Monday, December 21, 2020

GURPS DF Session 144, Felltower 110 - The Lord of Spite (Part III)

Today was session III of a multi-session attempt to destroy the Lord of Spite.

Date: December 20th, 2020
Game Date: November 22nd, 2020
Weather: Cool, cloudy, dark.

Ahenobarbus Barca, human swashbuckler (286 points)
Aldwyn Hale, human knight (313 points)
     Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (145 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (326 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (430 points)
Gerrald Tarrant, human wizard (408 points)
     3 skeletons (~35 points)
Heyden, human knight (307 points)
"Mild" Bruce, human barbarian (315 points)
Sir Bunny Wigglesworth, human holy warrior (286 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (306 points)
Wyatt Sorrel, human swashbuckler (321 points)

We picked up where we left off last time - with the Lord of Spite about to take his next turn, moving up towards Ulf, who was far out in the lead of the PCs. The others were mostly exploring another area of cave. The PCs were a mess:

- Sir Bunny basically limbless, with three crippled or amputated limbs and an amputated foot.
- Wyatt fighting thanks to Levitate, but with a missing leg and a crippled arm. - Heyden too exhausted to continue fighting, thanks to Great Haste piled onto his encumbrance.
- Bruce missing a hand and fighting one-handed with his default Broadsword skill.
- Ahenobarbus was 1 FP away from half move and dodge.
- the casters were down pretty far on FP and Gerry also on HP, since he regularly casts off of HP.

Durak kept a steady move up toward Ulf, who'd seen and heard him and came running back, yelling for help. Everyone basically turned and ran back - the deaf were within sight of those who could hear, so no one lost much time heading into the fray. Galen moved quickly and began to shoot at the Lord of Spite, crit-fishing to bypass Missile Shield. Bruce ran up to engage.
Ulf managed to get past Bruce just as the Lord of Spite made it up to near Bruce. They began to fight as more PCs arrived - Ahenobarbus, then Crogar, the Wyatt, and Gerry and his skeletons moved up as well.

The fight was basically a steady brawl. Ahenobarbus danced around trying to get shots in on skulls. Wyatt moved along the edge and tried the same. Crogar stalked the Lord of Spite looking for an opportunity to strike. Durak took a run at Bruce, who dodged aside - allowing Durak to take a swing at Ulf, but he missed. The PCs and one skeleton swarmed in. There was a close-in brawl that moved along as the Lord of Spite attacked and the PCs retreated, basically allowing him a lot of freedom of movement. The PCs kept taking shots at him. Feints didn't work very well against him - he's high skilled and was rolling well - but the did allow a few hits to get through. When he exposed his back Crogar managed a big hit followed by two leg chops, and Wyatt sliced his foot twice. He couldn't retailiate effectively except with a critical hit - the buffed defenses of everyone meant they generally had 16+ on all of their defenses, even with Deceptive Attack, and skills too high to usefully Feint against (not that Durak has done that.) He managed one critical defense (against Wyatt) and two important critical hits (one wounding Bruce IIRC, and a second against Wyatt.)

That was enough to paste Wyatt, though, who took a critical hit to the skull and went down, barely alive, moments after destroying the last of Durak's new necklace of skulls. The Lord of Spite was quite angered by this, and put two additional shots into Wyatt's prone form, crippling Wyatt's other leg. He turned to fight the others. Ulf "helped" by casting Awaken on Wyatt, waking him up!

Wyatt sat himself up and then stood using Levitate, but didn't have his swords ready. Durak turned on him and hit him again, crushing him back down. He made his death check, but was out of the fight with no working limbs.

The Lord of Spite took more hits, then, from Bruce and Crogar. Galen launched arrows into the fray, crit-fishing, but instead a shot hit Ahenobarbus . . .for maximum damage in the arm. Ahenobarbus used Luck to re-roll the damage and his bracers got in the way and deflectedit aside. Durak finally took a huge shot from Bruce followed by another from Crogar - who was routinely doing 30 cutting damage on most of his hits - and he began to fragment and break up! He let out a loud roar, and everyone nearby had to resist against a noxious evil power.

Crogar and Ahenobarbus failed (Crogar despite Luck - and Ahenobarbus's Luck had averted Galen's accidental hit.) Both suffered from an immediate Curse spell at -3!
In moments, the Lord of Spite was a bubbling puddle of noxious black . . . something . . . on the ground. All heared a gravely voice - in their ears and heads - promising to remember them and be back for revenge.

Bruce spat on the bubbling pile - and was getting ready to urinate on it when it boiled away, leaving a black mark on the ground. Durak's wooden club was gone with him, but the stactite club he'd brought was still there.

The PCs quickly put up Galen as a guard, and dragged over the bodies of their dead and wounded friends, and some of them rested. The warrior types like Crogar and Bruce began to pick up coins one by one.

Once they got people sufficiently healed and rested to not be dying - including using Stop Bleeding to stabilize Aldwyn - they gathered up as a group and investigated. There were coins and stones - some semi-precious, some just attractive-looking junk - spread around everywhere. They found a number of piles of skulls - just the top half, no jawbones, and any tusks removed or broken off. They were of animals, from mouse sized to bear sized, and humanoids of all races. There was a big one in the area where they'd seen him charging out of for his rush on Ulf. There were others, elsewhere.

They came across a nest of centipedes in one corner - and Galen spotted a large leg. He recognized it as a gargantuan centipede - roughly 15-20' long, extremely venomous. And like all centipedes, fast. But he spotted it far off enough that it wasn't disturbed yet, and he and Ulf - the only two in the lead - backed off (both with very successful Stealth rolls.) They explored more and found where the mawbörg stay, where the Lord of Spite does his pacing, and a large broken pentagram scratched into the rock. In one area, though, lined with either with a little copper ore or "fool's copper," a careful search by Galen revealed an iron strongbox. He dragged it out of the rocks it was wedged into. It had a lock and was crusted over with a thin layer of stone. They took it with them, able to hear something moving about within it, and it was heavy as well.

A final trot around with See Secrets on Galen revealed nothing extra. They moved out, as best they could, with skeletons carrying the wounded and limbs.

On the way out, Bruce touched the red six-fingered handprint with his right hand, taking 1 HP of injury and losing 5 FP, so he can use that hand to open the doors, too.
Back in town, they counted up a few hundred gold pieces, about 200 semi-precious stones worth 10 sp each, and 10,001 sp. They managed to pry open the strongbox and found it had a quarter-pound lump of gold, a copper bracelet (which turned out to be Laccodel's Rune, a powerful magic item), a bunch of gems, and an electrum bracelet. They sold the lot, except for the Rune, and divvied up the loot. They got everyone healed and Varmus resurrected, and Aldwyn gave him a second "I died in Felltower" shirt.


Well, Durak is down for 666 days, and the PCs got some nice loot off of him. Not that much divided 11 ways including folks chipping in to get Varmus brought back from the dead. They're pretty sure they got most of the coins, but there might be some here and there - it's a rough cave floor, and there wasn't sufficient light or time to meticuloisly search. Turns out that only two party members have Search - the cleric and the scout. No one else shows any sign of learning it, either, but I do use it to determine how fast and how effectively you search areas and gather things within them.

- The Curse of Durak is pretty nasty. It was a Will-5 roll, and mostly people passed the roll. Crogar wanted to use Luck to force Durak to re-roll, but it wasn't a contest. His own re-rolls went 8, 9, 10 - he wasn't any better off. In any case, I'm always leery of allowing one person with Luck to force a re-roll on a group-affecting event. Sometimes Luck might not feel that Lucky, but you can't always choose where to apply your game-mechanical breaks. The curse itself is very harsh, and the breaking condition is also so - deliberately. I didn't want this to be a "plunk down $100 and undo the curse" event. The retributive curses of Demon Lords should be more than a casual healing away.

- Speaking of healing, one thing GURPS doesn't really make clear is length of recovery from some debilitating conditions, such as horrendous amounts of injury. So we routinely have people taken to negative HP - often a high multiple - and then, still conscious, act as if they're fine. Barbarian is at -92 HP? Load him up to Extra Heavy Encumbrance with treasure and fallen PCs and he's able to fight one-handed. Recovered from a heart attack thanks to Stop Bleeding stabilizing your mortal condition? Heck, just use Lend Energy and healing potions, get to full, and you're right as rain, no time to recover. But a broken arm takes a month if you use Restoration. It just breaks versimilitude for me. It doesn't have the seeming of truth. I'd do a formal ruling on it. I don't mind the fast recovery, but sometimes it feels like there are just three combat results: Totally fine, totally fine except for a missing limb, dead. There is nothing in between.

- In the end, it was a costly fight, but the Lord of Spite didn't have much except brute force once he'd used a few spells and his Unspeakable Utterance, and brute force was of limited use. He landed not a single blow that wasn't either a critical hit, or made against a semi-helpless foe (Bruce, in the earlier parts of the fight.) $22,000 worth of buffs and healing went into defeating him, on top of 11 characters plus three skeletons, with characters ranging from 268 points to 470. He mostly was attacking at a 16-17 skill to crit-fish, because the PCs were routinely defending at 16+ even with his usual Deceptive Attack. I'm not saying this is unfair, just saying it's what it is - it's impossible except by the luck of the dice to defeat a magically-buffed skilled party.

Now, had the Lord of Spite had a different attitude about combat - had he gone for lethal blows and fought to efficiently kill instead of randomly whacking whoever seemed like a useful target at the time - he could have easily killed a few PCs - Sir Bunny, Bruce, and Wyatt all for sure. He had them set up for a coup-de-grace and didn't deliver it. I'm sure my players will have objections to that statement, but they're wrong - all three had at least one second where Durak had a chance to full-power hit them twice while they couldn't defend . . . and he's too good to miss the Skull or Neck with both shots. If he had done so, he may have been able to turn to tide or cause the player's morale to break. But except for a bit at the end, he never adjusted his approach. I know why, but I'll leave it for others to think over. Will he take the same approach in 666 days? We'll find out in October of 2022.

- Laccodel's Rune is in DFT3 as the "Antimagical Bracelet." In my particular game, its magic resistance does not stack. If it did, Gerry might have wanted it more. I think Bruce got it, in the end. It's sized for SM 0 but it's a copper bracelet with an open loop, so it can be sized for him, and he's most likely to touch stuff to dispel things. Okay, to touch stuff for any reason possible.

- MVP was Gerry after a long debate over it, for lots of effective spellcasting I think. I actually don't care who gets MVP, or why, but the discussion did start to descend into a formal discussion along the lines of "the following criteria shouldn't be used for MVP." I reminded them we once gave Aldwyn's player MVP for making an apple pie, and it's better if really is a totally open set of criteria. XP was 4 each for loot, 1 each for exploration, and 1 bonus for finally "killing" the Lord of Spite.

- Ulf learned Regeneration and did all of the regenerating of lost limbs. That saved a fortune for the group. I do need to check prior rulings about the date - do I date it from the following day (Ulf learned the spell overnight, not instantly) or from the actual real-world day? Equipment is definitely the latter but I'll have to dig and see if healing is the former. For some reason, people are mostly keeping their lopped off hands and whatnot, if only because people now want to get hands cut off to use as keys for the six-fingered doors.


  1. I agree 100% that the Lord of Spite could have finished off several characters easily if he *really* wanted: Bruce, Sir Bunny, and Wyatt immediately come to mind. That was an incredibly tough fight. If it was just the Lord of Spite against ten delvers, that's one thing. But his minions effectively prevented us from *fully* executing our tactical battle plan. Candidly, Aldwyn having a heart attack at the beginning of the fight was a huge factor given that we had buffed him up quite a bit to take on the Lord of Spite; not being able to effectively counter the darkness (save a roll of a 3 on a Sunlight spell) was another. And even though it was a long, long, long multi-session delve, it was a lot of fun! Now (from the delvers' perspective) "opens up" a few other areas that they can explore without worrying that a demon lord with over a dozen demon minions will come up on them and disrupt all their plans. And there's great satisfaction to having banished him for the better part of two years.

    1. Maybe basing an important part of your tactical battle plan on "Aldwyn rolls below a 17" wasn't a statistically sound approach. Just saying.

    2. We probably should have figured that at least someone would roll a 17 or 18. It was just really unfortunate that it was the guy who was responsible for engaging Durak. I know...he rolls a lot of 17s and 18s in critical moments. But it was still kind of stunning! (Pun intended).

  2. "Totally fine, totally fine except for a missing limb, dead. There is nothing in between."

    Well, the wounded are at 1/2 Move and Dodge once below 1/3 HP, and making (albeit trivial) consciousness checks below 0 HP, and that ain't nothing... but yeah, now that you mention it, in a 'static' fight where everyone is Parrying and not really Moving, it's not much of a hindrance. I'm not sure there's much of a change to it that won't turn being wounded into a death spiral though... but that that's not necessarily a bad thing. However aside from games like DF, GURPS combat is deadly already.

    Not really a side note: Are you stacking Lame with Positional Penalties when someone has lost a leg, is sitting down/crawling, and trying to fight?

    "Laccodel's Rune is in DFT3 as the "Antimagical Bracelet." In my particular game, its magic resistance does not stack. If it did, Gerry might have wanted it more. I think Bruce got it, in the end. It's sized for SM 0 but it's a copper bracelet with an open loop, so it can be sized for him, and he's most likely to touch stuff to dispel things. Okay, to touch stuff for any reason possible."

    I wonder how this will affect things that are "magical" and require a touch? Like the cultist handprint and the doors that that opens?

    A few side things:...

    Did the party do anything about LoS' pentagram? I'd expect the Wizards and Holy Inquisitors would have a say or two about damaging it so it's not useful...

    And man was I wrong in my prediction a few days ago. But in my defense I thought a lot more party members were down for the count than there were.

    1. I'm not stacking the disadvantage on top of the posture penalties. To be honest, I never thought of doing so. It would help make those crippling injuries much worse; being at -6 with a missing leg plus posture penalties would be tough. Levitate would logically eliminate the penalty, since whether you have a leg or not shouldn't affect you.

      My bemoaning is more about the lack of real long-term effects of injury in a campaign with magical healing - as written, it seems like even a mortal wound can be wiped out with a single spell with no negative consequences, and it's not clear how low HP really does anything besides cut move in half (not a problem if you're limping out of a dungeon without fear of pursuit.) It really just seems like if you don't die, you're basically fine. My players worry about how fragile they are, but it's quite rare for anyone to get stunned, nevermind knocked out, and none of it has a cost except in time (and Awaken fixes that.)

      No one brought up the handprints and doors.

      No one did anything about the pentagram. It was broken already, and no one decided to break it further. Same with the skulls - no one wanted to mess with them.

  3. They had weapons strong enough to parry him without breaking?

    1. Yes, for sure. A broadsword can parry up to an 8.5 weapon without checking for breakage, and everyone uses broadswords (3 lbs.) and longswords (4 lbs.) and axes (4 lbs.) Plus they were often using Dodge at a net 16+. That's easy enough for a barbarian with no encumbrance or a swashbuckler with light, plus a shield (DB 2-3) and a Shield spell (DB 3-6), and Haste (+2 or +3 to Move and Dodge), plus Acrobatics (+2) and Retreat (+3). At least one guy dodged not for the +3, but for the movement. It's actually simple to get Dodge 16+ for guys like this, if they're willing to spend mana or elixirs to get Haste and mana on Shield.

      It's another reason why I've mused on DB caps and skill caps - if everyone has defenses that are impenetrable except for criticals, and then armors up their DB so anything less than 2d+ is harmless, and can feint and Deceptive Attack enough to flatten most defenses . . . foes either need to have high DR, high HP, and lots of immunities/injury tolerances, or very high skill (20+ at a minimum) to be anything but fodder. PCs who fight them will get cautious and try to escalate up their skills and defenses, unwilling to risk anything except "criticals hit me, but I have Luck" as the basis for combat. It's a quandary.

    2. I agree that the issue of high defenses is a real quandary--I am seeing that in a game that I run as the GM. The ways to combat that, as we know, are many attacks, but if someone has a Dodge of 15 or higher due to Shield spells, etc., it becomes very, very hard. Bad footing and those types of scenarios help also. I myself have to give some thought to the way to address this, although I feel like caps are tough. I have to give some thought to the idea, though. When someone has two weapon fighting and ambidexterity, and has parries of 18/18/16/16/14/14 for example (a Buccaneer in my game), even lots of attacks are hard to hit. The players do invest a lot of points into those, so it is worth it... But it does create that problem--the only hits are crits, and that is a bummer when you have an opponent that does 5d+14 (hell, Crogar was doing almost that much).

      Having said that, this was a really, really buffed party. Unless magic was really expensive (e.g., paut), it's hard to prevent for what a party expects to be a big battle...that was part of the issue (it wasn't "we open the door and encounter this tough enemy" with no time to really prepare). There was a lot of prep work involved and a lot of money spent. But...if things like spell stones were hard to get, you can still have a medium buffed party with casters--just nowhere near as much. This kind of goes back to the concept of making loot higher, but magic 10x as expensive (or some multiple, not necessarily 10x).

      I think in this particular fight, the PCs went down there thinking it would be the hardest fight they had ever fought--it may have been!--and they went all out to prevent not only a TPK, but major losses. Interestingly--and I'm not sure if it comes through in the write-ups--even though the PCs won, it was a few rolls away from a TPK. If the Lord of Spite had taken out all three folks with magic weapons, it would have been pretty much all over. A massive amount of paut was used by both casters, they were pretty much down to nothing (although Gerry did still have his Mana Gout). Even critical hits on Bruce's remaining arm and Crogar's weapon arm pretty much would have ended that fight. It was actually quite close.

    3. Ah. For some reason I thought he had oversizedly heavy weapons

    4. He did, but they're not really that heavy. He's only SM+1 and his weapons only oversized to SM+1, so they're only 1.5 weight, so 6-8 lbs IIRC. Longswords at 4 lbs are excellent weapons - they fear only full-sized polearms oversized two-handed weapons. It's become the weapon of choice in my games.

    5. "When someone has two weapon fighting and ambidexterity, and has parries of 18/18/16/16/14/14 for example (a Buccaneer in my game), even lots of attacks are hard to hit."

      Yes, and those characters generally have a pile of attacks. If they can also get a lot of damage, then foes need a lot of DR and/or a lot of defenses that can cascade well enough to fend them off. Having even 5-6 attacks just means 5-6x the chance for a critical, since the defenses are likely to succeed.

      The PCs do pay for it, but it becomes a crit economy - everyone needs a critical hit, or a critically failed defense - to get things through. Add in Feint, with its great swinginess, and it's easy to blanket the defenses of any foe after surpressing them heavily . . . and fend off anything that's not a critical (Luck, Bless work even then.)

      If the attack is too wussy to hurt the PC - it's happened many, many times in Felltower - it's a total waste. As the GM, it can make a fight that seems tense to the PCs feel like a boring slog. It also means I'm less likely to use a "glass cannon," because if the cannon shot basically can't hit more than ~10% of the time (critical hits, failed defenses on a 17-18) and the foe is fragile, it's mostly pointless. They'll die quickly ("glass") and their attack (the "cannon") isn't likely to be harmful. So it pushes me toward high-damage, high-DR, high-Dodge foes with a very high skill to have a reasonable shot against Feint* and lots of DR and the ability to shrug off lots of damage so they can stand around long enough to potentially get in a shot.

      Or they play totally unfair - like a beholder.

      If the PCs are hard to hit not matter what, and buff to extremes if they have any chance to prep for a fight, fights will be crit-or-fine. It's why it seems like I roll a lot of crits in those fights, honestly - almost every hit is from a critical, not a hit and a failed defense.

      It's a quandary, and maybe limits won't help, but open-ended skills don't seem to help. It's hard to be the barbarian who is pretty good with his axe and who can suck up a lot of damage if the standard is ~skill 25-28 Weapon Master with Great Haste and buffed Strength to 20+ and defenses in the high teens to low 20s.

      * Since the Feint-happy fighters are more often DX-buffed than not, especially if the fight looks to be more than a walkover. And Great Hasted.

    6. Yeah, this is an interesting thing that lots of game systems have...amazing at "low-level" play, sometimes even more fun as you get more advanced, but then it can get weird. Still a ton of fun, though! I tend to think that GURPS has these problems less than other games, but every system has, I suppose, breakpoints that can make things weird. The higher level threats in GURPS probably *seem* more intense because of the whole "death spiral" thing. But that may be a fallacy--it actually is pretty hard to die in GURPS, as we've seen.

      There's also a similar problem I see with high DR delvers. OK, so now I've got to throw monsters at them who do more than their DR, on average, in order to make it threatening. But the "problem" there is that the squishy guys are *super* vulnerable because the damage has to scale up just to affect the main front line guy. So you have a DR 8 delver in the front lines, but when that monster that does 3d+5 cutting or so gets into the back ranks, it's able to probably take a cleric or wizard down to -1xHP in a single blow. Unavoidable, and present really in all systems, of course. And that's really a player problem, not the GM. Don't expose yourself to those threats if you don't have the DR or other defenses to handle it!

    7. I think it's something that is addressable at the system level, though. If skills are unlimited and flat costed, it's reasonable to raise them to the level that maximizes your benefit and minimizes your risk. It's up to the system, aided by the and GM and players, to control that. A lot of my proposals for limited DA, Feint, DB, etc. are about taking the need, desire, and benefit from one-trick character design out of the game. That's intended to free the GM and players from an arms race that restricts the parameters of character design.

      The damage issue is also one that can be dealt with through armor divisors and attacks that ignore DR. It's just that those still need a chance to hit and get caught up in the above.

    8. To expand on that, the arms race has a cost. You'd be better off as a group with more Search, Stealth, Merchant, Traps, Boating, etc. and guys with non-combat advantages than every fighter getting 2-3 more points of combat skill, HP, and ST but the latter is certain to happen and former simply won't.

    9. Huh I'm not used to seeing longsword much, katana seem the main choice for 1 handed swords

    10. Good point re: the arms race. Yes, we should have more non-combat advantages and skills to avoid costly combats. One thing we're not particularly well-suited to do is avoid combats OR lure combatants into a death trap. We're seemingly always walking into them and brute forcing our way out. Naturally, it's a lot harder as the invader, and some of that is a function of being a dungeon delver. But that would be a lot better...luring combatants into a favorable situation for us. Easier said than done.

    11. Luring foes into a death trap is tough, especially because you, the delvers, are coming into someone else's territory to take things you want. It's hard to then get them to put themselves into a tactically unfavorable situation, too. In other words, it's hard to invade a country and then get that country to rush into your ambush at the same time.

      The lack of non-combat advantages and skills to better navigate situations tells often. Yet it's not what anyone prioritizes. If I gave everyone 50 points right now, on the spot, all of the fighter types would spend it all on Luck, skill, ST, HP, and maybe some combat-related traits like Hard to Subdue or DR. No one would say, hey, let's get Absolute Direction or Discriminatory Smell or up Outdoorsman or Perception or Intuition or Charisma or skills like Public Speaking or Leadership or Search. Someone might toss a few points that way . . . but probably none of the fighter-types, who "need" more of all of it. Nevermind you beat a demon lord and 19 demonic allies despite several of your best fighters being unable to contribute for most of the fight. Clearly, the problem is not enough combat power, right? It's a problem, but not the one people spend points on IMO.

    12. 100% right about luring foes into a death trap. That may play into, on some basic level, why people prioritize combat skills. But I agree--very few knights, swashbucklers, and barbarians spent points on the non-combat skills. Search in particular is a real gap. Lots of people have Stealth, but typically a point or two. Perception should almost certainly be prioritized. I think Leadership, Strategy, and Tactics are all underutilized.

    13. Swashbucklers due to high DX are good choices to consider investing in Lockpicking or Traps to disarm or open things where it is DX based

      Due to high Per some Search would be good for Barbarians

      I am curious about Leadership, Strategy and Tactics though . . . Where do those seem highly useful? There not DFRPG skills that seem useful. Leadership is useful combined with Rallying Cry to help people shake stun, Tactics can be used for like a +1 with a Do Nothing which seems pretty horrid deal, and Strategy I have zero ideas

    14. It's the non-combat skills that people have, but do poorly, that really drag the group down. What makes Galen so impressive, really, is not that he's an excellent combatant . . . it's that he's good at everything. Tracking, searching, shooting, scouting, finding traps, fighting in melee, survival skills, climbing, animal knowledge, etc. etc. It's when someone says they have Climbing but have an 11, or Armoury and have a 12, or Tactics-12, or Intimidation-9, or can default Fast-Talk . . . and that skill is something that comes with a cost of failure. That's what really drags things down.

    15. Can you do something about the uses (or non uses since no-one has them) of some of these odd skills?

    16. Of which ones, exactly? The ones Vic mentioned, or I just did? I'd think my list, at least, all had obvious uses.


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