Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set: The Word of Kromm

With all the excitement about he DF Boxed Set, and even with my interview, there’s a lot of information +Sean Punch has put out there in the DF threat of the SJG Forums.

I’ve collected it here into one post. Hopefully it’ll help someone.

What is the DF Boxed Set

What This Is: A standalone roleplaying game, Powered by GURPS – a game created using GURPS as a toolkit. To create it, I had to rewrite big chunks of the GURPS Basic Set, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (mostly the first three volumes), and – have no fear – GURPS Magic. I also had to write more original material than I realized back in January . . . Whether you’re a GURPS fan, a player of other RPGs, or a total newbie to gaming, there’s something in the box for you.

What This Is Not: An “update” or a “repackaging” of anything. This is not “all the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements and related Pyramid issues in one place for existing GURPS fans.” That would intimidate the living crud out of newbies, who we hope will buy the game! In fact, you don’t have to know what a “gurps” is to use this. (Depending on how many house rules you use, you might even be better off if you don’t!)

More on this in upcoming weeks . . . I’m still writing the Designer’s Notes articles.

How well does it mesh with the current DF line?

Well enough, but there will be adaptations needed. Those going from the box to the PDFs will get a wealth of extra stuff, but they’ll have to learn some annoying GURPS mechanics that I either pounded flat or swept under the carpet, and will notice that bards aren’t quite the same. Those going from the PDFs to the box will notice a lot of replication, but they’ll get some surprising new stuff and replacement rules for things that kind of suck in GURPS, and will notice that bards aren’t quite the same.

I’d say that (GURPS Fourth Edition + GURPS Dungeon Fantasy) and the box are more compatible than GURPS Fourth Edition and GURPS Third Edition, Revised. But the box is a bit like “GURPS 4.5, only for hack ‘n’ slash.”

Are bards not quite the same ?

Bards right now are spread thin over three areas of supernatural expertise (Bard-Song abilities, magic spells, and Enthrallment skills) and two Talents (Bardic Talent and Musical Ability); can use only three colleges of magic; and have so many points tied up in this situation that there’s nothing left if, say, you want to play a nonhuman. In the box, all of these situations will take a turn for the better.

Choices from other supplements (Low-Tech in this case)

Being a new game and not a GURPS supplement, the box has the luxury of picking one set of numbers and pretending the others don’t exist. It went with the GURPS Low-Tech numbers because they’re more recent, cover more sorts of armor over more body parts, and more obviously assemble into grab-and-go suits. This does mean armor costs a lot and, at lower DRs, weighs a lot for what you get. It also means that as you slide up the scale, armor becomes pretty efficient.

It bears pointing out, too, that between modifiers like fine and orichalcum, and the almost criminally cheap Lighten enchantment, those with money can have armor that approaches “stupidly light” if they want it. This is fantasy, where money is no object but heavy fighters traditionally clank until they finally get cool magic armor. It is not medieval Europe.

From reading the description and from reading various comments, it sounds as though the material in the boxed set will have some differences when contrasted with the current DF line.
Yes. For one thing, many newbie-scaring rules and concepts (e.g., enhancements, limitations, and techniques) aren’t there – though they’ll work as always if you opt to restore them. Almost everything else has had a touch of the editorial pen. Some content has simply been tweaked not to refer those things I left out, of course! However, other material has been clarified (e.g., countless spell descriptions), optimized for DF (still on the magic theme: spells conform with Wizardry Refined), adjusted to be less lame in DF (Outdoorsman . . .), or had game-slowing complexities removed. A very, very small number of things have been rewritten sufficiently that they might not feel like the GURPS you know; they might feel a little “GURPS 4.5.”

Will the profession templates be at different CP totals?

No. They are all at 250 points.

The starting power level supported by the stock character templates in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is 250 points. Is that high? Well, because power level is open-ended, “high” is relative. In GURPS Fourth Edition, starting characters in even very realistic genres have 150 points, so 250 points is higher than that . . . yet it’s in the middle of what the Basic Set calls “larger-than-life” (200-300 points), toward the bottom of what GURPS Supers calls “low-power” (200-400 points), and well below the 400-point starting level for GURPS Monster Hunters, which also about sword-swinging, magic-using heroes fighting monsters. I’d say that makes 250 points a “medium” starting power level.

Does the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game support other power levels? Not in its character templates, no – those assume 250 points. The box doesn’t offer ready-made 200-, 150-, 100-, or 50-point templates, nor does it offer level-ups in large chunks. It starts players off with heroes who can do something cool in practically any situation out of combat and on every turn in combat, and it encourages them to “level up” creatively in the areas they find fun, not in prepackaged ways. But if the GM wants to get away from templates, there’s the usual support for any power level desired. Everything has a point cost and there are pointers on how to keep people focused at power levels other than the default one.

Personally, I feel that starting characters will feel a lot like new heroes in modern computer and tabletop RPGs, and that because of this, 250 points will be seen as “low” by those who have never played GURPS. Only veterans of very old zero-to-hero games, and those who have played GURPS at a wide variety of power levels in many settings, will feel otherwise.

It is often difficult to afford both a racial template and a professional template.

I’ve taken pains to ensure that every profession can afford a nonhuman racial template, though one expensive racial template is still a reach for one professional template.

I want to teach new players how GURPS works, and I’ve found that 250 points can sometimes be overwhelming.

I’ve made a few changes to template presentation to help a bit with that.

Will the differences between the box set and the existing DF line be significant enough to warrant something like a “GURPS Update” PDF, to help existing DF players and curious box set players conform the box set to the line?

Reply hazy, ask again . . . someday. In the past, update documents came after the fact and were mostly the work of dedicated fans, though SJ Games laid them out and distributed them. Noting each change in a log slows down a project of this kind immensely. Game development is writing, and writing works best when you don’t stop at every section to make notes in another document. Thus, there’s no change log – and text rearrangements ensure that automated file comparison is unlikely to work. Any such thing would be an after-publication effort, probably by fans.

It’s important to realize that we see the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game as similar to the Discworld Roleplaying Game, the Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game, and the Vorkosigan Saga Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game. It isn’t a GURPS supplement, so update, conversion, or bridging documents aren’t a priority.

All of which said, it’s extremely compatible with GURPS and most of the changes are organizational (e.g., “Let’s lower ST and add those points to the advantage budget, so a player who wants an agile warrior rather that a strong one can have that.”).

Could we get a list of changes between the boxed set and the original materials?  Just the highlights would do nicely.

Game development is writing and writing isn’t the same as, say, software development . . . pausing it to log changes is a time-consuming and hence costly luxury. I did not do that, so there is no official list of changes. If something felt “off” to me, I changed it and moved on. It’s possible that fans might eventually crowdsource such a list – and if they do, it’s conceivable (no promises!) that SJ Games might distribute that list semi-officially.

That said, I have written 3,750 words of Designer’s Notes articles. Keep an eye out for those, because they do highlight the biggest differences – though at the level of “lots of spells were changed for these reasons” rather than “here’s a list of spells that changed,” never mind “here are the changes to spells.” Spells are just one example. You could replace “spells” with “advantages” or “gear” or “combat options” or “modifiers.”

There are a lot of new players who are interested in something more serious and character driven than the DF ad copy implies.

This is true, but our goal in this specific case is to build a single (sub)genre game from our generic game system. As subgenres go, traditional hack ‘n’ slash fantasy has a surprising amount of game-mechanical overhead (tons of detail needed on spells, weapons, armor, combat, monsters, etc., plus detailed resource tracking). A deeper social dimension would mean adding social traits plus at least a rudimentary socio-economic framework in which those things would be relevant, with all that implies for arms control, sumptuary laws, cost of living, jobs, residences, retainers, etc. That would bring its own significant overhead. For the time being, then, we’re focusing on the first class of things.

Nothing says the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game has to stop there, of course. It does include significant noncombat abilities, even social skills. The question is one of developing their use in more story-oriented directions.

Phil Reed notes: If the Kickstarter project closes successfully, this is just the beginning.

How pitched to new players of GURPS is the writing?
Its bias toward new GURPS players is comparable to that of the Basic Set: It doesn’t assume you already play GURPS and it does take the time to explain basics such as “What is roleplaying?” and how dice-rolling works.
Will players be assumed to know how to play an RPG?
No, although I was realistic in that regard. Most people who come to roleplaying do so after hearing how it works from people who already do it. I’m not sure it has been a thing since the 1970s to just walk down Main Street, see a funky shop with colorful boxes in the window, buy cold, and try to figure out the game. So the pitch is slanted toward people who have at least heard of RPGs, if not played them.
How well will, say, a middle school student be able to understand the Dungeon Fantasy RPG?
Better than such a student would be able to understand the Basic Set, I think. There are zero switches and dials to adjust to get the genre you want – only traits and rules you’ll use in adventure fantasy are included. There’s significantly less on-the-fly math. Templates aren’t as dense and hard to read. The overall tone of the writing is lighter; GURPS strives to be informal, even conversational, but I’d like to believe I took it even further.
(Of course, a bad student with terrible grades in English and Mathematics won’t get very far with it!)
So, we can only hope to see a suplement covering this social issues in a distant future?
As Phil Reed said, “If the Kickstarter project closes successfully, this is just the beginning.” I can’t promise that additional coverage of social gaming would be a priority, but it is item #7 on my big list of “maybes,” which currently goes up to 16.
So… IF this project succeeds, we can hope similar “boxes” for other genres, like Space Opera and Supers, right? Can we look to have a full “4.5 Edition” (or even a 5th Edition) in a distant future?
Probably not, because one of the biggest problems GURPS is facing is a general lack of interest in generic RPGs. In a hypothetical future where other boxes exist for other genres (and we cannot promise that!), each one would run with one specific genre. Which means its “4.5” would be a genre-specific rules set slightly different from all the other “4.5s.” All would be built from Fourth Edition, so there would still be a universal game behind it all, but pulling them together wouldn’t be the best use of energy . . . it would use up resources that could give us quite a bit of other genre coverage to create a game that covers all genres and thus competes with those boxed sets.
But this is all extremely hypothetical right now, and if you quote that back at me in a year, I’ll claim The Devil hacked my account. 😉
Will you fold the new template layout into the main line (not just DF)?
Probably not. It’s pretty hard on space and production artists, so it’s something we can do for a fancy 
product that we can’t so easily do for dozens of PDFs a year. Also – and this is important – the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game and GURPS are relatives, not supplements for one another. Things in one aren’t supposed to wash back into the other . . .
Anyway, all this talk made me think… there will be differences in costs of the advantages and disadvantages?
Off hand, I don’t recall changing any costs. Of course, the day the box ships, somebody will call me on that! But in the interest of compatibility, I kept even weird costs that weren’t nice multiples of five. Lots of cases of Trait [15] being made into Trait (Modifier, -10%) [14] became Other Trait [14] so that the games would remain compatible at the mathematical level, even though some labels changed.
Ah, wait, I just recalled one cost change I made . . . for bards. That’s all I’m going to say. 😉
The pattern being assumed I think is a mirror of the 3E to 4E jump, where 3E went to Compendium because everything new was scattered all over, and then Compendium went to 4E in part because lessons learned weren’t able to be universally applied.
That case isn’t very comparable to the current one, though. The Third to Fourth case was “old edition of a generic game with lots of add-ons gets a compilation of add-ons, new edition of the same generic game assimilates those add-ons.” The GURPS vs. Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game case is more “generic toolkit is used to build a new game, which is an example of how the toolkit works.” The former situation is “I had a lot of hardware everywhere in my shop, so I created a system for keeping track of it all last year, and this year I just rearranged the whole shop.” The latter is “I had a lot of hardware in my shop, so I built a house to keep my family and friends happy.”
Personally I’d be afraid of greater fragmentation by going with a bunch of different box sets, each with its own “4.5” that undermines the notion of the G and U in GURPS, without folding it back in somehow.
If the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game were actually GURPS, I think that would be a worry. But it isn’t! It’s another game based on GURPS. The universal system already exists but is more system than game . . . what’s missing are actual worked examples of games you can create using the system. Creating those doesn’t affect the system – even if some of them need tweaks. It’s like the guy in my hardware example going out and buying some extra parts for his house, because they weren’t in his shop: That doesn’t make his shop less useful, and it doesn’t mean he needs to start cluttering up his shop with yet more hardware he needed for one specific project.
I have seen so many indies RPGs that I thought that the situation was not so bad […] today I think we have more, even if sell less.
The thing is that if there are a million customers and they buy 10 games, one from each of 10 big companies, each company gets 100,000 customers. If there are 1,000 games, each game gets 1,000 customers. Perhaps 1,000 games generate more interest and grow the market to 2 million people, 2,000 per game. But if the big companies used to 100,000 customers built their methods around having at least 10,000 customers even for total failures, 2,000 is 1/5 of a total failure. And if too many of those big companies throw in the towel as a result, the hype they generate goes away . . . and that hype is what the small and indie stuff piggybacks on. Each big company that goes away might take 1/10 of those 2 million people with it.
That’s a gross simplification, but it illustrates how you can have more interest, more people, and more products, yet less success. Indie really only works if there are a few big fish around to buoy awareness and invest in growing the hobby. Indies don’t have the spare assets to burn on those goals.
Who’s the author of “I Smell a Rat”? Or is this being kept secret?

I am the author of all the books. There will be “additional material” credits, and of course there will be credits for artists, production staff, marketing personnel, and so on, but I am the one who developed all of the written content.
And as a bonus: I Smell a Rat is a very basic adventure with one quest-giver and a single, fairly linear level. It starts at an inn, like so many old-school adventures do. It involves killing giant rats for rewards, like countless other intro adventures in countless other RPGs, both tabletop and computerized. Its primary purposes are to show GMs how dungeons are mapped, stocked, and described, and to give players a chance to learn about combat, tricks, traps, and looting. Of course, there are ways it could be expanded to bigger, flashier things . . . and for all I know, some enterprising author will come along and do exactly that.
Quarter of a million words is no joke. Yikes.

I got to reuse a lot, but that was rarely verbatim. The real work was making sure it was start-to-finish 
consistent, with no pointers to nonexistent sections or external supplements, and with all rules tweaks propagated to even the darkest corners of the text. Whether you find setting up, stocking, and organizing a shop easier or harder than building a house is a matter of personal skills and tastes, but doing the latter isn’t easy work just because the former is hard work.
Will the revision to the magic system go beyond Wizardry Refined + readability?
The magic system in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is the one in GURPS Magic with these major changes:
  • I made everything in “Wizardry Refined” (Pyramid #3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III, pp. 4-14) standard, not optional, and left no clue that things were ever any different.
  • I added Protection from Evil and Sense Evil, from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11.
  • I removed all Enchantment and Technological spells. (Enchanted items are still part of the game, but enchantments aren’t described as spells for PCs to learn and cast.)
  • I removed spells no PC is ever likely to cast, like Resurrection. (Just as with Enchantment spells, the effects still exist, but they’re now “stuff to buy in town,” not “stuff to learn and cast.”)
  • I removed over-complex, fussy, and/or wordy spells. I’m looking at you, Divination and Linking Spells.
  • I gave spells that made the cut a once-over for game balance (e.g., Stench is no longer the ultimate death spell, and Bless now has clear terminal conditions), consistency (e.g., to resolve the Great Sunbolt Damage Type debate), clarity (e.g., what are the actual rules for Earthquake breaking stuff?), and length (e.g., Sunbolt again). I rewrote those found wanting as much as I felt was needed.
  • I reformatted spell write-ups slightly to accommodate differences in clerical, druidic, and wizardly prerequisites.
It’s still possible to break the game, but not by giving all your friends triple-DR essential armor and unending Bless spells, or by learning half the Healing college as a wizard and making the cleric feel redundant, or by bringing everybody else’s fun to a halt while you enchant stuff.
This is a pretty cool product, but frankly if I were to do Dungeon Fantasy again with my current gaming group, I’d use the Sorcerer template + the Saint lenses and tell people the Basic Set magic system is off-limits.
I didn’t dismiss that out of hand, but as compatibility with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 was a design goal, and as we wanted to offer hundreds of spell selections, I went with standard magic in the end.
Yes, this does mean warriors with lots of attacks, fine weapons, Striking ST, Weapon Master, etc. are simply better at damage per second than casters, while casters excel at pre-combat buffing, in-combat support, and post-combat recovery. But given that casters with Magery 6 and big Energy Reserves can create 18d Explosive Fireball spells, recover fully, and walk around with 18d hand grenades, I don’t feel too sorry for them.
Did you clarify magic items so it’s clear when a given item is always on, when it requires casting, etc etc?
Just about every item is the kind that doesn’t involve casting anyway, but yes, I think I made that a lot clearer. Bear in mind that removing Enchantment spells included removing most Item blocks. Magical treasures exist, but they’re mostly things like always-on weapons and armor. Mostly.
No wands (of fireballs or otherwise)?
No wands for now, no. We have to leave something for the future. But that future will definitely go with charges, yes. I cannot imagine anybody really wanting to pay FP if there’s a wizard who can do that, but I can easily imagine somebody (even a wizard) wanting limited-use magical pew-pew.
Is it Basic Set, Low Tech or something new hit locations?
Nothing fancy with hit locations at all . . . you get the Basic Set approach. Breaking them down more than that gets excessive, especially since just about all monsters are too weird to need the distinctions added by later books (or even the ones in the Basic Set, really).
Are there any load outs?
No. While I respect Matt’s work on those, my feeling and experience is that most gamers prefer to customize their gear. In fact, I’ve never had a player be happy with pregenerated gear. One of the game’s selling propositions is that you can customize your gear, so filling pages and pages with non-custom loadouts would be an iffy use of space.
Do SM>0 monsters have clear hex grid shapes?
“Combat Writ Large” was used to translate SM into hex sizes, yes. As the Cardboard Heroes are TBD right now, I cannot comment on how the counters for specific monsters will be shaped. That’s getting away from the part of the project that I control, and into graphics and physical components.
Please remember with questions like these that we’re aiming the game as much at people who’ve never seen GURPS as at people who measure their GURPS in gigabytes and shelf-metres, so we have to walk a line between “enough stuff to sell the game” and “so much stuff that people freeze up.” As Phil Reed said, if this gets backed, we’ll follow up with more. For instance, magic items (like those fireball wands) are #2 on my big list of 16 things I’d like to do.
Did any of the SM clarifications make it into the combat rules?

SM to hexes and a clear statement that SM affects even melee? Yes. Incidental collisions? Only indirectly, in the sense that there’s a statement that a multi-hex creature passing through your hex can overrun you. Reach? Built into monster stats already. All the rest? Not really . . . the general approach here was to simplify.
Is there clarification on how an encounter starts? Like who detects whom first and when there is surprise (partial, obviously), and what the distance is.
Yes! There’s a Calm Before the Storm section of rules reminding the GM to set distance (this is left to fiat and room size, but the reminder is there) and determine footing, talking about adjudicating what the PCs were doing when combat broke out, and saying a lot about surprise attacks.
Was there also an effort made to cut / revise blatantly under-powered spells?
Tons of spells were cut, and spells that didn’t really do much were early targets for the axe.
Gauntness is a great example of a silly spell I left out. Wither Limb . . . I’m not sure by what measure it’s anything but overpowered, as most of the Q&A I get about it amounts do, “Wait, does this basically inflict permanent dismemberment no matter how many HP the target has? Yikes!” So it hasn’t changed much. YMMV, but in my games, withering the legs off targets with huge DR that nobody can penetrate, so that the monster is left there immobile, has always been a favorite tactic.
By virtue of having fewer disadvantages and spells, this game can be clearer. Wither Limb now causes “permanent crippling” and refers to the rules for that, those rules spell out that a crippled leg inflicts Lame (Missing Leg), and Lame (Missing Leg) is very clear on “you’ve lost a leg.” Don’t rely on the Basic Set’s terminology in your judgments of this game.
What about awesome dragons?
Comparisons to everything in GURPS aren’t a good measure of “awesome” here, because new gamers will be comparing only to PCs and the 80-some other monsters in the set. But . . . my dragons start at ST/HP 25 and around 3d damage, with flight, area-effect breath, and multiple attacks, and go up to ST/HP 50 and around 7d damage, with faster flight and even more attacks. They also have DR comparable to good metal armor (yes, even over the eyes), and are almost the only monsters to keep stupidly high HT so you can’t just knock them down to -HP and watch them die. Notes recommend adding Magery (up to 6), Energy Reserve (up to 50), and spells. Further notes add the option to tack on even more stuff: Extra Heads with even more attacks, Danger Sense to avoid surprise, Terror, etc. As written, ST isn’t even the most meaningful measurement of dragon power – that would probably be “casting multiple save-or-lose spells from a near-bottomless energy supply wile flying at a safe distance over a group stunned by Terror and burning from large-area fire breath nobody could dive far enough to avoid.”
Loin cloths are absolutely awesome and must be bought

That particular abuse was anticipated, don’t worry. There’s no separate neck, torso, vitals, or groin armor . . . too fussy. It’s all just “body.” Those hit locations do still exist, but now 9-11 is all “torso,” and “groin” is a high-value sub-target, like “vitals.” I’m not that easy to fool. 😉
About that dragon  . . .
It’s made up for this game. I wrote quite a bit of new content, but it’s so integrated into the game that I don’t think I could list it all. However, I definitely remember writing up the dragon de novo!
I want to point out that giving monsters hundreds of HP is seldom actually any fun in play.
Agreed. I kept HP in the 1-50 range for monsters. The notes on a couple let you super-size them to HP 100 or even 150, but that’s mostly for static, gooey things that serve more as obstacles to hack apart than as foes.
That said, don’t forget that a HT 15, HP 50 creature is likely to suck up 300 points of injury (from +HP to -5×HP), or 550 with Unkillable (from +HP to -10×HP), and that DR, Injury Tolerance, and Regeneration can make it hard to get a monster there. In GURPS or the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, ST/HP isn’t by itself the best measure of toughness . . . I’d rather face ST/HP 50, HT 10, and no special powers than ST/HP 10, HT 16, Unkillable, and a 5d withering Malediction that ignores my armor.
Is this going to include psionics?
Definitely not. It isn’t going to include much GURPS Dungeon Fantasy content outside of GURPS 
Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and 2, and some nonhumans from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3. This means it omits most of the series and all of the Pyramid content other than “Wizardry Refined.” The idea here is to engage new players and avoid bamboozling them, not to drown them in subsystems and variants.
Is this 100% compatible with all existing GURPS content?
It’s 90-95% compatible, if you want to put a number on it. The Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game and GURPS Fourth Edition are at worst half as far apart as GURPS Fourth Edition and GURPS Third Edition, and probably considerably closer. But the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is a standalone game built to bring in new gamers first and serve longtime GURPS fans second, not vice versa.
For the point costs of powers, if the trait exists only as part of a power, it’s explained in full with that power, with its own name and point cost, not unlike the abilities on pp. 136-151 of GURPS Powers; e.g., “Analyze Magic [19]” rather than a fussy Detect variant that refers to a generic Detect ability. There is no ability-tinkering, power-buiilding mini-game built into the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game.
I cannot emphasize enough how the character-design part of the game just is. Existing fans who want to tinker aren’t going to get extra tinkering power out of it . . . they’ll get some new monsters, an adventure, a bunch of cleaned-up spell descriptions, several variant rules, etc., plus a game that might actually let them recruit new gamers. However, the rules are heavily GURPS-compatible, which means that tinkering in GURPS can be plugged back into the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and that new gamers who learn the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game can jump into GURPS without significant difficulty.

2 thoughts on “Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set: The Word of Kromm

  1. Well, I am interested to see how this pans out. I was a bit concerned that we'd see a bunch of box sets and see the "real" GURPS more or less forgotten in lieu of the specific bundles, but it doesn't sound like a problem.

    Not getting the loincloth quip, though.

    1. He talks about it a bit in the interview, but I gather that there's something about the assumption that the lower abdomen (area 10) is all groin, or that that protection covers the entire torso.

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