The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for May, 2018

Savage Traveller: Type A Free Trader

There’s a lot of overtime heading my way, and I’m not sure when it will end; so posts will be sporadic for a while. This has been a public service announcement, thank you for your time; now, we return you to your regular programming…

One of the most common starships in any Traveller universe is the Type A Free Trader. Here’s my implementation of it using the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion.

Type A Free Trader

Large Starship: Size 12, Acceleration/Top Speed 40/500, Climb 1, Toughness 35 (8), Crew 20, Energy 300, Cost $46.13M, operating cost $1,400 per day. Remaining Mods 24.

Notes: AI, Atmospheric, Crew Reduction x3, FTL Drive, Low Berths x2, Sensor Suite (Planetary).

Weapons: None.

GM’s Notes

The Rattenbury Ghost herself has a Garage/Hangar (currently carrying four air/rafts) and Dual-Linked Medium Lasers, increasing the above cost by $2,000,000 and reducing the Remaining Mods to 18.

The design is straightforward, using Crew Reduction x3 to get the crew and passengers down to the 20 people a Type A could carry in its 10 staterooms, but it does need a couple of house rules. First, the SFC doesn’t have low berths, so I’ve ruled that 10 low berths take up one Mod and cost $500,000. Second, I’ve ruled that Remaining Mods form the cargo hold, and can carry 4 tons of cargo per Mod; by using superstructures a Large starship could replicate almost any merchant vessel in Traveller, but that’s not the feel I’m going for here, as a single SFC superstructure is something like 1600 displacement tons.

I’m tentatively ruling that pulse lasers are Medium Lasers, beam lasers are Heavy Lasers, and double or triple missile turrets are Missile Launchers. Not sure what to do about sandcasters or single missile turrets yet, but neither of them turn up that often in canon.

The FTL drives in the SFC can jump from any location to any other location. As jumps in the Dark Nebula are only possible along charted routes, this actually works better than Traveller jump drives for that setting.

The crew of the Rattenbury Ghost have now requested that I move them to the next adventure by GM fiat and provide a narrative justification of why the characters decided to go there, which is the way this FTL drive is meant to be used.

Using Traveller as a Savage Setting requires a house rule about jump range, though. My first thought is that each hex jumped applies a -2 to the Astrogation roll, and costs as much Energy as the ship’s Size; so a jump-2 would require a roll at -4 and cost 2x Size in Energy. This makes Jump-1 equivalent to a “same galaxy” destination in the SFC, and Jump-2 equivalent to a “different galaxy” destination. That means there is no significant difference between a Type A Free Trader and a Type A2 Far Trader, so the above statblock (and deck plans) would work for both.


Arion, Episode 20: Welcome to the Jungle

Gazzain, 134-3401

Again I’m railroading things by choosing results – that will stop in a couple of episodes. I am unrepentant; if continuously rebooting the storyline is good enough for Ghost in the Shell, it’s good enough for me. It’s an on-planet week, so we start with a world encounter and see where that leads us.

  • World encounter: 66 – offworlder befriends you.
  • Who? Patron 62, Researcher.
  • What are they doing here? Mission 12, explore ruins.

Strictly speaking I didn’t need to roll for who they were or what they were up to, but why not?

Locked up in the cage in the cargo hold of the Vegan’s Dream, Arion and Dmitri look the worse for wear after waiting overnight for Schrodinger to talk to them; not beaten, but stubbly and short on sleep. Two Gimirri warriors are watching them, silently. The deck movements and external noise show the ship is in flight. The spider from the Dolphin‘s repair swarm has obviously managed to slip away and conceal itself, and is watching from one of the ceiling supports.

Timon enters from the living quarters, followed by Schrodinger, complete with cat. They move up to the cage and stop just outside either prisoner’s grasp.

“Sorry,” says Timon, not looking sorry at all. “I didn’t have anything else to sell.” Schrodinger waves him aside, imperiously.

“So,” he says Schrodinger. “Dmitri. We meet at last. And this must be Arion. Is that really your name? Well, as good as any other, I suppose. Now, tell me; what are you doing here, hmm?”

“Waiting to talk to you,” Arion says, reasonably. “A word of advice though; if you’re going into the passenger business, you need to work on the accomodations.”

“Bah! Let me tell you what you are really doing here: Wasting your time! I already have the Eye of the Cat; even if you had divined my plan, which you are obviously too stupid to do, you would not be able to stop me now. I am not even going to torture you for information, because nothing you know could possibly be worthy of my attention.” One of the Gimirri looks visibly depressed.

“I will need the cage again shortly, though,” Schrodinger muses. “So you will need to vacate it, I’m afraid.”

The deck tilts under them as the Vegan’s Dream lands; through the portholes, lush vegetation can be seen.

“Have you anything to say before I have you thrown into the lake, where your otherwise worthless bodies can feed the teuthids?” He strikes a melodramatic pose.

“Nah,” says Dmitri. “We’re cataleptic. Cat’s got our tongues, you might say.”

“Throw them in the lake,” Schrodinger hisses. The Gimirri wrestle Arion and Dmitri out of the cage, and then out of the hold.

Shortly, Arion and Dmitri are being frogmarched along a cliffside jungle path near the waterfall. After a few minutes, Arion slips and falls to his knees; the Gimirri escorting him makes the mistake of moving around in front of him, and is headbutted viciously in the stomach for his pains. While he is recovering from this, Arion scrambles to his feet, yells “Come on!” and runs off the edge of the cliff. While the Gimirri are still deciding what to do about this, Dmitri breaks free and follows Arion off the cliff.

Both plummet into the lake below, where they struggle to pull their bound hands from behind them, over their feet and in front, and struggle to the surface. Behind them, several large, tentacled creatures slide past.

Arion swims to the side of the lake, crawls out, and turns to extend an hand to Dmitri. Tentacles appear briefly above the surface of the water, but fortunately whatever else they are, they are not hungry. Arion pokes around the beach and finds a sharp shell of some sort, with which he cuts their bonds.

“How did you know where to jump to land in the lake?” asks Dmitri.

“I didn’t,” says Arion. Dmitri digests this for a moment.

“So, your plan for avoiding being thrown into the lake was to jump into the lake?”

“Well, it worked; we didn’t get thrown in. This way,” Arion says, pointing along a path into the jungle. They move off at a cautious walk.

“What’s the Eye of the Cat?” Arion asks.

“No idea,” Dmitri admits. “Schrodinger obviously thinks I’m trying to stop him getting it, or get it myself. That’s probably why he tried to have me killed. Twice, now. I don’t think we’re going to be friends.”

Gazzain, 140-3401

Six days wandering more or less aimlessly through the jungle have left Dmitri and Arion hungry, dirty and unshaven.

“You have no idea where we are, do you?” asks Dmitri – quite mildly, considering.

“When lost in a jungle,” Arion quotes from one of the Archive survival manuals, “Find a watercourse and follow it downstream. Eventually this will lead you to a settlement.”

At the noise of someone – or something – approaching, Arion lifts a finger to his lips, silencing Dmitri; then points to a tree overhanging the path. They quickly climb out of sight. Moments later, a humanoid figure in green, hooded robes with golden trim walks up the path towards their hiding place.

As the robed figure passes beneath the tree, Arion leaps down onto it and wrestles it to the ground. Rolling on top to a position of advantage, he draws back a fist to punch the figure unconscious; then the hood of the robe falls back, to reveal the face of a beautiful woman. Startled, Arion leaps to his feet.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “I thought you were someone else. I am Arion,” here he points to himself in case she doesn’t understand. “Arion,” he repeats, and offers her his hand. “Who are you?” Her brow furrows for a moment, and Arion puts his hands to his head in pain. The woman takes his hand and rises.

“My name is Coriander,” she says. “I see you meant me no harm, so I accept your apology, Arion. I think you should meet my father; come with me. The Gimirri are not far behind, and I do not have the skill to divert them.”

“How do you know all this?” Dmitri asks, suspicious.

“Oh, I know a lot of things, Dmitri,” Coriander smiles. “And what I do not know, I can find out, quickly. Come.” And with that she sways off into the jungle. Arion and Dmitri look at each other, shrug, and follow her along what appears to be a game trail.

At length they enter a small clearing with a high-tech camp in it; inhabitants about their tasks pause briefly to stare at the newcomers, exchange nods with Coriander in complete silence, then return to their work, which seems to be an archaeological dig. Most are dressed in green robes, but a few are in black tactical garb, with weapons held loosely at the ready; these are looking outward towards the edge of the clearing, rather than down into the dig, where an ancient building is slowly emerging from centuries of dirt and leaf mould.

Coriander and her father stand face to face, bow their heads, and commune wordlessly for a moment. Arion and Dmitri exchange looks.

The man turns to face Arion, speaking slowly as if unused to words. “So,” he says. “I am Baltasar. You assault my daughter, and yet she brings you here for help. You must be unusual men, Arion, Dmitri. Why do you seek the Eye of the Cat?”

Dmitri maintains a poker face and silence. Arion says, “Schrodinger wants the Eye. He is an unpleasant person, so no good can come of him having it. My friend and I plan to stop him getting it. Also, I have no idea what the Eye of the Cat is, and I’m curious why it’s worth all this fuss.”

“How is this your concern?”

“Someone has to stop him. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Baltasar laughs. “So, you have no idea what’s going on, or how you’re going to stop it, but you’re going to try anyway?”

“Yes. Can you help? Will you help?”

Baltasar strokes his chin thoughtfully, then comes to a decision.

“The Eye of the Cat allows its bearer to control the dinobastis – you probably heard one of those thrashing around in the jungle earlier. We’re looking for it too; it has other powers of interest to us. We thought it was in this building, but if Schrodinger has it…”

“Why does Schrodinger want it?”

“Schrodinger is an outcast from our Institute. He has a vision of a universe where the Institute controls humanity for its own purposes; he intends to start by seizing power among the Gimirri, whose totem is a giant cat. Once he appears with one at his back, the Council will be forced to grant him a seat by ancient tradition.”

“Wait, you guys are the Psionics Institute? You’re supposed to be a myth!”

“Well, we don’t get out much,” Baltasar shrugs.

“Aren’t you terrorists?”

“Some people say so. But then, some people say that about you, Arion; people on Ria – or Mizah.”

Arion scratches his beard. “Well, actually they say I’m a spy, a murderer and a kidnapper. To be fair, there is some truth in that. The spy part, anyway.” Since they have already read his mind, Arion thinks there is not much point trying to hide this.

There is a deep roar from the jungle beyond the dig site, and Dmitri interrupts. “Giant cat? How giant, exactly?”

“The ones around here are about ten metres long, and maybe a third of that is tail,” explains Baltasar. “In the deep jungle, they probably grow bigger than that.”

“We’re going to need bigger guns,” says Arion, quietly.

“No,” says Coriander. “They have as much right to live as you or I. We need the Eye of the Cat.”

“Where next, then?” asks Dmitri.

And all eyes turn to Arion.

GM Notes

Whoa, a long one this time! I got carried away there.

As well as re-imagining an earlier part of the Arioniad, I’m using this episode to steer the group towards more secrets. Solitaire adventures are more entertaining if there is an overall objective for the player, even if the characters don’t know what it is.

In this case, developments in both the Arioniad and Old Musky campaigns suggest there is some deep conspiracy going on that involves the Psionics Institute. What is it? And are they the good guys or the bad guys? Let’s find out, shall we?

Influences on GM Style

Thanks to Istvan for inspiring me to write this one… what has influenced my GM style the most?

Original D&D introduced me to the hobby, and continues to show me that you don’t need perfect rules anywhere near as much as you need a good story and interesting characters.

Traveller showed me that you don’t need dozens of types of monsters, just other people. It also showed me that character advancement doesn’t have to mean improving attributes and skills.

2300AD taught me how to create viable NPCs with no more than a tag or two and a skill level, and that you can write a viable scenario on a single page.

Savage Worlds taught me the power of reskinning, to trim the fat from everything ruthlessly, and not to worry about keeping PC advancement in lockstep across the group or whether the players were updating their character sheets accurately.

Ashen Stars taught me that worlds are stories, and that in a mapless game, when the ship lifts, you can rewrite the campaign to cut out anything that didn’t work.

What about you, dear readers? What has influenced you the most? What else would you recommend I look at?

Old Musky, Episode 7: Into the Hive

Captain Degazio, PO Harkness, L-Sgt Von Ankh, assorted enthusiastic ithklur.

Changa, 113-3401

On the hull of the alien cruiser, still dead in space, Degazio, Harkness and Von Ankh prepare to board, supported by six ithklur marines (who have now all adopted names such as Teacake, Donut etc. in honour of Cpl Pancake).

Once the hole bored by Cpl Pancake’s PGMP has cooled enough to be safe, the boarding party enters cautiously. There’s no artificial gravity inside, but their suit sensors indicate an atmospheric pressure of about 1.15 standard, 25% chlorine and significant amounts of hydrogen – hydrochloric acid takes up the space occupied by water vapour in terrestrial air. Suit sensors alert the boarders to the fact that their suits will fail in a few hours.

More mundane sensors – flashlights – reveal an organic tunnel leading deeper into the ship, with a junction a few metres inside. Harkness moves up to the junction, and three ithklur follow, fanning out around him for protection. Von Ankh takes a couple more marines and explores one arm of the junction, but it leads to a dead end. Captain Degazio enters and has a marine allocated as a bodyguard.

Von Ankh moves back to the crossroads for a good field of view, and forwards the video from the marines’ helmet cameras to himself, Harkness and Degazio. Two marines head deeper into the ship, while Harkness leads two along a tunnel parallel to the ship’s hull and pries open a wall sphincter at random. Inside, Harkness finds a cache of spherical objects about the size of a basketball. Leaving the marines on guard, he takes this outside and tapes it to the the hull for easy retrieval.

Meanwhile, deeper in the ship, the marines find a chamber dominated by a tall structure made of dark green chitin, which looks like it should revolve. One marine enters a niche in the structure and pushes; it rotates easily and he emerges into another chamber, where he can see the entrance to a crawlspace of some kind.

At this point, the marines Harkness left on watch shout “Movement!” and their helmet cameras show a swarm of man-sized insectoids approaching at speed. The boarding party brace themselves for firing in zero-g, and as the bugs continue to close, open fire with their ACRs on full auto. This kills a few bugs, but fails to stem the tide, so Von Ankh orders the rearmost marines to fire RAM grenades into the onrushing horde. While they are preparing those, Harkness steps out of the tunnel and uses his engineering admin passwords to access the ship’s two triple pulse laser turrets and blast the tunnel from the outside. This is surprisingly effective, considering he is firing blind by dead reckoning, and makes a large hole.

Lt. Degazio is more demurely armed than the others, with revolver and cutlass. Nonetheless, she manages to drop one bug before the RAM grenades fire – and both fall short.

The ensuring carnage is an abject lesson in why you do not charge down a long straight corridor towards a squad with automatic weapons and explosives. Many bugs died to teach the boarding party this lesson. Unfortunately two marines are in the grenade blast radius, and not even combat armour can stop that much damage. Their armour is now holed, with a chlorine atmosphere flowing in and forming hydrochloric acid on contact with their body fluids, and additionally they themselves are perforated by shrapnel.

More bugs flood the tunnels from the direction of the rotating structure, and overrun the boarding party. However, it soon becomes clear that their focus is mending the hole the Old Musky‘s crew came in from, and they have no hostile intentions as such.

Patching their fallen comrades’ suits, the boarders retire through the latest hole they’ve made and return to the ship, where Dr Moon Moon can attempt to save the casualties.

As they exit the alien vessel, the XO’s voice comes over the radio: “Captain? Get out of there, that ship is starting to move!”

To be continued…

GM’s Notes

Not many players this week, which helped as it’s the first time we’ve used the combat rules in earnest. Questions I couldn’t find a quick answer to, and had to make spot rulings for: Is it possible for a high initiative traveller to go “on hold” waiting for someone else to go? (I decided yes, at least until I check the rules.) How much damage does a ship’s hull absorb if you’re shooting at someone inside it? What happens if you’re not braced when you attack in zero-g? I expect those are in the rules somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet.

Ideas I borrowed from Savage Worlds were to let each player control two of the six marines, and have those marines act on the controlling player’s initiative. That sped things up considerably and meant Degazio’s player had something to do – the Captain herself is not well-suited to boarding actions.

Traveller personal combat seems to flow faster and better with this group than Savage Worlds did with the same players; using d6 for everything helps, as does using the same initiative roll on each combat round.

Meanwhile, Von Ankh’s player had missed the first improvement roll from training while overseas, and rolled retroactively, increasing his Zero-G to expertise-1.

Quote of the session: “Why am I in the boarding party? I’m not Captain Kirk!” (Lt. Degazio.)

Arion, Episode 19: Gazzain

Gazzain, 133-3401

I have a good idea how I want the next couple of episodes to go, so let’s try railroading things by picking encounters to steer the story that way.

Tell Me, D6 (Solo p. 37): What kind of person is Timon? 2 = untrustworthy, might double-cross

World encounter (p.58): 54 – interesting locals make life hell. What kind of locals? Let’s go with the Colourful Locals table on p. 38; 13, ambushing brigands.

The heat hits Arion and Dmitri like a wall of fast-moving soggy cotton as they step out of the Dolphin onto the landing pad at Gazzain Downport. The sun beats down on baked concrete and waxy-looking vegetation; the surrounding jungle seems to be waiting to creep back over the pad when no-one is looking. A kilometre or so away, the arcology where the human elite live rises into the sky; there are ithklur ground crew tending to a few vessels or dozing on the warm ground.

“What’s the plan?” asks Arion, as Timon scuttles off, a duffel bag containing all his worldly possessions slung over one shoulder. Dmitri looks around.

“Timon said Schrodinger’s ship was called the Vegan’s Dream. Dolphin, is that still here?”

Arion is carrying a member of the repair swarm – a fist-sized metallic spider – on one shoulder as a link back to the Dolphin. It pipes up in a high, tinny version of the Dolphin‘s voice.

“The Vegan’s Dream is on the next pad, just outside the scout base, over here.” One of the ships is outlined in their AR visors.

“I need to check in with the base,” Arion says. “Paperwork, you know? You want to come with?”

“No thanks – I’ll wander round the port, talk to a few people, see if I can get a line on Schrodinger.”

“Okay then. I’ll meet you back here in two hours.”


It’s dusk by the time Arion saunters back, duties discharged. As he approaches the Dolphin, his AR visor lights up with red outlines of murky figures in the shadows near the landing gear. He slows, but has nowhere else to go, and needs to find out what’s happened to Dmitri, if anything. He brightens at the thought that Dmitri probably slipped these guys a few Credits to help out, and picks up the pace again.

As he gets closer, he sees the shadowy figures are humans, and there are three of them; the AR lights up with red icons for weapons. One steps forward and speaks; Arion’s gaze takes in the trademark earring and ayloi – a Gimirri clan warrior.

“Mr Schrodinger wants to talk to you. Come with us.”

“Where’s Dmitri?”

“Your passenger? With Schrodinger.”

“And if I refuse?”

“You still talk to Schrodinger; he was very specific about that. He gave no instructions on whether you should still be able to walk, or feed yourself.”

GM Notes

I’m still determined to stick to a weekly schedule for Arion, but this week was pretty heavy going both in and out of work, so it’s a short post; I’ll aim for something longer and more narrative-rich next time.

Strictly speaking, the Gimirri are not local to Gazzain; but they are already established adversaries who are known to be working with the Big Bad, so it’s easier to use them than think of a reason why another group would be involved.

A minor nitpick with Solo; it refers to tables such as “S4”, but none of the tables are labelled that way. It’s not too hard to work out which tables are being referred to – for example, if a patron offers me a mission and I need to roll on tables S1 and S3, it’s easy to see I should roll on the Patrons and Patron Missions tables – but it would be neater if the terminology were consistent.

Savage Traveller: Air/Raft

I’ve been using Traveller as a Savage Worlds setting on and off for some years now; so far I’ve been making ad hoc rulings on the fly, which has worked well enough, but now that the crew of the Rattenbury Ghost have asked for more detail on their ship and how they can modify it, it’s a good time to adopt the Science Fiction Companion in earnest – starting with vehicles and starships. I will probably not adopt the character options (because of a conscious decision to stay as close to the core rules as possible) or the world maker (because I prefer Traveller’s rules for subsectors and worlds). I have some fairly clear ideas about characters and combat, but I’ll wait for the new edition of Savage Worlds first.

Before I can stat up the Rattenbury Ghost, which is basically a Type A Free Trader, or the Dolphin, which is a Type S Scout/Courier, I wanted to understand the vehicles they carry, namely air/rafts. Here’s what I designed…


Light Vehicle: Size 2, Acc/TS 30/100, Toughness 9 (2), Crew 6, Cost $61,000, Remaining Mods 1.

Notes: Aircraft (Antigrav, Climb 2), Artificial Intelligence, Crew Space, Exposed Crew, Sensor Suite.

Weapons: None.

GM Notes

I’ve made the air/raft as small as it can be and still have room for at least four people and some cargo. Traveller, at least Classic Traveller, uses “tons” to mean both ship displacement (one dton = 14 cubic metres) and cargo mass (one ton = 1,000 kg). The SFC says an unused Mod represents 125 cubic feet (0.24 dton); that would be 3.4 tons of water. The original CT air/raft could carry 4 tons of cargo, so that’s close enough.

One of the air/rafts on the Rattenbury Ghost has been modified with a jury-rigged Octuple-Linked Assault Rifle (let’s call that one Mod, +3 hit, +6 damage) in place of the cargo area. I handwaved the stats for that based on a quad-linked light autocannon, I don’t think the players will worry about that much.

In this setting, antigravity is normal technology rather than Ultra Tech, because that’s how Traveller rolls. Or floats. Air/rafts are, of course, open-topped, because otherwise how would arboreal predators be able to pounce on the crew?

I’ve added the AI and sensor suite primarily because one of the players drives a Tesla, and will (quite reasonably) expect a sci-fi vehicle to have better functionality than the car he parked outside when he arrived for the session.

Arion, Episode 18: Constructive Possession

“The character is given constructive possession of a scout ship, without actual title to it. He may use it as he sees fit, but may not sell or mortgage the vessel. He is not responsible for payments, except for crew and some upkeep. Fuel is free at scout bases, and maintenance is available free at scout bases at class B starports.” – Traveller, Book 1, 1977 edition

Jumpspace, 126-3401

A few dice rolls reveal this is an essentially uninteresting week. That happens sometimes. I think this is the quietest week so far for Arion.

  • Starport Encounter on Kov (p. 39): 31 – a damaged ship limps into port. The aslan haven’t started to move yet, otherwise it could be carrying news of their expansion. Probably pirates, then.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Kov (pp. 40-46): 4 – no encounter.
  • Onboard Events table in jump (p. 56): 31 – cargo shifts in flight.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 2d6 vs 8+ = 10; no problems.
  • Starship Encounter arriving at Gazzain (pp. 40-46): No encounter. No piracy warning either.
  • Starport Encounter on Gazzain (p. 39): 66 – no encounter.

“I thought there might be pirates,” Timon says as the Dolphin steps out of jumpspace near Gazzain. “Given that damaged freighter limping into Kov as we left.” One of his hands is bandaged where a crate shifted against him when the Dolphin dodged that freighter a bit too enthusiastically.

“No, thankfully,” Arion says as he completes a full spherical scan of nearby space. “Just as well, to be honest, we don’t have too much in the way of weapons.”

“We should fix that,” the Dolphin observes.

“Agreed, as soon as we have the money. Anyway, lawless or not, Gazzain’s part of the Confederation, and they have a base there so we should be safe from pirates. The Archive has a reciprocal refuelling and maintenance agreement with Confed, so I’ll land there.”

“And yet they say the starport’s full of pirates,” Dmitri muses. “You have to wonder what’s going on down there.”

“It’s full of ithklur,” Arion points out. “Confed probably thinks it’s doing well if they can keep the heavy weapons under control…”

GM Notes

In Mongoose Traveller, possession of a detached duty scout ship doesn’t seem to confer rights to free fuel and maintenance at scout bases as it did in Classic Traveller; but I like the Classic approach better, so that’s what I’m using.

In CT there was no limitation on whether the scout bases concerned had to be part of the same interstellar empire or not – there were no interstellar empires to speak of in the 1977 edition – which to me implied that all worlds operating scout ships were signatories to some kind of reciprocal treaty; we’ll fix your ships if you fix ours. And while it’s not explicitly stated in the CT rulebooks, Traveller canon is clear that some of those detached duty scouts are actually covert agents.

Consequently, a scout base in my Traveller universe(s) potentially contains scouts from many different worlds, any or all of whom may be spies posing as detached duty scouts. Hilarity normally ensues.

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