.
But about half the Big Housers are still out there, committing crimes.
If you Enjoyed This:
Spring elves are between 25 and 110 years old—physically adult, but still in what staid and traditional elven society considers their “Spring Years,” too emotional and impulsive to be allowed to leave the safety and education of the home. They are essentially eternal teenagers, sure of their own intellect and ability, but largely incapable of considering the long-term consequences of their actions—a particularly troubling trait for the long-lived race. Spring elves are always, always supervised and watched over by older, most experienced elves, and kept from adventure, and as much as possible kept from any decision-making. While spring elves are physically and mentally capable of the same kind of training and education as young humans, these decades are a time when they are so wild, so free of consideration, that over the course of eight decades they only manage as much preparation for life as a typical human manages by age 16.
However, in rare circumstances, a spring elf lacks any of the careful parenting and sheltering from life the races has learned from long experience is necessary to prevent the just-post-adolescent elves from setting the world on fire. For example, the Elves of Solstice are an entire race rules by spring elves, given power and authority with no sense of responsibility. And the gods help everyone else.
Standard Racial Traits
Ability Score Racial Traits: Spring elves are nimble and amazingly likable, and still have their youthful resilience, which is the only reason they aren’t all killed for weeklong benders and experimental magic, but they lack the intellectual focus of properly raised, adult elves. They gain +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, and –2 Wisdom.
Size: Most spring elves are Medium creatures and thus have a 30 foot base speed and receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size. Some are still size small, and have all the normal bonuses and penalties for that size and a base move of 20 feet.
Type: Elves are Humanoids with the elf subtype.
Languages: Spring elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Those with high Intelligence scores are drawn to “fun” languages and can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Cyclops, Dark Folk, Draconic, Gnome, Necril, Protean, and Sylvan. See the Linguistics skill page for more information about these languages.
Keen Senses: Spring elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.
Impulsive: Spring elves gain a +2 bonus to Initiative checks, but they cannot delay an action (though they can ready), and take twice as long to take 20 on skill checks (as they are constantly distracted).
Elven Proclivities: Spring elves are immune to magic sleep effects, but take a -2 saving throw penalty against enchantment spells and effects. They gain a +2 bonus to charisma checks, and to the save DCs of their own enchantment spells and effects.
Low-Light Vision: Spring elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.
Reckless Abandon: A spring elf can reroll a single attack roll, ability check, skill check, or caster level check (but not concentration check) per encounter, immediately after determining the result of a failed roll. However, if the spring elf does this, the GM earns an impulsive token. The GM can later spend a token to force the spring elf to move to anyplace within the spring elf’s base move that is not obviously hazardous, as the spring elf is overcome by an impulse. This can begin a fight, set off a hidden trap and so on, though the spring elf gains +4 to AC and a +4 to saves against the initial effect of anything set off by this impulsive move.
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