Pathfinder as Education

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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It looks like this summer I will have a chance to teach a one-week course at a local elementary school called Pathfinder Fantasy Adventures. As the name suggests, it will basically be me running one-hour mini-sessions of Pathfinder with the goal of teaching problem-solving skills, strengthening basic math abilities, and exercising the imagination. This isn't just me trying to find an excuse to play more Pathfinder - I actually think there is educational merit in role-playing games.

I'm looking for ideas from anybody in terms of running the course. The class will consist of 5th and 6th graders, and the plan is currently to run a streamlined version of Pathfinder not because they wouldn't get the full rules but because I want to be able to save time. I expect to use some flip mats and counters for visual aids, and I'll probably be giving each student their own set of dice to keep after the course.

The big thing I'm hoping to do is focus more on problem-solving than on combat. There will definitely be combat, but I want to de-emphasize that where possible to avoid any potential problems with parents getting upset about their kids pretending to do violent things at school.

Has anyone seen something similar to this done before? If so, any suggestions on how to plan?

For those interested, here is the pitch I used for the course outline:

Long Description:

The Pathfinder role-playing game is a game in which players pretend to take the role of fantasy heroes similar to the protagonists from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. The players must work together to overcome monsters, traps, and obstacles on their way to a final goal. Typical goals include the recovery of a lost treasure, the rescue of a princess, and similar staples of fantasy literature.

In an educational environment, Pathfinder can teach children the importance of creativity and teamwork while exercising their imaginations and igniting an interest in both history and literature. The game is heavily rooted in many different mythologies, with creatures such as gorgons from Greek mythology, the chupacabra from Central American myth, and even literary creations such as the jabberwocky from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.

Additionally, the game uses several different kinds of polyhedral dice to determine the outcome of various actions. Players will need to learn about probability and statistics in order to figure out which actions have the best chance of success. Combining creativity, literary references, historical context, and mathematical skills, Pathfinder is an excellent educational tool.

Proposed Classroom Model: Four to six students will be placed in a group, where they will be walked through the basics of designing a hero for the coming adventure and introduced to the concept of role-playing. One instructor will serve as the “Game Master,” a referee-like individual who prepares the story, adjudicates actions, and explains the rules of the game when necessary. The students will then be presented with the story, which will involve an opening conflict, several obstacles, and a conclusion where they receive rewards for their successes. Several adventures can be linked together into a “campaign,” during which the students will be able to develop their imaginary heroes in different ways.

Sample Scenario: The heroes wake up in a dungeon after having been kidnapped by an evil wizard. The wizard plans on forcing them to work in his salt mines as slaves. Joining together, the heroes will have to trick their jailer into letting them out of their cell, sneak past the wizard's pet monsters, and ultimately defeat the evil wizard himself in order to earn their freedom. They cannot pass these tests individually – they will need to work together as a group and use their different skills in order to escape.

Educational Value: The Pathfinder role-playing game provides three tiers of educational value:

1) The game enforces the importance of teamwork, cooperation, and group problem solving,

2) The scenarios are rooted in classic literature and ancient mythology, providing many opportunities for further reading,

3) The game's mechanics rely on arithmetic and statistics, allowing those who take the time to learn about the math behind the game to gain an advantage.

Most importantly, the Pathfinder role-playing game allows students to have fun and be creative. They win or lose as a group, and as long as everybody has fun while learning, everybody wins.

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Try the Beginner Box resources.
The rules are streamlined for easier comprehension.

I haven't read them yet, but the Beginner Box Bash Demos may be the right length for this kind of setting. Also, they're free.

Sounds awesome. I never had the fun but know my folks who were part of DND clubs based out of school back in the day. I in no way mean this as a dis on PF, rather I have worked in education. With the age group you are looking at I warn you to chose carefully what sources you let the kids go to. There are some elements of PF lore that bring up sexuality issues and that can be a huge bummer when it is taken out of context.

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If you truly want to investigate the educational opportunities of playing the game, you could focus on problem solving as you suggest, but also you could focus on the mathematical aspects of the game showing how calculating attack and damage bonuses is a pretty good basic math exercise. You could also use the sessions to do short historical asides about some of the technology or culture in the game. Such things as "this setting approximates the culture of a 13th century European Medieval village just prior to the great plagues...

Or you could even use it as an opportunity to introduce some basic classic mythology by explaining the origin of some of the more common monster types, including trolls, goblins, troglodytes, ogres, etc...

Then you could give them a quiz!

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Mr. Brooks,

Good Stuff! OK here's one idea,

In the PF GMG pp. 232, 233 Chases.

Basic "Game Mechanics"
Here the students need to understand how the game is played. Explain what a Game Master (GM aka "referee") and Player Characters(PCs) roles are.

Dice: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 others,
Movement 20', 30' 30'+,
Skills VS Feats

Using "The Chase Scene" covers a small sample of "the basics" when it comes to playing an RPG! In creating the chase scene the only info the students need are:

Attributes: Str, Dex and Wis
Skills: Str = Climb; Dex = Acrobatics, Escape Artist; Wis = Perception

There's an excellent illustrated/flowchart example of a chase where different skills are used (Acrobatics, climb, Perception and Escape Artist.)

Have the students "design" a chase scene using a Flow Chart. The simple flowchart is in the GMG and/or use the math/logic flow chart (the diamond with yes/no options) etc.

By using the Skills/Feats the students need to imagine the "obstacles" AND the means for their imaginary Characters to "solve/get around" the obstacles. Getting from A-Z/Chasing the bad guys is NOT the exercise, creating the chase is!

They'll need to create:

The Scene/Environment:
A busy market place,
A Rooftop,
Ben Hurr's Colosseum Horse Race,
The Maze in Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire,
A corridor/sewer.

The "Trimmings" aka obstacles
Market Place: Animal "poop" (they fail their Dex/Perception check) which makes the chasers slip/fall/delay their chase,
Rooftop: Loose Roof tile, Hidden Pigeon flock, tightrope/open,
Corridor/Sewer: stepping on a wet stones (dex check) makes the chasers slip/fall, a failed Perception check triggers a trap!

Have them create "Chase Cards/Tiles" and/or use a flip mat. Graph paper can be an excellent and multiple replacement.

Real World Application
You can then illustrate that these "pencil/pen, paper and imagination" exercises works for (wait for it) Video Games, comic/illustrated books, TV/Movie scenes which in real life is called creating a "story board"!

Basically I tried to give you an example to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Silly).

If I come up with any other ideas I'll post 'em!

That'll be two cents please,


Shadow Lodge

I have nothing useful to add but I wanted to note that this idea is awesome and so are you.

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The really valuable part of this is the math, reading and problemsolving are encouraged by simple participation but as the kids get involved you can have them be part of world building, learning about mythology as others have suggested, social sciences getting into historical, economic and political elements of the game. It really is a game that lends itself to a huge variety of opportunity. Perhaps some of the kids like to build models or have art skills they can paint minis for the other kids or design dungeon terrain on the PC or out of paper mache. It really could be cool. The only thing I would suggest especally being a summer program is that 1 hour a aday is little light. See if you can get it set up before or after the lunch period so to steal some extra time.

Charlie Brooks wrote:
It looks like this summer I will have a chance to teach a one-week course at a local elementary school called Pathfinder Fantasy Adventures. As the name suggests, it will basically be me running one-hour mini-sessions of Pathfinder with the goal of teaching problem-solving skills, strengthening basic math abilities, and exercising the imagination. This isn't just me trying to find an excuse to play more Pathfinder - I actually think there is educational merit in role-playing games.

It is, and this has been proven from the days of D&D when churches panicked about conjuring demons and casting spells. Good move. I recomend the beginner's box as well, it's designed to be quick and easy to use.

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I've participated as a volunteer GM in this scenario, and here's a few thoughts I have on the subject:

1.) Clearly define a "role" for each player. Mapper, Note Taker, Treasure Handler, etc. Rotate these roles so that everybody gets a chance to do it.
2.) Don't be afraid to be authoritative. (These are 5th and 6th graders after all.)
3.) Always have multiple ways to solve an encounter, so that if they're stumped, they don't get frustrated.
4.) Give every player a chance in the spotlight, and be sure to call them out by their character's name to help with immersion.
5.) Props! This is extra fun.
6.) Bring extra dice, pencil, and paper. (Don't forget the graph paper.)
7.) I had a Character Questionnaire that asked five questions for players to answer about their character (do you have a brother or sister, hobbies, etc.). Again, this helped them define their characters.

Have a great time! I really enjoyed it when I GM'ed for a bunch of kids and introduced them to roleplaying. :D

If you want to add more math to the game, add 15% damage to all attacks, then subtract the attacker's strength modifier-root of the defender's AC.

And keep track of fractional HP.

Silver Crusade

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Meophist: I think the idea is to teach math, not give the players a justification to hit him with books.

Back on topic, I'm glad to see this being tried! I do not have any specific help, merely a possible stumbling block to consider: Some of the most popular classes are divine themed, using a fantasy pantheon to support them. In most locales, I doubt this will be an issue. Most people can make the distinction between a fictional deity and something presented as 'real' to the children.

I only bring this up on the off-chance you're running this plan in a particularly 'defensively religious' community. I have neighbors and relatives who, to this day, think I have fallen into devil worship through tabletop RPGs. It's sad, but the cliche of "RPGs are a gateway to dark religions!" still exists even if it is thankfully far less common today.

Should someone bring it up, it might help to have some kind of plan or response already in mind. I really, really hope it doesn't even come up at all, but it seems like a good 'just in case' thing to consider.

Hopefully a non-issue though. In any case, I wish you luck with this; it's a great idea!

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I love this idea.

So, you're looking at 5 one-hour sessions, correct?

Suggested topics:

Day 1: Making their own characters - there isn't time to teach the mechanics in one hour, but you can have them flesh out what they want to play. Have example drawings and backstories that they can read.

Day 2: Basics of dice rolling - Skill challenges. Show how they can use Aid Another to achieve a goal. The chase rules mentioned above make a great fit. At the end, have treasure - both in and out of character - to reward their combined effort.

Day 3: Conflicts - have NPCs show up to antagonize them. They can fight, flee, or find a different solution. Have more treasure at the end if they're successful, but tease it early so they know what's on the line.

Day 4: Puzzles - present a dungeon that can be completed through different methods. Give them a dilemma to work through and let them come up with a plan to beat it.

Day 5: Your proposed fight against the Wizard. They win and the world is saved! …this time.

As far as props go, I might suggest the Plot Twist GameMastery cards. I don't own them myself (yet) but I've been looking into them and love the idea of having the players contribute to the story like that. A grown up version of the old "Yes, and…" game.

Celestial Pegasus wrote:
Meophist: I think the idea is to teach math, not give the players a justification to hit him with books.

That was in jest. Although thinking about it, having the root number half the damage die may be better balanced.

To be serious, I have thought of trying making a game that can help teach math and is scalable for different skill levels. The project never really got anywhere, however. It's still something I'd like to try sometime.

Edit: One idea that could work for the game may be to replace critical confirmation with math problems, or something else educational. If they get the answer right, they confirm.

Silver Crusade

Meophist: That's cool. I imagined it was a joke (normal, fully-experienced-players Pathfinder sessions would fall apart if advanced math were introduced, after all), so just replied in kind with one. No offense taken or meant.


You say this is happening over the summer..... 1) the begginner box scenarios linked to above are timed to be about an hour each....
2) @ Gencon they are running "kids tables" might be worth contacting Mike Brock and Mark Moreland to see if there is any possibility on getting those scenarios if they are different

Wow, I think about when I was this age (Early to mid 80's) and someone wanted to teach a course with D & D as a basis . . .

With that being said I do number of this like this not necessarily at schools programs for at risk teens and kids with disability issues. They have ton of fun, they work on math calculations, social skills, fair play, teamwork, strategy, problem solving, imagination, etc.

I have used 3.5/Pathfinder, Heroescape, and even Arkham Horror for this.

One of things I do before I run these programs is I always have meeting with the parents to explain the games to them, the goals around playing the games (some of these meeting have turned into game sessions) and give parents the ability to contact me at any time with concerns.

For a Pathfinder programs I would do five 2 hours sessions. The first session would be explaining the game, the basic rules and making characters. The next 4 would be playing the game.

I have been doing this for a number of years, and they have pretty much gone really well and even developed some interesting gaming groups>

There is a gaming group from one of the early programs that still gets together and plays, all the players are have some for on ASD (Autism Spectum Disorder).

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So far, some of the ideas I've had include:

-Using the elite array for ability scores.
-Having the PCs all be human unless they specifically ask to be something else.
-Using the four basic classes and the skills/feat lists from the Beginner Box.
-Using most of the Beginner Box rules to avoid having to spend time on stuff like attacks of opportunity.
-Ignoring PC death entirely. If you hit 0hp, you're unconscious. If everyone loses consciousness, something bad happens. I'd rather not risk killing a character and then have to spend time rolling up new PCs.
-Giving a level up every session or ever second session. Advancement will be fast, but I think leveling is a big draw for gamers.

I'm hoping to use the first day as a tutorial but also have the kids learn through an adventure. The evil wizard and his salt mines from my example come from my favorite intro adventure, "Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon" in the 1991 D&D boxed set. You start as some poor guy kidnapped by the wizard, then meet a bully in your cell. He's smuggled in some dice, so you learn the basics of dice probabilities, then you roll your ability scores when the bully tries to steal your gruel. Going on, you learn the basics of combat and select your class.

I'd like to go for something like that, possibly even using some of the Zanzer's Dungeon scenario. Since Pathfinder has skills where that iteration of D&D didn't, I can replace some of the combat with skill-based tutorials.

I'd like each session to run as a one-hour mini session, but also to have each adventure flow into the next one. So in session one the PCs might escape the evil wizard's dungeon, but in session two it turns out that the escape tunnel led into the lair of his pet dragon. Ideally, this will basically be a fast-paced mini adventure path.

Scarab Sages

For more math support, consider having players keep track of their rolls - they can then prepare graphs on statistics, and be able to talk about the usefulness of certain feats like Weapon Focus.

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as you mention history and literature quite often, you should focus your campaign around something out of history and literature.
Perhaps some ancient greek battle where they have to find a way to get into a fortress (a giant wooden horse would only be one of the many many possibilities). Greek mythologie recongnized magic, even if it was very different, and mainy used/given by the gods.

for statistics, I would plan a few minutes at the end to talk about things like "averages" or stuff like that. If it's more advanced you could calculate probabilities for 3d6, and if it's like really advanced, probability in 4d6 drop lowest (actually brute force algorithm is the only solution I know).

anyhow, great, and best of luck. And with historical fights you have a good excuse for the parents, history books are full of violence too. Perhaps keep the historical era where they are currently in history class.

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I have done this in an elementary type setting, principally grade 5. I've also been hired to run for kids' birthday parties.

I suggest keeping things simple, and you should probably keep out some rules. Like don't penalize kids for striking to subdue. Don't mess with some of the tedious rules, and perhaps have items that allow that to work (like give someone a bag of holding or such). For treasure, have items that are a bit grander than you might normally have--like an axe that can cut through anything, or boots that let a person walk on air as if walking on the floor, or move twice as fast as anyone else. Dole out lots of situational bonuses for creative teamwork or ideas, or even attempts at creative teamwork or ideas. I'd expand those bonuses, too--give a range of +2 to +10 or even more. You want an immediate reward for the kids--positive reinforcement. (A +2 bonus is pretty crummy because the kid will only appreciate it about 10% of the time, thus I'd make it significantly higher.) Tell them expressly that you're changing some of the rules based on discussions with other people--after all, house rules are a major part of the game, right?

Be sure to plan ways for everyone to get some spotlight at the table. And be prepared to come up with some improvisational ways to give people spotlight, as some kids will naturally budge some of the others out, and not because they are malicious or anything. If a kid is smart enough to understand the value of sharing spotlight time and enabling other people to have a good time at the table, give that kid a huge something.

Aid another is always nice. Insist that they narrate how, though, before they can do so.

Where there are more than 3 choices, decide ahead of time. Like summon monster--make it only two monsters available at each level, at least for starters. Or with spells available--limit the choices down. Do this to focus their strategic choices, i.e. something that flies, or something that is tough and has a sense of smell.

Expect that many of your kids won't know certain vocabulary words so well, like "diplomacy" or "bluff."

Simple puzzles and riddles are good. It's okay if they're too easy, as the success can give momentum. You can set them up with several avenues to success.

More than combat, I'd be very careful about religion. I wouldn't do it. At all. Give the wizards and sorcerers healing spells. (Merlin had them, after all.) A druid is maybe okay, but personally I wouldn't even go that far. Don't give paladins a god--just have them be some virtuous knight of the realm.

Along that same line, I'd lay out some simple ground rules about the intent of the game. The game is about heroes, and you will reward them for being heroes and for teamwork (and then follow up on that with those bonuses).

Honesty is important to them, so I would roll in front of the screen where practicable--especially for enemy saving throws and things that don't hurt the PCs, or where there is no chance of death (2d6 damage and the character has 20 HPs). Fudging dice rolls in the interest of momentum at the table is required, though, of course. I would keep bleeding and death in the game, myself, as those are part of heroics and the basis of teamwork at the table.

Keep the enemies as monsters. Don't kill people, even bandits. Defend a town-type things are good, or save the princess from the wizard with goblin slaves. Grand, simple stories. Make sure everyone has stuff to do, although it doesn't always have to be awesome--so make sure there are some wands and such.

Selling points? Math. Probabilities. Using scarce resources. Puzzle solving. Teamwork. Vocabulary words. Talk up the probabilities at the table, and their choices. So much of this game orients on combat--that's where all the strategic and tactical decisions lie. There's very little strategy in skill rolls--you can only hand out bonuses for narration, and there's no strategic choice there. I would probably use another system myself, frankly, but I imagine Pathfinder is one you know and one you want to roll with, and that's cool.

These are my thoughts. I hope they're helpful in some way. there's more but this is all I can think of for now.

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I definitely agree that the bad guys will all be monsters. I like the idea of an evil wizard with a pet dragon, but I'll need to find a race other than human for him. Maybe a drow? Those also have a connection to Norse mythology, though I'm not sure how close the Pathfinder drow is to the mythical dark elves.

As far as selling points go, I've received the email telling me that it's on, so it looks like I'm past the selling points and more into the actual preparation now. Working the math of the dice and probabilities into the game is a good idea. Too bad I'm not going with rolling for ability scores, because then I could bring out the old bell curve chart.

As for keeping things in the open, I almost never use a GM screen anyway, so that should be no problem.

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For your BBEG wizard--maybe consider something mildly amusing. Like an ogre or troll wizard. Or a craven goblin or kobold wizard with delusions of grandeur (and who happens to have bad breath). Or maybe even a giant who is a wizard, in the FeeFieFoeFum style with an enslaved magic harp and everything. Maybe the creature is the result of some horrible magical accident gone awry, and it baked the previous BBE Wizard in a pie. (The peasants liked the last evil wizard so much more . . . .) Wizards also give you all sorts of excuses for magical puzzles and so on in the tower, captives to rescue, etc.

For me, goblins would be a must, but I adore playing them. Maybe they have to barter with some or trick them or some such. Just can't go wrong with goblins.

I think utilizing traditional mythology is a fine idea. Norse stuff--various creatures could at various times get all mixed up, so don't sweat the details on that too hard. There's tons to plunder from Greek mythology of course, too. But either of those could be the theme of their own grand adventures entirely. Odin lost his eyepatch, or Aphrodite's daughter was turned to stone by a jealous Medusa, etc. Something based on actual history might be nice if they've studied it--they'll have a reference and get to use and expand on something they learned in school. Could work, could work.

How big is the group? Sounds kind of wonderful. I recommend some pictures for them, but you seem to grok the importance of visual aids and props here. Maybe feature some runaways from faerie tales (Jack all grown up, Grumpy the Dwarf's son, Captain Hook's rapier, etc.), or not.

After they're invested in your game, a few sessions in, at some point you can talk about the difference between 2d6 and 1d12, and 1d20 and 2d10, because then the math will mean something to them besides just you yammering away. It will mean something about the game, and it will have practical meaning for them. And that's the teachable moment.

Scarab Sages

Oh, also throw in currency and resource management by keeping track of gp and encumbrance!

Big M wrote:
After they're invested in your game, a few sessions in, at some point you can talk about the difference between 2d6 and 1d12, and 1d20 and 2d10, because then the math will mean something to them besides just you yammering away. It will mean something about the game, and it will have practical meaning for them. And that's the teachable moment.

Yeah - I would either have premades ready or have them design characters from a flavor standpoint (race, class, background), and then make characters for them from those writeups - a great way to teach creative thinking!

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I'm a volunteer coach for MathCounts at a local middle school. Last week I did a lesson on "probability and expected value," by teaching my students how to calculate the expected damage per round of a Pathfinder character under various situations. There's definitely lots of good chewy math in there that you can teach. Playing the full game should also give you scope to teach stuff like prioritization and managing resources. Tell us how it goes!

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Performing a bit of thread necromancy here, since the classes are now in session.

I ran two one-hour sessions today to much success. I'll be updated my blog with rambling play reports during the week.

The first report is right here.

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Great read, look forward to reading the rest!

Dude, thats awesome... I did something similar at the HS I used to work at using "car wars" what I found really amazing... STEVE JACKSON GAMES GAVE ME ALL THE MATERIALS FOR FREE! seriously like 20 copies of carwars no charge... maybe talk with the designers here for some free dice to give to the kids or something...

This is fantastic! I'm very impressed, will be following this with great interest. Hopefully the kids will not only learn from it, but also pick up a fantastic hobby that can last them for the rest of their lives.

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Day Two is done. Group One is lagging behind a bit because they tend to argue amongst themselves more, while Group Two got to choose their character classes. I'm playing fast and loose with the rules, but I think everybody will end with a rough idea of how to play the game.

Play report for Day Two

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I was exhausted last night and missed updating, but here's the report for day three.

Day Three

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And now I'm caught up. Day Four involved one group getting nothing done because they chose to fight amongst themselves, while the other group got to fight some crude golems and meet a gold dragon.

Day Four

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My last day is finished. The PCs from both groups escaped the dungeon. Several of them want to play again. At least one of them will be asking for the Beginner Box as a birthday present. Everybody got some practice in basic math, learned some new vocabulary, and has a list of recommended reading in the fantasy genre. I'd say overall it was a resounding success.

Day Five and Wrap-up Ramblings

That was a great story, congratulations on your succes. It sounds like everyone on the course got really into it, and it's fantastic that you seem to have created some new roleplayers.

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This thread came up at a very opportune time for me, so I'm happy for the necro.

Less happy that I'm reporting the necro as spam because it's one of those dodgy 'homework help' sites, but there we are.

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