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  • Writer's pictureMac Boyle

The College of Grotesque Arts -- Week Four

After I finished writing the material for this week, I thought to myself, “I feel like I’m writing a lot. Just how long is this?” So I checked the word count and this is over 5,000 words. That’s a whole damn college paper. I assign a 5,000-word essay each semester and my students get panicked looks in their eyes because they’ve never written anything that long. And this isn’t even an outlier — Weeks One and Three were both longer. Am I going into too much detail on these rooms, or is this a normal amount of words?

Ahem. Anyway. Enough of me worrying.

Question: are those notes below the map itself actually any use? The ones that are a list of what appears in the actual entry? (I know that the original concept was probably that all the writing should fit in that space, but I also know myself, so I never actually expected to fit all of my excessive verbiage into that space.) Should I start leaving that part off? Anyone have thoughts? Also, I wrote those bits in pen this time so I could scan it. Do the scanned versions work better than the photographed versions? Practicality vs. aesthetic? Listeners, call in.

Content below.

Room 1.22: f.23v

When the PCs open the door to this room, a rather damp and annoyed hawk flies out.

This room is entirely taken up by a 10ft-deep pool, inhabited by a number of bright red & pale green minnows. Some stairs lead down to the bottom of the pool.

Observant PCs will notice that one section of the pool wall does not have any algae growing on it. This section of the wall is an illusion — anything other than water or marine animals can pass through it as though it isn’t there. PCs walking (swimming) through it will find themselves completely dry on the other side as the water is filtered out when they pass through. They will also be rather thirsty: the filter isn’t supposed to affect bodily fluids, but the wizards never quite got it working right and it gives you a pronounced feeling of dry mouth. This same effect is active on the stairs, and likewise dries out anyone who walks up them.

(The hawk, if you were wondering, flew through from the other side and has been drying its wings on the stairs for a while now, unaware that this would have been done magically had it walked rather than flown. It’s confused and angry about ending up underwater unexpectedly.)

Room 1.23: f.24r

In a complete 180 from the last page, this one has so much crap on it that just begs to be included that I made the room huge in order to justify that. (It was randomly generated to be 20x30, but there was plenty of space just south of it to expand into.) This is another high-ceilinged room where the “floor” is actually just the top of a thick layer of soil. It contains seventeen pillars spaced through the room (shown on the map), but the pillars are entirely covered in thick, woody vines. The walls appear to have trelliswork built into them, and are likewise covered in vines. The ground cover is dominated by small, fragrant white flowers that detect as very slightly magical. A pond occupies the southwest, dominated by vines and reeds.

The most obvious feature of this room is a giant pit in the northeast corner. (Appendix A wanted there to be a pit trap in that east passage, but I’ve reinterpreted it.) This appears at first glance to be a garbage pit, but it seems that all the material in it is organic — in fact, it’s a crude composting operation that is the source for much of the soil all these plants down here are growing in. You might say it’s full of fertilizer, or you might say, “oh, that’s where all the animal waste is going.” It also has a bunch of those fragrant white flowers growing in it. And yes, the pit is blocking access to the east passage. Because I think it’d be funny if the PCs decided they had to go through it, that’s why. (If you want stats, it’s about a 20ft drop to the… contents, but you might want to assign damage as if it were only a 10ft drop, due to the padding. PCs will sink in it if they try to walk across it. The pit itself is roughly square, 20x20, and is 40ft deep in total — it’s about half full of stuff.)

Stationed near the pit (well, let’s say several feet away, not like, standing on the lip daring you to push it in) is Caretaker Two. (My attempts to minimize any humanoid/intelligent hybrid creatures running around and the obvious necessity to use that piece of art basically mean this has to be a Caretaker.) Caretaker Two is a long-limbed, long-torsoed, somewhat-humanoid construct about the size of a human child. It appears to be composed of green stone and wears a rather nice cloak and gown. The effect is spoiled (enhanced?) by its penchant for a quadrupedal gait — it can also climb on the walls and ceiling with no apparent effort. Caretaker Two collects organic waste from large sections of the dungeon to bring here, and is also tasked with repairing other Caretakers — it does the waste collection and/or compost distribution at night, but visits the locations of each other Caretaker in the dungeon at dawn after they’ve finished their “shift” and returned to their places. (After seeing that Pathfinder has make whole repair constructs, I figured there should probably be a Caretaker that uses that effect to fix other Caretakers.) Like Caretaker One, it is potentially dangerous, since it was designed to be able to deal with large and possibly hostile beaſts, but will cause no harm to the PCs unless provoked or obstructed in its duties. Stats:

Caretaker Two: CR 7, XP 3200; N Small Construct; Init +6; Senses Low-Light Vision, Darkvision 60ft, Blindsight 30ft; Perception +3

DEFENSE: AC 23, touch 17, flat-footed 17 (+1 size, +6 Dex, +6 natural); hp 60 (9d10+10) Saves Fort +3, Ref +9, Will +6; DR 5/-

OFFENSE: Speed 50 ft., climb 50 ft.; Melee 2 slams +13 (2d6+3); Spell-Like Abilities (CL 9; Save DC 13 + spell level) At Will: Cure Minor Wounds, Floating Disk, Make Whole; 3/day: Charm Monster, Deep Slumber, Telekinesis; 1/day: Hold Monster, Interposing Hand

STATISTICS: Str 16, Dex 22, Con 0, Int 0, Wis 16, Cha 1; Base Atk +9; CMB +11; CMD 27; Special Qualities Construct Traits, Blindsight 30ft


Spider Climb (Su): Caretaker Two can effortlessly climb sheer surfaces and ceilings as the spell spider climb, with the exception that it uses its normal climb speed to do so.

If provoked, Caretaker Two attempts to subdue with charm monster and deep slumber. If those don’t work, it will escalate to hold monster, then to protecting itself with interposing hand. If this has not neutralized the threat, Caretaker Two will attempt to subdue with nonlethal blows and/or additional attempts to use charm monster and deep slumber. If reduced below half hit points, it will escalate to lethal force, backed up by use of telekinesis. It may, at this point, attempt to push opponents into the garbage pit if they are in that area. Note that while Caretaker Two can use telekinesis 3/day, odds are good that it has already expended one use before the PCs arrive — it uses it to turn the compost.

The vines that cover the pillars and walls are inhabited by brightly colored red-and-blue songbirds.

The pond has a few black herons wading in it.

Wandering around this room are a handful of blostaethes. A blostaeth is a chicken-sized reptilian critter with fine scales and a few feathers (on its tail and at the back of its head) in red, blue, and green. They are equipped with: long, serpentine necks; short, feathery tails; a pair of three-toed legs; and no other appendages. A couple of them appear to be wearing small cloaks for some reason.

Yeah, we can’t just ignore that the artist gave those things clothing, can we? Raises some questions, so I better try and answer them. Okay, um, so blostaethes are actually very long-lived. Unlike most of the creatures in here, they’re not just descended from old experiments — the ones wearing cloaks are the originals. (The others are their young. They lay eggs rarely and mature very slowly.) Januaria’s heretofore-unmentioned apprentice, whom we’ll name Dervorguilla because that’s one of the more wizardy-sounding names on the list I’m using, took a liking to these particular beaſts and made them little cloaks because it’s cute. Caretaker Two was instructed to keep the little cloaks in good repair, untangle them when necessary, retrieve them if lost, and so forth. Absent instructions to the contrary, it’s still doing that. It’s also equipped with cure minor wounds to keep them in good health, which is how these creatures have survived for centuries without incident. That’s all a bit whimsical, but the artist forced my hand by giving these creatures accessories.

Anyway, the blostaeth is a friendly and docile creature. (The PC’s can’t take one; the Caretaker will stop them.) Its only unusual characteristic beyond its appearance and lifespan is a sort of breath weapon — once per day, it can breathe out a spray of seeds. These are the seeds of those fragrant white flowers all over the room. The flowers have two purposes: one, they mask the smell of the garbage pit; two, they magically enhance the properties of the compost, which is why the “just throw everything in a pit and hope for the best” approach is working so well. They shouldn’t be a threat, but here are some stats in case it’s needed:

Blostaeth: CR 1, XP 400; N Diminutive Magical Beast; Init +3; Senses Low-Light Vision, Darkvision 60ft; Perception +5

DEFENSE: AC 18, touch 17, flat-footed 15 (+4 size, +3 Dex, +1 natural); hp 14 (2d10+3); Saves Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +0; Immunities Aging, Disease

OFFENSE: Speed 10 ft.; Melee bite +3 (1d2-3); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 2-1/2 ft.; Special Attacks Breath Weapon

STATISTICS: Str 4, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 4, Wis 10, Cha 10; Base Atk +2; CMB -5; CMD 8; Feats Toughness; Skills Perception +5; Special Qualities Magical Beast Traits


Breath Weapon (Su): A Blostaeth can exhale a 10ft. conical spray of seeds as a breath weapon. This attack causes 1d4 damage and allows a DC 11 reflex save for half damage. A Blostaeth can use its breath weapon once every day.

If excessively threatened, they bite and may use their breath weapon. A PC hit by the breath weapon may, in 3d4 days, notice that small white flowers are sprouting from their skin; the seeds can get embedded and grow in flesh. Being parasitized by flowers is not exactly healthy (1 Con damage per week), but isn’t hugely threatening either — the flowers are not difficult to find and pull out. Pulling them out stings a bit but does no appreciable damage.

Searching the room may reveal a huge golden trumpet stashed behind the trellises on the west wall, half-buried in the dirt and hidden by vines unless you look carefully. Right now it’s full of dirt, plant matter, and possibly bird poop. You should clean it up if you want to use it. Blowing this trumpet (which is difficult and might require a second person to help hold it up for you, as it’s almost ten feet long) will signal any Caretakers on this level of the dungeon to assemble in front of the trumpet-blower. (It will also make an extremely loud and not particularly melodious noise.) Upon arriving in front of the trumpet-blower, they will wait patiently for ten minutes. The idea is that you can summon them to give instructions; however, since none of the PCs are authorized to give those instructions, they just wait silently and then go back to what they were doing. If used in combat with the Caretakers, it will make them stop what they’re doing, but if they’re subsequently attacked, they’ll go back to defending themselves as before. If used outside the dungeon, it has a chance of having the same effect on any mindless constructs in a one-mile radius. (GM’s choice whether to assign a percentage chance or give the constructs some kind of save.) It cannot be used inconspicuously.

If any PC searches the compost pit (because you know someone’s going to) they’ll find, in addition to animal waste and plant matter, remains of various creatures from elsewhere in the dungeon. The Caretakers aren’t hugely consistent about bringing corpses to the pit — as evidenced by the bones elsewhere in the dungeon — but they do so often enough that it keeps there from being bones just knee-deep all over the place. This includes the remains of a few previous explorers, since at this point it would be weird if it didn’t. Let’s say four of them: William (fighter), Alice (bard), Elizabeth (paladin), and John (necromancer). (Gotta use up the normal names on this list, you know?) So if the PCs really want to play “archaeologist in the midden”, they can find those remains and any possessions those adventurers had when they died. Well, I say “any” possessions — anything metal would have been scavenged by Caretaker One, and the compost pit would have decomposed anything organic. So, really, “any non-metal possessions that are either made of stone or magically preserved in some way.” Again, best to randomly generate said possessions, I think — if it’s relevant, each of these past explorers is the PCs’ level +/- 1d4.

Any PC who jumps in the compost pit should have to save against disease. I don’t know which disease — GM’s choice. It’s not as bad as it could be, because, you know, it’s mostly just compost, but there’s still waste and carcasses that haven’t properly decomposed here.

Room 1.24: f.24v

The walls, floor, and ceiling of this large, oddly-shaped room are patterned with rust-stained holes. Examination will reveal that there used to be a number of large cages built into this room — someone has cleared the remnants out. (It was Caretaker One.) There are also remnants of glass enclosures that have shattered for one reason or another — watch your feet. In the south part of the room are two surviving enclosures.

Around the edges of the room runs a mezzanine, with stairs up to it on the east wall. On the mezzanine is another counter with cabinets and a shelf like the ones in Room 1.17 and Room 1.20. Unlike those, this has clearly already been ransacked — the only things left are broken glass vessels. The rest of the mezzanine is cluttered with broken bits of furniture. Three mostly-intact stone tables remain on the western portion. The eight pillars holding up the mezzanine extend all the way to the ceiling.

Back down on the ground, the surviving enclosure by the west wall is a glass terrarium with one side broken. It contains a miniature habitat, complete with miniature live trees, for a herd of miniature deer. With the side broken, the deer have escaped and can be found wandering over the rest of the room. (Not on the mezzanine, though, as they’re too small to get up the stairs.)

The surviving enclosure by the east wall is also glass, but fully intact. (The top is open, but it seems like it’s supposed to be.) It contains layers of dirt and plant matter, and seems to be dotted with hundreds of very small plant sprouts. These sprouts are the tails of biltwicks, strange little bluish worms with a plant-based tail and an odd, reddish, beaked head. I was going to make them harmless, but honestly I have this nagging feeling that this is becoming more of a pleasant tour than a dungeon crawl, so they probably need to be able to mess you up. Hm. They’re venomous.

In most respects, as far as game statistics are concerned, a biltwick is just a very strange-looking earthworm. (To my knowledge, there are no stats for earthworms, because why would you need them, so likewise there aren’t stats here.) There are two exceptions. First, like a lot of the other plant-creatures in this dungeon, any effect that wouldn’t work on a plant only has a 50% chance of working on a biltwick. they’re Part Plant, as codified in Room 1.26. Second, as mentioned, they’re venomous. If a PC sticks their hand in the enclosure or otherwise starts messing with them, they’ll bite.

Biltwick Venom: Injury; Fort Save DC 15; Onset 10 minutes; Frequency 1/minute for 10 minutes; Effect 1d2 Str; Secondary effect unconsciousness; Cure 2 consecutive saves.

Anyone under the effect of biltwick venom will spend 20 minutes unconscious for every point of Str damage they took. This does not count as a night’s rest, but if someone with a low Con gets bitten, the rest of the party may as well drag them off to a space less full of tiny deer and make camp. On the plus side, the sufferer experiences pleasant dreams. (Yes, the original intent was to make a naturally-produced tranquilizer for the beaſts.)

Room 1.25: f.25r

There are bones in the corners of this otherwise unremarkable room.

Also, there’s a lion in here. It must be kept pretty well fed to keep it from eating all those tiny deer next door. There may be some small antlers scattered on the floor from deer that wander into its lair though. Watch out; darn things are like caltrops. (Treat them as a terrain hazard if combat starts.) Caretaker Two probably intervenes if it tries to enter Room 1.23. Well fed or not, you probably want to be careful not to make any sudden move.

Room 1.26: f.25v

The north side of this room is taken up by a small artificial pond.

Growing in the pond are donkey reeds. (I had to do something with this illustration and rather than having another worm-like creature that’s kind of a plant, I thought maybe we should have a plant that’s kind of a creature.) They poke a few feet out of the water and are topped with small donkey heads. As could likely be guessed by the pink stalks and blue leaves, they’re not very effective photosynthesizers — they need to be fed by the Caretakers. (They’re herbivores; create food & water just conjures up heaps of plant matter for them) Donkey reeds are not hugely mobile, but the stalks are flexible and the heads might bite.

The pond also contains some more geese.

In the southwest corner, someone has crudely carved “don’t” into a portion of the wall. (A warning left by a previous explorer, not part of the original construction.) Examination will reveal that this section of wall is actually a hidden door. The door will open if anyone in the room casts an arcane spell; on the other side is a storage closet.

In the storage closet are a series of shelves that have some sort of magical effect surrounding them. Investigation will reveal that this is a stasis effect like the one in Room 1.5, keeping the contents of the shelves frozen in time. Many of the shelves are empty, but four contain a series of small ceramic apothecary jars. These jars are labeled and sorted, but the labels are just numbers someone has painted on, with no context provided. Each shelf contains 2d12 jars; all the jars on each shelf have the same number. (Note: the numbers have no meaning other than “this is Substance Number X I’ve made”. I’m numbering them 2, 35, 48, and 96 because those are the numbers I got by rolling a d100 four times. If you want to renumber or give them other meanings, that’s fine and shouldn’t cause problems.)

The stasis system in this storage closet is not, like the one in Room 1.5, part of a more complex mechanism. All it does is keep the shelves in stasis, and it’s meant to be convenient, so it can be turned off pretty easily. Each shelf has a rune carved on it — the same rune on each one. If an arcane spellcaster of any kind touches the rune, the stasis effect will drop until the rune is touched again. Opening a jar will reveal that they are filled with strange, foul-smelling pastes, very much like one might expect from an apothecary jar. Direct skin-to-skin contact with the paste provokes a Fortitude save (DC 15) against that paste’s effects, which will be outlined below.

Each substance in the jars is meant to provoke physical changes upon a living creature. (If one of your characters is undead or a construct or something, they’re immune.) The extent of the change depends on how much of the paste you apply. In the entries below, “minor exposure” indicates something like poking it with the tip of your finger or otherwise cautiously interacting with it, “moderate exposure” indicates either smearing some on yourself or ingesting any amount, and “major exposure” indicates topically applying the entire jar. Minor exposure takes three days to run its course; moderate exposure takes six; major exposure takes ten. If the PC fights off the effect before it naturally runs its course, you should use those timespans to decide what permanent results they did get.

The effect acts pretty much like a magical disease, and causes Constitution damage because having magic mess with your biology like this is not a pleasant or healthy experience. (Save DC 15; Onset 1d4 days; Frequency 1/day; Effect variable Con damage; Cure 2 consecutive saves.) Any changes are permanent, even after the “disease” runs its course and the Con damage stops. It is possible to reverse them with magic (remove disease should probably do it, but feel free to make your own calls about how easy or difficult this should be to heal.) PCs may choose to voluntarily fail their saves if they think the changes are neat enough to be worth the Con damage.

The “disease” shouldn’t be contagious, but as previous rooms within this dungeon have indicated, one of these things has accidentally mutated into a transmissible form at least once before. Specifics below this image of someone who has apparently been affected by all of them and doesn’t look happy about it.

Substance #2

Minor exposure: Whatever part of you came into contact with the substance begins slowly converting to plant-like material. If the effect is allowed to run its course, that body part will start sprouting leaves. You can technically photosynthesize, but not enough to make a noticeable difference in your food consumption.

Moderate exposure: As above, but you grow a few small vines (earthworm-sized) from the spot rather than just leaves, and you can photosynthesize sufficiently to reduce your required food consumption by ¼ if you keep your new floral accessory exposed to daylight for at least 8 hours a day. (If you ingested the substance instead of applying it topically, the vines appear at random locations spread over your body.)

Major exposure: As above, but you grow a single large vine as big around as your arm and twice as long, with broad, spreading leaves. It’s prehensile and fully under your control. Your food requirements are reduced by ½ with sufficient exposure to daylight. You are Part Plant, which is something I’m going to go ahead and codify since I keep using it… and I’ll make it a little more in-depth than “you have plant immunities half the time”. Consider this retroactive:

Part Plant can be applied to any living creature, excluding outsiders and… well, plants. Anything that is Part Plant has a flat 50% chance of ignoring any paralysis, poison, or stun effects. They gain +5 to any save against mind-affecting effects and sleep effects on account of their brain working a little different now. Sneak attacks on something that is Part Plant have a 10% failure chance; the organs aren’t all where they’re supposed to be. They can photosynthesize so long as their leaves are exposed to sun during the daylight hours; this cuts their food requirement in half. Their sleep requirements are also halved. Any magical effects that target plants (e.g. control plants) have a 50% chance of working on them; any effect that does damage to plants does half damage to them. To any spell or effect that checks a creature’s type, they count as a plant in addition to their original creature type.

Substance #35

Minor exposure: You develop a small humanoid face on the part of your body that was exposed. It has limited internal components (sinuses, throat, &c. are not really present), and can’t move.

Moderate exposure: You develop a fully functional humanoid face on the part of your body that was exposed (or a random part if you ingested it). The face can be up to a foot across, depending on how much of the substance you applied and where you applied it. It has internal components and seems to be hooked into your own respiratory system. It can move, and you have limited control over it. In general, this is a less-inconvenient version of Bonus Face Syndrome (which is a mutated version of this effect), in that the face is less prone to babble nonsense and you can exercise control over it. (It does not come with the same deleterious mental effects.) Trying to control the face should be modeled by a Charisma check (DC 13).

Major exposure: You develop a complete second head at the location where the substance was applied. (It may or may not have a neck, depending on location and the vagaries of magical effects.) The second head has its own mind, will, and mental stats. It has adult intelligence as well as fragments of your memory and personality. It shares control of your body; if the two of you disagree on what actions to take, make opposed Charisma checks to decide who has control.

Substance #48

Minor exposure: You develop fine blue scales over 10% of your body, radiating out from the point at which you came into contact with the substance. Wherever scales develop, your hair falls out.

Moderate exposure: As above, but 50% of your body. If you ingested the substance, you get patches of scales at random locations. You receive a +1 natural armor bonus.

Major exposure: As above, but 100% of your body. You receive a +2 natural armor bonus.

Substance #96

Minor exposure: You develop a single white-rimmed, spiracle-like opening at the part of your body where you came into contact with the substance. You can breathe through it.

Moderate exposure: As above, but you develop several of these openings spread throughout your body, with associated small gill-like structures. You can use them to breathe underwater for a limited period; they aren’t sufficiently numerous or well-developed to provide enough oxygen to function without coming up for air. Functionally, you can now hold your breath underwater for a number of minutes equal to five times your Constitution score.

Major exposure: You have dozens of these spiracle-like openings all over your body and your respiratory system has been entirely reworked. You are functionally amphibious.

Room 1.27: f.26r

This room contains substantially more rotten wood than any of the others you’ve come across. It might be intentional, since that wood seems to be inhabited by large worms of some sort.

Hunting those worms are a pair of harcats. These creatures are about the size of a housecat, and have a mixture of feline and rodential features. They are bipedal, their only limbs being a pair of powerful rabbit-like legs. Harcats move in a hunched-over manner, interacting with the world either through their prehensile tails or by biting. Appendix A wants there to be a monster in this room, so I’ve decided harcats are aggressive. I’m not saying there’s no way your PCs can make one into a pet, just that it’ll be difficult.

Harcat: CR 2, XP 600; N Tiny Animal; Init +3; Senses Low-Light Vision, Scent; Perception +0

DEFENSE: AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 12 (+2 size, +3 Dex); hp 14 (3d8+0); Saves Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +1

OFFENSE: Speed 25 ft.; Melee bite +4 (1d6-1 plus disease); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 2-1/2 ft.; Special Attacks Leap, Disease

STATISTICS: Str 8, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 10; Base Atk +2; CMB -1; CMD 12; Feats Mobility, Weapon Focus (bite); Skills Acrobatics +9 Special Qualities Animal Traits


Leap (Ex): As a move action, a Harcat can jump up to ten feet in any direction, including straight up. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity.

Disease (Ex): A Harcat’s needle-like teeth are prone to communicating disease. Pick any disease you’d like to throw at your PCs; if you don’t want to choose, filth fever is a sensible fallback.

Room 1.28: f.26v

Appendix A wanted me to put something fairly goofy here, and I expected to veto it, but this page doesn’t have a lot for me to work with, so we’re rolling with it.

The entrance to this room is a large set of iron double doors with ring-shaped door-knockers. (Don’t roll on the Doors Table for this one; it’s intact.) When the PCs open the doors, flip a coin or otherwise roll a 50% chance.

On heads (or the first half of your 50% roll), the other side of the doors is an empty 20x30 room. If the PCs close the doors behind them, there is a rumbling noise and a sensation of movement — this room is actually a sort of freight elevator, and it’s taking them down to Level Two. (What’s on the other side of the door on that level? Tell you in a month or so.) The elevator takes half an hour to automatically reset; until that point, it can’t be made to move again. After half an hour has passed, opening and closing the doors will make it bring them back to Level One.

On tails (or the other option in whatever mechanism you’re using), the doors open onto a sheer drop into a large space with rough-hewn walls. The top of the elevator is 50 feet below them. The elevator doesn’t take up the whole space — there’s a good ten feet on each side, excluding the side with the door — and a number of birds are nesting on ledges around the edges of the space. This elevator shaft also seems to extend some 20 feet upwards, where a large pulley of some kind hangs from the ceiling, with cables reaching down to the elevator.

If the elevator isn’t present (i.e., if you got tails on that coin), it can be summoned by using the knockers on the doors.

And there’s Week Four done. Hey, if you’re reading this, like… let me know?

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