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WarGroove: The Best Game of 2019 Comes Early.

I know what you are thinking: the title of this article is hyperbole of the most unforgivable kind. Just do me a favour and give me a chance to explain.

Wargroove is the latest game developed and published by Chucklefish: the now legendary publisher of the smash hit farm-em-up Stardew Valley and sci fi side scroller, Starbound. The London based publishing and development house have been consistently chucking out winners since the start of the indie revolution, beginning their meteoric rise with Risk Of Rain: a devilishly difficult roguelike.

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The things their games seem to have in common are a focus on brilliant, stripped down mechanics and a high quality pixel art style, both of which suit me down to the ground.

I spotted Wargroove on one of my frequent and mindless trawls through the steam store. The art style immediately caught my eye and I felt utter joy in my heart as I saw an armoured dog leading an army into battle on a 2D battlefield. I was hooked even before I bought it. This feeling only intensified as I was greeted by an anime-like intro cutscene which I just sat and watched. In recent years, Blizzard has been lauded for their amazing cutscenes, and rightly so, but it is nice to see a smaller developer going for the same sort of thing.

The game brings many franchises to mind: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, The Battle For Wesnoth. These three are stalwarts in the turn-based strategy genre and in a sense Wargroove actually is all these amazing titles that reached their zenith years ago. It is a kind of rebirth of turn based tactics games, embodying the things that made them great; like smaller maps, tighter mechanics and the ability for players to make maps and customise everything, then they repackaged it into something fresh and beautiful, clearly created by people who know and love the genre.

The gameplay is simple: you take control of one of 12 heroes, 3 for each of the four distinct factions and vie for control of a tactical map broken up into squares. There are a profusion of unit types; from lowly foot soldiers to trebuchets, ships and dragons, all which add tools to your toolbox when trying to outfox your enemy. The interesting thing to note is that each faction, while aesthetically unique, can only produce the same units.

This means that the game is easier to balance, with the only asymmetry being with the leader you choose, which puts it in good stead for the Esports scene which has energetically sprung up around the game. From what I have played, the “quick play” option in online multiplayer indeed returns a game quickly, which is fantastic. You can also set up your own game with a whole host of different options to face off against your opponent. I can only hope the devs follow this ease of use up with more features to support competitive play.

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The campaign is fully formed and engaging: you follow Mercia, queen of Cherrystone, who is thrust into the driving seat after her father is assassinated by the undead Felheim faction. It plays much like the older games mentioned above: sections of dialogue interspersed with thematic battles which introduce weird and wonderful mechanics to keep you on your toes. The game also provides “puzzle” and “arcade” modes that will significantly aid replayability. There is plenty of humour in the campaign, alongside the broader themes of adventure and war. It’s safe to say Wargroove doesn’t take itself too seriously.

To me, this game is like chess but better. You take your playing pieces and are able to dynamically fight and counter your opponents strategies as you build units and try to out compete the opponent financially by capturing towns. The amazing “crit” system ensures the need for deep thought when positioning your troops, as they only reach their full potential when meeting criteria specific to each unit. I have found myself staring over a defensive line at my opponent, waiting for one of us to blink, only to find myself outmaneuvered somewhere else and forced to flee. You feel the tactics and back and forth of a good wargame just oozing out of this title.

Overworld-Map

This game makes me feel like I am at the start of something new and interesting. This is a feeling we gamers crave; back in 2015, Rocket League hit the market and started a sports-game revolution all of its own. The reason it was able to do this is because it firmly placed itself into that genre, but did the same things as other sports games (use of physics, a ball with goals and a global game timer) repackaged into something new and fresh, the process by which those older, tried and tested elements, could create something satisfying and new. As of the writing of this article, the highest prize pool for a Rocket League tournament was over 1 million dollars.

Wargroove, I feel, is doing the same thing to turn based strategy games. There is a huge demographic of gamers who are starved for this type of game and feel the urge to watch talented people play it against each other; to follow their favourite player and hopefully start that journey themselves. The strategy gamer in on the comeback.

This game delivers on so many levels but it is important to discuss its drawbacks. Chiefly that most people will really be put off by how slow the game can feel when you are in the thick of the action. Every game requires you to really think about how you set up your forces and is almost a cold war where each person is trying to push and maneuver to find an edge. In fact, once the fighting begins, you often know what the result is going to be only a few turns afterwards. To me, this is ideal, and speaks to a wargame that works, but for others it might ring dull.

Winter-Map

In conclusion, I do not think it is too soon to tell that this beautiful little game is going to make waves in the realm of strategy well into 2019 and I cannot wait to play in my first tournament.

Wargroove is out now on Windows, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It is priced at around 15-20 dollars.

P.S. Wagons Are Bad – Brought to you by the Anti Wagon League.

Warhammer Quest, Blackstone Fortress – Hero Quest in Space or More?

Blackstone Fortress is the latest adventure board game to come from Games Workshop set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, Warhammer 40K to most nerds. It is labelled as Warhammer Quest. For those you in your thirties this will take you back to the glory days of heroic ineptitude – the golden age of adventure. For everyone else, it’s the latest in the Warhammer Quest Series. Alongside Blackstone Fortress in the Warhammer Quest series are Silver Tower (currently discontinued) and Shadows of Hammerhal both of which are set in GW’s fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar. All of these games follow similar game styles and mechanics, so if you’ve played one you should be able to pick up the others with relative ease.

Blackstone Fortress promises exploration and adventure in the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium, a vast void of horror and terror.

It delivers.

With character choices ranging from outlawed Artificial Intelligence robot, rogue trader and Imperial Navigator to fanatic, Ratling snipers (who are twins) and alien hunters, there should be something for anyone who has an interest in grim and gritty science fiction.

A few of you older players out there who have not ventured in table top adventure games in some time may be thinking ‘is this just Hero Quest in the modern era of gaming?’ I think it’s a fair and realistic question. So is it just Hero Quest in space? Well yes, at least in concept.

The Goal

The whole point of Blackstone Fortress is to find your way into the Hidden Vault, deep inside the drifting hulk of the mysterious Blackstone Fortress. To do this, players need to discover clues during their expeditions. These clues will lead to special scenarios called Strongholds, which will eventually lead to the hidden vault. Even when a stronghold attack can be mounted, the players still need to get to them, with a 4 card expedition, purely of combat – more of this later. Getting to the hidden vault will take a lot of gaming hours, but I am certain that it will be a challenge and a worthy one at that!

In the game fluff, the Blackstone Fortress learns and adapts after each incursion of adventurers. Legacy cards add to the danger in this aspect, increasing the threat level for some monsters, such as the Spindle Drone. They up the ante during the expeditions. Once in play they stay and generally add flair and layers of danger to the expeditions. Once there are no more legacy cards in left in play, you’ve run out of time, and lose the game, no matter where you’re up to!

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with the character ships, two varieties of the Grav-lifts and the Leader token.

Let’s take a look at the goods first though…

Manufacturing Quality

The important bit to most gamers and war-gamers: are the miniatures any good? Yes. The miniatures are amazing and better still, they clip together – no glue required. You just need something to cut them from the plastic sprue. This took me a couple of hours whilst watching a series on Netflix so anyone with more experience may get it done in half that time.

The miniatures are constructed in such a way that they appear seamless, which took a bit of jigsaw magic to see how they fitted together – but as previously mentioned, no glue is required, so you can take your time. The same great GW quality of miniature manufacture is found throughout. I think my Kill Team just got bigger too – the models are in hot demand, check out ebay if you don’t believe me.

The game tiles are a really thick and good quality card. They pop out easily, which reduces tearing of the precious printed sides. They’re double sided but unlike Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight, there’s not a million small pieces to get lost or confused with. The game counters are all pretty unique, with the majority of them being wound tokens (which are double sided for critical wounds). The rest are for game effects and inspiration points, which I’ll mention later on.

There are three rule-books.

Don’t despair.

warhammer blackstone fortress sci-fi horror gamesworkshop Games Workshop
Five books from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress. One is fluff, one of rules for Warhammer 40K and the other three are for game play.

Each one is written chronologically for each section of the game as you progress. They are written to the usual standard for GW, guiding you through in simple steps. The terminology may be a little different if you haven’t tried GW games before, so take your time. If you are familiar with any of the GW games, such as Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, you’ll find the turn sequence and rounds familiar.

Once you have the turn sequence in your mind, it’s pretty straight forward from there. There is a bit of juggling with the game on the first play through, as you consult different books to figure out when you can heal or how to carry out certain actions. This is a minor point, however it does highlight the importance of reading through the rules before the gaming session!

Blackstone Fortress is split into two game sections by exploration cards; challenges and combats, which are drawn randomly from the Exploration card deck. The exploration deck is large, 36 cards, so it should always be a different combination. You randomly pick 4 challenge cards and 4 combat cards which make up the Exploration deck for the Expedition. When combined, these are like a campaign story arc. These are shuffled and placed on the Precipice board, which is like the character staging area.

There are 18 cards each for both challenges and combats (36 cards in total). By drawing 4 of each randomly, you’re looking at 1 in 18 chance of drawing the same cards each time you create the exploration deck. The chances of drawing the same 8 cards are something like a 1 in 105,000 chance, by my shoddy calculations. That’s a lot of gaming before statistically you get the same play-through.

Challenges

The challenges are narrative encounters which do not make use of models and board pieces. They are usually a way of grabbing gear and tech (treasure, clues to future explorations), usually by causing damage to assailants. They include short narrative pieces such as ‘Get them all!’ where the players are required to inflict as much damage as they can to a fleeing group of hostiles – anyone who can deal 4 or more wound gets to draw a card from the discovery deck. Simples.

On a balancing note, these may be to help characters build up with less risk than combats or offer special cards for future explorations.

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with two of the character ships, the Destiny dice, Exploration cards and Discovery cards.

Combat Setup

Combats involve board pieces and miniatures and are the biggest portion of the game. Each combat exploration card shows how the map tiles are set up so anyone can setup the board while others are chasing through the rules books or determine where the bad guys and monsters are placed. They also mark where certain mission specific specials may be placed.

Keeping track of the game during combat is achieved with the Initiative tracker. The players get the option to attempt to help each other by swapping places with allies or attempting to swap their place with the enemy to get the drop on them. This all happens in the Initiative phase, followed by the Gambit phase. The Gambit phase can be costly as an action dice has to be spent, followed by an ability roll to determine success. These mechanics help to really bring the tension to the game, forcing the players to plan ahead. The players feel the pressure when the cards are redrawn each round, as their plans will likely need to change.

Hostiles and bad guys are drawn from the Encounter cards deck and placed in the starting positions according to the combat exploration card, which are given a specific place on the board and the tracker. The number of hostiles on a card are determined by where on the tracker they are, for example, you may get 2 drones on position 1, or 4 on position 2. Hostiles gain reinforcements each turn and are spawned on their turn in the Initiative track with a roll of a 20 sided dice, called the Blackstone Dice (which is black and looks like a stone if you’re not familiar with 20 sided dice). This adds threat, because even if all the bad guys are dead, they can keep re-spawning as happened with our test games!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

Hostiles in the game are given over to an AI system, where they react depending on a dice roll. It is not completely random, as each action they are given depends on a set few variables which allows them to act organically. Each set of rules for the monsters appears on very handy cards, giving you everything you need to know in a single place. So much easier than consulting multiple books!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop. The reverse side shows how the AI results on a dice roll.

Hostiles are terrifying in their own specific ways; if they’re not ripping you to ribbons with frenzied claw attacks they’re punching through your armour and ignoring your save rolls with shocking power! Case in point, UR-025 (or Mr Robot man to you and I) is a heavy duty fighter, with a better chance of rolling saves against wounds, with an added re-roll too – then he gets hit by a Negavolt Cultist and suddenly he has no armour saves. Surprises await those unprepared!

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Game tiles for Games Workshops Blackstone Fortress. Double sided and durable for all your grim and gritty science fiction adventures in the hopeless voids of Warhammer 40K!

Characters in the Game

At the start of each combat round Characters are allocated action dice, regular six sided dice. The dice are stored on their character card with whatever score they rolled. These dice are used / spent on actions which require a set number on one or more of those dice. Moving require a dice with a score of 1 or more, other actions may require 4 or more on a dice etc. There are standard actions and character specific actions, which are found on the character cards, usually weapon actions.

Explore with caution. When you are wounded the dice you roll at the start of each round are blocked, covered by wound markers, meaning the potential number of actions you can make are severely impaired! Fear not however, each round an extra pool of destiny dice are rolled which any one can use – but the power of the warp means that any duplicate scores on these dice are removed, so you better roll fresh to get the most out of destiny! A lot of dice multiples came up during our game, causing tension and nail biting in equal measure.

A second type of dice rolls are attribute dice which are used to evade damage, carry out special tasks and try to recover wounds. There are wounds and then there are critical wounds – wounds can be recovered during the combat part of the game, whereas critical wounds require a trip back to your ship to try and heal. As with Warhammer Quest back in the golden age, however, there’s always a chance something may not heal fully…

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The Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

The dice rolls are easy to interpret: you either fail, succeed or critically succeed. Each of the ability dice (6, 8 and 12 sided dice) are colour coded to match the information on the character sheets. These dice rolls are not always friendly, you can feel like the end of times can result from a failed roll. On the plus side, there’s very few calculations as in some GW games – just check to see how many symbols you rolled and away you go. GW have followed Fantasy Flight in this – so don’t lose those dice! Otherwise you could end up paying for more specialist dice in the future…

Toward the end of the combat sections, characters need to escape by summoning the escape lift, usually under duress. There’s no way out otherwise! When the remaining characters get to the escape lift, they have to decide to carry on fighting the growing horde, or to head back to their ships to lick their wounds. Heading back restarts the exploration so if you really need to finish you’re gonna find it hard to do!

When a character kills a number of monsters on their turn, they can roll the Blackstone Dice to see if they gain Inspiration points, where they are required to roll under the wounds they caused on a 20-sided dice. Inspiration points are used to re-roll some dice throughout the game, usually the activation dice at the start of the round, or give flip your character card over to increase their effectiveness. A bit like leveling up!

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The ‘Inspired’ Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

At the end of each round of the game, in combat or otherwise, a leadership token passes around the table, allowing each player to call the shots in equal measure (with a discussion, of course).

First Impressions & Thoughts

In a single evening gaming session, including learning how to play the game, we managed to get through 1 challenge and 2 combats. Assuming we don’t have to relearn the game, we could probably manage drawing 4 of the Exploration cards, which equates to half an Expedition. At this rate, in theory, we could spend hundreds of hours playing this game. So unlike Hero Quest, there is a seemingly limitless combination of events from challenges, combats and encounter (monster) cards. There’s probably scope for fan made or self made encounters too, let’s watch the internet pensively for these.

The game has a very nostalgic feel to it, similar to previous board games from GW decades ago. The hostile creatures are just as deadly as you’d expect, in their own ways. Players without prior knowledge will make mistakes which make the game intense and ups the challenge rating greatly. In this way, very much like Hero Quest!

The open form and random generation of each Expedition is a similar mechanic used by other games and it works just as well in Blackstone Fortress. It will take some serious play testing to get through all of the different combinations. In our initial play-through we had four players and one person acting as the games master. We felt this worked best for our first game so we could focus on the different parts of the game – just like in Hero Quest! You can play this game solo or without a games master, as the monsters follow an AI system, meaning all you need to do is move the pieces around and roll the dice.

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Dice, lots of six-sided dice, with the special ability dice, from 6, 8 & 12-sided dice. The 20-sided dice is the Blackstone dice…

What we did wrong…

We went wrong in some parts, missing the exploration round which would have made the combat a little easier if we had rolled on the event table. Although, the table isn’t all good – sometimes it can go horribly wrong… So it’s not all bad!

Why did we miss this section? It’s right at the end of the combat book, and there’s a lot in some sections. As we frenziedly played through the rounds we completely missed it! No one said nerds were thorough. So be sure to have all books to hand and refer to them often.

Value Ratio

It is a thorough and playable game. It has the same high quality of most Games Workshop products, but you will pay through the nose for it if you don’t shop around. I was lucky, I found an ebay seller with about 20% off the RRP, I then applied a free 10% discount from ebay to get it even cheaper.

If bought from a third party retailer the price becomes a little more affordable for a game of this type. The miniatures are worth a heavy bit of gold. The card tiles are sturdy. Even the box is sturdy (I mean, it has to be, it’s a heavy one). You get all the dice you need.

Edit: This may look like a silly thing to say, but £95 is a hefty price tag for any board game. Shop around, GW will get their money, so it helps smaller businesses if you go through them!

Since this is a complete game (£95.00), there’s no expansions as far as we know, and given the replay ability of expeditions is very high, it is feasible to play over a hundred games. Maybe even twice that. So you’re looking at about £0.5 – £1 per game. Let’s be conservative and say each full expedition takes 4 hours. You’re looking at £0.25 to £0.50 per hour of play. That’s really good money for a game that should be different each time. You’re snacks will cost you more to eat!

In Conclusion

The Feels – a dark, desperate setting with mechanics that fit those feelings. Thrilling, because when you do score a critical roll it feels like the cosmos is backing you up – any other time it’s trying to eat you!

No silly measuring distances, just count the hexes. Can you draw a straight line from the centre of a hex to the hex your target is standing in? Then you have line of sight, roll your dice. It’s that easy.

Edit: Downsides include what some players have described as ‘chaff’ play. This means that a few players think the amount of combats that are required to complete the game can get a bit samey. GW, do we need to go through quite so much to complete the game? On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand that the fighting during the combat sections are not about clearing the board – it is about surviving the battle and gathering the clues before time runs out. Perhaps GW could do with giving us more information on the bigger picture of the game earlier on.

So is it like Hero Quest? Yeah I think it is, it certainly has that heroic quality to it, and I’m sure it will one day be one of those nostalgic games we all reminisce about.

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them! you can find us on our discord server.

You can get a few more articles by us on other Games Workshop products here or here.

Enjoy!

 

*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.

 

An Intro To The Pulp RPG Modular Framework.

Hello nerdy people!

We’re here today to tell you about a pretty big side of what Pulp RPG is all about: The Modular Framework. Now what on earth is that?

Well, it’s the central idea upon which all of the development of Pulp RPG revolves. To put it simply, The Modular Framework takes the Pulp RPG Basic Rulebook and uses it’s simple mechanics as a point from which to build more complex and setting-specific game systems, without having to include all of these rules in one giant tome.

While indeed you can just use the Basic Rulebook’s lightweight and narratively focused ruleset to run any sort of game you like, in any sort of setting you like, we feel that those more crunchy, mechanics-based systems are a lot of fun too, so we’ll be using The Modular Framework to add layers and layers of mechanical complexity to the game going forward.

The trick we’re really trying to achieve is being able to use tiers of complexity to allow you to flesh out your games in any way you want. This approach will also allow us to deliver packs of new content and mechanics as and when they are developed, so that you can slot them into your games to make the experience new and refreshing even after hundreds of hours invested into playing Pulp RPG.

Mechanics packs will be included alongside Setting packs for things like Sci-Fi combat, Spaceship Battles and Hacking in the Pulp StarFight Setting Pack being developed right now.

We think this approach will allow both us and you as players to have our cake and eat it, by being able to get your teeth into oodles of new and interesting rules and tables, while still rooting the system in simplicity.

We certainly hope you agree! But we’d love to hear any feedback you have by either commenting down below or joining our Discord server. There’s usually someone there enthusiastic to answer any questions.

Link to Discord: https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

That’s all from us for now, but be sure to check back soon for a new update!

 

Happy gaming,
The Creator Consortium Crew.

Your Guide To Pulp RPG In The New Year

Hello there friends!

We’re here again to tell you all about the exciting things that are going to be happening with Pulp RPG in the near future. Recently we finished the first official draft of the basic rules; a lightweight roleplay system designed to allow you and your gaming group to seamlessly run games in any setting you’d like!

We’re very proud of how it turned out, and you can get your hands on the early release version by going over to our Discord server and shouting at us to hand it over!

Link to Discord: https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

We’re also nearing completion on the first official adventure pack for Pulp: Chasing Zombie Hitler Through Panama In 1948. This madcap adventure sees you taking the role of an auspicious stranger, caught up in post-war supernatural skullduggery, facing down the most evil man in history with the powers of undeath on his side. As normal with all pulp material, it will be free to download from this website once published in the new year.

We also have many exciting projects lined up for next year! We have The Godless Realm: the first official campaign setting for Pulp RPG, set in a boundless fantasy world inhabited by deadly gods and countless monsters for you and your friends to face.

Our podcast – “Talking Pulp” – where we discuss Godless Realm

Mr. Ferris is also working on a horror themed setting: Pulp Nightmare – you’ll find yourself immersed in a terrible post-apocalyptic world where truly, the only thing to fear, is fear itself.

Then lastly we have Mr. Steadman’s pet project: Pulp StarFight – a fully fleshed-out science fiction setting brimming with political intrigue, fleet battles and weird and wonderful alien races.

Our last article on Pulp RPG – Tons of info!

There is so much more to tell, but for fear of this article getting too wordy, we’re going to leave you guessing, but rest assured we’ve got a whole host of amazing content for you coming up in 2019, so stay tuned!

Sincerely yours,

The Creator Consortium Team.

Subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date! – http:/eepurl.com/dLtzIo

NaNoWriMo 2018: Woah-oh We’re Half Way There.

And so the sun rises on another day, and I realise that I’ve not been so productive or learned so much about my writing in many a year, for that I am grateful to NaNoWriMo. I’m really happy that I started this journey and am confident that I will finish, and that I will have a real body of work that I will be happy with at the end of it.

By now, if you are following along, you should be about half way through your story. I’d say I am definitely half way through and can present an ending, but I’m definitely feeling like I should be further along in the narrative, even though not a lot has happened really. I suppose that is a symptom of this challenge only being 50k words, which is very short for any sort of real story.

If you’re riding high on momentum, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re floating in the doldrums, hardly hitting your targets, or even staring down the barrel of a few 3000 word days, then just look at what you’ve done so far, appreciate that every word is another step to achieving your goals, and knuckle down to get this done.

Good luck, all. See you in another 10k words.

 

Join the discord to help build our community!

https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Setting the Mood

So here we are again, well into NaNoWriMo!

Today we’re going to take a look at how to set the mood of your writing, from simple scene setting, diction to dialogue, and how it wraps up. We’ll also mentioned briefly what to avoid (hopefully in a nice way). So, onward…

The Oxford Dictionary defines mood as:

“The atmosphere or pervading tone of something,” or “As modifier (especially of music) inducing or suggestive of a particular feeling or state of mind.”

When writing this can be as simple as the physical setting of your piece or, on a more complicated level, it could be represented by the thoughts and actions of your characters. If you’re writing a single short story the mood may not change. Conversely a novel will likely guide the reader through several different moods and back again repeatedly as the story arc unfolds.

We can look at mood in two different ways; mood in a narrative may possess a prevailing emotional aura of a words, or it could be a grammatical mechanic, such as the continued definition by the Oxford Dictionary:

“A category or form which indicates whether a verb expresses fact (indicative mood), command (imperative mood), question (interrogative mood), wish (optative mood), or conditionality (subjunctive mood).”

It’s quite a clunky definition but it can’t really be said in any other way!

So how do we create mood when we are writing, and how do we maintain the mood as we continue into a section or even change the mood? There’s quite a bit involved and some of it will come naturally to many writers – mood setting is as subjective as taste, colour and smell – people experience things differently (particularly between cultures). Let’s see where we can go with mood!

The Setting

It is traditionally accepted in any story that the physical setting of your writing is the best place to start. Here we subject the reader to their core senses, from sight and sound to smell and touch, hopefully generating an emotional response in their juicy brains by whetting their taste for the atmosphere we’re trying to create. Role-players and games masters will likely be familiar with this concept since it is vital to creating the atmosphere in their collective story. Let’s get a bit of practice in!

Start by choosing a place to describe, literally any place at all – I’m going to choose a beach and then I’m going to describe this beach in two different ways. Here’s our first example of this beach:

ocean waves

“A terrible leaden pall hangs over the foamy brine as waves invade the beach in broken lines. Amidst the slate shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lie discarded, cold from bygone and indifferent currents. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lies upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hide, biding their time.”

Our second example is hopefully lighter:

“A warm breeze filters through blue Elijah grass as rhythmic waves rustle to and fro against the smooth shingles of the beach proper. Scattered about the foreshore are tiny treasures from mariners-old, the largest, an upturned boat, its hull home to ancient barnacles. From the silvery water wave great tendrils of seaweed.”

In these two examples we can see there is a very different mood. The first is darker and foreboding, the second is warmer, happier with reflections to a merry past. In both examples I give the sense of colour, temperature and weather to hint at the atmosphere, helping to set the mood. In the second I described the same place in detail, but in lighter, warmer thoughts – gone is the grey sky and invading sea and in their place are blue grasses with calming and rhythmic waves. Even the old boat is seen in a different light, more as a refuge for nature than a wreck.

These examples don’t necessarily need to cover the same details re-skinned to change the mood, it’s just easier to give an example that way.

TL;DR: By focusing on different objects in a little more detail than normal we can show the reader important factors that suggest the mood to the reader, rather than simply telling them about the mood

Word choice or diction is important in describing the setting. Diction is simply the choice of words and phrases a writer uses. By using different words, we can show or hint at different mental states, creating different responses between scenes if necessary. In the first example I’ve used; terrible, pall, hangs, broken, rusty, discarded, shattered, ancient, pitted, and biding, among others. These are all words with a negative connotation, invoking old, war-like and dark emotions.

In the second, I use words like: warm, rhythmic, smooth, treasures, home and wave. These all have a positive connotation, inspiring thoughts of comfort, relaxation and home.

Finally, when your characters are interacting in this setting, think about how they act. Using verbs, how do the characters move about the setting? Some very simple examples of this movement are creeping or tiptoeing.

When a character walks, we don’t see or feel much for the action of moving. Walking is non-descript. Running is a little stronger, but could just be a form of jogging and is vague. Tiptoeing or creeping however suggests caution. Caution is a challenge which could have catastrophic effects for the character if they fail and are discovered, or perhaps they are trying to be considerate as they drunkenly arrive home one night?

What if you don’t like those words? Well, there’s always a trusty thesaurus! Instead of tiptoeing, we could use creeping, slinking, or sneaking to equally or perhaps better describe the action of moving to instantly create a mood with our character actions.

Caution however when using words to describe the setting, which go hand in hand with using emotions to help portray the mood: using words that are directly associated with the emotions of moods is likely to read poorly, such as jealous and joy etc. Try to avoid the clichés such as happy sun, sleepy moon or angry wind. Unless you’re writing a child’s story book, of course.

Be creative though, and mix up your descriptions, use some alliteration and other literary devices to add a bit of spice.

These sorts of techniques come naturally to some writers, often in a purely subconscious manner. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with this – quite often it is subjective and I firmly believe that you get better at this with experience and life generally – read more and you pick up the vibes from other authors. It’s almost likened to a shared writing experience.

A little note on tone. Tone is created by the choice of words you select when writing. Tone is the narrator’s attitude rather than the mood, which is felt rather than read.

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time

Time

Choosing the moment of your setting is equally important when writing to enhance mood. By creating the setting with a narrative arc, you can create tension or excitement. Think about it this way; your setting should have a beginning, a middle and an end just like any successful story. Start with character action, include the setting, then move onto an element of the story, finally conclude with some sort of discovery. Let’s have a go at creating an example from the one above, I’ll change the direction a little to focus on the past tense. (P.s, its just a draft which may evolve as we go on).

“A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines as people, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.”

This example may be a little off-putting without more context, but the elements of tension and underlying horror or fright are present without actually telling the readers they should be feeling these emotions.

We have a start – people walking, a middle – discovering the upturned boat, and finally the end – a warning or worry about the discovery. It’s not a full narrative arc with a conclusive ending, but then not every ending needs to be conclusive! Have a go carrying out this step with your own location and see if you can match a mood. Get someone to read it and ask them what they feel from it.

The great thing about these skills is that they can be used for literally any genre. We’ve seen how mood changes with simple language use to cause tension to build up in small narrative arcs, powering your reader through to the end. So, we’ve covered mood with a setting with some examples, and we’ve mentioned diction as a strong tool for creating a feeling and a sense for a location, with some character action… what is next?

Pacing & Rhythm

Pacing is a great tool for creating mood in the form of tension, or lack thereof. Short and sharp sentences are capable of producing suspense when they play out over a paragraph – but careful not to overdo short sentences as it can lose its influence quickly.

Longer sentences, with commas, help to produce vivid and deep thought as the reader takes a mental breath at each clause. You’ll often find this in prose and poetry, but it is a valid literary tool for fiction. Getting the balance right is tricky but rewarding. Take time to read each line when you are editing and feel the bounce of the rhythm. If it fits the mood, then you’ve cracked it!

marketing man person communication

Dialogue

(I’ve covered dialogue previously, but I’ll go over a few more ideas here.)

Here we’ll look at dialogue and monologue as a way of creating the mood in a literary piece.

Dialogue is communication between two or more characters, whereas monologue is simply a single character’s thoughts or words kept to themselves. Focusing on dialogue, we find that no two conversations are going to be the same, but their moods can be. As with the example above regarding setting, the same conversation can be had with different moods by use of diction and dialogue. However, unlike with a descriptive setting, dialogue uses line and sentence length, grammar and punctuation to more effect. Let’s use an example to give us a better idea:

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There’s is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“We should move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please. Caution, my lord. This is dangerous!” said Rolf, tugging at the tails of his beard.

“No. We look closer. Move.” Said Ragnar, pointing to the boat.

OK, it’s not book-signing quality dialogue, but it’s a very simple example of the mood. We know that they have arrived in a place (in context, the beach we spoke about earlier). There is something unusual going on as Eric thinks he has seen this before in a dream.

Eric talks in longer lines and focuses on the details of his surroundings – he is not worried, more likely overcome with wonder at the similarities between the place and his dream. Ragnar seems to be giving orders, despite the advice from Rolf who seems to be worried. Rolf talks in shorter sentences, suggesting he talks quickly. We added an exclamation mark to his speech to punch his meaning, suggesting he is tense.

Ragnar uses similar short sentences but in a different form; he is curt and to the point, giving the command to get closer with a single, final word. We get the impression Ragnar is not a thoughtful leader of his people, since he seems to be single minded about the situation.

Monologues work in much the same way: whereas a dialogue involves two more characters conversing on the subject, a monologue is self-centered on the character. A key difference however is the ability for the characters internal thoughts to be at a complete juxtaposition to their environment, which can add distance between the character and their surroundings. As with any dialogue, a monologue should only ever push the story and plot forwards, otherwise we do not need to read about it!

We can see that the dialogue on its own can be successful by itself, but by combining our examples of setting and dialogue, the mood and atmosphere are supported:

A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines. People, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly – a shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“Move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please! Caution, my lord Ragnar – this is dangerous,” said Rolf, biting at the tips of his fingers.

“No. Look closer. Move,” said Ragnar, pointing.

TL;DR, the setting and dialogue should relate to each other through the mood of the piece. Cute and sunny will likely lift the mood of most people unless they’ve suffered a terrible loss, likewise, dark and chilling is not likely to lift someone’s mood unless they’re part of the Addam’s Family!

What to Avoid

So the message that should be loud and clear by now is to not tell the reader how a character feels, particularly by using words such as happy and sad. Instead, we now know to describe the feeling and the reaction to the feeling. We can describe the surroundings of of the character in the setting to support any dialogue and emotions to create the mood. And the mood should develop with the narrative arc of the section and the whole piece of your writing to keep it flowing to a rhythm.

Show, don’t tell, as they say.

If you’re really stuck

Here’s an idea to get you out of a rut. Let’s say your trying to write the mood and you’re really stuck with where to start. My advice is start with what the characters sense first, or if there are no characters, what the reader would be to sense first. This is usually, sight, sound, smell and finally tactile. Write a list of single words you could describe the setting and mood with, any words that fit or could fit. When you’ve got a good number of them, go through them and cut out the ones that seem too weak or flimsy. Now put them in order as we just mentioned (sight, sound etc). Using this as a framework, start filling it out as a paragraph… then go from there!

That concludes this installment. It’s been a busy few weeks with all our projects on the go, but we’re enjoying every moment of it!

Don’t forget to leave a comment, like, or an upvote if you’ve found this helpful. We’re all for helping!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Pulp RPG Leaves Pre-Alpha.

Over the last few weeks, we here at CreatorConsortium have been hard at work developing our Tabletop Roleplaying Game, dubbed Pulp RPG. This process has been a ton of fun for everyone here as we’ve really had the time and opportunity to nail down what we want to achieve with the game, so it’s with pride that we announce that Pulp has left the Pre-Alpha stage within one month of it’s inception.

We’ve always loved RPGs and regularly run and participate in many and varied games. Pulp RPG is the culmination of both the experience we feel we’ve gained in analysing what makes these kinds of games fun, but also our frustrations with what we see as bloated, monolithic systems that lack dynamism and the scope to let the players along with the GM focus on the roleplay, and indeed let it flow organically into the mechanics and vice versa.

This is why we have created Pulp RPG. Our first play test happened recently and really energised the whole development process, as we saw first hand how fun and different Pulp felt. We are so happy with how we’ve really nailed down the features we wanted while allowing ourselves plenty of room to grow and adapt to any player or GM with our modular development model.

You see, pulp isn’t just one system, it’s a simple, simple scaffolding that allows you to be able to build any story you want inside a genuinely fun, crunchy system which will grow with you. We have a huge opportunity to build intricate settings that span centuries, all connected by modules and eras, otherwise known as Content Packs, every one of which will be bursting with all the tools and rules you need to set up a fully fledged Pulp RPG game in any setting.

The last thing we must stress is just how easy Pulp is to play. You only need one six-sided die, the Free rules, one A4 sheet of paper and a pencil. We believe that we’re going to be the easiest Tabletop RPG to go from never knowing the game to rolling some dice and swinging a sword, while of course cursing the fickle hand of fate.

I hope you’ll join us in raising a glass on this, the first in many milestones!

If you are interested in following the development, be sure to check out the very first Devlog Podcast, where creators J.D.Ferris and J.A.Steadman dissect the first play test:

THE DEVS PLAY THE FIRST EVER SESSION OF CC’S NEW GAME: PULP RPG.

Or you can keep in touch with us directly on the discord. We’re a new site, which means people who connect with us early on will have a direct line to all the latest news and insight on our projects(and maybe get a copy of the pre-alpha rules, if you nag us.):

CreatorConsortium Discord.

NaNoWriMo Update: 10000 words.

We’re about a fifth of the way through the challenge now, and it’s already been an interesting learning experience for me as a writer. When I began the challenge, I was coming at it from a place of weakness, I hadn’t written much fiction in the last year, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it; to get myself back on the horse.

Well as I approached my new book, I felt that I needed to change my style and approach if I was going to hit my word count every day. (Which I have.) In the past I heavily edited my prose as I wrote it, referring to extensive notes and altering paragraphs to make sense in the context of later ones.

It’s only now that I realise how bad of an idea that is when you consider the whole body of work. My new approach is to just furiously write the prose, being careful to leave mental markers outlining the intent of my story as I go, for example: making sure to mention any sort of conflict going on between two characters, but don’t feel the need to expound on it in detail; hint to a shadow in someone’s past so I know, reading through it later in the editing stage, that I must give a little more information on it.

This approach allows me to really keep pushing these buttons on this keyboard instead of staring at the screen. I am also going to write a body of notes at the end of each week, to give me a reference guide to the lore and any mental markers I need to keep in my head as we go.

The most important thing is to keep writing. Whatever stage of the process you’re at, you can do this! It might seem a herculean effort, but it’s just one day at a time.

Until next time; go and write!

If you’re interested in chatting to the team here at CC, hop on over to the discord. We’re trying to create a community and we need all the nerds we can get!

Discord  Link: https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

NaNoWriMo started today! Hu-rarrgh! So let’s get down to business, because I know for a fact you’re just taking a break from smashing today’s word goal, and research counts, right?

Today we’ll be looking at dialogue and how dialogue not only gives your characters depth and well, character, but also helps you advance the plot of your story.

I’m going to split this episode into two sections; literal advice on dialogue and then characterisation, which is a deeper and heavier topic which I will touch on.  I won’t cover grammar here because that is a lesson all of its own, but I’ll include some links for you to look at.

Dialogue is the verbal interaction between two or more characters which your reader is privy to. If the character is talking alone, we call it a monologue. Both of these are useful as writing techniques and I’ll cover a few interesting ideas soon. First, I want to show you an example of how dialogue can work:

“What are we watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“Amazing.”
“We could watch Indiana Jones if you’d like?” she said.
“Nah, Star Wars. With popcorn.”

This is pretty basic dialogue, it’s OK but it doesn’t really make for good reading and frankly, its dull. I’ll rewrite this section and you can see for yourself how a little conflict can really give it more energy and readability.

“What are watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“That shit, again?”
“We haven’t watched any Star Wars since Sunday night,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. And the Sunday before that and the one before that! Don’t you ever try something new, Sarah?”

This rewrite has conflict, unlike the original draft. It’s pretty mundane stuff but actually gives a little bit of purpose to the dialogue – we learn more about the characters in the same amount of text without really having to change much. Dialogue is plot, plot is confrontation, confrontation is dramatic and therefore entertaining to read. If your dialogue does not advance the plot or aids in creating your character, remove it. It isn’t helping.

So, onto the juicy stuff.

Part One – Literary Tactics on Dialogue

Organics

The primary rule here is that fictional dialogue of any sort is not directly transposed from real-life dialogue. It doesn’t work, because when we talk naturally we interrupt ourselves with filler noises while we think or sigh and make gestures with our bodies. With this in mind, keep your dialogue concise, meaning you should cut it right back to the essentials only. If there is no character advancement or plot work going on, get rid of it as it doesn’t make for good reading.

While we’re at it – we don’t always use social niceties when we talk. I am forever just shouting a colleagues name, sometimes getting it wrong on purpose. It’s also not organic to greet someone formally every time they come into the room to talk. This leads nicely into using incomplete or cut back sentences. Rather than ask:

“Do you want to drink some beer with me?”

We would simply say:

“Want a beer?”

It is implied that by asking about the possession of beer, you’re likely to share it.

Tags and Vacuum Speech

Tags are really simple devices to break up the dialogue. In real life we don’t just face each other and speak blandly forwards, often we are pausing or watching the other person for reactions. Stephen King makes it very clear that simply using the word said is more than enough of a tag to help the reader keep up with the dialogue. He said, she said, or using the character name sparingly is enough of a tag to help the conversation flow.

Be careful with tags though, as they can easily become overused and distract the reader with a speedy battle of paddle war. To get around this, using descriptive tags can alter the pace of your dialogue. Descriptive tags are little actions which we all do when we talk; preparing food, typing away at a computer desk or lighting a cigarette. These descriptions give a sense of life and purpose to the characters. Caution though, avoid adverbs (usually ending in the suffix ‘ly’) such as frighteningly. Rather, describe these actions and emotions with the characters reactions.

Line Punch

Another easy little device is to alter the length of lines in your dialogue. Shortening lines in a dialogue adds some punch into the conversation by allowing the reader to break or rest for a brief moment. Overextending the reader is usually a result of boring, lengthy lines of dialogue which feel faked.

If one character is talking with lengthy lines and the responses are single words or short and sharp lines, we may assume that the second character is being evasive or unhelpful.

Tension can also be built up as dialogue lines become shorter, suggesting the conversation is reaching a climax where neither character is prepared to talk further, possibly resulting in conflict.

Part 2 – Characterisation & Dialogue

Collins English Dictionary describes characterisation as:

“Characterization is the way an author or an actor describes or shows what a character is like.”

The key words here are describes and shows. As with any writing devices, it is always preferred to show the reader rather than tell them (especially when it comes to exposition). For this reason you must consider your character in detail and then use their dialogue or monologue to effectively portray who they are. This is tricky, but with some background notes you should be able to overcome dry dialogue. The following are not in any particular order of importance.

Emotional conventions are habits learned from background and upbringing. They will add life and realism to your characters with proper use. In some cases however it is always best to avoid stereotypes, even mild ones, as these may seem trite.

books on bookshelves

Education

Education is an important consideration. Educated people behave differently from those with a poor or no education. Characters are likely to appear less aggressive (although appearances can be deceptive) with an education, avoiding direct confrontation and possess a wider vocabulary than others while likely to use correct grammar. Educated characters are also likely to use literary devices like rhetoric to convey their meaning and intent. Conversely, those with a poor education are more likely to use colloquialisms and repeat themselves..

Gender (Stereotypes)

Gender in dialogue only really refers to the stereotypes. Generally female dialogue is considered to be wandering and generally less competitive with a focus on establishing common ground, than male dialogue. This doesn’t mean your female character has to be these things, of course not. However it does highlight how readers perceive female dialogue to be. Finally, it is considered to be widely accepted for a women to be more emotional in public, whereas men are often ridiculed or treated with a measure of discomfort for showing strong emotions in public. Play around with these ideas, and be happy with how much you include in your dialogue. Stereotypes can be ignored!

Family & Religious Background

Every family is unique with its little quirks and traditions and sometimes religious practices plays into those quirks. Where family promotes its own habits of emotion, religion often has social constraints and these will help define your character and their dialogue. Usually a strong religious background will prevent cussing or taking a deities name in vain. A character with strict parents, for example a stern military figure, may remain taciturn and stoic during most of the dialogue and may struggle with showing emotions. Those with a formal upbringing are less likely to interrupt others and use formal titles when addressing figures of authority. Think about where your character has come from and who they are forming a dialogue with.

three women wearing turbands

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a tricky element of a character. As mentioned previously, it is best to avoid stereotypes, but then again, they exist. Ethnicity tends to be tied closely with the previous sections of characterisation. Consider for a moment a high powered business man standing before a board of shareholders. Chances are you imagined a white caucasian man in a suit. Now imagine this business man has received news of the death of a friend, does he; break down in tears or does he clench his jaw, finish the meeting and go home to his den and drink whiskey in stony silence?

Consider a street vendor who sells food receiving the same news, surrounded by his community and friends. Is he more likely to break down in tears than the previous example? Likely, yes. In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to drop to the floor in tears, or wail freely. The point we’re trying to make here is that emotion and dialogue are connected, and different ethnicity’s will react to strong emotion or sudden change with different responses. Linking back to education, you may find that the business man will respond to grief with definite terms and phrases, whereas the street vendor is likely to repeat themselves and stammer, vocalising their dismay openly and sporadically.

Circumstances

Circumstances alter our dialogue drastically and are strongly linked to the timing of the characters dialogue. Consider the following lines:

“An hour into our night patrol and suddenly we’re taking fire, tracer rounds lighting up the ridge dead ahead. A storm of bullets was tearing our position up and I had trouble shouting out call signs – I had to check for injured but I couldn’t move my damn lips!”

This is an example of character describing a previous incident. When reflecting, people tend to focus on giving the reader a sense of backstory and details which had likely been soaked in subconsciously. If the action was taking place in real time, either through a flashback or direct descriptions the dialogue would be very different. Keep the context, cut the dialogue right back to something simple, your character probably doesn’t have time to think of a full sentence:

“Taking fire, find cover!”

Or in our previous example, no dialogue at all. Sometimes silence is enough for the reader to get the idea.

Concluding this episode

Some of the best advice you can get is to break the rules, play with your dialogue and proof it many times. If you’re not happy with, move on and come back to it. If you’re unsure, read out the lines as if you were acting and see if the dialogue for each character sounds different enough to be real.

Here’s a nice link for grammar in dialogue. It’s nicely worded, but be aware that dialects of English, such as UK and US English will have a few different ideas. Personally I think if you stick to one type you’ll be fine!

Finally, if you can get a copy, this is the best book I’ve seen out there for UK grammar.

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

NaNoWriMo Day 1: Unexpected Lessons.

The first day is done. Well, there’s plenty of daylight left but I powered through last night and got to my word count by about 4AM. It was nice to feel so motivated, so I kept telling myself that I could write this piece afterwards to document my experience, which got me to the end. You have to find ways of justifying the effort to yourself, especially if you have problems with motivation like me. We’re getting there.

I had the bare bones of my story in my mind and some scant notes, but I didn’t really know how I was going to flesh out the character development. So that was my goal going into it, using the narrative ideas I’d come up with as a vehicle to develop those ideas, I found that not knowing myself really helped me present those ideas to the reader in a cogent way, and by the end of the first 1680 words, I found that I knew who my protagonist was, what she cared about and developed her relationships with her parents.

It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you sit down, have a plan, and put the work in.

I hope this article format is interesting. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk about their NaNoWriMo experience, I’d be happy to start a dialogue.

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