FUDGE Expanded Edition
Author: Steffan O'Sullivan and Ann Dupuis
Company/Publisher: Grey Ghost Press, Inc.
Page count: 128
Playtest Review by J. Andrew Kitkowski on 11/14/00.
Genre tags: Fantasy Science fiction Modern day Historical Horror Far Future Space Comedy Anime Espionage Conspiracy Post-apocalypse Old West Vampire Gothic Asian/Far East Superhero Diceless Generic Live-action
There are numerous FUDGE reviews out there on RPGnet, and so while I wanted to write a review of FUDGE for a while, I thought that bringing a new perspective to a review would be a little more interesting. So instead of a FUDGE player, I'm going to be reviewing this game from the position of a GM and a game designer. And instead of reviewing just the FUDGE Expanded Edition book, I'm going to take a look at the whole FUDGE experience.
What is FUDGE?
This is a question that comes up over and over, and is probably the third most contended point about FUDGE (right behind "Graniness in FUDGE" and "Unlinked Skills and Attributes" -see "Problems with FUDGE", below). FUDGE itself stands for "Freeform Universal Do-it-yourself Game Engine". Note the lack of the words "Role-Playing Game". While FUDGE often makes lists of people's "favorite RPGs" (especially here on the RPGnet phorums), it would be a misnomer to call FUDGE, as it stands written out in the Expanded Edition, a complete RPG.
When we come to talk about FUDGE as a Role-Playing Game, we can't help but to compare it to other RPGs out there on the market. Most RPGs are not just a set of rules, but rather a set of rules combined with a game world in which to play. All White Wolf, AEG, FASA, Pinnacle, Dream Pod 9, R. Talsorian, Atlas Games and Chaosium games link the rules to a pre-generated setting. The settings are there to "jump-start" your imagination, to help you create an effective and interesting story. Therefore, it seems that, for better or worse, a modern definition of a Role-Playing Game would have to be "A set of rules and a world or setting to play in".
FUDGE, while not a complete RPG, is a complete set of rules. In that respect, it can be compared to what we've recently started calling "Game Engines"; setting-free rules systems. So FUDGE is more along the lines of other "games" like GURPS, D&D, Big Eyes Small Mouth, and The Window.
The reason that this point is so contended is that some people think that FUDGE isn't even a complete set of rules. It outlines 2 systems of character generation. It contains 3 seperate and unique combat systems. It has basic rules for using psionics and magic. However, for some people, this isn't enough. Especially regarding combat, some people want rules to reflect things like fatigue, bullet penetration, stress, explosions, and falling damage. Other people want definite and complete lists of attributes and skills, rather than leaving it up to the GM to decide for each game. While FUDGE doesn't specifically have rules for these things (compared to GURPS, which in all its volumes has rules for almost ANYTHING), it leaves plenty of room for someone to design them and integrate them with the other FUDGE rules (see Buying Into a Family, below). Or, perhaps more appropriately, it leaves room for the GM to "fudge" those results ("Um... sure... ok, you take X damage", etc).
First, I have to point out that every rule in FUDGE can be edited and upturned as the GM sees fit when she creates a setting or gets a game ready, so there really is no "Core Mechanic". There is a "Core Idea" of the game, and that is of a story-driven game, often with easy rules so as to not detract from the roleplaying experience, that uses adjectives to describe the characters instead of numbers. So if I were to, say, compare a character made with the d20 system and a character made with FUDGE (using the same attributes), they might look something like this:
Imagine that you were sitting down to an RPG for the first time. Which system is more intuitive for you?
The "Core Mechanic" of FUDGE, if there was one, would be to roll some dice to generate a result between +4 and -4 (the system is on a bell-curve, so most results actually end up falling between +1 and -1). So say that your character was trying to jump over a cliff- The GM says that you need a result of "Good" or better to succeed. If the above character's player rolled a "-2" (using the character's Fair dexterity to jump), then the result would be 2 levels lower than that character's Fair: The result is Poor. The character fails.
FUDGE comes with 2 systems for character generation: Objective and Subjective. Objective runs like this: Once the GM tells the players what attributes and skills the characters will be using for the game (or campaign), the GM tells each player how many levels of attributes, skills, gifts and faults to take. He might say, "For this fantasy campaign you'll be using 3 attributes: Strength, Speed and Smarts. You have 3 levels to spend on attributes. You have 15 levels to spend on skills. You can take one gift and you must take one fault." What does that mean?
It means that all the character's attributes start out at Fair, and that all the character's skills start out at Poor. If the player declares, "I'll spend 2 levels on Speed, and 1 level on Smarts" The attributes would be Strength Fair, Speed Great and Smarts Good. In the same way, the character spends the allotted "levels" on skills ("Sneaking Great, Climbing Good, etc). Gifts and faults are similar to other games you may be familiar with: Gifts may be things like, "Always knows direction", "Night Vision", "Reputation as a Hero", "Attractive" (+1 on rolls to influence other sex). Faults might be things like, "Coward", "Greedy", "Goes into Berserk Rage when Attacked".
In the objective system, you can trade attribute levels for skill levels (and vice versa), take on faults for more levels or reduce levels to buy more gifts. For those who think that different skills should take different levels to increase (for example, "Surgery" is a lot harder than "Cooking", and therefore should require more levels to increase), a chart has been provided.
The other character generation system is much easier- it is the subjective system, and it basically means that the player creates her character in any way she sees fit, shows it to the GM, and together they decide what is OK and what isn't. This is of course the fastest and most intuitive method of character creation, but it can of course lead to arguments if the GM and players can't agree.
The FUDGE system outlines three separate and distinct combat systems- The GM decides which combat system to use depending on the flavor or atmosphere of his game or campaign. Those combat systems are called "Story Elements", "Simultaneous Combat", and "Alternating Combat".
"Story Elements" (I like to refer to it as "story combat") is definitely the weirdest system of combat for an RPG veteran, although there are some new RPGs that use it as the core combat mechanic (Story Engine/Maelstrom). It involves every combat participant to make one "combat roll" for the entire "combat scene"- If you roll well and have a high combat score, you may get through the combat without a scratch. If you roll low, you can suffer wounds or even die. The results of the rolls, in other words what the results mean, is left entirely up to the GM and players. People who enjoy simple storytelling will find this system unique and interesting, but I have a feeling that most roleplayers will decide not to use it- It puts far too much power on one die roll and the GM's opinion than most people are comfortable with.
The Simultaneous Combat system runs in "rounds" like any other RPG (length of one "round" is up to the GM- it might be 4 seconds for a fistfight or 10 minutes for a war), but when all the players and NPCs declare their actions and roll their dice, all the action happens as if at once! There is no "initiative" in this system.
The third combat system, Alternating Combat, is the one that you all are probably most familiar with: Initiative, declaring actions, making attack rolls in turn, tallying the results, and moving to the next round once everyone is done.
When I first read FUDGE some 3 years ago, I only gave it a passing glance. Once I found out that you need to use special "FUDGE dice" to play, I thought that that was too much trouble to go through, no matter how good of a game it was.
Well, I was wrong. You can play FUDGE fine with 3d6 or percentile dice (a 3d6 roll of "5" becomes a "FUDGE -3", a 3d6 "10" becomes a "FUDGE 0", a 3d6 "14" becomes a "FUDGE +2", etc). In fact, in the FUDGE rules it shows how the distribution curve varies for each die method you use: Percentile dice roll produces the exact same results as rolling four FUDGE dice. 3d6 rolls produce almost the same results as rolling four FUDGE dice, but with minor variation (a 1% percent difference here and there).
But to be honest, FUDGE dice are a lot of fun to roll. FUDGE dice are basically a set of 4 6-sided dice. Two sides have a "+" on them, two sides have a "-" on them, and two sides are blank. So if you roll "blank, blank, +, -" your result is "0", or if you roll "+, +, blank, -" your result is "+1", since a plus and a minus cancel each other. FUDGE dice are fast and easy to use, and don't require you to look at a chart (albeit a very small chart) to see your result.
You can order FUDGE dice from your local game store or buy them online from Grey Ghost Games (http://www.fudgerpg.com), but you can make your own just as easily with 4 white dice and two permanent markers (thanks to the FUDGE email list for this advice): Say you have a blue and red marker: Color two sides of each of the 4 dice blue. Then color two sides of each of those dice red. The blue sides represent a "+", the red sides represent a "-", and the white sides represent a "blank". That's all you need to make your own set of makeshift easy-to-use FUDGE dice.
The Ground Opens Up Beneath You
Or, Designing a Game using FUDGE
Probably the most daunting aspect of FUDGE is that the GM has to decide every aspect of the game beforehand. Among other things, here is what must be decided:
While this seems like a lot of work, it really isn't. For most GMs, they choose what seems natural to them and then use that same group of rules, with minor modification, from campaign to campaign. Many FUDGE GMs say that they pick one set of around 6 or 10 attributes and use those same attributes for every game that they run. Once you play FUDGE a few times you'll find yourself becoming more and more comfortable with your chosen rules. So while the initial amount of choice in FUDGE seems like a bottomless pit opening beneath your feet, you'll probably find yourself quickly choosing the rules that seem more playable or intuitive to you with no problem.
Everything in FUDGE is customizable, and many FUDGE designers have used this freedom to their advantage- you can make the game as simple or complex as you and your players want. Take the issue of sanity, for example. FUDGE, being such a story-driven game, has been used as a system to run many horror or Call of Cthulhu games. No CoC game would be complete without rules for sanity, and since the core rules leave this issue open, some people have made their own complete sanity systems. In fact, there are about 3 different homebrew sanity systems (bundled in one document) on the Internet. These systems describe sanity in "FUDGE-like" terms: Sanity Good, Sanity Terrible and the like. One CoC fan did the following:
"...I finally decided to just use the original CoC
sanity rules exactly as written -- so my nice, clean FUDGE system has this big
honkin' percentage-based mechanic glued to the end of it."
He later stated that this was one of the strengths of FUDGE- the fact that you can "glue" other dice mechanics or systems onto it and still have a cohesive game system!
So for those people out there who love to tweak systems and make new rules, FUDGE is probably a game that's meant for you. Not only was it meant to be tweaked, but there is a whole community of "FUDGE tweakers" out there on the Internet who share files and ideas about how to make FUDGE a better game for you and your players (see Buying Into a Family, below).
Selling a Game Using FUDGE
From a designer's standpoint, there is one big and clear advantage to using FUDGE: It's free, and it's open. It's WAY open. FUDGE, as a game engine, is more open than games that fall under the "Open Gaming License" (which is still not entirely understood by most roleplayers). It's practically the LINUX of role-playing games.
To create a game for free distribution (on the Internet, for instance) all you need to do is to put up the standard FUDGE disclaimer at the head of your work. That's all.
To create a game to sell using the FUDGE rules, all you have to do is apply for a "FUDGE commercial license" from Steffan O'Sullivan, the creator/coordinator of FUDGE. In fact, he says in no uncertain terms that you are practically guaranteed to receive a license if you apply for one. The only case in which he wouldn't grant a license is if someone applied to make and sell a FUDGE game that involves copyright material that they don't have the rights for: For example, you could make a FUDGE Lord of the Rings game and put it online for free, but if you wanted to sell it Steffan would turn you down unless you had the legal rights to publish Lord of the Rings material. This measure is only a protection to make sure that he (as the FUDGE creator) and you (as the designer) don't get sued. Anything else goes.
In fact, you might even want to check out the license for yourself- it can be found at http://www.io.com/~sos/rpg/fudlic.html. The reason you have to see it to believe it is that it's written with the assumption that you'll automatically receive a FUDGE commercial license.
Lastly, it should be noted that the FUDGE commercial license is, of course, FREE. However (and this is part that isn't "open"), you have to send Steffan O'Sullivan 2 free hard copies of the finished product. That's all!
As you can see, while you have to send Steffan 2 hard copies of your finished product, the rules for writing a game with the FUDGE rules are entirely open. Let's compare FUDGE with WoTC's d20 system: The "d20 Open Gaming License" contains this hazy thing called "Product Identity", which we still don't have a definite list of. Also, the Open Gaming License (as of the day this review was written) states in no uncertain terms that there are rules that you are not allowed to reprint or even talk about! Here's what you can't do under the OGL:
1. Describe a process for Creating a Character
This is meant to make everyone buy the core d20 Player's Handbook and use that in conjunction with any future game published under the OGL. This is a great step (albeit a protected one) towards opening up the gaming market.
But FUDGE goes even further! Under the FUDGE license, any and all parts of the rules can be reprinted. In other words, you can reprint the FUDGE rules that you want to use in your game verbatim from the original FUDGE document. Or, alternately, you can rewrite the rules as you see fit (to "spice" them up- the original rules are written pretty bland) in your game. You can write your game so that people don't ever need to buy or read the main FUDGE rulebook to play! If you look at what you're allowed to write with the FUDGE license and the OGL, it's obvious that the FUDGE license grants more freedom to the writer.
I should say here that the above LINUX metaphor was slightly off. All LINUX software has to stay open- all parts of it. In both the OGL and FUDGE, there is room to "close off" material that you write so that other people can't use it (for example, if you don't want other people selling novels or supplements set in your campaign world without your permission- it's always up to you, though). Product Identity covers this in the OGL, and FUDGE allows you to copyright parts of your work.
"Problems" with FUDGE
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that there were some contended points about the FUDGE system, areas that some RPG players have a problem with. I'm going to address the two main big ones here- "Graniness" and "Unlinked Skills".
Problem: This is probably the main turnoff for people who don't like the FUDGE system. Most RPGs deal with "exact, precise numbers" (often at the expense of a higher level of complexity), and people who are used to those kinds of games often have trouble getting used to FUDGE initially. For example, in the game Feng Shui, by looking at two character sheets you can tell which character is the better Martial Artist: Tommy Wu has a Kung Fu score of 16, and Shadow Lad has a Kung Fu score of 13.
However, in FUDGE there aren't as many precise levels- both of the martial artists in the above example might have a FUDGE Kung Fu rating of "Great". The fact that FUDGE doesn't reflect precise levels of ability (or effects) has been coined "graniness" by gamers. This is often a problem for veteran roleplayers.
Solution: There is no easy solution. In the FUDGE rules there are provisions made for people who want more defined levels in their games. One of these solutions is using a set of levels like "Fair", "Fair +" and "Fair -" for each ability. So the two martial artists in the above example might be redescribed as "Kung Fu: Great +" and "Kung Fu: Great". On the Internet, some people have suggested making a system where you roll a 10 sided die with the FUDGE die, and the 10 sided die tells you results in greater precision. However, many FUDGE players find both systems a little complex.
I would say that this problem in FUDGE is a problem of vocabulary- or to be more specific (and I hate the overuse of this word) a paradigm problem. Playing a story-based game like FUDGE (or even The Window) sometimes means coming to accept new ideas about roleplaying games that differ from what we've learned:
Sure, FUDGE doesn't show you to the decimal which character is "better" at fighting, climbing, or first aid. However, it does present the opportunity to create a deeper "story driven" game, a game where such distinctions don't even matter anymore. Since the rules are simple, you can spend more time focusing on developing the character's personality or his or her role in the overall story than you could if you spent your time focusing on the character's abilities or what they can or can't numerically do.
Some people think for this reason that games like FUDGE and The Window, while simple rule-wise, are ultimately "The Better (or "More Pure") Role-Playing Game". I don't think this is the case- rather we should accept that several games exist out there, and people play them for different reasons. Not everyone who plays FUDGE is anti-rules. In fact, there are a number of people who create complex and intricate rules to make their FUDGE experience more worthwhile, just as people who play D&D or Rolemaster ignore rules that they think get in the way of the story. I'm sure FUDGE has its fair share of Munchkins as well.
Problem: A lot of people have a problem with the fact that skills and attributes have nothing to do with each other in the FUDGE game- It can be argued that a person who has a higher natural dexterity than another would naturally make a better gymnast (or a person who's naturally smarter than another could be the better doctor). Most other RPGs link skills to an attribute, and so FUDGE looks kind of strange since it doesn't.
Solution: Again, on the Internet there are several people who have made systems (from simple to complex) that link skills to attributes in FUDGE. You only need to go to one of the two main FUDGE links sites to find them (Steffan O'Sullivan's homepage at http://www.io.com/~sos/fudge.html or the "Goodies" section of the FUDGE RPG site at http://www.fudgerpg.com).
However, before you go linking those attributes and skills together, you should realize why they weren't linked in the first place. The creator of FUDGE said that he wanted to keep skills and attributes separate because this point, more than any other set of rules in RPGs, is the place where the most "Munchkinism" happens. >From what I've seen of GURPS and Star Wars (WEG), where skills are important, I agree. Many people naturally have this bug that makes them want to start out with higher attributes (espeically in GURPS) so that all their skill ratings will be higher.
To other people, even linking attributes and skills doesn't make sense: "Just because a person has a higher strength doesn't mean that they have a better chance of landing a punch", or "a doctor of average intelligence and a huge amount of medical training won't be outclassed by a genius with hardly any training".
Another problem is the fact that FUDGE is open-ended when it comes to choosing attributes. Maybe the GM only wants to use 2 attributes; maybe she wants to use 16! In that case, it would be a big pain in the @ss to decide which skills go with which attributes: Is F16 piloting a dexterity skill, a reflex skill or a mechanical skill? Well, Star Wars has it as a mechanical skill, but all the anime we watch shows the high-dex pilots to be the best. How about "first aid"- is it reasoning, technical, knowledge, or perception based? What about "influence"- is it charisma, cool, or spirit based?
Probably the best thing to do (at least until you get used to the FUDGE system) is to do as the designer suggests: If you want a character with a high dexterity, and thus high "dexterity related skills", then you should go ahead and build her that way- give her a "Good" or "Great" dexterity and put all those skills at the "Good" or "Great" level.
Buying Into a Family
Or, Making the Most of the FUDGE Experience
The best part of FUDGE isn't reading the Expanded Edition Book, and it's not limited to playing FUDGE either. The best part of using FUDGE, in my opinion, is the fact that so many new doors become open to you once you decide to give FUDGE a try. However, it takes a little time and Internet Access to reap the real rewards of joining the "FUDGE Family"
Probably the most visible payoff in using FUDGE is when you begin to look at the projects that other FUDGE designers and GMs are working on- all easily downloadable, all free. Here's but a few of the FUDGE games that you can find (you can easily find them off of the links I put up in the "Unlinked Skills" section, above):
It's not only exciting and fun to read through these rather well-written campaign settings from dedicated fans, but it also gives you ideas of rules and things to use in your own FUDGE games.
The other huge benefit of having internet access (aside from being able to read these wonderful RPGnet reviews) is that you have easy access to some serious FUDGE tools. There are many people who put their own homebrew or customized rules on the internet for other FUDGE designers to download, peruse and use. Just a few of the complete rules systems out there include: Fantasy rules, SF rules, sanity, mass combat, alternative damage systems, skill lists, gunfighting rules, rules for wealth, superhero rules, as well as numerous magic systems including Necromancy, Spirit Magic, "The Gramarye", Summoning, "Scrabble Magic" (you use Scrabble tiles to spell words and cast spells), etc. It's a game designer's dream-world out there, and all these files are not hard to find!
Finally, there are both a FUDGE Yahoo Club and a FUDGE EMAIL list (at http://fudge.phoenyx.net ). Normally I wouldn't mention something so simple as a mailing list, but out of all the RPG forums I've attended, out of all the numerous RPG mailing lists I've subscribed to (and subsequently cancelled), and out of all the electronic publications out there on the Internet, this mailing list has been the most helpful to me- Not only as a FUDGE fan, but as a GM and a game designer. If you ever decide to give FUDGE a try (as a GM or a player), I highly recommend that you join this mailing list- there's more help out there on this list than any other place you can go on the net.
All this is what you buy into when you buy (or download for free) and try out the FUDGE rules. FUDGE by itself is a great game: Couple that with the sheer amount of well-written, helpful and interesting fan works out there, and you have an incredible gaming experience waiting for you.
It's Free... But it's a Book?
FUDGE can be downloaded for free at the previously mentioned websites in HTML, .txt and .pdf format. Grey Ghost Games has also taken the rules, added some sections, and released them in a book called "FUDGE Expanded Edition". While I've been leading up to the point in this review that getting your hands on FUDGE in one way or another is a Good Thing, it's up to you to decide whether or not to buy the book.
The book itself is softcover, printed on recycled paper with soy ink (which means either that you can praise it for being environmentally friendly or that you can eat it in an emergency, depending on your situation). It runs at 128 pages and costs $19.95 US.
The downloadable FUDGE probably costs somewhere around $8.00 US to print out and bind at a copy store such as Kinko's. If you can get away with printing massive amounts of personal documents at work, you can have FUDGE "for free".
There are several reasons why you should buy the FUDGE Expanded Edition book, but only two reasons (but that first one is a BIG reason) to just stick with the FREE online version.
Why You Should Stick With the FREE Online Version of FUDGE
1. It's FREE. It doesn't matter what walk of life you're coming from, if you're reading this now you're a gamer- and most gamers at some point in their life have had to make that fateful decision: "Do I eat something more than Instant Ramen and Applesauce this week OR do I buy that game I've been eyeing?" FREE is a very big reason not to buy something, no matter how much convenience or comfort that purchasable product affords.
2. You should try it before you buy it. Give the FUDGE rules a look. Better yet, go straight to those fan sites that I mentioned above and check out some of those games (especially "FUDGE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer", which, like some of the other games out there, has all the FUDGE rules you need to play included in the game). The only warning I have for you if you give the rules a straight reading is (and I elaborate below) that the rules for FUDGE, as written, are rather bland. In fact, reading them online (on a simple white background with no pictures, like this review) can really be a chore.
™@Why You Should Buy the Expanded Edition of FUDGE
1. It contains more than the online version does. Not just small things either, like the interesting introduction, or the concise summary of the rules in the "FUDGE in a Nutshell" section. In the back of the book, for about 40 pages, is a section called "Fantasy FUDGE". It details a complete, tight system for playing FUDGE in a fantasy setting, complete with a list of 6 attributes, a list of skills for a fantasy campaign, a unique character generation system, 4 complete magic systems (hedge magic, clerical magic, innate magic, and scholarly magic), and all the rules clearly written for you. It also includes some sample characters, an exciting fantasy adventure, and a fantasy bestiary. Not only is this added package a great "quick start" into using FUDGE, it shows you an outline of what you should do when you have chosen a set of FUDGE rules and decide to build a game.
2. Again, it contains more than the online version does. The .txt and html versions of FUDGE detail the most basic FUDGE rules. The book expands on those rules and provides many examples (these things are in the .pdf version, although the .pdf version does not contain anything described above in #1). It contains 20 characters made with a wide variety of attributes and skills (and for all sorts on genres). It gives FUDGE stats for some animals. It provides a simple but functional magic and psionics systems. It also contains a bunch of alternate rules, including running FUDGE diceless.
3. Pictures! The book is filled with art, and the text is also laid out very well. This is very pleasing to the eye. More appropriately, it keeps the attention of people like me with a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder. The layout of this book really saves FUDGE, because as I mention elsewhere (and it pains me to say this) the FUDGE rules as written are extremely dull. They are written in a very matter-of-fact textbook style, with numeric notation denoting sections (Section 4, Section 4.5, Section 4.51, etc). It is not a book to get you excited about the game, it is a book that is mean to get you familiar with the rules. With the layout of the Expanded Edition and its illustrations, however, reading and rereading the rules becomes much more palatable, even enjoyable!
4. It's sturdy. While you won't be as inclined to write notes in the margins of the Expanded Edition as you would with a computer printout of the FUDGE rules, it's a really sturdy book and all the information is easy to find.
I'm going to finish this review of FUDGE by rating not only the FUDGE Expanded Edition book, but the FUDGE experience as well.
First, the Expanded Edition FUDGE book: As a game designer (that is, "one who designs games", not necessarily meaning "to sell for profit") I find this book filled with ideas that can be used for any game system, especially regarding game mechanics. As a fan of "simple, story-based" systems, this book is fantastic. As a person with a low attention span, the writing can sometimes be very slow and boring. I think it's only fair that I review FUDGE using it's own adjectives, so:
Style: 3 (Fair)
Finally, "The FUDGE
Experience". As a game designer and GM, finding FUDGE was one of the
best things that happened to me. As opposed to D&D sites out there on
the Net (I love
Style: 5 (Superb)
Again, so you don't have to search through the entire document for those 2 useful FUDGE links, I'll put them below:
Grey Ghost Games FUDGE home: http://www.fudgerpg.com/
™@Finally, I'd like to thank Jason Anderson from the FUDGE mailing list who helped me put this review on RPGnet- Without his help, I would have had to spend hours retyping this review (thanks to Japanese Windows and it's little incompatibilities...).
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Go to forum!
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