Friday, 12 May 2017

A Realistic In Depth Review of Judge Dredd D20


Not to be confused with the two earlier versions of the game (which I will not mention here). The Judge Dredd D20 System actually first hit the shelves in the summer of 2002, less than a decade and a half ago.. fourteen and a half year years ago in fact. Round about the same time that Mage Knight had finally had its day, and Heroclix was starting to take over and make a big name for itself.

First of all before going any further, I would like to state that Judge Dredd D20 does not "Suck" by any stretch of the imagination. Like all other systems, it has its foibles and its idiosyncrasies, but should not be dismissed out of hand, as I have heard some people do: though I suspect such negativity mostly comes from non D&D players (and those not familiar with the system). Here-say from others can be a dangerous thing.. as anyone playing in a well run game can attest to. A badly run game will usually make the rules `suck`. A well run game will make a system shine.  Same game, just different perceptions.

I would also like to point out that if a house system is not originally and specifically designed for a genre of game, does not mean it cannot do so. A prime example might be G.U.R.P.S which was originally designed to be an all purpose generic fantasy rules engine: but which went on to cover games for Science Fiction, Modern (Vietnam to Falklands), Modern Horror, Superheroes, even a Zombie version exists.


Many people just hate D&D.. probably because they don`t truly understand it after the changes took place; when TSR became Wizard of the Coast, and 3rd edition hit the shelves: neither does everyone (I suspect) understand the `open licensing` laws which heralded in the birth of D20 as a universal and unifying engine upon which game hosts could build their chosen game worlds, confident that anywhere in the world, other players and groups would understand the system and be able to join in blind sessions, pretty much at the drop of a hat.

Because Judge Dredd D20 works off a fantasy game system, doesn`t mean it is not a viable game system in its own right. What I am saying is that Dredd D20 works. It isn`t just another flavour of "sh**." When Mongoose chose to go with it, they went with the D20 franchise for a very good reason. D&D 3rd Edition (or D20 if you prefer) was the most popular rpg and skirmish table top game system in the world at the time, and understood intimately by most gamers (there were of course a few who condemned it because they didn’t understand its complexity and preferred the earlier, simpler version of the game - while under the license of TSR). That`s what open license did, it allowed independent companies.. legally.. to write games under the D20 flag: which meant suddenly, you could play all these new and wonderful types of adventures without constantly having to learn  new set of rules each time, as all D20 games ran off the same engine (just like G.U.R.P.S).

For those willing to make concessions to their favourite game ethos, and who were willing to make changes to fit these new world genres. Then D20 was like a game host and game player`s Godsend.

The Judge Class was simply the fighter class (verbatim) from the Players Hand Book, and the Citizen simply the Thief class. Yet Mongoose, put a lot of work into making this game work for the new Judge Dredd game, rather than for D&D and D20.  Judge Dredd D20 had a lot more scope than the older GW game, which simply wasn’t able to handle things as well. In D20, every stat block could potentially be a skill the players could use in game, and if you roll high enough you could even choose to be a cool Psi Judge. The flexibilities are endless. Best of all you can even play a citizen, a criminal, a bounty hunter, or any other type of non Judge you fancy playing. Even aliens - or fury simians.

Is 3rd Edition D&D my favourite system.. no! Neither is its identical twin sister the D20 system. But does it do a good job at taking a well thought out game engine and utilizing it for an entirely different genre.. oh absolutely yes.
Crossover Games can be fun too.. why not a bit of JD alongside some good old D&D.

It is true, Mongoose were forced to use a little too much space (for my liking) detailing the D20 mechanics, but in its 256 beautifully rendered pages, it does a simply amazing job at bringing the Big Meg to life: no mean feat when you consider how huge a place it is, with a vast amount of culture and history to describe. But this book not only covers all the necessaries for playing Judge Dredd within a D20 system, but actually spends a good 200 or so pages devoted entirely to background information on the world. Even when its telling you the rules, its simultaneously filling the reader`s mind with lush ideas and accurate world filler information.

I would say that someone coming to Dredd with absolutely no prior knowledge of the comics, could pick up this book, read though it a few times (because there is a LOT of world information to absorb here) and know enough about Cursed Earth to be able to run a decent and atmospheric game just with the information contained here. The book keeps giving useful advice on how to run a Dredd game, and it does it so well, that even the most average game host should be able to provide his or her player party with a really accurate in game depiction of the 2000AD universe.

What really impresses me the most though, is how simple the D20 conversion is. All you need is the first 40 pages of character generation from the PHB, and then the 30 or so additional Traits and Equipment pages within the Judge Dredd D20 book itself, and woohoo!  You are then literally ready, and up and running with your very first game. And if you don`t own your own PHB, you can get a free basic PDF copy on line, which honestly, is all you will ever need. You will find that %99 of hardened D&D game hosts and players won`t even need a PHB at all (if you`re like me, all the relevant information stays stored in your head in any case).

 


A Wonder Woman Cross Over would be interesting to do.



The writers of this Judge Dredd book are obviously fans of Joe Dredd and the whole world ethos: and the entire book seems something of a pure labour of love. Covering all the usual suspects and plenty more besides. From time lines, maps, robots, an in depth look at all the various department(s), drugs, vices, diseases, types of food and drink consumed, public games, even a tour of the city (and its many districts), and an in depth “how to” campaign in Mega City One. Of course there are sections on vehicles and weapons, ammunition types.. and all lavishly illustrated. I think perhaps the best section of all are the pages devoted to naming each and every law - and the penalty for breaking each one.


The newest Mongoose/Warlord Games rules stayed with the system which they originally came up with in this 2002 Judge Dredd D20 edition, for covering arrests and checking whether `perps` willingly surrender or not. A nice rule I am glad to see was carried over into the new book.. even if it is currently unavailable grrrrrrrrrr. All in all the new Mongoose/Warlord Games book is simply a reduced, cut down, what they now call streamlined) flashier version of this original book. Personally, I think the original – i.e. THIS book is a lot better than the new one.
While the Judge Dredd D20 rpg book is no longer available to buy off the shelves. Just like the currently off the shelf new Warlord games streamlined version, it is however, very easy to find (second hand and new) at reasonable prices on Amazon.co.uk (and especially on Amazon.com) and also from eBay. You can even download a free PDF version of it, if you look hard enough on line to find it. Prices for a copy will vary, so I would not like to mislead you. Suffice to say I`ve seen Judge Dredd D20 from $20 (in America via Amazon) upwards from £25 to £40 (on eBay uk).
 
What`s more, it doesn’t try to funnel you into buying expensive miniatures from its exclusive range. You use what you have in your collection. Or if you want to play the game as pure RPG in the theatre on your mind, you could dispense with using miniatures all together.  Me personally, I think Cursed Earth, Mega City One and the whole futuristic glamour is too rich and diverse to miss up on the opportunity to add the most wonderful and diverse 2D and 3D rendered terrain and miniatures to the mix to make the world really come alive in futuristic neon and strobe light spectacle.
Apart from your old PHB looking slightly out of context next to it, the Judge Dredd rulebook looks great, and unpretentious. Each page is nicely framed by a Mega City One skyline and a metallic Justice Department badge. There are dozens of illustrations throughout, taken from the pages of 2000AD which really set the tone and mood of the game. In addition to this there are some really nice colour plates showing original artwork which any fan will love. They may take up a few pages but I always feel that the artwork is important in setting the tone of this rulebook, and really sets the mood of the game. Best of all it does it without being gaudy or shamefully flaunting glossy colour art designed with one purpose and one purpose only... to seduce you into buying hundreds of pounds worth of their `conveniently supporting` wares.


Conclusion:
 
So does the Judge Dredd D20 book do its job?

Well this is a fault not levelled at the book, but by the subject matter itself.. I`m not sure how easy it would be for anyone to come to this game and host a game in Cursed Earth without having a fair amount of the Judge Dredd comic knowledge already stored in their head.. in order to capture the style and mood of the world. Players will hopefully be able to learn about the world as they play, but only as long as the games host knows his or her stuff. However, I think this book actually makes it possible to play a very decent game set in a very thematic futuristic world, WITHOUT needing prior knowledge to play it properly. Would it feel like Cursed Earth, hmmm maybe not entirely? But the same fault could be levelled at say Games Workshop`s “Battles For Middle Earth”: could you truly play an authentically toned game set in the times of The Lord of the Rings if you`d never read the books or at least watched the films? I very much doubt it. Same applies to 2000AD I think. So it not a fault in the rules in these situations, and in fact if a game is exciting enough, it could be argued that you could play a good game and never really need know the source material it comes from at all, and still have a ton of fun. Such stuff I feel is really the domain of the game host to enlighten the players, not necessarily the job of the rules.
 
 
I`m not saying GO BUY THIS BOOK. There are plenty of other available options for the would be Judge Dredd gamer to explore. Top of that list would be Mutants and Death Ray Guns by Ganesha Games. Another might be one of the many GDW Traveller versions out there... even Star Frontiers if we wanted to stay with the retro feel. There really are many many choices available to you. Even something as simple as Heroclix, if you want a purely table top skirmish feel. But I would urge any serious gamer to at least check out Judge Dredd D20. It really is a rich in depth system, and a real boon to anyone who is familiar with (and likes) the D20/3rd Edition D&D game.
 
 
Article By Tarot
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 



 



 



37 comments:

  1. Very nicely done, Tarot. Everything a review should be - balanced and informative. There's a lot of 'old' or free games out there that deserve wider recognition, rather than everyone focusing on the next big thing and a prudent shopper (or cunning Internet hunter) can pick up these games for prices far less than the more recent releases.

    Just because a system is not current, doesn't make it without merit. For example, if I wanted to run a JD RPG, I'd probably use my copy of Cyberpunk 2020 - because I already own it and it's a good system that would lend itself well to this setting.

    I like the idea of doing 'retro-reviews'...I might steal this idea myself. ;-)

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    1. Thanks Jez. Its been a while since I penned anything so its nice to hone those skills a bit once again. Lots coming up I do warn, but all to do with Dredd.. Gotham and Aliens (as in Xenamorphs) and some cool Horror-clix crossovers, and so on.

      "Cyberpunk 2020" is a good game, up there with "Alternity" in my mind. Yes I can see this working well for JD.

      {{ I like the idea of doing 'retro-reviews'...I might steal this idea myself. ;-) }}

      Oooh you should. They would make fascinating reading. I write about retro games made when I was tiny or before I was born, but the BEST retro-reviews come from those who were THERE at the time.

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    2. And that doesn't make me feel old AT ALL...lol

      I'm liking this idea more and more, as sometimes the spare time I have available isn't the 'right' sort of time to paint and photo and write up. The occasional 'retro-review' would still allow regular hobby-time without the pressure to have painted something 'new' each week.

      Obviously, following your lead, I'd only write about games I was intimately familiar with, having owned, played and run them, but this wouldn't be limited to just 'old' games, as some of the 'free' RPGs available online have just as much merit as commercially available ones. Like "Legends of Middle Earth" - isn't that right, Hils?

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    3. *knock knock* Did someone mention Legends of Middle Earth. that's a freebie isn't it. Absolutely fantastic set of rpg rules that.

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    4. Betty hurry up Jez, we both might be too old next week **wink**

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    5. Who`s Betty,

      ....... and is she single?

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    6. Yup, LOME is a feebie - a little rough around the edges, but a good system that got the 'feel' right.

      Have you got a copy of the 1987 Timelord RPG, Dave? That would be right up your street. I sent Tar a copy, along with some fan-created 'supplements' I'd found, which I'm sure she'd be happy to pass on.

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    7. I have time lord Jez, thanks mate; and it many, many expansions. Its a masterpiece isn't it and what`s more utterly FREE for all.

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    8. I had a feeling you probably had...lol. Hmmm, I'm sure there must be SOMETHING you haven't heard of... How about "Danse Macabre"?

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    9. Danse Macabre: Vampire the Masquerade: all excellent theatre of the mind stuff, conducive to brown trousers and yet at the same time, allows some poignantly beautiful romanticism.

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    11. Actually, I was talking about this;

      "Danse Macabre - A Roleplaying game of horror, intrigue and dark fantasy set in an alternative and dark Medieval Europe. Dark and monstrous things haunt the shadows of the forest and mountain. Old gods lurk mad and forsaken in their sacred pools. Wars between Heaven, Faerie and Hell have left all the mortal world bloodied and broken beneath the surface of things. A rot of destruction is spreading, and soon the final reckoning of creation itself may be at hand."

      Free and pretty darn cool from here:

      http://www.mythopoeticgames.com/games.htm

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    12. I have "Danse Macabre" but didn't have all those other files.. `Wayfarers Song` etc, which I`ve now rectified, thanks for that Jez. Very immersive system, but ultimately very clunky and unwieldy to game with. Never the less, it’s extremely atmospheric and that tone is interwoven throughout the text (perfect for helping an unsure GM to set the style of play, but ultimately nothing a more experienced and expressive game host can’t do anyway).

      I ran a game of this a few years back, but with over 140 pages in the core rule book alone with no section you can easily dismiss + all those much needed expansions, its devilishly hard to run, and suffers because its near impossible to build any smoothness of speed and pacing. I would say "Danse Macabre" was a labour of love for Dean Suter and Chris Johnstone, but probably wasn’t play tested much after its initial conception: and was probably more of a house game I should think. It was LOVELY of those guys to make it an open freebie, and it is a thing of beauty: but would I play it again – probably not. I`d probably go to `Lady Blackbird` for a similar fix.
      http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/

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    13. I would have to second T girl there. Lady Blackbird achieves the same thing on less than a dozen pages. The rest being atmos` filler, so a highly conducive experience and a pleasure to run.

      http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/

      Struggled with "Danse Macabre" for half a dozen sessions, but (and no fault to our Gamesmaster, who was a true techno wizard at his job) sadly, it bogged down to a complete standstill - and finish. Its own cleverness and its own depth of detail was ultimately its downfall. I loved the medieval European theme, and deeply gothic style of the experience, which felt like Mordheim but with all the silly juvenile crap taken out, but it was wayyyy over complex.

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    14. TBH, I've not actually run DM. I'd been looking for a decent RPG with this setting and it appeared to tick all the boxes. The writing was atmospheric and evoked the setting and the character generation did make me want to play. However, based on your comments I might give it a miss. I guess it's similar to 'JAGS Wonderland' - a really fantastic setting, but attached to a rules system I just couldn't get on with. I will certainly give 'Lady Blackbird' a look. If it doesn't do what I want, I may have to dig out my 'Rushlight' system and use that instead. That's right, I don't just write wargaming rules... lol

      Thanks for your insights and apologies to Tar for hijacking the thread.

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    15. Its becoming interestingly clear with each new every comment, there needs to be a page or something, dedicated to all these really good cheap, retro, and free rules out there - which sadly few people seem ever to find or even consider using: but wow what a really cool financially viable alternative to the mainstream big buck games out there. It seems the hobby could stand a blog dedicated purely to this topic alone (wonder if anyone will ever do it). There has to be literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of worthy sets of rules out there, and even entire campaigns ready and ripe for the picking.

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    16. Hijack away Jex xx that's e-x-a-c-t-l-y what these comments sections are for.. discussion and good camaraderie.

      Oh, as for reviews on cheap, past/retro, and free rules: I think its a marvellous idea. Hmmmmmm I may do one on "Star Frontiers" next time.

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  2. 100% agree with you Tarot, other systems might be more playable or give you the scifi game you're craving but this system will give you such a lovely depth to your JD games, which is why its the one I'll be using in my post degree future (when i get my life back!!)

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    1. {{its the one I'll be using in my post degree future}}

      You have no idea how much I am looking forward to reading what you write about this JD game you will be doing, once you are able. If its anything like your zombie one, it will be cracking good stuff.

      Best of luck on the post degree

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  3. Well done Tar` this is exactly the kind of review I like to see. Open minded, and fair, without saying “this is best (`cos I happen t play it) and the rest are crap. I was interested to read about all the Judicial laws and how the book covers literally each and every one... and gives the term of sentence for breaking each law. I had to go back to my own copy to remind myself of this, and have made my mind up and set myself a mini task, each night before lights out, to memorize a page of the laws, so soon will remember them all in my head, by rote lol. How cool would that be huh, in mid game to have your Judge be able to rattle off the crime AND the sentence.

    I especially like how the rules go to pains to point out that Judges don’t just carry a badge and go about shooting people indiscriminately. Too many take that quote far too literally: “every citizen is a crime waiting to happen” or however it goes. Judges follow the law, and those laws exist already... so they are in fact much more than judge jury and executioner. They are enforcers of the law and those laws have limits. Very few of them actually cover the death sentence.

    Nice review Tar` and certainly I would second your endorsement that these rules are well worth a good long look at before deciding against them. Like Andy says, they would be a top contender as a regular `go to` rpg set of rules for future games I will play. Actually they work great for skirmish table top as well. I`ve done it many a time... and I would put them on par with Mutants & Death Ray Guns in that capacity as a useable miniatures skirmish game.

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    1. Actually, the book is well worth having just for the background material. Its not just filler rubbish, its good solid information. My go to system is still Clix though hehe, I just can`t help myself.

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    2. oh GOD I know girl, tell me about it! You`ve had me re-basing your clix all week and my hands feel like putty and rubber, not to mention all the modelling knife wounds I`m currently inflicted with. I feel a bit like a pin cushion at the moment.

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    3. OOh I feel bad now. But Ooooh are they all done yet, yeah, yeah, are they, yeah.. yeah?

      {{puts plasters gently on each of your poor fingers}}

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  4. Good review. I`d love to see more of these on line and magazine retro style reviews. Some of the better games out there come from our past. Not everything new is best I am afraid. In fact I think there was often a lot more care and attention, and focused discipline taken over product content once upon a time. No amount of perfect graphics and good quality ink can cover a sloppy design ethic. However a skilfully written game will shine no matter the grade of paper its written on or the basic design of the binding.

    Informative and accurate T girl. I`ve seen some horrendous reviews on this book (always done by non fans of D20). Thankfully this wasn't one of them, and was measured and well worded.

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    1. Thanks Dave sweetie, as always you are a true gentleman.

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    2. can I have that in writing please?

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  5. I`ve always been more into Gotham with some slight Cursed Earth crossover adventures added in along the way. But this review actually made me think about that some more. When something I read makes me want to DO it, then I know I`ve just been inspired. THIS inspired me. I want to give the D20 system a good test run over the next few sessions we play.

    I`m going to steal the copy here off the shelf and read it cover to cover I think.

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    1. Oi, that's my copy you`re stealing **winks**

      Gotham, Cursed Earth, Captain America, Avengers, Hulk, Thor, Fantastic Four, Guardians, Spiderman, the lot of them, they are all so game-able, we should use them all and often. THATS the beauty of Hero Clix and Horror Clix, you can cross genre to your hearts delight. I know its silly but it warms my heart to hear the lads at the club shout across the table to each other "Bet my Iceman and Bane can thrash your Punisher and White Queen!" That's the sheer beauty of that game.. you can cross over themes as much as you like, its all just `wicked fun.`

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    2. so, we talking about Judge Dredd D20 or is this now a Hero/Horror Clix plug **winks mischievously at you**

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    3. Hey, I bet my Army Men could trounce your Heroclix!!!

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    4. you`re on, next time I`m back lets set up a game: "Battle of the Swoop Field" (out on the upstairs patio where the magpies dive in for bread and crumbs) or how about the dreaded: "Milk Jug Hill" (played out on the mound of stones by the front door, where the milk bin sits)?

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  6. um, both. I think.

    {{blushes}}

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  7. For someone who doesn't actually play any "D20" games, I do own quite a few of the books, Tarot, and I think you hit the nail on the head with this article as to why I do, because even if you don't play this particular game, the book is superb for fluff. My particular fave "D20" book is "X-Crawl", and I own a good handful in the series, but my copy of "Judge Dredd" is equally as well thumbed through, and a great read.

    Great write-up, imho, and hopefully one that'll make people think again about adding this (and perhaps any of the "D20" rulebooks) to their collection, even if they have little interest in using the rules themselves. Especially as one of the "Judge Dredd" books strengths, I think, is that its mixture of fluff and rules can be used to create all sorts of random events/items which can then be converted into other rule systems.

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  8. hi Simon, I`m so glad you found the post interesting, and thank you so much for your ever-so-cool reply in comments. You are absolutely right I think; even if you never intend to play D20 proper, just as source material alone, these books are an invaluable asset and tool - and like you say, the numerous random tables and things make them extremely desirable too.

    Xcrawl, is that Adventures in the Xtreme Dungeon League? it sounds fantastic actually. There are so many D20 manuals to choose from aren't there. I always wanted to try their Superhero one, but never managed to track down a copy when it was available.

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    1. X-Crawl is indeed the Xtreme Dungeon League game. Superb setting imho, where a gnome adventurer with a hockey stick can actually be so busy being interviewed live on TV that they fail to see an approaching Dire Panda and get eaten in front of an audience of millions ;-)

      I never bought "Silver Age Sentinels" myself either, which is a bit of a miss tbh. Although the Fast Play version is still out there on "Amazon" for a few quid as memory serves.

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    2. ah I had the right one then. hehe that's it, it was zany wasn't it, and allowed just the sort of thing you described. I got to play in a game of it just once, but the guy who ran it didn't pull it out any more after that, so I never saw it played again.

      I will however keep an eye open for the Fast Play version of "Silver Age Sentinels." Thanks for that Simon.

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  9. "Silver Age Sentinels." That's the name of it, I was racking my brains trying to remember.

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