Theurgic spells and the 50 levels limit of formulaic magic

Hello everyone,

I have a question regarding the Hermetic Theurgy mystery virtue.

Are the theurgic spells, like Invoke The Spirit of (SPELL), still affected by the 50 levels limit of the formulaic spells?

If the answer is yes the penetration totals of a theurgist is reduced compared with a "classic" spellcasting magus of same power, in particular if both magi has the magical focus virtue and the spell effect has an high level.

In the last case in fact the Theurgist benefit of the magical focus only for the Lab Total calculation, he can invent the spell in less time but it has a penetration bonus limited by the 50 levels bar.

Is this the intention of the Authors or I'm wrong in the interpretation of the rules?

Thanks in advance for the answers.

I don't see any allowance for the spells to avoid the level 50 cap on no-ritual formulaics. This means that a spell cast by a spirit summoned by a non ritual version of "invoke the spirit of spell" can't possibly have a penetration of (50 - spell level)*3 + aura.

But to put this in a better light say you want to cast a level 30 spell and you have a tech + form + stamina of 40. If you cast this spell as a normal spell you get a penetration of 10 + die roll + aura + penetration score. If you cast it as a level 50 invoke the spirit of spell you get a penetration score of 40 + aura. Yes that's an extreme example and you'd have to learn the invoke the spirit of spell from lab notes rather than creating it yourself but certainly hermetic theurgy is not always a drawback in terms of penetration and hermetic theurgy is only a minor virtue, is flexible formulaic magic (possibly coupled with short duration waiting spells) not enough for you? you want killer penetration as well? (actually you could trick out my example more by researching an invoke the spirit of -a spell one magnitude lower than you really want- then using the flexible formulaic magic to raise the level of the spell. This doesn't effect the invoke spell's penetration bonus giving a penetration total of 50 + aura in my level 30 spell example)

Another factor is that a magus with hermetic theurgy does not have to only cast invoke the spirit spells, they are fully capable of doing normal casting just like any other magus.

Here's a third factor you might consider, (it's my favorite thought of the bunch). page 52 of RoP: Magic provide rules for transformation of magical creatures. I think that it would be reasonable to get your spirit a decent penetration by giving it appropriate qualities such as improved abilities: penetration.

Mmm, I think the right formula should be (50 - spell level)*2 + aura, the penetration bonus is doubled not tripled.

This is a good point, after all hermetic theurgy is only a minor virtue and maybe requires a balancing on the penetration.

Interesting, it's a possibility that I had not considered.

Thanks for the very useful reply.

I read things wrong (and I'm glad that I was mistaken). I had thought that you could get both spirit might and penetration bonus for levels higher than the level of the target spell level. [size=85]note to self: read rules twice before posting[/size] :blush:

That's why I invoked the perpetual Smurf's Parma, because I occasionally make minor flubs myself.
And, though I usually debate to prove a point, I do very much appreciate when I am proven wrong or mistaken, as it improves my understanding of the game and contributes exposure xp's to my "Ars Magica" ability score :laughing:


Hermetic Theurgy is only a minor virtue, but it is not a very useful minor virtue. Also, the rules need some elaboration.

Some rules issues: What happens when a spell requires Finesse or Concentration? What happens to a non-Momentary spell after the spirit casts it and leaves, especially spells whose effects change during its duration? If a spell-spirit is called to attend a theurgist, but is then commanded by some other power, say a Goetist or a magus using a Rego spell, what happens?

Here's what makes Hermetic Theurgy less than useful, despite hints of "oh wow, sometimes this can be cool:"

  1. The magus will almost always have to research his own spells. Theurgists are not common in the order, and finding a level 50 lab text for such a spell is far more difficult than finding the equivalent, ordinary spell.

  2. Although massive Penetration can be accumulated, the benefits are offset by the longer casting time--one round to call the spirit, another to command it. Of course, a spell-spirit that attends the magus all day can be had, but that adds 10 levels to the spell, or 20 points of Penetration. Usually, spells that really need to Penetrate also really need to be cast quickly, so a Theurgist has a very unhappy choice to make here. The example in the book ignores the round in which the angry Hedge Wizard pummels the magus as he tries to command the spell-spirit...

  3. Mastery isn't very useful. Fast-casting? Yawn--the spirit still needs to be commanded. Multi-cast? Yawn--there's only one spirit. Better Penetration? Yawn--ultimately, the spirit's Penetration is the only one that matters. And so on.

  4. Range "Self" applies to the spirit, not the magus. This sucks in a variety of ways. First, it makes the intrinsic FFM a lot less useful, because lowering a Range to "Self" is no longer a cool thing to do. Second, getting a spirit to cast a spell on you requires some other range, involving the need to Penetrate Parma and possible Warping from a high-powered effect.

  5. Theurgy spells don't scale with Arts development. This doesn't matter when a magus can easily research a level 50 spell, but for most of his career, these spells will become obsolete rapidly as he improves his Arts. Conversely, once he becomes very powerful, say, with a TeFo of 60 plus a focus, Theurgy again loses any theoretical punch it might have; an ordinary spell will have better Penetration, faster casting time, a viable option to Master, and so on.

  6. It really sucks when you need a spell-spirit but someone else already has it.

  7. It really, really sucks when you need a spell-spirit and someone else has destroyed it. Oops, that's a season wasted. Learn a similar spell? Oops, you also cannot be sure that it has been destroyed: Maybe it is attending another magus! Try again next round....

It is possible to create corner cases where Theurgy is better, but these are few and short-lived.

Ok, it's only a minor virtue. But why take a minor virtue that's mostly a waste? You could have Natural Magician, Book Learner, a Puissant Art, a Minor Focus, something you'll want to use often.

I really want to like Theurgy and see it work, but whether taken as a single virtue or whether optimized (starting with Major Magical Focus: Spirits, which will apply to every theurgy spell) it's the path best not taken.


  1. Minor Hermetic Flaw: Hermetic Theurgy

You have a focus with Spirits, Hermetic Theurgy and the inability to cast any Formulaic or Ritual spell that does not fall within your focus. You can cast spontaneous magic and craft magic items as usual. You may not take Rigid Magic or Unstructured Caster. You may have a daimon or spirit as familiar, but not an animal. Hermetic Theurgy works as described in the rules, except that spell-spirits are similar to Aspects of greater entities. Thus, two magi can simultaneously invoke the same spell-spirit, and if a spirit is destroyed, it will become available by the next Moon.

  1. Major Hermetic Virtue: Hermetic Theurgy

Spell-spirits are treated like enchanted items but without the item and without the need for vis. The lab total is as described for canonical Hermetic Theurgy. Each magus gets his own spirit, so the contention issue doesn't apply; however, a lab text is less useful and only provides its magnitude, like knowing a similar spell. Verditius stuff doesn't apply. Since there is no item, it cannot be handed to someone else; the pact is between the magus and the spirit. There is no Shape or Material Bonus. The FFM benefit of canonical theurgy doesn't exist. A pact has charges and so on, exactly like an item. Its use involves no die rolls but does involve a specific activation mechanism. A spell-spirit can be destroyed or commanded like any other spirit; its effective Might is considered to be the final level of the "item," including charges and Penetration and all, representing the overall strength of the pact.



I'm going to make a counter argument i because I enjoy debating such things, not because anything that you said was particularly disagreeable

There is only one way to learn Hermetic Theurgy. That one way is from a Mystery cult that is concerned with Hermetic Theurgy. It is (nearly) inconceivable that any such cult would not have a fair pile of lab texts regarding theurgical spells. Certainly not significant pile when compared to the products of the entire order but the statement "The magus will almost always have to research his own spells" is not warranted.

Granted that casting theurgical spells in combat is normally a less advantageus choice than casting normal spells. Hermetic Theurgy is about flexibility not about combat. However your analysis of the day long spell spirit is incomplete. with a theurgical spell a caster can cast a spell that is barely within their capacity and the more powerful the spell the greater the penetration. Say an example caster has a casting total of 30 and they're casting Pillum of fire in the wilderness. The example magus' penetration is going to be 10 + die roll + penetration score. Lets say the same magus instead casts a Theurgical pillum of fire with duration day in the morning. Rather than having a level 20 spell they need to cast a level 30 spell to account for the duration. But in their covenant their casting score +aura + die roll would easily allow them to cast a level 50 spell thus getting a penetration of 40.

So don't spend your xp on mastery (or just take defense). Do you have characters who don't have great needs for xp in a dozen different areas?

Shall I list out all of the differnt changes of range and duration that are generally useful? Lets take a look at range touch shall we, it is the spirit that needs to touch the target not the magus, tell me that that isn't useful. How about the spirit concentrating rather than the magus?

Are you talking about penetration again? because if you aren't worried about penetration then every formulaic that a magus ever develops will be grow as "stale" as a theurgical spell.

Invoke the spirit of form a spell that will "grow stale" but what does it let the caster do? It lets the caster cast sponts at half the level of a formulaic spell rather than half the level of the casting score + die roll. The caster can (in a best case scenario) cast a formulaic spell at casting score + die roll + 10

What are the chances of this happening with any spell with a duration less than sun? wanting a spell in combat is one thing but we've established that Hermetic Theurgy is not about combat. What spells are getting tied up that you can't wait for?

How are the spirits getting destroyed? I can see it if you're trying to use the spells in combat. But outside of combat? The spirit is an invisible immaterial thing that typically hangs out for a single round and then dissolves into the either as it were, certainly it seems to be in a great deal less danger than ...well anything else I can imagine.

Theurgy is better when you have an extra round (in my games experience 80% of the time) and the spell you have is not perfectly suited in terms of range duration and target (I'd guess about 60% of the time). So it seems to me that these situations come up very frequently (I'd calculate 48% but such accuracy in calculation is preposterous).

But here's the important thing. A character only researches theurgical spells when he or she believes that the spell that hey research is going to be better than a non-theurgical spell. So whenever they start to research a spell they can ask themselves the question do I want normal or do I want slow caster + flexible formulaic magic? Getting flexible formulaic magic on the non-combat spells where it most behoves you to have it is a great bargain for a minor.

This statement bothers me. Hermetic theurgy is a mystery virtue. In theory you could take it during character creation by taking the appropriate mystery cult upbringing flaw as well. If you're doing that then you're probably doing it for roleplaying and fun and it shouldn't matter that you'd could take a differnt minor virtue that would provide more power instead. This "there's virtues you'd use more" argument could in fact be used for every minor single virtue in the game (with a few exceptions such as some minor focuses).

But for the most part a character is getting the virtue through initiation. With initiation the character isn't presented with a menu of virtues and told to pick the one he most desires. He gets what the cult has a script for. A cult member can't even go out and research an initiation for the virtues that he wants, the virtue has to be one of the virtues that is related to that particular cult lore and even if the virtue you want is appropriate to your cult lore you have to not only undergo initiation (virtue unknown o the mystigouge) but also you have to drag yourself through the ringer of the experimental results table. In short the character never gets to choose the virtues. The player can inform the storyguide of the sort of stories that he wants to tell but a statement along the lines of "don't take hermetic theurgy, virtue x kicks more ass" (which I know is not what you wrote, I'm paraphrasing for dramatic effect, take me to task for it if you wish, I'm clearly vulnerable here) speaks of a mindset that's going to cause me headaches.

Once again just playing devil's advocate,


Maybe I need to try harder! :slight_smile:

I think "a pile" is overstating things. Consider the portion of the Order that practice HT. 1%? 2%? 3%? 3% is very generous: An entire House is only 8.33%. If these guys research spells at the same rate as the rest of the Order, and every spell they research uses Theurgy (which is also generous, since these magi cannot make do with only HT spells, as you agree), there are at most 3 HT spells per hundred. 1% is probably closer to the mark, and still on the high side. Now, these spells include spells to summon daimons, cutting into those available for spell spirits. These spells also include various invocations. These spells are also spread across all 50 TeFo combinations. So the chance of having the spell you want is vanishingly small. Worse, this assumes that all the HT in the Order maintain good communication with each other. If they don't, the pool of available spells shrink, because the True Way of the Red Legion share nothing with the misguided lunatics of the Green, Amber and Blue, and don't even know about the Secret Masters Clothed in Illuminated Mastery.

Of course, the HT has to learn that higher level spell. In the rare event that he has access to a lab text for that day-long spell, he must now contend with all the other HT who are using the same spell, and who have the same, casual routine upon waking up: Parma, call spirits, wash face....

Of course, you also assume that the magus gets to start his day at home. That's not guaranteed on days when you need a PoF. Granted, however, that your casting at the beginning of the day uses a simple die, which is a definite benefit.

This is a corner case. An extreme corner case. First, you have to get the level 50 spell. Then you have to need it under the precise conditions you describe. Then you have to hope no one else has it. And you also have to be at just the right point in your career for this to make sense.

And even though HT spells don't use your Penetration score, you still need to develop one to bind the spell-spirit in the first place.

The rules say that the spirit casts the spell and disappears. Oops. No concentration. The rules also don't provide for the spirit to move away from the magus. Otherwise, the only range needed would be Touch. Indeed, this is another gray area where the rules for HT do not adequately explain how the Virtue works. Can a spell-spirit cast a Voice range spell? Can it cast a Touch spell, since it is immaterial? Yikes!

Mostly, though Invoke the Spirit of (Form) spells start becoming obsolete quickly.

Sort of. It lets the magus cast specific kinds of sponts, one per season he devotes. There are a lot more than 50 of these, since a MuCo effect needs a different spell from MuCo(An). These also need to be relearned as Arts scores increase.

What are the chances of this happening with any spell with a duration less than sun? wanting a spell in combat is one thing but we've established that Hermetic Theurgy is not about combat. What spells are getting tied up that you can't wait for?
grin Gaming being what it is, it will happen when you don't expect it and the SG thinks it would be fun! Nothing wrong with that, except that it would be nice to get a Flaw point for it rather than pay for the Virtue...

How are the spirits getting destroyed? I can see it if you're trying to use the spells in combat. But outside of combat? The spirit is an invisible immaterial thing that typically hangs out for a single round and then dissolves into the either as it were, certainly it seems to be in a great deal less danger than ...well anything else I can imagine.
If you play a Merinita, the chances are that your saga will feature faeries and faerie issues. If you play an Infernalist, there are going to be demons and people who don't like people who traffic with the Infernal. If there are spirits, you'll have people with Second Sight, and spells or abilities that command or destroy spirits. A magus can do it with a general PeVi. There are other ways.

Other magi don't have to worry about their spells being unavailable or eliminated.

I don't agree with the analysis. Even if you are right about that 80%, measuring the value of that extra round must also account for the importance of the 20%. It's sort of like saying that seat belts are not all that important because you only need them 0.0001% of the time!


Though learning a spell at range Touch and being able to scale up to Voice or down to Self doesn't work. That's very useful for FFM spells cast out of combat.

And there are a lot more regular spells out there than HT spells. And regular spells don't have all the problems that HT does.

And your next point adds to the woe:

Not only is the character paying a virtue point, but he must also spend xp on Cult Lore, waste seasons on frat boy hazing rituals
and so on.

The argument that "it's all about roleplaying" squashes any discussion about game balance, or the value of one virtue over another. It works just as well for explaining how, in a 1ed game of Chivalry and Sorcery, it's perfectly fine for one player to roll up a peasant and another a Balrog.

Well, if it's really going to cause you headaches, even metaphorically, then you're not just playing devil's advocate but representing your point of view about game rules. For what it's worth, I like playing with rules. I like roleplaying too, but I very much enjoy wringing game rules for every drop.

I'm happy to say "don't take Hermetic Theurgy, virtue X kicks more ass." Consider it said!

Here are my thoughts about Initation. Initiation should provide cool stuff (unless you're playing Paranoia, in which case initiation is about achieving enlightenment through the use of cool stuff that helps a Troubleshooter shed his karmic burden of clones without burdening said Troubleshooter with unnecessary understanding about the Way) and cool stories. Initiation might also provide frat boy hazing. It should create obligations and eventually provide ancillary political benefits as others become obligated to the Adept.

An SG can saddle a PC with unwanted flaws through initiation, or even unwanted virtues ("Surprise! you now see the light and have become a Diedne! Who would have thought that this would be the culmination of your path?") in the name of roleplaying; it's not usually a good idea, especially in a point-based game like Ars Magica, in which players and characters have a very good idea of cause and effect.

I also favor taking Mystery Virtues right from the start! Anything that differentiates characters is good.

So I look at Mystery Virtues as virtues: Are they worth the effort? Are they enticing? Will their promise divert a magus from the path laid down so excellently by Bonisagus and the Founders?

Throughout this discussion, we have been comparing a magus with HT to a magus without, everything else being equal. But a magus who has Book-Learner will have higher Arts scores than the Theurge. A magus with an Affinity will have one Art that is much higher. A magus with a minor focus....

Also, initiation and Twilight are no longer the only ways to gain virtues during play. A magus who spends 10xp worth of time in the Magic Realm can gain a minor virtue. A magus who pleases a being of magic or faerie who has 5 points of Confidence and Grant Minor Virtue can receive that virtue permanently without damaging the granting entity.

In a nutshell, I'm saying:

  1. Yo! Virtue X kicks more ass!

  2. Whoa, these rules are missing pieces!

FWIW, I like my versions better, especially the Minor Flaw version. :slight_smile:

Edit: Every time I encounter HT, I find other holes in it. So maybe scratch that about my Minor Flaw version, which still includes many ambiguities of the original.



For what it's worth, my view is that Hermetic Theirgy is overly complicated and confusing, and it seems that you have to fit many multiple pieces of it together in order fot it to be useful. I understand the whole Role Playing thing too. My solution has been to just stick with Spirit Magic, and if I want story elements of Theurgy I just use spirit magic and call it theurgy, and Role Play it.

But again, these are both issues that have yet to come up in my actual experience :slight_smile:
Instead I have to deal with Goetic Arts mixed with Hermetic Magic, and I keep doing it wrong somehow :laughing:

Some good arguments there.

I like the concept of HT, but agree that it's overly complicated and ultimately not that useful. Still, I think it would be better to improve the existing ideas rather than eliminate HT. The idea of having lots of spirits circling the magus and ready to be unleashed is cool IMHO, but the implementation isn't up to par.

I don't think of minor mysteries as minor virtues - they're a bit different. But I agree they should generally be useful - perhaps even more useful than minor virtues - and HT just isn't.

Rambling thoughts:

  • The spirit is always created at Touch range, but can travel great distances very fast once unleashed (and affects via Touch). So design the spell with Touch range but unleash it at any place or on any target within line of sight, assuming the spirit can reach the target using its Cunning with the conjuring spell's duration. You can even order it to attack "the person over there" even thought it has an Individual Target; the spirit has Cunning. This cuts most spell costs, providing a tangible advantage and some flexibility. This advantage replaces the FFM advantage - no changeable Target nor Duration, just this new non-Hermetic Range.
  • The spirit has second sight (+magnitude?), but that might not help you to direct it at an enemy you do not see; you might get a vague sense of the combat-spell spirit's agitation if it senses a viable target, but that's generally too vague to reliably be acted upon as the spirit may be aching to attack anything (It's generally a good idea to have cults initiate second sight before HT). If no viable target is found on the site, the spirit stays there until the conjuring spell's duration ends, waiting for a viable target to show up. Some Rego (X) spells may be developed to "pick up" such spirits.
  • Protective spells (counter-spells and spells against mundane attacks) can be unleashed automatically and instantly as they are needed (based on the spirit's Cunning). So protective spell spirits are especially useful to conjure up.
  • The spirit still cannot act on the round it is summoned; keeps things more interesting in combat. Now you can spend two rounds to unleash the spirit at the enemy hiding behind the rock, or far away.
  • The spirit's Penetration is calculated via (Casting Total + Penetration -Spell Level) as normal, and can be invoked against specific targets (using Arcane Connections and Sympathetic Magic) to increase penetration as normal too. Just consider the magus' power to empower the spirit.
  • Mastery in penetration is now useful. I do not mourn the lack of fast-casting or multiple-casting, which I abhor anyway.
  • The spirit is destroyed as a creature with Might equal to spell level. That's just too fun to leave out - for when the SG wants to be vicious. Dispelling the HT spell "spends" the spirit, as if it had cast its effect.
  • Each spell, when learned, creates a different spell spirit from the magical aether. Hence, no two wizards will have the same spirits, even if both learned from the same grimoire - just like their normal spells would differ by their sigil and style. (Having to keep track of who is using what spirit is not fan, and the spirits are vague enough and spell invention so individual that it does not really make sense.)
  • HT does not allow you to invent spells that invoke named spirits, such as daimons. That requires a higher mystery. HT does allow you to invoke such spirits more easily, however, and participate in joint invocations, so higher-level initiates in your cult are likely to want to teach it to you and let you learn the cult's spirits and start "worshiping" them.


I also don't like Invocation and Names of Power, so here's a go at the Mystery.

The lab total for all Hermetic Theurgy is Int + Te + Fo + Magic Theory + (Realm) Lore + relevant modifiers for virtues, flaws and Aura.

Major Hermetic Virtue: Theurgic Pacts

You can call upon spirits to perform magic for you. Each pact is researched as though it were an enchanted item, with levels reserved for duration, charges, Penetration and so on. Like an item, each pact is designed with a specific activation mechanism, and functions exactly as an item of equivalent design. A pact is not an item: It does not cost vis to create, it can only be used by the magus who made the pact, Shape and Material Bonuses do not apply, virtues and flaws that specifically apply to enchanted items do not apply, and effects that target items do not target pacts. When a spirit is performing magic, it is present next to the magus, can be seen with Second Sight and similar abilities, and can be affected, even destroyed, by magics that affect spirits. The spirit has no abilities other than those it uses to fulfill the pact, and its Might is equal to the total level of the pact.

Major Hermetic Virtue: Names of Power

You can call upon spirits to assist your magic, and have access to the Name of Power Rego Vim spell guidelines below. Names of Power must be cast as spells, cannot be cast silently, and cannot be cast as spontaneous magic (but can affect spontaneous magic.) You can cast a series of these spells, to gain their total bonus to the Casting Total of some spell you cast, but the bonus is limited to Magic Theory + (Realm) Lore. All of the spirits affecting a single spell must be of the same realm, and the same spirit can only affect a spell once, though multiple Names can be associated with the same scope. The Name of Power is considered to be of the Realm whose Lore was used to research it, and is always cast with a stress die in other Realms. The Range is always Arc, the target is always Ind, and the Duration is always Mom. No spirit actually appears; the power of its Name is sufficient.

Gen: Add the magnitude of this spell to the casting total of a spell you cast that falls within a scope equivalent to the Minor Magical Focus specified for this spell.
Gen: Add one less than the magnitude of this spell to the casting total of a spell you cast that falls within a scope equivalent to the Major Magical Focus specified for this spell.
Gen: Add two less than the magnitude of this spell to the casting total of a spell you cast that falls within a scope equivalent to the Form specified for this spell.
Gen: Add three less than the magnitude of this spell to the casting total of a spell you cast that falls within a scope equivalent to the Technique specified for this spell.

Sample Spell: Call upon Admiel, an Angel of Terram lvl 30 (Arc, Ind, Mom)
By calling upon the power of an angel, you add four to any Terram spell you cast. Because this spell is associated with the Divine, it never suffers casting penalties, but must be cast with a stress die in Magic, Faerie and Infernal auras. The power of Admiel is always available to you, but you bear responsibility for the spells you cast and may suffer unwanted Divine and Infernal attention should you use this spell nefariously.

Sample Spell: Call upon Zysslix, a Magical Spirit of Snakes lvl 50 (Arc, Ind, Mom)
By calling upon the esoteric name of Zysslix, you add 10 to any spell involving snakes. This spell is associated with the Magic Realm and enjoys the usual bonuses and penalties, but is always cast with a stress die in Faerie, Infernal and Divine auras.

Minor Hermetic Virtue: Daimonic Pact
You must have both Names of Power and Theurgic Pacts before attaining this virtue. You can research Hermetic Theurgy spells to summon daimons; these work as described in canon. Gaining this virtue brings you to the attention of a daimon whose Might is either half your best Lab Total or your best Lab Total - 25, whichever is less. The daimon will allow you to bind it as a familiar. You do not need to accept and can bind either a daimon or spirit at some later time, but must find it in the usual way.

Minor Hermetic Virtue: Celebration of the Name
You must have Names of Power. This virtue allows you to research Names of Power with a duration of Year. These are always Ritual spells. You always add the bonus to spells within scope without having to call upon the Name. You also add the bonus to relevant Lab Totals. You can stack names as usual, but the limit of Magic Theory + (Realm) Lore applies, and any active Name precludes calling upon Names from other Realms.

Major Hermetic Virtue: Ascension to the Hall of Heroes
As usual.

Hermetic Theurgists who lean toward realms other than Magic might initiate Holy Magic or Goetia instead of Ascension, and might do it early in their career rather than late.

Synthemata go somewhere here too.



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