Archive for the ‘Game Preparation’ Category

As I mentioned recently, I’m using half-page character sheets for the NPCs and their demons, to save table space during combats.  When every PC and NPC brings a demon or two to the fight, the playing surface gets crowded in a hurry!

Here they are:

Sorcerer half-page chr sheets – NPC Sorcerers

Sorcerer half-page chr sheets – Demons

Print them out double-sided and cut them across the middle.  In case it’s confusing: write your answers below each heading like “Appearance,” “Telltale,” etc., except write above the line for “Name.”   The “Kicker/Conspiracy” field is there in case you have multiple groups to keep track of: the vampire court, a satanist cult and the Young Sorcerers Party, for example.  Under “Need” are the stages of demon hunger, from “Sated” to “Vengeful.”  Circle the demon’s current mood based on how it is treated, used, wounded, and fed.

Hope y’all find them useful!

-Johnny 0.

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Okay I got the relationship map sorted out — and it’s HUGE.  Right now it’s actually on four different pieces of paper, and I’m not sure that I’m going to bother transcribing it all onto one (poster-sized) sheet; it would probably be too unwieldy anyway.  We’ve got:

  • inter-personal relations (good and bad)
  • inter- noble-house relations (good and bad)
  • several schemes in progress

This is going to be great fun.

Now I’m statting up (stat’ing up?) NPCs, demons and other critters and items.  LOTS of them.  They’re each half a page, to save table space (let me know if you want me to post my character sheet templates).

Then I’ve got to make up some Bangs (which should be easy, given all these ambitious NPCs and their clear motivations!), and detail some locations.

44 hours til game time!

When this is all over, I plan to polish up a bunch of this material and put it into the next revision of the Dictionary of Elric.  But first: the kick-assing’est game of Sorcerer & Sword, ever.


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The planning session went great.  The players came with the seeds of character concepts, and we jammed on each others ideas.  I had also prepared a list of questions that I wanted each player to answer about their character — I’ll post it later, some were from Sorcerer, some were setting-specific — and that spurred more conversation.

I especially loved it when the players proposed things to each other like “hey, can we say that our characters are brothers / I’m in love with your daughter / your uncle just knocked up my wife?”  These guys practically built their own tangled relationship map without any help from me!

Which is also the problem I’m now facing.   (more…)

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A good Sorcerer game needs interesting NPCs: complex people with their own motivations and hang-ups.  I need to generate some Young-Kingdoms rulers, Melnibonéan potentates and loose cannons, and supernatural agents with agenda.  But I don’t feel that I can really nail down any interesting characters and their motivations until we’ve had the player-character generation session: until I know the PCs’ kickers.

So in the meantime, a compromise.  I’m going to send out NPC character sketches, one a day until our char-gen session. For inspiration.  The players can set up their characters in alliance, opposition or imitation of any of these.  Or just ignore them if they have better ideas.

This is definitely not “required knowledge.”  I don’t want to overwhelm the players with stuff that they “have to” learn in order to play.  If a player ends up using one of these NPCs in their backstory or kicker, then great, it’s in the game.  The rest can be forgotten.

Here’s the first one…


Duke Senodjar of House Jifar’a.

Melnibonéan courtier and patriarch of the Jifar’a family. Oiled bald head, stocky build, indeterminate middle age. Confident stride. Grandly styled clothing with built-up shoulders and giant curving collars that reach up to his ears, highly illuminated with gold thread (even at orgies: heavily brocaded floor-length vest, worn open). Always at court, has his fingers in all the pies. House Jifar’a owns the taxation rights to the whole Western Continent, but doesn’t collect the taxes itself, the family doesn’t maintain the ships or man-power anymore. In the spring, each kingdom is assessed and informed of its tax obligation by a single assessor (a family member). Come autumn, should a kingdom fail to deliver its taxes to Imrryr, no matter the reason, Duke Senodjar sells pillaging rights to another family (as often for political favours as for gold or goods).

House Jifar’a is wealthy, and Duke Senodjar’s family is a large one. He is a sorcerer, of course. The family heirloom demon is Herpios,The Ring Of Serpent-Kin, a big gold ring with an iridescent green gem like a snake’s eye. Abilities include: Shapeshift (conveyed; giant green snake); in ring form, Boost Lore; when user is in serpent form, Special Damage (constriction).

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I am about to kick off a Sorcerer game set in the world of The Elric Saga novels by Michael Moorcock.  Since none of my players have read the saga, I wrote them a little primer.  That’s how all this got started… but I’m not good at doing things by halves.

The primer is becoming my Dictionary of Elric: a Sorcerer mini-supplement (like a “module” in D&D parlance, with important differences) for playing an Elric role-playing game using the Sorcerer game system, and with props to Judd Karlman’s Dictionary of Mu.

So now I’m really working on two things: running an Elric game for my friends, and creating this Dictionary of Elric for posterity.  I’ll be blogging about both.  Comments welcome… especially from Elric fans.  🙂

-Johnny 0.

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I’m preparing the setting for a campaign based on the excellent Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock, a set of books that I just can’t recommend highly enough.  And although the Elric novels were a big inspiration for the Sorcerer RPG, we’re not sure that Sorcerer is the right system for my Elric game…

This is a highly charged project.  I love the source literature, and my expectations for the game are sky-high.  The potential for a mismatch and disappointment at the table is definitely there.  So I’m taking a close look at my expectations before this goes much further.

Mike, Pete, Ry and I spoke about this at length, and my thanks to them for sharing their perspectives.  Any great ideas in here are theirs, any stupidity is mine.

I Want Sharks With Frickin’ Lasers On Their Heads

I have to admit that I have some pretty specific things that I want to happen in this game.  Here’s the big one.  A PC finds himself facing an overwhelming enemy; defeat is clearly in the cards.  He somehow buys himself a few minutes, casts his mind out into the multiverse and contacts just the right supernatural ally.  If his foe is a swarm of giant insects, he summons the Beast Lord of the Iguanas, which appears and eats them all.   If his foe is the Elohoin, a race of flesh-eating warrior women from an alien plane, he summons their sworn enemies the Grashnaks from across the void, who take up the fight with relish.

Basically, I want to see on-the-spot sorcery that turns the tide of battle.  And let’s leave aside the mechanical difficulties of this in the Sorcerer mechanics as written, cuz I have some ideas.  But for now, some quality-of-play concerns:

If I set up situations that only have one possible solution, then this won’t be Story Now.  It’ll be more like one of those old text adventures: if you have the key, and the old boot, and the crow bar and the gas mask, then you can get through the laboratory safely; otherwise, you’re screwed.  I’ll be hogging all the story-telling responsibilities and the players will just be following along.  A related concern: If I set up the situation, and the players find some other solution, how disappointed am I going to be?  So I have to:

  • create rich environments for set-piece conflicts, so the PCs have lots of things to interact with, lots of resources from which to build solutions.
    “PCs need sets the way Errol Flynn needs sets.”
  • accept that the outcome of the situation is not in my hands.  The players decide the characters’ actions, the dice decide their success or failure.

And remember: NO RAILROADING.  This goes for on-the-spot sorcery as well as summoning Lords of Chaos, visiting Ameeron or anything else from the books.  Okay no problem, I can do that.


The Elric stories are fast-paced and action-packed, whereas Sorcerer is focused on developing story based around theme and  “Humanity.”  Maybe I should pick a more Step-On-Up system like Apocalypse World or even some sort of d20 hack.  But I don’t want to lose the Story Now… do I?

As far as I’m concerned, the best elements of Sorcerer are Kickers and Bangs, and these parts seem pretty portable.  Can a Step-On-Up system be played with elements of Story Now?  Sure it can.  But… if players know they’re going into a Step On Up game, an Us-vs.-Them cage match where the “Them” is the GM and all his creations, then they’re going to be trying to load their character backstories and kickers with all kinds of advantages for the fights ahead.  They won’t be thinking about creating cool Story.  That’s not the way I want this to go down.

Can Sorcerer do fast-paced and action-packed?  Sure it can.  The game’s conflict-resolution (as opposed to task-resolution) system ensures that combat situations evolve rapidly and in interesting ways.  Headlocks, chair-throwing, flying tackles and swinging from the chandeliers!  But… we’re gonna want to make some tweaks.

Next Up: The Tweaks


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One week left til game time.   Here is the third and final player-character for our impending game of Sorcerer.  Setting: Casablanca 1940. This is pretty much all Ry’s own work.  He also gave me a long list of Serge’s family members, colleagues and acquaintances, as well as an idea for a first in-game scene involving… well, you’ll see!  Thanks Ry!

Serge Denis Molière

Serge is a great big fire marshall, captain of one of the larger fire halls in the city. He has a well-deserved reputation for being a tireless hero and hard worker, putting the safety of children before any other concern.

Several months ago, Serge was trapped in a partially-collapsed building, and despite his prodigious strength was unable to save two young children that he had been leading to safety. Near death from smoke inhalation, Serge spotted a rat running impossibly across a pane of glass and escaping through a tiny hole in the wall. The rat was a part of the demon Tachyorychtes, and the thoughts would eat at Serge’s mind for the following few months, when he struck a bargain with a German doctor by the name of von Braun.

The rat/demon has abilities that help Serge to rescue people from burning buildings: it confers the ability to “see” structural strength, material stresses and weak points. Its Need is to see beautiful things destroyed (in fire or otherwise).

Demon: Tachyorychtes, the Rat.

Wife: Anna Molière (née Godechaux)


Serge is Catholic. His wife Anna has converted to Catholicism and attends church with him and takes communion.

A few weeks after binding the rat Tachyorychtes (‘Tack’), Serge was asked by his Jewish in-laws to help them fix something at their bookshop, and to bring his tools. Naturally, Serge agreed, like any good son-in-law, although he puzzled at their insistence that he come alone on a particular Saturday afternoon.

When Serge arrived he found most of the Godechaux men were gathered. Serge was asked to help make sure that nothing was damaged as the family set to clearing out “an old unused back room in the basement.”

Despite the lies, the intent of the enterprise was clear: to open up a new wall in the basement of the Godechaux bookstore. Expanding Jewish businesses was already banned in Casablanca by French decree, and while Serge found the law disturbing he was angry at his father-in-law for drawing him into something illegal.

Nevertheless, Serge carefully inspected the structural integrity of the house, and determined that opening up the new wall was probably safe. Always cautious when working with civilians, he sent the various Godechaux kin out of the house so he could get to work.

Serge used Tack’s conferred materials sight to discern where the weak spot was, and realized one area was particularly vulnerable to being struck. What Serge didn’t realize was that he was aiming straight at the entrance to a prison that had been Containing a powerful demon.

An inky blackness leapt from the hole, and the room grew dark. Serge fell to the ground, disoriented, and tried to get his bearings, looking for the light of the door upstairs. When he looked to that light, he saw something cross his field of vision – something like a large pile of rope suddenly uncoiling as if the other end was tied to a cannonball. When Serge tried to stand, he felt something heavy on his back, and when he tried to look he briefly saw something – again, like a rope but with hooks protruding from it, which faintly glowed red, like embers. Serge then blacked out.

The next thing Serge heard was his brother-in-law, Denis, calling to ask if he was alright. Serge picked himself up and saw that a corridor, several feet long, had yawned behind the spot he struck. The stone walls appeared to be the foundations – or even the first floor – of a much older construction. After this discovery, completing the tunnel to the adjacent building was trivial, and Serge went home scraped and exhausted but also disgusted with himself. Serge resolved to speak to the Doctor von Braun first thing in the morning.

*   *   *

Ry originally gave me a much more explosive kicker, but later decided that we should save the good part for in-game.  Can’t wait 🙂 -Johnny 0.

GM’s Post Script: Animated-Object Demons

The rope demon poses an interesting question: how do you spec an animated-object demon in game terms?  I first browsed the demon abilities for one that would allow a demon to animate an object.  The rulebook explicitly states that the ability Warp can not confer animation, and an Object demon with the Travel ability just relocates when nobody’s looking, the way your car keys seem to do.  Then I found an answer on The Forge:

“I’d go with Inconspicuous [Type,] with the specific limitations about abilities of Passers (i.e. no conferring to others). You, um, do remember that in The Sorcerer’s Soul, I’m pretty clear that the demon Types are customizable and blend-able, right?” -Ron Edwards, Dec.10 2002

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Eight days til game time.  Here is the second of three player-characters.  Mike wrote us a real first-chapter for this one!  The section in block-quotes is all Mike’s work; so is the emblem.  Thanks Mike!

Jacques Galliard

This French veteran from The Great War has been many things in life, most recently a resistance fighter in Paris.   His resistance group was attacked and decimated, but Jacques managed to capture the German agent responsible, a man with strange powers and an even stranger book. The man was an agent of a secret Nazi working group, the NGF (Nazi Geheimnis Forschungsgruppe, or Nazi Occult Research team), which explained the unusual emblem on his jacket. The book was full of incomprehensible diagrams and nonsensical instructions for dealing with impossible things. For two weeks Jacques hid in the catacombs of Paris and interrogated the German, who finally gave up the secrets of sorcery. He admitted to being the only member of the team to have any success with the formulae in the book.

NGF Emblem

NGF Emblem

Jacques called up an enormously powerful combat demon, the sight of which horrified the German sorcerer more than any threats that Jacques had uttered in the preceding two weeks. Jacques bound the demon to himself while the NGF agent cried in terror. At that moment, the rest of the Nazi occult research team found them. It was a massacre, thanks to the demon, and Jacques escaped with the book. He fled to Casablanca where he hopes to figure out this book, this demon and what he’s done. Meanwhile he wants to keep the NGF off his trail, keep his demon under control, and continue the resistance.

As a result of the binding ritual, Jacques bears a wound in his upper left arm that will not heal and bleeds continuously (his telltale). In Casablanca he saw a doctor, von Braun, and they recognized each other as sorcerers. Von Braun, being a learned man, was able to make better sense of the contents of the book.

Demon: Skar

Inconspicuous demon born for combat.  Doesn’t confer any abilities.  Has Armor, Big, Fast, Vitality, Shadow and Special Damage: bladed limbs.  Usually he hides in the master’s shadow, but when he attacks he becomes visible as a four-limbed horror with blades instead of feet.  S8/W9/L6/P9.

  • Desire is strife and warfare.
  • Need: Drink blood.  Usually of its dead victims, but it can sustain itself from Jacques blood via the wound that won’t close (1 lasting penalty when it does this)

This is one demon that could really get out of hand…

The Book

The book Jacques acquired from the German NGF officer is entitled “Ruf zu den Waffen”, which translates as “A Call to Arms”, and details the practice of summoning and binding powerful demons. Physically, the book is like new (aside from some blood spatter on the cover), and has the looks of being mass-produced, like a textbook. The cover is made of black leather, with embossed red lettering for the title. There is no attributed author. On the inside cover is an authenticity and registration stamp (which incorporates the NGF emblem), labelling this copy as number 57 of 200, and signed by one Friedrich Förster. The book isn’t particularly thick, maybe 1/2-3/4 of an inch, with about 150 pages of heavy-weight paper, much of which is filled with diagrams and large type. Suffice it to say, if this is a compilation of German expertise on demons, even they don’t know much.


Upon arrival in Casablanca, Jacques found himself a tiny apartment in the poor/rundown area of town, hoping to lay low and remain unnoticed. For money, he found himself a job at the docks. His weak arm prevented him from doing any physical labour, but he proved himself to be a competent clerical assistant. When he managed to contact the resistance in Casablanca, they immediately saw the usefulness of his position, and he put himself to work altering shipping manifests and such, so as to move contraband in and out of the city. The goods tend to remain in the shipyards, in their shipping containers, before they’re loaded on trains or other ships. Because the records have been altered, no one bothers to check, and some clever misdirection is used to avoid government inspections from finding certain crates.

Certain goods needed immediately by the Casablanca resistance (weapons, etc), are unloaded in the middle of the night and moved to a variety of basements and tool-sheds all over the city. Of course, some caches have been discovered by local authorities, with unfortunate results, but the resistance would rather lose a few weapons (and a few people) than keep all their eggs in one basket.

One such cache can be found at Le Château Rouillé, a small, well-maintained pub in a middle-class area of town. The basement serves as both storehouse and meeting room for the resistance. The bar is owned and operated by one Brigitte Laval, a matronly woman who sympathizes with the resistance, and thus turns a blind eye to their activities. She maintains that the men who meet in her basement are there to play poker.

The meetings usually involve just six men, including Jacques. His compatriots names were Emmanuel Dubois, Bertrand Boucher, Anton Bichette, Maurice Gauthier, and Pascal Jourdain.


The day was much like every day that had past since Jacques had arrived in Casablanca. Wake, eat breakfast, shower, change bandages, work, eat lunch, falsify some records, work, eat dinner, read the book, sleep. It was Wednesday, though. On Wednesdays, he attended the meeting after dinner, before reading the book. This Wednesday was supposed to be much like every Wednesday that had past since Jacques had arrived in Casablanca.

He left his apartment wearing a leather jacket that was too light for the cool weather, this Wednesday evening. His left hand rested comfortably in his left jacket pocket, taking some of the weight of his arm from his shoulder. His right pocket contained a money clip, a tarnished apartment key, and a deck of cards. Tucked into his waistline was a stolen German Luger, with which he had killed four German soldiers. Also with him was his shadow, with which he had killed twenty-nine Germans and an innocent farmer who once showed him kindness.

He entered Le Château Rouillé with the usual lack of fanfare. Wednesdays were slow nights, and there were only a handful of patrons in the bar, each sitting alone, each lost in both their miseries and their drinks. Brigitte, wiping clean a table, nodded to him, and said “You’re late, Monsieur Galliard. I believe your friends have started without you.” Jacques returned the nod, and went down the stairs.

The door was closed. Light from beneath, but no sound, no movement. No sign that there were five men in the room, conspiring against the Germans and pretending to play poker. Immediately, Jacques withdrew his Luger, slowly opened the door. Beyond it, five men sat around a poker table, with room for one more. Each was slumped in his seat, not moving, not breathing. In front of each man was a pile of poker chips and a hard of playing cards. In front of the seat that would have been Jacques was a card of a different sort: red and emblazoned with the symbol of the NGF.

Dun-dun-daaah!! 🙂

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Nine days til game time.  Here is one of the three awesome player-characters that I can’t wait to see spring into action.

Wolfgang von Braun

As a field medic in the Czech army, Petr Svoboda was involved in some dire warfare. He was captured by the Germans and forced to treat their wounded in a battlefield hospital, assisting an old German doctor. As the Czech dreamed of escape, a voice sometimes spoke to him from the empty air, encouraging him to take action. Eventually he came to accept that he wasn’t going crazy, that some spirit bound to the German doctor was speaking to him. The spirit was planning a mutiny of its own, it seemed. The “demon” could help Petr escape, if only he would kill the German doctor and assume his identity. The Czech had some German as well as French and English. With the doctor’s clothes and papers, and the demon’s magic, he would easily pass as a German army doctor.

As the fighting front approached the field hospital, the Czech acceded to the demon’s crazy scheme. He walked away from the final battle a “liberated” German officer POW. His age and “wounds” required that he be relocated to North Africa’s more favourable climate and gentler pace. The demon’s help was needed at every stage of the journey, to maintain his false identity. By the time they reached Morocco, he had bound the demon.

Now a decorated German veteran, “Dr. Wolfgang von Braun” enjoys semi-retirement in Casablanca. He works part-time in a German army hospice on the edge of town, runs a leisurely private practice, and has lots of spare time. Letters from the wife of the murdered German doctor continue to reach him via the German army post. Out of guilt or compassion, he writes back to her in the doctor’s voice.  After months of correspondence, he feels that he might be falling in love with her.

  • The inconspicuous demon confers the ability Cover (German army doctor), and also knows enough about von Braun’s personal life to make the Czech’s ruse nearly impenetrable.
  • Since he and the French resistance fighter recognized each other as sorcerer’s, von Braun has studied his book of sorcery, and understood much of it (Lore 4, solitary adept).

Demon: “Bacillus”

Inconspicuous demon,  confers Cloak and Cover (German doctor), and has Daze, Link and Special Damage (disease). S5/W6/L5/P6.

  • Desire is Corruption: any activity can be subverted into a dysfunctional version. Bacillus often presses von Braun into gambling, and then helps the good doctor to cheat.
  • Need is malpractice or causing medical harm. Von Braun meets this Need by performing unnecessary amputations, giving the most painful available remedies, allowing infections to develop, performing back-alley abortions and the like.


A letter arrived today from his “wife.” She is on her way to join him in Casablanca.

“My Dearest Wolfgang, I know this will come as a surprise to you, but we are about to be reunited. I have finally managed to acquire travel papers to Casablanca. I left Berlin in great haste, for something has happened and I need your help. I write you now from the ship crossing the Mediterranean. I know this letter will reach you only a day or two before I do, so you will not have to wait for much longer. My darling, I can’t wait to see you again. Yours, -Elsa”

Should make for some interesting scenes… 🙂  More PCs to be posted in the coming days.

-Johnny 0.

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The G.o.T.H. (Games on The Hill) players are gearing up for our first game of Sorcerer RPG, yours truly presiding.  We’ve had our planning session, and the game is scheduled to crack wide open in eleven days.  Today’s post is our One-Sheet, describing our “game concept” if you like, thematic direction and the selections we made in customizing the rules of play.


Notes on Theme, Setting and Genre. Mention any inspirational material.

Casablanca, the movie (1942).  World War II real history was inspirational, but we are picking elements from it, not adopting real history wholesale into the game.

What is the setting: Location and Era?

Casablanca, late 1940.  Crossroads of refugees, outlaws, deserters and resistance fighters from all over the world, war profiteers, black marketeers, corrupt local officials and imperious German officers.  French Morocco is part of “unoccupied France,” but the Nazi army moves across and within its borders with impunity.  There is some unequal treatment of Jewish people in the setting, some ghettos (Mellahs), but no transportation or concentration (yet).  Jews can still operate businesses.  Nazis are searching Europe for objects of divine power and sorcerous lore.  Nazi occult researchers have turned up nothing real – with exceptions possible.

The events of this game will not be a proxy for the greater war at hand.  The players are not trying to defeat the Nazis single-handedly.  This game will be about the personal plights of the player characters – as any Sorcerer game should be – and the war is just part of the setting.

What are Demons?

Impossible beings, with fetishes that they want to play out in the real world.  There is no big demon conspiracy, although they can know each other, have friendships and rivalries.  Like inmates of the same mental institution.

All demons can communicate by speech during the Contact ritual.  Demons take on their Type upon being Summoned.

Demons take names when they first encounter the human world.  Therefore, mix of biblical, Arabic, Sumerian, Greek, Indian names, etc. and (rarely) some modern names.

What are Sorcerers/What is Sorcery?

People who know about real demons, and how to perform the rituals of sorcery.

What is Humanity?

Sanity/Empathy hybrid.  Your Humanity is your ability to empathize with others and to act with compassion.  It is also your ability to maintain a reasoned connection with the human world and society.

What acts risk reducing your personal Humanity?

Victimizing someone (demons don’t count).  Recklessly exposing the world to insanity or chaotic and dangerous forces.  Anything that permanently raises your Lore exposes you to ever greater insane concepts, and requires a Humanity check.  Contact, Summon and Bind rituals.

What acts can redeem your personal Humanity?

Acting in the best interest of others, even though it costs you.  Destroying a significant source of sorcerous lore.  Banishing a demon whose Power exceeds your Humanity score.

At zero Humanity, you are…

…a sociopath, a gibbering wreck.

Demons will…

…challenge and disrupt reality; bypass decency.

Humanity check to…

…keep your grip; understand others.

Rituals are based on…

…transgressing on someone; performing the ritual somewhere you’re not supposed to be, e.g. someone else’s house, or a public place.  Creates a permanent incongruity in space/time at the location (insanity manifest, alien geometry).

Descriptors: Stamina, Will and Lore taken straight from the book.

*  *  *

Next I’ll post the three character concepts, including backstories and kickers.  Then you’ll really know why I’m so excited to start this game!

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