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Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
by Aaron D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/25/2021 09:32:42

Against the Darkmaster is Brilliant. It is like everything MERP was meant to be. If you are a MERP or RM fan, I can't recomend AtDM enough.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
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Legacy of Blood
by Jakob S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/06/2021 23:44:33

By the end of this review, I well tell you that Legacy of Blood for vsD is worth buying - after picking it apart in bloody pieces. Really, I'm positively angry about many things this scenario does, BUT it features a great premise and enough material to actually make it work. This could be a great, complex, atmospheric scenario about falling from grace (and maybe rising again) - instead, author Jonathan Hicks for some reason decided to write LoB as a railroaded mediocre dungeon romp that doesn't make much sense. It's a mystery, and not one of the good kind, but it leaves enough to be salvaged and turned into something beautiful.

What's it about? [SPOILERS from here]

The premise is that after the long and undeserved fall from grace of the noble Leoric family, its current Lady, in her desperation, has secretly allied herself with the Darkmaster and invited his servents into her home. Most good souls have been driven away from her seat at Windown Castle, and a subtle shadow has fallen over her holdings. Her handmaiden Amberly Ash knows all about this and doesn't approve, so she steals a magical key that opens the door to a cache of magical items hidden in Castle Dulgroth, formerly owned by the Leorics, which lies in ruins these days and has been claimed by as lair by the dragon Delveniul. She gives to key to the heroes, imploring them to get the magical items so that they don't fall into the hands of the Darkmasters servants. She knows of a secret way into Castle Dulgroth, through the old family barrows beneath it. Naturally, the servants of the Darkmaster will find out about the stolen key and set out after the characters ...

As an added complication, the Gelbreth family, old rivals of the Leoric, want to get their hands on some of the documents kept in the cache that could stain their good name, and send out an agent.

What's right with it?

We get good write-ups of the central characters - Lady Leoric, her handmaiden Amberly Ash, the two major servants of the Darkmaster living in Windown Castle and a spy of the Gelbreth family. Lady Leoric is a tragic character - her families name has been wrongfully smeared for generations by corrupt kings, her holdings have dwindled, and she finally had enough of it and taken the outstretched hand of the Darkmaster (she's even supposed to get a Theoden moment at the end of the adventure that turns her around). The servants of the Darkmaster, Varus and Eorin Darkelm, who are father and son, are pretty straightforward bad guys, but still get some delightful pieces of characterization that should make them fun to interact with. Amberly Ash is a classical everyday hero who just does the right thing, and Stry Hemborn, the Gelbreth spy, is characterized as a capable adventurer and smart manipulator with few scruples who will try to remain on the good side of the characters as long as he can. This is rich material for interaction.

We also get some introductory mini-adventures along the lines of "clean the ghouls out of the old watchtower" to establish the characters in the area and make them likely candidates to approach for Amberly Ash. These don't go beyond giving out a mission in one or two sentences and providing some adversary stats, but they still make sense in the broader context of the adventure.

Together with the backstory, that makes for the first third of the scenario, and if that sounds appealing to you, I'd say it's worth the price of admission.

What's wrong with it?

Basically, that the rest of the adventure decides against doing anything with the good stuff - more so, if you play it as written, it actually seems to try to keep you away from interacting in any meaningful way with Lady Leoric, the Darkelms and Amberly Ash (beyond her role as the one who sends the characters on their mission).

As written, the characters are supposed to meet Amberly Ash in an inn. How hard would it be to suggest that the characters - after, for example, cleaning out a watchtower full of ghouls - might actually be Lady Leorics guests at Windown Castle, where they could meet the bad guys in person and maybe sniff out that something's wrong about them? It's possible to spin the scenario that way, but there's no guidance for it, and while we get good NPC descriptions to work with, there's next to nothing about Windown Castle itself.

So the adventure presupposses that the characters go relic hunting without ever having met Lady Leoric or the Darkelms (and without worrying about what will happen to Amberly Ash, as well), which is the first big wasted opportunity of the scenario as written, because it robs later encounters with the Darkelms and the likely epilogue with Leoric of a lot of its possible impact.

After that, we get a heavily scripted wilderness chase sequence, in which the GM is told quite explicitly when the heroes are supposed to hold their ground, when they should flee due to overwhelming numbers and when Stry, the Gelbreth spy, shows up to save their asses and endear himself to them with a cooked up story about him being a friend of Amberly's. The dramatic timing of all these events might look excellent on paper, but really, dramatic timing is best left to the GM, because it's highly dependent on what's actually happening at the table. I'm not buying a scenario because I want it to tell me a dramatic story, I'm buying it because I want tools I can use to create a dramatic story together with my players. At the same time, there's very little help provided for running the actual encounters. One of them is heavily dependend on missile combat, so you'd think there'd be some guidance about how far the opposing sides might be apart ... but no. Instead, it is stated that if, at a certain moment, none of the heroes loose an arrow at Eorin Darkelm, Stry will do so and kill him with one shot. Because you know how much players love it when NPCs steal their thunder ...

Oh yeah, did I mention that Eorin Darkelm is following the heroes with a warband of orcs ...? Until now, it looked like the Darkelms operate with human henchman. Them having orcs at Wondown Castle would have certainly been a huge red flag in the implied setting of vsD that might have been mentioned before. And if the orcs are not from Windown Castle, they must have camped somewhere around - but there's no orc camp to be seen on the map of the surroundings. While reading, this was the point where I started to wish that LoB would have just followed the scenario format of the other two vsD adventures, which would have provided just that kind of information.

So after the scripted chase follows a trip through the barrows. Again, there's some nice scenes here, but in the end, the whole sequence lacks coherence and is full of ill-judged ideas. For example, each time the characters disturb a grave or rob a piece of treasure, an undead guard will awaken - but in a room at the very end of the barrows! So the worse the heroes behave on their way through the barrows, the more opponents they'll have to face in the end ... but there's no way for them to know that or find it out. So either the GM rubs their noses in it in the end ("You were very, very bad, and here's your just deserts! Ha!"), or the whole thing is pretty pointless. Also, in terms of trying to guard your graves from graverobbers, it just makes zero sense.

Even worse is the room where, if you rob a piece of treasure, you'll be cursed to not gain any XP as long as you don't get rid of said treasure - and the adventure text explicitly tells the GM not to mention anything and let the players figure it out for themselves. Yeah, that's going to go down well: "You're not getting XP this session." "What, why?" "Go figure!"

These two things actually made me angry (I'm still angry!), because they seems to be written for GMs who feel the need to punish their players for doing "bad things". I hate this. It's not about the actions of the characters having consequences, because for that to be true, the players would have to have at least a slight chance to figure out the consequences of their actions and think them through on an ethical and/or practical level. This is just "You better behave, or you'll see what happens!"

Apart from that, vsD has truly great rules for cursed items that can provide lots of role-playing fun for players as well by giving them new, problematic passions ... why not use them, instead of coming up with a simplistic and mean-spirited punishment for grave-robbing characters and their players? (Actually, LoB seems to be reluctant to engage with the rules of vsD on several occassions.)

And then there's the grand finale that takes place in a vault right under the room where the dragon Delveniul is sleeping. Delveniul remains a purely abstract threat - if she awakes, she will send down a burst of fire, but she won't be able to fit into the corridors to come down to them. Though I shouldn't write if, but when she awakes, because once again, it is a foregone conclusion that she will not wake up while the characters sneak around in the vault beneath her, but that she will wake up as soon as the bad guys catch up with the characters and make a racket. At least, that will leave the characters with some decisions to make about whether to save treasure, magical items or information.

Once again, it feels like LoB is afraid to let the characters interact with the major players while the actual adventure is underway, because that might lead to things going off the rails laid by the author. So you have a dragon, traditionally a monster with personality, a threat that can not only be avoided or defeated, but also negotiated with, and instead of doing something with it, you reduce it to a burst of flame at the showdown.

There's an epilogue to let us know that Amberly Ash has (against all odds, it would seem) survived as a prisoner on Windown Castle, but it is really the first time that it is implied that the characters might care about her fate. Strangely enough, in the next section, that deals with Lady Leoric shedding the influence of the Darkmaster, it is implied that, on the contrary, her handmaiden has died and that she is heartbroken about that. Both these conflicting outcomes are not described as options, but stated as fact. Finally, we get several good suggestions for follow-up adventures, including dealing with Delveniul, who becomes more destructive once plunderers start to venture into the now re-discovered barrows under her castle, and investigating the shady Gelbreth family. While I could well imagine running the former with the material provided, there's next to nothing on the Gelbreth family in LoB, which is quite a shame.

What can be done?

However much I might have written myself into a rage, this doesn't change the fact that LoB offers a great premise and good scenario material, especially when it comes to NPCs. I do want to run this, but certainly not remotely as written. There's so many options that the scenario fails to explore, support or even hint at. For example, it would make so much sense to have the characters actually visit Windown Castle before starting their quest. How would the atmosphere in this shadowed place of former greatness be? Will the heroes figure out that Lady Leoric and the Darkelms serve the Darkmaster, and if they do, how will they react? Will they confront them? Will they pretend to be agents of the Darkmaster themselves? Even if they pick a fight with the Darkelms there and then ( "You, Sir, are scum, and I will call you such!"), there's ample room to still let the treasure hunt unfold after that. And it would make so much more sense for Amberly Ash to approach them if they turn up as guests at Windown Castle.

And a dragon - always a golden opportunity to let the characters negotiate for what they want! They could ask Delveniul to just let them go with the coveted magic items and offer her to bring her the treasures from the barrows instead. They could even ask her to guard the magic items against the Darkmaster (but could she be trusted not to ally with him of he makes her a better offer ...?). There's so much potential here that the adventure seems to actively try to cut off by stating that the dragon will just kill anyone who ist stupid enough to venture further up into the castle. Oh yeah, and I would probably just throw out most of that barrows nonsense ...

What I really don't get: Nothing about LoB calls for that kind of railroaded wilderness/dungeon chase that takes up most of the pages of the written scenario. Quite the contrary - after reading the first 8-10 pages, I was really baffled by what came afterward.

In the end, this one gets 3 out of 5 grumpy dragons for all the good stuff in the first pages that, for some reason, it doesn't want you to use.

This review is from my blog at swanosaurus.blogspot.com



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Legacy of Blood
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The Silence of Dawnfell
by Jakob S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/23/2021 13:29:22

I fear that I might be a little unfair towards this adventure: It is a good one, but I'm reading it right on the heels of "Shadows of the Northern Woods", which is a tough act to follow. Especially since a lot of motives and themes of Dawnfell are reminiscent of SotNW: Again, there's a small village to be saved, free folk who have become estranged from each other and must be brought back together, a magical McGuffin that the bad guys are after and a climatic battle where the outcome depends hugely on how many checkmarks the characters were able to make on their adventurous to-do list in advance. In both adventures, we have spiders in the woods and ancient burial sites hiding treasures and answers. Even some of the NPCs feel like variations on a theme when compared to SotNW (Annis/Beltine, Wulfric/Brynjar, Morcant and his She-Wolf/Urgusk and his Mountain-Lion). It's hard to say if, playing both scenarios back to back in an actual campaign, this would feel like a thematic throughline or rather like "Oh well, another troll with a vicious pet and another problematic thane."

But while SotNW uses its sleepy, rural setting as a springboard to dive deep into the (admittedly vague) mythology of vsD's implied setting, Dawnfell firmly sticks to being an adventure about saving a village from a band of trolls. Which is actually a good thing, because it makes Dawnfell truly self-contained and also thematically more suitable for a group of 1st level characters. As such, one might say that Dawnfell is better at being what it is than SotNW, but it is also a little less impressive.

Going into detail, Dawnfell is again very reminiscent of classic ICE modules in being mainly a collection of NPCs and places that are all connected to a backstory. The enchanted tower bell that has been protecting the village from the nearby troll clans has been stolen, and there's a troll chieftain out for revenge, so the characters are on a ticking clock to bring back the bell and find some allies. The latter is complicated by twenty years of distrust and bull-headedness by the local Thane.

The NPC's and their relationships to each other are well thought out, and I can see this scenario go any number of ways - if the characters fail to mend relations with the elves in the woods, they can still try to strike a deal with the bandits or even with the trolls themselves. The investigative element of the adventure is pretty basic, and the village of Dawnfell can be saved without solving it at all; the characters might very well be able to locate the bell without ever finding out who stole it in the first place, or saving Dawnfell without ever locating the bell.

The final battle of Dawnfell looks pretty good on paper - it is not quite clear how many trolls there are around Dawnfell and how many trolls Urgusk commands, but it can't be many, since he attacks the village with only two others; however, it is easily imaginable that three trolls are a major threat to some village out in the wilds, as well as to a first level party.

Some elements of the scenario don't quite ring true to me, however: For one thing, there's the aged hero Gwendoline, who slew the father of Urgusk the troll chieftain and must now be saved from him ... though if you take a look at Gwendoline's stats, it doesn't really make sense that she would need a lot of saving. My take at Gwendoline would be that, in her battle against Urgusk's father, she has suffered an injury that causes her great pain when she walks, and give her a loving husband who is not a fighter at all, but would do anything to defend her. Thus, it is clear why Gwendoline can't really join the heroes in saving Dawnfell, the heroes actually have two NPCs to save and not one (Gwendoline and her husband), and there's potentially lots of tragic and/or romantic moments to be had, from Urgusk just backhanding Gwendoline's husband out of the way when he goes for her to Gwendoline making a last stand suffering from the agonizing pain caused by her old injury.

A rather minor quibble is that I don't quite buy Urgusk's quirk - he's an art-collector, which is a nice touch, but the adventure does little with it; there's some paintings and statues in his den, but it seems a little far-fetched that he should have been able to obtain those intact, and also, it is of no real relevance to the rest of the adventure. I'd either drop this element or expand it.

All things considered, however, I'm quite happy with Dawnfell - it is a well-designed, self-contained scenario with reasonable stakes for a beginner group and gets a solid 4 out of 5 Darkmasters from me.

(This review was first published on my blog at: swanosaurus.blogspot.com)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Silence of Dawnfell
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Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
by Marcus M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/08/2021 12:24:10

Against the Darkmaster is a new fantasy tabletop RPG, a retroclone of Rolemaster. I’ve not played Rolemaster before, so this review won’t be able to compare the two.

This tome is REALLY massive rulebook, containing character creation, rules mechanics, game mastery, bestiary, magic lists, and an adventure. There’s a lot to it, but it’s all contained there in a single book, and would be very easy to run an entire campaign all out of this one 563 page book. The book is much thicker than Zweihander, though fewer pages. The paper’s a lot thicker, so it all feels really durable.

The basic mechanics of Against the Darkmaster are pretty simple: A D100 percentile roll is used for all rolls (with a few exceptions using a D10). Your skills and attributes have values both negative and positive. You’ll roll your D100 and add or subtract the appropriate attribute, trying to meet or beat 100. The game has degrees of success and failure, so 75-99 will get you a partial success, while over 175 will give an outstanding success.

Character creation has a lot of different components to it. Players will choose their character’s Kin (race), Culture (which tells where you came from), Vocations (your class), Background (where you’ll choose to spend Background Points for different advantages), as well as Passions and Drives.

Combat works in phases. All characters declare their actions, then move into the actions. First spells prepared in the previous round go of, followed by instant spells. Then ranged weapons prepared the previous round are fired. Close combat then happens (longest to shortest weapons in order). Then ranged attacks that hadn’t gone off before are fired. Finally, all unprepared spells go off. I love the way this goes, allowing tactical preparation, and then watching a cascading effect take place as all of the actions play out.

Taking damage is very dangerous. Tables for each type of weapon determine the severity of damage, and how likely critical hits are. As you take damage, you’ll suffer penalties, which can lead to a death spiral. Luckily, your enemies are also under the same effect, so it balances out.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the creation of The Darkmaster. There is a large section for creating your own Darkmaster. A series of D100 rolls determine the epithet of the powerful being, as well as the coveted artifact that is tied to them. The game master and players can work together to determine the Darkmaster’s origins, their goals and servants, and their powerful dark fortress. There’s also a great selection of premade Darkmasters with great backgrounds and info. Here, the pages are inverted, so the black pages actually stand out when the book is closed, which I like.

Magic is another cool aspect. There are a collection of Spell Lores. Each lore must be purchased separately as a skill, but each rank grants the next highest spell in the list as you weave more complex spells. For example, Communion: first gives you Question Animal, allowing you to summon and speak to creatures. Higher levels allow you to cast auguries, divine visions, and speaking with he dead.

The art throughout is REALLY solid, all in solid black and white, very evocative of the implied setting.

I really like this ruleset. I can see why people love Rolemaster and MERP. It’s has straightforward rules that’s a lot less complicated than it seems at first. I can’t wait to try out some one-shots soon to really run the system through its paces.

If you’re looking for a grim and brutal system, Against the Darkmaster is a solid contender.

Dice Monkey was sent a copy of Against the Darkmaster by Gamerati for review.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
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Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
by Michael G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/14/2021 07:12:34

Other games have come close to perfection. Against the Darkmaster is one of those games that might have achieved it. In rules, art, substance, and errata. The rule system is likely familiar to those who have experience with ICE games but condensed to rules that can be remembered and applied. Honed is probably a better word. Where the rules might not strike "right" for everyone, the authors present options that increase the crunch for simulationists/traditionalists, don't make the system any more difficult, but maintain the genre feeling they intend. Many art pieces create a feeling that they can be found in classic hero's journey literature or their representative games. Often this reader was sure pieces were brought over from RM or MERP but are original and match the intended tone. This is not a game where players or GMs are left waiting for the follow-on products to understand how to create more for their game. Kin, adversaries, and magic items are all examples of where groups can understand the engine and have a relatively small limit as long as imaginations hold up. After several read-throughs, there are no unanswered or conflicting rules. However, there are sparse grammar issues, most often in the form of double plurals. The only thing that would ruin this game is if data was not updated on the final edit/translation. For example, if weapon info, like the range errors in Forgotten Lands or target numbers, like the autofire difficulty tables in Cyberpunk Red, was incorrect. Like those games, these would ruin the perfection but could be forgiven for all the other positives. While missing large variability of perceived persons of color, kins, cultures, and artistic representations, each has binary representation. The same also seems to have gotten respectful treatment. Even the genre's traditional enemy kin/cultures are presented as being taken advantage of by the main protagonist. In this setting, it's just as easy for the "good" races to be adversaries as the "evil" ones. It seems all of the things that the D&D crowd has been trying to hit since the realization of 5e's societal shortfalls are met by Open Ended Games' release. If these aren't a group's concerns, though, there is no pandering here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
by Thomas K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/19/2020 04:52:55

This is the game I wish I could give to teenage me. A wonderful mixture of traditional mechanisms, modern insights and design ideas, all stirred to produce a solid game conducive to the kind of traditional epic fantasy stories it clearly and enthusiastically draws inspiration from. And all wonderfully customizable and adjustable. A love letter to the genre and to tabletop fantasy gaming in the best possible way.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
by Thibaut C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/01/2020 10:57:44

Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is a successor or MERP (Middle Earth RolePlaying), with the same mood but without direct references to the Middle Earth setting. It's a clear and concise new take and a great system. Character development is clear and made easy, combats are brutal and deadly... happily you have a mechanic of Drive Points, earned from your passions, to survive :)

So VsD is a new take on MERP, but it's more than that. It's a solid fondation for classical fantasy, dark fantasy and sword & sorcery, easy to adapt.

You have a nice character development system, a great combat system, a good wealth system (not counting every gold piece), travel rules, many spells and a good bestiary.

A elegant and complete game for a more civilized age :)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster Core Rules
by Jeff S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/30/2020 08:05:24

One of my earliest loves in TTRPGs was Rolemaster. I played and ran that constantly in middle school and high school. Against the Darkmaster is the best successor to Rolemaster/MERP on the market, and I've looked at them all. Happy to have supported this and look forward to more open-ended d100 adventures!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
by Mark A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/10/2020 03:06:29

Great quickstart rules, but really hoping on the magic side of things to have more offensive spells that can make a wizard tougher and more playable at lower levels, like AD&D.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
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Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
by Chad K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/22/2019 17:43:56

A great start with the full game coming to KICKSTARTER soon. Any fan of MERP from the 90's will really enjoy this game. Weapons and armor have charts- with heavier armor being easier to hit, but take less damage and criticals. criticals are where the pain starts- you either like criticals or you dont. Combat can be very deadly, you just dont lose "hit points"- you bleed and can have broken bones or worse. Magic at low levels is weak, much weaker than 5E.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
by Gavin B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/26/2019 01:21:42

I have two major complaints. One is that divine casters ruin every game they are in by making the magic mundane. The other is the extremely short ranges of spells, as they are effectively useless at the listed ranges.

The rest of the game looks great, but these two things are dealbreakers, as they not only undermine the otherwise great setting, but also punish players for investing in magic.

Without these two things it would be a 5 star game, but with them it's effectively unplayable. I hope you fix these things in a later edition, but until then it's a no from me.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Hi Gavin, thank you for your feedback, we'll keep it in mind for the full rules!
Against the Darkmaster - Quickstart
by Gabe D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/26/2019 10:09:06

It can go without saying, but this product is evocative of 1986’s Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP) from Iron Crown Enterprises, from the overt homage demonstrated in the color cover to the gorgeous black-and-white interior art to its d100 rules structure and attack and critical tables. But Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is not precisely a retro clone. Instead it articulates a number of innovations that can be adapted to many a rules system.

Traditional high fantasy Kins are matched with Cultures (this is common to many games) to identify base Stats and starting Skills. After this, players spend points (as many as 5, for Human Kins) to differentiate player-characters with starting abilities, items or backgrounds. This is a refinement from MERP’s Background Options Table and one of my favorite features of VsD.

VsD presents an abstracted system for Social Class and Wealth that feels slightly at odds with the deeply granular and simulationist combat system common to the games out of which VsD derives. Furthermore, as a way of decreasing this system’s lethality for PCs, VsD uses PC Drive Points to improve Skill tests and reduce the severity of Critical Hits to PCs.

VsD simply has the best magic system out of the games to which this one might be compared. All lists contain ten spells. No spells are duplicated across lists, making all casters unique. All the spells are "useful" and interesting. None are more powerful versions of other spells. While casting a spell, additional Magic Points might be spent to increase/alter effects or durations.

My group has been playtesting these rules since January of this year. After this campaign, for my GMing style and the pacing of my tabletop stories, I might readapt to a d20 OSR system, but I’ll be porting into it many components from VsD, particularly VsD’s XP system, which rewards PCs for doing things and behaving in character. For these reasons I recommend it, and for d100 gamers who want streamlined Skill development in character creation and advancement as well as gritty, “heavy metal” combat, I highly recommend it. Obviously I’m eager to back the upcoming full release on Kickstarter.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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