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WotC Dungeons & Dragons Fans Seek Removal of Oriental Adventures From Online Marketplace

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
So, applying your standards here to OA, what survives and what falls?
I don't see the need to change OA at all, there's no point. Either slap a warning on it or take it out of circulation. Moving forward is a different thing. We don't have a 5E OA to agonize over, just the Monk class maybe? IDK. I find it odd that the Samurai hasn't been as big a part of the discussion.
 

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prosfilaes

Adventurer
My inability to purchase Action Comics #2 or Tales From the Crypt #5 is not the destruction of art, is it?
It is, in some ways. Being copyrighted or probably copyrighted for 95 years has kept many works hidden from view until after anyone who read them new has died. Is a work of art not nearly as effectively as destroyed if it is completely hidden from view, then if it is physically destroyed? I recently transcribed The House of Death and it felt like a powerful story was hidden from light, being only seen by those digging for every scrap that HP Lovecraft ever wrote. What's the point in a work existing if nobody sees it?
 

Aldarc

Legend
I do have a "dog in this fight".

It is your comparison of OA to minstrel shows. Which you have since doubled down on. I think that shows you don't understand why and how minstrel shows are racist. Which makes me doubt the credibility of your assessments of OA as well.

You and @Aldarc and others have poo-pooed suggestions of "a little bit racist". But any serious discussion of racism, racial hatred, and social hierarchies and power dynamics needs to be able to engage with the differences eg between a minstrel show, a claim of cultural appropriation, and (say) the effect of names on prospects of getting a job interview - just to pick three different ways in which racism might be thought to manifest itself.
I said nothing here of minstrel shows. You claimed that OA was not written from a place of racial hatred. I agree, but I said that benign racism is still racism. Furthermore, there are a number of Asians in our hobby who find the content of OA offensive, racist, and harmful. That's what matters at the end of the day.
 

pemerton

Legend
I said nothing here of minstrel shows.
No. @Azzy did. And expressly compared OA to minstrel shows. I don't think I would have posted in this thread but for that. I think it's an inapt comparison.

You claimed that OA was not written from a place of racial hatred. I agree, but I said that benign racism is still racism. Furthermore, there are a number of Asians in our hobby who find the content of OA offensive, racist, and harmful. That's what matters at the end of the day.
I leave it for the East and South-East Asian community to come to a consensus on that. I don't think the consensus has emerged anywhere near as clearly as in respect of minstrel shows.

@Azzy upthread was dismissive of comparisons but I think they can help throw things into relief. I think the AD&D Monster Manual with its obviously derisive, dismissive and pulp-inspired "tribesmen" and "dervishes" and infiltrating Rakshasa is the place I would start for weeding racist tropes out of D&D.
 


Bluenose

Adventurer
I don't see the need to change OA at all, there's no point. Either slap a warning on it or take it out of circulation. Moving forward is a different thing. We don't have a 5E OA to agonize over, just the Monk class maybe? IDK. I find it odd that the Samurai hasn't been as big a part of the discussion.
I have seen suggestions that it could be left on sale with all revenues donated to an anti-racism charity. I don't know whether that would satisfy the complaints or not.

5e of course has its own problems. Some of the language used in descriptions of "monstrous humanoids" is hard to distinguish from the racist rants of 18th/20th century "Race Theorists", which is certainly problematic when the are almost invariably makes those "monstrous Humanoids" darker skinned than the "Good Races". WotC have promised to do better going forward, though what they actually do is yet to be seen.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I have seen suggestions that it could be left on sale with all revenues donated to an anti-racism charity. I don't know whether that would satisfy the complaints or not.
Something that bugs me about this whole scenario is that OA is hardly the worst offender when it comes to unfortunate Asian stereotypes in RPGs. The whole cyberpunk genre is packed full of the same and worse in many cases, just to pick an example. That doesn't change the status of OA though. I have no love of stereotyping but I'll admit there's a part of me that resists mightily the notion that removing a 35 year old book from the racks is helpful in any way. I think a front piece of some sort would serve the need for an acknowledgement. Donating to charity also couldn't hurt. If WotC did decide to pull it I wouldn't complain though. It's their IP and they are free to do what they think is necessary with it. My personal convenience or the convenience of some OSR players doesn't really matter.

5e of course has its own problems. Some of the language used in descriptions of "monstrous humanoids" is hard to distinguish from the racist rants of 18th/20th century "Race Theorists", which is certainly problematic when the are almost invariably makes those "monstrous Humanoids" darker skinned than the "Good Races". WotC have promised to do better going forward, though what they actually do is yet to be seen.
I think the color of monster skin is an overblown issue. More variety would help, and certainly can't hurt, but I don't actually think that greens and blues and dark oranges of some of those skin tones actually index real-world racial groups quite as much or as directly as some people would like to argue. Eberron, for example, has already moved past intelligent humanoids as 'always X' and has moved them all 'into' civilization and thus treats them with a more appropriate amount of nuance. That seems like the right direction to me. D&D has enough actual monsters, demons, devils and whatnot that it can afford to stop 'othering' intelligent humanoids. Individual DMs can always forge a narrative in that vein if they want to.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I don't see the need to change OA at all, there's no point. Either slap a warning on it or take it out of circulation. Moving forward is a different thing. We don't have a 5E OA to agonize over, just the Monk class maybe? IDK. I find it odd that the Samurai hasn't been as big a part of the discussion.
WotC shrewdly placed a warning/box text in Xanathar next to Samurai and cavalier that says these two subs represent the popular media vision of Eastern and Western Knights, not the historical versions. I think it shielded them a little from controversy by flat out saying they are inaccurate but fun versions of popular character tropes.

I'm sure someone somewhere was still offended, but I don't recall a backlash to it.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Eberron, for example, has already moved past intelligent humanoids as 'always X' and has moved them all 'into' civilization and thus treats them with a more appropriate amount of nuance. That seems like the right direction to me. D&D has enough actual monsters, demons, devils and whatnot that it can afford to stop 'othering' intelligent humanoids. Individual DMs can always forge a narrative in that vein if they want to.
In fairness, one of Eberron's main tenants towards noir is that you can't judge a book by its cover. Meaning that with very few exceptions, all D&D monsters aren't bound to thier MM alignment. Specifically, the nation of Droaam is full of the "rest" of the MM that aren't necessarily filling there MM roles either, medusa stonemasons, harpy couriers, ogre laborers, gnoll mercenaries, etc. Now, it's not a utopia; many of it's residents haven't been "civilized" long and it's still got plenty of violence as a way of life elements, but it allows not just orcs and goblins into not-othered, but the whole freaking MM as well. (A small exception to nonsentient beings or planar monsters, and even then...)

That's a radical departure from the default Faerun/Oerth version presented in the MM. Because if orcs aren't all evil, why not ogres too? Why not trolls and giants, harpies and sahuagin? Why not vampires and werewolves? (there are plenty examples of nonevil ones in pop culture) what about color-coded dragons, or genies like Djinni or Efreeti? Why keep free will as a humanoid-only trait? Why have alignment in the MM at all?

Certainly, this works for Eberron and it's one of the elements that makes Eberron unique. It doesn't present the MM or PHB default versions of most everything from necromancer elves to druidic orcs to a organization of multicolored dragons obsessed with prophecy. But to do that, it yeets a lot of other existing lore, like Tiamat, Gruumsh, and the all the demon and devil Lords. I'm not sure the Eberron answer is the best one for the default game, much like how in 3e Eberron got the magic item economy right but it still wouldn't have made sense to import Eberron's magical creation forges or artificers to the Core game.

Honestly, I think Wildemount, not Eberron, is the future. The assumptions of Exandria are closer to that of the core game, right down to the planes and deities, but still creates more space to allow for greater exception. There is an entire drow nation of Drizzts who left Lolth's oppression, and while some orcs have gone and lived in society with them, others still feel the call to Gruumsh and act as raiders and destroyers. I see a future Faerun though which mimics this split easier than I could the Eberron "alignment doesn't matter" method. And I say this as a far bigger fan of Eberron than Exandria.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Some of the criticism has struck me as, well, maybe enthusiastic, especially some of the more academic criticisms. There was a link provided earlier that was a essentially a long Orientalist critique of OA. A part of that was an extended diatribe about how the Comeliness stat reinforces the stereotype of the feminine Asian male. That argument might hold water if Comeliness has been introduced in OA, but it wasn't, it was introduced in Unearthed Arcana earlier that same year, and based on that is pretty obviously just where the studio was at from a design standpoint.

The lengthy critique of Non-Weapon proficiencies I find entirely unconvincing, from an academic standpoint, as while it is explanatory, I don't think it manages to overcome comparatively less outre explanations for why, for example, some of the more 'interesting' NWPs end up in the 'court skills' list (like that many of the skills in question are actually traditional 'Samurai' class skills, roughly). It's telling that the best the author can manage here is that it's classist, which, while possibly true as far as that goes, doesn't make it inaccurate, or orientalist, or racist. Somehow, the label of 'classist', fuzzy at it is in this case, is apparently enough to carry the argument forward to label the application of NWP Orientalist. I wouldn't agree.

In general, while the article does raise some important points about OA, it doesn't hold together all that well. One, because too much relies on the shaky arguments about Comeliness and NWPs and, unfortunately, the argument in the article needs those bits to move it successfully into the finale about reductionist approaches to game design. Second, I have a certain amount of academic distaste for 'readings' like this Orientalist reading, that present themselves as definitive fact. 'Can be read' is very different than 'is', and in cases of can be read, I think there needs to be a pretty minimal amount of contortion involved before it starts to sound forced, and this article seems forced to me.

This isn't to hand-wave some of the legitimate issues with OA, but I think people need to be careful when reading stuff that presents as academic. Some people seem to look at the vocabulary as assume based on that that it's a devastating critique. It isn't in this case.
 

And yet the offended side has provided barely any justification within this thread. The only defense is "some asians were offended" that made a series of monetized youtube videos.

I'm sure it's a strong defense in....your mind.
Just for giggles, let us take your word that their is zero offensive material in Oriental Adventures First Edition. Nothing in it is racist, stereotyped, or problematic in anyway. It is all 100% fine.


Now, put that behind us. Going forward in writing Kara-Tur for 5e, should WoTC spend anytime whatsoever in hiring cultural consultants for Far East asian cultures? Should they do research into the actual myths and tropes presented in those cultures stories? Should they look at media created by those cultures and try and use that for inspiration?

Or, should they look at movies like "The Sword of Many Lovers", "The Dragon Lives again", and "The Battle Wizard"?

Which one do you think is going to make a more interesting product going forward? I've been reading through Theros on D&DBeyond, and I have to say, a lot of it is beautiful and interesting. They hired Greek Consultants for that one. I think that is a good indicator for where they should go in the future.
 

Sadras

Hero
Just for giggles, let us take your word that their is zero offensive material in Oriental Adventures First Edition. Nothing in it is racist, stereotyped, or problematic in anyway. It is all 100% fine.


Now, put that behind us. Going forward in writing Kara-Tur for 5e, should WoTC spend anytime whatsoever in hiring cultural consultants for Far East asian cultures? Should they do research into the actual myths and tropes presented in those cultures stories? Should they look at media created by those cultures and try and use that for inspiration?

Or, should they look at movies like "The Sword of Many Lovers", "The Dragon Lives again", and "The Battle Wizard"?

Which one do you think is going to make a more interesting product going forward? I've been reading through Theros on D&DBeyond, and I have to say, a lot of it is beautiful and interesting. They hired Greek Consultants for that one. I think that is a good indicator for where they should go in the future.
@Chaosmancer my position is pretty simple: Do not support these two long-winded individuals with their monetised youtube diatribe and their silly justifications for offense. The only thing entertaining about them was Steve's appetite and thirst. As to the rest of your points, I have answered you previously.
 
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prosfilaes

Adventurer
I think the color of monster skin is an overblown issue. More variety would help, and certainly can't hurt, but I don't actually think that greens and blues and dark oranges of some of those skin tones actually index real-world racial groups quite as much or as directly as some people would like to argue.
Pulling '89 2nd Ed Player's Handbook, there are zero illustrations of black people in the book. Most of them look northern European, including a flying carpet scene on page 119. Page 70 has a darker protagonist, more Mediterranean, and page 7 has a slightly darker party member in Larry Elmore's dragon killing illustration.

As for skin tones, pulling the 1E MM off the shelf:

Bugbear: "The skin of bugbears is light yellow to yellow brown -- typically dull yellow."
Dwarf: "Dwarves are typically deep tan to light brown of skin"; mountain dwarves have "typically lighter" "coloration".
Elf: "Elves are slim of build and pale complected."
Drow: "The drow are said to be as dark as faeries are bright and as evil as the latter are good"
Wood elf: "Their complexions are fair"
Gnoll: "Gnolls have greenish gray skins"
Gnome: "Most gnomes are wood brown, a few range to gray brown"
Goblin: "Goblins range from yellow through dull orange to brick red in skin color"
Halfling: "Of ruddy complexion"
Tallfellow: "with fairer skin" (called out as very rare, able to rise to higher levels, live longer, than normal halfling)
Hobgoblin: "hobgoblins range from dark reddish-brown to gray black"
Kobold: "very dark rusty brown to a rusty black"
Men: no description
Ogre: "varies from dull blackish-brown to dead yellow"
Orc: "Orcs appear particularly disgusting because their coloration--brown or brownish green with a bluish sheen--highlights their pinkish snouts and ears"

"Wood brown skin" isn't a very helpful description, but I don't recall ever seeing gnomes drawn with cherry or mahogany skin, but I've seen many with pale skins (= birch?). None of the demihuman races have dark brown skin, with the arguable exception of gnomes, and none of the humanoids are white, with brown, rusty brown, blackish-brown, and yellow being used to describe them. And of course, the notorious drow, with the darkness of their skin compared to the evilness of their souls.

Yes, WotC has done better in the years since that. But if you played in those days, it's easy to wonder where the non-white characters are and see the humanoids as representative of them. Even now, WotC hasn't massively changed things; they've tweaked them with the goal of annoying as few of their long-term players as possible. If they really wanted to fix the drow, forget grey or purple skins; make above ground elves share the genetic variety of skin colors as humans, with pale-skinned elves exclusively arctic, and give drow the pale white of underground creatures, with compound eyes or some other spider-marked touch. But in practice, it seems that WotC and Paizo have done the bare minimum of walking away from the racially charged original imagery.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Why are you quoting from a 30 odd year old version of the MM? Yes, the art is less racially diverse than the current D&D books, and my reply is so what? Is this you piggy backing on the OA criticisms somehow? I just don't understand why you think it's important when it isn't what the game looks like now. You haven't exactly made any kind of actual argument here that leads to your conclusion that WotC and Paizo have done the 'bare minimum'.

What WOtC and Paizo may or may not have done is perhaps an interesting discussion, but then you'd have be a lot more granular and nuanced and talk about what they have actually done. Like maybe compare representation in the art form then to now. Or address in any way at all what the game looks like now. Then you might have something to say about what those companies have or have not done.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I don't see how this follows from the need to avoid stereotypical representations. That's not really that high a bar to clear.
In a previous thread people complained that some artwork for hobgoblins looked like a samurai and that it was problematic. I see a bar high enough that I'd probably walk the other way rather than try to clear it.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have seen suggestions that it could be left on sale with all revenues donated to an anti-racism charity. I don't know whether that would satisfy the complaints or not.
My own view is that that would be absurd. Like selling gollywogs and denoting proceeds of sale to the NAACP.

Either the work is acceptable for distribution and sale, or it's not.

Perspective from the outside looking in.
Please elaborate on what the exoticisation consists in. Which bits of the work do you have in mind? The class descriptions? The race descriptions. The brief gasseteer to Kara-Tur. Something else?

Here's an extract from the class entry for Bushi (mechanical details mostly edited out). Where is the exoticisation?


Bushi are masterless warriors, men without ties to a lord, temple, or monastery. They are commonly mercenaries, bandits, highwaymen, or wanderers, earning their nioney however they can. They can be sewing samurai. protecting the court. or swelling the ranks of armies. A few may be kensai who have fallen by the way. Most, however, are men of low birth who have chosen the way of the warrior to advance in the world. . . .

Bushi are quite often poor and find it difficult to buy and maintain their armor and equipment. . . .

Aiihough bushi are often poor, they are seldom out of work. There is always a need for a stout warrior or at least a strong hand. Just as the nobles have their Samurai to protect them, the peasants and merchant folk often look on the bushi for protection. The pay usually is not good, but it provides for a bushi's basic needs. Thus, a bushi in a friendiy or neutral village or twm, can
always find employment, food, and sheiier. The food may be thin rice gruel and the sheter a leaky stable, but something will always be available.

Poverty has also made bushi masters at the art of finding "loose" equipment. . . . Bushi are also known to cut or lift strings of cash off the unwary. . . .

The hard life of a bushi gives him little time for self-contemplation and intense mental training, both of which greatly aid in the use of ki. However, bushi do have an elementary ki power. . . .

When the bushi reaches 9th level, he can establish himself as a warlord. . . .

Bushi can come from all levels ofsociety, so they receive no modifier on Table 38: Character Birth. A bushi character is not, however, required to belong to family. The choice is optional. Those who do belong to a family have all the bonuses and penalties for gaining and keeping honor. Bushi do have a measure of self-respect and normally attempt to follow bushido (the warrior code, explained under samurai). However, honor restrictions are significantly less on bushi than on other classes.​

The obvous difference here from the entry on fighters in the AD&D PHB is that ths class description locates the character within a social and cultural milieu. We have remarks on (social) class/rank, on family, on relationships to villagers, etc. Is this what is being objected to? (The closest the PHB gets to this is its accounts of paladins, druids and monks. UA gets closest in its account of cavaliers.)
 

pemerton

Legend
Some of the criticism has struck me as, well, maybe enthusiastic, especially some of the more academic criticisms. There was a link provided earlier that was a essentially a long Orientalist critique of OA. A part of that was an extended diatribe about how the Comeliness stat reinforces the stereotype of the feminine Asian male. That argument might hold water if Comeliness has been introduced in OA, but it wasn't, it was introduced in Unearthed Arcana earlier that same year, and based on that is pretty obviously just where the studio was at from a design standpoint.

The lengthy critique of Non-Weapon proficiencies I find entirely unconvincing, from an academic standpoint, as while it is explanatory, I don't think it manages to overcome comparatively less outre explanations for why, for example, some of the more 'interesting' NWPs end up in the 'court skills' list (like that many of the skills in question are actually traditional 'Samurai' class skills, roughly). It's telling that the best the author can manage here is that it's classist, which, while possibly true as far as that goes, doesn't make it inaccurate, or orientalist, or racist. Somehow, the label of 'classist', fuzzy at it is in this case, is apparently enough to carry the argument forward to label the application of NWP Orientalist. I wouldn't agree.

In general, while the article does raise some important points about OA, it doesn't hold together all that well. One, because too much relies on the shaky arguments about Comeliness and NWPs and, unfortunately, the argument in the article needs those bits to move it successfully into the finale about reductionist approaches to game design. Second, I have a certain amount of academic distaste for 'readings' like this Orientalist reading, that present themselves as definitive fact. 'Can be read' is very different than 'is', and in cases of can be read, I think there needs to be a pretty minimal amount of contortion involved before it starts to sound forced, and this article seems forced to me.

This isn't to hand-wave some of the legitimate issues with OA, but I think people need to be careful when reading stuff that presents as academic. Some people seem to look at the vocabulary as assume based on that that it's a devastating critique. It isn't in this case.
Thanks for pointing me to that essay. It reinforces my own view, asserted upthread, that we are talking here about an intellectual critique that is amenable to analysis, reasoned response and the like.

That essay does not point solely to OA. It also critques the 5e PHB, the 3E weapons chart (though I thinkt it mislabels that as coming from OA) and Gygax's treatment of alignment in pre-OA works.

Here are some of the claims that stood out for me in particular:

This structure, the encyclopedic, although derived through practices of appreciation becomes ultimately an exercise in producing an authoritative source in what does and does fit into the imaginary of the game’s world. . . .​
It is by learning the Orientalist texts listed in the Oriental Adventures bibliography that Bunnell felt able to authentically role-play characters in a non-western feudal society. Simply put: by cultivating a sense of cultural appreciation, Bunnell was able to authoritatively produce a feudal Japanese world for himself and his players.

The whole of the Bibliography of OA is framd as Orientalist. I don't believe that is on the basis of a thorough reading of all those works. Some of those works have authors whose names suggest East Asian identiy and/or descent. So this criticism has to be suspect.

But it is the bolded sentence which is fundamental, because it goes to the heart of the tension between (i) engaging in the activity of RPGIng and (ii) accepting these strong claims about cultural appropriation. The essay quotes Bunnell saying "Now, after a great deal of reading, I am ready to try to role-play in a totally different feudal culture. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly understand the Japanese culture, but I will certainly enjoy myself while learning." That is not a claim to have authoritatively produced a feudal Japanese world. It is a claim to be trying to run a non-European-oriented game based on an attempt to understand Japanese culture. If that is objectionable, then the discussion is over.

The game makes clear the comparison between Oriental honor and the Christian ethic. Western honor, epitomized by the paladin, maps cleanly onto the values that we associate with good or evil in Dungeons & Dragons alignment system. Good players are grounded through the dogma of the Judeo-Christian imagination, which associates good deeds with the good and honorable life. By proposing a system to govern honor that operates independent from the traditional politics of alignment, Oriental Adventures re-forms and contorts the Oriental family to co-exist as secular within a Judeo-Christian alignment table.​

The claim of "reforming" and "contorting" is not made out, because no theory of what the Oriental family would look like without such reforming and contorting is offered.

What might have been picked up on, but is not, is that the default Buddhist religious character - the shukenja class - are (i) necessarily good, and (ii) largely indifferent to honour. What that tells us is that, through the prism of the OA structure, there is a tension between doing good and being loyal/honouable. This is reinforced when we notice that classes who value hnour highly - samurai, kensai, sohei and yakuza - must be lawful. (Ninja are an exception here that arguably is incoherent.) This suggests that lawfulness and honour are tighly connected, which is a departure from the presentation of alignment in the PHB and DMG, not a reinforcement of it (in those works truth is assocated with the good, not the lawful) but is picked up in the OA alignmenth descriptions and reinforced in the 3E alignment descriptions.

So in fact OA drives a rethinking of the alignment framework. And the presentation of tensions between doing good and being honourable is hardly unique to OA. It's a theme of The Seven Sanurai. Hero. Ashes of Time. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tai Chi Master. It's a theme that can be fond in non-East Asian culture also, but I mention those works in particular because they might be the sorts of works one is hoping to emulated playing a OA game.

Because many role-playing games seek to enfold non-weapon skills within the logics of combat and acquisition (Cooking helps to restore wealth, Etiquette may help to gain economic favor in the court or to prevent combat, Crafting is often a way to develop better weapons and armor) they participate symbolically in colonialism’s modern legacy. They reduce the richness of non-western culture to a set of “non-weapon proficiencies” which can be developed and exploited to further the Western war effort.​

This claim has no bearing on OA, which does not use NWPs primarily to reinforce martial prowess but treats them as an intereseting field of endeavour in their own right. But it also shows that the essay is not a critique of OA in any distnctive way. If one accepted the arguments made in the essay, OA would not be at the top of the D&D books to be condemned.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Thanks for pointing me to that essay. It reinforces my own view, asserted upthread, that we are talking here about an intellectual critique that is amenable to analysis, reasoned response and the like.
Notice that none other than Jon Peterson, of Playing at the World fame, takes issue with quite a lot of what's raised in that article, as per his posts in the comments section.
 

@Chaosmancer my position is pretty simple: Do not support these two long-winded individuals with their monetised youtube diatribe and their silly justifications for offense. The only thing entertaining about them was Steve's appetite and thirst. As to the rest of your points, I have answered you previously.
Well, I don't remember those answers. I'll just assume that since your point is only not to watch a youtube series that you are fine with hiring cultural consultants and treating the material with respect going forward.

After all, that has nothing to do with a youtube series.
 

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