Extra Life Update and Game Schedule

1173Taking a break from the 30 Days of Game Mastering Challenge. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up tomorrow. But today I’m talking about my Extra Life fundraising, because the day is fast approaching.

I am not a serious, hard-core video gamer. I have my moments; I play more World of Tanks and World of Warcraft than is probably healthy, and I love getting into games like Card Hunters. But when you compare my “skillz” to just about anyone else on Team Knifeshoes, I’m not a first round draft pick. But while I’m weak in some areas I have very specific strengths, sort of like a Special Teams player. So I’m going with my strengths on this fundraiser, and I’ll be Game Mastering my way through the 25 hours.

Here’s my schedule for the day as it stands right now (all times Mountain Standard):

  • 8am-10am: World of Warcraft. Join me on the Garrosh server if you want to play along or chat.
  • 10am-2pm: GMing my regular Kingmaker campaign for my group. Sorry, can’t join me for this one, I have a full table.
  • 2pm-3pm: More World of Warcraft, cleansing my palette for the long night of GMing ahead.
  • 3pm-8pm: Pathfinder Module We Be Goblins, Too! A fantastic sequel to We Be Goblins!, once again players take on the role of those loveable psychos of Pathfinder universe. Goblin pre-gens are provided, and the table is open to 6 players. You don’t have to be a PFS player for this one, though you can become one pretty easily. Please pre-register on the Facebook or Meetup event page.
  • 8pm-1am: Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-EX: Day of the Demon. This is an exclusive scenario that can only be run by a Venture Officer or Paizo employee, so if you’re an Edmonton PFS player, I hope you’ll join me for this one. I can accept up to six players; please pre-register on the Facebook or Meetup event page.
  • 1am-6am: Pathfinder Society Scenario #5-04: The Stolen Heir. This is a Tier 1-5 scenario, and as part of the Year of the Demon season, makes a great follow-up to #4-EX. Please register on the Facebook or Meetup event page; new players welcome and pre-gens will be provided.
  • 6am-8am: This may end up being buffer time, depending on how long the other sessions go. But assuming they end on time I’ll finish off with World of Warcraft or World of Tanks.

You might be saying, “But Brent, you said 25 hours but that’s only 24. What gives, jerk?” Well my faithful strawman, November 3 at 2am is Daylight Savings, so we’ll roll the clocks back an hour and keep on gaming. Thus, the magic 25 hours.

If you want to play in any of the games listed, the rules are simple. Pre-register on either the Facebook or Meetup event pages so I know how many I have coming for each table. Then make a donation on my Extra Life page to support the Children’s Miracle Network. Any donation amount will do (recommended minimum is $5), and any donations of $25 or more will get a tax receipt. If you prefer to give me the donation on the day rather than use the site, please indicate that in the comments wherever you register. If you have not done one of those two things (donated or pledged to pay on the day), before the evening of October 31 (next Thursday), your seat will be offered up to another player. This is for charity, guys and dolls; you have to donate to play.

In addition to playing some awesomely fun games, I’ll also have prizes available. I have Pathfinder Tales novels, miniatures, dice and a few other surprises I’ll talk about later. Everyone who shows up to play is entered in the draws for these prizes, and you can get extra entries on the day by making extra donations. Game, support an amazing charity, and possible win cool swag; what could be better?

In the event I don’t have enough folks pre-registered for a slot, I’ll either throw the slot open to general board-gaming (donate to play), or I’ll pass the time playing World of Warcraft. I’d rather play games with people, though, so make sure you pre-register.

If you have any questions about Extra Life or my gaming schedule, drop them in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond. And hey, if you can’t make it out but still want to support the Children’s Miracle Network, click on the graphic to the right. It will take you to my secure page and you can donate to your heart’s content. Honestly, any amount helps and any amount is appreciated. And thanks in advance for your support!

 

30 Days of Game Mastering, Day Ten

Ten solid days of the 30 Days of Game Mastering Challenge in the can!

What are your tips for running a low/no prep game?

As I said in an earlier post, I’m not the strongest improv GM. I’ve become better over time, but I’ve bolstered my meagre improv skills by being hyper-prepared behind-the-scenes. Every once in a while, though, I’ll end up having to GM on the fly, mostly because of a lack of prep time for a session. And that’s when I fall back on my hyper-preparedness. I’m going to talk about Pathfinder because that’s what I play the most, but you can file the serial numbers off and apply these to other games.

My first tip, then, is know your resources. I have PDFs of all my Pathfinder books, and I have bookmarked relevant pages in all my books. The two big ones for GMing on the fly are the GameMastery Guide and the NPC Codex. Between these two books you have everything you need to make up NPC encounters off the cuff, develop plots, and set the scene for your players. If you GM Pathfinder, I highly recommend these two books. If you don’t play Pathfinder, your game likely has similar resources available, so track them down.

Other resources that will help? Pre-made maps. If you have to put an encounter together on the fly, having a collection of pre-made maps is a big help. Not only is it one less thing you have to come up with, but the map itself can inspire your encounter. You can get them from a variety of sources: Drive-Thru RPG, old issues of gaming magazines, table-top miniature games. Paizo sells a line of flip-mats and map packs for a variety of terrains and locations. I have never thrown out any map I have ever found (I’m actually a bit obsessive about keeping them), so my collection is vast enough I can usually present a unique location on demand.

My second tip, and this ties back to my world-building style, is let your players help. This is the time to ask your players questions about their characters, what they want, what they think is going on, where they want to go. This takes some of the pressure off you, and helps gives you ideas for the session. And because the ideas came from them, you know your players will be engaged. Engagement is big when you are improving a session; your players will be a lot more forgiving of the evening’s rough edges if they are into the plot. So don’t be afraid to ask them to help you.

My last tip: keep the session moving. If you haven’t had time to prep, this is not the night to engage the players in long research encounters. If they’re in the pub, have someone throw a punch. If they’re stuck in a dungeon and dithering, a secret door opens and goblins pour out. Keep the energy up, keep the party moving forward, keep the players doing something as opposed to talking about something. Of course, if you have a role-playing heavy group, then switch it around; this is the night to have extended NPC interaction. Know your group, and run hard with what they love.

What tips do you have for running with no prep? Drop it in the comments!

My Game Master Kit

I’ve had a few folks ask me, here and at Gen Con, what I carry with me to GM. So I thought I’d give you a virtual tour of my GM kit. First thing to note, I don’t always carry this full kit with me to every session. What I take depends on the game I’m running, and to a lesser extent who I’m running it for. For instance, most of what you’ll see in the kit is focused towards Pathfinder RPG and other d20 style games, because right now that takes up the majority of my GMing time. But if I were running a Gumshoe system game, I’d take almost none of this kit. So depending on what you run, your mileage may vary.

We start with the case that holds the kit. I used to just pile everything into a book bag, but20130901_112836 that led to a lot of digging during play and a cluttered table when I GMed, and I hated it. There are gaming specific toolboxes you can buy, ranging from $30-$100. Or you can grab a regular toolkit from a hardware store in the $20-$50 range. The kit I use today was a lucky Ikea find; I picked up two of these simple tool boxes for $5 a piece in the “as is” section. It has plenty of space for everything and makes finding items on the fly a breeze. I highly recommend something similar if you are putting together a kit of your own. And if you don’t like a hard case for your kit, get a bag with as many little pockets as you can find, to help keep things organized inside.

20130901_111716Next up, dice and counters. My dice travel in my stylish Dragon Chow bag, and the bag is spacious enough to carry 4-5+ sets comfortably. I used to carry a separate bag of dice to lend new players and such, but these days I have no problem just lending out “my” dice. The counters I use are glass beads from a now defunct gaming accessories company, but you can get coloured beads on the cheap from dollar stores or gardening centres. I use them for everything from Hero Points in Pathfinder, to representing minions on a map when I don’t want to dig out twenty goblin minis. If you have them , you’ll find a use for them.

I always have a variety of writing implements, both for my use and to share. It is especially20130901_111924 important to carry extra pencils, because at least one player will forget. But I also have pens, markers, and dry erase markers in two sizes; the large dry erase are used to draw maps, the smaller to write on my combat pad or make notes on the map. It is important to note: DO NOT mix up your markers and your dry-erase markers (but if you do, rubbing alcohol will remove the ink with a bit of scrubbing). Include a pencil sharpener if you use regular old pencils like me, and a dry cloth (not shown) to erase your map/combat pad.

Speaking of maps and combat pads…okay we weren’t but we are now. I always try to pre-20130901_111948draw my maps on the 1″ square map pads you can get at the stationary store, or through Gaming Paper. But I also bring my dry-erase Flip Mat so I can draw a map on the fly in case the players go somewhere I wasn’t expecting. I also pack along my initiative tracking pad. The pad pictured is the new Pathfinder release of their original tracking pad, and having used it through a busy Gen Con I have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. It is wet/dry-erase safe and magnetic, and comes with magnetic tabs. You can also grab a 8″x10″ whiteboard from a stationary store if you’re on a budget. Besides initiative tracking, I sometimes jot down quick notes or reminders during play. And while many GMs push to get away from using screens, I find mine too useful to get rid of. I hang notes to myself on the inside, and items for the players (condition cards, pictures and so on) on the outside.

Next, I include a variety of useful stationary items: sticky pads, index cards, clips (both bulldog and paper), rubber bands…the list goes on. Basically, if you might find it useful20130901_111938 during a day of working at a desk, I likely have at least one or two of it in my kit. Need to remind the party they are still suffering the effects of that curse? Write the effects on a sticky or index card and clip it to your GM screen. Use the index cards to write notes to the players. Or write “Invisible” on a sticky and attach it to a player to remind you his character is invisible (I’ve only done that last one once, but it helped). You won’t always need every item every session, but when you don’t bring it that’s when the need pops up.

And I always pack along the minis I need for each session in a plastic baggy so they don’t 20130901_111907spill into the rest of the kit. Larger minis will just nestle in the bottom of the kit as needed. I try not to pack more than I need if I’m travelling to GM somewhere else, though I will bring extras. And as I said before, the glass counters make great impromptu minions if required.

Now we get into items that are Pathfinder related, so if you aren’t running Pathfinder they won’t be of much use. I have my special card decks from Paizo: Critical Hit, Critical20130901_112057 Fumble, Condition Cards, and Buff Deck. The first two I use to spruce up critical hits and fumbles during combat. While I usually save them for important “boss” fights, players in my Pathfinder campaigns love the twists and turns they add to combat. Fumbles become especially feared and memorable, now that they aren’t just an auto miss. The condition cards cover all the negative conditions from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook that can afflict players; I’ll either hand the card to the player, or if it affects more than one, clip it to my GM screen so they can all see. Same with the Buff Deck, which covers all the most common spell and class ability buffs. I find these last two decks super useful, because they cut down on time spent flipping through books during the game. Which in turn means more chances for me to torment my players mercilessly challenge my players.

20130901_112118Next are gewgaws and trinkets that definitely fall in the “your mileage may vary” category. I use some regularly, some not so much. But I pack them in the kit because when I need them, I usually really need them. At the top of the pic are my Dungeon Map and Hit Location randomisers. I try to be descriptive during combats, and the hit location die helps me come up with different body areas on the fly. The Dungeon Map die doesn’t get used as often, but I have had occasion to need a quickie five room dungeon, and it has saved my bacon. The metal squares are from Steel Sqwire and each has the necessary info for the effect stamped on it: Mounted Combat, Righteous Might, and Enlarge Person. Again, not always needed, but can be easily slipped under the affected mini and saves flipping through books for the needed effect. And I also have two sand timers, courtesy of Chessex. They arguably see the least use, but I have used them to great effect to move combat along or add tension during sessions (“You have until the sand runs out to disarm that trap…”). Worth it. I also bring my line-of-sight indicator (right), also from Steel Sqwire, to help avoid any arguments about who can see how much of whom. Basically, any gaming gewgaw that has a chance of keeping my game session running smooth will find its way into my kit.

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And here we have the whole kit, loaded and ready to for a night of gaming awesome-sauce. With this kit plus my laptop with all my session notes and rule books, I’m ready for just about anything my players throw at me. Oh, players throwing things, another good reason I use a GM screen…

Do you have a GM kit? Or a must-pack item for either playing or GMing? Drop it in the comments below.

Free RPG Day Reviews, Part 2

In Part 1 of my Free RPG Day Reviews, I looked at my three favourite small press offerings.  Today I want to look at what the big publishers brought to the table. If you are sitting comfortably, and even if you’re not, we’ll begin.

Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG Quickstart/Shadows of a Black Sun – (Shadows of a Black Sun is an adventure set in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG. Edge of the Empire, as the name suggests, focuses on characters and role-playing on the outskirts: the thieves, the scoundrels, the down-but-not-quite-out. And the FRPGD adventure backs that up by throwing the supplied pre-gens (not a Jedi or Sith in sight) against the scum and villainy of the Star Wars universe. To my mind it’s an approach long overdue, and I can’t wait to see other adventures in the same gritty style.

But what intrigued me the most were the mechanics presented in the Quickstart rules.  For ease of play you will need to buy the special dice especially for the game, though there is a chart for converting from regular polyhedral rolls to the new symbols if strange new dice don’t do it for you.  Whatever dice you use, every important action is resolved as a challenge rolled using the player’s pool of dice against the game master’s.  Certain things cancel each other out and the end result tells you not only success, but degree of success and whether there are consequences regardless of success. At first glance it seemed complicated, but after I tried a few practice rolls it became pretty intuitive.

You did your job, Shadows of a Black Sun: I’m picking up this game.

We Be Goblins Too!We Be Goblins Too! is the sequel to Paizo’s amazingly popular We Be Goblins! adventure module from FRPGD 2010, and all the feedback around the web says this one will be just as popular. Written for the Pathfinder RPG, the adventure focuses on the literal trials and self-inflicted tribulations of the four goblin characters supplied with the adventure. Having lost their tribe to filthy adventurers, the four buff goblins (level 3, practically heroic for goblins) seek to join a new tribe. And a new tribe wants them, but wants one of them to be chief as well. Hilarity ensues!

Honestly, there is nothing not to love about this adventure. Another chance to play the barely lovable, fire-flinging sociopaths of the Pathfinder universe? Yes, please! Loads of fun for gamers new and old, and a great way to get new players into the game (though maybe start with We Be Goblins! to get the full goblin experience). Seriously, you’re playing goblins, so knowing the rules is secondary; goblins are as ignorant of how things work as new players often are, so it’s a perfect fit for newbies. And I can’t say this enough, you get to play goblins! Goblins!

Okay, I sort of tricked you. There were three in my last post, you had every right to expect three in this post. But I wanted to talk for a moment about a big publisher I was disappointed wasn’t there this year: Wizard’s of the Coast.

Given how hard at work they must be on D&D Next, one could maybe understand why they’d want to take a year off from FRPGD. Except that WotC scheduled their World Wide D&D Game Day for June 15. Why yes, that is the same date as Free RPG Day. So not only did they decline to take part in an established and successful community-building event, but they pulled the super douche move of running a competing event on the same day. I have no idea how popular an event it was elsewhere, but to the best of my knowledge no local stores ran a WWD&DD event at all so I’m unsure what this was meant to accomplish.

I don’t want to turn this into WotC bashing. I’m excited about D&D Next and some of the stuff I’ve seen in the open playtest. But I do think this was a missed opportunity on their part, and a serious misstep with the gaming community. I’m not privy to the details of their production schedule, but they could have pushed their thing back a week. Heck, running an event the week after a successful FRPGD could have brought them more players. Instead they chose to fracture the gaming community with pointless competition. I’d understand if they were launching a new game that day, but D&D Next isn’t even going to be available for Gen Con this year. So why the pointless big brother bully tactics?

Okay, that’s enough from me. If you have a favourite FRPGD find or any thoughts on my post, leave them in the comments below. And if you hit up World Wide D&D Game Day, tell me about it, I’d be interested to hear how it was for you. Next time, dice talk!

 

Find Your Work a Home

Late, short and sweet, that’s the story of today’s post.  Busied myself most of the day with writing of one kind or another, none of which was a blog entry.  But since I sailed right through Monday with nary a whisper I thought I’d at least take a break between my writing and editing to put up something.

One of the things I’ve turned my focus towards is RPG writing, and today was a good day for that.  Started collecting the details of encounters I’ve used in my home games (mostly Pathfinder), and as I polish them up I’ll post them here on the site.  But I also did some work for outside publication:

– While Kobold Quarterly has sadly gone away, there is still plenty of life over at Kobold Press.  The latest is their Lost Magic: A Spell Contest.  Entry is pretty simple, and since the  submission length is limited to only 500 words you really have no reason not write something up and enter.  If nothing else, use it as a quick writing exercise, something to get the creative juices flowing.  It’s what I did.

Wayfinder, the excellent community publication for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, has put out the call for submissions for issue #9.  This issue’s theme is the Darklands, and preference is given to articles focused on adventures underground.  This would be a great magazine for fans of the Pathfinder setting anyway, but two things make it extra special: it is produced entirely by fans, players and GMs like you and me; and it is offered free of charge (though once a year they print a dead-tree version you can purchase).  If you are looking for somewhere to get your feet wet in article writing, this is a good place to start.

I sent off my spell for the Kobold Press contest this morning, and my work for the Wayfinder submission continues.  If you are interested in game writing I’d suggest these as good places to start.  Just be sure, and I cannot stress this enough, to follow the submission guidelines to the letter!  You can write the most brilliant piece of gaming literature since Monte Cook wrought Ptolus, but if you don’t follow the guidelines it won’t even be read.  So I’ll say it again: follow the guidelines.

That’s it. I have editing I have to get on, so I’m running away for now.  But I’ll see you all back here tomorrow, yes?  If you have writerly comments to make in the meantime, please place them below.

Gencon Day Three: Hug your Volunteers!

Day Three was a blur as well, but for an awful instead of awesome reason.  Food poisoning, when you are safe in the comforts of your home, is bad.  The experience is not made better by living out of hotel in a strange city.  So I’m not going to dwell too much on what my Day Three was like.  Despite it all I managed to run two of my three scheduled slots, and thankfully an overflow GM was available to cover my table so I could grab a much needed nap in the afternoon.

Instead, I want to talk about volunteers.  If you have spent any amount of time going to cons you know that volunteers are a convention’s lifeblood.  If everything that had to be done at a convention had to be done by a paid employee, there would only be one big convention for everything every year, to save money.  Do the math yourself at the next con, the equation is pretty simple: #volunteers times total hours of convention times Minimum Wage for your area.  And even that only gives you an estimate, because a lot of volunteer work begins and/or continues before/after the con.

So volunteers make a convention run.  Good volunteers?  Good volunteers can make the act of convention going so effingly effortless for your attendees that they will actually wait in long lines with a smile.  They’ll actually make the times between events enjoyable, even memorable.

I’ve come in contact with two main sets of volunteers this weekend: the Gencon volunteers and the Paizo volunteer team.  And I can say this about both sets, those are some good volunteers.  How so?  Here are just a few things that stood out for me:

– As I was leaving the ICC at the end of a long day (it was after midnight), there were still some folks in the ticket line to secure tickets for the next day’s events.  The registration volunteers, to a one, were all smiling, joking and generally seemed to be enjoying the company of the attendees.  I can tell you from experience, that attitude makes having to be in line comfortable, if not enjoyable.

– Every time I spoke with a Paizo volunteer (and as a GM I speak with them a lot), I was greeted by name and with a smile.  When you are at a convention numbering in tens of thousands of attendees, the luxury of being greeted as a discrete individual is immense.  Did they likely sneak a peak at my con badge before saying hello?  Sure, but who cares?  That they thought it was worth taking that effort is fantastic.

– 6:30am, and a team of Gencon volunteers are pulling a hand-truck laden with boxes of program guides around the ICC, filling the Guide Stations so people can find the program books if they need them.  This was on Day Three of the con, when it could be reasonably expected most people had programs already.  For perspective: the program guides are essentially small books about 140 pages in length and a box of them likely weighs 50lbs.  The smiling, joking team was pulling a hand-truck with maybe 20-30 boxes around a convention centre you could run a marathon in.  And here I was, begrudging having to leave my room to go somewhere and sit down for four hours.

– A Gencon volunteer stopped what she was doing and helped calm a crying child for a mom that was obviously at her wit’s end.  Did she have to? Nope.  But she did.

And so on.  Both sets of volunteers did little human things to make the experience better this weekend.  As a result, hey presto!  The experience has been better this weekend!  Who would have thunk it?

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Volunteer Coordinator Pro-tip:  Besides a great way to make your volunteers feel appreciated, running social events for your volunteers prior to your con is an opportunity to observe how your volunteers deal with people.  In turn, you can put the more socially comfortable volunteers in positions dealing with your attendees.  Everyone wins from that: your volunteers are contributing in a way comfortable and easy to them, and your attendees reap the benefit of that.

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That’s all for now, kiddos!  The sun is rising on Day Four, so I must away.  It is the lark…

Gencon Day Two, Continued

The highlight of Day Two was, of course, the Pathfinder Society Gencon Special.  My introduction to Pathfinder Society came through playing in the Gencon Special back in 2010, so I was excited to be a part of the GM team this time around.

I won’t talk a lot about the story of the Special, because a) I’m not supposed to and b) I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you when it gets released for general play.  And if you don’t play Pathfinder, well, you just won’t care.  But it was a big, sweeping adventure full of dark tension and fear.  Yeah, that about sums it up.

So what puts the “special” in the Gencon Special?  When you play Pathfinder Society at your local store or game day, it plays out as most table-top sessions do: you play your adventure at your table, and it doesn’t affect the play at tables next to you.  At the Special, however, all tables taking part in the session are playing the same scenario at the same time, and results at your table can (depending on the scenario written) have an impact on what happens at other tables.  And of course other tables can change how things run at yours.

That itself would be cool enough, even with just five or six tables playing.  This year’s Special was run simultaneously at over 100 tables, in two rooms.  All tables played through the same story events, and all contributed to the eventual success (or failure) of the mission.  Add to that Paizo bringing in people in costume to LARP the scenario NPC’s, and an actual life-size prop of the main plot item and the Special becomes a high energy role-playing romp!

I’ll be honest, the night was sort of a blur for me.  Up to this point in my Paizo Con-Volunteer career they have scheduled me to run low level scenarios (in PFS terms, Tier 1-5).  Which made sense; it is my first year volunteering at the “big two” (Paizocon and Gencon) as a Venture-Captain, they might want to test me out where I would do the least harm to players/characters.  I guess for the Special they wanted to test other things, because I was tasked with Tier 10-11, the second highest tier in PFS.  I had, of course, read the information for all the tiers when they sent me the scenario, because I’m like that.  But I hadn’t focused on the higher tiers because it never occurred to me I’d run them.

Surprise!

A combination of luck, preparation and having easy access to all the sourcebooks I needed on my handy “HAL Friday” (my laptop), meant I was able to surmount a little thing like a full four tier jump in difficulty like a champ.  I mean, I assume.  Like I said, it was a blur.  My table seemed to have a great time, we got along famously and they were super excited to be presented with the actual plot prop at the end.  Discussing it with other GMs doing the same tier, it didn’t seem like I missed anything I was supposed to do and I did about as well as they did.  This might mean Paizo will trust me with some higher tiers in the future.  Which I’d love, but maybe we could do a few Tier 3-7 scenarios, just to ease me in?  Please?

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Con GMing Pro-Tip:  Go digital and save your back and brain.  The math for the back is pretty easy: HAL Friday weighs maybe 3-4lbs, compared to the (conservative estimate) 60lbs+ of all my Pathfinder resources.  As for the brain…well, with the right PDF reader (I highly recommend Foxit Reader, though your mileage may vary) You can pre-tab the bookmarks in your reference books.  In PDF terms, this means avoiding the “page flipping” needed to find what you need during a game.  I just open the file, click on the tab I need and roll for initiative.  It may take some adjustment, especially if you are a dedicated bibliophile like me.  But when I’m GMing at a con, and especially an event that is timed, nothing makes my players happier than not having to wait for me to find something in a book.

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We wrapped the 2012 Gencon Special at 1:15am, and tired, happy Pathfinders spilled into the night.  After that I hobbled back to my room and tried to grab a few hours sleep for Day Three!  Which didn’t work out so well, but that is a story for next time.