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How SHOULD magic work?

Papa_LouPapa_Lou Member Posts: 264
Hi all.

I've been working on something of my own little fantasy universe, where I can write stories and whatnot without worrying about whether or not they fit into an already established universe (like the Forgotten Realms, for example).

Now, I think I have a pretty good outline of the world, and plan to expand on it as I write stories and all that fun stuff. One thing I wanted to make sure I understood completely, however, was how the magic worked. I wanted this to be very concrete, because I often see magic used as a scapegoat for plotholes, or the creator of plotholes, in other stories, and it drives me up the wall.

"Well, because... Magic!" always felt so lazy to me.

I won't bore you all with the specifics (unless you want me to ;) ), but basically, magic is very restrictive in what it can and cannot do. For example, magic can NOT alter time in any way. In this world, time is as bendable as it is in the real world. Magic CAN be shot from someone's fingertips in the form of a fireball, but it's not an instant thing. It requires a chant, and specific hand movements. A such, a wizard can't just disappear into thin air in the blink of an eye. They need to channel the mana through a set of very specific movements and vocal commands.

Magic flows through the air, and in order for someone to cast a spell, they need to allow the magic to flow into their bodies. As such, wearing big, thick armour will get in the way of that. So, anyone wishing to cast a spell will have to be mindful of what they wear, and whether or not the mana can properly reach their bodies. For example, the common mage robes work great, as the mana can easily sift through the cloth. Plate armour, however, would obviously make it extremely difficult for mana to reach the caster's skin.

Magic is divided into six different schools (elemental, thaumaturgy, alteration, mysticism, conjuration, and necromancy), each of which require a certain kind of chant to draw the mana from the pools. As such, most wizards only focus on one school, rather than waste their lives only being able to master minor spells from each school.

There's a lot more, such as how enchantment works, and how religious folk cast spells, but the main idea here is to restrict magic, but also make it a very powerful tool. I don't want people in this world to be able to wear armour made of some otherworldly metal from head to toe, and run into battle swinging a battleaxe in one hand and shooting fireballs from the other (*cough*Skyrim*cough*). I do, however, want magic to have a presence in a medieval-esque world without making it control how every little thing works.

It's a work-in-progress, and I'm not claiming it to be the perfect model for magic. That's why I made this thread.

Perhaps there are people out there who feel as though people SHOULD be able to wear otherworldly metal armour from head to toe, and run into battle flailing an axe and fireballs. It is fantasy, after all.

I want to see how other people think magic should work, or how they make it work in their own made-up worlds. Do you like the D&D model? TES? Or perhaps you prefer there to be little to no magic whatsoever? I'm interested in hearing what everyone else's opinions are, as I know from personal experience that the idea behind magic differs drastically from person to person.

Kamigoroshitypo_tilly

Comments

  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    In my opinion: for magic to work, it has to be consistent... that is, it has to have rules. As it's fictional, you can make up any rules you want to, as long as you stick to them. If you've established that metal inhibits the flow of mana, for example, you have to make sure that this is always the case, and a wizard isn't suddenly able to cast a spell from inside a metal box. Also does it extend to leather or padded armour, or does it have to be a certain thickness to stop it? What's the toughest thing you can wear, and still be able to cast, and what parts of your body must be free from that thickness of material for it to work? People are going to want to protect every part of their bodies that they can so if they can get away with wearing lobstered gauntlets, they'll wear lobstered gauntlets. If you rule that they can't, you have to say why, and make sure that rule applies to everything. If only steel and leather blocks it, what's to stop them wearing a gambeson, for example?

    Limiting what it can do is a good idea... I would put limitations like "polymorph is only possible when changing into a creature of similar size/volume", and "teleportation can only be done in visual range", etc. For each proposed spell, I would look at its possible impact on the world.

    As for otherworldly metal armour: my guess is that such a thing would be incredibly rare, to the point where owning a harness made from demonic steel, or whatever, will cost enough to buy a small kingdom, so anybody rich enough to own it probably won't be charging into battle at all. ;) It could, however, just as easily follow the same rules as mail and plate armour.

    You could also stop people having a weapon in one hand and casting spells by ruling that "you need both hands to cast spells", or even "you must wield a rod or stave of some kind".

    So yeah... my only real gripe with magic in fantasy settings is when it doesn't stick to its own rules. As long as you establish the rules and make sure it always plays by those rules, it should work.

    Artonatypo_tilly
  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    I prefer to leave magic out entirely, because in cannot work in any believable universe. If there is something that does something, people will study it and eventually make it science.
    Besides that, magic is such a boring, done-to-death trope, among with triad of heaven-earth-hell and other western culture relics. Why not make something that doesn't revolve around natural-unnatural/divine order, but some different concept? Why not - like Dukaj - write a book where one part of the world is in binary logic, and other in non-binary, and create mystery around that?

    typo_tilly
  • Papa_LouPapa_Lou Member Posts: 264
    @Squire , you definitely make some good points. I think the idea I was going for was that the thickness of the clothing/armour/etc. would be what impeded the flow of mana. Perhaps something like, if water could seep through it, so could mana. But, then, I suppose wizards could just wear armour with small holes in it.

    Something to ponder, I suppose.

    The two hands thing was what I had in mind, as well as the restrictions on specific spells. I don't really intend on allowing people to transform into dragons on a whim - that would be insanity. :D I intend to be very careful with each spell I think up, so this will no doubt be a long process. All a part of the fun, though.

    And I do agree, to an extent, @Artona . The idea of magic in a medieval fantasy universe is definitely nothing new. But these medieval fantasy universes are something I've grown to love a lot over the years, and I can't seem to stop my imagination from creating my own. Hahaha.

    There are some overdone tropes I plan to avoid as much as possible, though. Animal/human hybrid races living among the rest of the civilized people being one of them. If I had a dollar for every world that had wolfpeople, or catpeople, or lizardpeople, or anyotherpopularanimalpeople living amongst humans just because, I'd be a lot richer than I am. :D

    Artona
  • Yulaw9460Yulaw9460 Member Posts: 634
    edited November 2018
    Deleted.

    Post edited by Yulaw9460 on
    Papa_Loutypo_tilly
  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    Papa_Lou said:



    There are some overdone tropes I plan to avoid as much as possible, though. Animal/human hybrid races living among the rest of the civilized people being one of them. If I had a dollar for every world that had wolfpeople, or catpeople, or lizardpeople, or anyotherpopularanimalpeople living amongst humans just because, I'd be a lot richer than I am. :D

    That's actually a big gripe of mine in fantasy settings... the whole "socially tolerant utopia" thing. While such a thing might be something we aspire to in real life, it's just not believable for a medieval world. We have people today who still murder other people for having the wrong religion, or being on the wrong side of a border, yet somehow this pseudo-medieval world that's supposed to be less technologically advanced than our own is somehow above this? :D It's actually one of the things I dislike about Star Trek - sometimes the show feels a bit too utopia to be believable for me... but that's another topic.

    @Artona that's a good point, actually. Maybe the people who actually use it should call it something other than "magic", and it's only "magic", "witchcraft", "enchanting", etc to commoners who don't understand it. To those who use it it's just "manipulation of the arcane whatever". As for it being overused in fantasy settings... it's true but, I dunno, it's kind of what makes it fantasy. ;)

  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    @Papa_Lou
    The idea of magic in a medieval fantasy universe is definitely nothing new. But these medieval fantasy universes are something I've grown to love a lot over the years, and I can't seem to stop my imagination from creating my own. Hahaha.

    That's fine and I don't mean to impose my boredom unto thee (thou?). ;)
    As for a magic, Brandon Sanderson had pretty interesting idea: in his "Elantris" magic was kind of force that naturally "wants" to "realise", "happen" or whatever in the world, the same way water flows from heights. To cast magic, you need to draw certain symbols, the same way you'd need to make a hole in water container to start it to leak. I've always liked that quasi-physical mechanics of magic.
    Other notable writer is Richard Bekker. He wrote trylogy called "Prince of Nothing" (it sounds awfully edgy, I know), where magic has pretty impressive philosophy behind it. One of the aspects I like the most is division of magic school: analogic and anagogic (I feel like I butchered spelling, but whatever) - when mages of analogic school want to cast fire, they need to create some analogy (like head of dragon who breaths fire), while anagogic can summon fire *as it is*. Of course, analogic mages are willing to die and kill to find out how anagogic mages use magic, because their magic is much more powerful.

    There are some overdone tropes I plan to avoid as much as possible, though. Animal/human hybrid races living among the rest of the civilized people being one of them. If I had a dollar for every world that had wolfpeople, or catpeople, or lizardpeople, or anyotherpopularanimalpeople living amongst humans just because, I'd be a lot richer than I am.

    Amen to that. I personally would avoid any non-human races, unless if I wrote them as something drastically different from humans. I mean - if the only difference between dwarves and humans is height and affinity towards beards, then why not just make dwarves some nation or culture?

    Racism is other thing. I suggest considering other lines of division: maybe it's not humans vs catpeople, but magic-users vs non-magical? Those bearing curse that makes them undead (hello, Dark Souls) vs those uncursed? There are lots of possibilities. :)

    @Squire
    Maybe the people who actually use it should call it something other than "magic", and it's only "magic", "witchcraft", "enchanting", etc to commoners who don't understand it. To those who use it it's just "manipulation of the arcane whatever". As for it being overused in fantasy settings... it's true but, I dunno, it's kind of what makes it fantasy. ;)

    Truth be told, I like the idea of magic being called differently - it adds flavor, even if no substance goes behind it.
    I have nothing against wondrous, mysterious, unexplainable events in fantasy. I'm just tired that they happen in so similar way: mages in robes, spells, ancient rituals (btw, I once wrote a short story about ancient, superpowerful lich that cames back from his slumber... just to be defeated by bunch of average wizards, because spells, like everything, became more advanced), enchantments, curses, wands, golems, crystals, mana, pointy hats, fireballs, undead... Could we have something different? Instead of raising people from their graves, summoning people who weren't born yet?

  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,008
    @Papa_Lou You might find Brandon Sanderson's video about Magic Systems interesting. It's basically full of suggestions of how to implement hard magic (in contrast to D&D's 'soft' magic) in one's own setting.

    1. "An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic." (07:20min)
      - Really a foreshadowing law
      - Depends on the emotional impact you are going for
      - Sense of wonder vs clever problem solving

    2. "Limitations > Powers" (26:14min)
      - Flaws are more interesting than powers
      - Storytelling generally revolves around what characters have trouble doing, so this is no exception
      - World build with this in mind
      - Limitations are on the scope of the magic; flaws are the ways the magic fails

    3. "Expand what you already have before you add something new." (41:40min)
      - Go deeper into a magic before you go wider
      - A few number of things well explored creates a more interesting world than a large number of things shallowly explored
      - Explore ramifications / tie world building into your magic

    Personally I really like magic with limitations rather than it being some omnipotent, unknown outer force of existance no one can really explain. That's why I really like Sanderson's way of thinking. :)

    ArtonaPapa_Loutypo_tilly
  • MathsorcererMathsorcerer Member Posts: 2,725
    Magic is energy--or, technically, the conversion of energy from one form to another--and is therefore a subset of physics. This allows us to approach magic as a science, meaning we can uncover its rules and how those rules may be used for various applications.

    typo_tillyAnduin
  • Papa_LouPapa_Lou Member Posts: 264
    I'll definitely be giving Sanderson's video a watch when I get home from work! Thanks for sending it my way.
    Artona said:


    Amen to that. I personally would avoid any non-human races, unless if I wrote them as something drastically different from humans. I mean - if the only difference between dwarves and humans is height and affinity towards beards, then why not just make dwarves some nation or culture?

    Racism is other thing. I suggest considering other lines of division: maybe it's not humans vs catpeople, but magic-users vs non-magical?

    I find it slightly frightening, but also very interesting, how accurately you've managed to hit the nail on the head with how I plan on making the more "civilized" races work.

    Humans of old were something of invaders, having made a home out of a continent that originally belonged to a variety of species (in this case, dwarves, gnomes, and a race of magical beings I've called tuvuls). Over the years, however, the humans have basically driven these people into smaller, more isolated parts of the continent.

    The dwarves and gnomes (who are, in my opinion, drastically different than the dwarves and gnomes us BG fans may be familiar with) are left with nothing but one part of the map near the northwestern region, and the tuvuls are only now slowly starting to rebuild their population after near genocide by the invading humans, who are in turn slowly becoming more and more tolerant of other people, compared to their ancestors.

    There are other species, including elves and a few other homemade races that live in other parts of the world, but the way I envision it is that this main continent, Allathora, is run by like, 85% humans, with a mix of everything else here and there as the humans make more allies to defend against the growing number of enemies they also make. As @Squire said, I find it difficult to imagine a utopia-like place where everyone is free and happy, in the midst of a world where possible death looms around every corner if you eat the wrong berry or say hello to the wrong person.

    Which brings me to another topic related to magic. I've made it so that regular magic-users, like wizards using what I guess we'd know as arcane magic, are incapable of healing. There's no magical healing, outside of alchemical medicines and blessings from the gods, which certainly don't come easy.

    I want to avoid the idea that, if someone were to go on a journey across the country, they'd have nothing to worry about as long as they have their friendly neighbourhood priest by their side to close the gaping axe-wound in their back, or completely reverse the snapped bone in their leg.

    Now, worshippers of the gods can certainly heal wounds, but it's not as simple as studying the arcane. They need to be devout followers of some sort of god, and hope that they've followed the rules enough that said god is willing to answer their prayers. And who is to say this god is even nice enough to do such things?

    I feel like it works to add a certain sense of real danger to the world. Jow Blow the wizard man can't heal your wounds, unless he knows his way around an alchemy table fairly well, and Plain Jane the priest lady can't just bring you back from the dead every time a stray arrow lodges itself between your eyes, even though she may be able to heal a few cuts and bruises, if her chosen deity is in a good mood that day.

    I made this decision because, no matter how many fantasy games I play or books I read, I always found myself asking the same question - "Why not just cast a spell and heal?" to which the answer was always something convenient and lame like "I just don't have the energy," or "my magic just isn't working!"

    I'm really trying my best to avoid any major issues with this world that would ultimately provide major plotholes for stories I write in the future. :D

    KamigoroshiArtonatypo_tilly
  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    Other idea - simple, but elegant - is to make healing working as transition of wounds rather than magically making them disappear. You want that nasty arrow injury to be healed? Cool. Find someone willing to take it onto themself.

    Papa_Loutypo_tilly
  • Papa_LouPapa_Lou Member Posts: 264
    Artona said:

    Other idea - simple, but elegant - is to make healing working as transition of wounds rather than magically making them disappear. You want that nasty arrow injury to be healed? Cool. Find someone willing to take it onto themself.

    That's a very interesting idea as well. I like it a lot!

  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,008
    This can also be applied to ressurection magic. Such as the gods require a life in exchange for saving another life, no matter the deity's alignment. Some franchises go even further in that their magic uses life force as fuel. In such worlds, spellcasters sacrify the length of their own lifespan when casting powerful magic. Or simply use others, most commonly slaves, as 'batteries' for their rituals.

    Such kind of limitations in which magic requires either an economical, biological or moral challenging cost makes things rather intruiging. This can also be nicely tied to your own WIP magic system. You spoke of that spellcasters *must* allow the magic to flow into their bodies. Which basically means that magic is a foreign object and thus can (and eventually will become) harmful to the caster after being exposed to it. Perhaps it could take form as an allergic reaction, an disease, or at worst as tumor-like deformities due to magical corruption. Dark Sun did that for example.

    typo_tilly
  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    edited July 2017
    This can also be nicely tied to your own WIP magic system. You spoke of that spellcasters *must* allow the magic to flow into their bodies. Which basically means that magic is a foreign object and thus can (and eventually will become) harmful to the caster after being exposed to it.


    I like that idea very much. It's pretty cool, when *technically*, you can cast fireball, but it'll result in lung cancer.
    To add to my earlier thought: healing as transition. Wouldn't that be splendid method of assassination - make serving maid swallow a potion, and then make it transit into king's body?

  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    Artona said:

    Other idea - simple, but elegant - is to make healing working as transition of wounds rather than magically making them disappear. You want that nasty arrow injury to be healed? Cool. Find someone willing to take it onto themself.

    THat kind of gives a new meaning to the cult of Ilmater... ;)

  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    Yeah, I thought about "Suffering Boyz". Flagellant from Darkest Dungeon (anyone plays it? It's a great game!) uses something like that as well.

  • Papa_LouPapa_Lou Member Posts: 264
    Really cool ideas coming from everyone. Glad I made this thread. :D It's definitely given me a good few things to roll with when building this world, and it's already starting to feel a lot more fleshed out compared to a couple days ago.

    That being said, what does everyone think of enchantment? How should it be done, if at all? The Elder Scrolls has an interesting way of doing it, if I recall correctly.

    I've got a general idea. I was thinking something along the lines of drawing the mana of a spell forth, but stopping halfway, which would result in it being this physical, malleable substance, as the mana didn't quite make it to the caster's body.

    Now, this substance would be extremely dangerous, as would the general practice of enchantment in general, and would require protective gear of some kind, and a working knowledge of how the process works. The raw mana would be used as something of a wrap, and the enchanter would cover an entire object, or just parts of it, with the mana, imbuing the object with the spell that was originally being cast. Once imbued, the mana would sort of sink into the object, so it wouldn't just be a mess of some strange, mystical play-doh.

    Depending on how the object is infused, or what parts of the object is infused with the mana can result in different enchantments. For example, wrapping an entire staff in a cone of flames spell would likely result in the staff just being very hot to touch, but shaping the mana into a cone shape and wrapping the end of the staff, and then the handle with something of an activation spell, would result in the staff shooting forth a cone of flames, as was probably the intention of the enchanter.

    It's a work-in-progres, like everything, but I'm liking this idea so far.

  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,008
    Personally I'm rather fond of the approach that enchantment is like programming: the Enchanter has to know exactly what 'parts' he needs to 'write' for the desired enchantment to be successfully 'burnt' onto the 'data storage' (a.k.a. the item in question).

    Like everything involving forms of energy, enchantments need to be properly isolated in their containers. In this case through matrixes. Lest the 'integrated circuits' will collapse... which usually either ends with the enchantment doing nothing at all. Thus becoming junk. Or it'll explode directly into the spellcaster's face. The higher the magic for the enchantment used is, the more deadly a failure becomes. For instance, a failed Mythal would be akin to a reactor meltdown.

    Again, this is just my preference. There are many other interesting ways of doing enchantments.

    typo_tilly
  • SkatanSkatan Member, Moderator Posts: 4,596
    edited July 2017
    I was bored at work a couple of years ago and created the foundation for a RPG system. In my version magic was not based on mana or weaves or other outside energies, it channeled from different areas (or domains, like nature, elements, spirits etc) but was ultimately fueled by your fatigue. This meant that mages need to be in prime physical form to be able to cast bigger and more cumbersome spells and just as a warrior loses stamina from battle, so did mages. And to stay true to the old trope of mages wearing little armor, I just made it so armor drained stamina which would make the fatigue drain from casting spells more expensive, so you would need to balance it out. It was not really unique in any way, but I liked that setting.

    typo_tilly
  • typo_tillytypo_tilly Member Posts: 5,681
    edited July 2017
    Papa_Lou said:

    Magic flows through the air, and in order for someone to cast a spell, they need to allow the magic to flow into their bodies. As such, wearing big, thick armour will get in the way of that. So, anyone wishing to cast a spell will have to be mindful of what they wear, and whether or not the mana can properly reach their bodies. For example, the common mage robes work great, as the mana can easily sift through the cloth. Plate armour, however, would obviously make it extremely difficult for mana to reach the caster's skin.

    My magic system has magic as another element in the air. The magic element isn't present all the time. So some worlds have no magic in the air and, therefore, have no magic... for when I get tired of it. Certain creatures can cast a different magic element out of their hands or mouths that reacts with the magic in the air to create a spell effect. Also, magic in the air can run out if too many spells are cast. Pretty much most of my attempts at magic eventually turn into biological or physical rules.

    @Papa_Lou You might find Brandon Sanderson's video about Magic Systems interesting. It's basically full of suggestions of how to implement hard magic (in contrast to D&D's 'soft' magic) in one's own setting.

    . . .

    "An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic."
    I honestly leave magic out a lot. The system never feels fleshed out enough that I feel comfortable having lots of magic. In the end, my magic system has fewer spells. I'd never create something like D&D magic, with its huge number of spells -- unless I was making a game. In an RPG, there's enough combat that players can quickly learn the magic system. I think that contrasts to Sanderson's thinking, because in a book relatively little magic is cast or seen when compared to games. Readers don't have enough exposure to a complicated system to have a reasonable chance of understanding it.
    Skatan said:

    I was bored at work a couple of years ago and created the foundation for a RPG system. In my version magic was not based on mana or weaves or other outside energies, it channeled from different areas (or domains, like nature, elements, spirits etc) but was ultimately fueled by your fatigue. This meant that mages need to be in prime physical form to be able to cast bigger and more cumbersome spells and just as a warrior loses stamina from battle, so did mages. And to stay true to the old trope of mages wearing little armor, I just made it so armor drained stamina which would make the fatigue drain from casting spells more expensive, so you would need to balance it out. It was not really unique in any way, but I liked that setting.

    Yeah, I like spell casting as costing stamina or hitpoints. In 2e Shadowrun, a mage could faint from the stamina cost of casting a spell (then, I think, take some hp damage *-). But if your fighters were near, they could pick you up and flee after you cast a huge fireball. I also like your reasoning for why mages would wear lighter armour. :D Never thought of that.

  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    If you don't want mages wearing metal armour, you could rule that metal attracts the magical energies, and works as a reverse-faraday cage, to keep the magical energies from reaching the body, or whatever.

    As for padded armour... maybe you could allow mages to wear a gambeson in the field, as a "battlemage" type class, while traditional mages wear robes to show their status and don't need to wear armour because they're not normally found on the front line.

    Or maybe robes have special mana-sensitive fibres woven into the cloth, but they can't be sewn into gambesons because of the thickness.

    typo_tilly
  • GallengerGallenger Member Posts: 400
    A few things I guess maybe to be helpful. The best thing you can do for your stories is, if they're a series of shorts or something longer, make sure you include a section or story where the magical system is *not* understood by the primary driver of the narrative, so that you can lore splat on them at some point. One of my biggest gripes with reading fantasy is when they've already decided how magic or whatever unnatural stuff works, and then they just hand-waive it over by habitually using invented vocabulary and expecting you to infer some sort of meaning from it. That is, if you intend for magic to be a big part of the story (like if the main character(s) is/are a magic-type. For example, Star Trek gets away with their phase induction converters and warp coils, because the warp coils and techno-babble nouns are simply minor details that are inserted as window dressing.

    Another trope to consider, is to make magic somehow inherently dangerous or hazardous to use. Many fantasy settings (both video game and novel) do this in various ways. Sure, it might be nice to use magic to wash one's dishes, but if doing so could result in major injury to oneself, or others, perhaps it simply wouldn't be that pervasive, and most would stop after a time even if they had the ability thanks to their better judgement.

    Squiretypo_tilly
  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    Gallenger said:



    Another trope to consider, is to make magic somehow inherently dangerous or hazardous to use. Many fantasy settings (both video game and novel) do this in various ways. Sure, it might be nice to use magic to wash one's dishes, but if doing so could result in major injury to oneself, or others, perhaps it simply wouldn't be that pervasive, and most would stop after a time even if they had the ability thanks to their better judgement.

    I really like this about the Warhammer setting! One thing that would potentially happen with high magic settings is that there'd be no need for labour of any kind because surely with such prevalent magic available, people would find a way to industrialise it, and it'd become part of every day life. Making it dangerous, and the domain of a few elites, is a good way to stop this happening.

  • ArtonaArtona Member Posts: 1,025
    In my version magic was not based on mana or weaves or other outside energies, (...) but was ultimately fueled by your fatigue.

    Funny thing, few years ago I had exactly the same idea. ;) Mages in that universe spent most of their time at a gym (they would also mainly work as police forces or firefighters).
    And it wasn't even a parody.

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