Category Archives: Pathfinder Development

Buff Feat (for Pathfinder)

Since I did a Lithe feat, fair’s fair.

Let’s see how crazy this drives people.

Buff (1)
Your extremely tone and firm muscles protect you from the ravages suffered by some less well-defined individuals.
Prerequisite: Strength 13+
Benefit: For any calculation that normally uses your Constitution score or Constitution modifier, you may instead use your Strength score or Strength modifier.
Special: You may take the Intercept Blow feat without meeting its prerequisites, and may ignore any non-feat prerequisites for feats that have Intercept Blow as a prerequisite. You do not have a master, for purposes of this feat, but have a “key ally.” Whenever you first all for initiative in an encounter, you may declare any one creature to be your “key ally” for this feat.

Buff (2)
Your incredible stamina and unbreakable physique allows you to get more out of your frame.
Prerequisite: Constitution 13+
Benefit: For any calculation that normally uses your Strength score or Strength modifier, you may instead use your Constitution score or Constitution modifier.
Special: You may take the Intercept Blow feat without meeting its prerequisites, and may ignore any non-feat prerequisites for feats that have Intercept Blow as a prerequisite. You do not have a master, for purposes of this feat, but have a “key ally.” Whenever you first all for initiative in an encounter, you may declare any one creature to be your “key ally” for this feat.

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Lithe Feat (for Pathfinder)

Let’s see how crazy this drives people.

Lithe (1)
Your strong personal style and flexible frame make you much more nimble that one would think at first glance.
Prerequisite: Charisma 13+
Benefit: For any calculation that normally uses your Dexterity score or Dexterity modifier, you may instead use your Charisma score or Charisma modifier.
Special: You may take the Narrow Frame feats without meeting its prerequisites, and may ignore any non-feat prerequisites for feats that have Narrow frame as a prerequisite.

Lithe (2)
Your flexible frame and strong personal style allow you to define your social interactions through your body movements.
Prerequisite: Dexterity 13+
Benefit: For any calculation that normally uses your Charisma score or Charisma modifier, you may instead use your Dexterity score or Dexterity modifier.
Special: You may take the Narrow Frame feats without meeting its prerequisites, and may ignore any non-feat prerequisites for feats that have Narrow frame as a prerequisite.

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Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats (Pathfinder)

I am very fond of Item Mastery Feats for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I think there are lots of interesting places those feats can take characters, especially fighters. I am also a big fan of the Advanced Weapon Training rules that allow fighters to make weapon training do more than just grant flat attack and damage bonuses. The two already combine somewhat (with the item mastery advanced weapon training option), but I think there are yet more interesting ways they can be mixed for fighters, and some other classes.

Arcane Fighter (Combat)
You know magic is a potent weapon, and you study how to fight with magic items.
Prerequisite: Fighter level 1.
Benefit: You are considered trained with Use Magic Device, and can make special UMD checks with a bonus equal to your fighter level + your Constitution bonus +3, rather than your normal skill bonus.

Draught Mastery
When you drink a magic potion, you gain additional benefits.
Prerequisites: One of the following class features: armor training, brew potion, weapon training.
Benefit: Select three item mastery feats for which you meet the prerequisites. Each time you gain a new level, you can change this selection.
Once per day when you drink a potion, you may use the benefit of one of those item mastery feats if the potion would qualify to grant you if it were a permanent magic item. You may use this feat a second time per day when your base attack bonus, caster level, or alchemist level reaches +5 or 5th, and every +5 or 5 levels thereafter.

Extra Weapon Training (Combat)
You are a master of many weapons and weapon fighting techniques.
Prerequisites: Weapon training class feature.
Benefit: You can select another weapon group your weapon training class feature applies its benefits to. Alternatively, you may select another advanced weapon training option for which you meet the prerequisites.

Patreon Exclusive!
The point of the Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats article was to create new ways to use existing Item Mastery Feats and find synergy with advanced weapon training, rather than to present new Item Mastery Feats. However while writing it I thought of one new Item Mastery Feat which fills a gap in what those feats can allow a character to do: Buff Mastery. It is presented at my Patreon, exclusively (for now) for my Patrons!

The Value of Spellcasting

I have often wondered how valuable players and GMs find spellcasting. For example if you place limitations and degradations on spellcasting and boost the cost of acquiring it, at what point does it become not worth the effort? How close is that to the point when most GMs are comfortable allowing spellcasting easily-acquired outside of a class into a campaign?

This leads to a though experiment of a feat.

Spellcasting (Thought Experiment)

You can cast spells. Just not very well.

Benefit: Select one class’s spellcasting list. If that class has alignment, code, equipment requirements that must to be able to cast spells (such as a paladin’s code, or a druid’s need to be partially neutral and avoid metal armor), you must meet those requirements or suffer the same consequences with regards to spells gained through this feat) as the class you selected.

You gain spells known and spells per day as spell-like abilities from that spell list, using the spells known and spells per day of a 1st level sorcerer and your character level as your caster level. To determine your save DCs and max spell known, instead of Charisma or the ability score used by the class you picked for the spell list, you use your lowest ability score. You can change one spell known at every character level, using the rules for sorcerers to swap spells known, but they must all come from the selected spell list.

Special: You can take this feat more than once, but not more times than 1+1/2 your character level. Each time, you increase your effective sorcerer level for determining your spells known and spells per day from the selected spell list by +2, and increase the number of spells you can swap out at each new level by +1.

Patreon (Not a thought experiment)

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Simple Dwarven Name Generator

The very first professional RPG writing of mine that was published was the elven name generator in Dragon 251. I’d done (and even been paid for) freelance work prior to that, but none of it was published before that issue hit the stands. It was the beginning of one of my early series, RPG name and language articles, which included the seven By Any Other Name, Cry Havoc, and Dragontongue articles in Dragon Magazine, What’s In A Name in Pyramid magazine, Call Signs in Star Wars gamer magazine, and some work on the online D&D name generator for 4th edition.

One of the things I am proudest of about the majority of those articles is that in addition to allowing random creation of appropriate-sounding names, the articles have just enough definition to allow the meaning of the names to be determined. It’s rough of course—this is designed to allow some fun details for RPG characters and stories, not create full constructed languages like Klingon or Dothraki. But I’ve found being able to tell someone their magic sword is named the dwarven name for “Dragon’s Bite,” and for the player to then use the article to name a back-up weapon “Dragon’s Fire”, adds a lot even with the fairly lose rules.

But while the elven By Any Other Name in Dragon 251 was the first of all of those to get published, I actually pitched (and wrote) a dwarven name generator first. It eventually got accepted and published in Dragon 261. I never felt “done” with that name generator, but honestly I felt like it was the best of all the ones I did (though the kuo-toa name generator is a lot of fun, too).

But I am always thinking about other ways to do similar things (even though, in the age of the Internet, I don’t know if there is any need for yet more simple name generators). I have wondered, for example, what the shortest possible useful name generator is.

I have made a dwarf name generator, with hints for definitions, with ten elements.

I suspect that is too short.

But it’s worth floating and see how people react to it.

To use the generator roll 1d10 twice, to determine the prefix and suffix of the name. for example, a y and then a 3 gives you Mhordun, which could mean Fire Rune, Scholar of Dragons, Treasured Scroll, Destined to Rage, or any other combination of similar words you like.

If you roll the same number twice, ignore the second result and instead do three word elements. For example if you rolls 10 and then 10 again, ignore the second ten and roll twice more (still ignoring 10s). If you got a 1 and a 8, your name is Wularnhar.

With these rules and just 10 intermixable name segments, you end up with hundreds of possible names, with definitions, to use for anything dwarven. If you want male and female names to be different, you can add some feminine suffixes (-a, dot, -gurd, -hild, -ir) to either use in place of some name segments below, or to add to the end of a name generated using the standard rules.

  1. ar – warrior, axeman, weapon, sword, spear, pick, retribution
    2. bal – armor, shield, guardian, ward, abjuration, iron
    3. dun – dragon, rage, fire, treasure, gold
    4. fel – thief, spy, shadow, darkness, assassin, death
    5. grym – ring, sorcerer, warlock, magic, eldritch
    6. kar – servant, slave, secret, traitor, lock, binding
    7. mhor – scholar, wisdom, scroll, rune, destiny
    8. nhar – battle cry, thunder, bard, horn
    9. thyr – ice, frost, calm, silver, cleric
    10. wul – craftsman, craft, skill, beer, mead, art, artisan, beauty


No, it’s not another set of dwarven name segments (though it could be — just use a d12 instead of a d10). It’s the main way I fund writing content for my blog. If you enjoyed this post, please consider backing me. 🙂

Degrees of Fatigue

The fatigued and exhausted conditions are designed to be simple. First, you take a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity, and can’t run or charge. Then if you suffer another level of fatigue, your penalties jump to -6, and you move at half speed on top of other limits.

One hour rest takes you from exhausted to fatigued. Eight hours of rest takes you from fatigued to fine.

That’s more granular that my (too frequent) experience with exhaustion, but that’s fine. Simplicity is worth some increased granularity. Part of the question for me is… how simple is that? Neither the jump from -2 to -6, nor the differences in how long it takes to recover from the conditions, feels intuitive to me. Also, it strikes me odd that once you are exhausted, maintaining things that should fatigue you have no effect.

So, that brings us to the ideas of degrees of fatigue.

Instead of going from fatigued to exhausted, you keep taking degrees of fatigue. Each degree has a -2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity, which stack. Once your Strength and Dexterity both drop below 10 as a result of these penalties, all your movement rates are cut in half. If  your Strength or Dexterity is reduced to 0, you pass out until the penalties reduce to allow you a positive ability score.

Two hours of dedicated rest removes one degree of fatigue. (Anything that would end fatigue removes one level, anything that would end exhaustion removes up to 4 levels.)

I don’t know if this is actually easier, but it’s something I’d love to playtest and see how it works out.


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More Massively Revised Feats

I’ve been toying with what it would take to create a different kind of d20 game. One where just a  few key choices, that don’t take a ton of planning or prerequisites and that don’t require *exactly* the right tactics to use, can make a major impact on who a character is and what neat, exciting things they can do.

I posted about it some yesterday.

So, of course, now it’s stuck in my head. There’s TONS of stuff I’d have to do to make this overall vision work (like rewrite all classes so they all have three lines of abilities, two tied to one ability score each and a third not tied to any ability score)…
But for now I’m still just exploring interesting revisions to feats many people tell me are either terrifyingly dull, or actively frustrating.

Agile Maneuvers (Combat, Revised)
You’ve learned to use your quickness in addition to brute force with performing combat maneuvers.
Benefit: You add your Dexterity bonus to your base attack bonus and Strength bonus when determining your Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Bonus. When a creature attempts a combat maneuver against you and fails, it provokes an attack of opportunity from you (separate from any AoO provoked when it attempted the combat maneuver, and even if it the attacker doesn’t provoke AoO when attempting a combat maneuver). However, you can only use this attack of opportunity to attempt your own combat maneuver (which does not itself provoke an AoO). You can only perform one AoO per round using this feat, even if you have multiple attacks of opportunity each round.

Alignment Channel (Revised)
Choose chaos, evil, good, or law. You can channel divine energy to affect creatures with this alignment.
Prerequisites: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: Instead of its normal effect, you can choose to have your ability to channel energy heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element. You must make this choice each time you channel energy. If you choose to heal or harm creatures of the chosen alignment element, your channel energy has no effect on other creatures.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a new alignment element. Whenever you channel energy, you must choose which alignment element to effect, or a combination of elements. For example if you have selected chaos and good, you can choose to affect all chaotic creatures, all good creatures, or just all chaotic good creatures.

Arcane Armor Training (Combat, Revised)
You have learned how to cast spells while wearing armor.
Prerequisites: Light Armor Proficiency, ability to cast 1st level arcane spells.
Benefit: You do not suffer arcane spell failure from light armor. When you cast an arcane spell that gives you an armor bonus while wearing light armor, you may choose to increase the armor bonus of either you light armor or the spell by 1 for the duration of the spell. If you can cast cantrips, you can also use magic to put on or remove your light armor as a move action.

Augment Summoning (Combat, Revised)
Your summoned creatures are more powerful and robust.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast a conjuration (summoning) spell that conjures a creation.
Benefit: Each creature you conjure with any summon spell gains a +2 enhancement bonus to melee attacks and damage and +2 hp per Hit Die. Additionally, if the spell has a duration of 1 round/level, it increases to 1 hour/level when outside of combat. But if the creature is in a combat (even if it neither attacks nor is attacked) each round of combat reduces the spell’s duration by 1 hour.

About my Patreon

I have a Patreon, and normally I’d link directly to it from here. It seems small, but it’s an important part of my income. My patrons allow me to do less formal freelance writing, which gives me time to do more, longer, better-considered articles and essays here.
But there have been changes to how Patreon charges my patrons.
As a result I wrote a blog post discussing some changes I have made, and while I would love for you to choose to support me, at the moment I’d ask you go check out my thoughts on how to handle changes to Patreon before you go pledge. 🙂

Character-Defining Feats

I’ve literally been playing and writing for d20 system games since before D&D 3.0 came out. That long experience has led me to not really fear overpowered characters. If characters are overpowered it’s actually very easy to upgrade encounters in a consistent manner until they’re challenge, and the vast majority of things that cause groups to decide a specific build or ability is overpowered are tied as much to play style as objective balancing of rules.

What I AM afraid of is characters that are boring or frustrating. Players will put up with a lot if they find their character interesting, including a GM modifying pre-written encounters in a possible slightly haphazard way, if they enjoy and are engaged with their characters. All too often, however, feats become a source of both frustration \(as long lists of prerequisites, carefully worded language that excludes numerous combinations, and situational bonuses that may never come up in play cause a player to interact with feats negative far more often than positively. While having a predictable power curve is good for designing adventures and trying to get all players to have equal spotlight time, if brakes built into a game to provide that predictability slaps down players more often than it enables them to do something exciting it reduces fun instead of facilitating it.

Ideally, I’d like to see a d20 game where characters are defined by their feats as much as by their class and race, but only because a few feats are enough to give a character a wide range of new capabilities or augment them enough that their performance itself provides a new play experience. Such a system might well have to affect other subsystems such as bonus acquisition, action economy, and featlike powers from other sources (such as traits, favored class bonuses, alternate race traits, and even archetypes), but it also has to redefine feats to a player envisions a character being notable different in play with even a single feat.

While I clearly can’t tackle ever feat in the core rules in the space of a single blog post, I though a selection of revised feats, all based on d20 feats that are regularly derided for being useless or boring, might provide a good example of the kind of design space I am envisioning. These are just a starting point, and a game build around them would have to make some other hard choices to keep frustration levels down and ease of character design and advancement up.

Alertness (Revised)
Your ability to notice things is almost preternatural.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Perception had Sense Motive, and both of these are treated as class skills for you. (You gain an additional +1 bonus to each skill if it is a class skill for you as a result of some other option.)  You automatically gain one rank per level in each of these skills, though this cannot give you more total ranks than your character level (if you had already point skill ranks into these skill prior to gaining this feat, you can spend those skill points on other skills). You gain each skill’s unlocks (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained) appropriate for the number of ranks you have +4 (so you gain the 5 rank skill unlock at 1st level, and the 10 rank skill unlock at 6th level).

Combat Expertise (Combat, Revised)
You are a master of increasing your defense at the expense of your accuracy.
Benefit: When you fight defensively (see Chapter 8, Combat) you take only a -1 penalty to your attack rolls. When your base attack bonus reaches +4, and every +4 thereafter, the dodge bonus you gain from fighting defensively increases by +1. Your dodge bonus from this feat is limited to +2 or your armor’s Max Dex Bonus, whichever is greater.

Skill Focus
When push comes to shove, you can depend on your ability to succeed at a given skill.
Benefit: Select one skill. You gain a +3 bonus to that skill. Once per day when you fail a skill check with this skill, as a free action you may immediately instead change your die result to a 20. This feat must be selected for each Knowledge skill separately, but if taken for Craft, Perform, or Profession it applies to all of those skills.

Weapon Focus (Combat, Revised)
You are highly skills with a class of weapons.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with one weapon in the category, base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Select one fighter weapon group. You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls with every weapon in this group with which you are proficient. At 3rd level, you also gain a +2 bonus to damage with such weapons. When you base attack bonus reaches +8, your bonus to attacks increases to +2. When you base attack bonus reaches +12, your bonus to damage increases to +4.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take it, you must select a different fighter weapon group.
Special: If you have at least two levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +1 bonus to attack rolls with the selected weapons. If you have at least three levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +2 bonus to damage rolls with the selected weapons.

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Developer? Designer? Who is the What Now?

One of the things I think often causes confusions among fans, and consternation among those entering the industry (or trying to maximize the creative resources within it) it that RPG creation as a whole lacks a consistent and well-accepted set of terms to describe the tasks that occur prior to editing, layout, and marketing. Many game companies use terms like author, writer, developer, and designer, but they mean different things at different companies, and sometimes aren’t well-defined even within the companies using such titles.

Further, even when the terms are fairly well-defined within a specific context, I think they are often way too broad. In the same way the ability to diagnose what’s wrong with an existing car and fix it is different from the ability to design a car from scratch is different from the ability to refuel and change the tires on a car as fast as possible, despite those all being technical fields involving car parts and performance, the writing tasks associated with professional RPG production can be very different despite cursory similarities. Without a good way to describe the various word-related tasks professional RPG creators may be called upon to perform, and note how they are different from one another, it’s hard to talk about who is good at what tasks and how they might improve at others.

This essay is not an effort to present a definitive lexicon of game creating positions. This is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it. These are my first blush thoughts on the subject, and I presume not only that I would evolve my opinions as the question is debated but that I’ll discover lots of people smarter and more experienced than I will have done a lot of this categorization already. But I want to produce a fixed from of my initial sense of the various roles that word creation can play in a professional RPG setting, and cast about for other versions after that.

I’ll also note that much as the job of writing RPGs is more complex that a single skill set, I am well aware of the differences between various forms of editing, many art and graphic design and layout tasks, financing, shipping, marketing, and so on. I am focusing here on the word creation not out of a claim that it’s the only part that’s important in creating RPGs, but simply because  it’s the thing I have done the most over my 20 years or being involved in professional RPGs, so it’s what I know best.
Also, these terms specifically avoid those I run into most often in the industry (such as designer and developer) because different companies that I work for use those terms differently, and no matter how I defined them I could be seen as criticizing the way one or more of my employers use them, which is not my intent. Ultimately we could name these jobs after the planets or all I care, as long as we all knew a Jupiter was the person who wrote background of a campaign setting, and a Saturn could expand on existing rule systems in interesting ways.

Many people I know in the industry fill many of these roles as needed, and some fill all of them with amazing dedication and creativity. These aren’t designed to be in any way excusive, just distinct enough that some people might be good and one and merely serviceable in another.

That said, here’s my first stab at this.

Adventure Architects
An adventure architect focuses on the overall plot and narrative arc of published adventures. The architect must be familiar enough with the game rules and themes to be able to know what kind of plots and events work well with the RPG and will be generally entertaining for it’s audience, but this is about big picture story arcs, pacing, and climaxes, no the details of how individual encounters work. The person who outlines an adventures (and even more so, a set of linked adventures) is an adventure architect.

Adventure Builder
An adventure builder can write a complete draft of an adventure from a rough outline. This requires a detailed understanding of the existing rules—how they work, what they do well, and how much of them a GM can be assumed to know vs what you need to explain (or at least give references in rulebooks for)—and be capable of producing text that is concise and interesting to read. But they also need to know how the fictional world the adventure is set in works, so the events and encounters they describe seem consistent with the continuity that has already been established. When an adventure builder is done, it should be possible for a GM and group of players to play the adventure without major problems or confusion.

Game Contractor
A game contractor knows how all the moving parts of the rules of a game work—the themes it supports, the math behind it, the tone of its text, the play experience it’s designed to provide and how the rules support that experience—and can use those systems to create new iterations of those rules, and subsystems that work with them. A game contractor should be able to write examples for how any rules is used in play, answer rules questions, check material for game balance, and create new rules options for players or GMs that support the existing play experience of the game or (if it is the intent of a product) show ways to get different play experiences using variants of current rules.

Game Inventor
A game inventor can create a new roleplaying game core engine, and the basic systems and subsystems needed to turn the core mechanics into a playable game. A game inventor has to create from scratch (or from a list of design goals) the things the game contractor later builds upon.

Ideally a game inventor needs to be able to outline the creation of a game, assign it to multiple writers, and collaborate with a team to see the final product is complete and comprehensive. Theoretically this might be a different job, but I really envision it as a natural extension of the core game inventor role, and thus include it here.

While I know a lot of people who are both game contractors and game inventors, I have also met a few people capable of one of these roles, but not the other.

Game Polisher
A game polisher can take text written by someone else, and make it fit with existing text in terms of tone, balance, continuity, and play experience. This involves having a strong grasp on all of those elements, interacting with rules, continuity, and theme. While most game polishers I know are also (at minimum) good adventure builders, game contractors, or worldbuilders (and some are all three and much more), the core ability of the game polisher job itself is to be able to take the work of numerous different writers who may not have spoken to each other or coordinated their efforts at all, and adjust them as needed so the end product is indistinguishable from one written by a single author who was also well-versed in all other game products in the same RPG line.

A worldbuilder can conceive of and describe imaginary places and their residents, from single buildings to entire galaxies depending on the RPG and it’s scale, in clear and compelling prose. A worldbuilder needs to understand the rules of an RPG well enough to know what it does and doesn’t support well, but even more importantly they need to know the continuity, themes, and scope of the campaign setting supporting the RPG. If an RPG has multiple campaign settings (or none), this may require a broad understanding of each of them as well as the tropes common to the fiction that inspired the RPG (and which of them are stereotypes or motifs that have become clichés). A worldbuilder should be able to create new settings whole cloth, or expand existing ones. (While in theory this might be two different tasks, I’ve never actually met someone who is good at one and not the other, and the roles in companies generally requires both in the same person.)

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Wilderness Spelltweets I

It’s a tad odd to still call these spelltweets, since they aren’t exclusive to twitter and even twitter doesn’t have the same character limit as when I first started these as a design challenge. But the core idea is the same, and it’s a bit more branded for me than just “spell variants.”

The idea is simple–take existing spells and make minor changes that cause them to serve a different purpose. The simplest version of such things is having a fireball do cold damage, but there are lots of other ways you can take rules that are already fully fleshed out, and make them work in new ways.

The base spells for all of these come from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Wilderness. They are organized by base spell, rather than by the variant spell name.

Hive Queen: Bard 4, druid 2, medium 3, mesmerist 2, ranger 3, shaman 2, witch 2.
As alpha instinct, but applies to vermin, gives no bonus to Handle Animal but does allow you to use it with vermin as if they were animals.

Ultramount: Antipaladin 3, druid 4, paladin 3, ranger 4, shaman 4, summoner 3
As aquatic cavalry, but the summoned hippocampi also have land speeds of 60 and fly speeds of 30.

Die For Me: Antipaladin 4, mesmerist 4, witch 4
As bleed for your master, but the target is one creature with an attitude toward you of indifferent or better. If the creature’s attitude changes after the casting, it remains affected.

Hospice: Bard 5, cleric 4, paladin 4, psychic 4, shaman 4, summoner 6
and Greater Hospice: Cleric 7, psychic 7, shaman 7
As callback and greater callback, but target is one willing creature and anytime the target takes damage that would normally trigger the spell it may, if conscious, choose for the spell to not take effect.

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