Playing up the Cold War aspect?

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Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Havard » Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:08 am

Have anyone thought about putting even more emphasis on the Cold War aspect of the pre-WotI Known World setting? I'm referring ofcourse to the relationship between Thyatis and Alphatia. In a timeline where WotI does not exist, or simply a campaign set in the decades before WotI with imminent war seeming farther away, espionage, economic rivalry and war by proxy nations would be the norm.

The Known World and the Isle of Dawn would be equivalents of Europe, while Norwold is the region where the powers fight more openly. I am mostly interested in the espionage aspect though, with Alphatian spies, hiding through magic could appear anywhere, eager to gain access to government secrets or help destablize kingdoms who are seen as allies of Thyatis...

Then again, there are sometimes things that are seen as threats to both empires where agents from both sides must cooperate...

Anyone ever run a James Bond type game in the Known World? :)

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by eldersphinx » Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:22 am

The notion of Thyatis and Alphatia as major players in a Mystaran version of the Cold War really doesn't appeal to me, honestly. There's a whole lot of nuances to any sort of Cold War confrontation that really can't apply in Mystara. The intensity of the Cold War came out of the clash of ideologies and fear of utter tyranny - the West thought that the Communists would impose dictatorial, top-down state control on everything, the Russians thought the Capitalists would loot everything of value and force everyone back to the days of Tsars and peasant kulaks. That's not something it's really possible to conceive of either Thyatis or Alphatia doing to the other. Similarly, there's no 'nuclear option' to force the two powers away from direct confrontation and build-up of armies; if either power has a serious need to undercut the other they are perfectly able to mass armies and go at it on the battlefield, rather than play games with proxy state wars, espionage or propaganda stunts. The proxy state wars and spy doublecrosses still happen, but they're a sideline rather than the real deal.

For me, I think I'd prefer to consider the conflict between Thyatis and Alphatia to be more like the Crusades-era struggle between Christendom and Islam, over the fate of the Holy Land, the remnants of Byzantium and the southwestern Meditteranean. Characteristics are open warfare, military and political grandstanding, battles over a wide front (basically half of Eurasia, when all's said and done) and each side having internal tensions and lack of force-projection capability that results in the other side's homeland remaining secure beyond the range of the real battlefield so neither side can ever score a clear knockout victory. And between the Knights of Malta, the leadership struggles among the Crusaders, the palace intrigues of the Janissaries and similar, you've got plenty of room for espionage as well.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Cthulhudrew » Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:42 am

Havard wrote:The Known World and the Isle of Dawn would be equivalents of Europe, while Norwold is the region where the powers fight more openly.
I actually prefer to use the Isle of Dawn as the Mystaran "Alsace-Lorraine" of the war between Thyatis and Alphatia, with Norwold a far more recent (and less paramount) battleground. A lot of the description of the IoD seems to indicate that domains there are a lot less stable and more prone to shifting than they appear on the maps (obviously static), and of course that only continues for much of the Post-WotI period.

I know that there always seemed to be some grumbling in the pre-WotI era that the two imperial powers didn't really do anything warlike vis-a-vis one another, and that Thyatis- with its much smaller home territory- should lose against Alphatia- with its much larger territory and population. My answer to that has always been- look to the Isle of Dawn. The IoD is one arena in which I see the armies of Thyatis and Alphatia openly and actively duking it out with one another- we just haven't really seen it since the IoD is only touched on in very few places (module M5 and in the PWAs, again).
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by cab » Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:59 pm

Essentially thats my campaign, or a lot of t. The Knightsof Vanya as warmongers supported by Thyatis, and nominally Alphatan-loyal adventurers based in Norwold.

Way back in 1995 the main thrust of my campaign was a protracted (and eventually failed!) peace process between Heldann and Norwold, with the PCs running in to recurring villains in the Knights. That eventually led to war, which I used as build-up to WotI, during which I gave the PCs a sporting chance of saving Alphatia (seems only fair, and they achieved this).

Of course as hostilities between Alphatia and Thyatis got more hot than cold, Norwold was left to its own devices, and the PCs became agents (and eventual rulers) of the Duchy of Maganshire rather than proxy agents of the Empire; that gave them the freedom to operate more openly in the Known World region as the war approached its gruesome end. But I still managed to get them to Aasla for the great fire...

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by cab » Tue Aug 11, 2009 4:05 pm

Cthulhudrew wrote: I know that there always seemed to be some grumbling in the pre-WotI era that the two imperial powers didn't really do anything warlike vis-a-vis one another, and that Thyatis- with its much smaller home territory- should lose against Alphatia- with its much larger territory and population. My answer to that has always been- look to the Isle of Dawn. The IoD is one arena in which I see the armies of Thyatis and Alphatia openly and actively duking it out with one another- we just haven't really seen it since the IoD is only touched on in very few places (module M5 and in the PWAs, again).
It always seemed likely that Alphatia could take Thyatis, but then such long supply lines (even for mages with flying ships!) are awfully hard to maintan to hold on to the territory. The Isle of Dawn (and to a lesser extent Norwold) act as buffer zones between the empires; skirmishes might develop, short campaigns for territory, etc. But once Alphatia decides to go beyond the Isle of Dawn then cost in lives and resources starts becoming a big issue.

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by micky » Tue Aug 11, 2009 10:07 pm

cab wrote:
Cthulhudrew wrote: I know that there always seemed to be some grumbling in the pre-WotI era that the two imperial powers didn't really do anything warlike vis-a-vis one another, and that Thyatis- with its much smaller home territory- should lose against Alphatia- with its much larger territory and population. My answer to that has always been- look to the Isle of Dawn. The IoD is one arena in which I see the armies of Thyatis and Alphatia openly and actively duking it out with one another- we just haven't really seen it since the IoD is only touched on in very few places (module M5 and in the PWAs, again).
It always seemed likely that Alphatia could take Thyatis, but then such long supply lines (even for mages with flying ships!) are awfully hard to maintan to hold on to the territory. The Isle of Dawn (and to a lesser extent Norwold) act as buffer zones between the empires; skirmishes might develop, short campaigns for territory, etc. But once Alphatia decides to go beyond the Isle of Dawn then cost in lives and resources starts becoming a big issue.
All things being equal Alphatia could have squashed Thyatis easily... things weren't though.

You get the impression that while Alphatian has a Empress it truly was a collection of nation-states who probably personally identified themselves as from Limn, Ar, Stonewall, as opposed to being proud Alphatian nationalists. Alphatia was inefficient.. few cared about fighting ..what did that have to do with them.. their studies. What has been missing .. what was needed for Alphatian to take Thyatis was a 'Pearl Harbor' scenario.. something that might unite a vast continent, and lacking in commonality and lacking no amount of individuality and selfishness. Everything that Alphatia wasn't... Thyatis was.. which allowed them to hold their own with Alphatia for a 1000 years. Till the immortals got involved that is haha. The Empress of Alphatia could have never brought such war fervor herself to engage in a costly war thousands of miles away against what most thought was a backwards country with but a fraction of the power of Alphatia. People would have laughed at her dire warning about Glantri and the Radiance (behind her back of course) and gone back to their studies and their lives. No one... not even Eriadna knew how powerful Glantri was even if she saw the threat, but few would have seen any danger from such an isolated, tiny country. The events the Immortals orchestrated were intended to bring Alphatia's full might to the table.. and the only way to do that was to do something like torch an entire Alphatian city.

anyway.. long post about nothing. If things had been left as they were.. Thyatis and Alphatia would have butted heads inconclusively for another 1000 years. Alphatia was more than strong enough to wipe the floor with Thyatis... the thing is, they never could or would have been able to apply that strength in full against Thyatis.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Planefarer » Tue Aug 11, 2009 10:58 pm

cab wrote:It always seemed likely that Alphatia could take Thyatis, but then such long supply lines (even for mages with flying ships!) are awfully hard to maintan to hold on to the territory. The Isle of Dawn (and to a lesser extent Norwold) act as buffer zones between the empires; skirmishes might develop, short campaigns for territory, etc. But once Alphatia decides to go beyond the Isle of Dawn then cost in lives and resources starts becoming a big issue.
Supply lines isn't the problem. For one, Thyatis would have just the same problem, but more importantly, both empires have permanent settlements and thus resources on the Isle of Dawn.

The reason Alphatia can't kick Thyatis over is because of their cultural differences.

Thyatis is an empire of conquerors. It is the model of efficiency and what is "practical" to the point of being callous and sometimes beyond. That's what the whole treachery bit in DOTE is all about. It is said the Thyatians worship an immortal called efficiency, and they have been remarkably good at conquering lands around them despite having a far smaller population that Alphatia. In part this is due to their efficiency. If an officer or political leader is no longer efficient, then it won't be long before he is replaced one way or another. The empire will not tolerate stagnation and it adheres to strict discipline. Going by D&D alignment, lawful behavior applies to Thyatis, good or evil. You do your duty for the good of the state.

Alphatia is the exact opposite. It is an empire run by archmages who are far more interested in their magical research and self-indulgence than in running an efficient and expanding empire. It was different once, though mostly because the Alphatians came to Mystara with a knowledge and command of magic that was unparalled by an Mystarans (except the Nithians, but then by the time Alphatia expanded beyond its island continent, Nithia had already fallen). With their superior knowledge and skill of magic, the Alphatians conquered and ruled lands with impunity. But then their expansionist tendencies began to falter. They had gathered much land while at the same time the percentage of magic-wielders had fallen dramatically leaving few aristocrats to rule a fair amount of land and people. And the empire grew stagnant. Maintaining the empire is mostly the job of the emperor or empress. The other wizards may not care much for it, but if the emperor or empress does a poor job, the Council of Wizards will soon put someone on the throne who does better. And as an expanding empire, Alphatia is doing poorly because the wizards just can't be bothered to participate. They'd much rather spend time studying or pursuing their other interests than help the empire expand. And since they're aristocrats, they can usually pay their way out of service to the crown. Instead the military becomes filled with magic-less commoners and servants who serve an empire that does not appreciate their efforts. Motivation and morale is thus low, but there are plenty of commoners to thrown into the military, so the aristocracy doesn't care. It makes for a chaotic empire. Alphatians enjoy their freedom and won't give it up even for the good of the empire. The upper classes that is. The commoners and servants have few or no choices in the matter. Such a decadent and disconnect empire might be presumed to fall apart, but then Alphatia is an empire founded on five millennia of study and exploitation of magic. That makes for an empire so full of ancient traditions and powers that the empire can survive in spite of the flaws in its own national character that would otherwise require the empire to either whip itself into shape or else roll over and die.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by micky » Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:33 am

^ well said.

Anyway as far as Havard's wondering about the Cold War. Of course we have used it in our campaign. Of course it wasn't Thyatis v. Alphatia but were done from a Glantricentric point of view which meant the Council of Princes hiring agents to terrorize Alphatia and Ethengar. I think no matter what the campaign.. if you've got an enemy.. you have lots of opportunity for covert missions, assassinations, seductions of the enemies fairer sex, great chases, magic devices like the belt buckle that explodes for 8d6 damage hahaha, and finally getting caught in the sack with the hot chick by Prince Etienne after successful completion of the mission......

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by cab » Wed Aug 12, 2009 8:20 am

Planefarer wrote: Supply lines isn't the problem. For one, Thyatis would have just the same problem, but more importantly, both empires have permanent settlements and thus resources on the Isle of Dawn.
Oh, I disagree. Its entirely the problem with overseas conquest, always has been. To conquer a territory overseas is one thing, to hold it in the face of opposition is quite another. To hold Thyatis, Alphatia would have to maintain sea lanes across the Western Sea of Dawn/Northern Sea of Dread, against opposition from Ierendian and Minrothaddan privateers (both nations would be keen to prevent Alphatian influence spreading into the Known World), against the Heldann fleet, and of course against the Thyatian navy. That sea plays the same role as the English Channel in the history of England; its a physical barrier to ease of invasion, not simply making the initial landings harder but making maintenance of that invasion extremely hard.

I don't dispute the fact that there are major cultural differences between the two empires, but cultures change a lot, and relatively quickly. Attitudes towards conquest and colonialism can entirely switch in a generation, and we're looking at a thousand years here. So I don't buy that as the only reason.

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by JohnBiles » Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:07 am

I tend to see the Alphatian Empire as Holy Roman Empire style where the central government doesn't have a lot of authority and the other monarchs actively sabotage it to increase their own freedom.

If the Empress actually conquered Thyatis, she might use the resources of Thyatis to take effective control of everything and THAT can't be done.

But if she's locked in a perpetual cold war with Thyatis...that neutralizes her nicely.

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by cab » Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:13 am

You also have to ask whether Alphatia, pre WOTI, wants to hold territory in the Known World. Would you really want a land border with Ylarum? Who wants to be king of an Alphatian holding on that border? And you'd think that Eriadna would be quite comforted by having multiple buffer states between the empire and Glantri, not to mention trouble that could eventually come from Hule.

Norwold itself has been trouble enough; wheres the tactical advantage in trying to take Thyatis too? You've got the Isle of Dawn as a theatre to contain Thyatis, and the strife between the two empires will at least see constant honing of young adventurers/spies/agents to keep your own forces sharp.

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Zendrolion » Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:44 pm

JohnBiles wrote:I tend to see the Alphatian Empire as Holy Roman Empire style where the central government doesn't have a lot of authority and the other monarchs actively sabotage it to increase their own freedom.

If the Empress actually conquered Thyatis, she might use the resources of Thyatis to take effective control of everything and THAT can't be done.

But if she's locked in a perpetual cold war with Thyatis...that neutralizes her nicely.
This matches exactly my point of view on Alphatia. Also remember that in DotE it's clearly stated that individual kings and queens can move war one against the other, so I expect local wars between kingdoms to be rather common unless there's a strong emperor acting to preserve internal peace. Eriadna (and perhaps Tylion) were such emperors - in fact they were able to wage (almost) successful external wars more or less supported by their vassals - but most other were probably not (think about Kerothar IV, for one).

As in the Holy Roman Empire, individual rulers tend to see the imperial crown as a danger far greater than Thyatis or whoever else, and there's no sense of "national unity" at all in Alphatia, no fealty toward a "state". This means that resources that an emperor can commit to a foreign war are few (his own), unless he manages to gather some allies among the lesser kings - something that most often doesn't apply. And any emperor trying to jump over this weakness is likely to meet very serious opposition.

On the other hand, even in this fashion, the troops used by Alphatia in foreign wars are backed by immensly powerful magics and wizards, and this is often enough to keep the empire more powerful than most of its neighbours - except Thyatis in some moments of its history.

All in all, the population factor is not so important. Resources, exploitation and organization of them is important. Thyatis has a smaller, less populated overall territory, but it's better exploited and its individual parts are locked together more tightly by some sense of fealty toward the mother empire (think about Ochalea and the Pearl Islands: after 1000 years they've become almost Thyatians themselves!).

Oh, before I forgot: about the Cold War aspect. I tend to represent it as a "classic" struggle between two rival empires - say, Rome or Byzanthium vs Persians or Arabs, Spanish vs French/Dutch/English, etc. A struggle that can't be "cold" becouse there's no nuclear endworld device which keeps the rulers from going to war.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Chimpman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:48 pm

Zendrolion, I think you summed up my thoughts on those two empires exactly (and in much better words that I would have used myself).
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by cab » Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:22 pm

Zendrolion wrote: Oh, before I forgot: about the Cold War aspect. I tend to represent it as a "classic" struggle between two rival empires - say, Rome or Byzanthium vs Persians or Arabs, Spanish vs French/Dutch/English, etc. A struggle that can't be "cold" becouse there's no nuclear endworld device which keeps the rulers from going to war.
A pre-nuclear war can run cold or hot. The role of espionage, funding insurgencies in rival nations, spying, supporting satellite states at war with enemy satellite states... Thats not new, and its not just something from the East-West cold war of the second half of the 20th century.

For inspiration in such things I've often turned to Patrick O'Brians excellent Aubrey/Maturin novels. The descriptions of Maturins exploits as a 'secret agent' in the Napoleonic settning are a marvel.

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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Zendrolion » Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:19 pm

cab wrote:A pre-nuclear war can run cold or hot. The role of espionage, funding insurgencies in rival nations, spying, supporting satellite states at war with enemy satellite states... Thats not new, and its not just something from the East-West cold war of the second half of the 20th century.
You're right, but if you put it that way that's not Cold War anymore. None of the interimperial tensions before the USA-URSS struggle were called Cold War, not even the build-up of imperialistic tensions which culminated in the war of 1914-18. To understand the Cold War, one can't ignore the terror strategy enacted by the superpowers one toward another - otherwise, they'd have gone to war. Other, older espionage actions didn't had to live alongside this factor.

And another important difference is that most governments before WWII didn't had a "secret service" to conduct espionage. Spies were often bound to envoys and ambassadors, or were single individuals not even linked with politics and entrusted with information-gathering duties (I'm thinking, just to make an example, about Italian merchants in Eastern Europe during the Reinassance: they often sent their rulers useful informations about many subjects, and they were often unofficial focus points to send and receive letters and money).
For inspiration in such things I've often turned to Patrick O'Brians excellent Aubrey/Maturin novels. The descriptions of Maturins exploits as a 'secret agent' in the Napoleonic settning are a marvel.
You're right, again, but note that Great Britain was continually at war with France from 1802 all the way up to 1815, so this espionage contest run below the real military operations.

In fact, James Bond-style spygames as they're known in fiction are an unique byproduct of the military-blocked global situation which followed WWII. I mean, spies have always existed, while the Cold War does not.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Chimpman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:35 pm

That's my take as well. Although I'd also add that post-WotI, I think you could have a real Cold War situation set up... as long as the Alpher Remnants got their hands on their own Doomsday weapon (regardless of whether or not the original Glantrian weapon could be used again - I think that the Alphers would have to assume that it could be). I propose such a set of circumstances in my (unfortunately unfinished) story The Other Doomsday Device on the Vaults
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by micky » Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:59 pm

Chimpman wrote:That's my take as well. Although I'd also add that post-WotI, I think you could have a real Cold War situation set up... as long as the Alpher Remnants got their hands on their own Doomsday weapon (regardless of whether or not the original Glantrian weapon could be used again - I think that the Alphers would have to assume that it could be). I propose such a set of circumstances in my (unfortunately unfinished) story The Other Doomsday Device on the Vaults

that was great and enjoyed reading that! Now you'll have me pestering you to finish it hahhaha.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Chimpman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:35 pm

micky wrote:that was great and enjoyed reading that! Now you'll have me pestering you to finish it hahhaha.
Slightly OT, but I've got about twice as much again on my hard drive and I do pick up the story every few months. So pester away. It might actually accomplish something. ;)
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by micky » Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:55 pm

Chimpman wrote:
micky wrote:that was great and enjoyed reading that! Now you'll have me pestering you to finish it hahhaha.
Slightly OT, but I've got about twice as much again on my hard drive and I do pick up the story every few months. So pester away. It might actually accomplish something. ;)
completely OT.. but I live there given half a chance...

consider yourself pestered :lol: :D You sucked me in what the story.. I had got home from work.. switched on the machine from hell, checked posts, and checked that link. For the next 15 minutes the story of my wife's day was nothing more than a breeze tickling my ears :lol: as I intently read your story and tried to establish who was who and the timeframe of events.

like I said... consider yourself pestered.
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Re: Playing up the Cold War aspect?

Post by Gecko » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:13 am

wow this place has been busy lately, I've got this unread and unreplied to message way down on page 2....

As others have hinted at, I think it comes down to which type of inspiration you are talking about:
'a cold war' vs. 'the Cold War'

'a cold war': as opposed to a hot war- where both sides are looking for an advantage but not willing a full-on war at the present- lots of espionage and positioning, proxy wars, etc. YES

'the Cold War': ideaological fueled nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction where both believe the other is 'out to destroy them'. NO

Connected (somewhat) to this, I've been trying to come up with a complete list of when the conflict between Alphatia and Thyatis has turned hot- ie when are the periods of declared war?
  • When the Alphatians invade and conquer Thyatis, Kerendas, & Hattias to stop the Thyatian pirates
  • BC 2-0: Struggle for Freedom against the Alphatian Empire.
  • 69-73: severe Border skirmishes (or 68-85?), but is it a declared war?
  • 130-136
  • shortly after Stefan I came to throne (180)
  • during reign of Tiberian I (220-223)
  • during reign of Marcian I (256-287)
  • during reign of Alexian II (287-313)
  • 316-328
  • 343-365
  • early in reign of Tiberius II Kerdolion (367-386)
  • Bogland revolt during Gabrionus reign (386-412) not a declared War
  • 497-509
  • 517?-543
  • when was the Alphatian air attack against Fabia? Retebius Air Corps elevated to Retebius Air Fleet by Wien Dien-Ling in recognition of its role in repelling that attack - and his reign was 567-574 so was that refering back to the last war or was there another?
  • 586-606
  • 637-640 East Portage revolts against Alphatia
  • 697-704 (or started 698 with the attack on Kendach?)
  • during 713-728 timeframe alphatian sea pressure (declared war or not?)
  • 728-730 Alphatian "final offensive" against Thyatian Alasiyan colonies
  • 758-760 Annius defeats Alphatian strike force's and raids (but is this a brief declared war?)
  • 773-c. 780 Thyatis looses significant territory on the Isle of Dawn
  • fighting in reign of Alexandrion II (783-795) or is this the same war as above?
  • during reign of Alexius Penhaligon (795-797) general Giovanni Porpora is sent to recapture Isle of Dawn territories ?-797 or 799 (is this part of the same one or two above?)
  • 904-912 Bogs War
  • 959-962 Spike Assault
  • WotI
I know that is a pretty rough list so far, so can anyone add to or clarify it?

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