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The Black Rose DM Guide

A Practical Handbook for Dungeon Monitoring

Last revised: Feb 24, 2012

Reposted with the author's permission.

This training guide and reference document was written with several aims in mind. First and foremost, it has served as the core text of the Black Rose Safety Monitoring training program since 1998. It has been applied to play events ranging in scale from the monthly socials to the annual November festivals with attendance of over fifteen hundred people. Secondly, it is meant to be a contribution to Dungeon Monitoring for other clubs, events, and play parties nationally and internationally. Earlier versions of this guide have been foundation texts in Safety Monitor training courses across the country. Thirdly, this guide is intended to contribute to community wide efforts to improve BDSM education at all levels. It contains information that should be useful to event planners for national level events, leather bars, fetish nightclubs, play parties, or home playrooms. I welcome the reader to borrow from it freely in developing DM training and/or safety standards of your own. Use what you find useful.

The following individuals contributed to this project either as specialty experts, or DMs, or both: Kernmantle 13, Alan P, Bill W, Neal B, Frazier B (Owner of the DC Crucible) Scott Parker, Nurse Kristen, Jack McGeorge and Joseph Bean. This document benefited greatly from the “APEX Dungeon Monitors Guide” (1997) and the “Dungeon Masters Handbook” by Oregon Guild Activists of SM (ORGASM) (1987). At the time I began work on this these were the only two DM guides I knew to exist.

If you are preparing to work as a Dungeon Monitor at an event using this guide as a reference , please take the time to read it ahead of time to gain a better understanding of what a DM does. This document will continue to be improved so long as there are individuals with ideas willing to contribute. Anyone interested in participating in this ongoing project can contact me.

Play Safe & Play Hot!
Chris M

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MISSION: The Dungeon Monitor mission is to ensure a safe, enjoyable, legal Play Area. In practical terms, this means ensuring that the house rules are enforced, that illegal activity is not allowed, and unsafe or high risk SM activities are monitored closely and stopped if they appear to pose a risk to the well being or confidentiality of any attendees. This should be accomplished while interfering with play as little as possible.

DUNGEON MONITOR ROLES: As Dungeon Monitor you will be expected to perform the following roles:

LIFEGUARD: Your primary task is to monitor the Play Area with an eye towards assistance, instruction, risk assessment and intervention only when necessary.

GUIDE: As a Dungeon Monitor, people will be asking you where to find the bathroom, Band-Aids, cleaning supplies, etc. You will probably direct more people to the restroom than you will hand out Band-Aids. And you will hand out more Band-Aids than you will have scene interventions.

LAW ENFORCEMENT: You are also a safety authority and must know the rules cold, for you may also be called on to enforce the Play Area Rules.

CROWD MANAGER: You are authorized to keep crowds from infringing on scenes in progress, and to prevent scenes from spilling out of intended play areas into the areas intended for pedestrian traffic and to keep fire exits accessible.

MEDIC ASSISTANT: You may find yourself witness to an injury perhaps even a medical emergency. As such, you may be called upon as a first responder to evaluate, provide assistance, or to summon other help. Do not attempt first aid unless you have been certified with CPR or first aid training.

In summary you are an “Officer Friendly,” not a “Super Cop.” The goal is to have a fun, safe, effective Play Area. Please make your conduct be a credit to your training.

DUNGEON MONITOR DUTIES: As a DM you have the following duties:

  • To attend necessary orientation and training sessions
  • To be familiar with the Play Area Rules
  • To be friendly and courteous while working your shift
  • To provide orientation and assistance
  • To assist your shift supervisor in monitoring all activities in the play area (and social areas if mandated by the Safety Director) and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of all participants
  • To consult with your supervisor in all instances where you are unsure of the safety or advisability of any activity
  • To be familiar with the house rules, and all event policies that apply to the Play Area and, if necessary, to enforce these rules and policies
  • To conduct safety inspections of play areas and equipment; and take appropriate corrective action if unsafe equipment is identified
  • To maintain a clean and orderly play environment
  • To report shortages of expendable supplies to your supervisor or event management
  • To monitor play activities for danger signs and substantial breaches of scene etiquette. DMs may be called on to deal with other non-play-related issues, as well.
  • To assist players with minor injuries, as necessary. Contact your supervisor and medical staff as soon as you encounter a medical emergency.
  • To ensure that players clean up when a scene is complete

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1. Study: 1) The Play Area Rules 2) This Dungeon Monitor Guide

2. Put on comfy shoes: You will be on your feet for a while (some shifts can be four hours or longer). Skyscraper heels might not be the most comfortable choice.

3. Report to your shift early: Check in with the supervisor to let them know you’re there, to find out about rule changes, problems with equipment, and pre-arranged scenes. Also, meet your partner, if you are working with one.

4. Familiarize yourself with the Area you will be monitoring: Walk the play area to find out where emergency equipment and fire exits are located. All play areas are different and pose different challenges. Many play ares have specialized areas tailored to particular kinds of play that would not be safe or possible without a specialized environment. It’s your job to know where they are and to direct scenes to the right venue. Scenes requiring special staging areas might include:

Fireplay or waxing - Any scene involving open flame should be staged in an area specially arranged for it. This could mean a play area cleared of combustibles (like curtains or paper supplies), or equipped with flame retardant tarps on the floor, fire extinguisher, or both. Waxing rooms are often provided with plastic tarps or medical chucks to keep wax from spilling into carpeted floors, furniture etc.

Medical scenes – Medical rooms are generally maintained at a higher level of cleanliness and hygiene, and situated where a physical intrusion from spectators is less likely. Medical rooms are usually the preferred locations for cutting, piercing, needles, bloodplay as well as invasive activities like catheters, sounds, fisting or strap-on work.

Messy play – rooms that may wind up with liquids on the floor. Often times this will be a bathtub in a designated bathroom, someplace outside or a floor with a drain that can be hosed down and washed off. Privacy is also often desirable.

Loud Scenes – A “scream room” is sometimes provided for loud verbal scenes , singletail popping and other potentially loud play.

Intimate Scenes- Occasionally a play area will include a “Love Shack”- Rooms specially reserved for swinging or sexual contact. In private homes these may include designated bedrooms. Privacy is often desirable.

Take down areas –For boxing, roughhousing and wrestling, mats, gloves and protective gear might be necessary depending on the house rules.

Edge play – Often play falling into any of the above categories, or acknowledged edge play practices like breath play, will sometimes have a designated area partitioned off from the main play area and patrolled by senior DM and/or medical personnel.

5. Get a briefing from the Play Monitors you are relieving: Find out about any key events of their shift. Get a feel for the room and the people playing there. Are heavy scenes underway? Scenes that are iffy? Have edgy scenes been pre-arranged with DMs already on shift?

6. Get your Gear: For the Black Rose November festivals this may include

  • DM Vest
  • Walkie Talkie
  • Fanny Pack with contents

Fanny Pack Contents – Information packet; Front Pocket: Flashlight, Trauma Shears, Gloves, CPR mask, Pad of Paper; Back Pocket: First Aid Supplies, Disposable Bacterial Wipes

7. Review Walkie-Talkie Procedure – If the event is sufficiently large to warrant walkie-talkie usage. There are some protocols to follow. Unless there is a naming conflict, your first name is your call name (No last names please). If there is a conflict, resolve it at the beginning of your shift. You must have call names that are unique.

The following codes are to be used in communications. The goal is to avoid using words like “dungeon”, “SM”, swearing, or words that could be interpreted as obscene (FCC regulations make obscene language a crime); Never mention the name of the host hotel or that of the alternate. “Main” and “Alternate” are their designations.. Safety Monitors – or DMs is okay). Refrain from idle chatter when using radios.

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Patrol the Play Space with the aim of facilitating a safe and enjoyable time for all: During your shift, keep an active pattern of movement. Keep social conversations to a minimum while you are working.

Patrol the Entire Play Area: As a DM, you have access to every scene and every area in the Play Area, unless the Safety Director has instructed you otherwise.

Look: Watch the activity in the Play Area. Keep your eyes moving, focusing actively, but not exclusively, on the play. Watch also for over-obtrusive voyeurs, drug use, drunkenness, or over-aggressive come-ons. Watch analytically, with an eye towards safety and effectiveness in the play. There will be time for voyeurism after your shift.

Listen: Listen for trouble; you may hear something go wrong before you see it. Yelling, screaming, sounds of people arguing, and equipment breaking or falling to the ground should be investigated immediately. Remember, even happy screaming might disturb others. Loud conversation in play areas should be politely discouraged.

Communicate: With Other DMs to share impressions of scenes in progress,to confirm whether intervention is necessary, or whether the shift supervisor should be called in to have a look. There’s no harm in getting a second opinion before taking action.

Communicate: With playersto provide orientation to restrooms, cleaning supplies, house rules, to provide aid, answer questions, stalker complaints; and to enforce the Play Area Rules when necessary. Some DMs are “trigger happy” and itchy to intervene. Calm them down unless there is a just reason to consider breaking in.

Monitor for Activities that are Unsafe, Unlawful or Not Allowed by the Play Area Rules: Watch for violations of safety, law, the house rules, even breaches of etiquette like loud conversation in designated play areas. If you observe any such violations you have a right to ask for compliance. But make your intervention count. Unless the play seems truly hazardous with a possibility of imminent harm, confirm the need for intervention with the shift supervisor.
Assist: You are the public face of authority in the Play Area. People will be asking you where things are, if you’ve seen whoever, if such and so is allowed. People may also be having obvious difficulty getting equipment to work. Others may complain that they are being stalked. Be courteous and helpful throughout.

Do not allow yourself to be bullied by pseudo-safety-experts: Some attendees of SM events attempt to assert their authority by pestering DMs to bust into scenes they personally dislike, or into scenes involving people they don’t like. If someone informs you there is a scene that warrants your attention fair enough (although if your doing your job well you should have noticed it already). Tell the concerned party that their concern has been duly noted and you will monitor the scene. But it’s your call, not theirs, that decides whether a scene should be interrupted.

When and if you intervene: Make sure that your point of concern has a legitimate basis in the Play Safety Rules, and is not influenced by your personal likes and dislikes. The easiest way to distinguish yourself as a poor DM is to become known for crashing scenes when no intervention was necessary. However, if you feel you could justify intervention to your shift supervisor, intervene. All attendees have signed an agreement to abide by the Play Rules. Determine the level of response needed, and do the right thing. Your word is law. Get the attention of the top and signal him/her aside. And when you intervene:

Be Diplomatic: Use a calm, professional, friendly vocal tone. Do not be smug or bossy. Do not wag your finger. Good opening lines: “Is everything okay?” “Excuse me, may I be of assistance?” “May I speak with you for a moment?”
Be Fair: Explain your concern to the involved party; point out the area of your concern in the house rules. Explain that written Play Area Rules must be enforced on a no exception basis and that play outside those parameters must be conducted elsewhere in private.

Be Firm: Be firm in your resolve that the play rules be obeyed. Say you’ll call your supervisor if you can’t get your point understood. You are within your rights to suspend the scene.

If a Problem Persists: Intervene again and notify the shift supervisor. f the shift supervisor overrides your decision, take it in stride and continue your patrol. Confirming the need for an intervention with the supervisor before acting eliminates the chance of being overruled after the fact. It will still be your job to intervene if it is warranted, but you will have your supervisor behind you. If the shift supervisor decides that the offending individual needs to be removed from the event then it is their call and should only be done as a last resort. Only a shift supervisor, event organizer, or presiding club officer has the authority to eject an individual from an event.

Report the Intervention to your shift supervisor: This is so: the shift supervisor knows what’s going on in the Play Area to give him/her a sense of “heavy scenes” that push the house rules and require further inspection, and to check the tendency of some DMs to intervene too frequently. If you can’t justify your intervention to the shift supervisor ,you shouldn’t be intervening at all.
Assist in maintaining the space: Watch for equipment failure. Any broken or unsafe equipment should be repaired or marked “Do not use” with a sign and tape, making sure to notify your supervisor. Watch for accumulations of beverage cups, trash, toybags creeping into walkways, and furniture being moved in front of emergency exits.

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Being a hardass DM is trivially easy: simply butt in and insert yourself or your helpful advice whenever you feel the urge. But in addition to being easy, this is piss poor DM performance. A DM who is interrupting scenes willy nilly may be dispensing practical advice but they are also intruding on the privacy of guests of the event and when this is done, if at all, there had better be a good reason.

Intervention in a scene should not be never be done casually, but occasionally it must be done. This section examines conditions that make an intervention justifiable, or at least warrant close scrutiny by the DMs on duty. The guidance offered in this section should not be taken as a substitute for the Play Area Rules, which the event host is responsible for drafting and are dictated by safety, legal, and bureaucratic concerns, as well as the general comfort levels and play tastes of the host or hosting organization. Instead, this section will outline general wisdom concerning what most SM folk would regard as mainstream play and what would count as edgy whether any particular activities are permitted by the house rules in effect or not, and how this knowledge informs your decision to intervene on a scene or not.

Under what circumstances should a DM intervene? A potential violation of the law can be more compelling than an issue of safety. A scene involving a minor could be catastrophic for a club, even if it is performed safely according to conventional BDSM standards. Illegal drugs are usually forbidden at play events and and cannot be tolerated if the play is to be kept within the letter of the law.

Let’s start with the easy ones.

Intervention is Necessary in the following cases:

  1. At any violation of posted play safety rules.
  2. If an activity is illegal or could cause legal hassles to the hosting venue, the host, or the host’s liquor license .
  3. At any intimation that a scene is not consensual. Regardless of the Play Area Rules, if someone screams “RED” or “SAFEWORD” that should be an attention grabber. In the Black Rose Play Area Rules “Red” and “Yellow” are orders from the bottom to the top. No intervention is necessary until the top is given a chance to respond appropriately. “S safeword” is a call for immediate DM intervention.
  4. At any loud altercations, arguments or shouting matches. The Play Area isn’t a library but it’s not a pool hall either.
  5. If the Play Area is crowded, people are waiting for equipment and have no place else to play, and a scene has gone longer than ninety minutes.
  6. If scenes are happening in places where they are forbidden, or if they infringe on common spaces not intended for play.
  7. If it poses a realistic threat to the players involved or standers by.
  8. So much for the cut and dry. The remainder of this chapter will deal with situations where intervention may or may not be called for depending on circumstance. These circumstances could include:
  9. Weeping, screaming, conduct disturbing other players, or leading to complaints
  10. A player having breathing difficulties: gasping, wheezing, unable to catch breath
  11. If an activity could potentially result in the neighborhood burning down
  12. If an activity could motivate a neighbor or attendee to call the police
  13. If an activity could realistically spread blood borne pathogens to other attendees
  14. If an activity is having a strong adverse affect on the rest of the party
  15. If you, as DM, feel an activity crosses a line in terms of safety. For your benefit, the following scene-scenarios are the kinds of things to watch for. This is not a mandate for intervention but rather a catalogue of the kinds of things that could justify an intervention.

Blood: Anything that involves blood warrants a DM’s close attention, and running blood more so still, particularly if it’s getting on equipment or the floor. Pathogens can at least in theory by transmitted like TB, through microscopic droplet transmission in the air. Bloodplay involving sharps, such as surgical scalpels or needles, always require the use of a sharps container. Sharps discarded on the floor warrants immediate intervention. And anytime players leave a mess behind them, a DM is justified in saying something.

Alcohol: One of the most common causes of DM intervention is people who have been partaking of alcohol interfering with the scenes of others, standing too close, talking too loud, getting a little too friendly. Feel free to inquire if a person is drunk, or behaving like they are intoxicated. In a “dry dungeon” an attendee with alcohol on his breath may be in violation whether he plays safely or not.

Controlled substances: Illegal drugs, legal over the counter, or prescription drugs are never a good sign.

Contraband: Explosives and/or firearms, whether used as scene props or not may either be illegal, or frighten other guests.

Sexual activity: Live sex between two willing participants can be a real problem if, for instance, the event is being held in a venue that serves alcohol and stands to lose its license. In a bar, even certain kinds of non-sexual touching can be legal quicksand. Know the rules for that venue and enforce diligently. If sexual activity is permitted, other unstated rules may exist as well. Safer sex should be encouraged, keeping in mind that monogamy and fluid bonding are methods of safer sex. If barrier devices (condoms, gloves, dental dams) are required by house rules, handing one to a top would be an appropriate intervention. Objects being moved from within the anus to the vagina can cause yeast infections and worse and should be discouraged.

Impact Play: Flogging to blood, especially scenes that could potentially slop blood around, or to fling it. Scenes that could cause genuine damage (like striking with the buckle end of a belt) are the DM’s discretion. This could include violations of basic SM safety like hard hits to the kidneys, spine, neck and head. Whipping scenes can become space hogs, and you should intervene if a flogging or whipping is infringing on other scenes.

Scenes involving open flame: Make sure that waxing, branding, or fireplay are done in an area free of potential fire hazards, ideally one specially prepared for the safe use of fire and wax. A second source of risk is the type of fuel used in fireplay scenes. Anything other than isopropyl alcohol is probably worth having a good close look at.

Noisy scenes: Scenes that involve a lot of yelling, screaming, crying, or conversation loud enough to disturb other scenes. If there is a scream room, noisy scenes might be directed there.

Obstruction of Breath: Breathplay is regarded as “edgy” in virtually every Play Area in America and must always be watched closely in those places where it is allowed at all. Breathplay that involves noosing is extremely risky and is generally not allowed. A hand over the mouth and nose, however, does not imply that the bottom is in immediate danger, nor does a hand grabbing the neck. Watch principally for scenes where, if the top were to fall over in a dead faint, the bottom might still have difficulty breathing?. If you feel that you are watching a breathplay scene and it is not permitted, make a responsible call.

Gagging, hoods and gasmasks: Can nudge their way into the breathplay category by obstructing the wearer’s breathing and requiring some time to remove. If someone were to vomit while wearing a lace-up hood requiring minutes to remove… you get the idea. Particularly risky are hoods combined with a “pump gag,” which expand and block the throat or burst, leaving rubber shards in the esophagus.

Bondage: Blood circulation is a principal concern in bondage. Bluing extremities, discoloration, or swelling are signs that bondage might be unintentionally tight. On the other hand, deliberately painful bondage is sometimes done deliberately. Other factors include the materials used. In general, rope has more risk potential than leather cuffs. Chain or handcuffs are more unyielding than either.

While “too tight” bondage is certainly a risk, it ranks a distant second to the risk of someone falling while tied up. According to Jay Wiseman, a person falling while bound is the number one source of injury in all of BDSM practice. And in suburban basements and warehouse environments where SM is often practiced, the floors are often concrete, maximizing potential damage in the event of a fall. Ergo, the biggest risk criterion in monitoring a bondage scene is whether a fall is possible. A bondage scene in which the bottom is lying on the floor is generally much safer than one where they are standing or suspended (riskier still). A fall especially when the arms are tied can be catastrophic. This is why standing bondage (especially with the feet bound) or standing mummification is high risk, as is the seeminingly benign combination of bound hands and high heels.

Noosing: Noosing is a dangerous kind of bondage where the neck is coiled with rope tight enough to obstruct breathing (generally accepted safety standards recommend that two fingers can be easily inserted) or if the neck is looped with rope and then tied off on an overhead attachment point in such a way that it could go taut if the bound person were to loose their balance and fall. Many cases of erotic asphyxiation are the result of noosing games played alone. And a person wearing a slave collar on a chain attached to an overhead mount could hang just as effectively as if they were on the gallows if they lost their balance and fell. Intervene at once if you observe any thing tied around the neck that could strangle a person in the event of a fall. The same advice applies to genitalia or body jewelry attached to a tie point in such a way that loss of balance could do them accidental harm.

Breast Play, Testicle play and compression bondage: The quickest way to raise the ire of the pseudo safety monitor is to perform constricting bondage, impact, and/or piercing on the breasts or testicles. Although little medical data exists at present, some believe that heavy constriction play on breasts or balls may cause future health problems. Constricted balls or breasts will darken, swell, and bleed profusely if the skin is broken. While this certainly counts as ”heavy play“ by most standards it is not in itself cause for intervention. If, however, the bound anatomy is attached to something or someone else that could yank or apply unintended pressure to the bound anatomy, the risk is much higher. If a fall could result in physical injury to the bound person, the rules about noosing apply and the scene must be redirected or stopped.

Suspension: Generally speaking, suspension scenes are the most risk-intensive form of bondage because they are, by definition, tight enough to suspend all or part of a persons anatomy, and that they place distance between the bound partner and the floor. Suspension twelve inches above a mattress or padding is obviously safer than the same scene twelve feet off the ground. Anything that could result in a suspended body falling has to be watched closely. A suspension scene hinging on S hooks is less safe. Suspension by the wrists has a higher potential of pulled joints than a suspension supporting the trunk of the body.

Electrical Play (Voltage Devices): Violet wands should not used near flammable liquids (alcohol, perfume) or vapors, or in the vicinity of the face.

Electrical Play (Current Devices): Direct current devices are at their riskiest when passing current through the chest or through the head. For this reason direct current devices are best kept below the waistline. Scenes involving cattle prods and stun guns are generally regarded as heavy electrical play and ought to monitored closely.

Messy play scenes: Potentially messy scenes, like enemas or watersports, should always be performed in designated areas assuming they are allowed at all.

Wrestling/Boxing/Take Downs: Full contact sparring, wrestling, or grappling cannot be rendered risk-free, but can be made safer by engaging in these sports on wrestling mats in designated areas were passers by wont get dragged in by mistake. Such activities should not be permitted in the absence of special venues.

Right Scene/ wrong place: Some scenes which are permitted in the Play Area Rules can be a real mess if they are performed in the wrong part of the play area. Blood play is always safer in a medical room where cleanliness is greater and there’s less likelihood of being jostled by a spectator. A Play Area that allows a “scream room”where people can play LOUD might prevent a noisy scene from disturbing others. Another good idea is a fire room (for fireplay and waxing) which has been configured to reduce the risk of fire spreading. Scenes that could be construed as “edgy” will benefit from the DM knowing about them ahead of time. Doing some sensible planning ahead of time and disseminating the Play Area rules to the attendees can make the play area much easier for the DM to manage and cause less of a chance of scenes interfering with each other

Having outlined some areas of potential risk, bear in mind that the number one mistake a DM can make is intervening unnecessarily. Interventions are less necessary, even for an “edgy” scene if:

  • The Play Area is largely empty and free of crowds or players waiting for equipment
  • You know the players to be experienced
  • You know the players to play together frequently.

This does not mean that “expert players” may engage in activities forbidden by the Play Area Rules. Even if they can execute an edgy scene flawlessly or are playing with quasi-indestructible bottoms, there may still be issues involving law, insurance, and the comfort level of other guests, even civil action that make conformance with the Play Area Rules an imperative.

Interventions might be readily justified, safeword or no, if:

  • The play violates the Play Area Rules.
  • The players are not known to you or to others on the DM staff.
  • The Play Area is crowded to the point where the spectators and players are competing for the same space, and the play is expanding into areas beyond the play area (this occurs most frequently in scenes regarding long whips.)
  • There people are waiting for equipment
  • Sense of people playing way outside their ability
  • Screaming, begging, crying, shouts of anger or a mid scene argument. If one of the players is bawling that they “want to go home” an intervention might be a good idea just to confirm that you are witnessing SM and not assault and battery.

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, an intervention may be warranted if only to redirect some aspect of the play. If you want a second opinion ask one of your fellow DMs. But ultimately the responsibility is yours for making the call. Harmless oversights, mildly risky behavior, or advanced play should not be interrupted in general. If you see something that genuinely worries you but breaks no rule or poses no immediate threat don’t intervene, or abandon the rest of your patrol but stay alert. Get the opinion of a fellow DM, or consult with your supervisor.

In summary, any outright violation of the Play Area Rules must be stopped immediately. Actions not explicitly forbidden in the Play Area Rules may still warrant intervention but only in response to a safety concern that you can articulate plausibly to the offending individual and to your shift supervisor. If you have a concern about a scene that doesn’t quite cross a line watch it closely, but intervene only if it looks like genuine trouble brewing. A heavy scene that violates no rules should never be interrupted merely for being heavy. This includes interruptions for “helpful hints” on how to do things better. Interrupting so a Dungeon Monitor can demonstrate flogging technique will not be welcomed by all. The advice in all these instances is watch closely and exercise both restraint and common sense. Your job is to protect the event, the guests, and the sense of a good time to be had by all.

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