Harrigan's White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game House Rules

So out of nowhere, a family RPG is erupting. My nineteen year old son and his girlfriend want to play some “D&D.” He’s played a bunch of games before (Pathfinder, Beyond the Wall, Tiny Dungeon), but isn’t desperately and painfully in love with the hobby like his father is. His girlfriend is starting at ground zero, and doesn’t play video games – so has no foundation at all for what they even really are, how they work.

Well, after they both mad characters today, she loved the process so much that she’s more or less demanding we start the game tomorrow night. :slight_smile:

The rub: I grabbed WBFMAG as a very simple but pretty pure D&D game… and now I’m discovering that while the underlying bones are good (as I knew they were from reading it previously), there are a bunch of things I need to change for my own sanity. I mentioned this on the GBS Discord today, but figured I’d blast up some thoughts on house rules here for comments, dissection, laughter, and tomato-throwing.

So without further adieu, as no one needs more adieu:

HARRIGAN’S WBFMAG HOUSE RULES

Healing

  • Use the Binding Wounds optional rule
  • Recover hit points equal to your level + your CON bonus when resting overnight. If under the care of a skilled healer, also roll your HD and recover that amount of hit points. If resting in a safe haven, double the amount healed.

Advantage & Disadvantage
Dig using this in other games and it should work well in S&W.

Thief Skills
Jury’s out. Might dump all the 2-in-6 Thief Skills, as they establish a first level thief at being really bad at thieving.

Leveling
When leveling, you’ll have a chance to improve your attributes. See: The Black Hack. Each class will roll twice for it’s prime attribute.

Magic-User Spell Casting
I’m considering sticking with the RAW, but adding risky casting for spells that have not been prepared. That would likely entail making a Saving Throw vs. Magic, with mishap tables being rolled on for failures and fumbles. (Perhaps one table with escalating effects; roll 1d6 + Spell Level for failures, 1d20 + Spell Level for fumbles.)

Or I might develop a spell point system.

Death
At 0 HP, foes are taken out; PCs are knocked out of the fight. They are still conscious and able to speak and crawl, but cannot take combat or other meaningful actions. If PCs are reduced to -1 or fewer HP, they are knocked out of the action and… still working on this too. Might use a ‘roll them over’ method, or might go with the AD&D bleed-out angle.


More to come as I evolve this.

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Well, since you asked…

Seems fine. Are you using the standard modifier table? And does that mean a level 1 character with a CON of 3-6 requires a healer to regain hit points, or is there a minimum of 1 hp healed per night?

I don’t use it much personally, but it’s a pretty good mechanic.

Thieves are optional, so you could not have them at all. Just sayin’.

How are you using attributes?

  • Are they mostly for determining XP bonuses?
  • Do they modify HP, AC, and some rolls if they’re especially high or low?
  • Or are you using attribute checks (which aren’t in the RAW)?

I ask because they don’t matter all that much in RAW, so improving them also doesn’t matter all that much in terms of mechanical effects. But if it makes leveling more fun for the players, then that’s a good enough reason I suppose.

I’m sure you’ve looked them already, but I think you’d really like the magic rules from The Vanilla Game. It does away with spell preparation altogether, but makes it risky to cast in combat at all. The approach you’ve got here sounds like a decent middle ground, though because it removes the primary limitation on magic-users’ power, I’d personally want those mishaps to be both likely to happen, and fairly harsh when they do. They (eventually) get powerful enough as it is.

Because nothing’s more magical than accounting. :wink:

Seems fine. I usually go with something like unconscious at 0, then bleeding out and dying when you reach your level below zero in hit points, but that does mean PCs are still pretty squishy at level 1 compared to RAW. You’re giving them a better chance of survival than that.

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If you use Matt Finch’s Mythmere Games WhiteBox, there are no Thieves listed at all.

Be careful with Bind Wounds. I had players using it after every fight, and, in some cases, they were gaining* hit points. Common sense will rule the day, of course, but, still, this is one more thing for the referee to be watching.

*Edit: What I mean is, they might enter a fight “down,” say three hit points, take one hp of damage, then roll three to end up with more hit points than when they started the fight.

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Also making sure you know about Swords & Wizardry Light. This seems to land in your ethic and perhaps will give you some ideas.

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Alright, Session 1 is now in t he bag and a few things are clear – though I’m still in the tire-kicking phase, we haven’t had a full combat yet, etc.

About…

@jim commented:

Seems fine. Are you using the standard modifier table? And does that mean a level 1 character with a CON of 3-6 requires a healer to regain hit points, or is there a minimum of 1 hp healed per night?

Standard modifiers, the -1 to +1 range because I want to stick with d6 rolls and apply those modifiers when appropriate there in addition to on d20 combat rolls and saves.

Hadn’t thought about the -1 modifier taking the healing amount to zero. Will rethink, good catch. Might make it a die roll – I’m generally a fan of randomization for this kind of thing.

Then @Gabe wrote:

Be careful with Bind Wounds. I had players using it after every fight, and, in some cases, they were gaining* hit points. Common sense will rule the day, of course, but, still, this is one more thing for the referee to be watching.

In the WBFMAG version of White Box at least, it’s called out that characters cannot get back more hit points than they lost in a given fight / scene. So not so worried about this. Might lower the Bind amount to 1d3 though.

Or might revamp the whole damned thing.

On Thieves being optional… well, they are, even in the reformated WBFMAG, but my son’s GF (let’s call her Mac) gravitated immediately towards the thief when she browsed the book. So, there’s a Thief in the game.

And it’s here that I have my heartburn – that 2 in 6 set of Thief skills which:

A) Establishes a first level thief as a pretty shitty thief
B) Puts everyone else in the basement, odds-wise, when they attempt thiefly things, and
C) Messes with my quick-grab-a-d6-and-roll-it flow, and the odds I normally lean on for those quick did you hear something / can you convince someone of something / did you catch the dead monkey kinds of rolls I like to ask for. I like a 50% base, and the thief abilities just T-bone all that.

Speaking of jank, I’m fighting with one other OSR thing. The whole ‘don’t roll if the approach is sound’ / ‘if you’re rolling something has gone wrong’ thing… well, it turns out I like to have my players roll the dice – when the outcome is uncertain, failure will provide an interesting story beat, etc. I’m doing both right now and am pretty comfortable with it, but I’m kind of conscious in the moment that I’m making a decision, and that I want to both reward good approaches but also inject some emergent DNA into the narrative. Anyway. Not a big deal, but I was struck by it tonight when I ran Session 1.

Actually, here’s an example:

  • Situation 1: Joe, Mac’s trouble-making thief, is hunting mice when the city guards looking for him spot him. Joe wants to stab a mouse with their dagger and fling the dead critter towards the guards irreverently. Cool. I allow all that with no roll required, it annoys the guards and we go from there. The chase is on.
  • Situation 2: Joe, on watch and confronted by an angry Gullymuck frog-man in the swamp, is told at spear-point that the party is trespassing and needs to vacate. Joe wants to find a fish, spear-fish it with his dagger and make an offering of it to the Gullymuck. I love this and want to let Mac pursue the action and line of thinking… but I also think what if she spies a fish in the pond nearby but can’t spear it? What if Joe taking out his dagger is misinterpreted? So in this case, I asked for a roll. AC 10, stab that little fishy. Similar action, but the stakes and the possibility of interesting failure forced two different decisions from me as the GM. (Incidentally, she rolled a 15 and got the fish – and is now good friends with this Gullymuck.)

Jim went on:

How are you using attributes?

  • Are they mostly for determining XP bonuses?
  • Do they modify HP, AC, and some rolls if they’re especially high or low?
  • Or are you using attribute checks (which aren’t in the RAW)?

I ask because they don’t matter all that much in RAW, so improving them also doesn’t matter all that much in terms of mechanical effects. But if it makes leveling more fun for the players, then that’s a good enough reason I suppose.

For the most part, Attributes provide bonuses for action / skill type d6 checks, for d20 combat rolls and saves, and for modifying AC, the number of memorized spells, healing, and hit points. Not using full-on attribute checks. I do think that part of why I want to let them increase level by level is so the players can have fun watching their characters grow. And I haven’t decided if I’ll go full TBH and have them roll every attribute, or just have them do the prime attribute and then have them pick 1-2 more to try to improve.

On magic, yeah, I’ve looked at the Vanilla Game and a crap ton of other magic systems. I like the idea here of a tweak or mod vs. a whole new way of doing it. I like magic being safe for a bit, but if you’re out of juice and push it – now things start to get interesting. I’ll post this full system once I have it finished.

About spell points, Jim fired both snark barrels when he wrote:

Because nothing’s more magical than accounting. :wink:

…to which I say well, it’s a lot less accounting than spell slots. And far more flexible.

Finally, Gabe – I’ve not looked at S&W Light. Maybe I better do that…

Appreciate the comments from each of you. I’ll continue to post about this journey here if it’s of any interest.

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Alright, we’ve now got two sessions in the bag, so my thoughts are starting to crystalize.

HARRIGAN’S WBFMAG HOUSE RULES (Take 2)


Healing

  • Binding Wounds: after combat or an action scene where injury is suffered, a cleric or other healer can spend one Turn treating wounds by making an Action Check. If they are successful, the injured individual recovers 1d6 hit points – up to the amount suffered in the most recent combat / action scene. This check is made at Advantage if bandages or a poultice is used.

  • Resting Overnight: when resting for the night (or for at least four hours once in a given day), characters recover hit points. How many they heal is determined by how injured they are. PCs with less than 1/2 of their HP remaining will gain 1 hit point; those at 1/2 health or higher gain 1 + their level. (e.g. 2 HP recovered for Level 1 characters.)

  • Long-Term Rest: when resting in a safe haven or in the care of a skilled healer, characters resting for a full day recover hit points at twice the normal rate.


Advantage & Disadvantage
In play for attack rolls, saves, d6 action checks.


Thief Skills / d6 Action Checks
Thieves’ skills are replaced with d6 Action Checks, which are inspired by the skill system in Eldritch Tales. So:

Action Checks are a d6 roll based on the most appropriate attribute. The attribute bonus determines the initial chance of success:

  • -1: Succeed on 6+
  • 0: Succeed on 5-6
  • +1: Succeed on 4-6

Advantage and Disadvantage are in play to model any extenuating circumstances (including weather, tools, smart approach, assistance from another, etc.), and class expertise lends a +1 or +2 to the roll when appropriate. Characters of levels 1-5 enjoy a +1 bonus on class action checks; levels 6-10 enjoy a +2 bonus.


Leveling
When leveling, PCs roll to improve their prime attribute and two others of their choosing. To improve the attribute by +1, they roll a 20 and must roll above the current value.


Clerical Prayers (Spells)
First level clerics begin play knowing four first level prayers (spells). They gain the prayer of their choosing when they level, and can learn others from studying at their temple, from mentoring with a higher level cleric, and from studying ancient scripts and scrolls. Time will need to be spent (one week per prayer level) and a Saving Throw made to gain new prayers. This save is at Advantage if the cleric has previously studied and failed to learn the prayer.

When a prayer is uttered, a Saving Throw is made. If it fails, that prayer cannot be cast again that day. On the second and subsequent utterings of a prayer on a given day, the Saving Throw is made with Disadvantage. Critical failures on the Saving Throw (a “1” on the d20 roll) will force a roll on the Divine Rebuke table, adding the level of the failed prayer to a 1d6 roll.

DIVINE REBUKE
3 - lose access to the prayer for a full day, then atone for four hours
4 - lose access to the prayer for one week, then atone for one day
5 - lose access to the prayer for one month, then atone for one week
6 - lose access to the entire level of prayers (based on the failed prayer) for one day, then atone for four hours
7 - lose access to the entire level of prayers (based on the failed prayer) for one week, then atone for one day
8 - lose access to the entire level of prayers (based on the failed prayer) for one month, then atone for one week
9 - lose access to all prayers for one day, then atone for four hours
10 - lose access to all prayers for one week, then atone for one day
11 - lose access to all prayers for one month, then atone for one week
12 - lose access to all prayers and atone in solitude for one year
Might end up dressing this up differently – shattering the holy symbol, reducing Wisdom temporarily, forcing quests, etc.


Death and Permanent Injury
At 0 HP, foes are taken out; PCs are knocked out of the fight. They are still conscious and able to speak and perhaps crawl, but cannot take combat or other meaningful actions.

PCs reduced to -10 HP in a single blow are killed instantly. Those reduced -1 to -9 hit points are down, unconscious, and dying. With each round that passes, they lose an additional hit point until they are dead (-10), or until someone comes to their aid and spends an action to make a successful Action Check to treat their injuries. Characters who reach -5 to -9 hit points, then recover, roll on the Permanent Injuries table with a d6.

PERMANENT INJURIES

  • 1 - You’ve lost a limb, an eye, or suffered some other grievous injury. Lower an appropriate or random Attribute by two and make related Action Checks at Disadvantage for the rest of your adventuring career.
  • 2 - Your body is wracked and will never be the same. Lower your STR, DEX, and CON by 1.
  • 3 - You suffer lasting injury. -1 to a randomly determined attribute.
  • 4 - You are lucky to have escaped with your life, and need bedrest. Disadvantage on all rolls for one week.
  • 5 - Your head is pounding, but you’ll recover. Disadvantage on all rolls for one day.
  • 6 - You have been to the precipice and learned. Add +1 to your Wisdom and gain 100 XP per level.

All for now.

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Oh – the Sarka Monkeys I used in the session last night…

Sarka Monkeys, aka Venomous Swamp Monkeys

AC: 7 [12]
HD: 1d3 HP
Attack: Bite (1 damage) + Poison Special or Pilfer Special
Move: 15
HDE/XP: 1/15

Sarka monkeys live in large packs in forested swamps – think bayou country. Most “swamp monkeys” are small enough to perch on a person’s shoulder, but this would not be a good idea if said person valued their ears, eyes, hair or face. Sarka monkeys spend a lot of time eating blackbog toadstools, and as a result are usually angry, aggressive, and territorial when they are encountered. Their saliva is venomous, and a Sarka monkey’s favored means of attack is a painful bite – which usually distracts the victim and lets the monkey’s companions steal any manner of things from the poor sod unlucky enough to find themselves in the middle of the drug-addled monkey pandemonium.

Victims bitten by a Sarka monkey suffer 1 point of damage and must make a poison / CON-based Saving Throw. Failure means that the individual is poisoned. They immediately lose a point of CON, then must make a Saving Throw each day or lose another. This continues until the person dies (at 0 CON), or until they make two Saving Throws in a row. Various herbs and treatments allow this save to me made at Advantage. (CON cannot be recovered or healed by non-magical means while the person is still poisoned.)

Instead of delivering a bite, a Sarka monkey might decide to pilfer something. If they do, the victim makes a swiftness or DEX-based Saving Throw to avoid the monkey’s grabby paws. If they fail, they must tell the GM the most likely things on their body that could be stolen, and the GM randomly determines which item is taken. Commonly grabbed items include hats and helms, belt pouches, weapons, holy symbols and the like.

Mob Rules
If encountering a full pack of Sarka Monkeys, use the following stats:

Sarka Monkey Pack

AC: 7 [12]
HD: 3* (10 HP to drive away)
Attack: Bite (1 damage) + Poison Special and Pilfer Special
Move: 15
HDE/XP: 3/60

Using the trees to get around, the pack covers a wide area – 100’ across or more. Anyone caught in the middle of that area risks a bite attack each round, and must make a Saving Throw to avoid being Pilfered.

Running from the pack is possible – two successful swiftness / DEX-based Saving Throws are required, along with spending full movement trying to get away.

*Attacks that do not effect an area deal 1/2 damage, but if 10 points of damage can be dealt to the pack, they howl and disperse.

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I think I know a swamp or two where these monkeys might live in my game…

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I’m loving all the granularity!

:clap:

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These monkeys were huge fun. My son had just equipped his cleric like a tank, and now he has no helmet. Extremely fun encounter. And now the thief, my son’s GF, has a Sarka monkey head… and tail. She’s a big time collector type.


Any comments on the house rules themselves? Anything look borked, too much, unwieldy?

Same question for @Gabe.

Man, I did run GURPS and HERO for like ten years or so. And in the case of GURPS, with massive amounts of house rules. You know, to make it more detailed and simulationist.

I’m better now.

Mostly.

All can say is that your Divine Rebuke table is punishing.

But my overriding insight is how much I want to try out this system. Perhaps when we continue the Grand OSR Experiment.

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On to the rules. I’ll skip the healing, death, and permanent injury rules because I don’t have much to add. It seems like you’ve made them a bit tougher without letting them get away with ignoring risks, which is good.

Is that last sentence meant to clarify the “class expertise lends a +1 or +2” rule, or is it separate? As an example, I think this system means that a level 1 thief with high DEX trying to pick a normal lock without any extenuating circumstances would:

  • have +1 for class expertise;
  • another +1 for high DEX;
  • and therefore succeed on a 3-6 (i.e., ~67% of the time).

Either way, you wanted your low-level thieves to be better than RAW, and you’ve accomplished that. Out of curiosity, I checked the odds of success for different ranges. These odds are only based on 1,000 rolls, so it’s not all that precise, but the numbers seem to be in the right ballpark at least.

Your clerics are serious scholars! That puts a more wizardly spin on them than what’s implied by White Box: FMAG I think, but it’s closer to what’s implied by the original White Box rules where Clerics and Magic-Users both had spell books.

Using Saving Throws to learn spells instead of avoiding harm seems off to me, because what is the Save supposed to represent now? General level-based competency?

If they miss the save, does the spell still work?

This table is a good baseline, though I think you’re right on about dressing it up differently. A cleric who displeases their deity is just asking to be messed with, and atoning could definitely require some work.

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Thanks for the comments, both of you, very helpful. Will respond back properly on the weekend…

Not sure if you are aware of this option for theif skills from Carcass Crawler #1

Expertise

Base chance of success: All skills begin with a 1-in-6 chance of success.

Expertise points: Thieves gain expertise points to improve their chance of success with their skills. Each point allocated to a skill improves the chance of success by 1-in-6. Multiple points may be allocated to a skill, further increasing the chance of success. For example, if 2 points are allocated to a skill, the chance of success is raised to 3-in-6 (from the base 1-in-6 chance of success).

At 1st level: At character creation, a thief has 4 expertise points to allocate.

Gaining levels: A thief gains 2 additional expertise points to allocate.

Maximum chance of success: No skill may be raised above 5-in-6.

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In fact I just read it recently!

And I hate it. =]

Well, I hate part of it. I like the Thief specializing. I don’t like the assumption that all skills start as 1 in 6. That’s part of what I don’t like about the optional Thief in White Box – it sets the bar for everyone, and it establishes skill rolls in general as being X in 6 as a style.

le sigh…

What’d I do?!

Okay. Responding to @jim and @Gabe:

Gabe, yes, the divine rebuke is punishing indeed. I haven’t reworked it yet to both make it a little less punishing and a little more interesting, but I like the overall idea of pushing priestly magic. In the game I’m running, I just introduced the change to casting and my son likes it more. He wasn’t grokking, or enjoying, the spell slots and the need to choose and prepare one in advance.

Jim wrote about Action Checks:

Is that last sentence meant to clarify the “class expertise lends a +1 or +2” rule, or is it separate? As an example, I think this system means that a level 1 thief with high DEX trying to pick a normal lock without any extenuating circumstances would:

have +1 for class expertise;
another +1 for high DEX;
and therefore succeed on a 3-6 (i.e., ~67% of the time).

It’s meant to clarify / add. PCs add +1 for class specializations from levels 1-5, and +2 for levels 6-10. I’m trying to respect the (pretty limiting) boundaries of the d6. So…

  • Someone who is pretty bad at something (3-6 in the attribute) succeeds 1 time in 6.
  • Average Joe succeeds 2 in 6 times.
  • Natural Ability Pam (Attribute is 15-18) and Average Joe with the right training (class) both succeed 50% of the time, 3 in 6.
  • Natural Ability Pam with the right training? – she’s at 4 in 6 chances to succeed.
  • When Natural Ability Pam is a veteran at what she does (level 6+), well, now she’s at the top of her game, 5 in 6 chances of success.

Advantage and Disadvantage are used to protect the upper and lower ends of the range.

On Clerical Prayers, Jim says:

Your clerics are serious scholars! That puts a more wizardly spin on them than what’s implied by White Box: FMAG I think, but it’s closer to what’s implied by the original White Box rules where Clerics and Magic-Users both had spell books.

I hadn’t really thought about or intended this… I just want a cool way for them to learn new spells. Or a few cool ways. I think studying in the remote monastery in the mountains is the best way, frankly. Or quest for it, and the Head Honcho Cleric will teach you Stuff as a reward. (This is what the first adventure is. The head of the order / local church has asked Schlormp (yes, that’s the Cleric’s name) and Joe (the thief) to find out what happened to a templar knight who was checking in on some Trouble at the Mill.

Using Saving Throws to learn spells instead of avoiding harm seems off to me, because what is the Save supposed to represent now? General level-based competency?

You’re right, using a Save here is off. Which is a whole other topic I’ll get into shortly, based on play so far. I’ll switch this to an Action Check, perhaps. I will admit my instincts are to make this something like a roll-under Wisdom check, but more on that in a moment too.

Regarding prayers being uttered / cast, Jim Wrote:

If they miss the save, does the spell still work?

Yes. Unless a 1 is rolled. I will clarify that.

About the Divine Rebuke table, Jim commented:

This table is a good baseline, though I think you’re right on about dressing it up differently. A cleric who displeases their deity is just asking to be messed with, and atoning could definitely require some work.

Yeah, I’ll likely tear this whole thing down and rebuild it. Need to reread DCC and LFG, which are, I think, the gold standards for clerical magic gone wrong. Not 100% sure what you mean by atoning needing work. The durations?


Okay, I mentioned on the GBS Discord that I’ve now run three sessions, and have thoughts and feelings about running White Box. I said I would comment here, so I will, but now that another day has passed… I’m probably not going to launch into a blow by blow, but instead just state that I should trust the instincts I have that tell me not to GM “straight” OSR games, retroclones. There’s just too much I don’t enjoy, and want to change. If I’m going to bolt things on, why not start with a chassis that slews closer to my overall RPG sensibilities?

To be clear, I’m really enjoying running the game for my son and his girlfriend, and I’m noticing that my daughter is getting jealous and expect we’ll soon have another family game going. But – boy am I fighting annoyance in my head over so very many things. The experience just makes me want to run The Black Hack, and if another game -does- emerge and it’s fantasy-based, it’ll either be Tiny Dungeon or TBH.

Okay fine.

From the Big Book of Grievances with White Box

  • Experience Points
  • Experience Points for Gold
  • Different Classes Needing Different Experience Points
  • No d4, d8, d10, d12. I miss them more than I thought I would.
  • Saving Throws (one is better than multiple, but still hate them)
  • Vancian Magic
  • Class Limits on Weapons and Armor
  • Dead PCs at 0 hit points
  • Thief Skills

There are more, I’m sure, and while I can house rule virtually all of this… why? There are games out there that have already made most of the changes I want. So I find myself firmly thinking “play but don’t run” White Box.

The joy of the brand new player continues, btw. She’s journaling like crazy. Writing down specific attributes and features of the monsters they encounter, like “Lurks in trees, has AC 12 and paralytic tentacles!” for the Carrion Crawler / Creeper they encountered. (Which I reskinned as a swamp critter who drops tentacles from above, a Swamp Fisher.)

Anyway. Thanks again for the feedback. Fun experiment so far!

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I meant work from the cleric, beyond sitting in the corner and thinking about what they’ve done wrong. Quests, basically, or maybe some ritual tasks for more minor offenses.

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