DM of the Rings XCVIII:
Ooooh! Shiny!

By Shamus
on May 9, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings

Grima is dead. Oops.
Gandalf and Aragorn want the Palantir.

Never share loot with NPCs. Their pack will always contain everything the DM wants them to have, so it’s a waste to give them anything more.

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2020202010There are now 90 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

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  1. Sewerman says:

    Anyone want to wager on whether Aragorn will steal the palantir from Gandalf in Edoras before Pippin can??

  2. Cenobite says:

    Oh this is awesome…what have we looming here? A pitched battle between Gandalf and Aragorn???

    I’m selling tickets!

  3. It’s a first post!

    It’s MINE!

  4. Brad says:

    First!

    Nice job.

  5. You bastards.

    I like Aragorn’s attitude in this-

  6. Nefke says:

    never sharing loot with npc’s… so true :P

  7. Aaron says:

    It’s amazing how the NPC Bag of Holding is also like a Deck of Many Things. Which of course is part Wand of Wonder. What I really like is when those same NPCs don’t bother pulling any of that out of their collective hats and force the players to figure it out for themselves. Call me crazy, but a few PC deaths for player stupidity do wonderful things … either open slots in your game for others, or get the players to actually PLAY.

    Kudos Shamus!

  8. Zynia says:

    So sadly similar to player that looted the bodies of a massacred clan while the last of them stood grieving….did I mention the grave robbing character was a paladin? rofl

  9. Soris says:

    “Let us observe a moment of solemn silence for the dead…Right after we relieve them of their valuables.” – Easily the best line since: “You should call yourself Leggo-of-My-Ass, ’cause you’re going to be saying that to me a lot.”!

    Congrats on another outstanding strip, Shamus. I don’t know how you do it, but please continue!

  10. Tym says:

    I’m getting the feeling that you are not an aragorn fan…

  11. Woerlan says:

    In this case, the DM should let Aragorn take it, then make a few Will rolls at DC 50, then hand Aragorn a note saying “Congratulations. You are now Sauron’s love-monkey.”

  12. Salen says:

    Hehe, I knew they’d jump at the thought of looting the badguys! Heh. Aragorn rocks though. It is indeed treasure, and his.

  13. Jindra34 says:

    Cursed loot generally causes problems…

  14. Rolld20 says:

    Oh, you *know* the GM is just making up the ‘curse’ to discourage the players. If it’s so ‘accursed’ why does Gandork want it so bad? Huh??
    Or is the GM’s precious former character *conveniently* immune to the Putritir?
    Typical… ;)

    Fun strip!

  15. Carl the Bold says:

    10 Soris Says: “Let us observe a moment of solemn silence for the dead…Right after we relieve them of their valuables.” – Easily the best line since: “You should call yourself Leggo-of-My-Ass, ’cause you’re going to be saying that to me a lot.”!

    Well, I certainly disagree. That line was ages ago, and, as funny as it was, there have been funnier since.

    Aragorn’s line here reminds me of his line, “Let’s rescue our dear friends whose names escape me at the moment.”

    I love this campaign!

  16. Blast, I was too busy posting on the Best lines ever thread at the WoTC boards to get first, lol.

    But another good one!
    I can almost see Pippins face, “ohhh, its so pretty!”

  17. Roxysteve says:

    Terry Pratchett makes a rather good joke at the expense of the LotR palantir FX in his illustrated book The Last Hero.

    Recommended to all.

    I wonder what the Enchanted Glass Bowling Ball (of Death) holds in store for our intrepid adventurers?

    Steve.

  18. gahazakul says:

    I just LOVE the vlended together yellow to white speech bubble! I do not know why it makes me giggle more than the punchline! Shamus, I have to ask if you have been planning on mixing the bubbles like that since you first made the pc and npc bubles diffrent colors or if it just hit you for this strip. Lord, im still gigglin…

  19. gahazakul says:

    make vlended into blended plz lol

  20. Da Rogue says:

    Oooooooooooooohhhhhh… Shiny round object… MIIIIIIIIIINE!!

    Pippin reminds me of my halfling rogue; always biting off more than he can chew and paying the price for it.

    Great strip Shamus.

    …Oh and 1st!, I mean 10th!, er, whatever…

  21. Jim says:

    Cool! Our new castle already comes with a moat!

  22. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Oh course I do. It’s treasure.”

    Great line!

    Odds of the day:
    4-1: The Palantir is a Magic 8 Ball.
    8-1: Aragorn sees in it his marriage to Arwen & runs off to the Paths of the Dead.

  23. -Chipper says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this strip, knowing that an NPC would grab the treasure before the PCs, but I overlooked that it is a cursed piece of treasure. Now I’m anxious to see how this plays out.

    I don’t know what number my post is & don’t care since I have this nice shiny ring to fiddle with all day.

    Cheers!

  24. Well, don’t forget that in the books, Aragorn was one of the few who could use the Palantir and pull its gaze away from Sauron. So technically, it’s hardly cursed for him.

    Great comic, by the way.

  25. BeAuMaN says:

    To Sewerman’s Wager:

    Steal it? No. Attempt? Yes. See it a mile away… one of the PCs attempts to steal the palantir so they can easily find what they need, and being that this would disrupt the DM’s plot, he instead says they can’t just steal it. When asked why, the DM simply says that, rather conveniently, Pippen stole the Palantir and they can’t have it….

    Or I could be wrong :D

  26. George says:

    Never share loot with NPCs. Their pack will always contain everything the DM wants them to have, so it’s a waste to give them anything more.

    I DM always gives to the NPC what they want to keep away from the PC characters. What happened to spot checks to see the palantir?

  27. phobos says:

    “Terry Pratchett makes a rather good joke at the expense of the LotR palantir FX in his illustrated book The Last Hero.”

    Actually it was Going Postal, IIRC. Although he’s been making gentle and not-so-gentle fun of LotR and similar works for about 25 years now…

  28. brassbaboon says:

    One of the things I always found frustrating in the books (and the movie) is how lame the actual magic really was. Although I did love how subtle the portrayal of the magic in Middle Earth was. Still, the main magical things that Gandalf did in the books would be easily outclassed by your average 5th level D&D mage or sorcerer.

    The palintir is an example. It’s basically a cursed crystal ball which requires a will save to use.

  29. Marmot says:

    I bet that you will be able to find several scenes in which Aragorn appears to be threathening (even better: bullying) Gandalf so you can orchestrate the epic battle over the palantir!!!

  30. Telas says:

    “Still, the main magical things that Gandalf did in the books would be easily outclassed by your average 5th level D&D mage or sorcerer.”

    I think this says far less about Tolkien’s works than it does about D&D.

    If you get the recommended daily average of four encounters a day, and level up every 13 encounters, it’s entirely possible to make Epic Level (20th) in just over two months of game time.

    Which makes one wonder, why does it take an Elf two hundred years to get started adventuring, but only a short summer to become godlike?

    Telas

  31. Scarlet Knight says:

    Telas Says: “Which makes one wonder, why does it take an Elf two hundred years to get started adventuring”

    Easy; ever see how hot elf maids look? No wonder elves never want to set out…”Sorry, guys, I can’t go today. My father-in-law needs help fixing a sword, and besides, Arwen promised we’d play ‘Find the Entwife’ later and … OK! I’m coming, honey!”

  32. fd says:

    The palantir is not cursed. It’s just a communication device. Unfortunately Sauron is waiting to pick up on the other end and having a telepathic conversation with him is not a good thing. Prior to Sauron obtaining a palatir they were used regularly to communicate between Arnor and Gondor.

    Brassbaboon,

    They reason that magic is subtle in middle earth is because of Sauron. Using powerful magic would be like advertising to Sauron that you were there. Remember his symbol is an unblinking, all seeing eye. Therefore, Gandalf and Radagast are very careful not to draw attention to themselves, and it is subtlety explained that those that do use magic recklessly get a visit from a Nazgul. When Gandalf returns as Gandalf the White, the need for caution has passed and he is pretty free in his use. Also don’t underestimate the power of the magic. It’s not about fireballs, Gandalf standing at the gates of Minas Tirith and preventing the Witch King from entering is something that an epic level magic user would have been proud of. It’s not showy, but it is powerful.

    • WJS says:

      I suppose that depends on exactly how you define “cursed”. While there may not be any curse on the Palantir itself, trying to use it would be highly dangerous, so in practical terms it’s a cursed item.

  33. Angela Christine says:

    “Which makes one wonder, why does it take an Elf two hundred years to get started adventuring, but only a short summer to become godlike?”

    If Legolas is anything to go by, the problem is an elven form of Attention Deficit Disorder. Paying attention to the instructions is boring, so it takes them forever to get through their introductory classes. Practicing against inert targets is also boring. They keep procrastinating, putting off the necessary practice as long as possible, which is pretty long when you are practically immortal. Then, one day, they get to stab or shoot someone in the eye, and that kicks ass. From then on they stab people in the eye at every possible opportunity, and learn very quickly.

  34. Flexstyle says:

    “Let us observe a moment of solemn silence for the dead. Right after we relieve them of their valuables.”

    I love it!

  35. Matt` says:

    hehe.. I was expecting something about the shiny orb that Saruman dropped – in my head it was more about Gandalf ninja-ing the loot right out of the hands of Pippin.

    But this was still good :)

  36. Derek K. says:

    “Let us observe a moment of solemn silence for the dead. Right after we relieve them of their valuables.”

    Dude, tell me he got roleplay XP for that!

  37. Jindra34 says:

    Derek: Nope in this campaign you only get XP for killing stuff… otherwise these people would so be epic… and any way its not the most in charecter line ever…

  38. Dave says:

    Alternate last line from Aragon:

    “Well, la-di-da, look who can cast Identify.”

  39. brassbaboon says:

    fd:

    I love the LOTR books, and think it is one of the great literary creations of all time. I’ve read it more than two dozen times in my life, and hope to read it at least that many times again. I am intimately familiar with LOTR, The Hobbit and the Silmarillion. I just finished reading “Children of Hurin.” So I think I can comfortably call myself an expert on Middle Earth.

    And it is in part because the magic is so subtle and simple, and yet is so powerful and influential, that I love the book. The palintirs are a great example, they were originally a sort of long-distance two-way webcam device for the Lords of Men to communicate among their far-flung empire. They also allowed a sufficiently strong-willed individual to do a sort of remote helicopter flyby. This capability, which seems very mundane to us today, when we have far more capabable surveillance at our fingertips, but Tolkien makes it very plausible that such simple devices can be the foundation of a powerful empire, when you are the only one who has them.

    Overt magic is rare in Middle-Earth, but subtle magic is everywhere.

    However, I stand by my claim that my 14th level Illusionist-Mage could have wiped out the entire Fellowship in about five rounds without breaking a sweat or a fingernail.

  40. orcbane says:

    Good stuff, as always.

    It’s mine!

  41. Attorney At Chaos says:

    I seem to recall a comparison made long ago (possibly in Dragon magazine) that estimated that Gandalf the Grey was possibly as strong as a 7th level Magic User in AD&D terms (I think this was in 1st edition days). There also seemed to be a fair number of 1st or 2nd level MUs around in Middle Earth, but very few in between. So Gandalf looked very powerful in relative terms for that world but wasn’t all that powerful in absolute terms.

  42. Marstov says:

    I read those discussions back in the day…one of which claimed Gandalf was an 8th level cleric because that’s all it took to reliably turn “wraiths”. I always wondered if those people had read the same books I had. Gandalf goes toe to toe with the Balrog, a demon that singlehandly destroyed the largest and most powerful collection of dwarves in the world. I would think any monster that could take on tens of thousands of dwarves might be given a little respect, and likewise the “wizard” who killed it by himself, but apparently not. In the world of many D&D players (at least back then) if you aren’t chucking meteor swarms, you weren’t worth noticing.

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Rolemaster system, they had the original license to do gaming material based on Middle Earth. They did a *very* good job of it, even if you didn’t like that particular system. If you’re a hard core LOTR fan, I recommend seeing what you can find on ebay and other places. The book on Moria was particularly good.

  43. Yahzi says:

    “It’s treasure!”

    All PCs have the innate ability to recognize “treasure.” It’s a class feature.

    :D

  44. brassbaboon says:

    OK, so the Balrog did not “single-handedly destroy the largest and most powerful collection of dwarves in the world.” It gathered a host of evil creatures, mostly orcs and goblins and then used its army to drive the dwarves out of Khazad-dum over the course of many years.

    Nonetheless, Gandalf vs. the Balrog is definitely different than the D&D version of a wizard. When I first started playing D&D my greatest disappointment was that wizards couldn’t even carry a sword. I used to say to every DM “Isn’t this game supposed to be based on LOTR? If so, then wizards should be able to use swords.” But to no avail. That’s one thing about the new rules I like a lot better.

    I can buy the “Gandalf was a mid range wizard” (maybe level 7 – 9), but that Balrog confrontation, and his many melee battles with orcs and goblins, indicates that Gandalf may well be best thought of as a fighter-wizard multi-class character, and his fighter level might well be higher than his wizard level.

    I remember having similar conversations about other fictional characters such as Merlin or Elric. But my favorite, by far, was Bugs Bunny as a D&D character. Basically he ended up being a multi-class rogue-illusionist-bard, about level 20 in each. Bugs would be one tough customer to meet in a dark dungeon…

  45. Robert says:

    As a Maiar, Gandalf is a semi-divine being. (I guess in the new D&D he’d have Celestial Outsider levels or something.) This provided him with some special power/ability to stand against the balrog, which is also a semi-divine being, although on the other side of the fence.

    At the same time, it’s clear that Gandalf doesn’t have the powers associated with a high-level magic user. He was fairly hard pressed by an (admittedly large) army of wolf-riding goblins, and while he could fling some fire at them, he didn’t seem to have the evocation magics that would let (say) a 10th level wizard put the major smackdown on a group of such enemies – particularly a wizard with 12 dwarven fighters as a bodyguard. He was no match for Smaug, and never even tried to confront the dragon, instead relying on manipulation and politics.

    In game terms, then, Gandalf is a mid-level spellcaster with a limited selection of powers (a sorceror, perhaps?), but with a mandate of divine authority which has tremendous power against a very small but potent subset of the evil creatures out there – basically, the ones who are fallen angels in their own right. The Witch King, balrogs, Nazgul, presumably Sauron himself – but creatures of darkness but not THAT MUCH darkness aren’t affected. Note that he could shoot “white fire” at the winged Nazgul, which they fled/avoided – but apparently this was of no use against, say, Orcs. Which (among other reasons) is why he needs allies, friends, companions, etc. in order to be effective against the Shadow.

  46. Aries says:

    i can almost hear the cry’s of ‘hes an NPC’ and ‘but its shiney’ and ‘lets just roll on it’ fill the air…

    …followed rapidly by…’what exactly does this thing do?’

    ah random story loot…the bane of the PC

  47. Harlock says:

    The most fun I ever had with loot from a DM’s perspective was the time the power gamer in the party picked up a Sword of Dancing. Mind you, he already had more loot than the rest of the party…combined. Anyway, he cast a spell that would give him cryptic information about a course of events, or, or, or… The spell was worded vaguely enough that he argued for identifying the sword with it. I reread the spell description, saw “cryptic,” and came up with the result that “this sword is most powerful when not wielded.” The silly thing stayed in its scabbard the rest of the campaign. Good times!

  48. James Walker says:

    Great stuff!
    But ‘DM of the Rings’ isn’t listed with either buzzcomics(http://www.buzzcomix.net/index.php) or TopWebComics(http://topwebcomics.com/).

    Why not?

    People would *love* to know about and vote for this series!

  49. hikari says:

    Of course, technically speaking, Aragorn is correct: it is his (as the descendant of Elendil) :)

  50. Alasseo says:

    Reading through the comments here, I’m reminded of a fairly common snarky comment about Middle Earth in my gaming group: “If it can sing, play music or write poetry, it’s got magic. Everything sings.”
    Maybe the DM comes to a session filled with inspiration from doing some mid-campaign research, and inflicts a rendition of the BBC radio play version on the players…

    We are the fighting Uruk-hai…

    Anyway, good work Shamus, keep going, or I shall be forced to find another parody!

  51. Benjamin says:

    Haven’t ever commented on this comic before. Just found it a few weeks ago. But thought I oughtta say that, dude? You’re a goddamn hero. /bow

  52. superfluousk says:

    Magic in LOTR is neither more or less powerful than magic in D&D; it’s simply of a different nature and effect, which is largely invisible from the point of view of the hobbits (from whose perspective the story is told, thank God.) It wasn’t until I re-read the LOTR books at a much later age — say, 19-20 — that I realized there was actually a LOT of powerful magic being thrown around; just not much of it was visible.

    Sam touches on it when he gets all poetic and tongue-tied about Lorien and the “elf magic” that he set out to see. It’s not anything they do, he basically says, it’s just what they are. Or, as Galadriel sums up so well, “Do you think it is merely by the work of slender elven-bows that the borders of Lorien are guarded from the darkness?”

    And a lot more magic is a lot more visible in the Silmarillion, of course. Take the downfall of Numenor, for example.

  53. Wraithshadow says:

    I think it’s fair to mention that this rule is one that has been faithfully carried over to computer RPGs and in some case expanded upon. I remember guides for Final Fantasy games instructing you to not only avoid giving the NPCs equipment, but in some cases stripping them of anything they happen to have when you meet them. I remember this being particularly true with FF7 and FF Tactics, the former making it very clear that you should remove Aeris’ gear because the next time you saw her she’d be contracting a very nasty case of dead, and the latter pointing out that you should rob NPCs of all gear whenever possible because they couldn’t die and they’d have more gear for you to loot the next time you saw them.

    I had great fun watching the NPCs in Final Fantasy Tactics run around punching people while the rest of my group was wielding twin swords and Flare spells.

  54. Roxysteve says:

    [Brassbabboon] The answer to that question was, of course, “no, not really”. It was more closely based on the Jack Vance “Dying Earth” stories with a smidgeon of The Hobbit tossed in for flavour. LotR content was relegated to “Ents” which for copyright reasons were rapidly changed to “Treants”.

    [Brassbabboon && !Brassbabboon]

    I think that anyone wishing to adventure in Middle Earth would do better in the Second of First ages, before the magic started going away. It says quite plainly on the LotR wrapper that the age of wizards is passing.

    The Stars are just not right anymore.

    Iä!

    Steve.

  55. Marstov says:

    I think one of the other reasons you don’t see Gandalf chucking fireballs (other than the fact that isn’t how magic works in Middle Earth) is a fear of corruption. The more power a semi-divine being such as Sauron or Gandalf wielded, the more likely they were to forget their true selves and become completely enmeshed in the material world, ultimately costing them some of their power and ultimately their immortality. There were five “wizards” sent to Middle Earth to help confront Sauron, and only one (Gandalf) was able to remember who he truly was. The most powerful ends up so weak that a sniveling weasel with a knife can cut his throat. So it seems likely that Gandalf probably could have dealt with Smaug directly (balrogs were, according to the Silmarillion, stronger than dragons) had he so chosen, but had he done so he might have ended up becoming another Saruman or Sauron.

    I also think the lack of overt displays of power had to do with personality and philosophy. Gandalf, IMHO, really wanted people to learn to take care of themselves. He knew once his mission was finished he would go back to the West and the more self sufficient the Free Peoples were the better.

    I agree with RoxySteve that if you want something closer to the flashier style of many D&D campaigns, you should set things in the first or second age. Lots more room for a good DM to write his or her own stories, too, without tripping over canon.

  56. Scarlet Knight says:

    Alasseo Says: “Everything sings” .

    So true. Now you too can have Middle Earth’s Greatest Hits. Remember such classics as “Down, down to Goblin Town” & “Where there’s a Whip, there’s a Way”! Hear all your favorite stars! Enya! Annie Lennox! The Dwarves 13! Order now and get a hand picked replica ent finger! Operators are standing by! Don’t Wait!
    *Not responsible if delivery Nazgul is waylayed*

  57. Browncoat says:

    57 Scarlet Knight Says:

    May 10th, 2007 at 11:37 am
    Alasseo Says: “Everything sings” .

    So true. Now you too can have Middle Earth’s Greatest Hits. Remember such classics as “Down, down to Goblin Town” & “Where there’s a Whip, there’s a Way”! Hear all your favorite stars! Enya! Annie Lennox! The Dwarves 13! Order now and get a hand picked replica ent finger! Operators are standing by! Don’t Wait!
    *Not responsible if delivery Nazgul is waylayed*

    Many of you might already know of Glass Hammer. If not, go buy the Glass Hammer album entitled, “The Middle Earth Album”. The first part of the album is live from The Prancing Pony. http://www.glasshammer.com

  58. txknight says:

    “…I reread the spell description, saw “cryptic,” and came up with the result that “this sword is most powerful when not wielded.” The silly thing stayed in its scabbard the rest of the campaign. Good times!”

    ~Harlock

    Nice! I’ll have to remember that one! :-)

  59. Roxysteve says:

    Browncoat Says:
    Many of you might already know of Glass Hammer. If not, go buy the Glass Hammer album entitled, “The Middle Earth Album”.

    And for the stoner-Aragormless types, there is always Bo Hansson’s “Lord of the Rings”. It is to (what is now known as) New Age* what the Ramones
    were to rock and roll. 3 minute tunes built from about 16 bars of original music.

    Mine came with a 12″x12″ photo of JRRT inside too. Yours won’t, ‘cos the teenytiny CD boxes really screw the consumer when it comes to album artwork.

    Steve

    * but had no name when it was first pressed

  60. Roxysteve says:

    [LotR songs] Not forgetting “Walking Through Isengard“, “Lava Deep, Mountain High“, “Rivendell City Limits“, “Beorn to be Alive“, “Gondor Calling“, “(I’m your) Private Nazgûl“, “I Left My Heart In Fangorn Forest” ,”Orc’s Filthy Lesson“, “I Wanna Hold Your Ring” and “All The Way To Barad Dûr

    Steve.

  61. -Chipper says:

    OK, Roxysteve, now you’ve got me doing it. Beorn to be Wild; Stayin’ Undead (The Nazgul Song); By the Light of my Silvery Sting; Rock the Orthanc; Laketown Calling; Lonely Mountain High.

    Actually, I have to second Browncoat’s suggestion – Glass Hammer’s album is awesome. Here’s samplers of the songs: http://www.glasshammer.com/pages/features/samplers/middle_earth_sampler.html

    I also recommend the album Bilbo by Lindh & Johansson. It is a musical telling of the Hobbit in a Prog Rock style.
    http://www.parlindh.com/merchandice/bilbo.htm

    What was the comic about again? Treasure! Yeah, these albums are treasures!

    When Aragorn looks in the palantir, we could be crossing over to Call of Cthulu with a need for a sanity check.

    Cheers!

  62. Sewerman says:

    And just to extend the badness:

    The CCR remake: “Looking out my back Mordor” :P

  63. Dirty Dan says:

    On the “statistical definition” of Gandalf:

    As a maia, at least by my reading of the Silmarillion, he would have divine rank 0. Some immunities, not too many powers, but enough to mean something.

    As far as class is concerned, those of my colleagues who are versed in both Tolkien and Gygax concur that he would be a druid. People have difficulty getting over the name “wizard”, because they’re dependent upon the popular definition and not the etymology: wizard, witch, and mage, in their respective original languages, essentially mean “wise person” (cf. dullard = dull person). Since these wise guys often knew how to do things that would be impressive to your common peasant by means of their wisdom, the art of wise men came to be colloquially known as what we call “magic”. The “historical” / mythological record of magic aligns much better with Tolkien’s view than with Gygax’s when it comes to subtlety of magic. For example, I was in a colloquium on metamorphoses in Roman mythology, and at one point the professor asked the class to list off different types of magic: I and another gamer did this by way of D&D schools of magic, with the notable exception of evocation, and all were ratified by the prof as having a basis in myth. Anyhow, going by simply the names of ability scores, based on this, Gandalf would be a wisdom-based caster. But that’s not all!

    Just look at Gandalf’s track record: he’s on good terms with the eagles, on good terms with the ents, on great terms with the elves, and he was the only one who could tame the horse Shadowfax (who, contrary to Peter Jackson’s belief, was no whiter than Jesus). Plus, Tolkien himself was big on the whole “nature” thing, and if we look at Gandalf as Tolkien’s deus ex machina / the mouth of the DM, then that view would have been projected through him.

    Oh, and he turned pinecones into bombs. Druids have a spell that pretty much does that verbatim. And anybody who says that Gandalf’s pal Radagast wasn’t a druid deserves a good thwomping.

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