Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden -- A Comprehensive Review

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Rostmaiden is the latest official Dungeons & Dragons adventure, and it's one that will challenge both DMs and players. For the right group, it's a good story with fresh ideas and intriguing consequences. Determining if it’s a good fit for you and your players is, perhaps, its biggest challenge.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is the latest official Dungeons & Dragons adventure, and it's one that will challenge both DMs and players. For the right group, it's a good story with fresh ideas and intriguing consequences. Determining if it’s a good fit for you and your players is, perhaps, its biggest challenge.

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Player Overview (No Spoilers)
For those new to Forgotten Realms, Icewind Dale was created by Ed Greenwood and featured in Greenwood's Volo's Guide to the North. The frigid locale is best known for the Drizzt novels by R.L. Salvatore and a video game. During the public play test period between 4th and 5th editions, the adventure Legacy of the Crystal Shard was released, following up on elements of the Drizzt novels, like The Crystal Shard. Other than that, the Ten Towns and Icewind Dale region has received little focus in official adventures in comparison to more storied locations like Neverwinter, Baldur's Gate, Waterdeep, etc. So news that this fall's adventure would focus on the region sparked a great deal of interest.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a big book (320 pages) packed with a lot of info from new rules, 79 new monsters/opponents (plus some stat blocks reprinted from other books for DM ease), magic items, and three new spells, to a challenging adventure and setting guide showcasing more than 26 locations. So let's start with the information that's safe for general and player knowledge.

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Gorgeous Art
The book is excellent, with credit due to Kate Irwin, senior art director for Dungeons & Dragons. Irwin has handled the creation of all of the 5th Edition D&D books and done an excellent job with everyone one of them, but ID:RotF stands out.

Available in two editions, the special edition cover by Hydro47 is gorgeous. The soft touch-textured black background sets off the metallic inks beautifully. I try to be objective, but Hydro47's covers are so consistently outstanding that it's difficult. The cover of the mainstream book is moody, beautiful, and evocative, setting the tone for the adventure before you even read a summary or back cover blurb. A good cover should always do that, but there's a cohesiveness when combined with ID:RotF's interior art that conveys a sense of the adventure.

The Horror!
ID:RotF’s art has an almost cinematic scope that invokes the mood designer and lead writer Chris Perkins created. Perkins himself wrote an afterword for ID:RotF that gives Irwin special praise for the book's design and acknowledges how much the world has changed since the project started. Perkins hopes that ID:RotF brings a diversion and some fun during these challenging times.

ID:RotF is a horror adventure. Gloom, fear, and existential dread infest every part of it. While plot-wise, ID:RotF doesn't resemble John Carpenter's The Thing, that icy survival horror film kept popping up in my mind as I was reading. It turns out that film was one of Perkins' inspirations for ID:RotF along with H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Stephen King's The Shining, and the movie Alien. DMs who can set that sort of creepy tone and sense of dread will get the best reaction at their game table.

New Mechanics
On the mechanical side, the book contains rules for avalanches and dealing with blizzards and veering off-course in bad weather. The mechanics are logical. For example, Perception rolls based on sound have disadvantage while the player is in a blizzard. Still, codifying these wintry conditions is perfectly appropriate and save DMs time and headaches. For simplicity's sake, rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide on frigid water and dealing with extreme cold are reprinted here with the other weather and travel rules. New equipment like sled dogs as transportation is also listed. A fun idea involves domesticated axe-beaks for transportation. I love out-of-the-box ideas like that.

Both to feed the horror of the scenario and because the Ten Towns tend to be populated by people with agendas or on the run from something, characters can pick a secret from a list. DMs have their matching list of information and hooks for each of those secrets, one of which ties into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. The backgrounds also list options to tie player characters to the Ten Towns. I wish all the books had this level of customization—especially the secrets.

In addition to races from the Player's Handbook, ID:RotF suggests Goliaths are well suited for this adventure and includes the Goliath information in the back. Icewind Dale also gets its own trinket table, which in my experience, players love.

Drawbacks & Trivia
In terms of drawbacks, I still wish all D&D books had an index—especially one this big. The table of contents isn't always helpful when you need to find something in a hurry. Toss a bone to your DMs, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC)! Like many prior books, an adventure flowchart highlights the major story beats. I appreciate that, but the summaries felt a little thin this time. A pronunciation guide is also included, thank goodness.

Locations in the Ten Towns are ranked with snowflake symbols to rate their friendliness, services, and comfort. This is a wink and a nod to the tankard scale used in the original Volo's Guides, like Volo's Guides to the North. I love touches like that. Speaking of the Ten Towns, players gain Reputation in the early stages of the adventure as they fulfill (or fail) quests. As their reputation improves, residents start telling them tall tales that seed plot points. While I like that, the Reputation system misses an opportunity by not also affecting the friendliness rating of each town. Why not improve the rating if the players have a good reputation and decrease it if they don't? Also, while Ten Towns residents might be stoic and taciturn, I wouldn't necessarily make the tall tales entirely dependent on player reputation. Surely someone would be talkative.

One trivia note—John Francis Daley is listed among the world building credits. If that name rings a bell, he's often best known for playing Dr. Lance Sweets for many years on the TV series, Bones. He also co-wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming, co-directed Game Night, and is co-writing and co-directing the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie. Perhaps Icewind Dale is featured in the film? We'll see.

The rest of this review is devoted to what DMs need to know and necessary spoilers to explain the pros and cons of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. If you plan on playing the adventure, stop here.

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Because this is a horror adventure, Perkins reminds DMs in a sidebar titled “Horror in the Far North” that while the characters should be tense and stressed at times, players should be relaxed and having fun. As such, Perkins recommends talking to your players before the game since they might not realize their players have phobias related to game scenarios. While Perkins never uses the words “session zero” or “safety tools” he's basically recommending the use of both in the sidebar.

The Plot
As Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden begins, the frigid region has been under the spell of Auril, cruel goddess of winter. For about two years Auril has been riding her roc every day to cast a spell that prevents the sun from fully rising over Icewind Dale, keeping it veiled in gloom and bitterly cold. The spell weakens her, which means that the characters might eventually defeat her to break the spell, though they'll have to beat her in each of her three forms. The lack of sun and extreme cold is making the already difficult life in the Ten Town brutal, with food scarcity and more.

Why is Auril doing this? Because three other allied winter gods turned on her. When they retreated from Toril after the Sundering, Auril stayed behind in the north and is using her magic to create pitiless cold to preserve the north's frozen beauty, regardless of its impact on the residents. That feels a bit thin to me, but gods are supposed to be inscrutable and ineffable. The main point is that the characters will not be able to sway, cajole, or negotiate with her.

In the meantime, a duergar chieftain named Xardorok Sunblight has moved his clan to the surface, encouraged by his god, Deep Duerra, to conquer the surface. Except Sunblight is actually under the sway of Asmodeus, impersonating Deep Duerra. Sunblight has his people collecting chandalyn, a crystalline material that can be worked like metal and easily enchanted. It's also prone to corrupt those who have extended contact with it. Sunblight is using the gathered chandalyn to make a dragon automaton.

One of the options for breaking Auril's spell could also lead the players to seek out the remnants of a lost Netherese city. Members of the Arcane Brotherhood are also interested in the lost city and want the players' help to get to its legendary magic.

The early parts of the adventure give players an opportunity to explore the Ten Towns and surrounding areas. First, they're on quests and later following clues and rumors that will gradually draw them into the duergar and Netherese plots as well as trying to find a way to break Auril's spell over the dale.

The Story
In terms of the story, I like the ideas in the adventure. The story builds until it's cinematic in scope. I find the end options intriguing—more on that later. Lost civilization? Great. I'm a big fan of adventures set in areas of the Realms that have received less attention in prior adventures, so Icewind Dale checks a few boxes for me. Also, just like how Ghosts of Saltmarsh gave WOTC an opportunity to expand rules for seafaring adventures, ID:RotF does the same for adventures in the frozen tundra and blizzard conditions. I approve.

However, ID:RotF has some issues in regard to the execution of the early part of the adventure. Add in the fact that this adventure has a lot going on, and ID:RotF requires genuine prep time. If you tend to wing it or are the type of DM who just skims an adventure and then reads only the section you're running that night, you're not going to be happy.

As much as I like ID:RotF, a lot of the flaws are disappointing because they could have been easily avoided with a little more editing and listening to playtest feedback. Having worked in publishing, I know that some mistake is always going to slip through, and typos like “they no long gain levels” (instead of “longer”) can be especially hard to catch, but the adventure contradicts itself too many times and the problems at the beginning of ID:RotF repeat mistakes from prior adventures.

The first two sections are designed to let the players explore Icewind Dale and the Ten Towns, gain experience, and gather clues to the deeper adventure. That's great. Exploration is one of the pillars of 5th Edition. However, the exploration section of ID:RotF, especially in at the very beginning, would have greatly benefited from more guidance for the DM. Rather than railroading, better DM directives or suggestions would improve game experience for everyone.

Introductory Scenarios
Two scenarios are designated for first-level players. One, Nature Spirits, is designed to be resolved without combat, which I like. It also features arctic versions of chwingas, tiny, mischievous (and sometimes dangerous) elemental spirits from Tomb of Annihilation. Cross ties between adventures like that are good. It makes the world feel more real because actual species can vary by geography and climate.

The other, Cold-Hearted Killer, is problematic for several reasons. First, it's described as a quest that can be presented anywhere, and it's listed before the Nature Spirits quest option, making it one DMs might present reflexively, especially if the DM likes to start with a combat challenge or knows their players love a fight.

Hlil Trollbane, a dwarven bounty hunter, tells the players that she suspects Sepbek Kaltro of being a serial killer—and possibly undead. It's strangely clunky, from Trollbane having no real evidence to Trollbane having followed Kaltro for 10 days but now having no idea where he is just to make players track him. A minor rewrite could have fixed this, such as a storm causing Trollbane to lose Kaltro and actual evidence.

Kaltro is secretly serving Auril, the titular Frostmaiden, by murdering people who are cheating a lottery so they aren't sacrificed to the goddess. Even that is weird because only three towns are sacrificing people to Auril. While Auril is a pitiless goddess who could feel cheated, why not also have Kaltro murder residents from the towns making other forms of sacrifice? Worse, Sephek Kaltro is a CR3 opponent, has 75 HP, two attacks per round for an average of 24 damage, and has Cold Regeneration. That's a bit overpowered for first-level characters. If the intention is to show players that they can't fight everything and sometimes retreat is necessary, then that should be telegraphed better. Trollbane could have told them, “find him and apprehend him if you can,” which would have more naturally led to something like a fight, retreat, getting backup from Trollbane and then taking on Kaltro, now with just enough experience to be level two. WOTC's repeatedly overpowered first-level challenges are baffling.

After that the players can do other quests in any order, and then move onto more challenging experiences as they explore Icewind Dale and become invested in saving the area from Auril's magic. They vary in tone. I found the white dragon sighting/possible encounter rather sad, though it could also be a standard fight if that fits your group's preferences.

If your players are anything like mine, they'll try to befriend an awakened creature or learn the awakening spell themselves so they can have intelligent animal companions. One frost druid even has an awakened shrub.

Future Storylines
It looks like WOTC might be building up to a larger story directly involving Asmodeus. Considering the events of Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, the one plot thread in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and the duergar plot here, I'd be disappointed if there wasn't an eventual giant confrontation.

That said, one plot point in the duegar story seems weird. Klondorn, Sunblight's duergar priest, is actually a barbed devil in magical disguise. He's there to keep an eye on Sunblight and further ensure he follows Asmodeus' will. That makes sense. But Klondorn has been carving stone tablets in infernal script with the story of how Asmodeus is manipulating Sunblight. That just feels like a lazy way to expose him as a barbed devil instead of a priest of Deep Duerra.

Of course, that depends upon whether the players explore Sunblight's fortress. They head there after finding out about the dragon automaton Sunblight is creating of chandalyn so they can stop him—only the adventure is designed so that the automaton has already been built and sent to attack Ten Towns just as the players arrive at the fortress. They have to make a choice—rush back to save the towns or stay and to stop the rest of Sunblight's plans. Both options have consequences. Technically, the players could return to the fight the automaton and then try to infiltrate the fortress later. If they don't stop the automaton in the Destructon's Light chapter, the dragon returns to its master. Sunblight will repair any damage and send it out again until Sunblight has conquered all of Icewind Dale.

Asmodeus' minions aren't the only infernal operatives in ID:RotF. During the quest phase early in the adventure, the players can end up at the keep at Caer Dineval, which is being run by the Knights of the Black Sword, who are cultists worshiping an archdevil. Levistus rules the Sixth Layer of Hell and is trapped in an ice prison there. The proper speaker (speakers in Ten Towns are like mayors) is being held prisoner by the cultist knights. No matter what the players do about Caer Dineval, Levistus could be a future problem, depending upon how the players' actions end the adventure.


Wrapping up the Adventure
Eventually the players need to go to Auril's Island of Solstice (shaped like a snowflake, of course), both to confront her and, once the member of the Arcane Brotherhood talks them into helping her find the formerly floating Netherese city that crash into the ice. The magical machines in the city could change the weather for the Ten Towns while also unveiling other secrets.

As I said before, ID:RotF is firmly a horror adventure so exploring Auril's island and its skull-shaped keep (giants made it, but still) isn't the typical dungeon crawls. To access one part they have to endure Auril's tests. Because this is a goddess of cruelty, the tests aren't typical. For each test, the players are teleported to one of the dale's nomad tribes.

In the test of cruelty they arrive just as one tribe has decided to resort to cannibalism to survive. Passing the test involves killing the four designated sacrifices. It should be appalling and the players can pass or fail individually. ID:RotF does provide an alternate way to get through the area if all of the tests are failed. The point is what will the players do and, if they pass certain tests, what the consequences are.

On Solstice Island, the players could have potentially broken Auril's spell over the dale by either defeating all three of her forms or killing her roc. She both needs the roc to fly while casting the spell every day, plus it's her only companion. Killing it makes her retreat, and it will take a century or such to train another one, effectively saving Icewind Dale for a time.

If defeated in all three forms, Auril isn't gone forever. She is a goddess after all. She'll be reborn at the winter's solstice, but will then retreat and not bother Icewind Dale for the rest of the characters' lifetimes. I'm not sure I find that plausible from a cruel goddess, but a DM could always make their own long-term consequences if they wish.

If they haven't defeated Auril or killed her roc, the characters will have more incentive to explore the fallen Netherese city. On Auril's island they should have found the Rime of the Frostmaiden, a spell written as a poem that will crack the glacier, enabling access to the city buried under ice and snow. If they have defeated her, the lure of ancient, powerful magic and the cajoling of members of the Arcane Brotherhood should lead them there.

More wilderness encounters start the race to Ythryn. Getting to the Netherese city involves not just cracking the glacier with the spell but traveling through “the caves of hunger” and fighting or evading a variety of challenges from frozen skeletons to a rehmoraz mother waiting for her young to emerge.

Once at the Netherese city of Ythryn, the challenges continue, of course, including a demilich. In addition to dangerous living spells, players who spend time in the necropolis can contract arcane blight. If they do, they turn into a nothic. Yes, that's horrific, but players have to fail their saving throw three times to actually turn. Each success improves their chance of succeeding next time so it is survivable.

As expected, Ythryn has rare magic that's as dangerous as it is rare. The living blade of disaster is bad, but that just kills you (4d12 force damage unless it scores a critical hit, in which case it does 12d12 force damage—and a crit for this is 18 or higher). The living demiplane can pull you into its extradimensional space.

ID:RotF contains a lot of weird, creepy, dangerous challenges like a brain in a jar with psionic ability (what else?), undead coldblight walkers, gnoll vampires, goliath werebears, kobold zombies, snow golems, and more. The gnome ceremorph is downright cute in a chibi sort of way. It's also a CR5 creature that can mind blast and extract brains.

For me, the most interesting part ID:RotF is the ending. Even if the players succeed, there can be consequences depending upon which method they used to succeed, and failure has consequences, of course. Plus there's one really interesting possible wrinkle, whether they succeed or fail. Some of these options also require a lot of work from the DM, but the potential work at the end is only necessary if you run ongoing campaigns and want to continue the more complicated options.

Defeating Auril on Solstice Island by killing her roc or vanquishing all three of her forms presents the best outcome. That most directly leads to Summer Is Coming, which features an Icewind Dale freed of Auril's icy grip. If, however, they leave Solstice Island without fully conquering Auril she will follow them to Ythryn because how dare mere mortals attack her. She doesn't come alone, though. She brings snow golems, winter wolves, etc. to fight with her.

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A Tarrasque?!
One of the potential wrinkles is that the characters can find a scroll of tarrasque summoning during the adventure. Yes, a tarrasque.

That can be used to defeat Auril—or used for any reasons because you know some players will be tempted. If summoned on Solstice Island, Auril will be forced to flee if she isn't defeated by it. The tarrasque will wreak havoc on the island before the cold makes it hibernate. If summoned in Ythryn the tarrasque will fight it's way to Icewind Dale proper where it will be trapped for a while but eventually it will find its way through the Spine of the World and down the Sword Coast. That's a heck of a long-term consequence and understandably beyond the scope of the adventure. It could also be interesting for an ongoing campaign.

If the characters fail to stop Auril by any of the means proposed in the adventure or alternates, then Icewind Dale is caught in Winter Everlasting. Not only does that mean that life in the dale will eventually be forced to migrate south or die, it will have other consequences.

After a year of this intense cold, Levistus is able to open an icy portal between Icewwind Dale and his layer of hell, sending devils under his control through. If, however, Sunblight and his clan survived the adventure, eventually Asmodeus will take control of them, and through them control a foothold in Toril for the infernal lord.

The last plot option, Year of Chilled Marrow, is the most fascinating but continuing beyond the adventure means creating an entire new campaign. If you've run or read previous official Dungeons & Dragons hardcover adventures like Tomb of Annihilation or Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage you've run across mysterious obelisks. ID:RotF finally explains the secrets of the obelisks, which winds through a group called Weavers to Vecna to the Netherese.

Not only do the characters run into an obelisk, they can, if they choose, get one to work, unlike the prior adventures. This particular obelisk, if activated, will send the characters back in time to spring 343 DR, six months before the floating Netherese city of Ythryn fell and plunged into the ice. This is before Neverwinter or Waterdeep have been settled so essentially, if you continue this plot thread once invoked, you're creating an entire new world for the players. That's certainly beyond the scope of the adventure, but imagine what you can do with it!

Summing Up
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden has a lot of interesting ideas and plot threads. It's a genuine horror adventure and if presented correctly, it could be a bit brutal in creating that tone. By comparison, I loved Curse of Strahd but its Gothic horror was, to me, more moody and evocative than disturbing.

ID:RotF isn't a hack-and-slay adventure, though it could be forced in that direction if you choose. Combat is featured but plenty of opportunities to solve situations through negotiation, cleverness or roleplay exist.

If you like adventures where every detail is spelled out for you so you can quickly skim the adventure while waiting for players to arrive, ID:RotF may not work for you. It's a good adventure, but the issues mentioned at the beginning and keeping all of the threads straight will take a bit more time and preparation—especially if the tarrasque or time travel finales are invoked.

I like Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, despite the early adventure hiccups. Ten Towns has gotten far less attention than other areas, which makes it fresh. I'm less fond of the dungeon crawl portions, but that's because I've played enough dungeon-type adventures I prefer different options.

The secrets can play out very well during the adventure, especially if arcane blight becomes an issue because of its paranoia side effect. Sadly, as Perkins pointed out in his afterward, the real world is echoing elements of the adventure, like isolation. One group many find that cathartic right now while another group might want to wait until another time. That's one of the reasons why Perkins suggested talking to your players first, and he's right.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden won't be to everyone's taste. If this type of horror appeals to you and your group, you'll find a lot of good material to challenge them. Just make sure you start preparing potential post-game threads if your players reach for the tarrasque or obelisk options.

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


For Cold Hearted Killer, who says you have to end the quest off with a fight? You can pretty much have Saphek Kalto be a reoccurring encounter/figure ala Resident Evil 2's Mr. X and then have a proper Boss Fight encounter when necessary.
It's tricky to spin that as not being a failure for the PCs though, and that's not a great way to start an adventure.

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It's tricky to spin that as not being a failure for the PCs though, and that's not a great way to start an adventure.
There are quite a lot of opportunities for the PCs to fail in this adventure. If you like your games "PCs always win, no matter what dumb decisions they make" then this adventure aint for you.

One quest pretty much hinges on the PCs blowing themselves up and needing to be resurrected!


There are quite a lot of opportunities for the PCs to fail in this adventure. If you like your games "PCs always win, no matter what dumb decisions they make" then this adventure aint for you.

One quest pretty much hinges on the PCs blowing themselves up and needing to be resurrected!
Yep, and I'm looking forward to some of those quests - but maybe don't do it to the players first time out, and not for the cumbersome reason of "you're not tough enough yet to tackle this, the very first opponent you encounter".

Jeff Carpenter

Sure you can leave any of the Ten-Towns and travel deeper into the wilds of Icewind Dale, but try taking a boat back to the Sword Coast and things became a whole lot more complicated with the inability to leave.

I dont see that in the adventure. The players can leave. The adventure even says the prison has boats from the south that resupply it.

Speaking of the prison the whole thing is operating orderly and fine. Where is the chaos you would expect in a horror model? Prisoners driven to cannibalism by a sadistic warden barely in controll after being cut off from civilization?

Yep, and I'm looking forward to some of those quests - but maybe don't do it to the players first time out, and not for the cumbersome reason of "you're not tough enough yet to tackle this, the very first opponent you encounter".
Anyone who has ever played a CRPG knows to do the sidequests first! I think it's very unlikely players would reach this point still first level. And if they are a cunning an ambush could take him out even then.

It's a sandbox, not Apollo 13. Failure is always an option.


It's tricky to spin that as not being a failure for the PCs though, and that's not a great way to start an adventure.
If they are bounty hunting him, then of course the goal would be tracking him down and then eventually his capture. And that can take place over a couple of moments or days if ya wanted it to.


Anyone who has ever played a CRPG knows to do the sidequests first! I think it's very unlikely players would reach this point still first level. And if they are a cunning an ambush could take him out even then.

It's a sandbox, not Apollo 13. Failure is always an option.
So, this is the first quest the PCs are given. They'll get one more quest in their starting town. Then, if they ask around and succeed at a skill check, they can go directly to the town where Torg is, picking up maybe one more quest. So they now have a choice of three quests to pursue, but there are two levels of urgency to this one - if they lose track of Torg's caravan they'll have to relocate it, and if they leave the killer loose he'll strike again.

There's every reason why they might pursue this quest first.

And even if they don't, there aren't a lot of Ten Towns quests that are any more forgiving to first level characters. Some of them will be a serious challenge at second level.

And even if they don't, there aren't a lot of Ten Towns quests that are any more forgiving to first level characters. Some of them will be a serious challenge at second level.
The difficulty bar is set consistently high all the way through. That's partly where the horror comes in!


The difficulty bar is set consistently high all the way through. That's partly where the horror comes in!
In my experience throwing overlevelled monsters at players engenders an air of frustration, not horror. The horror should come from the situation, not from "oh dear, you ran out of hit points, better luck next time."


I wouldn't leave it to chance. I plan to involve the PCs in both starter quests but not from day one. They'll hear about the murders first and then get approached a bit later, maybe when they make their own enquiries someone will tip them off that a dwarf bounty hunter in (insert convenient town here) claims to have a lead. Mind you I can't run this until I finish my Roll20 campaign, then the midway-through face to face campaign...2022 probably!

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