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How to Write Artifacts and Evocations

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  • How to Write Artifacts and Evocations

    As some of you have noted, I’ve really taken to writing artifacts with evocations for 3e. It’s the most engaging activity I’ve had with this game since I wrote for my first campaign 4 years ago. After having now made 8 complete artifacts and working on my 9th (with ideas for more) I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about making artifacts and what my process is.

    I want to be clear that this is MY process. Your process may be totally different and that’s good! But for people who want to write evocations and are stuck, perhaps some direction will aid you.

    1. The Base: What am I making?
    I really like to start with the item itself. Am I making a staff? A sword? A breastplate? A longbow? Nunchucku? Whatever it ends up being, I need my base first. It gives me my flavor, and whether it’s a weapon or armor will help give me direction and focus. This step can easily come later, but it’s where I need to start every time.

    2. The Concept: Why is it special?
    This step and the next step are interchangeable based on what strikes me first. What can this item do? This is not the place to list its specific powers or plan out the evocations. It’s a very high-level description of the artifact’s specialness. If you are making a Staff that Grows Food and Makes Poison, then the Staff is your Step 1, and Grows Food and Makes Poison is your Step 2. Zeus’ Thunderbolt is a Spear that Electrocutes Foes. Bam. Concept.

    3. The Materials: What is it made of?
    As I said before, this step can come before The Concept if you want. One feeds the other in whichever direction helps you the most. For this you will require the 3rd Edition Exalted Corebook. Turn to page 612 (or press Ctrl F and search for Blue Jade. There’s only 2 appearances in the book and the first one to appear is the correct one).

    This is the list of Magic Materials and what their properties are. This is my favorite part of designing the Artifact, because in 3e you are encouraged to combine different materials to get different effects! Black Jade for talking with spirits, or Green Jade for stealing Essence! Orichalcum for power or sorcery, with some Soulsteel to make it deadlier.

    If you did this step after Concept, pick materials that match your theme. If you are picking this first, then derive your concept from the abilities of the material. Personal rule of thumb, I wouldn’t combine more than 3 materials in a single artifact, and anything more than 2 should be in small amounts.

    4. The Name: Now what do I call it?
    Now you might be wondering why this step comes here and not later. For me, I can’t write anything without the name of my artifact first. It’s where you really tie together the first 3 steps, and it’s the statement that hooks your potential owner (the PC). The name should be evocative of the artifact’s Concept and Base. Materials can be incorporated into the naming as well, but mostly the materials are for reinforcing the Concept. For this, I turn to the greatest Exalted naming tool of all time and the only tool I ever use when naming both artifacts AND their evocations.

    That’s right, I use a Thesaurus. Here’s an example:

    My very first artifact was a short spear. It was made of Red Jade and Orichalcum. Its concepts were Fire and Sorcery, derived from the listed materials. So, what did I do? I went to Thesaurus and found synonyms for Fire and for Sorcery/Magic. Thus was born Torrid Omen. Tada!

    The name gives direction to all of the evocations and hooks people reading it. Now, you can go a different route entirely and give your artifact a proper noun name, like Aritus the Unstoppable Force, or Beloved Adorei. That’s cool too. But when you think about it, even Beloved Adorei is using my method. The weapon is alive, thus it has a name, and its purpose is focused on affection. These things are its Concept and thus feed the name and its future evocations.

    On request, I'm also including two resources from Exalted writer Eric Minton on naming things. Iambs and Dactyls: Exalted Nomenclature and Name Your Own Homebrew Charm in 30 Seconds which are excellent resources as well!


    5. Attunement: What do *Insert Exalt here* get out of it?
    Reading the examples in the book you’ll notice that every artifact has “Evocations of [Artifact Name]” before the evocation list which describes a special bonus that comes merely from attuning to the weapon.

    First of all, this is the place where you specify if only certain exalts can gain the benefits of these evocations (which is most often the case, but you’re welcome to make the exception) and per book rules, that should almost always include Solars (because they are quote/unquote “the best at evocations”). Dragon-blooded are up there so they could be added to this list. But I always like to include the exalt types that synch with the materials I use. If it’s made of Starmetal and Jade, then I’ll give an attunement bonus to Solars, Siderals, and Dragonblooded. Not too tricky.

    Next is to figure out what the actual bonus will BE. Now, I don’t always figure out this part before the evocations, but as much as possible I try to make the attunement bonus feed into the powers of the evocations, where a specific playstyle benefits the user. For example, in my Heartfeast axe, if you know a specific Intimacy in the foe you get a series of passive benefits which are decent but relatively minor. However, all of the evocations of the axe gain an additional bigger benefit if the user knows this particular intimacy. So a concept that is introduced in the Attunement bonus is played upon throughout the artifact and points the playstyle of the user who wants to take advantage of the axe and it’s powers.
    I wouldn’t put any attunement bonus cost above 3 additional motes, and even then it should be pretty strong to warrant it.

    6. Evocations: High-level!

    So you want to write a bunch of powers for your weapon. Great! Start REALLY high level. You know your Concept already. Break that down a bit. Is it broad enough to turn into multiple powers of varying levels? Or is your concept best as a capstone? Be wary about falling into the trap of making your Essence 3+ capstone evocation the whole purpose of the weapon, otherwise its preceding evocations will feel useless.

    It’s important that your first few evocations be your bread and butter. You should be encouraged to use those evocations relatively frequently. I usually do this in 2 ways. 1) I make the first or second evocation give a bonus or a counter that future evocations rely on. 2) The evocations need to grant something on their own so that it’s not useless to use without the future powers. No one wants a speed bump.

    An example of these rules are with my warfans Affable Crag Leaves. They build a different type of elemental charge each round depending on where your initiative stands. These charges give small bonuses at various levels, but otherwise are just counted. The first 2 evocations affect the battlefield, but also swap charges between the two types to help you manage your levels. The pinnacle evocation uses equal amounts of those charges for a big effect. The pinnacle power cannot function without using the first ones, but if you haven’t learned the pinnacle power yet, you should never feel like the first two evocations are useless.

    So back to my point, using your Concept write a few words to describe what powers your artifact should have. “Helps with stealth”, “Grants bonus armor”, “Hits better, reveals an intimacy”. My target number for evocations is between 3-5 but it obviously varies based on your need. Just make sure that each evocation is useful enough to stand on its own. The PC using it might go many sessions before raising enough essence to unlock greater powers!

    7. Formatting: The Icing

    So you have your high-level ideas for powers now and you want to write them. Now again, your mileage may vary, but I like to name them first. I love a good poet, and anyone who’s written Sidereal Sutras can probably come up with some cool evocation names telling a story through them. However, if you’re me, you just use our favorite exalted naming tool and do variations on the concept and the artifact name. Hell, Torrid Omen’s evocations all ALL synonyms for “Fire Magic”. No joke.
    Time for some formatting! Do what I do and Copy/Paste!

    Fancy Evocation Name
    Cost: 5m Mins: Essence 1
    Type: Simple
    Keywords: None
    Duration: One Scene
    Prerequisites: None

    I keep all of my Artifacts in a google doc and I just copy this format and change the words and numbers. It’s consistent with the books, it has all the information you need, and it looks nice too! I see a lot of folks ignore the keywords and I think they are very important, so don’t forget them.

    Open with some flowery words because flowery words are cool and helps describe what you’re doing. But try not to do the confusing thing and MIX your flowery words with your mechanics. If you have more than a sentence of flavor, separate it from your mechanics by a paragraph.

    If your power affects Withering or Decisive attacks call them out and bold them. It helps the reader find them quickly in the text and keeps them from glossing over the fact that it’s different (this is also why you use keywords like Dual or Uniform).

    When the mechanics you’re discussing are significantly different, separate them by paragraphs so it doesn’t become a huge block of text. This is especially important when listing an effect gained by taking advantage of something set up by a previous charm. Call it out, but separately.

    8. Mechanics: The Meat

    I’m no master of mechanics, but practice has made me better. Some basic Cost rules I’ve figured out (I am not a dev or writer for Exalted, so this is an interpretation, not The Word).
    • Most dice adders are 1-2 motes in cost. If it’s not attack/defense-ability related, it can be cheaper.
    • If it lasts for a scene, more often than not it should cost 4-6 motes and a willpower included in the cost
    • Counterattacks or things that grant automatic successes to decisive damage usually have a willpower in the cost. If it doesn’t, raise the mote cost above 5
    • Upgrades to previous evocations should only list the added cost and put it in (parentheses)
    If you’re trying to figure out how many dice to add to something, I think of it this way. Flat numbers are fine, but never change as you level up. This can make a weapon feel too powerful early on, or not powerful enough later on. That doesn’t mean don’t use them, but keep that in mind when deciding. I almost NEVER use Ability or Attribute scores. If you want to use a number that changes, you have 2 solid options:
    • Essence starts small at 1 and ranges big up to 5. It’s more granular and is directly representative if your power level. Adding or subtracting 5 to anything, however, is VERY GOOD in 3rd Edition, so be careful and think about the high level game before throwing this at everything. It doesn’t belong everywhere.
    • Intimacy strength is a favorite of mine, because the ratings go from Minor at 2 to Defining at 4. It starts stronger than Essence but finishes a little weaker. More than that, you can get the higher strength at lower levels, but through more effort. It requires game work and not time spent and this adds dynamics to your strategy. I usually recommend using Intimacies where possible, but I’ve absolutely used Essence and you should consider both options when picking your modifiers.
    Decisive attacks are easily very brutal in 3rd edition, so I tend to be very reluctant to ADD dice to Decisive attacks and I pretty much never add automatic successes beyond 1 to them. However, a fun mechanic can be to transform damage dice INTO automatic successes. This still gives you a bonus without greatly modifying the curve. You don’t add dice and it’s still powerful.

    Charms. Exalts have them, and you need to remember that they do when designing your artifact, because they will USE them with your artifact if they can. This can include multi-attack charms. what happens to your artifact’s ability if it’s applied 5 times to a target in a single round. Does it break it’s power? Put a limiter on the gain. Does it make it too expensive? Maybe that’s a good thing. Does it exactly copy a power an exalt has easy access to? Maybe it’s not a good evocation idea. This is just worth keeping in mind when designing.

    Capstones: The final evocation should not only be the most powerful, but should realize the vision of the artifact. The best ones build on earlier evocations without replacing them. Sometimes, they should come with a reset condition, but that should be based on how great it is. If it’s something that will easily decide a major battle, it’s probably good enough to require a cooldown/reset condition. My favorite evocations upgrade the previous ones to make them better in some way, but I do love me my upgrade evocations. It should be noted that the capstone usually helps me determine the Artifact rating (3-5 dots) of the weapon. Is it’s power huge and showy, or is it more internal and restrained? This is a tricky process, and I usually just default to artifact 4 for most of mine. Easier to scale them back a level than raise them.

    9. Backstory: Tie it all together

    Many people write this first, and that’s fine. But sometimes in the course of writing evocations, I come up with stuff that changes the way my story goes. I’m a writer by hobby so most of my artifact stories are knocked out in about 20 minutes just before I post them, but you should take some time and think about where your artifact came from. Every detail is not important. Who made it does not HAVE to be important. But build on the legend of your artifact and its impression on history, even secret history.

    Who made it? What drove them to make it? What trials did they face in finding the materials? What processes did they go through to forge this mighty tool of the chosen? What happened to it afterwards? Did it fall into obscurity, or get passed along from hero to hero?

    10. Editing: Do it

    Read over your artifact a few times from start to finish. Does it read well? Do the mechanics make sense? Does it flow from evocation to evocation? Does your attunement bonus jive with your artifact or is it just arbitrary? Does your theme call for some special rule to learn some of the evocations?
    Is it cool enough that YOU would use it?

    At the end of the day, only you and your GM can decide if an artifact is going to be viable. The forums are temperamental and frankly, it can be hard to get much feedback on artifact balance. I suspect this will change once we (hopefully) get REAL rules on artifact building/designing in Arms of the Chosen. But I recommend [3E] The Artifact and Evocation Workshop thread for posting your artifacts. And post them you should! We can all only benefit from more homemade material.

    This is my process for making artifacts. I hope this was somewhat helpful for folks.
    Last edited by The Unsung Hero; 02-23-2016, 03:36 PM.


    I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
    I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

  • #2
    Thank you for this pure gold.
    I am not there yet, but sooner or later my players will want some Artifacts, this will help greatly.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Korusef View Post
      Thank you for this pure gold.
      I am not there yet, but sooner or later my players will want some Artifacts, this will help greatly.
      Thanks! I'm glad someone found it valuable.

      I'll tell you right now, the only artifact I've created FOR ME to use in a game was my first one. And it was by FAR the worst one I've written. It's why I rewrote it later on. Practice will make you better, so when you're ready for it, try to write a few to get your feet wet. I bet you'll like your second more than your first, mechanically!


      I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
      I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

      Comment


      • #4
        This is good. I'm gonna give it a shot and try to make an Artifact following your guide.


        Join the Strife

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        • #5
          Thank you for making this. I might actually use this to make an artifact instead of my sorcery themed MA. I do have a question for you though. What, exactly, makes creating evocations so much fun for you? From my perspective, it doesn't seem much different from making a martial art. What difference do you see?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by The Free Man View Post
            Thank you for making this. I might actually use this to make an artifact instead of my sorcery themed MA. I do have a question for you though. What, exactly, makes creating evocations so much fun for you? From my perspective, it doesn't seem much different from making a martial art. What difference do you see?
            This question gave me a good think before I could answer it.

            The primary reason is because I figured it out sooner that Martial arts or other charms. I had created my sorcerer character I wanted to play and I like to give my GMs a "wishlist" of things to reward players with. However, none of the listed artifacts in the book did any sorcery enhancers, but the flavor text said it could be done (under Orichalcum's magic material benefits). So I set about making my own. When I got to the end, I felt the urge to make a second thing, so something to interact with spirits. My second weapon turned out so much better than the first, I had to make a 3rd to see if I still had it in me. After that, it just kept flowing out. I have more ideas now than I have time to write!

            Another reason, or more like appeal, is that evocation trees tend to be smaller than Martial Arts trees. I don't HAVE a laundry list of powers ideas for each artifact I make, so it's nice that it fits the existing paradigm that I can do a 3-5 power thing and be done. That's not to say that you couldn't MAKE an artifact with 8-12 powers. But I wouldn't want to personally. I'd rather make the individual powers bigger with more depth than granualize it, and evocations seem to encourage, or at least allow, for that.

            And finally, it was something that... I want to say Vance... one of the writers said in a thread. I wish I had the quote on hand, but I'm not willing to dig through Nishkriya right now. Anyways, it said that a big aspect of Evocations' creative space is "anything an exalt can't do." So if you want to be a Solar but you want to transform into a fire dragon... well go get your staff that lets you do that and go to town! So I immediately had a space to go with it.

            In the end, I don't think it is any different from writing a martial art. But as I said, I figured it out before anything else mechanically, and it ended up playing to my strengths and preferences. Thanks for the feedback, it made me think!


            I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
            I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

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            • #7
              Yeah. This actually helping out a lot. I've already got quite a few pieces. It's a direlance that devours life force and powers occult rituals. It's made from Green Jade, Soulsteel, and Orichalcum, and is made for Liminals and Abyssals. It will be called Opprobrious, the... something. Hm... Names are always a problem for me.

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              • #8
                This looks very useful. Thanks for the post.

                As far as costs go, I think that it is important to keep in mind that exalts regain 5m every round of combat and every hour outside of combat. Also, 5m is the point at which peripheral essence starts adding to your anima. So the difference between a 3m cost and a 4m cost is relatively tiny compared to the difference between a 4m and a 5m cost or a 5m and a 6m cost. A 5m charm can't be paid in peripheral without adding to your anima flare, but it can be used every round of combat indefinitely. A 6m charm cannot be used indefinitely every round of combat, as it costs you more essence than you regain.

                If your intent is that the user of the weapon will be using an evocation combo every round, that combo needs have a total cost of 5m or less. Same goes if you think they'll be using native charms with it too.

                I'm sure there are other aspects of costing, but those are ones I've twigged to.


                ....

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by BrilliantRain View Post
                  As far as costs go, I think that it is important to keep in mind that exalts regain 5m every round of combat and every hour outside of combat. Also, 5m is the point at which peripheral essence starts adding to your anima. So the difference between a 3m cost and a 4m cost is relatively tiny compared to the difference between a 4m and a 5m cost or a 5m and a 6m cost. A 5m charm can't be paid in peripheral without adding to your anima flare, but it can be used every round of combat indefinitely. A 6m charm cannot be used indefinitely every round of combat, as it costs you more essence than you regain.
                  For social evocations you also have to consider whether you want to factor in the 1m discount Solars get from Harmonious Presence Meditation. Or does that apply to Evocations?

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                  • #10
                    Since you seem to enjoy this so much, Unsung Hero, what is your policy on expanding evocations? Theoretically, any artifact could have an infinite number with the right charms (at least that's my understanding).

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                    • #11
                      Thank you for this post. The part about the mechanics will help me quite a bit since I'm more of a hobby writer myself and not the game designer. And it is interesting to see the design flow of others.

                      To use your steps mine would be something like:
                      1. The Base
                      2. The Concept
                      3. The Name
                      4. Background and story
                      5. Material
                      6. Evocations
                      7. Mechanics and balancing of the evocations
                      8. Attunement
                      9. Editing and formatting


                      Different things work for different people.
                      I have a question though. Evocations are expensive with a fixed cost of 10xp. And they are designed so only specific Exalted can use them to their full potential. So what is the power level of your evocations like?
                      I'm not specificly talking about the number of added dice, though that can be a part of it, but more of conceptual strength. Also any ideas about the varying power level for artifacts that specialise in something and those that have a wider or more relevant area of expertise (killing all the stuff vs. something made for sealing one single kind of entity. Or something comparable). I'm struggling a bit with that...
                      Especially since there aren't any real guidelines for the power of artifacts.


                      My (mostly) German Exalted blog: Praise the Spiral!

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by The Free Man View Post
                        Since you seem to enjoy this so much, Unsung Hero, what is your policy on expanding evocations? Theoretically, any artifact could have an infinite number with the right charms (at least that's my understanding).
                        The root of my philosophy is that the story goes like this:
                        1. Crafter works hard and makes a miraculous one-of-a-kind artifact. It has potential based on its properties, but is otherwise just open potential
                        2. Wielder A (may or may not be the crafter) picks up the weapon and forges a bond with it. They belong to each other and through that bond they unlock power.
                        3. Artifact's power appears for Wielder A as Evocations A, with a list of powers that are amazing and in-theme with the properties of the weapon
                        4. Wielder A dies and the Artifact is locked in a tomb for time
                        5. Wielder B finds the artifact and forgets a bond with it. They belong to each other and through that bond they unlock power.
                        6. Artifact's power appears for Wielder B as Evocations B, with a list of DIFFERENT powers that are amazing and in-theme with the properties of the weapon.

                        Every weapon has the potential for Evocations. Anyone who forgets a bond with it enough to unlock its power may see that power represented in different ways. So I see no problem with expanding on an evocation list, as that's just an exalt unlocking different powers than someone else got out of it. Hell, I would allow an Abyssal to pick up Volcano Cutter and find a completely different set of powers represented in it, as long as they are still aligned with Fire (for the Red Jade), Earth (for the White Jade), and immense power and projection of those elements (for the Orichalcum).


                        I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
                        I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ryoki View Post
                          I have a question though. Evocations are expensive with a fixed cost of 10xp. And they are designed so only specific Exalted can use them to their full potential. So what is the power level of your evocations like?
                          I'm not specificly talking about the number of added dice, though that can be a part of it, but more of conceptual strength. Also any ideas about the varying power level for artifacts that specialise in something and those that have a wider or more relevant area of expertise (killing all the stuff vs. something made for sealing one single kind of entity. Or something comparable). I'm struggling a bit with that...
                          Especially since there aren't any real guidelines for the power of artifacts.
                          I absolutely do not design evocations with the power-level of the exalt in mind. I design themes and pick the exalt based on that. That might not be the intent, but it's the way I approach it. I have no problem with a Dragonblooded exalt having access to powers that turn them into a Fire Avatar, or Command Spirits to obey them, or Unleash a Beam Power at their enemies, as long as the theme fits. In the end, it's strength should be represented in its artifact level. This is especially true for Dragonbloods because they are supposed to be the 2nd best at Evocations of the exalts. So I personally give them a lot of leeway in my artifacts.

                          As for how to pick your artifact level, I'm not sure how to give a great guideline except to say to give your evocations (particularly your pinnacle one, which should be the biggest and flashiest) a good critical look. Is it's effect expressed inwardly or outwardly? As a rule of thumb I look at the pinnacle evocation, and I've gone with this: if no outside observers can see the effect represented, I tend to rank the artifact at 3. If outside observers are likely to be caught in the blast, it goes to 5. Everything else falls in the 4 range to be raised or lowered based on the strength of the other evocations in the tree.

                          I admit I may be wrong on both of these points. It's merely my view, but I am completely prepared to adjust my perception based on new information in Arms of the Chosen (or from any passing writers... Vaaaaaance? ^_^). I hope it helped though!


                          I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
                          I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by The Unsung Hero View Post
                            Every weapon has the potential for Evocations. Anyone who forgets a bond with it enough to unlock its power may see that power represented in different ways. So I see no problem with expanding on an evocation list, as that's just an exalt unlocking different powers than someone else got out of it. Hell, I would allow an Abyssal to pick up Volcano Cutter and find a completely different set of powers represented in it, as long as they are still aligned with Fire (for the Red Jade), Earth (for the White Jade), and immense power and projection of those elements (for the Orichalcum).
                            I actually meant adding more evocations on top of the ones already there. Like... taking Moonlit Huntress and giving it more than just one evocation, or taking Spring Razor and creating an evocation that allows the wielder to use more than just arrow frog venom when attacking with Howling Lotus Strike, for example. I understand you're not the creator, so it's more of an "unofficial"opinion, but I'd still like to hear what you think.

                            I hope that sounded like a compliment to you, because it didn't to me for some reason.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by The Free Man View Post
                              I actually meant adding more evocations on top of the ones already there. Like... taking Moonlit Huntress and giving it more than just one evocation, or taking Spring Razor and creating an evocation that allows the wielder to use more than just arrow frog venom when attacking with Howling Lotus Strike, for example. I understand you're not the creator, so it's more of an "unofficial"opinion, but I'd still like to hear what you think.

                              I hope that sounded like a compliment to you, because it didn't to me for some reason.
                              I know it didn't come out that way, but I knew what you meant and yes I think that's perfectly acceptable to unlock further evocations than are written for a weapon.


                              I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
                              I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero

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