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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: NuMong

A new version of Mongoose Traveller came out this weekend for Beta test. So, being a good little grognard, I bought it and studied it to see what was good and what was not.

Please note that this is not an in-depth study; this was mostly me skimming through, looking for differences and reading the parts that caught my eye. I have not gone over everything with a fine-toothed comb, so I have likely missed a few things. Hopefully those things are not terribly important.

I have bolded subjects so that they may be easily found if you are skimming.

For brevity, I will refer to "Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition" as NuMong or 2e. The 2008 1st edition will be oMong (Original Mongoose) or 1e.

Here's What You Get
From the DriveThruRPG page:

The Beta Playtest edition of the new Traveller Core Rulebook allows you to dive in and directly affect one of the world's favourite sci-fi RPGs. This is a complete package that provides you with;
  1. The Beta Playtest Core Rulebook, laid out and ready to go! After many, many moons of writing and internal playtesting, this book is now ready to be seen (and commented upon!) by dedicated Traveller players. All that is missing from this PDF is a few pieces of artwork!
  2. A free copy of the adventure High and Dry, a revised edition of the original Type-S scenario, fully updated to the new Traveller in both rules and format. This will allow you to jump right in and start playing Traveller immediately with a cracking adventure written by fan favourite Martin Dougherty.
  3. Access to draft (Word format) documents of the ‘core set’ of Traveller rule books – High Guard, Central Supply Catalogue, Vehicle Handbook, and the Traveller Companion, plus the chance to comment upon them and thus influence Traveller at a fundamental level.
  4. A $20 voucher to be redeemed against the final Core Rulebook PDF, meaning the Beta Core Rulebook will end up not costing you a penny!
  5. If all goes well, some other goodies will be turning up in your Drivethru folders during the playtest period. We have some projects currently on the go that are set for release with the new addition, but if we can complete them according to schedule, they will be offered for free to all registered playtesters.
My thoughts on each of these:
  1. It's called a Beta, but from my sources I hear that this is essentially 99% of the finished game; this testing is mostly proofreading and looking for game-breaking combos. So if you think you can buy the game and sway the writers away from a course of action you don't like -- well, I wish you the best of luck, but I don't think much of your chances. 
    • Also: a few pieces? I'd say at least half of the interior art is missing. 
  2. Introductory adventures are good, especially since 1e lacked anything of the sort. And Type-S is a good scenario, one I've used myself. I just find its inclusion a bit odd, since the sample campaign setting is Sindal subsector of the Trojan Reach, while High and Dry is still set in District 268 of the Spinward Marches. 
  3. As of this writing, the aforementioned access to High Guard et al. is nonexistant. 
  4. This is a nice touch, as you essentially get to playtest the document for free. However, by a show of hands, who thinks that the PDF of the final 2e version is going to be $20, given that the current PDF of the rules is $23.99? Anyone? Bueller? No, I didn't think so. 
  5. "If."
Pretty Is as Pretty Does
NuMong, at first blush, appears radically different from oMong; whereas 1e is black text on white paper with clean line drawings and the occasional grayscale illustration, 2e is a full-color extravaganza with starfield headers and footers and a faded hexmap background on most pages.

I realize that PDFs don't have pages, and therefore cannot be "glossy", but I'm 99.999% positive that the hardcopy of NuMong is going to be glossy just based on how the images look. If you're old enough to remember, just compare 1st edition AD&D with 3rd edition D&D, and you'll get the idea.

(There's also a printer-friendly version included in the download, which I recommend; the NuMong "gloss" means that if I jump ahead by more than one page, I get a message from my PDF reader that says "Please wait - rendering". I don't get this message with the print-friendly version, which makes it easier and faster to reference.)

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not inherently opposed to color pictures on glossy pages. I just find it a bit odd, since the entire look of oMong was "We look like Classic Traveller. We ARE Classic Traveller, just with some bugs fixed and tech updated for modern sensibilities!" and the new book quite clearly isn't this.

Chapter 1: Character Creation
(Yes, I skipped the introduction. I think all gamers skip the intro of new game editions.)

The first big change from oMong is that Homeworld skills are gone. This isn't a big deal, as those skills have been folded into the Education skills every starting character gets. I am quite pleased that Flyer (needed for Air/Rafts and other grav vehicles) is now a standard starting skill. I am equal parts perplexed and amused that Advocate is missing from the chart.

Then there's a two-page flowchart, for people who thought that the oMong Character Generation Checklist was too difficult. I don't hate this, but I think it's a waste of two pages. There's also a curious flaw, likely a typo, in the chart on p.11: it says "If this is first term of Career, go through Basic Training, Otherwise, choose a skill table and roll." That sounds like you get basic training every single time you change careers, doesn't it?

But that's incorrect; on p.16 it says "For your first career only, you get all the skills listed in the Service Skills table at Level 0 as your basic training." I foresee much consternation if this is not fixed.

A welcome addition to the rules is a section on pre-career education, aka college. There are two versions of this: a 4-year University and a similar 4-year Military Academy. Both of these act as single-term careers, with mustering-out benefits replaced by graduation benefits (+1 Edu, automatic entry into the military or a qualification roll bonus, and a chance to become commissioned at the beginning, not end, of first military term).  I don't know why Medical school from Mercenary 2e wasn't included in this. 

There's also the addition of the Prisoner career. Mishaps within the agent, drifter, merchant and rogue careers will send you there, as well as a life event. 

The rest of the careers portion looks pretty standard; I didn't scrutinize every table. I did however note with extreme pleasure that Flyer is now a MUCH more common skill; it's part of the basic training for Agent and Citizen careers, and is included in the specialty skills for Army, Marine, Noble, and Scout, and no fewer than three times for Navy. 

Less pleasing is the insertion of skill caps within the game. During character generation, a PC cannot exceed level 4; any increases are lost -- sucks to be you if that's what your skill roll for the term turns out to be. Personally, I'd allow the PC to re-roll that out of a sense of fairness, but that's not the Rules As Written.

While I can somewhat understand the desire to prevent a PC from exiting chargen with a maxed-out skill, there's something even worse after that: " In addition, a Traveller may never have a total number of skill levels higher than three times his combined INT and EDU."

Um, excuse me? This is a skill-based game, and it's always been pretty damn inconvenient for Traveller PCs to increase their skills. I don't see why this is an issue, especially since the resident Genius PC in my group (Int and Edu 15) only has 43 skill levels after nearly 3 years of gaming. I don't ever see this becoming an issue, and if it does, I think it's going to be ignored. 

There's also a new and better way to learn skills in this edition (still inconvenient, mind you, but less than in oMong), so maybe this is a correction under the assumption that "OMG the PCs are going to be learning skills all the time" or something. 

Ship shares have been hamstrung; instead of giving you 1% ownership of a ship, it now grants 1MCr. for purposes of buying a ship. This is mitigated by the new rule that the various Ship mustering-out benefits now give you 25% off your mortgage; roll this 4 times (or pool your shares, but there are no rules for what happens if one PC rolls a lab ship, another a yacht and a third a free trader) and your ship is free.

Finally, the only available PC races are Imperial Human (There isn't even an entry on the Zhodani), Aslan, and Vargr. Let me just say how nice it is finally to see, in print, a tacit admission by Mongoose that they don't want people playing Droyne or Hivers or K'kree. This is something I've suspected for many years (kindly note that we haven't had an alien book since 2012) and it's good to see this attitude essentially codified.

The rest of the chapter looks essentially unchanged.


Chapter 2: Skills and Tasks
The biggest change here is that tasks no longer have dice modifiers for ease or difficulty; instead, they now have target numbers, so a Difficult task now has a target of 10+ rather than a -2 DM to a roll.

This is literally the first thing I did when I started playing this game, and frankly I'm surprised it took this long.

Boon and Bane dice are new. Put simply, they're an easy way for the referee to give bonuses or penalties without having to figure out how much of a DM to give. They're both an additional die to be rolled in skill checks; for a Boon, the player takes the higher of the three dice, and lower for a Bane.

On the one hand, I like this as it's fast and easy and doesn't interrupt game play. On the other, I present to you part of a review on DriveThruRPG:
Boon and Bane dice work similarly to advantage/ disadvantage dice in D&D 5E. What works well in a light setting like 5E is the harbinger of doom in Traveller. Billed as a system to simplify the referee's job, Bane and Boon dice actually limit player options without being much better than the traditional DM based system. For example, where before you could take multiple negative DMs to cut the time required for a task by several steps, you are now limited by the B&B system to one step only, since a player can only be affected by one bane dice at a time. I used that particular system just last week in my own game. Had I been playing this edition, I would've been incinerated by a jumpcusser's laser beam. The life of a famous drive engineer and his crew ended because he was magically prevented from speeding up his rolls by more than one step. 
So there's that. I think there's an easy fix to this problem: either allow multiple Bane dice to be rolled and force the PC to take the lowest two, or use the old method of "each increment increases the difficulty", or a combination of the two -- first increment gets a die, the rest crank the difficulty. But I admit I'm not a math person, so there may be something lurking within the penumbra of probability that I haven't noticed.

Speaking of penumbra: the Electronics skill now has Comms, Computers, Remote Ops and Sensors as specialties instead of disparate skills. While I would object to this in a modern game, for a far-future setting this makes sense. Subsequently, the Engineer specialty of Electronics is now gone -- likely subsumed into Mechanic.

From a purely semantic aspect, I would have re-named Electronics as Technology and turned Mechanic into Repair, but that's just me. I also find it a bit strange that they didn't do this with other skills; Navigation seems like a natural fit for Survival or Seafarer.

Then there's a goat-rope that is Gun Combat.  Hey, do you remember how Mercenary 2e changed
Gun Combat to be just Slug and Energy specialties? That's exactly how it is here, with the addition of Archaic for things like blowgun.

Other changes:
  • Trade skills have been renamed Profession.  Big whoop. 
  • Science skills no longer are broken into Physical, Life, Social and Space; there's all just one big messy Science skill, so now your Doctor of Philosphy effectively has Physics-0. I don't like this. 
  • Zero-G skill is gone, and Vacc suits allows battledress operation.

Chapter 3: Combat
Initiative is somewhat different. oMong used to be roll 2d6+ Dex; NuMong has you make either a Dex or Int check, and then the effect is your Initiative score. This means you can have negative initiatives, as a Dex/Int check is Diff 8+ unless otherwise specified.  TL;DR it's a needless complication.

Acting from surprise now gives a Boon die to Initiative, rather than an automatic 12+ Dex mod.

Delay is no longer an approved action.

Dodging is different; instead of giving a -1 penalty to everything trying to hit the character in exchange for a -1 to all actions for that round, it now gives the PC's Dex or Athletics (Dexterity) DM as a penalty for a single attack. Does this mean that a PC with a negative Dex mod gives enemies bonuses to hit? I have no idea!

Diving for Cover is essentially "I dodge all the things and hide behind cover" in exchange for burning an action.

Cover has been greatly simplified, and in some cases (such as when hiding) gives armor instead of a to-hit penalty.

Weapons and ammo have traits now. Armor piercing rules have changed, and apparently all explosives now do full damage up to their max range, instead of falling off. Burst and Full Auto have also changed, and I leave it folks better with math than me to decide if they are improved or not.

Weapon ranges and vehicle combat have been moved to different chapters. The rest of the section seems unchanged.


Chapter 4: Encounters and Dangers
Radiation damage has been moved out of the starship combat section and over here. This seems sensible.

Animal creation is simplified. Is it better?  Not especially. Whereas the old system was time consuming, it actually gave you a feel for how the creature evolved and would therefore act. This version is "give it some hit points based on its size, and assign traits and behavior as desired." In other words, the way most referees do when pressed for time.

Sample Patrons have been removed. Goodbye Abber Koja, Desperate Peasant; you were a nice example but ought to be in a GM screen, and the space is needed elsewhere.

Also gone are the two pages of sample NPCs, replaced with a table that goes from "green non-combatant" to "elite combatant" with average skill levels and characteristics. As you might guess, the table is not very useful, even though 2 pages of NPCs wasn't all that great either.


Chapter 5: Equipment
There's a hard-coded rule about selling equipment back for half its value, which is nice.

Encumbrance has been simplified. "Heavily encumbered" is now gone -- you can only carry 2*(Str+End), and when you do, you suffer a Bane.

Now, up until this point, NuMong has hovered in the "quite all right" range; the sensible organization and addition of welcome rules has balanced some of the more questionable changes.

This chapter is where all of that changes. Right after encumbrance, there's a full page illustration advertising "The Core Collection" -- whatever that may be, as it isn't clarified -- and then a section on armor with a big space-eating font on top.

Many armors have been given degrees of radiation protection. This is most welcome. But weirdly, the armor values for most have been increased -- sometimes significantly so (oMong TL12 Vacc Suit has protection 6, NuMong TL12 Vacc suit has protection 10; TL14 Battledress was protection 18, now 25), and now a TL7 flak jacket provides less protection than TL7 cloth armor.

After this are two pages of art (well, art placeholders) for various items mentioned, which at the moment doesn't do anyone any good.

Battledress is now back to being armor instead of a vehicle, THANK THE GAMING GODS.

Then there's another space-eating font for Augments, and more pages of assigned space for illustrations. Then one for Communications, and you get the idea; there's so much space wasted here trying to make things look pretty that the book will suffer for it later.

By the way, whose idea was it not to put commas in prices? I want that person drawn and quartered, because my eyes have trouble telling the difference between 20000 and 200000 unless I stop and count the zeroes.

Radio transceiver prices are screwy. Everything is given in units of Imperial purchasing power, so why is it that a TL5 continental-rage radio costs 15,000 Cr but a TL12 radio of identical range only costs 1,000 Cr?

Oh, look, the Computer section has lovely difficult hard-to-read orange text in a strange font on a black background. While I'm certain that's an homage to old-school amber computer monitors. it does not belong here and hurts my eyes. The print-friendly version is much easier to read.

The prices for computers is again weirdly variant based on TL with them starting off at 500 Cr at TL7, declining to a low of 100 Cr at TL10, and then climbing steadily to 5,000 Cr at TL14.

The rest of the chapter is more of the same, really. Lots of wasted space, lots of questionable changes, and an ironic bit where the guns are given a range but without being told in what. I'd sure like to assume it's in meters, but given how erratic everything else has been, I have to wonder.

Oh, and many Heavy Weapons now do destructive damage, just like in Mercenary 2e. I'd complain about having to wait for re-stats of all the weapons from Central Supply Catalog, but fortunately Merc2e already did that for me, so thank heaven for small favors.

Finally, there are no entries -- none -- for robots and drones. Did they run out of space?

This entire chapter needs to be ripped out.


Chapter 6: Vehicles
This section has good points and bad points:
  • Combat with vehicles has been clarified, simplified, and cleaned up. I especially like the section on dogfighting. 
  • Vehicles take damage in a different way: they basically have hit points, and once they're chewed up, the craft is destroyed. There's no Structure anymore; it's all Hull.
  • There's a system for critical hits, which deals damage to components in a manner similar to the old system. 
  • Vehicle armor and weapons are now on a separate, intermediate scale between personal and starship.
  • The "spaces" system of construction from the Vehicle Handbook is gone (at least for the moment) and is replaced with.. nothing. There is literally no way to build a vehicle with this book. Of course, oMong didn't have that ability either. 

All of this boils down to "You have to buy the new vehicle book, because this system is not backwards-compatible with the books you have now."


Chapter 7: Spacecraft Operations
What's that, you say? I've skipped some chapters? Isn't there supposed to be a section about designing starships, like in every single Traveller game ever?

Unfortunately, the answer is "Hahaha no screw you." If you want to build a ship in Traveller, you'll have to wait until High Guard comes out, which is sometime after March 2016. Until then, you'll use the sample ships listed in the book and you'll like it, plebe.

You're using a non-standard ship for your PCs? Sucks to be you, then.

Back to the chapter at hand, most of the rules are to be expected, with some minor changes involving Boon and Bane. There's a new chart for resolving poor maintenance (you'll find out why in a moment), and there's a new ship stat called Power which tells you what you can run on your ship at any one time. Sadly, Power is just a theoretical concept at this point, as nowhere in the book can you find the power requirement for a shipboard weapon. Again: buy High Guard, plebe.

Transit Times are still in clunky, unusable units, which is something that I'd hoped would change from 1e. Example: it takes 2,000 seconds for a 1-G ship to reach a typical orbit. That's nice, now how about putting that in terms I can use, like 33.3 minutes?

I do note that "2,000 seconds" and other times actually have commas, unlike the equipment section. I do believe the writers are being sarcastic.


Chapter 8: Space Combat
More Range Bands instead of distances in kilometers.

Initiative is now 2d + pilot skill mod + ship's thrust score.

The addition of the Power stat is pretty obvious: the game designers want engineers to have something to do in combat, and shutting down systems so that the captain can have "More power, Mr. Scott!" fills this role.

There are rules now where if you have different weapons in a turret, you can only use one of them in a turn -- so now you can choose between shooting down an incoming missile or launching sand to prevent lasers from chewing you up. In other words, don't fly a Scout/Courier, as you're now screwed.

On the other hand, it seems as if the designers liked my idea for fire-linking weapons, because if you have 2 or 2 of the same weapon type, you fire them at once with a single roll and each additional weapon adds +1 to all damage dice rolled.

Speaking of damage, spacecraft now take damage just like vehicles. Once again, I will defer to the reviewer over at DriveThruRPG:
Space combat is totally, 100% wrecked. Structure has been removed as a stat. As an example of the changes, the normal Free Trader now has a hull rating of 40. Weapon damage is, on the whole, the same as 1E. System hits are now restricted to critical hits exclusively. Where in 1E, you'd get through the hull and the armor, then start hitting systems and structure before actually destroying the ship, when you remove the hull in 2E, the ship is destroyed and beyond, and I quote, "any repair". That's right-- hull points are now health points. 1E's harrowing, highly-lethal, and most of all satisfying damage model has given way to what is essentially ground combat in space with more hit-points. Not only that, but good luck taking it as a prize. At least after a combat in 1E, you could take hull-less ships as heavily-damaged rewards, or for salvage, or something. Now you're just... out of luck? The fact that system hits are now essentially random means that power is more of an annoyance than anything in the combats I've run. While it could have been a welcome addition to the simulation of 1E, it seems like a pointless extra stat in a system that wants to be this light. Several ships cannot actually run their maneuver drives, jump drives, and basic ship systems in combat at the same time, as well. This is before weapons, you understand. I'd fix this, if there were any actually any ship construction mechanics in the core rulebook. Those are stripped out in favor of a multi-book "core collection" philosophy. The ghost of D&D whispers at our airlock again, friends.
Other fun changes:
  • Bonus reactions from high Initiative are gone. 
  • Pulse lasers are now medium range, meaning there are no short range weapons available. 
  • Particle Beams are very long range. 
  • Missiles now do 4d damage! There's no differentiation between basic, smart, or nuke; they all do 4d damage. I'm not sure if I ought to be impressed or appalled.
    •  I'd like to point out that in oMong, nukes only did 2d. Now, I'm on record as saying that missiles were anemic and needed improvement, but they've now been scaled up to torpedo damage!
  • But I think what bugs me most about missiles is this:
    • In oMong, we had the missile chart where it took 10 turns to hit a distant target and all missiles moved at thrust 5. 
    • Then High Guard said "Whoops, our bad, missiles move at Thrust 10, all turns to impact are halved."
    • But now NuMong is back to the old chart with the old thrust times. WTF?

Chapter 9: Common Spacecraft
Also known as "These are the ships we'll permit you to have until we finish with High Guard."

All deck plans in the color version are isometric; the printer-friendly version has flat 2d plans, as God and Marc Miller intended.

I'm sure that fans of the setting will be happy to note that the iconic Empress Marava class of Far Trader has been replaced by a J-2 Beowulf variant.

I realize it's poor form to bag on layout errors in a Beta, but I find it humorous that there are tables and chairs stuck in the forward bulkhead of the Free Trader. And there's no air/raft garage in this model, either.

There is also NO common room in the Scout/Courier -- it's been replaced with a workshop. Why do I foresee an increase in cabin fever among Scout crews?

The Lab Ship looks awkward in isometric, but looks pretty good in 2d. Funny, that.

The Mercenary Cruiser continues to look ungainly and its decks are a mess. So, SOP, really.

The Patrol Cruiser replaces the Gazelle and has a deck plan that I don't hate, but don't really love, either.

Apparently private toilets are a thing of the past, which makes the Safari Ship, Subsidized Liner and Yacht that much less luxurious.

The Subsidized Merchant finally has a logical deck plan.

Ships missing: Gazelle, Heavy Freighter, Corsair,  Police Cutter.
Ships added: Slow Boat and Slow Pinnace, with stats and deckplans for all small craft.


This brings us to page 204. I wish to inform you that 1e Mongoose Traveller ended on page 192 (including a character sheet and hex paper) 
and was a complete game that included ship creation.


Chapter 10: Psionics
I'm not sure how I feel about NuMong psionics. They are, overall, far more effective now; some may love this, and others will hate it.

The the psi point prices have been reduced and the ranges increased, sometimes tremendously so (Example: 1e Telepathy had a free range of close, +1 psi point for Medium, +2 for Very Long, +3 for Distant and +4 for Planetary. 2e, most Telepathy powers have an inherent range of Distant, but you can increase that by doubling or quadrupling psi price).

The Mind link talent is back,  and Suggestion has been added to TP. In what I can only hope is a typographical error, Teleportation costs nothing -- so long as you don't mind going places naked. (In which case, cyborg the heck out of yourself and become the Terminator.)

The rest of the chapter looks fairly standard, although I admit that I have likely missed things.


Chapter 11: Trade
There's a new form of passage, called Basic, which is essentially steerage or troop berthing: 4 people to a room, with half a dton for them to sleep in and 10kg baggage. It's like low passage, only with no privacy but less risk of death. I like this.

Hauling freight is much more profitable now, although there is this weird thing going on for J-6 where the prices suddenly increase by an entire decimal point. I mean that literally: J-5 middle passage is 34,000 Cr (commas are gone again, BTW) but J-6 is 350,000 Cr. WTF? I'm puzzled by this.

Rolling for passengers is now less complicated as it doesn't involve planetary characteristics (like Rich, High Population, etc). I admit that this is faster and easier, but it's also less commercially "realistic"from a system that previously sought to simulate a lot. I do not like this.

Available tons, and therefore base prices, of basic trade goods  have been doubles. I'm indifferent about this, because although it makes sense, I've yet to see a PC group engage in spec trade with basic goods.


Chapter 12: World and Universe Creation
There are new entries in the Government table:  Religious Autocracy and Totalitarian Oligarchy have been added.

Here's another great example of page wastage: the Cultural Differences table, that took just one page (p.117) of oMong, now take up two in NuMong (p.230-231). So they have room to waste like this, and the book is already over 1e's pagecount, but a starship creation system is too much to add...

In a welcome change, Starport Classes now get a bonus or penalty to their 2d6 rolls based on the population of their planets.


Chapter 13: Sindal Sub-Sector
The book concludes with 10 pages on a subsector within the Trojan Reach. This by itself is not a bad thing; the Pirates of Drinax campaign is within the Reach, and the sector hasn't gotten as much love as the Spinward Marches.

Why, then, did the writers include as their introductory adventure High and Dry, which is set in the Spinward Marches and which has plot hooks designed to keep PCs within the Marches? I think this is a missed opportunity; the adventure should have been re-written to better place it within Sindal subsector.

That said, I like the writeup; it's always nice to see new segments of the Travellerverse opened up, and Dolberg, especially, is an amusing planet.


Is This Worth Buying?
Short answer: No.

Long answer: The new material is worth maybe 10 bucks, and the rules fixes aren't that remarkable. I'm not impressed with most of the changes, and making ship generation part of a separate book is an unpardonable sin for a game called Traveller. This could have been mitigated in a few ways, though:
  1. We could have been given a graph showing how power plants generate Power, and the Power costs of weapons, so that players could make changes to their own ships. 
  2. All ship elements could have been cut from this book altogether, with the disclaimer that "Ships will be addressed when High Guard comes out. Until then, continue using the old system."
I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons ship design was cut from the book was because the rules for it have changed such that it renders all previous ship books (Merchants and Gunboats, Fighting Ships, Merchants and Cruisers, Trillion Credit Squadron) incompatible with the current system. Buy them all again, plebe!

So unless you enjoy nitpicking, arguing on the internet, or fighting what is likely a hopeless battle to change things you don't like, then stay away from this. Your old Traveller books will work just fine, and given how character creation has changed very little, further adventures ought to be easily compatible.

I'm STILL annoyed there isn't a Droyne book, though, and won't be for some time, if ever. After all, the "core" books have to be printed in time for GenCon 2016.

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