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5E Are there actions not covered under a skill?

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Emphasis mine.
This. This right here. That's the cudgel You are explicitly stating there is a "right way to play" and implicitly stating that playing that way make your game superior.

It's weird you can't see it.
I don't claim my game is superior. I do claim that I understand and follow the rules the game lays out for us, particularly in the area of DM and player roles and adjudication process, and I show where and how. I further claim that doing so does not result in the sorts of issues you say you have with, say, "pixelbitching." That's it. There's nothing more to it than that. Anything else is reading into what I'm saying.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is what I refer to when I say pixelbitching. It isn't fun and doesn't have a positive effect on the game.
I disagree on all counts. First of all I wouldn’t call Iserith’s example (which is straight out of the PHB by the way) pixelbitching because progress is not contingent on the player taking one specific course of action. Second of all I find the play described here significantly more fun than just declaring vague, nebulous actions with no specific details. And third of all, it absolutely adds something to the game, by rewarding players for paying attention to the DM’s description of the environment and picking up on the signals that are seeded into it. It also, for me, helps me form a clearer mental picture of the game world and what’s happening in it that I struggle to form when the DM’s description of the environment is largely set dressing and the actions the characters take are vague and undefined.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It's the whole "telegraphing" thing that I just don't get.
It’s a pretty fundamental game design tool. Metroidvanias and Soulslikes provide excellent examples of telegraphing used to good effect. In my opinion it’s pretty much essential to any game where the storytelling is primarily environmental.

But let's say I'm describing someone's living quarters/small apartment. What we would consider a studio apartment would be pretty typical living arrangement for many people in my campaign world.

So if I'm describing it, it's going to have what I would consider standard set dressing. Bed, maybe a dresser, wardrobe along with a small desk and chair. Maybe another couple of pieces of furniture and a small stove. Couple of pictures on the wall, probably a cupboard. Likely even a little storage cubby up high. I probably forget to mention the chamber pot but it's probably in there too.

Why all that? Because it's what I would think would be reasonable for the person living there. I'm describing someone with a fair number of possessions but not fabulously wealthy. It's set dressing that sets the mood.

It's never just going to be a bureau with a single drawer (which, yes, is an exaggeration).
Agreed.

I can't think of any logical reason for any particular piece of furniture or location to stand out short of just putting a big neon sign saying "search here" pointed at the futon.
Learning to telegraph effectively takes practice. It’s also difficult to express what good telegraphing looks like in this format. We tend to focus on specific scenarios, whereas telegraphing often involves clues seeded throughout an adventure, location, or even a whole campaign to communicate telegraphs through context. Maybe the first time the players encounter an object hidden in a futon it has the equivalent of a search here sign, but that’s just to teach the players what to look for. As you go on you can get subtler and less direct with their cues. Going back to the kobold with the gem hidden in a secret compartment in the heel of its boot example, if that’s an independent occurrence it will need a pretty direct telegraph like pointing out that he’s wearing boots when all the other Kobolds have only rope sandals. But if it’s established lore that Kobolds are master cobblers who often build secret compartments into the boots they make, then you don’t have to say a thing. Players familiar with that bit of lore will already be keen to check fallen Kobolds’ boots for secret compartments.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No, those are just different outcomes. The players aren’t betting anything, they’re not investing anything, they’re not losing anything, they’re just gaining one of two unknown things.
I couldn't disagree more.

Well, first of all, I don’t agree that having too few encounters in an adventuring day doesn’t cause balance issues in non-site-based adventures. And second of all, if you’ve observed that the number of encounters in an adventuring day is an important balance factor for site-based adventures, the existence of guidelines surrounding how many encounters to include in an adventuring day should be an indication that 5e was designed around site-based adventures, no? Of course you can still use it for other things, and it might work well for those things. But it was clearly designed around site-based adventure.
I don't really think it indicates that, no. I think it indicates that site-based/dungeon delving adventure requires more specific balance than other form of play.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
t’s a pretty fundamental game design tool. Metroidvanias and Soulslikes provide excellent examples of telegraphing used to good effect. In my opinion it’s pretty much essential to any game where the storytelling is primarily environmental.
See, that's the disconnect, I think. I don't want to play a game whre the storytelling is primarily environmental, at least not in a paradigm like DnD where combat becomes a whole thing, and I definitely wouldn't want to use 5e where threat in a dungeon delve is based primarily on resource attrition.

I can enjoy a delve in a game where combat is more like many pbta games, where you just make a roll to find out the cost of a fight. But...DnD? Nah. To me, DnD is primarily good at save-the-world stories and other plot and character focused stories.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
A secret door you're guaranteed to find is not really secret, is it?

Also, I gather that some folks in this thread have never lost their keys. If you are one of those people, let me explain it: You were in the kitchen. You had your keys. You know both of these things to be true. But now you don't have your keys. WTF? How is that possible? You search the kitchen. No keys. You go to the living room. No keys. You go to the bedroom. Nope. You check the damn bathroom even though there's no goddamn reason they would be there. Nada. Frustrated, you go back into the kitchen. There they are. Right next to your wallet. What?
I did find my keys in that example, though. I spent sufficient time searching for them, and succeeded in finding them. Now, currently with quarantine, it doesn’t really matter how much time I spent looking for them, so there’s no point making rolls to find that out. But if I have to be at work in 20 minutes, then it matters how long it takes me to find them, so a roll would be needed to resolve that uncertainty.

So, the idea that there is "no roll necessary" even when a player says "I search the room" or "I search the dresser" or even "I check every drawer" doesn't make sense. Maybe you just don't find it because you failed to see what was right in front of your face.
Sure, maybe I did, but unless finding my keys in a timely fashion actually matters, the reason I didn’t find them right away is immaterial. Heck, whether or not I found them right away is immaterial.

Now, someone is going to say, "That's not fun! Now the PCs can't move forward" or something similar that emphasizes the gameplay aspect of the key. Well, here's the thing: if the PCs can't fail to find the key because it is necessary, there is no minimum level of the much touted "reasonable specificity" because they MUST find it.
Actually, I had been assuming that progress did not depend on finding the key - either it opened something completely optional, or there was an alternative route to whatever non-optional thing it locked off. Because as you point out, gating its discovery behind a successful check would be poor design otherwise.

Otherwise we are back to -- you guessed it -- pixelbitching. Which, if you don't know, is technically defined as The Worst Way To Play D&D Ever.


Now, all of this ignore context, of course. Where are we? What is the party doing? Is it a dungeon? IS it an active residence? Who hid the key? Why? What does it open? Who knows the key is there? Do the PCs know they are looking for a key? Can they at least guess? Context is everything and none of the other arguments happening in this thread can be answered until the context is taken into account.
Agreed. Discussions like this are always woefully lacking in context.

For what it is worth, I think there are two broad categories involving the hidden key: it is a macguffin, or it's not. If it is, the PCs are going to find it, so it isn't really hidden. "Searching" for it is mostly about contextualizing the transition from one adventure stage (looking for the key) to the next (using the key). If it isn't, then it is entirely possible the PCs never find it and that's fine, even if they miss out on whatever treasure, encounter, story and/or "flavor text" it opened.
I agree with you, and this is what I was trying (and apparently failing) to express in all this discussion of keys and sock drawers.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
See, that's the disconnect, I think. I don't want to play a game whre the storytelling is primarily environmental, at least not in a paradigm like DnD where combat becomes a whole thing, and I definitely wouldn't want to use 5e where threat in a dungeon delve is based primarily on resource attrition.

I can enjoy a delve in a game where combat is more like many pbta games, where you just make a roll to find out the cost of a fight. But...DnD? Nah. To me, DnD is primarily good at save-the-world stories and other plot and character focused stories.
But that doesn't make it not an essential game design tool, nor not especially important to environmental storytelling. It's fine you don't like those games of course, but that doesn't mean they aren't any good or that they don't require a different set of tools.

I also think it's maybe a little unfair to call resource attrition the primary threat. Even in OSR games where resource attrition is a core feature, with its own mechanics and whatever, it's not the primary threat. It's an additional source of planning and stress that highlight and amplify the actual threats. It's still zombies waiting to eat your face, but you also have to worry about having that happen in the dark. Used right it's a fantastic storytelling tool. It's not for everyone though.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
See, that's the disconnect, I think. I don't want to play a game whre the storytelling is primarily environmental, at least not in a paradigm like DnD where combat becomes a whole thing, and I definitely wouldn't want to use 5e where threat in a dungeon delve is based primarily on resource attrition.
I don’t understand how you think “storytelling is primarily environmental” leads to “combat becom(ing) a whole thing.” You can have a combat-light game with environmental storytelling. Quite easily, in fact. Look at puzzle games like Myst and The Witness.

I can enjoy a delve in a game where combat is more like many pbta games, where you just make a roll to find out the cost of a fight. But...DnD? Nah. To me, DnD is primarily good at save-the-world stories and other plot and character focused stories.
Depends on the edition. I certainly think 4e did such event-based adventures better than it did site-based. I find the opposite to be the case in 5e.
 

Reynard

Legend
I’m not a fan of this, as I find “20 questions” play very boring, and it slows the game down.
That's totally valid. I find it exhausting as DM to have to pain a picture for every little element when the players are going to see it in their heads they way they will anyway. Some specificity is required, of course, and you want to give players a decent sense of space and mood and location, but when using archetypal locations you can make less do more pretty easily.

One consequence of too much description is accidental importance. With some players, say too much about the picture on the wall or the door knob and you are in for a half hour of poking, prodding and -- yup -- unnecessary pixelbitching. I think it works better to have players tell you what they want to know by not only their questions but their actions. I much prefer to read and respond to the table than to lecture to it. After all, the game is about them and their characters, not me or my novel-like story I am trying to put them into.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
The principle of closure really applies to DMing. Humans are masters of filling in details based on a shallow information pool. Sometimes its more efficient to describe one item in a room in more detail, and just list the other contents, because the description gets carried over to the whole room by the listener. Or at least that's what happens when it works well. Generally the one thing is the biggest or most iconic thing in the room. What that description method doesn't do is index which thing to search. It might, but it doesn't necessarily.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That's totally valid. I find it exhausting as DM to have to pain a picture for every little element when the players are going to see it in their heads they way they will anyway. Some specificity is required, of course, and you want to give players a decent sense of space and mood and location, but when using archetypal locations you can make less do more pretty easily.

One consequence of too much description is accidental importance. With some players, say too much about the picture on the wall or the door knob and you are in for a half hour of poking, prodding and -- yup -- unnecessary pixelbitching. I think it works better to have players tell you what they want to know by not only their questions but their actions. I much prefer to read and respond to the table than to lecture to it. After all, the game is about them and their characters, not me or my novel-like story I am trying to put them into.
Luckily the PHB tells us what to do here (p. 6) which allows us to avoid these outcomes. The play loop outlined there says the DM need only describe where they are, what's around them, and the basic scope of options that present themselves. Then the next step begins: the players describe what they want to do. (Notably, a question isn't actually describing what they want to do unless it's something like dialogue with an NPC.) Once they do that, the DM can narrate the results of the adventurers' actions.

Now here's the part I think a lot of DMs totally miss: The play loop goes back to step 1 right after the DM narrates the results. Now the DM gets to refine the basic scope of options in the environment based on what the characters have discovered by way of their actions. Some options are closed now and others are open. This play loop continues throughout the entire game, regardless of the pillar (except that combat's a bit more structured).

So as you can see, front-loading a bunch of description that the players are going to forget most of isn't really suggested by the game. That's a DM doing something that is potentially problematic and was particularly prevalent in a lot of old modules. (I recall boxed texts that were full pages in Dungeon Magazine.) But with the play loop, it's smaller chunks of information spread out through the scene.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think that’s kind of a different topic.
I disagree.
I think @doctorbadwolf is proposing a scenario where the choices are mutually exclusive, so choosing one eliminates the possibility of the other. In that case, they lose whatever was down the path they didn't take (and that makes all the difference).
They don’t lose it though, because they never had it in the first place to lose. They just never gain it.
This feels like semantics pretending to be a meaningful distinction, but I may just misunderstand you. If one path is easier than the other, or faster, or literally in any way more beneficial, it's a stake. You lose something by picking the other path. Semantic arguments about the wording, where we go back and forth about "lose" vs "miss out on" or whatever are the least useful or interesting kind of discussion we could possibly have. Arguing about which star wars movie is the best is a better use of our time than that.
This is what I refer to when I say pixelbitching. It isn't fun and doesn't have a positive effect on the game.
Yeah it's a style of play that is...very much antithetical to how I play dnd. "I search each piece of furniture thoroughly and carefully." may be less fun, but it is sufficient for any reasonable DM, IMO.
It definitely sounds like a communication issue. Each person in that scenario was making assumptions about the other person's play style. That was the source of the problem, not that either of them preferred the style they did.
I disagree. The DM was being a doof. Even if they are a DM that requires a roll regardless of how specifically you describe the action (and tbh I don't want my players spending ten minutes describing how the inspect something unless it's a back and forth where we walk through the process of solving the puzzle*), that should have been a "Okay go ahead and roll an investigate check." A good DM will either give advantage or lower the DC due to the detailed approach, but, yeah, I don't beleive in player skill so I'm also fine with not making players feel like they have to go into that kind of detail so they can get bonuses and easier rolls.
It's the whole "telegraphing" thing that I just don't get.

But let's say I'm describing someone's living quarters/small apartment. What we would consider a studio apartment would be pretty typical living arrangement for many people in my campaign world.

So if I'm describing it, it's going to have what I would consider standard set dressing. Bed, maybe a dresser, wardrobe along with a small desk and chair. Maybe another couple of pieces of furniture and a small stove. Couple of pictures on the wall, probably a cupboard. Likely even a little storage cubby up high. I probably forget to mention the chamber pot but it's probably in there too.

Why all that? Because it's what I would think would be reasonable for the person living there. I'm describing someone with a fair number of possessions but not fabulously wealthy. It's set dressing that sets the mood.

It's never just going to be a bureau with a single drawer (which, yes, is an exaggeration).

I can't think of any logical reason for any particular piece of furniture or location to stand out short of just putting a big neon sign saying "search here" pointed at the futon.
This.
It also, for me, helps me form a clearer mental picture of the game world and what’s happening in it that I struggle to form when the DM’s description of the environment is largely set dressing and the actions the characters take are vague and undefined.
It's not binary, to be fair. Every DM I know who just describes the scene without regard to what items are secretly important does so with a decent level of specificity in order to paint the scene. We just don't describe the some things in more detail than others unless it feels right to do so in terms of something in the scene naturally being an attention grabber.
it absolutely adds something to the game, by rewarding players for paying attention to the DM’s description of the environment and picking up on the signals that are seeded into it.
That only adds something to the game if one agrees that forcing players to either remember a bunch of details over the course of months of real time, or take detailed notes while remaining engaged with the game, both of which are very, very, difficult, for a lot of people, in order to be good at dnd. The only requirement to be good at dnd should be coming to the game and being engaged with the game and actively working toward everyone having a good experience.
If you want to play dnd as a Dark Souls style game, that's fine, but those of us who don't want any part of that are never going to respond happily when people like the poster I put on ignore act like this style is somehow "the right way" to play.
I did find my keys in that example, though. I spent sufficient time searching for them, and succeeded in finding them.
This is why I get so frustrated discussing things on the internet. The point of the example is clearly that sometimes time simply will not cause you to find the thing. You have to come back later, or someone else has to look, or in some cases, it just doesn't happen.

I think...maybe you just have a good memory and perhaps don't have a great understanding of what not having a reliable memory is like? I hate to draw these kinds of conclusions about someone I don't know, but that is what comes across in a lot of this thread as I read your replies to myself and others.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That's totally valid. I find it exhausting as DM to have to pain a picture for every little element when the players are going to see it in their heads they way they will anyway. Some specificity is required, of course, and you want to give players a decent sense of space and mood and location, but when using archetypal locations you can make less do more pretty easily.
Agreed. The razor I use to cut through this thicket is to focus my description on things that are most relevant to the players. What can they interact with or otherwise affect? What can potentially harm or otherwise affect them? What they need to be made aware of to navigate this scenario effectively? Those are the things to focus the description on.

One consequence of too much description is accidental importance. With some players, say too much about the picture on the wall or the door knob and you are in for a half hour of poking, prodding and -- yup -- unnecessary pixelbitching.
My approach avoids this issue in two ways: the first is the use of telegraphing. If I’m doing my job right and the players are paying attention, they should be able to recognize what’s important not through quantity of description, but by the details of the description. The second is the action adjudication process. Since I don’t call for rolls to resolve things that have no chance of success, players who latch onto some unimportant detail of the environment should quickly realize they’re barking up the wrong tree when they fail to accomplish their goal without being asked to make a roll. That only happens if their approach didn’t have a chance of accomplishing their goal. Sure, there’s a small risk of the players thinking the approach rather than the goal was the problem, but it shouldn’t take long before it becomes clear that the goal is indeed the issue.

I think it works better to have players tell you what they want to know by not only their questions but their actions.
Me too. I also prefer actions over questions.

I much prefer to read and respond to the table than to lecture to it. After all, the game is about them and their characters, not me or my novel-like story I am trying to put them into.
I agree.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
but, yeah, I don't beleive in player skill
I mean, that basically sums up the disconnect here.

That was a very common thing to say in the D&D 4e days. I used to make that argument myself - "character skill, not player skill." I've since realized that was wrong though. Player skill is very much a thing in any game where the outcome is not totally random.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
But that doesn't make it not an essential game design tool, nor not especially important to environmental storytelling. It's fine you don't like those games of course, but that doesn't mean they aren't any good or that they don't require a different set of tools.

I also think it's maybe a little unfair to call resource attrition the primary threat. Even in OSR games where resource attrition is a core feature, with its own mechanics and whatever, it's not the primary threat. It's an additional source of planning and stress that highlight and amplify the actual threats. It's still zombies waiting to eat your face, but you also have to worry about having that happen in the dark. Used right it's a fantastic storytelling tool. It's not for everyone though.
I don’t understand how you think “storytelling is primarily environmental” leads to “combat becom(ing) a whole thing.” You can have a combat-light game with environmental storytelling. Quite easily, in fact. Look at puzzle games like Myst and The Witness.
That is absolutely not what I said. I said that I don't think environmental storytelling and a game where combat becomes a whole thing are a good mix.
I literally said that I prefer a combat-light game for environmental storytelling.
Depends on the edition. I certainly think 4e did such event-based adventures better than it did site-based. I find the opposite to be the case in 5e.
And I think 5e also does event based adventures at least as well as it does site-based adventures. It just provides the resource attritiion framework to make site-based adventures work better than they did in 4e, but because classes are asymetrical in resources and recharge timers, 5e has more of a reliance on a specific number of encounters per day to be balanced. It improves (but does not fix) 4e's problem of too-involved combat making site-based play tedious unless all fights are avoided, however.

But the game runs very very well when resources aren't a significant part of adventure design. I know from several years of running the game that way. It doesn't actually matter that the wizard and monk and rogue are on totally different resource models when the danger pretty much never comes from running out of resources. What matters is how hard it is to kill each character, and how much they can contribute to a scene, and the biggest balance issue in 5e becomes the fact that fighters have fewer non-combat resources to allow them to be good at doing a wide range of things. I give my players a bonus feat at level 1, and Skilled and Prodigy are two of the most common feats taken, for this reason. I also offer a bonus skill when needed if someone makes a real meathead characters like a champion fighter. It helps.

But the long rest wizard, short rest monk, and at-will all day rogue have no discernible balance issues in my games, whereas the issues are plain as day when I join a game that uses dungeon style design but doesn't hit close enough to the 6 encounters a day guideline or find some other way to drain party resources.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
When it comes to player skill vs character skill I'll take character skill every time.

Player skill is inherently biased to the benefit of the players who know the DM well. My wife has had me as a DM for a couple of decades now, she knows my "tells" whether she's consciously aware of it or not.

That, and it's a role playing game. If the guy who struggled to graduate from high school wants to play an Int 20 wizard that's what he gets to play. His character will be far more capable than the player.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This feels like semantics pretending to be a meaningful distinction, but I may just misunderstand you. If one path is easier than the other, or faster, or literally in any way more beneficial, it's a stake. You lose something by picking the other path. Semantic arguments about the wording, where we go back and forth about "lose" vs "miss out on" or whatever are the least useful or interesting kind of discussion we could possibly have. Arguing about which star wars movie is the best is a better use of our time than that.
Except this difference of interpretation of what constitutes stakes seems to be at the core of our disagreement about challenge. So evidently there is some material difference in our understandings of the scenario that goes beyond just what words we use to describe it. Much like (to bring this full circle) there is a material difference from a game in which a check modified by both an ability and skill is the default and a check modified only by an ability is a backup, versus a game in which a check modified by an ability is the default and a skill modifier is a bonus that can be applied on top of it.

Yeah it's a style of play that is...very much antithetical to how I play dnd. "I search each piece of furniture thoroughly and carefully." may be less fun, but it is sufficient for any reasonable DM, IMO.
Yeah, that clears the bar of reasonable specificity in my opinion.

I disagree. The DM was being a doof. Even if they are a DM that requires a roll regardless of how specifically you describe the action (and tbh I don't want my players spending ten minutes describing how the inspect something unless it's a back and forth where we walk through the process of solving the puzzle*), that should have been a "Okay go ahead and roll an investigate check." A good DM will either give advantage or lower the DC due to the detailed approach, but, yeah, I don't beleive in player skill so I'm also fine with not making players feel like they have to go into that kind of detail so they can get bonuses and easier rolls.
For the record, I didn’t spend 10 minutes monologuing about what my character was doing. It was a 10-minute back-and-forth between me and the DM (and another player, though I left that detail out cause it wasn’t particularly relevant) where I (or the other player) described an action, and the DM gave some kind of response like “you can’t tell” or something similarly unhelpful, then I (or the other player) described something else and the DM gave another unhelpful response, until everyone involved was so frustrated he finally said “why don’t you try investigating it?” If he had wanted me to make an Investigation check to determine what I learned, that’s fine, but he should have asked for it as part of the resolution of my first action. And that was normally how things would go in this game, I would describe an action, he’d call for a check, I’d make it, and everyone was happy. I don’t know what the deal was in this specific instance, whether he was having an off day, or he had a really specific idea in mind about how this puzzle should be solved and I wasn’t doing what he wanted, or what. But that was one link in a chain of events that lead me to quit that game.

That only adds something to the game if one agrees that forcing players to either remember a bunch of details over the course of months of real time, or take detailed notes while remaining engaged with the game, both of which are very, very, difficult, for a lot of people, in order to be good at dnd.
I do not agree that forcing players to remember a bunch of details to be successful is a good thing, and I do not make remembering a bunch of details necessary to be successful in my games.

The only requirement to be good at dnd should be coming to the game and being engaged with the game and actively working toward everyone having a good experience.
Agreed.

If you want to play dnd as a Dark Souls style game, that's fine, but those of us who don't want any part of that are never going to respond happily when people like the poster I put on ignore act like this style is somehow "the right way" to play.
Nobody here is saying the way they play the game is “the right way” to play.

This is why I get so frustrated discussing things on the internet. The point of the example is clearly that sometimes time simply will not cause you to find the thing. You have to come back later, or someone else has to look, or in some cases, it just doesn't happen.
Coming back later... Is spending time...

I think...maybe you just have a good memory and perhaps don't have a great understanding of what not having a reliable memory is like? I hate to draw these kinds of conclusions about someone I don't know, but that is what comes across in a lot of this thread as I read your replies to myself and others.
Haha no. My memory is terrible (for most things. Stuff like song lyrics stick in there like glue for some reason, but I also have ADD and my memory is generally crap). Memory is not a skill I require of my players - I’ll encourage players to take notes if it helps them, but I never require such things and I’m always happy to remind players of details they may have forgotten if they ask.
 

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