Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Tea-Inspired Plot Hooks for your D&D or Pathfinder Game

Tea! A hot cup of bliss. Writing fuel. Gaming fuel. I can’t GM without it, and now I’ve discovered all sorts of inspiration from the humble beverage. Let’s look at some tea-inspired plot hooks for your game.

Throughout real-world history, the humble tea plant has inspired human determination and greed. Kingdoms have sent men to fight and die to secure their control over the tea trade. Fortunes have been made, and lost, under the hot sun as plantation workers, and slaves, coaxed the tea crop to grow. Add a magical element to the intriguing history of tea and you’ll find plenty of inspiration for your campaign. Below are some ideas.

The Smugglers’ Ring

Tea is a valuable resource. However, tea doesn’t grow naturally in many kingdoms, and some lands don’t have a suitable climate to grow the crop. Consequently, these countries are at the mercy of traders and pay high prices for imported tea. This situation is ripe for enterprising fortune-seekers. The illicit trade of tea supports a vast black market that extends to the highest power in the land. But this shady economy was created by pirates, bandits, and smugglers. Those people daring or desperate enough to risk their lives to capture armed trade ships and caravans, and make off with their cargo. Unsurprisingly, kingdoms with both the climate and a domestic tea plant go to great lengths to protect their tradeable tea harvest. So, it falls to the smuggler to keep the tea flowing.

Teaboys are handy, dayo!

Cargo for Coin

Smugglers mainly move captured cargo, but also traffic plants. A rival plantation owner or a kingdom may see a single seedling as the key to their future empire. The powerful are willing to pay handsomely for such opportunities—provided their involvement remains a closely guarded secret.

The party might be involved on either side of a tea-smuggling plot, as smugglers or investigators. Involve the player characters further by binding them to the tea trade. It’s not just a job. Must they carry tea plants across mountains and rivers, through orc lands, to pay the ransom for their village? Does the loss of their village tea harvest — taken by bandits — threaten their livelihood?

A smuggling ring can have many tiers, and dealing with each might take many sessions. Who do the smugglers work for? Is the smuggling ring one of many? Is the tea plot the first incursion of a great war between nations? Add a fantasy twist and you might have a vampire queen building her kingdom’s dominance through the tea trade. Or a lich who uses his smugglers as scouts, probing for an initial invasion of his undead hordes.

It’s hard for us to imagine tea’s value when it’s readily available in our modern economy. In a fantasy world, where growing and moving crops might face other problems, such as dragons or magical catastrophes, tea might be even more valuable and hard to come by than it was in our real-world history. Consider the realities of the tea trade in your fantasy world and you’ll add an authenticity that helps your shared story come alive.

The Magic of Tea

Does lemon and ginger tea really help to cure the common cold? Does tea truly have health benefits? While modern science cannot confirm the miraculous properties attributed to tea, in the realm of fantasy, the possibilities are boundless. Is tea an important component of resurrection magic? Has one of the heroes died? Are tea leaves difficult to obtain? You can control the importance of tea in your campaign by dialing up the usefulness of hot beverages, while making tea rare. If a cup of tea is the only way to restore mana, your players will go to great lengths to secure a personal tea crop.

There are means to tie nonmagical characters to tea. Clerics might incorporate tea into sacred rituals, alchemists may seek to distill its essence for potent brews, and rogues could be hired to pilfer rare tea leaves or exquisite silver tea sets. The infusion of magic into these scenarios adds further depth and intrigue.

Supplement these tea-inspired plot hooks by making tea evocative. The champion’s cup of chai exudes an aroma that evokes faraway lands. It reinvigorates her with power drawn from the very earth. It holds the warmth of life. Then, just maybe, she connects to her god through the deep magic of tea.

The Politics of Tea

Tea grows in the dirt, yet kingdoms, with their centers far from those fields, depend on that crop. As we’ve seen, the business of tea is as important to a king as it is to the muddy worker who sewed and harvests it. The heroes begin their story as modest farm hands, at level 1, and through facing monsters and deadly quests grow to become tea barons and baronesses by level 20. Throughout this progression, the heroes’ progression is indelibly tied to the tea harvest and its trade.

Teahouse Leshy for Tea-Inspired Plot Hooks
Teahouse leshys consider tea an art form. #DrinkTea

At first level, the party might defend their harvest from goblins, those little fiends who love setting fields ablaze. Goblins never need a good reason for arson. At second level, the harvest is collected and taken to market and will need an escort. At third level, a trader bargains for the entire harvest and stout hearts to accompany it to his ship. Perhaps the trader has a decree from the queen and drafts the party into the kingdom’s service. Can the party navigate the dangerous river voyage to bring their cargo of supplies (including that tea) to the besieged allies of their monarch?

That same tea cargo might cross many more kingdoms and oceans before its journey is done. With the party traveling with it, there will be plenty of opportunity for intrigue and adventure. When the party finally returns to their fields, they do so as champions of the kingdom, with wagon loads of treasure creaking along behind them.

Join Us for a Cup!

The Magic of Tea is our latest supplement for Pathfinder Second Edition, and it contains a bunch of treats for your campaign. It’s a perfect addition to these tea-inspired plot hooks. The book includes:

  1. 18 new spells inspired by tea. Another cup, anyone?
  2. Tea Master background
  3. Brewpot Dragonet and the Teaboy creatures

You can find The Magic of Tea on DriveThruRPG and Itch.IO.

Two sugars for me, please.

Mystery Dice: Can we Unravel D&D’s Greatest Mystery?

Dice. Can you ever own enough? Will they roll high when it matters? These questions might be the greatest mysteries of our wonderful roleplaying hobby. Or it’s “What’s in a pack of Mystery Dice?” I’m here to rip open that mystery like a frenzied goblin oracle tearing apart a loot sack!

Rip open a bag of Mystery Dice
Rip open a bag of Mystery Dice!

Mystery Dice? What’s in the Bag?

Mystery Dice, from UK-based Mystery Dice Goblins, are blind bags of 7 RPG dice. They’re perfect for games of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. There’s the caltrop-of-doom D4, the ubiquitous D6, the D8, the pair of D10s (units die and tens die), the D12, and the mighty D20. Each bag’s contents are colour-matched, so you get a complete, colour-coordinated set. However, the transparent purple set I opened has 5 dark purple and 2 light purple dice. I call it my “Berry Blast” set. Although the variation is noticeable, they still look fantastic together. I love them!

Berry Blast RPG Mystery Dice

The dice are a good, standard size. The set I’m playing with are slightly rough distressed blue dice. The D4 and D6 are slightly bigger than the same dice from the Pathfinder Beginner Box set, which is only noticeable when you carefully compare them.

Distressed Blue Mystery Dice

All the numbers on the dice are clear, and that readability is important to me. We need to see those numbers! In our third set, the gold paint on green and white marbling produces a low contrast, but I’ll take elegance over readability in this case. These are some of our most beautiful dice — the other being a green and black marbled set, which belongs to my wife. She has excellent taste.

Mystery Dice Marbled Green and White

Blind Bags are a Party, in a Bag

Skeptical of blind bags? Me too, but I remember being a kid and the fun we had opening those Monster in My Pocket packets. The fun’s still there today. Opening each pack was an exciting rush of endorphins, and I was happy with every dice I got. Several older sets are getting the boot from my collection to make way for the new arrivals.

Grab some bags with your gaming group, then figure out who gets the first pick. You’ll have a blast and get a set you love as part of the deal. Christmas is far off, but Mystery Dice are the perfect stocking filler. They’re also a great gift for gamer friends or prizes for your gaming club.

Where to Buy Mystery Dice

You can buy Mystery Dice from the Mystery Dice Goblins website.

Keep Rolling!

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Party Up: Friends vs Monsters, and Life

Do you ever feel alone? Do you feel like the world’s too much, and it’s banging on the door, trying to get you? I sometimes feel that way.

When that happens, it’s a struggle to stop my gloom-and-doom thought train and change my perspective. Recently, it was my RPG publisher friends who helped me see things differently. So, I want to talk about those friends and I want to give you a light to hold onto when things get rough.

When the Going Gets Tough, Collaborate

I reached out to a few indie RPG developers and asked if they’d join me on a bundle. The Hidden Indie RPG Treasures Bundle is available on DriveThruRPG, right now, until the end of February. I’m mentioning it now and again at the end of this post only, so the marketing is clear for you to see. Anyway, I had a great response from those friends and we made a neat little collection of indie RPG games.

I’m mentioning the collaboration because it provided a healthy change of perspective.

Toughen Up, RPG Creator

The perspective I’ve had for a long time is a warped idea of what success in the industry means. You can’t get a true sense of where you stand in the industry without friends to help you gauge it.

It’s important to understand the context here. Many of us do what we do with limited resources. We use our free time, our own money, and our sweat equity to make games. We’re passionate about the hobby, and that drives us. But it’s hard competing against bigger companies like Wizards of the Coast for those RPG dollars. If you don’t have a hit RPG title or a large social media presence, then it’s hard to get eyes on your work. Even professional, high-quality work can be ignored. Burnout is a real threat because of that. We work hard but don’t always see recognition for that effort. It can become a depressing, black hole.

Anybody, no matter what they do, might be a step away from that deep, dark abyss. Watch the news, suffer a string of bad luck, get hit with unexpected financial pressure, and the cracks start to show. Part of the issue is a false sense of the truth. Essentially, thinking we’re not good enough is a result of a foggy perception of reality.

Reaching out is incredibly hard for me to do. I’m a busy introvert. I spend a lot of time chatting with friends online, but these interactions are often superficial. The medium is restrictive. Those conversations seldom touch base with reality. That changes when friends are struggling with the same thing, like how to market an indie RPG bundle. Working together, we challenged our perceptions. We could better perceive the truth, but only together.

Perspective

I realized that Rising Phoenix wasn’t as insignificant as I thought we were. We could help guys with a handful of titles because we have a bucket-load of titles. We also saw how each effort brought in a few extra sales. Without data (or friends with experience) it’s hard to anticipate what sort of sales we might get, which leads to frustration if those sales seem lower than we hoped for.

There’s a Biblical aspect to this worth considering. In Galatians 6 verse 2 (that’s in the New International Version for this and the rest), Paul says: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” If you draw this back to Jesus’s words of “love one another” (John 13:34) and then further back to the 10 Commandments’ “Love your neighbour” (Leviticus 19:18) then it’s clear: we should help people.

I have no scientific research confirming what we gain from helping others, but my experience has been that it’s good to step into a leaking boat with someone. Struggling together sharpens a person and helps us see the same problem from different sides.

I’m just a dude trying to make great games and figure out this crazy thing called life, and those are my two cents. I hope it’s a useful idea for you to think about.

The Hidden Indie RPG Treasures Bundle

Now, let’s talk about that bundle one last time. Our goal is to make 50 sales. That boosts overall sales since customers are more likely to buy a best-selling title, and 50 sales gives you a Copper Best-Seller badge. With roughly nine days left, we currently need another 31 sales to hit that goal. Please consider telling a friend about the bundle. Ask them to tell their friends about it too. That’ll help us in the greatest way possible.

Here’s a copy of Road to Rhune, at rogue prices (free), to help you get the bundle even cheaper.

Get the Hidden Indie RPG Treasures Bundle on DriveThruRPG today. Sale ends end of Feb.

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Ectoplasmic Elemental: an Avatar of Undeath

Tombstones rip out of the ground, then twist through the air, trailing green flame. Out of the ethereal vortex rises an ectoplasmic elemental that screams through the dislocated skull of a long-dead giant.

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Cleanup on aisle nine! We’re back to ectoplasm again, and there’s a lot of it.

Ghostbusters News on Twitter: "Alright, who stained the ...
(Image source)

Eeek, an Ectoplasm Elemental!

Tombstones rip out of the ground, then twist through the air, trailing green flame. Out of the ethereal vortex rises an ectoplasmic hulk that screams through the dislocated skull of a long dead giant.

Ectoplasmic elementals are the focus of powerful necromantic energies that draw in souls, creating a towering avatar of soul-matter, or ectoplasm. Such a creature is the essence of unlife, raw necrotic energy so powerful that it leeches the souls of the living nearby.

Battlefields and mass graves might provide the raw material for an ectoplasmic elemental to materialize, but it requires a dark ritual or grim series of events to initiate the process. This event cuts off the souls’ path to the afterlife, locking the souls on the Material Plane. Forced to manifest in some form, these souls might take on any of a myriad of ghostly forms. However, if the concentration of ectoplasm is strong enough, then an ectoplasmic elemental is likely to form.

Ectoplasmic Elemental stat block

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Ectoplasmic elementals are brutes, built for close combat. If you’re looking for something to support them, look for good ranged options, or keep the ranged characters in the party busy with some ectoplasmic swarms. Tight dungeons can also cut down on line of sight, and let your avatar of undeath deal with a few characters at a time.

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Festrog — A CR 4 Undead for D&D 5e

Bounding on long, scabrous gray limbs, this creature looks like a twisted, reanimated corpse with glowing white eyes. The festrog is a CR 4 Undead that hunts in packs and loves to terrorize its prey.

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Over these three weeks, we’ve got three undead creatures, two of which are themed around ectoplasm. The festrog, though, is type of ghoul, making it a perfect addition to encounters with ghasts, ghouls, or other festrogs.

Festrogs: Fast, Festering Hunters

Hundreds of tiny green flames surge forward, each clawing the air with flickering fingers.

Bounding on long, scabrous gray limbs, this creature looks like a twisted, reanimated corpse with glowing white eyes.

Festrogs are bestial ghouls, created when a corpse is desecrated or embued with terrifying amounts of negative energy. Although their basic anatomy is humanoid, festrogs run on all fours, using their elongated limbs to make loping strides. Festrogs are also known as rotdogs and zombie dogs, though they aren’t zombies at all.

Terrible circumstances spawn every festrog, and the hurt and horror that birthed them fuels their unlife. This is best seen in how Festrogs, which are skilled pack hunters, toy with their prey. Often they will separate one creature from its group, injure it, then harry it for days until it finally dies of exhaustion. The pack then mutilates the corpse too, a torment that is often enough to raise the unfortunate creature as a festrog itself.

Festrogs are not natural swimmers, but their doggedness means they’ll pursue prey even through the darkest depths. Sometimes merfolk corpses become festrogs, and these are powerful swimmers with tails lines with protruding bone.

 

Festrog a CR 4 Undead for D&D 5e

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Festrogs are all about mobility and speed. Think undead velociraptors.

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Flaming Ectoplasmic Swarm for D&D 5e

Hundreds of tiny green flames surge forward, each clawing the air with flickering fingers. Add this CR 3 undead incorporeal ectoplasmic swarm to your next adventure to challenge your players.

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Over the next three weeks, we’ve got three undead creatures, two of which are themed around ectoplasm. Ectoplasm might be described as life-essence, a residue left by creatures that have crossed between the Mortal Realm and the Realm of Death. Slimer from Ghostbusters is the best example of an ectoplasmic creature from popular culture. That slime is pure ectoplasm.

Eery Ectoplasmic Swarm Fiends

Hundreds of tiny green flames surge forward, each clawing the air with flickering fingers.

Ectoplasmic swarms appear as green flames, with darker flames within that seem to function as eyes and mouths. Their shape is roughly humanoid, with legs and arms ending in flickering claws. Besides these features, they are otherwise featureless and transparent.

Necromancy is usually at the root of an ectoplasmic swarm’s appearance, though they can form wherever a large concentration of departed souls is present. Although tiny, swarms of these flamelike creatures can quickly suck the life out of the living.

Animated ectoplasm seeks to devour souls, which sustain it and gives it a collective memory drawn from all the lives it has consumed. Drawing information out of the ectoplasm, usually through a seance, is difficult because of the mob of souls present. However, if the paranormalist can bring order to the discord, the souls can provide many insights from their collective memory.

 

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Ectoplasmic swarms are tough to kill because they’re incorporeal and have the normal resistances of a swarm. Give your players access to holy water and a chance to figure out the swarm’s weakness, otherwise this could be a tough slog.

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The Arcanshard, a CR 2 D&D Monster

A chunk of stone shakes, then flips over. Flames of green arcane energy burst forth from the enchanted stone, forming legs, arms holding spectral weapons, and a flickering head. The arcanshard is ready to do battle with those who dare disturb the sanctity of the dungeon.

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At the start of the month, we introduced the Awakened Arcane Obelisk. Then, last week, we added the Crackling Column. Today we meet their smallest relative, the Arcanshard. All of these monsters are formed from the corruption or destruction of an Arcane Obelisk, a monument of magic!

An Arcanchip off the Old Block

A chunk of stone shakes, then flips over. Flames of green arcane energy burst forth from the enchanted stone, forming legs, spectral weapons held in flaming hands, and a flickering head.

Arcanshards are chunks of stone animated by arcane energy. This same energy protects them, though destroying their stone bodies dissipates the energy held within. Most arcanshards are the fractured remains of Arcane Obelisks, though other monuments and large rocks can also become arcanshards, under the right magical conditions.

Arcanshards are notably communal creatures, though they possess no obvious means of communication. On the battlefield, this is seen in their collaborative tactics, while during times of peace they go to great lengths to help each other. They are overly fond of stacking blocks, and if left alone build elaborate walls that may have little defensive value.

Of all the animated forms derived from an Arcane Obelisk, the arcanshard is the most mutable. The easily meld together, their broken stonework flowing together to form a larger stone. This has led scholars to believe that arcanshards are the most useful form for reforming a damaged Arcane Obelisk. Strangely, arcanshards have never been known to attempt such a reforming on their own.

Arcanshard CR 2 D&D Monster

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The arcanshard has an irritating ability to prolong combat: meld. Use this to replace two damaged arcanshards with a fresh new one. You might even rule that this allows it to overcome persistent magical effects and conditions. Yes, wizards, we’re making things tough for you.

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Crackling Column — CR 8 D&D Monster

Green arcane energy swirls around a broken column, lifting it into the air. The energy then coalesces into scything claws and two, bright-burning eyes of magical power. Can you tangle with the Crackling Column?

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Last week we introduced the tentacular spectacular, the Awakened Arcane Obelisk. When your players defeat it, you get to pull this guy from the ruins. That’s dungeon entropy working in your favor!

I’m All Cracked Up!

If enough magic is retained within, a broken Arcane Obelisk might manifest as a crackling column, a being of violence and raw magic surrounding a skeleton of granite. These creatures hew to an unshakable purpose, usually one set by the circumstances that created them. This invariably means they’ll attack anyone that appears to have damaged the pillar they contain within.

Crackling columns can be restored to repair the arcane obelisk it came from, though being made of solid stone such monuments always retain signs of damage. However, the stone is only the receptacle. The true essence of the obelisk is the arcane power within. This can be harder to restore though.

Crackling Column D&D Monster

 

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The crackling column is part of a set, so use him with the upcoming arkanshard and last week’s awakened obelisk for maximum effect. Keep in mind that this monster hits hard. For its stone slam attack, it should be averaging around 30 damage, but it averages around 40 instead. It’s a TPK machine that loves melee. That’s why it damages itself, otherwise it would survive too long. Good luck.

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That Obelisk Just Moved! — D&D Monster

The immense stone obelisk begins to shake, rising up out of the ground on four large tentacles. Eyes blink into existence along the stone’s pitted surface, then focus with a gaze full of rage and arcane power.

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Recently, our subscribers got a look at an altered Atlantean who was siphoning power from an arcane obelisk. In an earlier adventure, the party discovered another monument that bore signs of experimentation. These stone monoliths could be… “important”.

Magic, Unleashed

The immense stone obelisk begins to shake, rising up out of the ground on four large tentacles. Eyes blink into existence along the stone’s pitted surface, then focus with a gaze full of rage and arcane power.

Arcane obelisks are potent magical nodes that anchor and channel arcane energy. Sometimes, the arcane bindings focused within the obelisk unravel, and the obelisk is transformed. An awakened obelisk is such a creature, unleashed magical energy rippling along a massive chunk of carved stone.

Destroying the manifestation of unleashed magic is difficult, since every broken chunk still possesses a fraction of untethered magical essence. These smaller chunks are often less powerful but mutable, spawning a myriad of new forms. Representative of these forms are the large scorpiolisk and smaller, humanoid arkanshard. It’s possible that recombining these smaller subforms could rebuild the obelisk, but only an intricate ritual can rebind the magical threads to restore the obelisk to its original form.

Awakened Obelisk — Dungeons & Dragons Monster

 

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The awakened obelisk is part of a set, so using him with the upcoming scorpiolisk and arkanshard is a good idea. You could also change the lore and have an evil mage going around town, turning monuments into monsters.

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Mad Goblin Gasers Join Your D&D Game

Goblins love mayhem. Add chemicals and things get even crazier, as these little misfits unlock the power of deadly gases. Dungeons & Dragons meets unhinged chemists riding bubble blimps with the latest addition to the Undersea Sourcebook. Bring on the goblin gaser!

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Two weeks ago we looked at the PIP, a friendly automaton powered by the arcane. Then we looked at the altered Atlanteans who built them. Next week, these guys and our gaser goblins feature in their own adventure, so be sure to subscribe and not miss out!

Gas, Gas, Gas!

Small metal canisters clatter to the floor around you, billowing green gas. Through the smoke a large bubble floats into view, a goblin grinning at you from within.

Goblin can be oddly resourceful, especially when causing mayhem. The first goblin gaser’s probably acquired a stock of alchemical reagents, and, in true goblin fashion, accidentally produced powerful mutagens. These mutagens gave the goblins an above-average intelligence (for goblins), which catapulted them down a path of further alchemical study.

What is now the Gassy Guts tribe were always known for their luck, a strange curse that made them a bane of the coastal towns within their territory. A stray arrow shot by a Gaser might ricochet off a shield to find its target, a trap’s mechanism might inadvertently throw a gaser out of the way of a falling blade, or a botched lockpicking attempt might detach the entire lock from the door. That’s everyday life for Gasers.

The increased intellect of the goblin gasers hasn’t increased their caution. Instead, they’re more likely to try bolder, deadlier schemes than their relatives. Other goblins might have shunned them if this was not the case, but instead they look up to the Gasers in awe. Who else could come up with such cunning plans?

Besides alchemy, Gasers have a special affinity for obscure clockwork devices, and this has motivated them to plunder old Atlantean depths in search of greater inventions to repurpose for their own maniacal needs.

Gasser Goblin Dive Bubble

 

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Gaser goblin dive bubbles are all about limiting the party’s ability to do damage. If they can fly above the party, out of reach, then they’re absolutely lethal.  So, consider how your players are equipped and give them interesting options to deal with the dive bubbles, like lightning arrows. A hit-and-run style encounter could be a good way to introduce the gasers and prepare the party for a full encounter. Have fun!

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