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Author Topic: [Dogs] Buildin' towns and settin' dials.  (Read 5093 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: March 06, 2009, 10:27:05 PM »

Hi! I played a game of Dogs for the first time in a while. It was my second time GMing, and my first time GMing through a whole Town. I loved it, my brother--an enthusiastic Dogs newbie--loved it, and I was really satisfied with the events of play. I already posted a vignette of play over on Storygames, but I thought I'd bring the interesting issues that popped up over here for feedback. This is pasted from the original thread:

  • First: my game facilitation skills still need work. We did much better than my first Dogs outing--getting through the initiations AND a town and all--but I still had some awkward stuff going on. Like group character creation--everyone more or less knew what to do, so they sat in stony silence scribbling away, me not sure what to do to break the silence. Well, actually, I found my attention taken up just enough with rules questions and dice-assigning help that I was unable to get in obvious questions like "so, Willem, what idea are you working on over there?" Anyone have any tips on how to facilitate group character creation that actually functions as such--not just by virtue of happening to occur all in the same room?
  • The Town itself was an interesting learning experience; it was my first time designing my own. I deliberately left things just at Sin and Demonic Attacks, just ready to spill over into Corrupt Worship and False priesthood--mainly because I wanted everyone to be as sympathetic as possible, not eyes blazing with demonic fury, plotting ruin and stirring up a cultish following. Just people acting out of understandable motives, all mired in a mess. Thing is, that gave me little oomph in conflicts--no Demon dice--and the Dogs walked all over the townsfolk, especially when they united at the end. That's not a bad thing necessarily: the town was interesting and engaged the players. But I'd like to figure out how to calibrate towns more expertly.
  • One nice thing about the town I designed: it was layered. Like, there was the immediate level of badness that could be addressed fairly simply and directly, which the players did. And having limited time, I said "OK, town solved," and we called it a night. But there was also a lot of conflict waiting in the wings, that if we were down or a more extended play experience, I could have easily brought in to escalate and complicate the nice tidy solution. Even emergent elements of play supported this, like Azariah gaining temporary Fallout in being cowed by the Dogs, setting the stage or him stirring up more trouble as he licks his wounded pride, and as things get worse instead of better. I'd love to do the "long form" version of this Town sometime! But it was awesome that it worked for a quick game as well.
  • Another thing I've noticed about Town design (or rather, their effects on play) is that the local Steward tends to be pretty limp-dicked and wishy-washy. I think it's a natural result of a Town being in trouble--if the Steward was doing his job, that presumably wouldn't happen. But it'd be nice to have a Town where the Dogs don't uniformly go "Steward, you suck, guess we're doing your job for you now."
  • One last thing: had some trouble with the Supernatural dial. There was some mismatch between where different players were drawing that line, which I think was a communication and engagement issue that's too complicated to go into here. But I wanted to highlight a couple of aspects: first, it was difficult to communicate where on the Sin ladder we were at vis a vis Sorcery and such. Willem's character went straight to "I cast out the demons!" when there was in fact no possession--just a bitter, grasping old man. Players know that "sin leads to Demonic Possession and Sorcery," they see an obvious Sinner, they make that mental leap and make with the exorcism. But things might not be that far yet. How do you deal with that in play, in real time? And second, Dogs' text says stuff like "follow the lead of the pickiest player," without actually telling you what that looks like. If player A furrows his brow at player B's input, what do I do? Do I actually call "hey, that's too much/too little/too whatever, let's tweak it" on the spot? Or just push thing in that direction with my own narration? What trips me up, it doesn't just say 'back someone up when they object, it says "follow their lead when they frown." That's tricky territory for me.

Peace,
-Joel
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2009, 08:16:46 PM »

Well, as for the Dogs jumping in with the demons at the drop of a hat, I found this post of Ron's that might be useful. http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=24067.msg235460#msg235460

For group character creation, I suggest after you've determined what backgrounds they have, ask if any of them knew each other before they came to bridal falls. Also, ask that they pause before assigning relationship dice so you can all read their traits aloud. See if everyone is happy with their characters at that point or if they want to change anything based on the other characters. Then ask if there are any relationships among them before moving on. For a con game I also threw out some NPC names from the town and asked them to choose some relationships there to make sure there were some interesting situations when they got to town. That worked well.

I think the Steward is only limp-dicked if you make him that way. If you make him the one who asks the Dogs for help and play him as earnest, hardworking and faithful, but just outgunned by demons, you'll get a different result. If you give him a shotgun, a couple of bullyboys and some sorcery, you'll get and even more different result.
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James R.
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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2009, 01:20:25 AM »

For some strange reason the whole idea of the Dogs being the final arbiter of morality trips some people up with regard to how that interacts with demons.  If someone isn't possessed according to the GM's prep/in-game decision, etc than that person isn't possessed.  Period.  No matter what the Dogs think.

My way to handle it is that I assume the Dogs are competent demonologists and simply let the player know that, "No, he's not possessed."  The player has a choice at that point (a) simply retract his stated action based on this corrected information or (b) accept that his Dog is making a mistake and move forward from there.

Jesse
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2009, 12:28:57 PM »

1) What has more often than not worked for me: Take away their pencils and paper. Have them sit back and talk.

No seriously. I used to do this with kids in elementary school, but it works with adults too. Very often we're so eager to "get to the good stuff" that we miss a lot of the good stuff along the way. Creating characters together, talking about stuff, setting up a little bit of the world -- its all fun to do, if you can sit back from the paper and resist the urge to start recording things and setting them in stone right away.

So no pencils, no paper. Have some drinks, chat it up, talk about characters and their history and if they can call fire from the sky or just make people rise up and walk because of the placebo effect, and generally interact about the game and your characters as a group. Then, once everyone is talking and good ideas are being pitched about, let everyone start writing stuff down.

2) I think the key here is getting things up higher on the chain but still having everyone be understandable. Like, false priesthood does not have to be demon possessed gibbering madmen dancing in the entrails. Someone who gets the radical notion, that say, a woman has the right to use priesthood to lay on hands and heal her children, then starts doing it, then gets other women doing it, and they go around town trying to heal kids... well, that's false priesthood. Or three kids who've been beaten on ever day of their life by bigger kids who decide it isn't sin to get revenge and start playing nasty pranks and stealing things, then get caught and accidentally kill the guy who caught them in a struggle... well, that's false priesthood gone to hate and murder.

If you just make sure to keep every step up the totem pole of sin human, understandable, something real people could do -- something you or people you like might do if forced up against the wall and left alone in a desert town with 100 other people who are kinda all self-righteous assholes -- then you can sometimes get hate and murder without terrible demon-worshiping villains.

3) Glad that worked for you! I've had mixed results with it, but it is nice when it comes off.

4) One of the things I often consider here is that example in the book where the Steward has been working and working and working with this one problem guy and just can't help him, then the Dogs come into town and blow the dude away. The Steward's job isn't to purge the congregation, its to heal it and to heal and help every member of it. If he's got this one drunken asshole guy who is always causing shit, well, he can't just kick him to the curb. He has to keep trying to help him, and often without a lot of resources. What do you, a normal guy out in some little town somewhere, do when you've no right to really inflict much punishment other than reprimand and disfellowship and such and you've got this guy who beats his kids and fucks whores at the railway station that is being guarded by Territory men with guns?

Anyway, the way that leads me in game is to having the Stewards of a lot of towns ask the Dogs in for dinner pretty early on, sit them down, and tell them about a million problems in the town and where they are. "So we've got brother Zach, and he has problems with booze, but we're working on it and he's repenting and trying real hard." Yay Steward! "But there's this other brother... Jerimiah, and he's hitting his wife and she's getting drunk, and when I went to try to help them she threw a vase at me and he told me he'd shoot me if I ever came back." Really, what the fuck was he supposed to do there?

5) As someone said, I say, "He's not possessed, so what do you want to do here?" For the rest of it, its a little more complicated. Some of the kind of talk we were discussing up in step 1 really helps with this. So does using raises and sees to try to work towards a consensus view.

Like, if someone keeps raising with things like "I summon fire from heaven to devour them!" and you're not really liking it, and its possible, do your best to block with a "No fire from heaven comes. Does it ever?" Or if you can't block it, take the blow with something like "she starts screaming like she's on fire, but no one can actually see the flame." Or if that doesn't fly with the group, assume that if they won then they won and that from then on the supernatural dial is there -- it got set in game, run with it. Fiction forward and all that.
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- Brand Robins
Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2009, 12:41:31 PM »

James: Those are some good prompts, thanks!

Jesse: Yeah, at this point I'm not confused about the fact of Sorcery or Possession, but how to handle it in the actual interface of play. Just telling players "actually, she's not" seems a solid option, but I worry about "blocking" in the sense of more or less telling the players "nope, wrong answer." But I worry on the other side as well: if I keep mum and just let things play out, will I set up false expectations and disappointment? One thing I absolutely DON'T want to do is foster an atmosphere of "get all the theology right and arrive at correct conclusions" play.

I'm wondering how the intersection of your reccommendation and James' quoted statement of Ron's looks to you:

GM-described phenomena are presented in secular terms. However, Dogs' perceptions and responses (and the phrasing of NPCs, i.e., their point of view) often include the supernatural.

So the person starts seizuring and freaking out and saying awful things. The Dogs grab him, and one of them invokes his Name and Three-in-Authority to cast out the demon, as they perceive it.

If the roll succeeds, everyone says, "hooray, the demons are cast out!"

Ron's description seems to describe a situation where the person really is "Possessed" in the Dogs-rules-sense. But it seems to apply to any situation however the Dogs respond to it: don't discuss it, don't talk about what 'really" happened, just play the situation.

Adopting that methodology would seem to preclude yours. I'm really not sure which I prefer at this point.

peace,
-Joel
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2009, 07:47:36 PM »

but I worry about "blocking" in the sense of more or less telling the players "nope, wrong answer." But I worry on the other side as well: if I keep mum and just let things play out, will I set up false expectations and disappointment? One thing I absolutely DON'T want to do is foster an atmosphere of "get all the theology right and arrive at correct conclusions" play.

I'm wondering how the intersection of your reccommendation and James' quoted statement of Ron's looks to you:

GM-described phenomena are presented in secular terms. However, Dogs' perceptions and responses (and the phrasing of NPCs, i.e., their point of view) often include the supernatural.

So the person starts seizuring and freaking out and saying awful things. The Dogs grab him, and one of them invokes his Name and Three-in-Authority to cast out the demon, as they perceive it.

If the roll succeeds, everyone says, "hooray, the demons are cast out!"

Ron's description seems to describe a situation where the person really is "Possessed" in the Dogs-rules-sense. But it seems to apply to any situation however the Dogs respond to it: don't discuss it, don't talk about what 'really" happened, just play the situation.

I don't think Ron's assuming there's possession in the fiction. I think he's just saying that the Dogs say there's possession. And if the Dogs say so, how is anyone else in town going to say otherwise? Its a bit of irony that the players may have doubts about whether the Dogs were correct.

On another note, I don't think blocking needs to be a problem. You can tell the player that he's free to assume there's a demonic possession going on even if there is not, but you control the demon dice. The other dogs might be seeing they're friend roughing up an old man for no good reason. They don't see no demon. Now you've got a situation that's rife with tension. Are they going to let Brother Rubarb kill this innocent old guy? Are they going to contradict him?
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James R.
lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2009, 04:49:37 AM »

Brand's answers are so good!

I really, strongly recommend that you go all the way to hate and murder next time. Do follow Brand's advice about making every step human, of couse.

Last time I GMed the game, I decided up-front that none of my Stewards would be easy to blame. I did a lot of what Brand says and it worked great. I also gave my Stewards credibility by having them do like the Steward in the book: disagree passionately with the Dogs, recognize their authority but stand on his own.

"Your job is to shoot someone and ride away, we all know that. I'll still live here after you've gone - it falls on me to clean up after you. You better be damn sure you're shooting the right person."

-Vincent
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Graham W
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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2009, 01:39:20 PM »

My favourite answer from a Steward, at the moment, would be: "This is my responsibility. If you think I need to die, shoot me. I'm ready."

Graham
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2009, 09:32:48 PM »

Brand: Great stuff, thanks!

1) Fucking brilliant. I'm officially doing that for every RPG I start ever forever.

2) That's the trick, isn't it? I thibnk my main concern here is getting a chance to show the human, understandable motivation of the sinners before the Dogs go "Enscorcel ME, will you? Let me ensorcel my brains out the back of your head!"

this though:
If you just make sure to keep every step up the totem pole of sin human, understandable, something real people could do -- something you or people you like might do if forced up against the wall and left alone in a desert town with 100 other people who are kinda all self-righteous assholes -- then you can sometimes get hate and murder without terrible demon-worshiping villains.

Is damned awesome. I think I'm adopting that into my general Dogs pitch.

3) Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised myself.

4) I have in fact had the "Steward Expository Dinner" scene in both the Dogs towns I've GMed. I think my problem is in portraying some backbone in the Steward, showing how he really has done all he could do given his position and resources, without him coming off as a defensive and responsibility-dodging whiner. I guess the two keys to that are not MAKING him a responsibility-dodging whiner, and in putting his actions in the best light, like you describe. Like, Azariah really WAS holed up in his house with a shotgun not letting the Steward near, but I didn't really bring that ut, so the Steward just looks timid and useless.

5) Lot of good options here. I'd still like to see some commentary from someone on the intersection of that kind of approach and the quote from Ron.

peace,
-Joel
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2009, 10:22:26 PM »

James: I know he's not assuming possession "in the fiction" (in fact his whole POINT is about not treating "the fiction" as a little reality that things can be true or false about). That's why I said possession in the rules sense. 'Cuz no matter what happens in the SIS, there are for damned sure times when you use Demonic Influence Dice, and times you don't.

On that note, I do think the point is solid about the Demon Dice being a good gauge of whether there's possession going on, actually, without having to go "hey, time out, he's not really possessed" or anything.

Vincent: I realized something, as I pondered Brand's answer and yours. I think there's been an unconscious assumption at work in the games I've played, that the Steward's job is actually the same as the Dogs' just on a different scale and intensity. That the Steward is working on keeping the town free of sin and corruption and it's only if he fails that the Dogs are needed. Kind of a "if you did your job, we wouldn't need to do ours" sorta vibe. Which is, y'know, almost true: the Steward IS in charge of keeping individual people whole and righteous. But it misses the key point that the Steward can only do so much and is responsible for individuals, not the whole. Y'know, like it says in the book.

Also, I'm curious: when you recommend Hate and Murder for "next time," do you mean next time I play with these folks (which might not happen, but then again might), or next time I run it at all? 'Cause that WILL happen soon when I run it at Gamestorm.

I think Hate and Murder makes me far more nervous than any other step. Even an unrepentant Sorcerer could be pretty humanised, while it seems to me that H&M-level antagonists--being the perpetrators of not "just killin'" but foul murders that are "senseless," "ritualistic" and of "occult significance" are a lot harder to cast sympathetically. When you're killing innocents just to get your way, it better be a damn good "your way." I'm not sure I'm up to crafting a good enough reason for that.

Graham:
That is hot.

peace,
-Joel
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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2009, 08:09:50 AM »

Here's another good line for a Steward: "if God allowed me to gun my parishioners down, He wouldn't need you."

I recommend hate & murder under pretty much all circumstances. Definitely for a con game.

Here's about humanizing the murderous sorcerer: Don't. He's not human anymore. The Dogs will kill him and it's the right thing for them to do. When have you seen a Western when the guy in the black hat deserved to live?

What to do instead: make sure that it's someone else's pride, not his, and someone else's sin, not his, and maybe even someone else's false doctrine, not his.

For example.

Sister Alma wants her cousin's husband, Brother Benjamin, so she uses her beauty to distract him from his proper duties. They don't sin, but Alma's cousin, Sister Celeste, can't support her family without Benjamin's full devotion. On the Steward's advice and with his help she hires some hands, while the Steward undertakes to recall to Benjamin his responsibilities. She falls in love with one of them, though, Brother Daniel, and these two do sin together.

The demons bring a fatal illness upon Brother Benjamin's parents, who live 50 miles away through the mountains; he leaves to resolve their estate with his brothers.

False doctrine: Brother Daniel and Sister Celeste decide that it's cool if they marry, even though she's already married to Benjamin, so they do, in secret (which is corrupt worship). Daniel's father, Brother Ephraim, officiates. That's 1, 2, 3, and now Ephraim's a sorcerer.

Brother Daniel loves Benjamin's and Celeste's 2-year-old son, Florian, and plans to ceremonially adopt him (which would be corrupt worship too, and how). However, it comes into Brother Ephraim's head that Florian has to die, "to clear the way for the marriage's true seed to grow." And come to think of it, Brother Benjamin better die too on his way back to the town, so Ephraim sends two of his other sons, now possessed, to carry out his murder.

Sister Alma - along with the Steward and the rest of the town - doesn't know any of this, but is getting a sense that things aren't great. She's thinking she's maybe screwed up her cousin's marriage. She becomes withdrawn and worried; given time, she'll repent, become less frivolous and envious, and go forward changed. Along the same lines, Brother Benjamin's been gone for 4 weeks and all he can think about is Celeste and Florian; away from Alma, he's forgotten her. He didn't know that Celeste had slept with Daniel, he's presuming that things between Celeste and Daniel haven't progressed while he's been gone, and he's all geared up to make things right with her.

Play starts: the Dogs hook up with Brother Benjamin on his way back into town, and so when Ephraim's sons ambush him they're there. Meanwhile, Ephraim's murdered little Florian by sorcery: it looks like a fever took him, but it was murder (and as GM, don't hide this fact from the Dogs).

- Sister Alma wants the Dogs to help her get Benjamin's and Celeste's forgiveness, and God's too.
- Brother Benjamin wants the Dogs to restore his marriage and to bring Florian back to life. (Can they? As GM, don't decide, wait and see.)
- Sister Celeste wants the Dogs to affirm both of her marriages, and to reassure her that Florian died naturally and is at peace now. She does NOT want to hear that Ephraim murdered him, and will fight passionately to deny it.
- Brother Daniel wants the Dogs to annul Benjamin's and Celeste's marriage, and to make Florian his son, spiritually, to be with him in Heaven. He also doesn't want to hear that Ephraim murdered him, but he'll accept it if pressed.
- Brother Ephraim wants the Dogs to overthrow the old Steward and enplace him instead, to herald him as the new prophet, and to enforce his will. Failing that, he'll kill them to get them out of his way.
- The Steward wants the Dogs to do their thing.
- And the demons want what Ephraim wants.

There. Ephraim has to die, he's a monster. But that's just the beginning of judgment. Having a monster in town doesn't make the town easy, it makes the stakes high.

-Vincent
« Last Edit: March 10, 2009, 08:11:49 AM by lumpley » Logged
lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2009, 08:44:01 AM »

Oh, and about Ron's quote: Ron's talking about a time when the NPC was, in fact, possessed.

If your question's "what happens when the GM has an NPC act possessed who isn't, and the Dogs try to exorcise her?", the answer is "the GM's nevertheless obliged to make sure the stakes are appropriate."

-Vincent
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2009, 09:05:04 AM »

Vincent,

Excellent town.

It reminds me of something Leo once said, "Well, we've killed the demon possessed Sorcerer in his Gothic lair, now lets get to the hard part."
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- Brand Robins
lumpley
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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2009, 11:26:01 AM »

Joel, I just read your writeup on your blog. It sounds like a fun time.

-Vincent
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2009, 11:34:56 PM »

Here's about humanizing the murderous sorcerer: Don't. He's not human anymore. The Dogs will kill him and it's the right thing for them to do. When have you seen a Western when the guy in the black hat deserved to live?

Well, it's just that there's this: "You can't have a hero and a villain among your NPCs. It's the PCs' choices that make them so. The PCs are empowered to turn sin into goodness' sake doctrine if they think it's the right thing to do."

But! What you say sounds awesome, and your Town is made of win. I'm tempted to just use that for the con, though I think it'll do me good do design my own. I'm totally down with the principle of not making the initial Sinner the Sorcerer. Brilliant.

It's just that I'm confused between this and the principle in the text.

Oh, and about Ron's quote: Ron's talking about a time when the NPC was, in fact, possessed.

If your question's "what happens when the GM has an NPC act possessed who isn't, and the Dogs try to exorcise her?", the answer is "the GM's nevertheless obliged to make sure the stakes are appropriate."

I've had it run both ways: players having the Dogs assume Sorcery/Possession where there is none, and having them face evidence of Sorcery and deny it. So I'm interested in the question from all angles. Also in the both cases the Sorcerous stuff was not the Stakes of the Conflict. In the previous game the Dogs got into a conflict with an NPC because they didn't believe her accusations of Sorcery--the conflict was over letting her go take care of the little murdering hussy herself. In this game, exorcism was merely part of a raise, based on, in my opinion, NO evidence of possession.

So I guess my question is: is it better to go "psst! OOC, he's not really possessed, but do what you want!" or to just let things play out, and let the Stakes and Demon Dice (or lack thereof) do the talking? Also, i think I've identified pretty well that part of the problem was  disconnect on the whole Sin progression. Dude seemed to be treating it as more of a Paranoia/Monte Python Witch trial kind of thing: "Aha! He disagrees with us, he's got a Demon!" A matter of jumping the gun, brought on by poor communication in setup.

Joel, I just read your writeup on your blog. It sounds like a fun time.

Yeah, it was! I separated that out 'cause I didn't want the whole "questions and clarifications' discussion to sully an account of straightforward enjoyment. And I had something cool to express about the game, though not one word of it is new to you, I'll wager. Anyhow, if anyone else is interested, here's the link.

Peace,
-Joel
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