What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Too Much Game?

No... not too much gaming.  Rather too many games.

Over the years, I have acquired much in terms of gaming.  Like many of my fellow geeks and gamers, I am a collector at heart.  I love pen and paper RPGs and have ever since I started playing AD&D back in the day. This was years before d20, the OGL, and the SRD did a lot of damage and killed off or forced many a gaming system away from sight and I found myself fascinated with other systems and, any time I tried something or was playing a bit of another game, I picked up the core books at the very least.

There were times that the collection grew... and other times were it shrank but my fascination with various systems remained.

Over the past couple of years, I've sold a lot but still have shelves of gaming material that I was determined to keep.  As I try and cull the collection, opportunities to pick up new or older interesting things keep on happening.

One thing is clear though, given where I am in my life and the few instances of spare time which I devote to a few hobbies and past times, I will never be able to play all that I have and nor do I have the inclination to.

I arbitrarily decided that I need no more than 12 systems on my shelf (make that shelves).

Sounds simple enough right?  A top 12 list with the theoretical notion that I can have / run a different game each month in a given year.

Actually it isn't and I don't have a list yet.  I've found a way to 'broaden' my list somewhat too thanks to the exception.

Example:  Castles & Crusades is on the list but I quickly made the rationale that other versions of D&D and even a couple of retro-clones and even Amazing Adventures can be lumped together in a D&D-type category to support C&C since I tend to use that stuff pretty interchangeably (or can if I wanted to).

So, that's a lot of stuff.

Then there are all the other games I have.  Some don't take up much shelf space since it may only be comprised of a book or two but I have many that qualify.  Some stuff is pretty damn cool even if I will never play or run that particular game.

Take Rolemaster for instance.  I have had exactly one opportunity to play about 15-20 years back and it was a fantastic experience and I had a lot of fun.  I haven't played since but I came across the Avalon Hill Deluxe Box Set about 5 years ago (second hand) and picked it up without hesitation.  I'm fairly certain I will never have an opportunity like that again (though you never know) and I'm certain I won't run it.  However, I like it.  I've looked through the books in the set countless times and I am fond of the original system (the Basic system that powers Call of Cthulhu and other Chaosium games) which is part of the reason I hold on to it I suppose.

Despite the nightmarish character creation stuff, I have a copy of Rifts (Ultimate), the newer Robotech books, and the TMNT game books by Palladium.  I've played this stuff on and off though I expect I won't be playing them again.

Middle Earth Role Playing is probably the worst offender.  It was one of the first games outside of AD&D / D&D that I played.  I got a box set and traded it a few years later.  When Role Master Express came out, I tracked down a copies of some of the old MERP books again but they remain unplayed.

Generally speaking, I have stopped buying new games but I still managed to pick up a few titles at Gen Con because... well... it was Gen Con.  ;)

I'm still thinking about trying to create a top 12 list.  If it gets created, it may even push me to do another large culling from my gaming collection.  But a top 12 is hard.

Would any of you have a similar issue in creating this kind of list?


Monday, September 1, 2014

#RPGaDAY -- Catch Up (Days 25-31)

And here's the last of it.  There's a reason why I've avoided monthly challenges and it's largely to do with that fact that I don't have the time and energy to blog every day.  Or rather, if I did, I would need to learn to be a LOT more concise in my posts.  Thanks for reading and following nonetheless.  ;)

25. Favorite RPG no one else wants to play
26. Coolest Character Sheet
27. Game you'd like to see a new / improved edition of
28. Scariest game you've played
29. Most memorable encounter
30. Rarest RPG owned
31. Favorite RPG of all time

Hmm... looking at these questions gives me the impression that I've answered some of this stuff before.  Sure, the questions are EXACTLY the same but still.  My favorite RPG that no one else wants to play would be Call of Cthulhu which is the same answer I gave on question 6 which was phrased as 'Favorite RPG never get to play'.  It's hard to run a successful CoC game since a lot of it has to do with atmosphere for the experience itself.  I really hope to finally run a game (since I never will play this game) later this year when I get the new books.

Coolest character sheet would be *my* character sheet at any given time.  Because it's mine and it's where I record my character.  ;)

On a more serious note, a game that I would like to see a new or improved edition of... This one is a tough one.  Just got it with Dungeons & Dragons.  I guess I would have to say some sort of improved / streamlined (lighter) version of Role Master.  I never played Role Master proper but I was introduced to Middle Earth Roleplaying which was a bit like Role Master Light.  Still plenty of tables but less than the standard RM game from what I understand.  A few years ago, there was something called Role Master Express.  It reminded me of MERP and I rather miss RMX which was discontinued a few years back.

Scariest game of all time?  Running my first public / store demo game I think.  Actual game play... I don't run scary games and I was fascinated and loved every minute of the CoC games I did play a couple decades ago.

The Rarest RPG owned.  Hmm.  As far as games themselves, I don't think I have anything that rare.  I have come across an interesting item now and then for sure.  I guess my second printing of the Deities & Demigods hardcover (complete with Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos) would fit the bill for rarest item of value.

Lastly, my favorite RPG of all time would be the same sort of answers I gave for favorite system and system likely to be playing in 20 years time.  It will be D&D in one form or another or a variant like C&C.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#RPGaDAY -- Catch Up (Days 18-24)

And my quest continues... at least I got more than half done before the last day...  Here's a few more rest of it:

18. Favorite game system
19. Favorite published adventure
20. Will still play in 20 years
21. Favorite Licensed RPG
22. Best secondhand RPG purchase
23. Coolest looking RPG product/book
24. Most complicated RPG owned

My favorite game system is some sort of flavor of D&D and, for the past 8 years or so, it's been Castles & Crusades.  Why C&C?  Frankly because it retains that 'old school' feel but does away with how certain things were done in favor for the newer d20-inspired unified mechanic.  It's just more streamlined when it comes to the rules but retains its compatibility if I choose to run a classic AD&D module with a very minimum of fuss.  I like that and I will tap into my 1st, 2nd, and classic D&D sources for my C&C games as a result.  Of course, the new D&D has gotten my attention.  ;)

My favorite published adventure, for nostalgic reasons, has to be the Mines of Bloodstone for AD&D.  It was a very high level adventure which could, if things go badly, result in the party going toe to toe with Orcus, Demonprince of the Undead.  It was awesome and bordering on the ridiculous because of the epic level nature of the adventure.  However, the valley of Bloodstone became the focus of the first campaign I ran (in Forgotten Realms) for about five years.

As to what I will still play in 20 years... it will be some sort of D&D based game.  If Troll Lord Games continues to do well, it may still be C&C or maybe Wizards of the Coast will ultimately win me over with a future edition of D&D.  However, I like my dungeons, my dragons, and me level-based archetypal fantasy game play.

On the other hand, my favorite licensed RPG has got to be the ORIGINAL d6 version of Star Wars.  The d6 system (as I have mentioned before) was always a favorite of mine and was also were I sought refuge when I needed to take a break from AD&D.  The d6 Star Wars RPG (2nd Edition) will always be the pinnacle of that system.

My favorite (or best) secondhand purchase is a bit of a tricky one.  I have bought much over the years and really, it comes down to a couple of choices, not just one.  The first that came to mind was the Rune Quest 3rd Edition Deluxe boxed set published by Avalon Hill.  I got it for relatively cheap compared to what I have normally seen it go for and the contents were in very nice shape.  However, the moment I thought about that, I thought back to my Tekumel: Empire of Petal Throne book.  This one item isn't nearly as collectible as other versions (it is the one-volume 'pink' book published in the late 80's) but seeing that there doesn't seem to be much Tekumel out there, I think it's awesome that I was able to find a near mint copy of it.

As for the Coolest looking product / book.  Hands done I have to give it up to pretty to Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the Rules & Magic book they put out.  Frankly all of the LoFP hardcover books are beautiful -- I love Carcossa and the Isle of the Unknown but as good as those were, I really think James Raggi raised the bar on quality with this book.  I can't way to see the second volume (which I will have to order because I missed the Indigogo campaign) when it becomes available.

The most complicated RPG owned... well I've mentioned Palladium before so Rifts immediately comes to mine as far as character generation is concerned.  However, I will nominate 'Fantasy Wargaming' instead.  It isn't necessarily complicated but it isn't really complete either.  You need to put in work to figure out how exactly to run a game with it.  It remains fascinating to look through though.

And with that, I say till tomorrow where I will COMPLETE this blogging exercise.  ;)


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Condensed Comparision: D&D5 and C&C

Many similarities exist in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and Castles & Crusades.  A more detailed review can be found HERE.  However, if you looking for some quick answers, go no further.  Bear in mind that these are some larger differences aside from a bunch of the bells and whistles you might see in either game when looking at some specifics and is there to give an idea for the purposes of comparison.

Ability Score Generation: An array of stats number between 3-18 for both.  Ability modifiers from -4 to +3 (18-19 Strength) in C&C.  Ability modifiers from -5 to -4 (18-19 Strength) in D&D.  Modifiers during character creation will allow some of these initial numbers to change.

Races: Seven in C&C compared to nine in D&D (the extra ones being the Dragonborn and the Tiefling). 

Classes: Thirteen in C&C compared to twelve in D&D but some of the classes in D&D have subclasses or paths that you select to further differentiate a character.  For instance, the Rogue in D&D will become either a Thief, an Assassin, or an Arcane Trickster.

Skills: No specific skills in C&C aside from specific skill-like abilities found within certain classes.  There are 18 skills in D&D which are broad and generic where-in classes are allowed to pick a limited number of them (typically 2-4 skills).

Task Resolution / Save Mechanic: C&C breaks down as a d20 + Ability Mod + Level (if applicable) + Prime (a +6 bonus if applicable).  D&D breaks down as a d20 + Ability Mod + Proficiency bonus (if applicable).  The Proficiency bonus in D&D starts at +2 but will increase as the characters go up in level (they reach +6 at level 17). The attributes that these proficiency bonuses correspond to are determine by the class.  The Prime bonus in C&C works out as a +6 applied to two to three attributes but only one of which is determined by class -- the remainder are chosen upon character creation.

Attacking: Mechanics are largely the same but there is no 'To Hit Bonus' in D&D ... this is also covered by the Proficiency bonus when wielding weapons the character is proficient in.

Advantage/Disadvantage: Uniquely to D&D in this case, this mechanic largely replaces the need of multiple bonuses and penalties applied due to a variety of circumstances.  Cuts down on 'the numbers game' significantly and speeds up play.

Level Advancement: Much quicker in D&D in order to make the lower levels 'less painful' and get to a gaming 'sweet spot' (defined as level 5 and up) quicker.  Unified Experience Point Progress in D&D unlike C&C which is staggered from class to class.  It also takes a lot longer to progress in level with C&C.

Personality/Background: In D&D, an emphasis is made to define Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws which can be used to allow for 'Inspiration' granted from the GM which functions like an Advantage in a given situation.  All games encourage this sort of things but don't necessarily actively work it it as a mechanic.

Feats/Advantages: In D&D, Feats are now optional and function a bit differently from some of the ones seen in older editions.  Advantages were introduced in C&C in the Castle Keeps Guide and are also completely optional.

Death: In D&D, if brought down below zero hit points, a series of saves vs Death need to be made to stabilize.  In C&C, it is possible to go below zero hit points but death occurs at -10.

Magic: In the new D&D, spells have been streamlined and bumped up a bit and spellcasters are generally more versatile compared to the more traditional spell list found in C&C and classic D&D games.

Mutliclassing: Both systems offer multiclassing but D&D's version tends to be cleaner because the experience tables are unified where-as C&C's are not (see Level Advancement).

Ability Score Increases: D&D has frequent ability score increases.  From when you create a character to when you start leveling up, a character's stats will change frequently during their adventuring career.  Generally speaking, there is no 'automatic ability increase' mechanic found in C&C.


Weekend R&R: D&D 5th Edition and C&C

Well, it's safe to say that Wizards of the Coast has a solid success on its hands with the release the new Player's Handbook for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Many people seem to really like the new ruleset and, I know of people were were not at all impressed with the Basic Set were won over by the contents of the PHB.  Simply put, D&D5 is a great system and had it come along when I was ready to toss in the towel with 3.x Edition back in 2006, I would probably be still playing D&D to this day.

Before going further... if you are just looking for a quick comparison, you can find that HERE.  Otherwise, read on.

Back in 2006, when I just about had it with the endless Feats, rules discussions, necessity of miniatures and combats that seemed to take forever, I started looking across the internet for a rules-hack or house rules for D&D that stripped things like Feats and made miniatures optional.  For some reason, on of the searches led me to discover a game called Castles & Crusades.  Intrigued and encouraged by some of the things I saw, I took a chance and ordered a copy of the C&C books through Amazon (the PHB and M&T).  My package was delivered a few days later and I haven't really looked back.  C&C allowed me to continue playing the type of D&D that I've known before 3rd Edition but also embraced some of the modern conveniences brought about such as a unified task resolution system (the d20) and other things like ascending Armor Class.  There were no Feats... no endless list of skills... and best of all, Miniatures were hardly mentioned at all.  It was a streamlined and fast paced style of D&D.

Here we are 8 years later and Wizards of the Coast has finally given me what I had originally searched for.  The new edition of D&D clearly embraces much of what has been found in the various retroclones and simulacrum style games.  Quite a lot of work has gone into the new game and a very open playtesting was done to help create this edition.  It is no coincidence that the build up to this new edition also saw the reprints of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Edition material as well as a premium boxed reprint of the OD&D rules.  Even if these reprints has nothing to do with the idea of fostering good-will among the old D&D fans, it was certainly a way to keep things rolling given the disaster the 4th Edition ended up being.

The Fifth Edition is much more streamlined and gives the feel of a rules light game which puts it in a similar playing field that Castles & Crusades occupied for the better part of a decade.  There are certainly commonalities between the two as well as enough differences to set themselves apart from each other.

Character Generation & Classes

Character generation in both games are very similar.  An array of stats are generated (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha) by rolling 3d6.  Ability modifiers are a bit scaled up in D&D5 compared to C&C but this is a very minor difference.  An 18 stat in C&C would yield a +3 bonus while D&D5 would yield a +4 for the same score.  As a character advances, D&D5 presents opportunities for ability scores to increase.

EDIT - 5th Edition actually does 4d6 and drop the lowest unless you are using the given array of stats or the point buy system.  I've personally been using 4d6 and drop the lowest for just over 20 years now as a house rule and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  Guess it looks like D&D has finally caught up.  ;)

Both games are reliant on a level based system that centers on various archetypes available for play.  In other words, it's a class based system as opposed to a skill based one.  The classes themselves also retain a strong familiarity to those ever popular archetypes so you will immediately recognize the rogue, wizard, fighter, and cleric in either game.

However, looking at a particular class side by side, a neutral observer would immediately notice that a D&D5 character class seems to offer 'more'.  The truth here is yes and no.  While leveling up in the new edition almost guarantees you a change and/or class feature of some kind, most are in line with the sort of things you would expect to find for these archetypes.  There is more which is 'the same' that what is 'different' if you look at the broad picture.  These aren't overpowered when you start making a critical comparison though attempts were made to make classes more interesting as well as address some decades old issues.  The Fighter for instance has a lot more given to it in order to stay relevant and interesting.

A couple of classes have also had a Hit Die bump ... notably the Rogue and the Wizard (and Sorcerer and Warlock).  The Rogue class now sports a handy d8 and the everyone's favorite Arcane spellcaster, a d6.  This, in addition to the ability score bumps and higher than classic D&D modifiers, have many an old school player want to cry foul and make claims that these are the first stages of power imbalance.  I've read that these things make characters harder to kill because they have more hitpoints at the outset.  More difficult to kill?  Hardly.  The first encounter in a recent D&D5 campaign that started almost killed the Druid.  The poor Druid got in the way of a boar.  There may have been a critical involved -- I don't remember.  But what I do remember is that the first encounter had the group (most haven't tried 5th Edition yet) have a taste of the Death Saving Throws.  Given the circumstances, help wasn't immediately available which meant the player had to roll all the required die rolls in order to self-stabilize.  He was lucky.  Combined with the Instant Kill rolls, Death could visit the adventuring party often.  As for the higher stats and hit points argument, well, everybody and everything has that edge so that edge is effectively neutralized.

If anything, this little boost will give starting characters a small marginal chance to see second level.

One of the nice things is the attempt to diversify the basic classes allowing them to specialize or choose a particular path.  Citing the Rogue again, at 3rd level, they can become a 'Thief', and 'Assassin', and an 'Arcane Trickster'.  Each class offers some sort of specialization in a similar manner.  While this is interesting and some fans have been raving about this, it isn't all that revolutionary.  Castles & Crusades has a base of 13 archetypes to choose from and its Rogue and Assassin are just set up as different classes.  The recent 'Black Box' set introduced a 'Thief' class and many other supplements have come out with different classes to choose from.  However, when you look at something like the Cleric in D&D5, you will find that a Cleric will choose a Domain (in line with their god or religion).  Once again, nothing new here but it does show a very deliberate and elegant way or organizing the class options.  In the end, an Assassin or a Thief is a Rogue and a Cleric who worships Life and another that celebrates War are still just Clerics.

Advancement is another interesting aspect in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  We've already mentioned the ability score increases and covered that there is typically a 'gain' of sorts on most level-ups.  One of the NICEST things in the new edition are the experience point advancement tables.  For years, I have encountered many who decry and lament about the slow progression and lack of survivability of 1st and 2nd level play.  People who like D&D (or C&C) seem to enjoy 4th level and higher as it gives them more hitpoints and the characters are simply more competent.  I mean, who hasn't played a Wizard with the major character goal to reach level 5 to be able to cast a Fireball spell.  In the new D&D, you will still need to get to 5th level to case it but only 6,500 experience will be required to attain this.  Compare this to the 20,800 required in C&C.  Advancement is much swifter in D&D than older editions and other games like C&C.  The first few levels are faster still compared to earning later levels and the reason for this is to reflect what is described as 'four tiers' of advancement.  The first tier, for example, covers levels 1 though 4 and really represents the time spent as a 'novice'.  This is much shorter than the time spent in other tiers and this is a good thing.  I know that there will be those that don't like this method at all and prefer the tried method of a slow and gradual advancement but I believe that, the rapid initial advancement coupled with the frequent 'rewards' for leveling up just reinforces why a class-based leveling mechanic is still as successful as it is after four decades of play.

Game Mechanics

Once again, many similarities between the new Dungeons & Dragons and Castles & Crusades and more than one might have expected.

Like in Castles & Crusades, saves are directly tied in to Abilities.  Gone are the Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves.  You save with a relevant ability score as dictated by the DM.  Dragon breathes fire in your general direction?  A Dexterity save will do nicely.  A contest of the minds?  How about an Intelligence save.  As simple as that.  For fans of C&C that keep on insisting that the Siege Mechanic is a great way to emulate and attempt various stunts and maneuvers, well the good news is there is nothing to prevent you from doing the same in the new D&D.  Things are just a little different though but work equally well.

In C&C, your primary abilities essentially grant a +6 modifier to saves, skill, and ability checks to the associated ability stores.  In D&D, there is something called a proficiency bonus.  The proficiency bonus works a bit different and starts at +2.  This will increase as the character advances to levels to a +6 at 17th level.  This proficiency check applies to skill associated with the stat, saving throws, and your ability to fight with weapons you are proficient in.  This last bit is very interesting since they've essentially eliminated a 'Base to Hit' bonus which previous editions of the game relied on and C&C still does.  As first, some might take issue with the fact that a Wizard could be as proficient as hitting someone with a staff as a Fighter would but a Fighter has other abilities to draw on with a Wizard would not.  More importantly, a character trying to use a weapon they are NOT proficient in will never get better no matter how high level a character they become.  In other editions, a penalty would have been -4 applied to the attack roll but, in time, a character effectively nullifies this anyway.  It seems a much simpler solution.  The other thing about this proficiency bonus is that it applies SPECIFICALLY to skills one is proficient with and not an ability.  If you have an Athletics skill, then a proficiency bonus could be applied when trying to climb a wall or swim against a strong current.  If you don't have Athletics, then you don't get the proficiency bonus even if you have Strength as one of your key attributes.  C&C differentiates this a bit by added level to skills or competencies associated with an archetype.  Theoretically, you would roll your d20, add your prime bonus (if applicable), add your level (if applicable), and your ability mod.  In D&D you roll d20, add your proficiency bonus, and then your ability mod.  The result is D&D in this case proves to be LESS of a numbers game than C&C is.  Given how D&D shaped up with the advent of 3rd Edition, this is a really good thing to see.

It should also be pointed out that while neither system is really a skill based one, there are skills to be fond in both games.  C&C largely eliminates the need for them in virtue of the Siege system where that +6 associated bonus plus level modifier is a substitute for these unnamed skills.  There is no skill list though some classes have skill-like abilities tied to them.  Dungeons & Dragons *was* a game that had a much more pronounced focus on an itemized skill list but it has been seriously curtailed in this new addition.  They seem more broad than they had been previously and fewer in number.  This should take away the number of skill checks in a given game and, once again, there is less playing with numbers since you don't actually ever put points in a skill.

In a further attempt to simplify matters, one of the best new features of D&D is the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic.  Like the previous editions of D&D, C&C has a bunch of numbers for situational modifiers.  Castles & Crusades is a simple enough game but there are some for elevation in combat, concealment, and the like.  Being a rules like game, a person running a C&C game will reference these numbers from behind their GM Screen, quickly consult the book, or simply pull out the numbers from memory or pull it out of their asses as needed to keep the game flowing.  Easy enough but there are situations were multiple bonuses and penalties start flying around the table in the heat of combat.  Thankfully C&C has kept these numbers to a minimum, but D&D5 has managed to mostly eliminate the need altogether.  Party finds themselves in an advantageous situation?  They roll an extra d20 and take the best roll.  If they find themselves in a disadvantageous situation?  The roll an extra d20 and take the worst roll.  If advantages and disadvantages appear for a given situation, they all cancel each other out no matter how many there are.  Period.

As for combat itself -- they run much the same way they always did.  Armor Class, Hit Points, Attack rolls are still all the same.  Combat seems a bit more simplified in the new edition of D&D and both games run reasonably smooth and fast now.

The Rest of It

The rest of the new edition is just a lot of little refinements.  The spellcasters got a couple of tweaks so that their magic is still decidedly Vancian but with a bit more flexibility thrown in.  There is an emphasis on creating background in the new edition of D&D which is something I always supported in my C&C and older D&D games.  In this case, playing to a character's background (Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws) can grant you 'Inspiration' which can give you an Advantage for a particular roll.  Multiclassing works well enough since all classes advance at the same rate (unlike C&C) and Feats are COMPLETELY optional to the point that even if they are used in a game, it is possible to have a character never take them.  Spells have also been streamlined while retaining their roots but increasing the versatility of some of them which adds to a spell casters versatility.

Frankly there is a whole lot of stuff to like in this new edition of D&D if you are familiar with various older incarnations of the game, or if you happen to play a game like Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, or even Swords & Wizardry.  Hardcore Pathfinder fans may be a bit disappointed as will the FEW 4th Edition fans since, upon initial examination, some of the hardcore min/maxing will have been nerfed in this version of the game.

But what if, like me, you are already playing something like C&C?  Well as I started off by saying, had this game come out in 2006, things would be a different story.  I'm very happy with C&C and will continue with it as my main game.  However, I would happily join in and play a 5th Edition D&D game and continue to support the game as well.  The differences between the two as far as my enjoyment goes are too little for me to be even concerned about it.  Some things that the new edition of D&D brings are certainly worthwhile.  My top three picks would be experience point advancement, the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, and the proficiency system.  The two things I didn't care for are very minor in comparison: I like the reduced skill list but I think it would have needed to be reduced further (if not eliminated) or balanced out a bit more.  In this latter example, there are 4 physical skills (none associated with Constitution) compared to 14 mental skills.  The other thing I didn't care for were how they presented the sample backgrounds with tables for traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.  I like the suggestions but when categorized in the manner they are, a new player may not know where to start.  On the other hand, making them tables you can roll on was kind of neat and a great way to get some NPCs fleshed out in a hurry.

If anything, I would likely be tempted to borrow things for my C&C game.  The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic would be extremely easy to port in and taking a crack at modifying the Experience Point Progression tables for the classes would be a great way to port in two of my three favorite features.