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I'm running a D&D 4e campaign. There, a player has worked very hard and somehow tricked me into becoming a king of an evil kingdom (the population is 100,000+). The area he became king of is a town in the abyss. Good for him; he deserves it. However, how do I keep him from:

  1. Going into his town's treasury and looting all the gold and buying everything in the D&D manual?
  2. Rolling his army out to do quests for him?

Furthermore, how do I challenge a king intellectually and in battle? A personal army would be very annoying for me to maintain and or fight. Imagine rolling 20 times per turn.

The other players are just regular PCs (at level 11) and he wants to continue playing.

Any thoughts at all would be appreciated.

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All - comments are not for open ended discussion, they are specifically to clarify/improve the question or answer. Answer in answers, opine in chat. –  mxyzplk May 20 '13 at 22:46
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One aside-I'd love to know how you got swindled out of a kingdom. –  JohnP May 21 '13 at 0:23
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Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/22786/… –  SevenSidedDie May 21 '13 at 15:23
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16 Answers

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Contrary to what most people think, being a King doesn't make you the supreme ruler. A quick game of Crusader Kings would enforce that. Here's what I would do

  • Define, loosely, the political structure of his realm and his obligations. A king has obligations to his people; he can't just take everything out from the treasury because he has troops to feed, fiefs to upkeep and his castle will require maintenance.

  • A king who holds all the power is bound to have unhappy subject (hence feudalism). He has to delegate power; and if he does, and if due to his actions, he become a unpopular king, his subjects will rebel.

  • An evil kingdom sounds like the perfect plot hook to throw all sort of intrigues and political power struggle. He may become the target of various disgruntled nobles, and he is bound to be outnumbered.

  • An evil kingdom may have certain rites or ceremonies that expect the king to prove himself to be strong and capable. Have him undertake dangerous tasks (such as raiding another evil kingdom) which, by weight of tradition, will only allow him and a small number of troops to go along.

However, the biggest question is does the PCs like the direction the game is going, that you are shifting to more political power-play and intrigue. If they don't here are some ways:

  • Have the king-PC become a NPC, and roll up a new character of the same level. The character is now the king's Champion. If the other PCs agree, the King-NPC are now the center of the campaign.

  • Have the king-PC, to secure his domain, give important titles to the other PCs, so everyone is more or less on the same level. However, the tone of the campaign will change - it's unlikely they will all want to descend into dungeons for loots and treasure.

Another way is to discuss with the your players how to proceed - if they are still fine with the usual style of adventures, work out something together. Me, I will just go with the 'Trial of the Kings' idea

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Look, the two of you are going to need to coordinate and manage expectations here.

Tricking the GM into giving you a kingdom? AWESOME. But the game still needs to run, and both of you need to take that into account. You want to give him what he wants, to have the game be fun for him - but if what he wants is to be an omnipotent monarch and do his adventuring by proxy, well, that's just not going to work out for anybody.

Your player, will, hopefully, understand this. Then the two of you can consider a few options of where you'd like things to go from here.

  • If he wants to keep playing the character, then for plot and balance reasons, the kingdom's got to go. He'll need to agree to some upcoming plot development that'll take away the bulk of his hard-earned advantage - maybe he gets deposed; maybe the PCs go realm-hopping and he leaves the kingdom behind; whatever fits. The plot twist can be something cool and exciting! - something that lets your player keep the "coolness" of ruling/having ruled the kingdom, and maybe he can even keep an epic benefit from the experience. But, he can't just rule on high and call it a day.
  • If he wants to keep the kingdom and would consider switching characters, I think that's an awesome character arc for him to have pulled off. Better than give it up, retiring the PC is a great option. He can have a recurring role; maybe even return to the character later, when the other PCs have matched his level. He can make a new PC associated somehow with the kingdom and with the awesome tricksy switcheroo - maybe with some awesome extra boon.
  • A possible third route would be for you to divert the game in a direction where having a PC king doesn't hamper the game. I don't know if this is possible, or if it interests you and the other players. But if you want to shunt the game into something surrounding the newly-captured kingdom, or move into political intrigue mode, or find an excuse to bump all the PCs up on par with His Majesty and raise the power level at one fell swoop... you might be able to pull it off. But, don't derail the game unless you and the other players also want to go in the new direction.

I don't know who the player is, what he wants from the game, and how open he is to meta-discussion. These are all factors in how to handle the situation. But if he's reasonably mature and willing to discuss how the game's actually going to play now, then that's all you need to do - ask him how he wants the game to go from here! Brainstorm, come up with suggestions, see what he wants and what he's thinking of. If he managed to swindle you out of a kingdom, then he might have some other great ideas, too!

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+1. I've taken the third route once before to good effect; the other players were fine with becoming his elite guard, generals, and advisors. Political intrigue can take some creativity but has a huge amount of potential. See Game of Thrones, Shakespeare, I Claudius, and so forth for ideas on how this might work. –  Bryce May 20 '13 at 21:39
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@Bryce A Game of Thrones even has a king lamenting that he can't just go about "adventuring" anymore because of the weight of kingly duties. –  SevenSidedDie May 20 '13 at 22:14
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Also, the Belgariad and Mallorean (David Eddings) both deal with a king that has to go off questing a couple of times, and see his thinly disguised ripoff of his own works, The Elenium and Tamuli series. –  JohnP May 21 '13 at 0:22
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An interesting option would be a disaster which completely obliterates the kingdom. A disaster which didn't seem to be entirely natural. This would be a great plothook for an adventure about finding out who is responsible and taking revenge. But again, this should be planned with the player. –  Philipp May 21 '13 at 12:23
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Let him try to impoverish his towns and take all their able-bodied workers to be killed in war. Two or three towns along he and his slow-moving treasure caravan and small mob of unarmed peasants will run into the collected forces of the armed rebels who object to this treatment, which will be numerous enough that he can't hope to fight them.

Maybe warn him that it would happen that way first.

Tyrants don't rule (or live) for long unless they're smart tyrants. Ruling an evil kingdom takes guile, an iron fist, and the ability to keep absolutely every underling from putting a dagger in your back (because it only takes one).

The vassals under the king are also powers in their own right, and they have their own agendas that aren't going to be compatible with a king who just takes what he wants. Most of the towns and citizens of the kingdom are actually not directly subjects of the king – they're going to be the subjects of the dukes and counts under the king, and seizing their gold and able workers is going to be opposed by the noble to whom that gold and those labourers actually belong. Unless this new king wants to (try to) strip his vassals of their titles and seize their lands so he doesn't need their cooperation to rule, he actually has very little direct control over the kingdom. And stripping vassals of titles tends to just make them angry and raise an army to depose you.

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Happily, you're playing 4th ed. Having a pet kingdom, like a pet dragon, means that you can adventure in new, and awesome places. It, however, doesn't impact actual encounters.

A kingdom is a great source for treasure parcels, but the economics of 4th ed aren't. Soldiers are great set dressing, but as low-level minions in (what is likely at least paragon) have no relevance to a fight.

To be specific, in paragon, PCs are expected to have strongholds (only 25k gold) and generally have the plot center around continent- and world-level threats. In epic, the game effectively assumes the PCs have "won the world." and presents planar level threats. Given that the cost of an epic healing potion is the cost of a large city, these scales are not unreasonable.

To address your edit, Being a human king in the abyss is quite literally being nothing but a target. Thank your player for the wonderful source of plot, and base most of the next few levels over encounters in the town.

Keeping him in check is the wrong question. His non-encounter antics are a fantastic source of plot, intrigue, and personalities. The party's combat encounters should be appropriate to their level and themed in response to their actions. Playing "king of the hill" for a few levels in late paragon or early epic in the abyss is actually the perfect spot for the narrative. Demons come in all flavours, and demons at the PCs level are going to be rare indeed. The effectiveness of an "army" in 4th ed is purely and manifestly set-dressing. There is no way to model them in combat. (If your player insists, give him 20 odd minions scaled to appropriate low-paragon level and tell him to roll his heart out.)

In the D&D game I played in, we used the realm-management rules from REIGN to model the development of our kingdom-city. They fit fairly well, until the levels got so high that we were giving insane bonuses to ourselves with the spare change from rituals.

Embrace the kingdom-as-plot! Now you have something to narratively threaten and to get the player invested in the story in its growth. You have a new source of treasure, so that all mobs don't have to be living in level-appropriate treasure-bedecked lairs. Item rarity means that they can buy all the common items they want. By the time they get to epic, this is already the case.

In 4th edition, as there is no aspect of simulation in the system, the kingdom is merely a very interesting narrative element to work into the plot.

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This is an opportunity, not a tragedy. Running a kingdom, especially an evil kingdom is HARD WORK. Others have stated some of the reasons why. Here are some specific counters to things people THINK they can do when they are a king:

  • I want to take all the gold and stuff in the kingdom for my own.
    • Really? Firstly, anything in his coffers is already his. Secondly, taxing the populace into oblivion will really piss them off. Remember Robin Hood? In this case, he'd be getting the rich on the side of the poor against him. That'll end badly. Beheading badly.
  • I want to send off my army to solve quests.
    • That's fine. As a king, this is totally acceptable. But it must be logical. There are two kinds of quests. Ones that could be handled by a small group of experts (the PC party) or equally well by a large army; these he absolutely can send an army to do. It'll cost lots of gold, and it'll have an uncontrollable level of success. And it will NOT be played out by you as the DM in great detail because the PCs aren't there to see the events. Key info might be lost.
    • More importantly, there are quests that an army can't deal with. Infiltrating and spying, snooping and clandestine efforts. Murder and assassination.
    • Lastly, there is a whole new kind of quest that kings and lords can be involved in. Kings hold court, and there they are asked for help with many things, and some of those might mean travel to other kingdoms in a small group.
  • I'm king. I can do whatever I want.
    • Being king has advantages, but he will have to balance everything he does against the perception of the people. If he is a huge jerk, he stands a big chance of being assassinated or otherwise removed. Play to this.
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The PC wants to keep adventuring. Ok, so who runs the store in his absence? Since this is an evil kingdom, I can imagine that there are several NPC's who are going to feel cheated out of their "rightful" shot at the throne, and would take advantage of any absence to further their claim.

And, I'm sure that he's not in control of the treasury personally. There is an exchequer or similar, and you don't get to that position without alliances and many schemes to control the money, regardless of what the guy currently sitting the throne says.

Not sure how you let a player "trick" you into becoming king, but remember that you still control the world. Put yourself in the PC's shoes, and try to anticipate what they will do/ask. Take steps to counter those requests.

Are there any obligations from the other PC's to the now king? Remember that with the throne, he also inherits all the treaties, envoys, and other assorted ruler type burdens. If the PC's have to stick around to help the king avoid a war with another kingdom, they won't be happy. Or, maybe the last king had ordered an assassination of a representative of another kingdom, the ruler of which now thinks the PC is responsible for ordering.

There are any number of plot twists and dastardly things you can now do to an (essentially) immobile target. Make the player realize that getting what you want isn't always a bowl of strawberries.

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With respect to the first paragraph, read up on John's regency of England while Richard I was on crusade. Now imagine his regent wasn't John but Sauramon. –  HerbN May 21 '13 at 16:58
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The mistake you're making is in asking:

How do I keep him from...

You don't keep him from anything. If he wants to get all the gold, let him get all the gold, and once he's used all the gold to buy things, have his public servants come to him seeking payment for their services. Or, have the entire blacksmith guild leave to go seek a new kingdom when he's unable to afford to have them repair the armor and weapons for his troops.

Being king isn't the life of a hero, it's the life of a manager.

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Have you ever heard of the video game "Mount and Blade"? In it, you can become the ruler of a town/nation but it's really focused on a combination of personal growth and a tactical strategy element.

The reason that owning land doesn't necessarily come to be an advantage are as follows:

  • Operation costs

You can take everything, but you only get it once, because then your subjects have to rebuild from dirt. In addition, scarcity still applies; if he wants something fancy he's going to have to recognize that he'll be drying up the market.

  • Loyalty

Even if you have become king, does everyone necessarily love you? He could be ousted by people who don't like him, especially if he abuses his powers.

  • Obligations

Kings are obligated to do a number of things; they have to meet with emissaries, and theoretically function as head of state, though they often export this duty. This could keep him from doing things that wouldn't make sense-he can't personally go shopping for gear, and his followers may not be able to get the good stuff for him. This can also inconvenience him as an adventurer (unless he leaves a body double and sneaks out).

  • Constitutions

Many medieval monarchs were constitutionally limited; there could be a rule that the king can't lead an army except in times of war; merely going to kill the goblins doesn't constitute war, and unless the local constable's gonna dispatch troops, the king could very well have to go alone-he wouldn't necessarily be refused help, indeed, he could ask for a militia to be raised to assist him, but he might wind up adventuring alone.

  • Questing

If the setting is a chivalrous high adventure setting, you could have royalty that declares that they must go on a quest and leaves the kingdom in the hands of an assistant for a while. This would justify him going alone.


Note that I don't really say anything here that isn't voluntary. and this is because there's no realistic way to do so; this is one of those "escalation" things where at a certain point you just run into a wall when your characters get too powerful. If he wants to exercise his kingly powers and be an adventurer, that's one thing, but if he wants to crush everything with his kingly majesty, he probably can.

Perhaps it would be better to consider courtly intrigue or a conspiracy against his character's life if you wished to continue using his character in a micro-scale scenario.

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You can let him play his king and play an adventurer. The trick is they can't be the same person where it wouldn't make sense.

So, give him a proxy character of the same type and level (or different if you like) and then the King can send this person on adventures as the King's champion. The King can give him his equipment and armor since the King doesn't need it anymore.

Then let the player switch characters as he likes. If his King wants to do something let him, but the Champion can do all the other things the King cannot get away with anymore.

If the player likes taking over kingdoms he could even, as the Champion, plot to take the kingdom away from the King, who of course would need to defend his kingdom from this nefarious plot. You did say it was an evil Kingdom.

As for rolling 20 times for army combat, have you looked for mass combat rules? I am pretty sure I recall some pretty good rules for armies which reduced them to characters. They had their own feats and such like Fast March or Veterans. They got bonuses for being led by Legendary Generals or having Heroes (like the PCs) as part of the army. And they had different attacks to use. I wish I could remember where those rules were.

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There are two logical system issues with the situation your PC has found himself in.

  1. Not everything in the D&D world is for sale. Uncommon and Rare magic items cannot be bought if your using the RAW, they can only be found through questing.

  2. Most townsfolk are mere minions. Even well trained soldiers in a small kingdom aren't going to be much use to a high level adventurer. Unless he's willing to slaughter his army, they aren't worth much against the typical D&D monsters. Not to mention that this kind of stratagem breaks 4e's carefully crafted action economy dynamics.

There are other good solutions here to the player dynamic side, but no one yet had mentioned the mechanical considerations.

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Standback has given a great answer and said most everything I'd say. A few other points though:

Keep in mind if it's an evil kingdom, well then he really can't trust all his underlings.

When he goes to rob the treasury, well it'll hardly be a surprise someone beat him to it and it stands empty.

Wants to send an army on a quest, well that's great except the general of that army turns it around and attempts a coup.

If he personally leads his army out in the field, perhaps with his fellow players each as a trusted captain, then they could easily be outgunned. The party could find themselves whittled down to just the core adventuring party plus half a column of useless conscripts, behind enemy lines with ships burned, and a long, dangerous road home. Meanwhile back at the capital, an usurper has taken advantage of the king's absence (and indeed perhaps he tipped off the enemy in the first place...)

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+1 Great points. Running a kingdom is one thing, but running an evil kingdom is quite another... –  Jonathan Hobbs May 21 '13 at 7:06
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I'm sure Conan and others faced similar situations. Normally, at the start of the next book (or arc), they were evading search parties from the evil lord who had usurped the kingdom (politics doesn't stop happening, you know) and a choice of filling the saddlebags with gold or with food and water... –  TimLymington May 22 '13 at 11:45
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How big is the kingdom?

Whether this is even an issue depends on the size of the kingdom. If it is a very large kingdom, then the issues you brought up are huge challenges. Some of the other answers here address that very well and you have options such as making him face the political realities, encouraging him to retire that character (as a reigning champion!), etc.

But if this is a small kingdom then it probably isn't a big issue. The personal wealth of a high level adventurer would dwarf the treasury of a moderately realistic small kingdom in the Middle Ages (especially the early middle ages). Of course, he could raid even that, but then he would problems paying for the necessities or running a kingdom and likely that would be followed by being either overthrown from within or conquered from without. So, he could take a single mid-sized payday, but then he needs to move on if he wants that option. If he stays as both a king and adventurer and wants his kingdom to be successful, there's a good chance money would flow the other way from his personal wealth into the treasury.

Of course, even a small kingdom has an army, but it is likely to be small and needed at home to maintain the peace and keep possible invaders at bay. Sure, he could easily take a couple of bodygaurds with him but that isn't any more burdensome on the game than a druid's pets.

And if he does want to take the army or any significant fraction there of on an adventure, remind him of the consequences. It will leave his kingdom open to invasion, it will take a lot of money, slow things down. And that is before you get to the problems of leading an army on an "unpopular" expedition (it will be very popular if it is attacking a real threat to the kingdom or sending back tribute, but if its doing neither expect trouble in the ranks and at home.)

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The kingdom is 100,000+ –  Alain Goldman May 21 '13 at 8:06
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It sounds like you have a fun few sessions as the PCs together fend off various attempts to wrest control of the town away from the current king (surely there are other claimants to the throne, hostile neighboring towns, a glabrezu looking for a glorious victory, or whatever). You could easily exhaust a majority of the town's liquid assets fending off such attempts.

Assuming that the king stays as such, he then can pass detailed control of the town to a hand-picked viceroy (see also seneschal or vizier) who will handle the daily administrative tasks of running the town while the king goes off and does whatever it is that he likes until the town is once again threatened.

Any time the king directs members of the town to do anything that is really not in their interest (like empty the treasury to buy fancy magical things for himself), interpret it as an opportunity for his leadership to be contested. You could even create a recurring villain who would seek to exploit any political mis-steps ("Well, G'loxth says he'll tithe half what the King does, and I'm sure his brain-eating habits are simply lies spread by the King.").

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He could decide a new king who's completely under his control but smart enough to manage the kingdom while he's gone. Then he can go on his way and just check in every now and then... right now he's the owner and manager. If he get's a new one, he'd just be the owner. He could adopt someone as his son and let him be raised/educated to take over once he's old enough or the current manager - aehm king - screws up...

If he wants to, he should be able to keep some of the benefits... - however, just robbing the kingdom is a great choice as well! take all the treasure and run for it. Then buy all the gear you could ever want for your party and have a really strange game where the creature level is adjusted appropriately for your game, but the party level is significantly lower. Finding the right balance might be hard, but it would be a brand-new experience.

Additional challenges could come from assassins of the kingdom seeking revenge... Unless he didn't steal that much and then auctioned the position of being a king to the highest bidder :-D

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For the sake of role-playing, you should never keep someone do to something, just make him or her face the consequences of their actions!

Although I can see where you're coming from...

The first thing you should concentrate on is: the party has still a reason to stay together?
I've been plagued by too many parties splitting or losing the motivation to go further because they weren't on the same page with this simple question.
Does the PC king still have a reason to be a member of the party? If he was guided by something more than the acquisition of gold or prestige, then there's no reason he couldn't continue doing that.

  • Was the party guided by thirst of adventure or by curiosity? Being a king is a very dull life compared to that.
  • Were they dedicate to eradicate every trace of the cult of Demogorgon? Sitting on his velvet cushion won't accomplish anything.
  • Were they on the run from a mind-flayer overlord? Being that exposed just makes him a very easy target.

If that's the case, just be sure that the player understand the motivation behind the existence of the party, tell him specifically how being a king does not satisfy that need and seal the deal with a brief adventure for the choice of an adequate substitute on the throne.

If, on the other hand, being a king somewhat dissolved the motivation that kept the group going, you need to address that out of the game, with the whole group. You need either to substitute the PC and let him rule while other take adventure in their hand, or find a global motivation for the party to stay together and help him rule.
The dividing line here is to decide if being a king is funnier or more boring than being an adventurer, for the player. If the latter, then find a new reason to stay together or be sure to continue following the old reason. If the former, than there's a host of dangers and adventures that a king must face just to live another day ;)

These are the things you should address first. To address your specific concerns: the principle should always be to make them face the consequences of their actions.

  1. The gold in the treasury is there for a specific reason. If the king pillages his own kingdom resources, then it's better for him to have a really good explanation when the soldiers will come to receive their salaries, or when an angry mob will knock the door because the trades routes have been changed, to avoid an indebted court. Besides, a thing can only be bought if there's someone selling it. You can go to the town shops loaded with a bag of gold coins, but you will still not be able to buy any legendary rare items. On the other side, it's historically accurate to say that there were kings that became the puppet of big trade corporations, because they borrowed all the money they needed to sustain their extravagant lifestyle.
  2. There are things that an army can and cannot do. An army cannot negotiate truce with another kingdom. An army cannot infiltrate a misterious, labyrinthic cave. An army cannot prevent an assassin sneaking in your bedroom to cut your throat. Heck, an army cannot even recover a lost child kidnapped by kobolds. If you think about it, an army is pretty useless at almost anything besides waging war.

If you do that, you should not have problems challenging a king. Besides, there are... things, at the 20th level and beyond, that are known to chew an empire for breakfast and two for lunch... Ao forbids that his kingdom attracts the attention of one of those...

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I do not really see any problem in dealing with the fact, that one of your players is now a king. As the saying goes "with great power comes great responsibility". To be a King is a fulltime job. It is not done sitting lazy on the throne and watching noble men die, becuse he sent them to war.

You have different options: 1) If you want the player to quit his new job as a king, you could confront him with the day to day annoyances a king has to deal with: peasants complaining about this and that etc. Who said, that being a king is easy these days.

2) Another -evil- option is, to start several intrigues against the king. Everybody wants to be king. Despite, what I wrote in (1). So there are several intrigants who want to take over. And if you really do not like the PC beeing king, he could possibly be killed. as I said, that's the evil option.

3) Or you take the challenge and develop some kingley quests. Perhaps he has to act as a good diplomate to prevent a war or something worse.

It's up to you.

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