Districts of the Broken City, Part 1

The Broken City

Welcome back to the Broken City

Almost ten years ago the Devastation reduced most of the City to a sea of rubble. Thousands were killed, thousands more vanished without a trace and the survivors were left scrabbling to survive in a ruined landscape of wan sunlight, no rain, moon or stars, and the ever present Fog waiting behind the walls. Buildings still intact enough to offer refuge against the things that come crawling from the rubble at night became the nuclei of new communities, which in the parlance of the City became know as ‘districts’.

A district may consist of as little as a single building, or as much as a couple of semi-intact streets. Only the very largest – if somehow transported out of the City to some kinder world – would pass muster as a village and none have a population above 300 souls, with maybe 50 being the average. They are linked by paths cleared through the rubble, wide enough for a supply cart to pass and marked by lanterns that are (theoretically) lit just before sundown when every soul with an ounce of sense retreats inside and locks the doors.

There are some small districts isolated out in the ruins. Cut off from the rest of what remains of the City these don’t tend to last very long.

No map of the City is provided, so you may create your own to serve the needs of your game.

The Citadel

At the heart of the City stands the Citadel. Founded centuries ago as a simple fortress it expanded with the fortunes of the city and by the Day of Devastation it had become a large – but not excessive – palace complex, home to the Duke, his family, and the small but efficient bureaucracy that saw to the day to day running of the City.

In the aftermath of the Devastation the Citadel reverted back to its original functions of fortress and prison. It is the headquarters of what remains of the City Guard, and few non-Guard who enter its gate are ever seen again – unless it be on the scaffold in the Plaza of the Just. Proclamations and announcements are still read from the gate in the name of the Duke, but no one has seen him, his wife or his children in the last six years. It is commonly supposed that they’re dead, although some suggest they might be being held captive by the Guard instead.

The most important function of the Citadel for most souls is the distribution of food. In the aftermath of the Devastation the Duke opened the Citadel’s stores – long maintained against the possibility of famine or siege – and had the Guard commence distribution to the survivors. The Guard still maintain this duty, sending out carts loaded with salt meat, coarse bread, water and dried tubers to all inhabited districts several times a week. It is this and this alone that motivates the City’s people to endure the Guards’ depredations – a life under the Guard is grim, but a life without regular food and water would be worse.

An often discussed mystery is how much food can possibly remain in the Citadel’s vaults. The surviving population of the city is small to be sure, but could the Duke have possibly laid in enough supplies to feed it for almost a decade? The farm at St Olave’s accounts for some of the food, but it produces no meat, and it is claimed that some of the meat handed out in exchange for lead labour tokens seems suspiciously fresh.

Everyone has heard the story of the flank of salt pork with the priest’s tattoos, but only the most credulous believe it. That said the food supplies must surely be running perilously low, and no one likes to think of what will happen on the day when they finally run out.

Saint Olave’s

Prior to the Devastation, Saint Olave’s was the City’s most esteemed burial ground. Close to twenty acres of land near the Citadel, it was laid out with avenues and terraces and spotted with ornamental lakes and groves. The most prestigious boulevards were lined with the elaborate tombs and grand mausoleums of the rich and noble, with smaller monuments for the less wealthy along the humbler paths. Even the the poor were welcome at Saint Olave’s, laid to rest in the ground for the traditional seven years before their bones were unearthed and respectfully stacked in the Grand Ossuary, freeing the earth for the next guest.

Post Devastation Saint Olave’s is no longer a place of rest. All but the largest monuments have been cleared away and the ground is tilled for the only reliable crop that still grows – the bland, starchy tubers known (with supreme irony) as dead men’s fingers. Work teams walk the fields, planting, harvesting, watering and chasing away the vermin that would eat the food so dearly needed to keep the City’s people from starvation.

The grand ossuary, its fortress like construction surviving the Day of Devastation unscathed, has been converted into a warehouse for the fingers. As carts of tubers enter at one end, the bones of the ancient dead are carted out of the other to be ground to dust and spread as fertiliser or (according to rumour) carted up the hill to the Citadel to bulk up the City’s reserve of flour.

A sunken courtyard- constructed to house the resting places of a now forgotten noble family – has been crudely waterproofed and roofed over to act as a reservoir, replenished daily by water carts from the Citadel. The water is distributed across the fields by bucket, back-breaking but essential work since the rain stopped. Occasionally some desperate or demented soul will attempt to steal water from the reservoir, almost always resulting in a trip to the dungeons of the Citadel followed by a swift execution in the Plaza of the Just.

Princes Row

Princes Row was the upper section of the wide processional roadway running between the Citadel and the Great Gate. It was here that the nobles – and those merchants wealthy enough to buy their way into the circles of the nobility – lived in luxurious mansions, most of them now nothing but tumbled and picked over ruins.

The surviving section of Princes Row runs for around a third of a mile, with the most intact mansions at the Citadel end. It is separated from the Citadel by another third of a mile’s worth of ruins – the wide avenue makes this area easier to traverse, and it is a regular route for the distribution carts running supplies out to further districts.

Officially no one lives in Princes Row. The surviving mansions were sealed and boarded up in the early days when a return to normality seemed possible, and it is the one district where the Guard still routinely enforce the rules against looting. Stories still circulate however about food deliveries to some of the houses and of faint lights seen glimmering through the boarded windows at night. Perhaps it’s simply the Guard on patrol, but since when have the Guard been organised and diligent to actually mount the patrols they’re charged with?

The wildest tales are those talking of debauched parties held by nobles in the weeks after the Day of Devastation, burning through hoarded supplies of fine wine, preserved game and exotic drugs. These orgies – so claim the storytellers – continue to this day in the interconnected vaults beneath the palaces, the surviving nobles having degenerated into insane cannibals, imagining their filthy rags to be the finest clothing and their carrion feasts the most exquisite delicacies. Most scoff at such claims, but few are willing to explore Princes Row for any treasures that might have been missed over the years.


On the Day of Devastation the magnificent spire, beautifully frescoed vaults and leaded roof of the Temple of All Gods collapsed, crushing the panicking masses who had fled to the building in search of sanctuary. Its thick, buttressed walls stood firm however and the tomb-filled crypt remained mostly intact, with only a few of the great oak ceiling beams smashing through the temple floor.

Most of the roof lead was collected and taken to the Citadel in the years immediately after the Devastation, and the forest of beams that once supported it have long been hauled away and burnt for fuel. Various side chapels and vestries have been roughly roofed over and the temple is now one of the larger of the City’s districts, providing a home for several hundred souls. Many workshops and specialised traders can be found, and there is even a small library of books and scrolls recovered from the ruins and carefully preserved. The cautious and circumspect visitor may even be able to obtain a few slugs of lead, recovered from the temple’s more obscure nooks and crannies – assuming they can afford the price.

While most survivors abandoned their faith in the aftermath of the Devastation a small community of believers inhabit the east end of the crypt. They preserve the old altars and – as best they can – maintain the liturgical cycle of prayers and rituals, calling upon the gods for aid that never arrives. Most consider them fools, but among their number can be found the few skilled healers remaining in the City and even the least religious souls are willing to put theological objections aside in exchange for medical treatment, despite the irony of it being administered among the tombs of the long dead.

The Breach

It is a matter of much speculation – when time for speculation is available – why the Fog remains outside the City wall. Small patches of Fog manifest in the ruins from time to time, and on rare occasions these may drift close to inhabited districts, but the vast, roiling banks stay back, never approaching more than 100 paces from the ancient ramparts.

Some claim that the Fog is in some way repelled by intact structures. Others speak of powerful protective enchantments laid on the walls in ancient times. Some claim divine intervention, that the gods are still protecting the City as best they can. More cynical souls suggest the gods enjoy the people’s suffering and are holding back the Fog to prolong it as much as possible. All theories however must account for the Breach.

On the Day of Devastation a hundred foot or so long section of the City wall collapsed. Ever since, the Fog regularly crawls over the tumbled stones, penetrating into the City, then withdrawing on a seemingly random schedule of its own.

As if this is not bad enough the Fog often leaves monstrous creatures behind in its wake. These wander the ruins and inevitably find their way into inhabited districts, slaughtering souls and smashing buildings before they are brought down by the Guard or local militias.

A garrison of Guard is maintained in the closest wall bastion to the Breach, charged with intercepting any monstrosities that emerge from the Fog. Far from inhabited districts the Breach Bastion is an unpopular post and the Guard sent there are generally on disciplinary charges – which given the lax standards in what remains of the Guard should be enough to give anyone intending to rely on their protection pause. The rare inspections generally find them to be either absent, or paralytically drunk, the punishment for which is inevitably an extension of their stay at the Bastion.

Occasional attempts have been made to rebuild the wall. These have come to nothing, mostly due to the Breach’s distance from the rest of the City and the apathetic attitude of the Bastion Guards. Claims that repairs ‘anger’ the Fog and bring bad luck to those taking part can probably be discounted, nonetheless few souls seem willing to undertake another attempt.

The Plaza of the Just

The square outside the main gate of the Citadel has been known for centuries as the Plaza of the Just. The name is now considered ironic as this is where the Guard carry out amputations and executions by hanging.

A small community of beggars live in and around the plaza, retreating to the vaults beneath as night falls. They make what passes for a living pestering and pick-pocketing the small crowds that assemble for executions, and usually spend whatever they glean on alcohol.

Check back soon for more districts of the Broken City!

The Broken City

The City is Eternal. Unfortunately.

Strap yourselves in kids! It’s time for another one of those posts where I detail an RPG setting that my brain insisted on making despite the fact that I’ll never have the time or summon the amount of effort necessary to do anything with it. Oh, for the luxury of time! Oh, for the luxury of money! Oh, for the luxury of friends with the common decency not to have lives and interests of their own so they have no choice but to dance at my command! Dance you puppets!! Dance for me!!

Sorry. Don’t know what happened there.

In any case someone might find this interesting or be inspired to use it to run their own game. If so, all I ask is that you drop me a line to let me know how it went. Now, welcome to the Broken City

The City

Once upon a time – in fact only a short nine years ago – the city was one a wonder of the world. The jewel of the Realm, home to 30,000 souls, its streets thronging with merchants and traders, its markets filled with rare and exotic goods and its harbour packed with ships from all over the globe. Scholars and mystics came from afar to study in its libraries and universities, pleasure seekers to walk its gardens, and pilgrims to pray and sacrifice at its temples. The common folk would come just to say they had seen the great houses of the Princes’ Row, or to catch a glimpse of the Duke and his family on the balconies of the Citadel, and an endless stream of wagons and carts carried in food from the surrounding provinces to fill the bellies of its people. The proud City Guard walked the turreted walls and all knew that the City would endure as long as the world endured – some claiming that not even the End of Days could end the City, for the City was Eternal.

Unfortunately they were right.

No one knows for certain what happened on that day just over nine years ago. No one can say why the sky and sun turned black, and the ground shook, and the buildings fell. No one can count how many died, or what happened to the so many who vanished without leaving as much as a hank of hair or a scrap of cloth. All that can be said is that the Devastation had come and in the space of a day and a night the world vanished, replaced by the thick banks of fog that roil just outside the city walls and sit patiently just beyond the breakwaters of the drained harbour – a fog that never surrenders any who dare to venture into it.

And – in the early days – many did thus venture, convinced that the world still existed somewhere beyond the mist. The Duke sent expeditions of his strongest, bravest and noblest warriors out into the whiteness with orders to establish contact with any other survivors, to beg for aid and supplies for his stricken city. None ever returned. The rest of his men – those less strong, those less brave, and especially those less noble – remained, enforcing harsh but fair temporary decrees that, over time, became less fair, more harsh and ever and ever less temporary.

The City is Eternal. Its citizens – perhaps as few as 3,000 souls – endure, clinging to those streets and districts that still stand, traveling fearfully along the twisting paths cleared through the debris of those that don’t, subsisting on the supplies distributed daily from the Citadel and always, always retreating inside before dark. No one has seen the Duke or his family in over six years – some doubt he still lives or claim he has gone mad, certainly the ever harsher decrees from the Citadel publicly posted each day by the the ignoble and thuggish remnants of the Guard seem increasingly at odds with the generosity and mercy for which he was once famed.

Stamped lead tokens and paper permits are exchanged in place of the gold and silver that once flowed through the merchants’ hands. The scholars and mystics, the few that remain, have no answers to offer. What pleasures can be found are crude and base, and the gods are silent, answering no prayers and refusing to respond to even the most extreme of sacrifices. The common folk suffer and the only things to enter the city are the horrifying monstrosities that stagger in – rarely but not rarely enough – from the fog.

This is your home. This is your world. This is the Broken City.

Stay tuned for further information on this delightful place shortly!

The Truth Behind the Lie

Here’s another idea for an RPG campaign that I’ll never get around to running, partially because organising even a single gaming session – let alone a campaign – when you get to my age requires a major effort, and partially because it touches on some tricky issues that I’m nowhere near good enough to handle in a suitably respectable fashion. Oh, and also because I’m explaining it here and my players are a bunch of dirty cheats who’d read this post in its entirety and spoil the whole thing.

So, it starts out as your standard fantasy RPG game, although the players would notice a few non-standard features of the setting. The PCs are all resistance fighters on the run, living rough in the wilderness while fighting back against the evil empire that has conquered the once prosperous realm. Sort of Robin Hood meets John Connor’s guys from The Terminator.

They need to sneak around, gathering resources to survive, making alliances with groups and individuals who may or may not be trustworthy and launching risky strikes against the foe whenever they can manage it. It’s a highly uneven battle – the enemy holds all the cards while the PCs have little but their determination and belief to keep them going.

While the warriors of the enemy are tough, the greatest threat to the PCs are the mind-bending magics of their sorcerers, capable of rewriting memories and personalities and turning trusted friends and allies to the side of evil. Being captured and subjected to mind-magic is the thing of nightmares and to be avoided by the PCs at all costs.

As the campaign progresses it should gradually become clear to the players that things aren’t all that they seem. As evidence mounts up it should slowly dawn on them that the PCs are not fantasy heroes valiantly fighting evil…

…they’re mentally ill homeless people living rough on the streets of a modern day city. The evil forces ranked against them are cops trying to maintain order and the terrifying mind-wiping sorcerers are social workers trying to get them into treatment.

As I said I could never pull this off in a way that firstly works, and secondly doesn’t make a mockery of the very serious issues of homelessness and mental health. But someone else might be able to manage, so have at it!

(Inspirations for this concept include the Tube Station scene in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Dirt Merchant Games’ extremely messed up – and extremely funny – “LARP” Freebase, which is well worth looking up.)

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis Part III

Wow, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Life getting in the way. But here we go with part III…

The task before the players appears simple, venture into the vast cemetery of Necropolis on certain carefully determined nights and place enchanted capstones on 26 pre-prepared pillars. Of course if it was that simple there would be no need for the Council to hire heroes to do it.

There are a number of threats to be encountered in the crypts and avenues of Necropolis, the majority of which are detailed below…

Grave Robbers: Theft from the graves and tombs of Necropolis has always been a problem. Regular patrols and threats of eternal damnation have historically kept this to a minimum, but with sensible folk increasingly too wary to enter the grounds, the patrols have fallen off, and a variety of vultures have turned up to take advantage. Small bands of opportunistic scavengers are not likely to prove a problem – many of them will be dealt with by the other threats – but could slow the party down. More dangerous will be the two or three well organised and heavily armed gangs that have moved in and are competing with each other for salvage rights. They are more than capable of engaging in running battles among the tombs and could easily put some of the players in graves of their own if they’re not careful.

Wandering Monsters: The dark force that has moved in to the heart of Necropolis has lead to a variety of undead and other unwholesome creatures taking up residence. Some of these have been brought in deliberately, some have been attracted by the presence of evil, and some are the result of spontaneous ‘resurrections’ among the internees. The outer regions of the cemetery play host to scattered, weak willed, non-intelligent undead, but the closer to the Avenue of Heroes the players venture, the more powerful and numerous these creatures will become. Worse, when the force becomes aware of the players and what they are attempting, it will start directing its minions to harass them directly.

Perhaps the most unexpected of the entities to have found their way into Necropolis are the vast things that have moved into the lakes. Getting to the pillars on the islands may prove very ‘interesting’ for the players.

The Force: The biggest threat the players face is of course the evil force vying for control of Necropolis. This is an alliance of several powerful Vampire Lords and a Lich, who aim to turn the cemetery and town into a stronghold of the undead. They are headquartered in the catacombs beneath the avenue of heroes and are carrying out a series of powerful magical rituals to corrupt the site, while also building a network of informants in the town. This network is in its infancy and as such it will take some time for the alliance to discover the great enchantment and start moving against it.

While the Alliance work together, they do not trust each other and are constantly trying to manipulate each other to gain the upper hand. This division could perhaps be exploited by clever players…

Anti-Heroes: Once the Alliance becomes aware of the players and their scheme, it will not only send ghouls, ghasts and worse things after them, it will also take a more subtle route. While the Priests and Clerics on the Council are devoted men and women of faith, some of the merchants are not quite so pure, and gold – particularly in large quantities – can open a lot of doors. One or two members of the Council will be convinced that delaying the progress of the great enchantment would be a good way to line their own pockets, and will go out of their way to make things a little more difficult for the players.

It should be noted that none of these merchants are downright evil. The forces arrayed against Necropolis are subtle, convincing, and skilled at manipulation. The offer of a bag of gold for – for instance – delaying a meeting by a day sounds like a harmless way to make some cash on the side. If the merchants were to be shown exactly who was paying their extra income they would be horrified – although it should also be noted that they have pointedly gone out of their way not to ask such questions.

One way or another their duplicity will be exposed when the players are given a corrupted capstone – supplied though a series of middlemen by the Alliance. Rather than protecting an area of the cemetery this will make it a haven for evil and act as an  beacon immediately summoning all monsters in the vicinity. It will also weaken the entire enchantment, opening previously protected areas of the cemetery to re-infestation. The corrupted Council members will be just as appalled by this as the loyal members – some will immediately confess, while some will flee. Chasing down and recovering these fugitives could prove an interesting side quest.

As well as corrupting the Council, the force will hire several teams of adventurers to take on the players directly with ambushes and attacks. While most of these will be made up of lowlifes and mercenaries, at least one party will be virtuous heroes who have been conned into thinking the players are the enemy. This group could prove a valuable ally if the players can sort out the confusion, but will be responsible for destroying several activated pillars (requiring them to be re-activated with new capstones) before any resolution can be bought about.

The Wildcard: There is one wildcard in the players’ quest, and his name is Marcus. Marcus is an ancient and powerful vampire who has occupied a neglected and swampy corner of the cemetery for upwards of 300 years. Unlike most of his kind, Marcus is a recluse who avoids other beings – even to feed – and simply wants to be left alone. His alignment is Lawful Neutral and he has developed a deep knowledge of magic, even though his undead state affects his ability to use it.

Marcus’s quiet existence was disrupted by the arrival of the Alliance. They were surprised to find a Vampire already occupying their chosen home, but quickly altered their plans to offer him a part. He completely rejected their entreaties and told them to leave. This lead to a number of attempts by the Alliance to drive Marcus out, all of which he completely repelled. The two sides have now settled into a state of resolutely ignoring each other, although both would be extremely happy if the other were to vanish.

One of the pillars is planned to be located right in the middle of Marcus’s territory. While he is not evil, the presence of such a powerful enchantment would require him to abandon his home and start over elsewhere, something he is reluctant to do, to say the least. As such he will sabotage the pillar as soon as it is set up, resulting in the capstone crumbling to dust as soon as it is placed. He will do his formidable best to frustrate any further attempts to extend the enchantment to his corner of Necropolis, all while attempting to conceal his presence as he has done for the previous three centuries.

Despite this, a confrontation with the players is inevitable. They have several options. Killing him is possible, but difficult. Driving him away by other means may also work, but will gain them a powerful enemy. Striking a deal with Marcus is the best option, although it will be difficult to gain his trust.

The best way to gain Marcus as an ally is to agree to conspire to place a modified capstone on the pillar. If a capstone is supplied to him he will be able to modify the enchantments so that it appears to function, but does nothing. This will not seriously impact on the overall enchantment and will allow him to continue his solitary existence.

Once this is done Marcus will lend the players substantial assistance in their fight against the Alliance. His catacomb – while somewhat unpleasant – is a safe refuge from the creatures inhabiting the cemetery, and he has some rudimentary healing skills. He will also be a valuable ally in any final confrontation with the Alliance, being skilled in both combat, and basic spellcasting.

So that’s it for Part III. Part IV will contain an overall summing up of the campaign and a conclusion.

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis Part II

I meant to get back to this much sooner, but here’s part II…

Back to Part I

The Council of Necropolis have determined that an evil force – of powerful but as yet undetermined nature – has taken up residence in the heart of the cemetery. It appears to be centered somewhere in the vicinity of the so-called “Avenue of Heroes”, a boulevard of the largest and most impressive tombs and monuments than run down to the largest of the Necropolis’s ornamental lakes. Rather than confront this force head on in a dangerous (not to mention expensive) battle, the Council have decided to place an enchantment over the whole cemetery, a massive Protection from Evil spell that will either drive out the force, or weaken it sufficiently to make a confrontation viable. This is where the Players come in.

The enchantment will be established and maintained via a series of stone pillars placed at carefully selected points within the cemetery. Each will initially offer protection to its immediate surroundings, but as more pillars are placed, their protective fields will grow in both range and power until the entire 5,000 or more acres of the site are covered. The setting up of a pillar requires a complex ceremony featuring elements of both Divine and Arcane magic – this can easily be done during the relative safety of the daylight hours. The final activation of each pillar however must be carried out at the stroke of midnight on a carefully determined date – failure to do so requiring a full month before the activation can be attempted again.

The Council require the Players to carry out these activations. They must venture into the Cemetery, carrying the carefully enchanted capstone for each pillar, and put in in place at midnight, facing down whatever horrors stalk the graves at night. Ample payment is offered, but will be only be delivered in full on a pillar by pillar basis.

There are 26 pillars to be capped in total, starting with those on the edges of the cemetery then moving inwards towards the Avenue of Heroes. Certain pillars present unique challenges – three must be placed on islands in the ornamental lakes and at least one is located with the extensive catacombs that riddle the site. For the enchantment to take effect no more than two pillars may be activated a week, so the task will take several months, during which time the evil presence at the heart of the Necropolis can be assumed to continue its growth.

Are the Players up to the challenge? And if so, what specific dangers and obstacles will they face? Tune in soon for Part III of Necropolis!

Dungeons and Dragons – Necropolis

Over the last few years the plot for a grand Dungeons and Dragons campaign has slowly assembled itself in my head. For various reasons it is unlikely that I’ll ever be able to run it as an actual game, so I thought I’d make it available for anyone who’s looking for something new and perhaps different to inflict on their playing group. Below, please find part one of the campaign sketch that I have decided to name ‘Necropolis’.

Over a thousand years ago the wise and powerful cleric Angevin passed away after a long life tending to the sick and destitute. His loyal disciples constructed a temple and small monastery around his grave, which over the years became a site of pilgrimage, attracting penitents and miracle seekers from across the known world. Many sick and elderly visitors sought nothing more than to be buried near the tomb of the blessed Angevin, and a cemetery grew up, tended by the brothers and sisters of the monastery, which grew rich and powerful on the bequests of the interred.

Over the centuries the burial ground grew larger and larger, and a town grew up to service the cemetery and its visitors. The great and powerful now sought to be buried there, with towering monuments and mausoleums rising above the simpler headstones. Catacombs and ossuries were dug into the hillsides, water courses were diverted to create streams and lakes, and gardens and shaded avenues were laid out among the tombs, creating a sculpted and manicured landscape to soothe the cares of the grief stricken mourners who now accompanied the bodies of their loved ones on the long trip to their final resting place.

Now the great cemetery covers over 5,000 acres, surrounded by miles of high marble walls. The burial ground and its attendant city – full of shrines, temples, inns and taverns to cater for the many visitors – are united under the name of Necropolis. Governed by a council made up of both businessmen and clerics it is a wonder of the world, and even the poorest beggar dreams of one day going to their rest among the heroes and saints that consecrate its soil.

But, all is not well in the city of Necropolis. The Council has so far kept matters quiet, but rumors are starting to circulate that a dark force has infiltrated the formerly sacred avenues and groves of Angevin’s resting place. The people of the city are loath to enter the cemetery alone, and all but the bravest (or most foolish) will not set foot within its bounds once the shadows begin to lengthen. As the rumors spread, visitors are starting to question whether a grave at Necropolis is such a prize after all, and the Council – for reasons both sacred and profane – has decided that action must be taken.

So it is that the word has gone out – discretely – that experienced adventurers looking to make a profit in both this world and the next should apply at the Monastery of Angevin before the next full moon…

Coming Soon – What’s going on, and what the Council want the Players to do about it!

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