Airship Crews


The difference between officers and standard crewmen is one of authority and training. An airship officer has a very specific set of skills that he uses to perform his task, and has the authority to give orders to the crewmen in order to ensure the continued functioning of the airship as a whole. While not all officers are equal (the captain is certainly higher in rank than the pilot, for example), all officers are above the standard crewmen in ranking. On most ships, the actual authority of officers varies quite a bit. A pilot, for example, normally has authority to order around anyone he needs to in order to keep the ship flying, but would find his ability to issue orders severely limited in other cases. Experience plays a large role here as well-a grizzled old crewman who has worked on the airship for twenty years is going to have more respect from his mates than the new pilot that just signed on.
These differences are best summed up with a sort of “ship’s alignment.” The more lawful the alignment of the airship’s crew, in general, the more rigidly they adhere to the rankings and power structures listed below. The more chaotic the crew and officers of a ship, the more likely they are to deviate from these rankings, following the orders of whomever seems to be the most experienced or authoritative at the moment. On evil ships, the rankings are enforced by punishment and fear, while on good ships the power structure of the airship is based on merit and personal skill rather than any threat of force or pulling rank.

All officers aboard an airship receive a share of the airship’s profits, from whatever source those profits come. This is the real separating line between the officers and those below them-if the airship prospers, the officers do as well, but they also suffer when the airship isn’t bringing in any cash. Typically, the amount of profit sharing hovers around 2% for the pilot and navigator and 3% for the captain. Lieutenants, while receiving valuable training in how to run a ship and lead a crew, typically receive only a cut of 1% of the ship’s profits, and then only if they are amongst the highest ranking lieutenants aboard the airship. Normally the top three lieutenants share this small profit, and are happy to get it.
Apprentices always receive a small salary rather than a share of the airship’s profits, which is generally just enough to keep them in spending money for shore leave. Apprentices are expected to work for such low wages because of the opportunities afforded them by their position. Some day, the reasoning goes, the training turns into a high-paying, prestigious officer’s position aboard an airship and is worth the sacrifices the young men and women make.

The Captain

Ultimately, the captain is responsible for the successful running of his vessel, from take off to landing. As the leader of the vessel, the captain issues the orders for others to follow and coordinates the activities of his officers for maximum effect. While ‘on deck’ the captain keeps his eye on every aspect of the ship and listens to the reports from his runners in times of crisis. In turn, the captain bellows the orders that keep everyone else doing what they need to do and offers advice to help his officers keep an eye on brewing trouble.

The captain, however, has less of a role in the day-to-day running of the ship than he does during times of crisis. If there is no current obstacle or problem facing an airship, the captain may make a single Charisma check (DC 15) to bolster the efforts of his crew. If this check succeeds, all officers aboard the ship receive a +2 morale bonus to any skill check they make during the normal course of their duties. If the check fails, there are no negative repercussions, the captain is simply unable to motivate his men to
do their best that day.

During a crisis, though, the captain is a whirlwind of action and his words can save or doom his airship. Once each round, the captain of an airship can assist any member of his crew with a skill check. The captain must be able to see the crewman and the crewman must be able to hear the captain. If both of these conditions are met, the captain is allowed a single Charisma check (DC 10). If this level check succeeds, the captain is able to help the crewman, who then receives a +4 competence bonus to the skill check. The captain may offer this support as a free action at any time during the round, though not if he is currently flat-footed.
On the other hand, the captain is a symbol of his airship’s power and majesty. If the captain falls in battle or is captured by enemies, the entire crew of his airship suffers a -3 morale penalty to all skill checks, attack rolls, and damage rolls until the battle ends or the captain is revived or rescued.
The captain spends a full shift of 10 hours each day overseeing the duties of his officers and watching the crewman go about their business. The captain may miss one of his shifts without causing undue problems on his ship, but for each subsequent missed shift, the crewmen and officers suffer a -1 circumstance penalty to all skill checks related to handling the ship. This penalty persists until the end of the next full shift the captain visibly works.
There is only ever one captain aboard an airship and that captain is the ultimate authority for everything that happens on the airship.

Pay Per Day: Airship captains are paid very well: 10 gp per day when not carrying a cargo, or 3% of the cargo’s value upon delivery.

Needed: Every airship has one captain, and no more than one. The captain is the ultimate authority on an airship, and any airship without a captain is in dire straits indeed. All Piloting and Navigation skill checks made while an airship has no captain suffer a -2 morale penalty, as the officers attempt to keep their chins up.


Pilots handle the actual steering and maneuvering of their airships. Their duties are very demanding when close to geographical features, or when landing and taking off, but most pilots have a great deal of time to relax during their journeys. Few crewmen begrudge the pilots their leisure, however, as it is the pilot who is most directly responsible for the survival of an airship during bad weather or combat. Pilots generally have from one to three apprentice pilots who actually handle the wheel during standard flights, but only when there is no immediate danger. These apprentices are learning the ropes and do nothing without the direct guidance of the pilot-if they are caught unaware by a sudden storm, strong winds, or an attacker, the apprentices are instructed to perform no action other than moving away from
the wheel to let the pilot take over. See ‘Apprentices’ below, for more information.

A pilot spends an eight-hour shift each day overseeing his apprentices or directly manning the wheel before handing over the wheel to another pilot. During bad weather or combat, pilots remain at the wheel unless killed or forcibly removed.
The number of pilots on a vessel changes based on the distance the vessel is going to travel. For day trips, it is rare for an airship to have more than a single pilot. Ships that plan on traveling for more than a day, however, always have at least three pilots aboard, each of which takes an eight hour shift during each day of the journey. Airships that take particularly harrowing journeys often bring along an extra pilot or two, just in case one of the main pilots suffers an injury or is otherwise unable to attend to his duties.

Pay Per Day: Pilots receive 5 gp per day or 2% of their cargo’s value.

Needed: At least one pilot is needed for every shift the airship intends to fly during the day. Each pilot is entitled to one day off per week, making it necessary to bring along extra pilots if the flight is going to last for one week or more.


The navigator is a crucial member of any airship crew. While the captain is the ultimate authority on the course a ship takes, the navigator defines the courses a ship can take and ensures the vessel remains on the course chosen by the captain.
While some ships are able to run very short runs of a few hundred miles along well-charted geographical landmarks without a navigator, most ship crews believe running without a navigator is simply bad luck waiting to happen. On very small ships, the captain may very well take on the role of the navigator himself, but it is far more common for the captain to take over piloting duties rather than the measurement intensive navigator job. A navigator normally works for eight hours each day and spends the majority of that time overseeing the efforts of the crewmen and apprentices assigned to him by the captain.
Air speed measurements are taken very regularly, sometimes as often as every ten minutes. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a navigator to spend one minute out of every three verifying the position of the airship using a compass, backstaff, and his charts. Though the navigator may not need all the measurements, bearings, and latitude findings he takes, the sum total of that knowledge is needed to keep the ship on course and to chart new courses.

Most navigators have at least two apprentices working with them at all times. These young men and women ferry the readings to the navigator from the crewmen who take them. As they gain experience, they often take over some of the less-demanding tasks for the navigator and begin to assume a bit of the officer’s position, particularly as relates to overseeing the duties of crewmen assigned to the navigator. Airships that fly for fewer than eight hours during a given trip seldom use more than one navigator. Airships which fly for longer periods, however, always have at least three navigators (one for each shift during the day) and those that fly for many days often have an extra navigator to help rotate the others off duty, giving them a chance to rest and recuperate from the rigors of their daily duties.

Pay Per Day: Navigators receive 5 gp per day or 2% of their cargo’s value.

Needed: Two navigators are needed to handle a day’s worth of navigating for an airship. One navigator
handles the night navigation, while the other takes care of the day navigation.
Like pilots, navigators are given one day each week off, so extra navigators need to be brought along if the flight lasts longer than a week.


These men and women work directly for the captain and are intended to help take the less critical of his
responsibilities. There is normally one lieutenant aboard an airship for every 20 standard crewmen (not including officers) and each lieutenant has his or her own specialty. The lieutenants are, technically, second only to the captain in rank aboard the ship, and each lieutenant has an individual rank (from first lieutenant to second lieutenant and so on) that denotes their place in the pecking order.
In reality, lieutenants are the captain’s grunts and receive little respect from the crew based on their rank alone. A lieutenant who proves himself capable and assists the crew in accomplishing his orders can quickly gain the trust and favor of his men, making him a valued member of the crew in his own right. There are as many good lieutenants as bad on most airships, and the wise captain knows to use their personalities to direct and control the anger of his crew, should the situation warrant it.
If the captain is incapacitated or killed, the first lieutenant is expected to step in and fill his shoes, accepting the captain’s rank as his own. On pirate vessels and other airships of ill repute, this is seen as one of the legitimate methods of promotion to the captain’s position, but most other airships dread the loss of the captain. When a lieutenant takes over for the captain, the results are often jarring to the crew,
who must learn to take orders from an entirely new individual who may have his or her own ideas about how a ship should be run.

Pay Per Day: Lieutenants are horribly underpaid, though they don’t really care because they are learning a trade that could make them quite wealthy one day. They tend to make 2 sp per day, or a very small cut of the profits (see above) if they work aboard cargo vessels.

Needed: One lieutenant is needed for every 20 crew members on the ship, not including officers. Typically, an extra lieutenant or two is brought along to give the younger officers a break here and there, but this is not required. Lieutenants work irregular shifts, and at least one of them is expected to be on the deck at any given time. When the captain is awake, the lieutenants are also expected to be awake and ready to take his commands. Because lieutenants do help keep the ship running smoothly, all Piloting and Navigation skill checks made when there are not enough lieutenants on board suffer a -1 circumstance penalty for each missing lieutenant.


Though not technically officers in their own right, the apprentice pilots and navigators share so much of their masters’ influence and authority that they are included in this section. While a crewman may not respect an apprentice, he certainly knows that any order coming from an apprentice came from the pilot or navigator and should be treated as such. This gives apprentices a great deal of power without a corresponding amount of responsibility. Taken together with the young age of most apprentices (usually in their early teens), this can lead to all manner of discord aboard an airship.

To curb clashes between snotty young apprentices and valuable members of the crew, most navigators and pilots keep their apprentices on very short leashes. An apprentice who steps out of line with a crewman may not suffer at the hands of the man he insulted, but he will surely taste the lash of his master’s tongue (at least) when word gets out. Apprentices who continue to cause problems are most often simply removed from the ship’s crew when it stops at the next port; some are even abandoned at port by their shipmates and must attempt to find work on another ship if they wish to return to their homes.

When things are going well for the apprentice, however, he spends most of his time running between his master and the crew, delivering orders and returning with information about current weather conditions, wind speeds, or reports from the scouts. Officers keep their apprentices very busy, not only with their traditional duties and with helping out on the deck or in the navigation room, but also in performing personal tasks for the officer. The master of an apprentice uses menial labor and demeaning tasks to reinforce the apprentices’ position in the airship’s ranking and to instill discipline and a respect for the hard work the crew performs.

Pay Per Day: Apprentices receive 5 copper pieces per day. Some merchant houses work their apprentices differently, providing only room and board for apprentices who serve aboard airships.

Needed: Apprentices are needed to help take some of the load off the navigators and pilots, doing much of their scout work and helping clean their quarters and keep their uniforms neat and polished. If a pilot or navigator does not have an apprentice, he suffers a -1 morale penalty on all Profession (Sailor) skill checks he makes after his first day in the air. While a pilot or navigator doesn’t really need an apprentice for shorter journeys, the young apprentice is definitely missed on journeys that are any longer.

Warrant Officers

Warrant officers are given their positions by the captain based on their skill and experience. Most begin their careers as crewmen, working their way up through the ranks before finally being recognized and given a position of authority on their airship. Though warrant officers are ranked lower than standard officers, they are often more respected by the crew because they must spend more hands-on time performing their duties. Smart officers rely heavily on the warrant officers during their interactions with the rest of the crew, using the good reputation of the warrant officers to bolster their own position.
Warrant officers are treated better than the rest of the crew and are often well paid. This is to reduce the potential hazards of mutiny by the warrant officers and to keep the rest of the crew motivated. Because the warrant officers come up from the ranks, they allow other crewmen to see their own opportunities to rise above the common rabble and work all the harder. That fewer than one in ten members of a crew even has a chance of becoming a warrant officer is less important to most crewmen than the possibility itself.


The boatswain is responsible for the general operation and repair of the airship. He constantly checks the boat for any damage it may have suffered and keeps a wary eye on the sails and rigging. The boatswain recruits crewmen on an as needed basis, pulling men from less important duties to help him repair the vessel, untie fouled lines, and generally keep things running.

Pay Per Day: The boatswain normally receives 3 sp per day.

Needed: Every airship needs a boatswain. When he does his job well, no one even notices him, which is just the way he likes it. Airships without a Boatswain suffer a -1 maneuverability penalty, as the crew is not as well organized as they need to be.


Airships burn up fuel at an alarming rate, require a great deal of provisions (and ammunition) for long flights, and have repairs that cost as much as most sailing ships cost to build. The bursar keeps his eye on this outflow of money and also tracks the airship’s income, accounting for every copper piece that enters or leaves the boat. Bursars are well paid, and often receive bonuses based on the profits of the
airship they serve. This helps to curb corruption and theft, but also provides an incentive for the bursar to help the ship’s officers accurately judge expenses to increase profits. Of course, a few bursars are so dishonest as to ‘cook the books’ and make the profits of the airship seem greater than they are in order to gain a more substantial bonus for themselves.

This leads to all manner of difficulties for the airship and its crews, and bursars caught skimming from the profits or altering the ship’s accounts are likely to be tossed overboard from a great height.

Needed: Any airship that carries a total cargo in a month worth more than 1,000 gp must have a bursar to keep an accurate accounting of expenses. Airships who do not keep a bursar on board in these cases suffer a 1d3% loss on every cargo delivered, due to unexpected expenses and outright theft of goods.

Pay Per Day: Bursars receive the princely sum of 4 sp per day, enough to keep most of them honest and interested in keeping their jobs.


The airship business is dangerous, especially for the crews of the ships. Mishaps in flight attacks by pirates or dangerous creatures can lead to serious injuries to crewmen and officer alike, making the chirurgeon’s role an important one on an airship. Responsible for stitching closed wounds, setting broken bones, and otherwise seeing to the health and well being of his crew, the ship’s chirurgeon is a revered and honored member of any crew. Airships that fly long distances often employ a cleric of a friendly church as their chirurgeon, offering substantial donations in exchange for the healing magic and protective enchantments the cleric brings to the airship. This has increased the wealth of a great many minor churches, particularly those who venerate gods of the air and sky. When clerics aren’t available, chirurgeons are typically medical experts with a focus on the healing arts, alchemy, and herbalism.

Pay Per Day: Clerical chirurgeons are normally paid 5 gp per day, except on boats where combat is expected, when they are paid by the number and types of spells cast, as per the information found in the Hirelings section of the DMG. Note that most clerical chirurgeons actually work in exchange for passage, providing magical healing in return for rapid travel. Most clerical chirurgeons are 3rd-level or below, though some higher-level priests might be found on an airship if a particular church is attempting to earn favors from the airship’s captain or the owners of the vessel. Non-clerical chirurgeons receive a substantially lower rate of pay, typically 5 sp per day.

Needed: The crews of any airship without a chirurgeon aboard suffer a -1 morale penalty to all attack and damage rolls. Without the assurance they’ll be patched up after a fight, the men are less likely to throw themselves into the battle.


Engines are tricky beasts, and airships that use them must have an engineer aboard to keep an eye on them. The engineer’s role is simple: to oversee the operation of the engines at all times, ensuring they don’t explode or otherwise endanger the airship. This keeps the engineer quite busy, and most of these warrant officers sleep and take their meals in rooms adjacent to their precious engines. This means that the engineer is usually the first one to suffer if the engines rupture or otherwise malfunction, providing an incentive to keep the engines running smoothly.

Pay Per Day: Engineers are among the highest-paid members of the crew, collecting between 3 gp and 5 gp per day. Because they are so crucial to the operation of the airship, they are paid accordingly.

Needed: Any airship with an engine needs an engineer to keep it running. Most ships possess two or three. An engine without an engineer suffers a -10 decrease in its power factors during any eight-hour shift in which there is no engineer. For each full shift that passes without an engineer keeping an eye on the airship, there is a 5% chance that the penalty becomes permanent, as the engine burns out some of its vital eldritch components. This damage cannot be repaired as it is not structural-the magical elements of the engine suffer the damage and only a new engine fixes the problem.


There are few men aboard an airship more feared and despised than the master-at-arms. In charge of discipline and the weapons of the ship, the master-at-arms is the last person any crewperson wants to spend time with, as such close encounters usually end in a flogging or other unpleasant punishment. Despite his poor reputation, however, the master-at-arms is given a great deal of respect for his skill with weapons and his ability to quickly mobilize crewmen into fighting units.

Though the master-at-arms prefers to have nothing to do, during combat he’s all too busy. If he’s not ordering men to cart ammunition to shipboard weapons or handing out weapons and armor, he’s leading a group of crewmen to repel boarders. The master-at-arms also offers fighting instruction to crewmen during his off-hours, keeping them in shape and honing his own skills with rigorous sparring matches.

Pay Per Day: Most masters-at-arms receive 4 sp per day, though bonus pay of up to 10 gp per day may be authorized for particularly daring or desperate defenses of the airship.

Needed: The crew of any airship with a master-at-arms aboard is entitled to a +1 circumstance bonus to any melee attack or damage rolls they make while on board. On the other hand, the weapons crews of any airship without a master-at-arms suffer a -1 circumstance penalty to all attack rolls without the advice and leadership of the master-at-arms to guide them.

Signal Master

Airships, especially those involved in the military, often find it useful to communicate with one another or with parties on the ground. Mirrors are the most commonly used methods for such communication, allowing codes to be flashed between conversing parties over great distances. The signal master is in
charge of the mirrors used in signaling and also handles the communication and translation chores aboard the ship.
Most signal masters are scholarly and are proficient in more than one language, allowing them to communicate more readily with a wide range of individuals and creatures. In areas where airships are common, signaling is taught in schools so that students can read the messages flashing through the sky overhead.

Pay Per Day: These men and women are paid 2 sp per day.

Needed: Airships need signal masters only if they intend to use signaling mirrors to help them stay in formation or to receive messages from other airships.

The Crew

While officers and warrant officers normally occupy unique, or at least limited, positions aboard an airship, the crew is composed of the rank and file sailors. They do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it, and earn a decent wage for their efforts. Unlike ocean sailors, who often join up with the crews of ships to avoid punishment for crimes or to escape a former life, the crew of an airship is often intelligent, educated, and looking for adventure and excitement. Because the majority of airships do not make long-distance trips, the crew becomes quite well known in its ports of calls, giving each place an air of familiarity and welcome that crewmen cherish.
Crewmen are paid upon arrival at each port, shortly after the captain and bursar collect any payments the ship has earned and the cargo is unloaded. There are three basic types of crewmen, and each type is paid according to his skills and value to the airship.


When a man first takes a position on an airship, he is known as a landsman. He’ll remain a landsman until the boatswain is confident in his skills and ability to take on responsibility. Landsmen don’t do much of anything without a direct order and spend a lot of their time doing menial, unpleasant work such as mending sails or scrubbing the deck. In part, a landsman’s tenure is a test of his resolve and willingness to do what needs to be done in order to keep the ship up and running. Those who complain the loudest about their roles are rarely promoted to the next rank, and most leave within a few months of signing on.
Landsmen work in two shifts, each twelve hours long. The night crew is often given a slightly lighter workload than the day shift, but pays for it with less food and a disrupted sleep schedule.
Unless specifically detailed, all landsmen are considered to be first level experts.

Pay Per Day: Landsmen receive a mere 1 sp per day.

Needed: Landsmen are the grunts of the airship. While a crew could, theoretically, be made up entirely of landsmen, this is very rare because of the danger their lack of skill poses to the airship as a whole. Any airship with a crew composed of more than 60% landsmen suffers a -2 maneuverability penalty due to their inability to work the rigging expertly.


When a landsman has impressed the boatswain with his initiative, skills, and work ethic, he is promoted to a position as an airman. The airmen do most of the real work on an airship-they patrol the rigging, handle the cargo, and do whatever the officers ask of them. While their work is usually not as menial as that performed by landsmen, it is still very difficult and demanding. Like landsmen, airmen work twelve hours each day and have no days off, save for when the airship is at port.

The night crew airmen spend the majority of their time working with the pilot and the navigator, learning the rudiments of both those trades. While the day crew has an easier schedule, they do not have the time to spend with these experts and rarely advance, as a result. Most warrant officers, in fact, are taken from the ranks of the airmen, who have proved their dedication and learned some useful skills while toiling the nights away.

Unless specifically detailed, all airmen are considered to be second level experts.

Pay Per Day: Airmen receive 2 sp per day.

Needed: Airmen normally fill out the ranks between the landsmen and the veterans. They serve mainly to help train the landsmen and keep them from breaking anything while keeping the airship sailing smoothly.


Airmen who have been aboard an airship for a sufficient length of time eventually graduate to veteran status. These men and women are trusted by the officers and are sometimes given charge of small groups of other crewmen to accomplish a specific task. Veterans are extremely familiar with their airship and know all of its idiosyncrasies and strengths. The skill level of veteran crewmen is quite high and they are paid very well for their labors.

Unlike airmen, veterans only work 8 hours a day and are never on the night shift. They are, however, on call, and in the event of a problem during the night, the airmen consult with the veterans rather than bothering the officers or the captain. Though most veterans are respected by their peers, a few are reviled for their bullying ways-these, sadly, often end up taking a dive off the side of the boat during the dead of night long before they get the hint and mend their ways.
Veteran crewmen never have any trouble getting work; if they lose a job on one airship, a quick trip to an airport is all they need to pick up work, unless, of course, the veteran was booted off the airship for a good reason, such as theft or violence. Airship captains and boatswains talk to one another frequently, and a bad reputation quickly precedes its bearer. Unless specifically detailed, all veterans are considered to be third level experts.

Pay Per Day: Veteran crewmen receive 2 sp and 5 cp each day and most receive monthly bonuses from 1 gp to 5 gp, depending on the whims of the captain and the fortunes of the airship.

Needed: Veteran crewmen can prove a real boon to any airship on which they serve, but there must be a significant number of them before they really start to make a difference. For every 10% of the crew made up of veterans, the airship’s Maneuverability is increased by 1, with a maximum possible increase of 3.

Space Needed by the Crew

Airships that wish to have space for their crew to sleep and relax must provide crew quarters. Six crewmen can rest comfortably in a one-ton room, while officers are each entitled to a half-ton room of their own. The captain typically takes a one to two-ton room, though in some cases may satisfy himself with a half-ton room to make more space for cargo on smaller vessels.

Calculating Crew Requirements

It is extremely important to know how many crew members a ship needs in order to fly. Balancing one’s crew is a tricky task; crewmen eat up resources, including food, space, salary, and leadership, but operating without them is impossible. Just covering the basics isn’t enough either, while it may be acceptable for short-distance merchant vessels to set off with a skeleton crew, most ships need a full backup crew of airmen to work evening shifts, and to defend the ship from attackers.


Start your count with the non-officers. Calculate your minimum crew requirement based upon how many men are needed for each of your ship’s components. These typically include rigging, weaponry, and piloting components. Anything listed in Chapter 1 with a crew requirement needs a minimum number of men to operate. Some men can double up tasks; weapon crews, for example, are only needed in combat, and can lift anchors and extend landing gear.
Decide how many 8-hour shifts per day your ship needs to operate. If only one, the minimum crew plus a few backup men is fine. If two, double the minimum crew requirement. If three, decide upon the experience level you want your crewmen to have. If you want all landsmen, you may operate with only double the minimum. If you wish a few veterans or airmen, more crew is needed. Generally, about two
and a half times the minimum works out well, meaning that only half the men working at any given time are landsmen.
In combat, all crew members are woken from their slumber and called to battle stations, regardless of their shift. When crew members fall, the extra men step up to take their places. Crew members not employed in a specific task are free to put out fires, board other ships, or fight in hand-to-hand combat.


The number of officers a ship requires depends upon its purpose. A simple merchant vessel may not need a master-at-arms, for example, or a military vessel might be able to function without a bursar. To calculate the number of officers needed for a ship, step through each of the officer categories listed above and refer to the individual sections labeled ‘needed’.

Note that some officers may be able to perform more than one role. A captain may be able to serve as the navigator, for example, or nearly any officer could serve as the signal master. Remember that officers that take on more than one role can only perform one of the roles at a time. Doubling up a pilot as an engineer, for example, won’t work, as he can’t watch the wheel and the engine simultaneously.
The possible combinations of officers are too numerous and dependent upon the role of the individual ship to provide rules for, so simply use your best judgment when assigning roles.

Airship Crews

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