I run a D&D 5E campaign. I have a player who is playing a wizard. This player would like to use his downtime to learn new spells. Specifically, he doesn't want to create any new spells of his own, he wants to use his downtime to write additional spells (from the PHB) into his spell-book. The PHB and DMG do not provide rules for how to handle this.

This player is both a self-professed rules-lawyer and self-professed optimizer; he is also the only one of each in the entire group. Because of this, it is very important to have a set of rules that are clear and unambiguous, but don't set his wizard up to being over-powered compared to his party-mates.

How do I allow my player's character to spend his downtime learning new spells without allowing the character to become overpowered?

A good answer will provide a set of rules or guidelines that allow my wizard player to spend his downtime adding new spells to his spell book. The rules must:

  • be clear and unambiguous
  • balance time and cost in a way that keeps this downtime activity in line with other downtime activities
    • This means that the rules should not be so constraining that spending downtime in this way feels useless, but doesn't allow the wizard to become over-powered by having access to too many spells.
  • have been used and put in-practice (in a 5E game), and the accompanying experience using the rules should be included
    • I'm not looking for, "I think you could do it this way"; I need, "We did it this way, and here's how it worked for us".

The very best answer will do the above while making it clear how this will not unbalance the party (Cleric, Ranger, Rogue, Monk, Warlock).


7 Answers 7


I wanted to all an alternative from all the other types of posts I see (which more or less assume this is possible). That being said this is more my interpretation of how the rules are supposed to be viewed.

The rules for how you gain new spells as a wizard are fairly clear - you gain them as you level, based on your spell book. Now that being said, it is my assumption that a Wizard is already using his downtime to learn new spells, update his notes, and in general improve his spells. My example to support this is that a fighter doesn't just go to town, sit down and drink/sleep all night (well fair point, some probably do). But most are probably training, practicing their weapon skills, or improving themselves.

I would say the rules for Wizards also support this...

The spells the you add to your spell book as you gain levels reflect the arcane research you conduct on your own

Since if you are not doing this research in your down time, when are you doing it?

Aside: Now, it would be a separate issue if say the Wizard found a spell book, or notes about some spells he did not already know. But this strikes me as more of the role-playing side, and I don't intend to cover that in my answer.

If you decide to allow it, I would highly recommend making it massively less useful for your Wizard. A good method would be to use the spell copying table mentioned in other answers and use that as the time required (I expect this would dissuade him from trying anything other then the lowest level spells). It seems the rules outlined for this (both time and money) are fairly penalizing - I might also add a failure chance for a bit of home-brew flavor as well (e.g. the Wizard was attempting to write a spell he did not already know and did not gain through practical use).


The Rules are right there in the book:

  • Spell scrolls are Magic Items, rarity values are on page 200.
  • Crafting a Magic Item are on Page 128. Creating a magic item that will produce a spell effect requires daily expenditure of a spell slot of the right level - knowing the spell is not required by RAW. You must also expend the material components once.

Once you have the spell scroll, copy it into your spell book.

Costs (excluding copying) are:

Spell Level    Cost    Time                       Minimum Level (plus must have spell slot)
     1        100gp      4 days                       3
    2-3       500gp     20 days                       3
    4-5     5,000gp    200 days                       6
    6-8    50,000gp   2000 days (about 5.5 years)    11
     9    500,000gp  20000 days (about 55 years)     17

Practically, this means most Wizards would fill their spell books with all 1st most 2nd & 3rd and selected 4th & 5th - 6th plus are impractical from a cost and time perspective.


A number of comments have been made that suggests that you need to know the spell first. In response, a mea culpa, I missed the sentence that says:

The character must also be a spellcaster with spell slots and must be able to cast any spells that the item can produce.

This may or may not be fatal to my position because it depends on the DM's interpretation "able to cast".

  1. Interpreted narrowly it means having the spell on your list of currently prepared spells i.e. an actual right now ability. This interpretation makes this answer fall in a screaming heap.
  2. Interpreted more broadly, it means having it on your class list i.e. a capacity to do so. This interpretation supports this answer.

Naturally the phrase "able to cast" only appears once in the DMG, but "ability to cast" appears in the Moon card of the Deck of Many things when it gives you the "ability to cast the wish spell. It appears several times in the PHB:

  • Removing the ability while in a Barbarian rage,
  • Hiring spellcasters
  • Being unable to cast in the absence of components
  • Being unable to cast wish ever again.

Does this help the interpretation? Buggered if I know.

Nevertheless, I will argue for the wider interpretation on the basis that:

  1. It makes my answer right and I like being right
  2. It does give a workable way of managing the research the OP was after
  3. This is the sense that the Spell Scroll magic item uses to determine if you can use a Spell Scroll:

If the spell is on your class's spell list you can use an action to read the scroll and cast its spell without having to provide any of the spell's components.

If the spell is on your class's spell list but of a higher level than you can normally cast, you must make an ability check using your spellcasting ability to determine whether you cast it successfully.

I leave it to your judgement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like this answer, but I need some clarity. DMG 128 says, "a character must... be able to cast any spells that the item can produce." By straight raw, am I wrong to read that as the wizard needs to know the spell (or have some other method of casting it--like from a wand?) to create the scroll? I recognize that creating the scroll in this case is an interim step, so maybe we can gloss over it, I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. \$\endgroup\$
    – GamerJosh
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I don't think this works. You do need to know the spell before creating any magic item involving that spell. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understand what you both are saying here and the edit that was created as a result. However, I believe this is not correct. If in the section on scroll making, the intent was that a spellcaster must already know the spell, then it would say so. Being able to cast a spell, is actually very specific, take a new character or a newly leveled character. That character is able to cast any spell. Once he chooses which spell, that's what gets written. But if he found a spell book with lots of spell's he was able to cast, he could transcribe them and cast them, because he is able. \$\endgroup\$
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the spell scroll writing rules and costing was created for just this very purpose, to put framework and cost around studying new magic...new to you anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could just find an NPC wizard who knows the spell and commission the scroll from them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 19:15

"This player is both a self-professed rules-lawyer and self-professed optimizer; he is also the only one of each in the entire group. Because of this, it is very important to have a set of rules that are clear and unambiguous, but don't set his wizard up to being over-powered compared to his party-mates."

The first two sentences of the DMG under the heading Crafting a Magic Item are:

"Magic items are the DM's purview, so you decide how they fall into the party's possession. As an option, you can allow player characters to craft magic items."

This gives you all the room you need to tell your rules lawyer that you are going to handle his pursuit of additional spells on an ad-hoc basis because you don't really want to spend a lot of your free time building a system of researching spells just for him. This is the inherent genius of 5e: Less is more. Much to the dismay of rules lawyers I suppose.

From here you can do literally whatever you think is a cool idea within the story your group is telling with as much or as little input from the Wizard as you want and it does not have to be consistent from one spell to the next.

I run D&D to tell an interesting story and what I specifically try to avoid is this mathematical "8 x 13 days = 22.5% of progress towards my calculated 462 hours of research time for a L3 spell at a cost of 23.69 gold per day." type of approach to the game in general.

Tell the story of this Wizard. If he wants to set up a lab, awesome. He can write letters to craftsmen requesting special equipment and hire an apprentice to organize things and run errands. Maybe he rolls a 1 on his Arcana check and hits a roadblock so you tell him he's run out of ideas and needs to talk with some other wizard to break through. Maybe its another one of the characters. Maybe it's someone who doesn't like him. It all depends on the character and what his relationships are in your game world. It all depends on the spell he's trying to achieve. In some cases you just need some more eye of newt, in others you need more eye of beholder. If my player wanted to research Wish hes going to need something like a forelock from a Planetar.

You can make this as complicated or as simple as you want. If you want to you can give him advantage for having a certain book, or even reduce the difficulty. Maybe you shorten the time it will take if he seeks help. Maybe he doesn't have a lab at all and he gets a series of introductions and meetings until he finally meets the person who will give him the spell for a price. Maybe he can't research the spell at all without a certain book etc...

It doesn't have to be a whole adventure although I think acquiring some spells should be. It can be just 5 minutes of table time where you say:

'Ok you just finished unpacking your last crate of supplies and are eager to get started. You spend 5 days playing with some general concepts. Make a DC15(Arcana) check for each day and we will see if you got off on the right track. Do all 5 with advantage because you found that copy of Bigby's Big Book of Magic for Beginners and this is a L1 spell you are working on.

Ok great you are confident that you have the right idea but you are going to need to test a lot of different combinations. You had to move your equipment around several times as you settle in and as your research progresses you find that it's taking you more and more time to organize your notes. It sure would be nice to have some help."

Bam, Done! You are on to the next players down time. Instead of some boring litany of numbers you entertained the whole table with story.

That's how I do it. It's a mistake to equate downtime with time not at the table. Downtime is just time your characters aren't dealing with life or death situations. It is an excellent place to play in social and exploration pillars.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a Stack Exchange lawyer, it says in comments to "avoid" making comments just filled with unadulterated praise. Alas, my attempts to avoid it in this case have failed. LOVE this answer, especially all the specific examples that flesh it out. Printing it out for the wizard in my campaign (who is, btw, an Order of Scribes wizard, makes this easier). +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – AmitaiB
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 17:34

To expand on the first half of the question, about learning spells you don't know(which was covered perfectly by others, but apparently needs to be restated):

basically, if a spell is in the players handbook, and familiar to the magic world at large (documented, studied, or just well-known in lore, or in other words, in the players handbook) but unavailable to a character in a physical spell form, double the cost of making the spell as if it were a scroll. Figures from others posts will show why this is prohibitive, without being completely impossible and without taking too long to accomplish for small boost in versatility.

basically, just do What Dale M said. He said it well, which is why I ignored that half of the question to begin with. It works. I just double the cost/time myself, is all.

On a related note, creating a spell from scratch that is the players own creation can also be undertaken by multiplying the cost/time factors by ten. Or five, if you prefer something more plausible to actual time available to a character, though I believe new magics require more inventiveness and require more experimentation than that, and like to reflect the greater effort it takes to create something from scratch that could potentially impact an entire world.

The rest of this post remains, and answers the second half of the question, about how to balance having so many spells:

this might just be my two cents on the matter, but does it matter how many spells he has in his spellbook?

More spells just means more chances for memorizing the WRONG one. Believe me, I managed to survive a 2nd edition campaign as a human wizard with max intelligence; 18+ intelligence meant you COULD have as many as many spells per level as you could get your hands on, but having every spell in the book IN THEORY (ie, in your spellbook, but not memorized) doesn't help you one jot when you can only sit down and memorize one set of spells in any given day. Believe me, I made a point of owning as many spells as I could, simply because I had FINALLY rolled a mage with a natural 18 intelligence.

Also remember to note that, as per the "Your Spellbook" sidebar on page 114 of the PHB, losing a spell IS entirely possible for a wizard.

The sidebar details the steps you can take to copy down memorized spells back into another spellbook if you don't have a copy of it available for whatever reason, and further stats that you must find new copies of spells (ie, that aren't memorized) to fill out the remainder of the new spellbook. So if you lose a spellbook, you lose all the spells you don't have memorized.

Rather than worry about the advantage having a well prepared wizard gives your party, I suggest you embrace it, and let your wizard shine as he, at least in my opinion, is supposed to shine. Let him be able to customize his usefulness to the party by have near perfect spell choices, because he will not always be able to memorize the right ones, and will have to find ever more creative ways of using the wrong ones.

Ask yourself instead what you might do about the eventually overwhelming onus he will incur with having to track which book has which spells, where he keeps them, how many copies of each spell he has, and how much care it takes to preserve such books - after all, a book of magic is just as likely to be burnt, soaked, cut, blown up or used as toilet paper by the resident barbarian as any other book that a character is willing to bring with them. My point is, Spellbooks aren't any more durable than a normal book. Enforce that, and let him gain a library worth protecting.

Eventually, he will have to start leaving spellbooks behind, taking only the most useful spells with him, in a form that he can easily carry without overburdening himself. if he does not, he risks his entire repertoire of spells every time he steps outside his sanctum.

I suggest using the old rule that stipulates each level of a spell is equivalent to one page in a spellbook (that is what I enforce in my own games), though I still rule that a spellbook worth protecting has a maximum of 50 pages, as they tend to be built to resist the elements more than the 100-page spellbook with thinner covers and less bindings to seal them shut. I also double the cost of such a spellbook, meaning you have a smaller, better protected list of common adventuring spells to take with you when you need them. I just don't stop a player from buying the larger less protected one if they want (and indeed, let them still start with a 'regular' spellbook, as this is in most cases the spellbook afforded to them during their apprenticeship.

Now, the reason a spell equals a page per spell level is simple; at lower levels it will not be a problem, and even following the standard spell gain progression of 2 spells per level, you simply aren't able to fill the standard spell book before you reach level 13 (upon hitting level 13 you find yourself 2 pages short of the 30 spells you would have available to you, assuming you gain the highest spells available to you upon each level gain; 6 at first level, followed by 2 spells each level thereafter)

this can happen sooner if the player takes pains to learn magic from other sources of course. but even then, it is expensive, and I have not seen anyone fill a book beyond bursting before level nine using this method.

I find it a good balance to help curtail a spell-hungry wizard. maintaining and reproducing back up copies of spells is time-consuming and expensive, but not doing is just asking the DM to start destroying items. remember, every time a character fails a save to burn in a fireball or swim in acid, his gear is also at risk of burning. personally, I assume if a player made the save, so did his gear, but failing it means its all at risk. same thing goes for swords, clothing and bag straps. just remember to apply damage to gear when those saves are failed, and you're on the right track.

Just remember, a leather-bound spellbook, in a leather backpack, on the back of a player facing towards the center of impact for a fireball has a much higher chance of surviving than one open on the table in front of him. to simulate that, I basically count each layer of protection as cover - either full or partial.

The fireball hits, expelling flames outward from the impact point and the character fails his save. next in line is his backpack. it takes damage, in this case fire damage, lets say 32 points worth. As a sturdy adventurers backpack i would say it takes 24 instantaneous fire damage (that's a burst of flame and heat, which items fare better against than flesh and blood, effectively giving it resistance to fire for the purposes of this application of it) to hurt it badly enough to tear open or otherwise expose the contents to the fire itself, leaving 8 hp of fire damage to splash over the contents as well.

His spellbook, a sturdy well made leather bound construction, with gilded edged would be at least as durable as the backpack to instantaneous fire, so 8 hp of damage to it is enough to blacken and sear the edges of it,(10hp cover, with resistance for half damage in this instance) but not enough to set it alight (though it might smoulder if left too long) meaning the pages within have been saved.

A regular book, counting as easily combustible, would have had a harder time of it, as it uses paper, instead of parchment, and suffers a disadvantage to fire damage of any kind (instantaneous or not), though the cover still has to be burnt through before the pages themselves are threatened. with 8 remaining points, the cover burns through (I give it 4hp on the spot, a fair chance that a swordblow could sunder it completely,without guaranteeing it.) That still leaves 4 hp of damage to burn through the pages of the book, potentially ruining any spells on those pages, even if they are not consumed entirely.

You don't need to apply this all the time either. I pretty much only ever bring it up when something happens that seems like it WOULD be a risk to the items in question, and the results matter and would be interesting to play out. Just make sure you DO use it, or something similar, every now and again, so that players don't get completely complacent...

Oh, and don't forget to have an enterprising young spell thief, possibly a dashing young grey elf rogue/sorcerer by the name of Tellisius Moonshadow, notice the bulging packs of the book-laden wizard on the parties way through town... He is always game for an easy mark, and other wizards will pay top dollar for someone else's spellbook. :)

I didn't cover Ritual spells, but then, once learnt, you don't actually need to have a copy of the spell to be able to cast it, and as such I don't think you actually need to - though I would rule it personally the same as any other spell. Without a physical copy, it doubles time/cost (my personal rule for 'learning' a spell you don't have a copy of) but you can always make a scroll, then copy the spell to another book from there.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour when you get a chance. It's important to note that we are not a forum, so we ask that posts focus on answering the question at hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 13:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. Please retool this answer to answer the question being stated, otherwise it risks being deleted. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ When revising this, also consider that 5e allows casting some spells without preparing them (rituals), and how that affects the idea that introduces the answer? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This post seems to challenge the frame of the question: OP asks for advice putting more spells into a book, you say not to worry about it. That can be the core of a very good answer, and this post contains some good wisdom on how to do it well. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a partial answer in here but it is buried. You don't go into how a wizard might use downtime to gain spells, and instead focus on how to balance a wizard who tries to get a lot of spells. I had to get half way through before I realized what you were saying was, basically, "make spell books an expensive resource". Although a valid perspective, that doesn't even begin to answer how to make use of downtime in this way. Remember, balanced means both not-over-powered and not-under-powered; how do I make this feel like a useful option to my player? \$\endgroup\$
    – GamerJosh
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 15:27

The rules for copying existing spells into a spell book do exist in the Players Handbook, page 114, "Your Spellbook."

When you find a wizard spell of 1st level or higher, you can add it to your spell book if it is of a level for which you can cast spells and if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it...

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50 GP. The cost represents the material components you expect as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the find inks you need to record it.

(The price and time are halved for spells of the caster's own arcane tradition, PH p. 115.)

The limiting factors here are (1) money and (2) the ability of the party to find spellbooks or scrolls.

"Writing" spells without source material?

Your question says "write additional spells (from the PHB)" - I wasn't sure whether you meant with or without source material (scrolls/spellbooks).

The rules for this are also in the Player's Handbook under Your Spellbook.

The spells the you add to your spell book as you gain levels reflect the arcane research you conduct on your own...you might find other spells...

A wizard's own arcane research will discover 2 spells per level. Beyond that, rules-as-written, source material is needed.

If you are going to allow downtime to be used as research to learn additional spells, make sure this isn't a way to save money (which would throw of play balance). Effectively, doing research this way is equivalent to being near magic shoppe which has all wizard spells available on scrolls.

Consider that the PH describes the standard/common way of gaining spells. One must assume most wizards acquire spells in these ways for sound reasons. This can be reflected by increasing the amount of magical ink and components (that is, the price) for learning a spell this way.

The cost for such spell research for a particular spell would be:

(cost for copying the spell) 
+ (cost of a spell scroll) 
+ (cost for travel to a fully-stocked magic shoppe) 
+ (fudge factor)

The fudge factor represents the convenience of gaining the spells in the comfort of your own room, rather than going through dangerous exploration to get them. At that price, this method isn't a "cheat." You might see fit to add a little more to the price - which would explain why this isn't the standard way to gain spells.

Money as balancer

The money required to copy the spells can be a good play balancer, assuming the other party members can find worthwhile equipment to buy with their share of the money.

The play-balancing here is to make sure every character has something desirable to spend their money on. Depending on how much money they have, this might mean magic items.

Rarity of source material

You, as DM, can make the spellbooks and scrolls as hard to acquire as you like. Your wizard's player will always be pushing to find more, but you can dole them out at whatever pace you see fit.

A large spellbook isn't "overpowered"

Note that a large spell book is very handy, but not the most overpowering thing. A wizard is still limited in the number of spells he can prepare, and his spell slots.

Lots of ritual spells are very handy, because they are not affected by these limitations. But they take 10 minutes, which might be too long if the party is in a dangerous area. (DM's discretion of course.)


Research is for creating new spells that don't exist, or making other class spells work for your class, so the title isn't exactly correct, though you do clarify it in your question very very well.

You can write as many spells in your spellbooks as you want. That doesn't mean you have them memorized, they are simply available to you when it comes time to prepare your spells.

I am not going to create rules for your campaign, that's your job. I will however, give you the basis of how to frame up this kind of game play.

Spells that you do not have, you cannot simply copy into your spellbook. They must be available for a spellcaster to "transfer" the magic spell properly, which includes concentration and of course the ability to do so. For example, a 2nd level wizard can't possibly understand a 4th level spell enough to copy it. You must be able to learn it and cast it in order to copy it. A spellcaster could copy the scribble, but since it doesn't make proper sense to him or her, it isn't clear what is meant and so it by design just simply can't be copied right and the spell copy is a guaranteed failure even if the copy is then studied at the required level, it isn't a spell, it's magic looking scribble.

After that requirement is understood and out of the way, you have to get your hands on a copy of the spell or find someone who will teach it to you. This would be a great side plot/quest you can run for your compaigns so the player has to earn the extra spells, not just have them pop into his book as a default mechanic. No need to force this issue on levelling up if you don't want, since it's assumed somethings suddenly make more sense with experience, but it looks like you are looking to keep this players extra spell gathering feature from becoming abused or unbalanced. Do this by making is cost something. Gold to buy a copy of the spell, or gold to pay a wizard to teach it to you, or a side adventure to acquire said spell(s), which may simply be a DC check regarding whether you succeeded in find a vendor or source for this spell during down time that you now get to study and copy next down time. Can't do both at once really.

Maybe the spell is rare...the most useful magic might be rarer than the less useful. Magic hand is very useful to a rogue for instance, but wow that's pretty great control, more control than say tenser's floating disk, or whatever it was called. Maybe that's a bit more rare and costs more or only some master arcane trickster is the only one who knows the spell well enough to teach it to someone else, or maybe it's a closely guarded secret...It might be a low level spell, but one with particular utility and the Rogish masters of the world don't want it getting around.

Remember, just because it's in the players handbook, doesn't particularly mean it's common knowledge or available in every chain store "Magical Salves and Trinkets"

That's all backstory stuff you need to create to game play a limitation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In many other editions, "spell research" means any spell you don't already know, not just ones that don't exist yet; so that's not really a valid counter point. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 22:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem to address any of the OP's bullet-point requirements. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 3:14

The option to copy an spell is described on page 114 of the PHB in the wizard class chapter.

Copying a Spell into the Book in an option if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it.

More information is given but due to copyright I wont post more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's fine if you have access to the spell in order to copy it. The question is, how does he get the spell in the first place? \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 3:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Quote from the same page: "The spells that you add to your spellbook as you gain levels reflect the arcane research you conduct on your own, as well as intellectual breakthroughs you have had about the nature of the multiverse. You might find other spells during your adventures. You could discover a spell recorded on a scroll in an evil wizard's chest, for example, or in a dusty tome in an ancient library." \$\endgroup\$
    – Tijnkwan
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ The spells you gain when you level are free. The spell copying rules are there to be used under different circumstances, namely finding a scroll or spellbook. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 17:59

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