Friday 28 December 2018

Lake Town Fun

As you can probably see from this photo, one of my gifts this year was a Lake Town House from the Lord of the Rings range. I had thought it had good potential, as the architecture style was generic enough to be used as a Rohan, Viking, Victorian era or general fantasy building. The walkways could be used as in the box, as a harbour side, or in a muddy village setting as pathways (I got this idea in a recreated Danelaw village in Yorkshire). The boat would have lots of uses and there are quite a few little extras like baskets, barrels and such like. Here you can see the house built, with the square wooden platform intended as the house base, instead used as a dock/jetty.

As I was building the couple of barrels I remembered I had a set of Renedra barrels squirreled away and cracked them open too. My dock area quickly filled up and I was just about to throw away the used sprue, when it occurred to me that it could be a useful frame. A little bit of work cutting and glueing coffee stirrers to the used sprue and I had a second dock area. They could also be used to make elementary shapes, to make planked buildings like small sheds or animal shelters. Fun times.

Thursday 20 December 2018

The Last Vikings

As it's the last Thursday (Thor's Day) before the xmas festivities take a hold, I have to concede defeat on completing the whole bondi unit. There's just one left to finish, oh so close. I would not usually spend so much time on "grunts", but these models are so well sculpted and have such lovely details that it seems a crime to rush through them. So here we are, one (not two) more spear armed bondi added to the mix. He's second from the right, wearing his winter mittens!

I also photographed some previously finished axemen in a group together. These are grizzled veterans, they have seen many a winter and perhaps look a bit out of shape, but you can be sure their experience on the battlefields of the past will see them through.

These groups are actually two of the sets sold by V&V Miniatures. I have said it before and will say it again - they are superb figures and if you are in the market for top quality sculpts and casts, they are your number one option.

So that's a wrap on the vikings for this year. I will get the lone bondi finished for sure and I do also have a special guest character I want to paint before year's end. I also have lots more viking goodies on the way, part of a special yule delivery - I made a list of the things I would like and sent them out to family, not sure which I will get as yet. And I have some plans to make some terrain, develop some background, a little art perhaps.......all for next year of course.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Another pair of bondi

My plan was to complete the whole unit of eight bondi before the end of the month, but that's just not going to be possible now, so I thought I would photograph another pair rather than wait even longer for an update. So here we are, two more of the V&V Miniatures vikings. The younger warrior sports a shaven head, I have added some tattoos to the exposed skin, but you cannot really see this from the front. He also has a little fancy embroidery on the collar of his tunic.

The second warrior is a more unusual pose, wielding his spear in a two handed grip with his shield slung over his shoulder. He also wears a padded tunic, which I have seen some objections to on some parts of the internet as it's generally regarded to be a post viking era garment. My own view is that we know so little for certain about the appearance of the vikings - their clothing, their hair, shield designs, etc. The little "evidence" we have is related (often by their foes) decades or centuries after they were around, so hardly reliable, factual witnesses. It seems to me unlikely that they would not have padded their clothing to give some protection. Whatever the truth, this toy soldier is wearing a padded tunic.

I took a photo of the four spear armed bondi in a miniature shield wall, it's a nice little diorama. I have chatted to a few re-enactors who have said that it's likely the warriors acted in pairs or teams, with one providing protection with a shield while his comrade stood behind thrusting a spear. We will never know if this is true or not, but it does look good.

Saturday 17 November 2018

More bondi

You might be thinking that there is a Gaelic vibe to these figures, with the darker hair colours and the plaid of the cloak. I suppose most people think of vikings as Scandinavian in origin. While it's true that they did originally set sail from northern Europe, many settled in lands they had raided. In England, a large contingent settled in the east and north of the country, forming what would later become known as the Danelaw. There were also sizeable colonies in the Scottish islands, the Isle of Man (off the west coast of northern England), and famously it was viking settlers who founded the Irish city of Dublin. It was these I had in mind when painting these figures. Once settled, it's likely that the vikings would have adapted to their new culture, in order to be accepted by the locals, and one way to fit in is by wearing their clothing. In addition, there could easily have been recruitment of local Irish/Gaelic stock into the ranks too - voluntarily or otherwise. So it's perfectly feasible (in my mind) to have viking troops not exactly fitting the usual blonde Norse stereotypes.

Of course, we have no idea what they looked like anyway, most of our pre-conceived ideas come from later medieval artwork and Victorian romanticism, but that's another post for another day.

With these two figures added, the unit now totals four bondi - half a point in Saga terms. I was hoping to have the whole unit done by the end of the month, and I am still just about on target. I am quite busy at the moment and with the festive season approaching I suspect hobby time will diminish, but I will keep plodding on, "little and often gets it done" is my mantra. If I don't manage to hit the deadline, it's not a big issue. After all, Rome (or even Dublin) was not built in a day.

Thursday 8 November 2018

Viking Bondi

A pair of bondi completed. These are the V&V Miniatures I have been working on for the past couple of weeks. As you can see, they are packed with detail and have lovely proportions. I have set myself a loose target of completing them by the end of the month, so getting two done now means I am on target.

The figure with the hat took me longer to complete. I painted some trim on his tunic and his shirt. I got this idea from visiting re-enactments, where often viking women are sat in tents making these "ribbons" from wool. It seems an easy thing to do, so I reckon most warriors would have these little extras on their clothing. I also painted stripes on the trousers but they are hard to see, I need to be a little bolder in colour choice at times.

The bare headed figure I intended to paint in a pale, neutral tone, to represent unbleached fabric. But the original shade was too blue, so I glazed over it with yellow and ended with a green grey mix. The shading is a little too contrasty for me, I prefer more subtle tones. The leather shoulder pads I think I may have misinterpreted the sculpt. Looking at photos from re-enactments I think it was intended to be a cloth hood. I assumed it was leather to give some basic protection to the shoulder areas. I do like the head though, this old boy is full of character.

Thursday 25 October 2018

A Visit to Valhalla!

I have been to Valhalla! It was not full of viking warriors drinking ale, fighting and carousing, but a few tourists drinking beer and chatting. Maybe I got the wrong one - this pub in York is the one I visited. Wooden benches, fur blankets, flickering (medieval) lamps, runes carved into timbers, there was even mead served in horns. It was definitely characterful bordering on cheesey/comical, but it served nice beer and there were plenty of beards to check out.

It did inspire me to dig out some of my vikings that I had started to paint back in the spring. Just a pair of them to finish off a small unit of bereserkers. These are V&V miniatures, which I have said before are probably the finest sculpts available to budding jarls, as long as you don't mind working with resin and paying a little extra than usual. 

One of the two figures does look a little too old to be a berserker. I did reinforce the age vibe with his silvery beard and tattered clothing. With that bandage round his head he has the appearance of a walking wounded, so there's a good chance he will be demoted to a bondi at some stage in the future, though the blood spatters on his axe and shield suggest he should not be underestimated.

And here's the unit of four berserkers ready to wreak havoc on their weakling opponents. More vikings to come in the next few months I think. There's the long-awaited (by me at least) Saga battle book just been announced, so I am keen to get some more of the Northmen painted and ready for action. For the glory of Odin!

Thursday 11 October 2018

Pair of Orcs

I finished painting my pair of old orcs. When I started them I applied a fairly neutral bland pale green, then added some quite intense green, blue and yellow inks to create the different green tones. I did also apply some fairly basic highlights (just dots of a light beige) before glazing with the highlight tones. The interesting thing is how intense the figures started, but gradually toned down as more shading was applied and the rest of the figure was painted. If I was really radical I could probably replace my whole collection of paints with about a dozen paints and half a dozen inks.*

These figures date back to 1992. That was the year I started playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle, with the boxed set containing plastic night goblins and elves. I loved the elves, the models were really nice and it probably stirred my inner Tolkien nerd. I also collected Undead, as they were easier to paint. I never really appreciated the greenskins, they seemed deliberately jokey and not to my taste - and anyway my brother collected those so I never gave them a second thought.

Fast forward to the start of this year, 2018, so that's about 26 years later. I had been up in the loft on the annual xmas decoration hunt, when I came across all my old White Dwarf magazines. I dragged them down and had a flick through, especially those very early issues when I first started gaming. It's definitely a nostalgia trip, and a lot of figures have been collected, painted, played with and sold down that quarter of a century. Somehow, I suddenly realised how much I missed the simplicity of those older models. Not the elves, they are covered in jewels and other details, but the orcs and goblins in particular struck me as very simple, but evocative. After scoring a couple of good deals on ebay and facebook, I had a handful of greenskins to add to Mount Unpainted. And now, ten months later, I have painted three of them. Maybe, in another 25 years, I will have them completed. The original post on the troll can be found here.

*Hmmmm, maybe this would be a good project for the new year?

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Orctober Orcs (and Dwarfs)

A quick post to show that I am still here, though painting has slowed due to holidays and work. Still, there is a little progress, this time on my Middlehammer projects.

These two orcs are part of a small collection I have accrued over the past year, from various places like ebay and facebook. My idea was to collect the models from 1992, the year I started playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It's proven to be very difficult to get the figures, I still have some holes in the collection, but I thought I would make a start anyway on the painting. I chose these two as they do not have shields, so I don't have to fret over how to handle them. They are quite close to completion already, they were joyfully easy to paint, mainly using inks in a little experiment.

And then there are the six dwarfs. These were started in September, I wanted to see how far I could get on small sessions and am documenting the time taken in each progress photo - hence the 57:00 minutes in the top left. Things are moving along on them and they too should be finished soon.

Eventually, I will have a good sized dwarf force and a smaller band of greenskins. My aim is a  fairly haphazard one of having enough troops to play Saga (about 50 or 60 per warband), with a longer term goal of them just growing until I have finished my collection. It's strange really that they mirror my other current project, painting orcs and dwarfs for Lord of the Rings - though they feel in aesthetics and painting style like completely different ranges.

Sunday 16 September 2018

Mordor Marches Out

Finally. After a very long summer and numerous other distractions -  ten weeks after the last game - dice have been rolling again in Matt's dungeon. I wanted to play with my newly painted Mordor orcs, so we decided on a nice and easy game of Dragon Rampant. The game is really designed for smaller forces than we were using, so we added a few tweaks to accommodate the larger number of units - allowing a commander to fail three activation tests before ending his turn. We also relaxed the three inch rule for friendly units. And we just lined up our armies for a good old pitched battle rather than play one of the wacky scenarios from the booklet. Sometimes, especially as a Mordor orc, you just want to get stuck in and smash some bones. This photo shows most of my force deployed for the battle, just out of frame were a unit of six cowardly warg riders who behaved so badly in game they do not deserve to appear in this post!

Across the table were Faramir's brave men of Gondor. A lot less bodies than the orcs, though as you might expect, considerably more skilled in combat. And with both forces lined up and ready, we started playing. Dragon Rampant is a nice system for quick and easy games. Our tweaks worked well and we found that in most turns both players were able to activate most of their units. It wouldn't be Dragon Rampant without those infuriating (at times) activation fails, but the three fail rule cushioned the blow for the most part and it felt more like a conventional wargame to me.

Most of the fighting took place in the centre of the table, with the orcs rushing forward to a more conservative Gondor force. I made a deployment error, the troll hidden in the woods seemed like a good idea when I saw all the archers across the board, but three consecutive activation fails and then a slow slog through the woods meant he was wasted in game terms. Only towards the end of the game did the troll manage to finally smash some Gondor skulls.

The rest of the battle ebbed and flowed nicely, first one side seeming to have the upper hand, then the other seeming to take control. Pictures speak volumes, so here's a few to give a flavour of the action.

By the end of the battle, both sides had taken a considerable beating and fought to a stalemate. I think in terms of a "result" it was most likely a draw. But gaming is not about winning or losing, it's about getting your lovingly painted toys out of their box for a couple of hours to run round on some nice terrain.

I posted a couple of pictures on facebook and got a lot of compliments (and questions) on the terrain, which is nice but totally undeserved as it's all Matt's. The "board" is a faux fur fleece throw or blanket, oversprayed in part with cheap aerosol paints. The terrain is a mix of scratch-built and some items from Thomarillion.

More games to come in the future I hope. I am already thinking about how to beef up my orcs in some way and would like to add some black orcs. And with ONLY 99 DAYS to go until xmas, I may well be adding considerable reinforcements at that time. Faramir, what's that in the sky?

Saturday 1 September 2018

Dwarf Warriors WIP

As I mentioned in my previous post, the dwarfs are back. Here are the first half of a planned unit of twelve. I seem to have taken so long to get together this small bunch, it's been two years since I started work on them, though only the one plastic warrior at the rear survives from that first attempt. I know a lot of people like the cartoonish, gnome-like figures of old. I do myself, in some cases. But I have always felt that basic dwarf infantry have been a bit, ahem, short changed. The fluff and artwork have always described them as hardy, well armed, doughty fighting warriors, but the models have always portrayed them more as bumbling oafs. I want my warriors to look battle-hardened, experienced and a bit grim.

These are a varied collection of many different generations of the dwarf. Front left and front centre are both Marauder dwarf figures from 1992 I believe. The centre figure had a strange pom-pom on his helmet, which I cut away and replaced with the banner top from the figure rear left, which then had a plastic bit from the current hammerers set. This will be the banner bearer of the unit, though originally it was a runesmith from around 2005 I would guess. The rear central figure is an old Anvil bodyguard, again from around 1992. And the drummer is a longbeard from the mid to late 1990's. So this one unit contains bits spreading over 25 years, which I find particularly fitting as it matches my time in the hobby.

It's been a long road to get here, but I finally feel happy with my initial selection. The second half of the unit will no doubt cause more headaches, but I can cross that bridge some other time. For now, I can get on with happy task of painting.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

More dwarfs emerge

Dwarfs are on my mind at the moment. I have recently painted some for my Lord of the Rings collection and am also painting some on commission. It made me think back to my Dwarfs of Oakenheim project, a loose collection of Warhammer dwarfs that I have acquired down the years. One thing sorely lacking from that force is a unit of basic warriors, something I have spent a lot of time pondering. I did make a start on some conversions, but I have my doubts about them. So I had a sort through my metals and decided that this would make a good start to a unit. It's a mixed bunch, but that's fine I think.

Thursday 23 August 2018

More Mordor Orcs

I have recently been feeling a little frustrated at a lack of progress in my painting. I just don't seem to get much finished. There's plenty of half-painted figures around, but I wanted something quick and easy to do. I decided that Mordor orcs are about the fastest thing I can paint to completion so dug a handful of those out of the cupboard. I had almost sold these at one point, convinced I would never come back to them because I already have enough orcs for the type of games I play. But with the recent announcement on a Lord of the Rings starter box, they were in my mind, so I thought what the heck, you can never have too many maggots to throw at the enemy.

A while back* I wrote a tutorial on speed painting Mordor orcs, which proved useful to me here. I made a few tweaks this time around, priming a brown to hopefully speed the process, which did seem to work.

If you look closely you will see that there are a few variations in the unit. These are basic head and weapons swaps, but also the addition of a few extra bits from the Oathmark goblins set. Anything to try to avoid the cloned look of single pose figures.

After three or four painting sessions, the orcs were complete. They are not prize winning paint jobs by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they are little more than base coat and wash. But they are fifteen figures that were unpainted, now painted to add to my tally. And that's a good feeling after recent hobby apathy.

Lumping all the Mordor orcs together there's around fifty of the maggots now. With all my other orcs, there's at least a hundred of them painted and ready to battle. There's a certain quality to be had in a large quantity of troops.

*May 2013 in fact, more than five years ago - where do those years go?

Monday 20 August 2018

Vikings Wear Eye Liner

And other fascinating tidbits on the famous dark ages raiders...

A small band of vikings have invaded Rheged and set up camp. Rather than looting and pillaging, they seem content to charm the locals with displays of their combat prowess, weaving skills and culinary talents.

I visited a viking re-enactment over the weekend. There was a small number of vikings and Saxons engaged in mock combat, a camp of about a dozen tents with various occupants. It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Chatting with the participants is always informative, they seem very knowledgeable, though they do bust a few myths! I took a selection of snaps for inspiration for our toy soldiers.

I was unable to get close shots of all the combatants, probably just as well because they looked far from fierce! Notice that the garments are quite drab and that most colours are not particularly vibrant.

Samples of dyed wools on the left, while on the right woven ribbons used to decorate tunics. Those yellows look quite bright, while the reds seem more brown or tangerine. Rich red was probably hard to achieve. If you want your toys to look authentic, better paint them in pink pastels!

Some of the dye materials, which were various dried and ground plants, tree bark and minerals. Colour would also be picked up from the pot used to dye the wool.

A richly decorated scabbard, probably the property of the lord or one of his close circle.

Swords and helmets were the property of the richest members of society. We were told that a sword would cost about £80,000 in today's prices - not sure how they arrived at the figure, it seems very high to me, but I think we generally agree that swords were for the few, not the many. If your little toy bondi are wielding such blades, they probably shouldn't be - unless they pinched it from a dead lord! I'm not sure the shield device is accurate, lifted from the Vikings TV series.

The star of the show for me was this fine looking fellow. A viking berserker you cry! Actually, he was the camp cook and spent most of his time stirring a huge cauldron of bubbling pork stew. He made his own silver jewellery, which was based on various treasure hoard finds. Note also his well groomed facial hair and clean appearance. Vikings were probably very popular with the local ladies - they bathed every Saturday and took pride in their appearance. There's even some grave evidence that they wore eye liner to improve their looks. Little wonder then that there's plenty of viking DNA mingled in with our own.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Lord of the Old Forest

Hobbying has taken a back seat recently to summer activities. Apart from an hour last weekend, it's been almost a whole month with nothing painted. However, as I had the camera out to photograph a commission piece, I thought I would dig something out of the glass cabinet.

This is an old metal Beastmen figure, I think it was a unit champion back in the day. I added the plastic antlers and the (probably very impracticable) flail to the weapon handle. It was painted purely for fun, there's no army for him to lead (yet....).

At the time I think I was experimenting with monotone palettes. It certainly is that! If I was painting it today I would make the skin paler and the armour darker.  I have always liked this simple conversion, maybe I should repaint it at some time, make it a bit less mono, a bit more toned.

Thursday 2 August 2018

The Red Death

A blood red moon hangs in the night sky as the Lord of Bleak Fell continues his journey into the ancient catacombs deep inside the Helsridge mountains. More spirits have been awakened. These creatures were once executioners, the swish of their scythes the last thing heard by many a victim, their robes stained red over a lifetime of bloody decapitations. The Red Death has been unleashed.

Four more spirits added to my Undead army. These wraiths are lovely models - they have so much movement and animation, a great improvement on the clunky old metal figures. When it came to painting them I was torn between two possible schemes. I did think that they were little bit like Harry Potter dark wizards, black robes and mist floating through the sky. But I thought that might be a bit dull and not really fit in with the rest of the army, which is quite colourful considering it's dead! So I went instead with an old school vibe of red robes, coupled with the ochre brown tones from the Warden's robes.

In truth I am unsure if the scheme works that well. I can never quite decide if high contrast is a good thing - the dark red and the light blue mist are poles apart.There's also a slight gloss sheen on the robes that I cannot get rid off which is distracting my eye. I am going to put them to one side, call them done for now, maybe tinker with them again at some future point.

They took a while to get painted, what with the recent heatwave and the usual summer time distractions. There's a handful of figures still to do from the Soul Wars set, including the pick of the bunch for me, the mounted spectral knight. Hopefully I can get them painted before another distraction comes along. I am already starting to think about another two factions to add my fantasy collection!

Tuesday 17 July 2018

The Warden and the Awakener

The Undead are stirring from their slumber. In the long hot summer days, life is good and few mortals give any thought to the terrors of the dark. And yet, deep in the Helsridge mountains, untold horrors are about to be unleashed. The Lord of Bleak Fell has been searching in the cool darkness, for burial crypts long forgotten. Protected by magical wards even he cannot fathom, these tombs are the resting place of powerful warriors and dread sorcerors. He must find the Warden, the Key Keeper of the burial grounds. Only this creature can locate and unlock the ancient sarcophigi. Even then, the spirits entombed will remain at rest. And so the Lord of Bleak Fell also searches for the Awakener......

The lure of the new Games Workshop nighthaunt range proved too much for my weak resolve to not buy any new figures. In my defence, these are my first major purchase of the year. I thought they would make a nice addition to my Undead force. These are a couple of the models from the Soul Wars beginner boxset. I have kept a few of the spirit models and sold on the rest, to keep the cost of my impulse manageable.

I managed to carve out a little hobby time over the weekend and rattled through this pair in a couple of sessions. The Warden I imagine to have been a lowly prison keeper in his time. When death came, his spirit wandered, unable to rest after the unspeakable cruelties he had inflicted during his miserable lifetime. The palette had to be something a bit grimey and dark. The green cast of the ghostly vapours echoes the green glow I have used on all my undead figures.

In contrast, the Awakener was probably a sorceror or magician in his lifetime, perhaps attached to a royal court or palace. His purple robes reflect a comfortable, opulent existence. His magical staff is now used to rouse the spirits that the Lord of Bleak Fell requires for his army. A magical servant in life, unable to escape his role even in death.

I am really impressed with the figures from the Soul Wars boxset. The fact that they are press together models is quite astounding. I did actually glue mine, as much to disguise the joins as to keep them together. Some are a bit fragile looking, hopefully they will stand up to the rough and tumble of transportation and gaming. As usual with my own collection, they are glued on to two pence coins rather than the supplied bases.

Here's a picture of the Lord of Bleak Fell with his bodyguard and new recruits, heading deeper into the catacombs in search of more spirits. And maybe a few more mundane troops too. Who knows what else they will find in the deep, dark places?

Saturday 14 July 2018

Farewell to Middle Earth...

....for the time being at least. After painting up a fair number of dwarves over the past few weeks, it was nice to get them on to the battlefield. Round at the wargaming dungeon, they faced their hated enemy, the orcs of Sauron. I would have liked to have tried Strategy Battle Game, but we could not remember the rules so settled on the much simpler Dragon Rampant. It's not my favourite ruleset for a number of reasons, but it's always useful to have an easy to play system.

I didn't manage to get too many decent photos, which is just as well because the dwarves suffered from some poor dice rolling, which (to my mind or maybe it's my imagination) always seems far more punishing in this ruleset. One or two failed activations can really swing a game in a drastic fashion. Suffice to say, there was few things to celebrate in the hold that night. This pint was only half drunk! Still, it was good to get the dwarves showing off their freshly painted kilts and stretching their little legs for a change.

A couple of days later and I was heading out to a local cafe for a coffee and consolation cake (after England were knocked out of the World Cup the night before). The cafe is positioned above a second hand bookshop and in the main entrance I found a copy of Tolkien's Children of Hurin. A lovely clean hardback copy at a third of the cover price, which was more of a consolation than the cake could provide. Every cloud has a silver lining (this one illustrated by Alan Lee). Some reading to look forward to later in the year - I always think Tolkien is best appreciated in the autumn.

So it's a fond farewell to Middle Earth for the moment. I have moved on to another of my painting projects. I still have more dwarves and orcs to paint, hopefully I will pick them up again later in the year. I am also trying to develop a game system of my own, initially based around these two foes, so they will be out of their boxes a few more times throughout the year. The road goes ever on and on.......

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Tolkien Stamps

I reached for my copy of Lord of the Rings the other day, and was surprised to find this set of stamps in there. They were published by Royal Mail back in 2004, not sure if that was a Tolkien anniversary or a tie in with the films. They were probably bought by my wife, she used to have a thing about stamps.

The stamps are held safely in a pouch, which folds out and gives a potted life story of Tolkien. Each stamp contains an illustration by the author.

I once read that Tolkien was very insecure about his illustrations. He wanted the books to be published with art, but was not confident in his own efforts. Like many artists, he probably under-estimated his talent. Even the simple line drawings are very evocative. 

Finally, a key to the illustrations. As a Tolkien nerd, I was very happy to make this chance discovery. The more I see the author's own artistic renditions, the more I marvel at the man's achievements.

Thursday 28 June 2018

Dwarf Hammers

These figures were fairly quick to paint up, I am very pleased to add them to my Dwarves force before the month has ended. As with the previous units, I tackled them little by little, a twenty minute session here, maybe an hour long session there. Over just a couple of sessions the metals were done very quickly - a base coat, a wash, some glazing and then a drybrush. After that was finished, it was a simple job to pick out the leathers and other garments. The "kilts" were a little more involved, but I stuck to a fairly simple design. Beards and bases were completed, and unit done.

These are Games Workshop of course, Grim Hammers from the Middle Earth range. They are plastic figures, but with plenty of detail, as nice as many a metal to my mind. In gaming terms, they will be fielded as elite units in the systems I play.
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