A Fist Full of Tunes You Can Whistle

A Scenario Location for GURPS Discworld

by Phil Masters

(Note: This article originally appeared in Visions Magazine, issue 1, in May 1999.)


The Discworld is a big place, with all sorts of locations to be found -- and all sorts of stories happening. There is even room for narratives involving taciturn men with weapons, a hot, dry climate, a certain amount of posing in broad-brimmed hats (masks optional), and inadvisable amounts of smoking.

Oh, and tunes you can whistle.

This location for scenarios uses an area of the Disc with the right sort of climate as a location for such stories. (Actually, what few hints appear in the books suggest that Brindisi is more Italianate than Mexican -- but spaghetti is certainly popular there.) All you need to do now is get your PCs off to that part of the world, and get them talking slow.

Note: This setting is not an "official" part of the Discworld, although it's not too inconsistent with stuff that has appeared in the novels. All sorts of stories fit on the Disc without too much trouble, and if you want to drop a specific set of clichés into a GURPS Discworld game, all you have to do is decide where they happen, and how the Disc distorts the familiar themes. This article can be taken as a demonstration of the technique.

The Region: Backwoods Brindisi

Somewhere between Klatchistan and Genua, far enough to Rimwards to get unpleasantly warm but not near enough to the sea to get much rain, the land is a parched waste that somehow, just about, supports ranch-style farming and a bit of other miscellaneous food production. (Beans, mostly.) There's also enough minerals to support a mining industry. (Gold turns up sporadically, usually leading to trouble.) Towns are few and far between here, and any government is spread so thin as to be transparent; the resulting society is one where men can be men and dwarfs can be dwarfs. In other words, the mortality rate due to violence is appalling.

Although this region is technologically almost as advanced as Ankh- Morpork, in an impoverished sort of way, the basic social pattern is feudal. Not, you understand, that you'll find many knights and barons; rather, any local bigshot who has enough heavies, cash, and macho pose can claim to be the boss of his area. (Or hers; on this part of the Disc, "Being In Charge" is almost an equal-opportunities profession, although raw muscle can be a crucial advantage.) The law is supposedly laid down in some royal court off in the more refined coastal towns, and is enforced by local sheriffs and the occasional touring judge, but all these types of lawmen are generally in the pockets of local bosses.

But none of this really defines the region. For that, you need to look at the heat. And the flies. Given these conditions, the local peasantry has developed a taste for broad-brimmed sombreros and big ponchos, under which they can catch a lot of siestas. They aren't so much lazy as sensibly comatose. Being poor, they only seem to shave every three or four days, and many have big moustaches.


This is, in many senses, classic mercenary-adventurer territory, if you can stand the heat. But visitors should be warned; it's advisable to stay on the right side of the local bosses, who have numbers in their favour. This would be fine, except that many local bosses don't seem to have a right side. Best to keep riding on, trying to stay out of trouble . . .

Other visitors might include performance artists offered wonderful deals by agents who don't tell them that the new theatre or opera house is being built in the middle of nowhere by a raving lunatic, and isn't finished yet. Then there's the commercial opportunities; this is certainly classic snake-oil-salesman country. Likewise, rather low-grade gamblers are not exactly infrequent in these parts. And tourists might be persuaded of the region's unspoilt ethnic charm and colourful tradition of poncho-making.

The Village of Mallo Burro

Mallo Burro might be considered a classic backwoods-Brindisi village, albeit with a few more causes of trouble than most. It's near enough to main travel routes for wandering PCs to hear about it or even blunder through by chance, remote enough for the local problems to fester. One road -- well, a broad, dusty trail -- passes through, and local ranches and bean-patches support a population of a few hundred, a cantina, a blacksmith and a general store. (Oh, and a witch, of course.) Traders bring carts through every couple of weeks, trading anything that can't be made locally (including limes for the bar) for whatever can; they rarely stop long.

The village itself is dominated by one family, the Varozags. However, there is also a dwarf-run goldmine not far out of town, and the dwarfs somehow just don't get on with the Varozags. Furthermore, neither faction is excessively popular with the local peasantry, and all sorts of other trouble sometimes flares up.

Local Geography

Mallo Burro is strung out along the single road that passes through, with few buildings more than a few yards back; whenever anyone sites a new house or shop, there's usually nothing to stop them adding it to either end of the village, and few people, even in these parts, want a location with a view of the midden or junk-heap behind someone else's place. Take a left or right off the road and between two buildings, and you're soon in the wilderness.

North of the village, the land rises into an unremarkable but determinedly rocky set of mountains, and a poor trail leads up this way to the dwarf-mine. Travellers will need to cover slightly more than three miles of increasingly poor terrain; most will want to ride a mule. The mine entrance itself is marked by a plain "gateway" of rough but solid timbers, and there's usually a couple of dwarfs around with axes and picks to greet any visitors (usually by telling them to go away).

South-west of the village, and less than half a mile away, one finds a mesa -- a steep-sided lump of volcanic rock sticking up out of the desert, with a flat top a few hundred yards across. The mesa dominates the village visually, but few people find much reason to climb up it; nothing much grows here. Thus, the locals tend to forget that there is in fact a structure of sorts up there; an old circle of granite slabs, somewhat worn down by wind-blown sand but still all standing. Their history and purpose are effectively forgotten, although some older peasants may be able to say something.

Incidentally, the landscape in these parts is dotted with cacti. One species contains a sour-sweet pulp that can be fermented and then distilled to produce a drink. (It has to be a drink; the Disc doesn't have much use for battery acid in its present state of technology. Most local peasants prefer beer, which may or may not have a slice of lime stuck in the neck of the bottle.)

The Varozag Clan and the Dwarfs

Mallo Burro's ruling family are the Varozags; in full, the family name is "de Varozag de La Lala." They occupy a rather grand three-storey house at one end of the village, usually emerging in groups of two or three family members and about as many servants and hangers-on, to supervise their cattle ranch and push the peons around. The head of the clan, Don Dominguino de Varozag de La Lala, is said to be in his late sixties, and to be a huge bull of a man with a really impressive moustache, a will of iron, a foul temper, and a vast capacity for alcohol. However, hardly anyone knows for sure, as he hasn't been seen by anyone outside the family (apart from one fanatically loyal serving-woman) for decades. He supposedly holes up at the top of his house, issuing peremptory commands to his relatives. Some cynical local peasants secretly think that he has been dead for years, and that "Don Dominguino orders it!" has become the family's all- purpose excuse for some increasingly eccentric and sometimes vicious policies.

The truth behind these whispers is left to the GM to determine; an encounter with Don Dominguino (live -- or stuffed, as a few peasants suspect) should come as the confused climax of a long scenario. However, the Varozags do actually have one big secret that no- one suspects; a dash of elf-blood in their ancestry.

The story behind this is forgotten, and the genes are now thinned out enough that the only signs are that family members are pale by Brindisian standards, with a slight tendency to pointed ears, good looks, and fashion sense -- and sometimes, a definite streak of inventive cruelty. The Varozags all wear dashing-but-baggy clothes (often silk) and stylish broad-brimmed hats (not sombreros) which they pull down low. They usually marry members of other noble families, many with similar secrets, who they meet on infrequent trips to larger towns; those who marry into the family are chosen for their similar attitudes and manners, and soon fit in. However, the Varozags do sometimes emit an unintended, indefinable aura, which certain others may unconsciously notice over the years.

This is one reason why the family doesn't get on with the dwarfs who moved into the local mountains about fifty years ago, when a decent vein of gold showed up. Another is simply that the family wants to control everything in this area, and the dwarfs don't want to be controlled. A third is that these dwarfs are surly even by their species' standards -- something to do with wearing chainmail and metal helmets day and night in a desert climate -- and don't get on with anyone much. From the peasants' point of view, at least a Varozag will acknowledge your existence, even if they make it clear that you exist only to clean their boots; they rather like attention. The dwarfs, by contrast, rarely talk to anyone they aren't buying from or selling to.

The "king" of the mine, Norrin Nuggetsbane, is a walking definition of words like "dour" and "monosyllabic," but he is also a competent tactician and a very effective long-term planner; actually, the biggest problem is that his plans are often a century out of date by the time they come to a head. He is currently working to persuade traders to come direct to the mine, so that he doesn't have to send his people down to the village to buy supplies; his eventual idea is to cut the Varozags' ranch off from outside business. He simply doesn't care what this will do to Mallo Burro.

For a typical member of the Varozag family, use ST 10, DX 12 (or higher), IQ 10, HT 10, and skill around 12-16 in various refined weapons. Their loyal thugs are about ST 14, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 11, with skills of about 12-14 in Brawling and Axe/Mace. Dwarf miners mostly have their racial package plus a point or two of extra ST or HT, Axe/Mace-15, and decent levels in mining-related skills. Obviously, individual members of any of these groups may vary somewhat.

Local Characters

Ninairara, "La Bruja"

ST 9, DX 11, IQ 14, HT 12

Advantages: Fully Literate, Magery +2, Reputation (+2 in Mallo Burro), Status +1.

Disadvantages: Hunchback, Overweight, Sense of Duty (All Peasants), Struggling Wealth, Truthfulness.

Quirks: Dislikes spiders, Loud laugh, Nosy about people, Thinks that colourful ponchos are really cool.

Skills: Animal Handling-11, Area Knowledge (Mallo Burro)-14, Brawling-12, Cooking-14, Fast-Talk-16, Naturalist-14, Physician-15, Psychology-14, Savoir-Faire (Backwoods Brindisi)-16, Shouting at Foreigners-14, Veterinary-14.

Languages: Brindisian (native)-14, Ankhian-12.

Spells: Beast-Soother-15, Borrowing-14, Englebert's Enhancer-15, Find Weakness-14, Foolishness-16, Lend Strength-17, Morphic Tweaking-20, Persuasion-16, Purify Water-15, Seek Water-14, Sense Emotion-14, Sense Foes-14, Sense Life-14.

Mallo Burro's resident witch is relatively youthful and inexperienced, but is a typically determined member of her profession. In these parts, that profession requires her to wear a big patterned sombrero with a pointy tip; given her build, hunched back, and taste for garish ponchos, she cuts an unmistakable figure.

Although she is not violent or malicious, she doesn't like taking backchat from anyone, and she is rather unsubtle by witch standards. She knows something of Borrowing, but she is not especially good at it; she secretly slightly enjoys using Morphic Tweaking, usually turning annoying people into small sand-lizards. In any encounter with PCs, she is likely to size them up and then do whatever is necessary to protect her village from the worst of any trouble. She can be a helpful ally, if approached carefully, for her medical skills if nothing else.

Don Gavaroz de Varozag de la Lala, "El Aguila del Cubo"

ST 11, DX 16, IQ 10, HT 11

Advantages: Attractive Appearance, Ambidexterity, Fully Literate, Status +2.

Disadvantages: Delusion ("My identity is secret, thanks to this mask"), Gentleman's Code of Honour, Impulsiveness, Secret (Elf- Kin), Trademark: Initial-Carving ("DGDVDLLEADC").

Quirks: Always wears black, Flamboyant swashbuckler, Keeps trying to carve his initials in combat, Likes the admiration of the lower classes, Prone to sunburn (wears a broad-brimmed hat and baggy shirt for protection).

Skills: Acrobatics-14, Brawling-15, Climbing-15, Dancing-15, Fast-Talk-8, Fencing-18, Jumping-15, Knife-16, Riding (Horse)-15, Running-10, Savoir-Faire (Brindisi)-12, Stealth-16, Whip-15.

Languages: Brindisian (native)-10, Ankhian-8.

The black (or perhaps white) sheep of the Varozag family is a younger son, whose idea of a way to spend his time is to dress up in black silk, a broad-brimmed hat (pulled low), and a nifty little black eye-mask, swagger around the area with a fencing sabre and a whip, and declare himself the protector of the local peasants. Sometimes, he actually does some good; the shrewder peasants are beginning to realise that if their more fetching daughters make eyes at him a bit, he'll do almost anything they ask, and there isn't even any serious immediate risk to the girls' virtue. The purpose of the eye-mask is a mystery; Don Gavaroz announces his identity whenever a dramatic scene seems called for, and keeps trying to carve his initials, including on opponents. (He rarely gets beyond "DG," and in any case a victim would surely pass out from loss of blood before he finished the job -- and Don Gavaroz is not a sadist, and stops when a victim is down -- but he doesn't stop hoping. There are rules for combat initial-carving in GURPS Swashbucklers, or just improvise some cumulative minuses to hit.)

Gavaroz should represent a loose cannon in events around Mallo Burro. His family think that he's going through a temporary phase; they won't kill him if he gets in the way of their plans, which happens (Gavaroz liking to think of himself as a rebel), but they'll certainly contrive to have him hit on the head and locked up for a month or six if necessary. They know how fast he is with that blade, and will allow for it.

The Dwarf With No Name

ST 13, DX 14, IQ 10, HT 13

(Attributes include bonuses from racial package.)

Advantages: Dwarf Package (with Dwarfish Greed), Combat Reflexes, Disease-Resistance.

Disadvantages: Addiction (Chain-Smoker), Code of Honour (Stays Bought), Odious Personal Habit (Very Laconic: -1 reactions), Stubbornness.

Quirks: Likes to play sides off against each other, Smokes thin cigars, Squints a lot, Wears a poncho everywhere (including bed).

Skills: Axe/Mace-14, Blacksmith-13, Brawling-15, Crossbow- 16, Fast-Draw (Arrow)-15, Fast-Draw (Knife)-15, Knife Throwing-15, Metallurgy-9, Prospecting-10, Riding (Mule)-12, Tactics-9.

(Skills include bonuses from Dwarf racial package and Combat Reflexes.)

Languages: Dwarfish (native)-10, Ankhian-9, Brindisian-8.

This dwarfish wanderer is almost as much of a poseur as Don Gavaroz, but more calculating and self-centred. He has nothing to do with the dwarfs up in the mountains; he just wandered into Mallo Burro recently, recognised this as a situation with potential, and decided to stay a while. However, he doesn't bother explaining himself, so there's a fair bit of speculation about his motives.

In fact, they're painfully simple. He has long since learned that some people -- humans and dwarfs -- will pay gold for combat skills. This suits him fine; he has a fairly low regard for life (aside from his own), although he's happy to be paid just to look threatening. But he's found that more gold tends to come available if there's actual fighting, so he encourages it. He's not very good at manipulating people yet, but he's learning; he'll certainly never tell anyone anything that might reduce a conflict. His dwarfish racial loyalty is low, although he would probably slightly favour his own kind if it didn't cost him anything.

He wears plain clothes and a poncho, which can conceal both his bronze breastplate and how heavily armed he is, to a casual glance; he also has a metal helmet (with a flat brim to shade his eyes). He carries a pistol crossbow (ST 5, 1d-3 impaling, SS 10, Acc 3), half-a- dozen daggers, and a couple of hatchets. If he makes a Fast-Draw roll, he can fire the crossbow every three rounds, but it doesn't do a lot of damage; in a fight, he mostly stands his ground, fires off one or two bolts, follows up with some fast-drawn throwing daggers, then wades in with a hatchet. (In melee, he's strong enough not to have to ready that between blows.)

Pedro the Undertaker

Mallo Burro's funeral director is also the village's chief carpenter and a general odd-job man; a village of this size doesn't usually see very many funerals. Pedro, however, has decided to do something about that, and he has little regard for human life and an instinct for trouble-making. If he's around and either a Varozag or a dwarf should say something about the other faction, he'll repeat it -- provided that it is, or can be twisted to sound, bad. However, he's also good at playing the humble peasant who doesn't understand what he's repeating, and at offering to make himself "useful." He's now looking at bigger schemes for encouraging open warfare around Mallo Burro, and he has become sort-of-friendly with The Dwarf With No Name.

He has IQ 12 and 10 in other attributes, along with Acting-14, Carpentry-14, Diplomacy-11, Fast-Talk-11, Professional Skill (Undertaker)-13, and Scrounging-12.

Jose the Barman

Quite likely the first resident of Mallo Burro who PCs will talk to is the proprietor and sole full-time staff of "El Barra Donde La Gente Habla Lentamente" -- the village bar (and its nearest thing to a hotel). Jose knows exactly how his job should be performed, and being slightly crazy is part of the image. Whenever a PC enters his establishment, he will be behind the bar, moving smears around with a dishcloth; he will look up, look back at a glass, look up again, and loudly ask "What you want, gringo?"

Whatever they answer, he will announce loudly to the bar (even if it's empty); "Ha -- he say he wanna beer" (or whatever). Then he will lean conspiratorially across the bar, look at them slightly sideways, and ask loudly, "You wanna slice a lime in that?"

Again, whatever they answer, he will announce. ("He wanna slice of lime in it!"/"He no wanna slice of lime!") He can keep this up for hours. He's not worried what or how much customers drink -- he sells enough beers to the peasants to cover his costs -- but he is convinced that everyone should want to drink their chosen tipple straight out of the bottle, with a slice of lime jammed in the neck. Telling him that this is way out of date, or stupid, makes no difference; he will always offer. ("Ha! He say it stoopeeed to hava slice a lime in it . . . ")

Jose is basically a normal, average character, but he does have an uncanny knack for diving behind his bar the moment trouble starts; as the place is actually full of secret escape-hatches and hiding- places, his survivability is good. (Really smart PCs may spot this, and extract his secrets from him for use in emergencies -- but this will take work. "You wanna secret door? You wanna slice a lime in it, maybe?") Treat him as having Combat Reflexes and Extraordinary Luck, along with full Literacy and the skills Bartender-16 and Stealth-15.

His bar is a classic western saloon/cantina, with double swing doors, adequate spittoons, and more bottles than should be economically viable.

Scenario Ideas

Getting to Mallo Burro

GMs can arbitrarily start PCs off in this location if they wish -- well, it'd be polite to tell the players something about it before they start generating characters -- but it's also possible to bring a pre-existing group to Mallo Burro. Reasons why PCs might be in this general area have already been discussed; Mallo Burro isn't so remote that getting them here, specifically, should be hard.

If the PCs are a traditional pack of hard-bitten adventurers -- dubious thugs who'd do most things for money -- it can be easy; they're hired. Who by, is a matter of taste; the Varozags are obvious candidates, especially if they decide to do something serious about those dwarfs. On the other hand, a more traditional option would be to have this assortment of mismatched combat merchants hired by the villagers, perhaps to deal with trouble from the Varozags, or to fend off bandits who the Varozags are just ignoring. The set-up should, of course, be run as a parody of those early scenes in The Magnificent Seven, if at all possible. But remember that this is the Discworld; the villagers know the unwritten rules at least as well as the players, and while they will play a certain amount by the book ("We are a poor veeleej, Senor . . . "), especially when it gives them a moral advantage over the PCs ("There no seven hof you? Seven ees traditional"), they want to avoid the worst stuff. Ninairara is likely to produce a written contract for them to sign, which will include a clause about not leading impressionable young villagers to dream of life as freelance mercenaries. Oh, and it will also specify, in the small print, that anyone who doesn't survive the job certainly doesn't get paid; if anyone spots that and asks, well, "If you get kill, gringo, you no much good at your job, hey?"

If the PCs are a bit less stereotyped, however, you'll probably have to work out a customised plot. (If they're very strange, you'll be used to that.) Hint at gold in the mountains. Link them up with a merchant who works this area. Get them jobs as touring freelance law enforcers for the Brindisian government. Have artistically-talented PCs hired by the Varozags to bring a bit of culture to the region. (The Varozags aren't totally sane, and are quite capable of deciding to build themselves an opera house.) Tell them they've inherited a ranch (actually ten thousand acres of tumbleweed) . . .

Of course, one small problem with this region is that troll PCs are fairly useless here, given the heat. If you have to bring such to Mallo Burro, have them master the fine art of taking siestas during the day (and they can wear some pretty impressive ponchos and sombreros), and let them lumber round at modest efficiency in the night.

The Dwarf in the Middle

The basic plot involving The Dwarf With No Name is, of course, highly derivative. (Sergio Leone borrowed it from a Japanese movie.) Thanks to some gentle prodding, tensions in Mallo Burro warm up from simmer to fast boil.

The PCs can either be hired, or persuaded by appeals to their better natures, to protect the villagers from collateral damage. Alternatively, they can be employed by the Varozags or the dwarfs to fight in their war; if they have any traces of conscience, they should eventually realise that they are mixed up in a futile and messy struggle. Unfortunately, trying to calm things down by appeals to reason will achieve little; each side wants to fight, and has heard vague rumours that the other has been saying some nasty things. Furthermore, whichever side has currently hired The Dwarf is finding him invaluable -- and his monosyllabic suggestions won't involve the word "peace."

Mallo Burro is full of swaggering thugs hired by the Varozags; El Barra is being smashed up so often that Jose's ingenuity and savings are taking a battering, he's almost run out of limes, and a lot of peasants are being maltreated. Don Gavaroz is actually doing some good, for once, which means that his family will soon catch him and lock him away for the duration; if the PCs need some extra skills and combat capability, getting him free could be a smart idea.

The dwarfs are less blatantly troublesome -- at first. However, they are planning. Specifically, they are building a set of siege engines that could punch holes through a mountain. If and when these are deployed, they will be aimed at the Varozag mansion; unfortunately, their operators will regard other human buildings that lie in the way as expendable. A climactic scene should probably involve sabotage and its spectacular consequences, if possible.

Grey Import

The stone circle up on the mesa is more than just a natural formation. And late one morning, someone shows up who can do something with it. A mule shambles into town carrying a scrawny, absent-minded young man in what appears to be a white night-shirt.

This is Dafydd, a Llamedosian programmer. He found references to some early Strict Druidic missionary efforts in some dusty records, deduced the probable existence of this legacy system, and guessed that it can be re-booted and upgraded to modern standards. And its power is sufficient to control the weather, as well as predicting astronomical events. (Throw in some double-talk about butterflies and quantum, if anyone asks him to explain.)

When they have worked out what he's talking about, the villagers will regard this as an interesting idea. The region has little, unreliable rainfall, and the last few years have been particularly bad ("which ees why we are a poor veeleej, Senor"). But there are vague stories from folks' grandfathers' days of better weather, thanks to gringos in night-dresses. If this druidic computer can be restored to operation, that would be wonderful. The PCs (who might have fallen in with Dafydd on the road, if they weren't already in Mallo Burro) should hopefully get caught up in the enthusiasm. The Varozags and the dwarfs ignore all this, unless provoked.

And Dafydd, having examined the circle, will announce that he can get it to work. It will need a small hardware upgrade to run modern software -- just a couple of small slabs of rock, nothing the village can't afford. Very observant PCs may note that he largely ignores the flat slab in the centre of the circle; if asked, he will refer to it as the "Central Processing Unit," shrug, and say that it's not needed for this application.

The thing which Dafydd has neglected to mention (for all sorts of reasons) is that, well, there's these people who'd like to have a word with him. Other druids, to be specific. The problems start when they show up.

There are several of them, accompanied by a bunch of hired bandidos (similar to the Varozags' thugs); they may also hire The Dwarf With No Name. They include some burly assistant priests who are handy in a fight (treat sickles as shortswords or broadswords, but with no option to stab), and one or two senior figures with some knowledge of their own branch of magic -- say, half-a-dozen spells, drawn from the Elemental Colleges, especially Fire.

Catching Dafydd is their initial concern, but will be partly forgotten when they notice the circle. It's a good circle, and they too want to bring it back on line. The snag is, they are devotees of a more traditional school of programming methodology.

They, too, can improve the weather locally, they say, and the villagers may be tempted to listen to them, especially if they capture Dafydd or he goes into hiding. The snag is, they not only demand that the villagers convert to Strict Druidism (complete with male voice choirs), they do want to reactivate the Central Processing Unit. Which is supposed to be used for good old-fashioned sacrifices. If Dafydd can be asked, he'll turn a bit green, and say that he can get the circle running without that sort of unpleasantness, but this sort of disagreement about tradition is the kind of thing that led him to leave home.

The PCs' task now is to get rid of the Strict Druids, despite their large support-group of bandidos, and rescue Dafydd if necessary. With a sufficiently shameless GM, this scenario should involve a terrifying clash of hideously stereotyped accents; remember, the locals call everyone "Senor" (or "Senorita") or "Gringo," while the Llamedosians favour "Boyo" and begin or end most sentences "look you." Given the background of a lot of RPG'ers, you can expect plenty of computer jokes, too. There will probably also be sacrificial victims chained to the CPU, and the occasional unprovoked male voice choir.

And if the stone circle does get brought back partially on-line, things can get a bit weird, especially if anyone's using magic; basically, the GM can temporarily modify the local mana level to something silly. Triggering a full-scale thunderstorm can throw confusion into a final fight scene; you should probably have Dafydd running circles round the mesa through it all, desperately hacking up ad hoc chants while dodging lightning bolts that all seem to have his name on them. And if Ninairara somehow got chosen as an early candidate for the CPU, someone is going to get turned into a sand-lizard.

Article publication date: April 6, 2001

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