D&D 5E In Search Of: The 5e Dungeon Master's Guide

Oofta

Legend
Here’s the rub. The argument seems to be that the defaults that are already in the DMG aren’t prescriptive, but any new information added must be prescriptive.

So, for instance, 20 pages in a 300 page book describing the default D&D cosmology (including a full half-page illustration of the cosmology) isn’t prescriptive, because some alternatives get a one paragraph write-up.

On the other hand, language like:
“Some people prefer a more OSR-style game. If you want to try this, here are some rule variants that taken together restrict healing (and can increase the lethality of the campaign), and put a greater emphasis on exploration (including removing certain spells)” is considered prescriptive, because whatever is indicated will become the new standard.

At the end of the day, it is “appeal ad conservatum”. Change is viewed with suspicion, because it’s change.

There are only so many options the book can include. Why would they actively encourage a previous edition? How much text would you have to include to have a section on how to make the current edition feel more like an older one? I think it would be confusing to add such a discussion without significant game theory discussions that are beyond the scope of a book written for people who want to play the current edition.

Unless you are already familiar with OSR style concepts, it's not at all obvious what it means much less why you would want to do such a thing. While there's an active OSR community, it's a tiny fraction of the entire player base. Fortunately if you want an OSR version of D&D there are plenty of options out there, I just don't see why a discussion of it belongs in a book dedicated to the current edition.

There is a discussion in the DMG in the Dungeon Master's Workshop chapter that covers several options to make your game feel more old school from alternative rest rules to limited healing to lingering injuries. If you want to go beyond that there are other resource.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Here’s the rub. The argument seems to be that the defaults that are already in the DMG aren’t prescriptive, but any new information added must be prescriptive.

So, for instance, 20 pages in a 300 page book describing the default D&D cosmology (including a full half-page illustration of the cosmology) isn’t prescriptive, because some alternatives get a one paragraph write-up.

Here's the thing. Chapter 2 is "Creating a Multiverse." The opening of it has a box on inventing your own planes, after saying that the DM gets to decide what (if any) planes to include in their campaign. It then goes on to say that sages have constructed a few theoretical models of the planes, and presents thee of them (Great Wheel, World Tree, World Axis), while allowing that the DM can make their own. In fact, it continues by listing "other visions" - the omniverse, myriad planes, solar barge, otherworld, one world, winding world, orrery, Mount Olympus.

This is the first two pages. And it continues, not just by having planes, but by explicitly including optional other planes, like the Outlands and Sigil as well the variants of the material plane.

So yeah- pretty inclusive. And ... you get the idea that lore of D&D is a little different than playing style, right? That referring to a bag of holding or a beholder is different than, say, telling you that you have to use a battlemap?

At the end of the day, it is “appeal ad conservatum”. Change is viewed with suspicion, because it’s change.

Or, perhaps, some of us say that it might be cool if people who were going to start playing D&D were provided a low-cost alternative to the core three books. Maybe WoTC could put some material together, perhaps in a box, and make it easy for new groups to learn the game? They could even have it available at mass market retailers?

It's a crazy idea ... some kind of .... Starting Kit ... or Beginners' Set .... maybe they will be smart enough to try it?
 

Imaro

Legend
Here’s the rub. The argument seems to be that the defaults that are already in the DMG aren’t prescriptive, but any new information added must be prescriptive.

So, for instance, 20 pages in a 300 page book describing the default D&D cosmology (including a full half-page illustration of the cosmology) isn’t prescriptive, because some alternatives get a one paragraph write-up.

No... it's not prescriptive because it's not telling you how and when to use the cosmology. If it said something like the cosmology is only intended to be a distant backdrop for dungeoncrawling as opposed to an adventuring locale or vice versa...that would be prescriptive. Instead it's a tool for the DM to use as he sees fit.

On the other hand, language like:
“Some people prefer a more OSR-style game. If you want to try this, here are some rule variants that taken together restrict healing (and can increase the lethality of the campaign), and put a greater emphasis on exploration (including removing certain spells)” is considered prescriptive, because whatever is indicated will become the new standard.

Because you are...
1. Defining what "OSR style" games are (when the field has become so wide that your assumptions will by necessity exclude some OSR games)
2. Telling me how to use said tools to achieve your concept of "OSR style"... thus further reinforcing how you've defined OSR style because, well... this is the way you do it.

Yes that's prescriptive.

At the end of the day, it is “appeal ad conservatum”. Change is viewed with suspicion, because it’s change.
No it's not but I think at the end of the day you'd like to believe that because it makes the other side easier to dismiss as opposed to actually address.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Tangentially to things upthread and not at all in relation to the DMG, I'm wondering how the DM advice in the B modules worked for beginning DMs. I remember reading the stuff in B2 back in the day (and a few times since), but I have no recollection of whether it made an impact or not.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is both wrong and extremely instructive as to why it is wrong.

The DMG has 100 pages of magical items and the entire MM is devoted to individual monsters. But only 4 pages are devoted to traps. You don’t think that the much more space given ti the first two is the reason why you see greater variety in magical items and minsters than in traps?
Um, they have that many monsters and items because I am right. They are harder(not impossible by any stretch) to make and balance, so the designers did it for you.
An orc and an efreeti are different. So are a flametongue and a frost brand.
And the monsters' threat level is very different and hard to figure out exactly. The flametongue and frostbrand throw off balance for those monsters who have resistance to non-magic weapons AND flame and fire affect balance different due to how those elements interact with monsters. Not easy to figure out how balance is affected.
But they are not meaningfully more different than a standard poison trap and a hallway with a wall of spikes and a door at the opposite end.
Absolutely wrong. Traps just do some damage and those 4 pages tell you exactly how much damage to do to a party based on level and deadliness. The balance has been figured out for you. All you need to do is figure out how you want the damage to happen to the party. Poison? Fire? Spears? Ice balls from the sky?
Two rounds after the party enters, an unseen servant opens the door that pushes the intruders into the wall of spikes.
I would personally just make it pushed by force emanating from the opposite wall, since Unseen Servants can't attack and only have a strength of 2, but yes that works.

The how is not very relevant. It's the damage done that's the primary concern and the 4 pages are sufficient for DMs to know how much damage the trap should do. I'll show you.

Party Level 3 deadly trap: DC 16 dex save or be shoved into the wall of spikes taking 4d10 damage.

Party Level 8 setback trap: DC 11 dex save or be shoved into the wall of spikes taking 2d10 damage.

Party level 20 dangerous trap: DC 15 dex save or be shoved into the wall of spikes taking 18d10 damage.

Easy peasy.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Tangentially to things upthread and not at all in relation to the DMG, I'm wondering how the DM advice in the B modules worked for beginning DMs. I remember reading the stuff in B2 back in the day (and a few times since), but I have no recollection of whether it made an impact or not.

I remember that it had a glossary, that not only had portcullis, but pot boy.

And no, pot boy was not nearly as exciting as I first thought.

2cbada34c509f3b2fed52e004d32975a.gif
 

What is the difference? You’re just saying that they are different as if this is meaningful without justifying your claim.
This is somewhat comical. If the 4e and 5e DMGs are not different I'm not sure why those that enjoy the 4e DMG within this thread have such an issue with the 5e DMG. Perhaps you care to explain?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Huh? How did we know that if we ignored the rules that the D&D police would not bust down our door and throw us in a literal dungeon for not playing exactly the way the book said? This is actually a question?

I think you've misunderstood.

You're saying that if a rulebook is prescriptive, then it doesn't allow for personalization of the game. Yet there have been prescriptive rulebooks for D&D in the past, and when they existed you were perfectly comfortable ignoring the rules and playing the game in a way that you wanted to play it.

These things seem at odds.

In 5E the text in the DMG is quite explicit - the rules are not in charge of the game you [as the DM] are.

I don't think that's really all that relevant. Everyone who sits down to play D&D is going to expect that there are rules, and that those rules will generally be observed.

But even having said that, there's no reason that reminders to use what makes sense for your group and make the game your own need to be eliminated.


But if ultimately... "try different methods until you find what works for you and your players"... is the true playstyle, why spend the page space to confuse the issue by then trying to define and codify various other playstyles? This playstyle of finding what works for you vs trying to be or do playstyle X (for whatever value the Forge or the WotC designers or whoever has arbitrarily assigned to X) is what at least I, and I believe others, have been claiming is at the heart of D&D and what we don't want obfuscated or confused in any way. This is a non-prescriptive playstyle and yet your suggestions seem to steadily push for a "best" way to do things while giving minimal lip service to the playstyle of doing what's best for your own game (even if that means learning through trial and error).

Because defining things, describing them, and providing examples is a good way to guide people. Again, I'm not saying that one play style should be offered as the right way.

I think part of the problem is that "style" to me means something we can describe. And I'm not sure, but it seems to me like you want it to remain undefined. I think that's a problem for a book that's called a guide.

I just don't see how this would be a problem at all. Nor why leaving the DMG as is would be the best approach beyond that it's a personal preference.
 
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Oofta

Legend
I think you've misunderstood.

You're saying that if a rulebook is prescriptive, then it doesn't allow for personalization of the game. Yet there have been prescriptive rulebooks for D&D in the past, and when they existed you were perfectly comfortable ignoring the rules and playing the game in a way that you wanted to play it.

These things seem at odds.

It's been a long time since I've run OD&D, but there was absolutely instructions in the older versions of the game to make the game your own. Have you actually read any of the books that Gygax wrote? You couldn't follow the rules exactly because there were contradictions all over the place.

It was difficult, at best, to not follow the rules in 4E because it was so technical*. I won't ever go back to playing a D&D game that is that prescriptive.

I don't think that's really all that relevant. Everyone who sits down to play D&D is going to expect that there are rules, and that those rules will generally be observed.
It depends on the group and DM style. Something the DMG talks about.

But even having said that, there's no reason that reminders to use what makes sense for your group and make the game your own don't need to be eliminated.
I have no idea what you're trying to say, there's a whole lot of double negatives in there. Are you saying the DMG shouldn't talk about making the game your own? Because I would completely disagree.

Because defining things, describing them, and providing examples is a good way to guide people. Again, I'm not saying that one play style should be offered as the right way.
I think you underestimate how much people latch onto a sentence or example here and there and insist that there is one true way. It's a tough thing to balance.

I think part of the problem is that "style" to me means something we can describe. And I'm not sure, but it seems to me like you want it to remain undefined. I think that's a problem for a book that's called a guide.

I just don't see how this would be a problem at all. Nor why leaving the DMG as is would be the best approach beyond that it's a personal preference.

But the whole point is that game theory doesn't help most people outside of general advice similar to what the DMG already offers. It makes sense to talk about things like the role of the dice, but getting into philosophy of the purpose of randomization is just going to make most people's eyes glaze over.

*Not sure the right word to use here, but 4E was very prescriptive and with detailed powers that implemented specific abilities it was difficult to adjust things on the fly without potentially stepping on some other rule.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
It's been a long time since I've run OD&D, but there was absolutely instructions in the older versions of the game to make the game your own. Have you actually read any of the books that Gygax wrote? You couldn't follow the rules exactly because there were contradictions all over the place.



It was difficult, at best, to not follow the rules in 4E because it was so technical*. I won't ever go back to playing a D&D game that is that prescriptive.

I don't see why following the rules is bad. I think there was still plenty of ways to shift things a bit, but certainly not the leeway that 5E gives.


It depends on the group and DM style. Something the DMG talks about.

What does "style" mean here to you?

I have no idea what you're trying to say, there's a whole lot of double negatives in there. Are you saying the DMG shouldn't talk about making the game your own? Because I would completely disagree.

Apologies, I included a "don't" where I should not have. I've edited.

I think keeping those reminders in is good for 5e and I've been saying that all along.

I think you underestimate how much people latch onto a sentence or example here and there and insist that there is one true way. It's a tough thing to balance.

No, I'm repeatedly reminded how "The DM is in charge of the game, not the rules" so I think I'm aware. I just know that people are going to do that no matter what, and I'm don't think it should be a primary concern for writing the DMG.

But the whole point is that game theory doesn't help most people outside of general advice similar to what the DMG already offers. It makes sense to talk about things like the role of the dice, but getting into philosophy of the purpose of randomization is just going to make most people's eyes glaze over.

*Not sure the right word to use here, but 4E was very prescriptive and with detailed powers that implemented specific abilities it was difficult to adjust things on the fly without potentially stepping on some other rule.

I'm advocating for more specific advice about running the game.

What I'd like to see is not advocacy for one mode or means of play over others. What I'd like to see is some specificity about how to actually GM a game and a campaign, and how to use different methods for different reasons. Instead of writing the book in such a broad way that anyone already familiar will fill in the blanks with what they already know, I'd like them to talk about how to bring about those things.

Again, what I'm describing wouldn't do what you seem concerned it will.
 

But the whole point is that game theory doesn't help most people outside of general advice similar to what the DMG already offers. It makes sense to talk about things like the role of the dice, but getting into philosophy of the purpose of randomization is just going to make most people's eyes glaze over.
I don't think that's really true.

They don't have to write like me (or to be fair, most people on ENworld... including pretty much everyone in this thread).

Yeah, sure if you or I wrote such a thing, people's eyes would glaze over, but if someone like Robin D. Laws did? I don't think so.

Part of the big problem here is that basically no-one senior on 5E is good at writing text that doesn't make people's eyes glaze over. Crawford and Perkins are very good at writing their precise "natural language" powers and spells (where natural means about as "natural" as Mountain Dew (TM)), but can they write interesting, involving text outside of flavour text (which they do sadly little of)? I'd say that's a big no.

And I think this is another flaw 5E has that is totally solvable. I think there are plenty of writers out there who aren't meandering, circuitous buffoons like me, nor Text Robots like Crawford, writers who can boil stuff down to a sentence or three, and make it fun and interesting to read.

Earlier you were talking about player types, and how you felt that section in 4E wasn't hugely helpful. I don't entirely disagree. But I've read material that covered the same ground but was drastically more useful (the 4E one was honestly a bit weird). And this doesn't need to be take a lot of space. For example, sorry to go on about Robin D. Laws, but he wrote probably the most succinct and helpful DMing book out there:


Is it perfect? No but it's a damn sight better than anything WotC or for that matter, White Wolf or Paizo have ever published regarding game mastering. And look - it's only 32 pages! You could easily contain all of that within the DMG. And I know some people love to say "prescriptive", which, frankly is being used as a meaningless buzzword, and quite politically rather than helpfully, but by no means is his book "prescriptive" (unless the 5E DMG is drastically more "prescriptive"). It's just a great example of what an actually-good book on DMing can look like, and how extremely small it can be!

EDIT - Note I'm meaning prescriptive re: DMGs here, not 4E. 4E was, like 3E and 5E, pretty prescriptive. I don't buy that it was meaningfully more prescriptive than 3.XE, just prescriptive about different things, but 5E is certainly somewhat less so, albeit still drastically more prescriptive RAW/RAI than most modern RPGs. So I'm not critiquing your usage re: 4E.

I'm not advocating for shrinking the DMG, note, I'm just saying, containing everything you need to get a good start on DMing can probably be done by a skilled writer on the subject in 32 pages. And given it's from 2003, I'm sure it could be improved upon.

For contrast we might look at Gary Gygax's 1987 "Role-playing Mastery", which is 176 pages of absolutely "prescriptive" (in the literal sense) text on basically, how to be a "jerk DM" that nobody would ever enjoy playing with. Credit where credit's due, Gygax later basically disavowed this book, saying he's never actually run the game like that, and indeed, people who played with him backed that up, but it's still a travesty. Still what that points to is you can spend 176 pages and offer nothing useful, or 32 and offer a ton. It is important to hire the right people.
 
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Oofta

Legend
I don't think that's really true.

They don't have to write like me (or to be fair, most people on ENworld... including pretty much everyone in this thread).

Yeah, sure if you or I wrote such a thing, people's eyes would glaze over, but if someone like Robin D. Laws did? I don't think so.

Part of the big problem here is that basically no-one senior on 5E is good at writing text that doesn't make people's eyes glaze over. Crawford and Perkins are very good at writing their precise "natural language" powers and spells (where natural means about as "natural" as Mountain Dew (TM)), but can they write interesting, involving text outside of flavour text (which they do sadly little of)? I'd say that's a big no.

And I think this is another flaw 5E has that is totally solvable. I think there are plenty of writers out there who aren't meandering, circuitous buffoons like me, nor Text Robots like Crawford, writers who can boil stuff down to a sentence or three, and make it fun and interesting to read.

Earlier you were talking about player types, and how you felt that section in 4E wasn't hugely helpful. I don't entirely disagree. But I've read material that covered the same ground but was drastically more useful (the 4E one was honestly a bit weird). And this doesn't need to be take a lot of space. For example, sorry to go on about Robin D. Laws, but he wrote probably the most succinct and helpful DMing book out there:


Is it perfect? No but it's a damn sight better than anything WotC or for that matter, White Wolf or Paizo have ever published regarding game mastering. And look - it's only 32 pages! You could easily contain all of that within the DMG. And I know some people love to say "prescriptive", which, frankly is being used as a meaningless buzzword, and quite politically rather than helpfully, but by no means is his book "prescriptive" (unless the 5E DMG is drastically more "prescriptive"). It's just a great example of what an actually-good book on DMing can look like, and how extremely small it can be!

EDIT - Note I'm meaning prescriptive re: DMGs here, not 4E. 4E was, like 3E and 5E, pretty prescriptive. I don't buy that it was meaningfully more prescriptive than 3.XE, just prescriptive about different things, but 5E is certainly somewhat less so, albeit still drastically more prescriptive RAW/RAI than most modern RPGs. So I'm not critiquing your usage re: 4E.

I'm not advocating for shrinking the DMG, note, I'm just saying, containing everything you need to get a good start on DMing can probably be done by a skilled writer on the subject in 32 pages. And given it's from 2003, I'm sure it could be improved upon.

For contrast we might look at Gary Gygax's 1987 "Role-playing Mastery", which is 176 pages of absolutely "prescriptive" (in the literal sense) text on basically, how to be a "jerk DM" that nobody would ever enjoy playing with. Credit where credit's due, Gygax later basically disavowed this book, saying he's never actually run the game like that, and indeed, people who played with him backed that up, but it's still a travesty. Still what that points to is you can spend 176 pages and offer nothing useful, or 32 and offer a ton. It is important to hire the right people.

I can't count how many times in my software development career I've met theorists who will swear up and down by some book or that some technique is far more efficient. Then when I developed tests for the technique in question and it was less efficient they would neither admit that perhaps they were wrong nor prove to me how my test was not correct. I would have been perfectly fine with the latter but all they could do is point to someone else's blog. Not a perfect analogy, but my point is that theory and reading what others have said only takes you so far. Most people have to learn by doing.

I also think that calling the authors of the most popular TTRPG ever written crap writers is pretty ludicrous. I have no problem with the vast majority of the text, people I actually game with in real life don't either.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Earlier you were talking about player types, and how you felt that section in 4E wasn't hugely helpful. I don't entirely disagree. But I've read material that covered the same ground but was drastically more useful (the 4E one was honestly a bit weird). And this doesn't need to be take a lot of space. For example, sorry to go on about Robin D. Laws, but he wrote probably the most succinct and helpful DMing book out there:

Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering
Is it perfect? No but it's a damn sight better than anything WotC or for that matter, White Wolf or Paizo have ever published regarding game mastering. And look - it's only 32 pages! You could easily contain all of that within the DMG. And I know some people love to say "prescriptive", which, frankly is being used as a meaningless buzzword, and quite politically rather than helpfully, but by no means is his book "prescriptive" (unless the 5E DMG is drastically more "prescriptive"). It's just a great example of what an actually-good book on DMing can look like, and how extremely small it can be!

That's a great example. I think this is something that should be achievable by the team at WotC.

And here's the thing.... they still do the "types of players" thing in the 5e DMG. A lot of these things are already in there, they're just included in a half-baked way. If they're going to bother identifying player types at the start of the book, I'd hope for that to be mentioned again later on. It may be, but not that I can readily recall, and not overtly and with intent the way I think would be helpful.
 

gorice

Adventurer
I can't count how many times in my software development career I've met theorists who will swear up and down by some book or that some technique is far more efficient. Then when I developed tests for the technique in question and it was less efficient they would neither admit that perhaps they were wrong nor prove to me how my test was not correct. I would have been perfectly fine with the latter but all they could do is point to someone else's blog. Not a perfect analogy, but my point is that theory and reading what others have said only takes you so far. Most people have to learn by doing.
I'd put it more like theorise -> practice-> analyse -> repeat, at least for me. You can't analyse your success (or failure) without articulating your aims.

This is also kind of how game design generally works, interestingly enough.

I also think that calling the authors of the most popular TTRPG ever written crap writers is pretty ludicrous. I have no problem with the vast majority of the text, people I actually game with in real life don't either.
I think 5e's popularity hinging on the quality of its prose is something that needs to be established, not assumed.

FWIW, writing and editing is my day job, and I think that the 5e books are generally competently written qua prose, but badly structured and generally illogical.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Here’s the rub. The argument seems to be that the defaults that are already in the DMG aren’t prescriptive, but any new information added must be prescriptive.

So, for instance, 20 pages in a 300 page book describing the default D&D cosmology (including a full half-page illustration of the cosmology) isn’t prescriptive, because some alternatives get a one paragraph write-up.

On the other hand, language like:
“Some people prefer a more OSR-style game. If you want to try this, here are some rule variants that taken together restrict healing (and can increase the lethality of the campaign), and put a greater emphasis on exploration (including removing certain spells)” is considered prescriptive, because whatever is indicated will become the new standard.

At the end of the day, it is “appeal ad conservatum”. Change is viewed with suspicion, because it’s change.
I sincerely doubt the 6e DMG will make mention of any other RPGs, even in a general sense (OSR).
 

MGibster

Legend
Or, perhaps, some of us say that it might be cool if people who were going to start playing D&D were provided a low-cost alternative to the core three books. Maybe WoTC could put some material together, perhaps in a box, and make it easy for new groups to learn the game? They could even have it available at mass market retailers?

It's a crazy idea ... some kind of .... Starting Kit ... or Beginners' Set .... maybe they will be smart enough to try it?
I'll be honest here, as a veteran player (old school nerd), I have trouble evaluating the value of starter sets. For most games, the starter sets I've purchased have been rather disappointing. The ones I've found value in, like the Alien starter set from Free League, game with peripherals or an adventure that made the game well worth the cost to me. But for some others, and I'm drawing a blank now, I feel like it was a waste of my money. But as a veteran player (old school nerd), I have to consider that a starter set might be of greater value to a newer player.

Folks, do you all find the various D&D starter sets to be a good deal?
 

MGibster

Legend
It's been a long time since I've run OD&D, but there was absolutely instructions in the older versions of the game to make the game your own. Have you actually read any of the books that Gygax wrote? You couldn't follow the rules exactly because there were contradictions all over the place.
I've certainly had my characters die horrible deaths beacuse of his #%#%#^# Gygaxian dungeons!

I think 5e's popularity hinging on the quality of its prose is something that needs to be established, not assumed.
Like the success D&D had in the 70s and early 80s, I'm not sure anyone can really say why D&D is so popular today.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I'll be honest here, as a veteran player (old school nerd), I have trouble evaluating the value of starter sets. For most games, the starter sets I've purchased have been rather disappointing. The ones I've found value in, like the Alien starter set from Free League, game with peripherals or an adventure that made the game well worth the cost to me. But for some others, and I'm drawing a blank now, I feel like it was a waste of my money. But as a veteran player (old school nerd), I have to consider that a starter set might be of greater value to a newer player.

Folks, do you all find the various D&D starter sets to be a good deal?
I liked the first 5e one with Phandelver. The subsequent ones hold no value for me.
 

Oofta

Legend
I'd put it more like theorise -> practice-> analyse -> repeat, at least for me. You can't analyse your success (or failure) without articulating your aims.

This is also kind of how game design generally works, interestingly enough.


I think 5e's popularity hinging on the quality of its prose is something that needs to be established, not assumed.

FWIW, writing and editing is my day job, and I think that the 5e books are generally competently written qua prose, but badly structured and generally illogical.

I never said the writing was the best ever but it's also not complete crap. It's as good or better than previous editions.
 


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