Saturday, September 28, 2019

Assault on Chult

Note:  the map below has spoilers

My home campaign is 15 sessions into the player's assault on Chult (the Tomb of Annihilation campaign).  I'm estimating we're a third of the way through the campaign, about to finish the first of three campaign arcs.  The first arc is exploring the jungles of Chult, and trying to identify the locale of the Forbidden City.  The second arc is exploration of the Forbidden City itself and learning how to open the lost tomb.  The final arc is exploration of the tomb itself.

I'm not going to do detailed campaign recaps, as we're already 15 sessions in.  I'll do a survey of the player's progress with exposition on tips and referee choices that have worked out well for us.

The most important suggestion I have for starting a new Chult game is to adjust the urgency of the "Death Curse".  By the book, the campaign starts in the Chultan city of Port Nyanzaru under pressure to find a corrupt relic lost in the jungles.  The relic is affecting the whole world; Raise Dead and similar clerical magic has stopped working.  People brought back via Raise Dead or Resurrection are dying.  Both effects together are being labeled "The Death Curse".  The character's patron, a retired adventurer and recipient of a Raise Dead, is dying, and hires the characters to find the source of the Death Curse (quickly).  They are one of several similarly hired adventuring parties.

The problem is that Chult is a sprawling hex crawl with many interesting side quests and adventure opportunities.  Perkins and the WOTC team created a great hex crawl.  But if the players are under too much immediate pressure due to the Death Curse countdown, they'll focus solely on the Forbidden City, missing out on a lot of the fun discovering lost ruins in the jungle.  I bifurcated the effects of the Death Curse; the corrupt relic starts the game blocking souls from Raise Dead and Resurrection.  It's important to find the source of the curse, but the player's patron isn't dying by the minute.  I marked a time on the calendar (60 days) where the corrupt relic has absorbed enough souls from the recently dead that it's ability evolves, and begins to leech once-dead souls brought back via Raise Read or Resurrection.  It gives the players a more relaxed entry point into exploration of Chult, while setting a countdown later when the relic begins unraveling recipients of Raise Dead and providing a time clock when it's appropriate.

Expedition 1 (Right of Map)
The first arc starts in Port Nyanzaru, a frontier city squatting on the edge of the foreboding jungle, nestled between sluggish jungle rivers.  The players hire a guide, buy equipment, and set off on their first forays into the jungles of Chult.

My advice:  first, use the encumbrance rules (a "variant rule" in the player's handbook) and let the players know you'll be enforcing rules around heat exhaustion, daily water intake, and the difficulties of logistics in the jungles.  There is a fair amount of bookkeeping during this phase, creating inventories of food, bug repellent, tents and camping gear, canoes, and developing hex crawl "standard operating procedures" such as how to set up camp, daily jobs, canoe assignments, night watch schedules, etc.  Once they have all of this in place, the hex crawl procedures run smoothly.

I get the sense many modern referees ignore encumbrance and requiring the players to plan.  My players learned to hate and respect the jungle - the storms, the oppressive heat, the difficulty of bushwhacking overland and having to leave behind things like armor because carrying food and water was more important.  Plus the presence of dinosaurs and bands of undead, the remnants of an ancient army.  "I hate the jungle" became a running theme with the party's paladin, forced to leave behind heavy armor in order to hack through vine-choked jungle on 10 mile marches.  5E's encounters typically challenges the characters, but table top planning challenges the players.  Now that the characters are reaching mid-levels, they appreciate the way they can avoid the worst of the jungle because their wealth or class abilities afford them better options.

Their first expeditions (sessions 1-4) took them to a place on the map called Firefinger and then back to the city, moving from levels 1-3.

Expedition 2 (Center)
After their first major expedition, they spent more time in the city looking for rumors and learned about a storied oracle at Orolunga that might provide a clue to the resting place of the corrupt relic.  On this expedition, they went with more canoes and hired local porters, so they'd have hirelings to carry extra food and water (and potentially lug armor and other heavy gear).

I worked in themes from Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now on this river trip, with distance equating to regression into horror for those that didn't respect the jungle, culminating in their visit to Camp Vengeance, where the paladins and crusaders of the Order of the Gauntlet were on the verge of madness (and the commander, Niles Breakbone, was my own Colonel Kurtz).  There's also a fine DM's Guild adventure called Hunter, an homage to the Schwarzenegger movie Predator, that I worked in as a side-trek on this expedition.  I'll probably write a review, we enjoyed Hunter quite a bit.

This expedition also took the players on to M'Bala, and then out to Orolunga, where they did get insights on the corrupt relic and a locale for the Forbidden City (Omu).

I'm not a fan of the over-powered NPC characters that traipse around the Forgotten Realms, and Chult has it's own - the immortal Artus Cimber and his holy sword wielding sidekick, Dragonbait.  Artus, who went by the name "Sam", was encountered in Orolunga as a surly adventurer seeking his own answers from the oracle.  He and the players learned they may have a common goal, the defeat of a legendary jungle warlord Ras Nsi, but the two sides parted amidst mutual insults.  Later, the players ran into a hunting party of Zhentarim assassins on the trail of a wanted fugitive, Artus Cimber, and the players connected the dots between "Sam" and Artus.  Artus is now "in the game" in case I need a high level helper NPC at some point during the end game, but there's a bit of a rivalry so I don't feel obligated for them to team up because they're both "good guys".  He can act as a provocateur or rival.

The other recommendation from this arc was to threaten the hired help.  5E characters are notoriously tough to put down; my game still doesn't have a fatality, although we've come close several times.  NPC's don't have plot immunity and the guides and porters are critically important if you're running the hex crawl with encumbrance and logistics.  It's been great fun having monsters choose the easier targets and stressing the players about such important resources.

This expedition covered sessions 5 - 12, and saw most of the party hit levels 4 and 5 before returning to the city.

Expedition 3 (Ocean-based)
By this point, the players knew a lot about Chult and had many targets for their next journey.  However, the jungle ruins don't provide a lot of cash and their pouches were getting light.  They learned about a lucrative pirate hunting opportunity in the city dock ward, and hired a ship to go pirate hunting.  Drink up me hearties yo ho.  This allowed me to introduce the dragon turtle in the Bay of Chult, and we had a great time running an intricate ship-to-ship combat when they intercepted a pirate ship by trailing a loaded merchant vessel - the pirate ship was called "The Stirge" and they ultimately captured it and sailed it back to port to collect a heavy reward.  I also ran a pirate-themed lighthouse encounter from one of the DM's guild supplements, Encounters in Port Nyanzaru.  When all was done, the characters were flush with cash, owned their own sloop, hired a captain and quartermaster, and planned a long voyage to Shilku Bay to begin their trek to Omu, the Forbidden City.

My advice if you try something similar is to leverage the ocean voyage rules from Ghosts of Saltmarsh for 5E.  Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a nautical campaign, and the appendices cover detailed vehicle rules for ships, downtime on long voyages, sea hazards, ocean borne encounters, the works.  It's a great resource to put some nautical flair into your Chult game.  One of the Unearthed Arcana articles had additional ships (I think I got "sloop" from the UA article).  I have irrational love for pirate adventures.  The Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign is in my future, along with grog, sea shanties, and a bunch of pirate movies.  (In fact, I'm currently streaming Black Sails with my wife).

Expedition 4 (South)
When the characters set out for the south of Chult, they were loaded up for a long journey.  They used the wealth from pirate hunting to buy some magic items, many potions, and sufficient food and gear to stay in Omu several weeks.  Their patron had been tracking them via Dreams and Sendings magic; now they learned from her the Death Curse has entered a new phase, and recipients of Raise Dead that predated the Death Curse are beginning to unravel.  She's dying.  Suddenly there's a time clock!

Their new guide for the expedition is an albino jungle dwarf named "Musharib"; he waived his fee if the characters would help him explore Hrakhamar first, so they've been clearing that mini-dungeon - a dwarven forge overrun by Fire Newts.  They learned of the dragon in Wyrmheart Mine and plan to assault it next, then head for Omu and the next leg of the campaign.

I'll post another set of observations sometime after they've explored Omu and are entering the final arc, the Tomb of the Nine Gods.  Feel free to generate a discussion in the comments about your own Chult game and how things went by you, I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Road to Hell is an Adventure Path

A Review of Descent into Avernus
Baldur's Gate:  Descent into Avernus is the latest hardcover campaign for Dungeons & Dragons.  It has problems.  The premise is spectacular; an entire city has been pulled into Hell (to Avernus, the first level of Hell, to be specific) and the characters get the chance to traverse the Hellscape, wrestling with themes such as dark pacts, corruption, choosing a lesser evil, and redemption.  There's a scene where the fallen city, suspended in the sky above Hell, is inexorably being pulled down into the River Styx by massive hell-forged chains.  You can almost hear the screams of the innocent and the forsaken from above.  Unfortunately, in order to reach the payoff of the premise, the game master will need to overcome flaws inherent in the adventure path format, flaws that are expressed egregiously at times here.  Mild spoilers to follow in the review.

The adventure begins in the city of Baldur's Gate, in the Forgotten Realms.  A flood of refugees from a nearby kingdom, Elturel, have reached the walls of Baldur's Gate telling woeful tales -  the holy city of Elturel is wiped off the face of the earth, a gaping crater where the city once stood.  There is chaos at the city gates as the watch is overwhelmed with the refugee crisis at the walls.  The characters begin the game impressed into service as deputies by the watch to perform side missions while the watch is occupied with the border crisis.

The problems with Descent begin up front.  The players are ordered to go talk to someone to learn a clue by the watch captain.  If the characters don't do it, the captain sends a patrol to rough them up; then it's a second patrol to rough up the characters further, and so on, until they comply (or perhaps bag the adventure entirely?)  From that point, there is a tortuous series of events and encounters the players need to follow to learn the dark secret behind Elturel's disappearance.  Secret doors that if the player's fail to find them, the dungeon and campaign are over.  An evil NPC set up as a villain to slaughter, but if the player's don't accept his surrender, they'll miss his monologue with the clues to the next scene.

These types of issues aren't fatal to the adventure, but they're distasteful for a referee to negotiate.  "Oh, you killed the important NPC and missed his info-dump?  I guess the guard captain asks for the body to be retrieved and arranges a Speak with Dead so he can deliver the info-dump".  I can put a neon sign on the important secret door.  I can have a frank talk up front with the players, out of game, that the campaign starts as a railroad and ask them to agree to limit their choices for the good of the story.  Be warned, however, that most of the campaign is driven by flow charts that map out a path the players must follow to advance.  I expected more from a professionally produced campaign, as the hardcover campaigns produced by Wizards of the Coast have consistently gotten better since the first few.  This is regression.

Once the story moves to the wastes of Avernus, player choice expands and the themes of the campaign take prominence.  Avernus is presented as a large sandbox with a map; the characters are still required to follow a flow-chart along the adventure path, but the execution is more naturalistic and forgiving for players that want to go 'off road'.  The overarching story involves the ruler of Avernus, a fallen angel named Zariel; the players piece together the angel's fall from heaven by encountering locales that hold echoes of Zariel's past.  Along the way, the characters will likely be rumbling across the wastes of Avernus in souped-up, wheeled death tanks (infernal war machines) straight out of a Mad Max movie, either chasing, or being chased by, warlords of Avernus in their own death machines.  Yes, the wastes of Avernus are as cool as they sound.  Queue your "Fury Road" sound track or your Ronny James Dio albums.

In addition to visiting locales that delve into the angel's past, the Avernus sequences put the players into contact with demon lords, arch devils, movers and shakers in the cosmos and the war between the Abyss and the Nine Hells.  The player choices are consequential and the end-game is wide open.  They could attempt to redeem the fallen angel, join her, defeat her, save the fallen city of Elturel, or condemn it.  One way or another your version of the Forgotten Realms will be different after this campaign.  Failure is an option.  The wide open nature of the end-game here is the best attribute of this campaign.

I looked at the writing credits, and it's an ensemble cast on both the story and the writing.  Eleven story creators, fifteen writers, a handful of editors.  Is it any wonder they needed to present a scene-based adventure path?  An adventure path is a sensible way to atomize the work, but leads to tenuous plotted connections between scenes.  Stylistically this puts Descent into Avernus closest to the maligned 5E adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, also adventure paths, and in contrast to the excellent open world sandboxes of Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd.

I had already committed to one of my Adventurer's League tables to run Descent into Avernus as a bi-weekly game, so I'll need to make peace with the problems and position the story as best I can. It seems that if a referee can elide the early issues, the heart of the campaign in Avernus promises a spectacular mid-game and end-game, and the high level arc is especially consequential and wide open. However, due to the early problems, I'm finding it difficult to give an unqualified recommendation without actual play.  I'll circle back in several months to confirm whether my concerns about plot and player choice were founded, and how difficult was it to improve the experience.

Images: Wizards of the Coast (cover art by Tyler Jacobson)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A look at the D&D Essentials Kit

The D&D Essentials Kit is a boxed set published earlier this summer - I picked one up at the local Target.  I didn't need the rules, although the set does come with a sturdy rulebook, a flimsy Dungeon Master's screen, dice, and accouterments.  I picked up it because I was intrigued by the rules for "sidekicks", and I heard good things about the adventure module.

Sidekicks are non-player characters (NPCs) that accompany player characters - the typical retainers and henchmen of old school games.  They use 5th edition "monster" stat blocks in lieu of a full character sheet, with simplified abilities, making them easy to run at the table as a complement to a player's regular character.  Ostensibly they're in the game to support solo adventuring (one DM and one player, with a few sidekicks) but we immediately started using them for old school style henchmen.  Emporo the Mighty and Josh, both fighters, are accompanying players in my Chult campaign as sidekicks.  There are three flavors - a spellcaster sidekick (clerical or arcane), a warrior sidekick, and an expert (rogue) sidekick.  There are tables for leveling sidekicks so they maintain parity with their patrons.  Sidekicks only take up two pages in the rulebook but were completely worth it.

The Dragon of Icespire Peak
The adventure that comes in the set is "The Dragon of Icespire Peak".  It's 64 pages - 50 pages or so of adventure, the rest is a bestiary.  It describes a sandbox region around the village of Phandalin in the Forgotten Realms, consisting of 14 adventure locales - dungeons, ruins, and other adventure sites, providing enough action for a party to go from level 1 through 6.  It has everything you need to launch a fun campaign - a home base, wilderness locales, dungeons, and even a bit of overarching plot (a dragon recently came to the area, setting things in motion).

A few additional things I really enjoyed about the adventure; first, since there is an actual Dragon of Icespire Peak, it flies around marauding in the background, providing nice verisimilitude before the characters gain enough experience to go confront it.  It can show up early in the campaign as a wandering monster, too, driving home the point that the world is dangerous.

There is progressive quest guidance that provides the players options on where to seek adventure, while ramping up the danger as they range farther from home base or begin to target the dragon; it's a style that appeals to old school gamers.  Phandalin is the same village described in "Lost Mine of Phandelver", the introductory adventure in the first starter set, allowing a DM to combine both adventures into a broader sandbox campaign.  I'm looking forward to starting a new campaign (after Chult) and merging Icespire Peak/Phandelver into a sprawling sandbox game (although I'd 99% ditch the Forgotten Realms and transpose the village and surrounding locales to a homebrew setting or Greyhawk).

Our Amazonian capitalist overlord sells the Essentials Kit for about $15-16, $24 at retail.  I wouldn't normally recommend a starter set (unless you're a boxed set maven) but I've been a fan of this material; I'm making heavy use of the sidekick rules, and Icespire Peak is a fine sandbox adventure to get a new game started the way the founders intended.  (Good job, Wizards).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Character versus Campaign

I'm still trying to get comfortable with the difference between old school characters and the latest edition.  Let's talk generalities - old school characters are quick to generate, somewhat disposable, and they become interesting over time due to emergent stories.  There's not a lot of mechanical difference between various 1st level fighters.  It's the adventures they survive that make them interesting.  Because the characters are disposable, the campaign becomes the constant at the table.  Campaign transcends character.

5E is another animal.  Players come to the table with deeply thought out level 1 characters, taking great care to select race, class, backgrounds, character options, and considering a mechanical arc for the character.  In addition to the player's handbook core rules, there are several other books that expand character options.

I know these topics have been litigated ad nauseum since 3E.  The argument goes there are way more players than game masters, so economically, market forces dictate the company makes lots of player options because it sells books.  Wizards has been fairly disciplined with their publishing schedule, so the market isn't flooded with too many 5E player options like the 3rd or 4th editions, but there's still a good amount out there.

However, I think it's more interesting to reflect on how 5E's approach to the player character affects gameplay.  I've been part of convention games, and running a good amount of Adventurer's League games as a "public DM" for one of my friends (plus a weekly home game).  Every week it's (potentially) a different set of players with different characters.  The public games are single-serving fun-size episodes.  The story and the campaign doesn't provide the continuity for the players, it's the character itself that's the one constant.  (Wherever you go, there you are, or something like it).

The positive for this approach is the amount of creativity manifested in the players.  Character story still emerges through play, the way God and Gary intended, but players show up having given a lot more thought to how they want to portray the character when their time at the table is a single-serving instance.  No one at a public game table wants to hear someone's five page backstory, but the players that get it are very good at using their turns to add some flourish and tell their character's story through brief action choices, mannerisms, or maybe a funny accent or turn of phrase. I'm sure the ever-presence of Twitch gaming and celebrity-table D&D is contributing to player theatrics and a heavier focus on roleplaying through table presence.  (The Matt Mercer effect).  I don't live in a particularly large town, one of many suburbs north of Philadelphia, but it boasts two nights per week of these "Adventurer Leagues", at different stores, running 4-5 full tables of players.  I don't know if Dungeons & Dragon has ever been more popular.  I'm not going to complain.

There are some ramifications to 5E's character emphasis I still don't like.  The characters are extremely powerful, very hard to kill, and all of the game effects that should be permanent and horrifying are typically only temporary (an example would be petrification).  I'm not a killer DM, but the lack of lethality undermines drama at the table - combat is sport instead of war, as we say.  I usually have to discard any game balance "guidelines" and be willing to throw anything and everything at the players to generate a credible threat.  (This is much easier in a home game than the public Adventurer's League setting where you're constrained by an author).  For campaign building, I don't like the limitations high-powered, high-magic characters create for the world at large.  5E D&D doesn't emulate genres well; it's created its own genre of fantasy; at best you can import flavors from other genres and nudge the default 5E assumptions towards the style you want to mirror.

Despite these cranky "get off my lawn with your 5th edition" complaints, I'm having fun.  I appreciate the player creativity I'm seeing.  Running Adventurer's League is meh, but I'm helping a friend out due to the high demand in the area.  Apparently one can run the published hardcover campaigns in lieu of their Adventurer's League modules, so I'm going to try that soon - most of the hardback campaigns are well done, and I've run enough home brew megadungeons to handle a drop in/drop out episodic public game.  The biggest dissonance I have is re-calibrating my expectations of world building, which arcs towards low magic, pseudo-historical settings with a side of horror.  I don't naturally embrace the wahoo high-magic eclectic mash-up embodied by 5E.  Getting there is a work in progress; thus I haven't tried my hand at a homebrew setting in a while.  I'm all ears for advice on how you've done it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Techniques for Hex Crawling through Chult

Port Nyanzaru squats on the edge of a foreboding rainforest and jungle that seems to cover the entirety of Chult.  Much of the early part of the Tomb of Annihilation campaign involves the characters entering the ominous wall of trees following clues towards ancient jungle ruins, camps, forts, and points of interest.  The problem is that hex crawls are troublesome to adjudicate; long winded narrative descriptions of the wilderness are dull; there's better things to do with a table full of players than to spend minutes each hex rolling on a handful of tables.  Here are the techniques I've used to make peace with the hex crawl.

First up is automating the procedural generation ahead of the game.  For a campaign like Chult, that means having an excel table using various random number functions to pre-generate daily weather, time of day for the weather, and random chance of encounters for morning, day, and night, as well as the actual encounter table dice roll.  If I know in advance what the players are doing from a terrain perspective (ie, canoeing down a jungle river next game session), I'll go ahead and identify the specific encounters, too.

The problem during the hex crawl is switching from the 10,000 foot view (10 miles per hex) down to the encounter level and making the encounter interesting.  I use two tables to help create an instant scene.  One of them is a d100 "what are the characters or retainers doing when the encounter happens".  It has entries like "arguing about something stupid", "drinking water", "scanning the skies", or "moving in formation".

The other table is a d100 of interesting features for the current terrain.  The players are not just canoeing on the river, they are passing over sandbars and shallows, drifting by thick reeds and grasses along a marshy bank, or facing an impenetrable jungle canopy on both sides of the river and an eerie stillness (and so on…)  This helps me quickly paint an evocative scene.

An example from one of the sessions - the characters are crossing some rocky shallows, walking beside their canoes around large boulders in a slow moving part of the river.  I asked them whether any one is prone to telling bawdy jokes, and would they have one handy for the table?  (If none of the characters are telling jokes, it's invariably one of the henchmen or porters regaling the group).  A series of rocks along the river bank started to shift and slide in the water.  A giant crocodile basking in the shallows was disturbed and swings it's massive jaws around towards the nearest canoe.  Roll initiative.

The last thing we've done to keep hex crawling moving along smartly is player preparation.  They've created procedures for setting up camp (who does which jobs), what is the order of the night watches, how do the characters collect water, what's a map of the typical camp layout, who sleeps in which tent, and what seats are in the canoes.  It's worked well to keep the player's side of the daily crawl move along and give me what I need to facilitate engaging encounters along the way.  At this point we've covered about 60 days of campaign time trudging through the rain forest or paddling down sluggish jungle rivers; it's stayed fresh and interesting.  Hope these give you some ideas for your own hex crawling.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Tomb of Annihilation is an Old School Delight

I'm 12 sessions into running the 5E Tomb of Annihilation campaign and enjoying it greatly.  Depending on the day, I'd place it as the best or second best hardcover campaign published for fifth edition (Curse of Strahd competes with it).  Why do I rate it so highly?  Let's explore.

The campaign is a sprawling jungle hex crawl covering a large island/peninsula, sprinkled with ruined cities and adventure sites, with a capstone consisting of an epic dungeon.  It's an amalgam of several classic adventure modules from the 1st edition days, Tomb of Horrors, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and perhaps thematic nods towards The Isle of Dread.  There's an overarching plot about discovering the location of a corrupt relic and stopping it's baleful influence.  How the players prosecute the campaign to find the relic is extremely open ended.

As a game master who prefers old school styles of play, Tomb of Annihilation has been very satisfying.  The players have launched multiple excursions by river into the foreboding jungle, deftly guiding canoes up sluggish rivers through the oppressive heat of Chult.  They've had to manage resources (food, tents, insect repellents, and especially clean water) while dealing with hungry predators, packs of undead, and jungle-born disease.  The campaign caters to gaming styles where good planning and time management are important.

The wilderness encounters don't care about character level, nor do I advise scaling them down; it's not uncommon for low-level characters to discover locales or meet creatures that over-match them, shifting it to the players to respond accordingly and play smart - another throwback to earlier styles of gaming that test player skill.  (Though I will say, 5E characters are quite resilient and powerful).

Record-keeping behind the screen has been important.  I've leveraged calendars, procedural generators for encounters and weather, and helper tables to keep the action crisp.  I'll embellish them in a follow up post.  From the player's side, they've created a lot of "standard procedures" to speed play - what a standard camp looks like, what jobs the characters perform to set up camp, how they prepare enough water each day, and the overnight watch schedule.  We've also used the encumbrance rules (laughingly, they are listed as "optional" in the PHB) so that any overland excursion through the jungle drives tough choices.  Food and water is heavy.  Heavy armor is a liability in the jungle.

Wizards published an alternate experience approach called "Three Pillars"; I've been using that exclusively for this campaign.  5E "by the book" rewards combat only, although more and more the game seems to be shifting towards "milestone leveling" which is basically "level up because I said so".  The "Three Pillars" approach rewards exploration and recovering treasure, along with combat and winning important social victories.  It ties in better with a holistic experience.  I'm not deluded into thinking that any experience system isn’t flawed and arbitrary; I just don't think the 5E default assumptions support XP for gold the way I'd like.

I've been doing a ton of game mastering, both for the home campaign and some "Adventurer's League" at a local game store, so I plan to get back to semi-regular blogging. It seems the blogging landscape has changed quite a bit.  No more G+, so it's not clear where old schoolers hang out to discuss games.  Don't I need to turn in my OSR card now that I'm pretty much a 5E gamer, anyway?  Otherwise life has been good, the kids are all teenagers, my career is doing well.  I've missed talking about gaming.