Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Awesome

Not awesome at all.

For a change, here is a comic that is not self-contained; it is from a game I am a player in, the same as the previous comic. One of the other players is some kind of Evil warlock whose apparent goal is party conflict. The events depicted are true, including the party cleric Calm Emotions-ing everyone. I was told I should totally draw this, though it is quite possibly the most underwhelming thing that has ever happened.

Speaking of - awkward segue! - you've probably seen me link TVTropes before. It's basically Wikipedia for fiction tropes, and a lot more informal - but like Wikipedia, in the shadows of the discussion pages lurk an army of hooting monkeys with the sense of humour of a Betamax tape ready to argue for countless posts about stupid details nobody actually cares about, like whether or not you are allowed to say "I".

This post is not about those people.

You see, there is a sort of point to that - a lot of the people who say "I" are just rambling on about themselves, and if there is one thing nobody gives a crumpet about it is people who write about themselves on a tropes wiki. Unless it's awesome.

For example, there's the page for Crowning Moment of Awesome. What is that, you ask? Well if you clicked the link you'd know it was "the moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever, winning for them the eternal loyalty of fans," idiot.

There are specific entries for "Tabletop RPGs" and "D&D", which are mostly people talking about their "awesome" characters. Unfortunately, these "awesome" characters are often... well, finger-quotes exist for this kind of shit.

I'd like to stick to D&D for now, because I am lazy, but nobody has bothered to check these pages for true awesomeness, or even format them; either a bunch of D&D tales were left in the "Other/Unspecified Game" section by mistake or some people are stupid. So let's start there, shall we?

"This troper DMed a game where a character, a rogue/cleric of a chaotic good homebrew god, was fighting in a floating house one thousand and five hundred feet off the ground, against a nigh-invulnerable construct not unlike an inevitable. The cleric, seeing that this thing was powerful, jumped out of a window, summoned a celestial hippogriff, and flew to safety. Awesome."

Awesome retreat, guys!

Can you imagine doing that and trying to explain why it was great to someone else?

"Well, we were in a floating house, and there was this nigh-invulnerable construct. It was powerful!"
"So what did you do to it?"
"I ran away."
"I cast a simple summon monster spell, summoned something that could fly, and ran away."
"...Is that it?"
"Of course!"


"This troper had two different CMOAs in his first and only campaign. The first occurred during an indoor map where his ranger, after a series of unsuccessful attacks, manages to land a critical on a guard with each sword!"

The hard part is trying to read through these while keeping in mind this is a list of "moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever". That's right, this guy's most awesome thing ever was rolling two criticals! What are the odds?!

But wait, there's more!

"The second, and even more awesome, was during a section where the party was intended to wipe, but most of them were so experienced in the game that the DM had to bring out a high-level wizard to cast Fireball."

wow, what a formidable opponent

"The attack managed to knock everyone to 0 HP or lower...except me. This gave me one turn to act, and given few options, I eventually blurt out "play dead". Even though I have no ranks in anything that should give me skill in that. And I pull it off!"

I want to laugh, but the sad little exclamation mark at the end there makes me feel guilty about doing so.

Why do people confuse "awesome" with "cowardly"? If you made a last stand and took everyone down, that would have been awesome. If you made a last stand and got killed, but heroically, it could still be considered awesome. You played dead? Yeah, good idea, but I wouldn't say "awesome". I would say "nobody gives a shit".

"We had a campaign that was so amazing that EVERY character in it had at least one of these. At LEAST."

The examples listed after that are mostly pretty decent, actually, but I really can't get over the gratuitous use of capital letters ("DESTROYS the thing in ONE ROUND") like this only just happened and the writer hasn't had time to get flaccid.

Minor point, though:

"The skald, whose exploits were so legendary I couldn't possibly come up with one example. Let me put it this way: she was a gnome with levels split between bard and barbarian. She had a constitution score so high that she had over 250 hit points by level 21, even though the majority of her hit dice were d6."

Pro Tip for young writers: Show, don't tell. One example of these legendary exploits is fine. Really. Please stop masturbating.

I won't argue the bard/barb thing (one time I half-jokingly argued that a DM can stat a tarrasque with class levels if he wants with someone who insisted my group and I weren't "mature enough to play a real roleplaying game"), but if having a high Constitution score at epic levels is legendary, then I'm a plesiosaur. And since I don't see flippers...

"In one campaign I was in we were facing a Troll that was chained up. My ranger then went behind the Troll, grabbed the chain and pulled. The Troll went down and we were able to finish him off."


Really. Really? This is your ranger's defining moment of awesomeness? You grabbed the chain? And pulled, even? And what happened next? Did someone make a statue of your ranger? Maybe when your PC finally dies they can put it on your tombstone: "Here lies Ranger Guy. He grabbed the chain and pulled.". Because that is a crowning moment of awesome.

Oh wait, no it isn't. Go ride a wheelbarrow of dicks.

"This troper has DMed a scene that was fairly awesome. (3.5, level 1 PCs)"

"Fairly" awesome? You come onto the Crowning Moment of Awesome page to tell a "fairly" awesome story? Fuck you!

"Well, from the PCs' point of view it might have been called "humorously pathetic."

You can almost hear the DM touching himself from here.

"There were only a few players so the party at that comprised then of a human fighter and a halfling rogue."

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

"Thew [sic] were in, essentially, a hall of doors. About six doors in the rogue is tired of hunting for traps. In the next segment of passage is found a seven foot deep pool of clear water with a chest at the bottom. The human
[...] dived in. He [...] stayed under long enough to tie the rope around the lock in the chest. [...] He motioned to the halfling to start pulling on the rope as he lifted the chest himself. As soon as the chest was moved the water began draining downward and acid began [...] filling the 'top' of the pool. Now out of air in his lungs the fighter swam through the acid, lugging an iron chest [...] He made it out with major burns, but with the chest. The chest contained two drowned rats and a broken wand."

I decided to cut out entire chunks of that wall of text because if I made you read the entire thing for that terrible payoff I think you would have killed me.

Honestly, is that it? They nearly killed themselves for nothing? Is this supposed to be awesome? Because instead it is kind of like the trap and treasure described: a painful, retarded waste of everybody's time.

"Feeling foolish, the pair headed for the next door. The rogue searched for traps again and found nothing with a roll of 17. Feeling secure they opened the door and were struck head on by a flash trap that blinded them both. The halfling stumbled back, 'into' the acid. Now both temporarily blind the fighter had to take the rope, throw it to the halfling and pull him out."

You can kind of tell why there were only two people playing at the time, can't you?

There's more, but it's just more of the same stupid bullshit.

Hurr hurr, guys, I totally screwed two PCs over with a stupid trap that wasted everyone's time and then totally set off another trap in their faces! Crowning moment of awesome right here!

By the way, did the halfling actually fall in or did the DM just declare he did? Either way, this story is fucking stupid.

"This troper's managed to GM one of these combined with a Crowning Moment Of Funny in the first session of his Maid: the RPG campaign."


I think it's time to go to the D&D page. It will take me a while to find some bad things in there oh wait never mind here's the second one:

"This troper once played a single-classed Fighter who had a feat that gave him a free attack whenever he was hit with a critical. A shadow dragon on it's last legs proceeded to critical the fighter to negative HP, and with my last attack, I rolled a natural 20. Not a single player would refer to me killing the dragon by any other means than hitting it in the nuts. The fighter's name? "Lord Kittensquisher", due to the DM's fondness for cat-like enemies, and unfortunate tendency to walk them into melee range. This troper took down a displacer beast Packlord with one round of hits. Ah, good times."

Source on feat, please. (Is this balanced or not? I can't tell. Honestly, since he's playing a fighter, he probably needs everything he can get.

As for the rest of it:

Actually, you know what? Screw you, Lord Kittensquisher. You're not even un-awesome enough to feature prominently in this blog post.

"This troper fondly remembers an impromptu D&D campaign he got involved with, where his first task was to take out not one but two cyclopes. He did, just barely, in no small part to flicking green sparks into their eyes to blind them."

A pattern emerges.

See, whenever I read these, a little voice in the back of my mind asks: "and then what happened?" It is waiting for the crowning moment, the definitively epic conclusion to the end of this tale. Not "I blinded them cause they had eyes

Where did these green sparks come from, anyway? Is this a spell? Was it prestidigitation, or a spell that is actually intended to blind people?

"This troper was once playing a game of D&D as my signature Half-Elf rogue/bard, Tobac, and was running away from a balor, along with my band of NPC rogues and 2 lower level PC companions. My friend, who played Davror, my high level Half-Orc half brother who had been killed, was, through months of pestering of the DM, just brought back as an even higher level angel. He was my guardian angel, and if I were to die, he would be banished from the material plane..."


A "signature" character which the other players are lower-level "companions" of? Are you perhaps journeying through Marysutopia?

The rest of the wall of text is, well, a wall of text, but it basically runs as follows: "I was trying to survive the balor until my angel half-brother showed up! It killed most of my NPC followers. Then the other PCs who apparently enjoy this rubbish either sacrificed themselves to save me or were thrown at the balor by me. Then my high-level bodyguard showed up and killed the balor in a few rounds. Then I went to recruit some more NPCs."

What is wrong with your DM? This isn't Dungeons and Dummies. This is the roleplaying equivalent of taking a huge steaming dump in everyone's laps while they thank you for the ice-cream.

"This Troper had a half-elf ranger who, through variants and ability switching, had a base land speed of 60 ft. Combined with a Str of 18, his total Jump modifier was +40. So, because I could, my character leaped 60 ft horizontally from one tower to another. Anything less than 20 was failure. Leap of faith, indeed."

Really? And then what happened?

"D&D. Twenty-three cultists. My gnome sorcerer. One fireball. Damage roll, and...twenty-three dead cultists. How many people can say they're made their own jaw drop?"

grats on killing mooks

you are special

"Okay, I've seen a few of these. One of them was when a player was a Half-Orc Barbarian, and he was up against an army of 20 goblins, and was only about Level 1..."

I'm not targeting this one for its content so much as I am for the fact that the whole thing is a series of bullet points that fills my screen and is filled with sad little exclamation marks and liberal use of even sadder capital letters. I keep imagining someone actually trying to explain these examples to people:

"Also, don't forget that our PCs managed to succeed in breaking the will of the Big Bads of TWO Adventures."
"Kalarel of Keep on Shadowfell, and Palamar of Thunderspire Labyrinth. Kalarel by a CLERIC OF BAHAMUT cheating in a fight, and Palamar by 12 Success skill challenge!"
"You don't have to shout, I'm right..."
"...Involving tricking Palamar and friends to fighting amongst EACH OTHER over the possibility that the PCs had the EYE OF VECNA!"
"Oh god, my ears! My virgin ears!"

Another Pro Tip: Capitalising things to make them more dramatic does not work if you are capitalising a significant fraction of your writing output. Tone it down, please.

Unfortunately for you guys, I really can't be bothered sifting through the rest of this mix of wonder and garbage. The little thrills that may be obtained from deriding something which is bad are very nice, but like most drugs they take their toll on the body, especially if you overdose.

For now: As a sort of antidote, I want to hear your awesome stories. Anonymous posting is on and you are free to omit names, if it is required.

Tell you what - I will draw the most awesome stories posted by, oh, let's say a month from now. Don't be shy!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stupid Evil

There are some things I just want to punch in the face.

As part of my university degree I do things in a physics lab, and also in this lab is a guy with... a face. It’s not ugly, as such, it’s just he has these huge lips and a big nose and something about them makes me want to punch him. (Lately he has been growing an afro and a little moustache, which is not helping at all.) I also have an acquaintance who insists on responding to things people say with “you do realise that...” when he isn’t asking a question.

I would also enjoy hitting at least half the population of the TV Tropes forum.

The top of the list, though, is evil PCs.

I will admit I am a little biased. The first ever time I DMed a friend of mine (well, ex- now, she cut off contact with me years ago over a D&D argument of all things) decided she wanted to play a Chaotic Evil character, and since this was a first-level game she ended up nearly killing another PC so she could loot a masterwork scimitar. (On the upside, she swiftly got bored and rolled some kind of snarky halfling instead.) Since then I have not seen evil PCs played much better.

The main problem, I think, is that nearly all of them were played with the same goal in mind: create party conflict, screw over the other PCs if they can get away with it, and generally shit on the game. Contrary to what some people might think this does not amuse me.

There isn’t actually much that I mind, as far as games getting screwed up go. My players have told me they feel they aren’t on rails and can do what they like, and half of my adventures start with me sitting down and saying “Okay, what kind of adventure do you guys want to have?” and rolling from there. (Generally they take turns picking adventures related to their character’s interests.) If they happen to find something fun then sure, whatever.

What bugs me, I suppose, is when one person’s idea of fun is something that happens at the expense of others.

You probably know what I mean. The party rogue killing the party when they are low on health just before the campaign’s end is a pretty unsatisfying ending for everyone else, finding your wand of healing relocated to the party kender’s pocket when you really needed it is not enjoyable, etc. (Then again, it is probably your fault for partying with a kender.) It’s especially annoying if the person in question brags (“oh man, I screwed everyone over sooo good last week!”) or cries (“You didn’t like that? What are you, a faggot?”) as well.

Evil characters can work, I’ll grant you that, but you need to play the character well, not just for the sake of starting that kind of trouble, and be prepared to accept any consequences of your actions. And you probably need the right kind of group to work – a group which, should you try to screw them over, won’t feel like they were abused for someone else’s enjoyment.

You probably need a DM who isn’t biased, also.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My "Settings": Otherworld

Extra-long(ish) update for my fans (both of you) who I am sure were waiting anxiously for one!

For the record, that was a late (unless you don't like stupid rules) and lame (unless you don't like stupid things, oh snap) April Fool's. I even like Pratchett!

At first I was going to leave it up for two weeks, because though I don't link this thing much other people do and I got to see some people go "oh my god is he serious D:<" two weeks later. Then I just couldn't think of anything to write. See, I wanted to finish with my 'main' homebrew setting, Otherworld. (In case you're wondering, it's a placeholder name which has lasted for years and become the name by virtue of my being unable to think of anything else.) Why this was hard will become apparent in a few paragraphs when I stop babbling.

It was (is) my first setting, and so I constructed it in the manner which I assume (pending the ability to assert) most other DMs did, by following these ten simple steps:

  1. Start with an idea which was probably shit anyway
  2. "Borrow" or "pay homage to" things from other settings you like (read: steal blatantly)
  3. Toss a few more ideas you had on the way in there
  4. Do #2 again
  5. Complain liberally about the things about other settings you don't like, contemplate how these things could be better, put them in
  6. Have an original idea
  7. Make up something you can actually use as the plot of a campaign
  8. Watch your players ignore most of it
  9. Retcon things like there's no tomorrow
  10. Repeat steps 2, 4 and honestly pretty much every step including this one.
So, I did. Step ten was particularly difficult. There were only a few short bumps in the road caused by players being a little too liberal in making up character backstories; one of my players once presented to me a new character, her homebrew race of gorgons, complete with a backstory that involved a war between the races to see who was the coolest every thousand years which her race naturally won a lot until the elves (who had apparently had a massive cultural alignment shift in my own setting when I wasn't looking) beat them up unfairly, or something, and committed genocide or whatever and now her character was the last of her kind and being hunted or something because their tears were very valuable and aaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuggggghhhhh.

What was I talking about...

Oh, yeah. So that is what I did for my setting. But, every time I look at it now - and it's still incomplete, because I've left large sections of the setting blank out of laziness or lack of ideas I feel are worthy enough - I can't help but think "man, most of these ideas are probably terrible or not original enough." Sometimes I even just loathe that humans, dwarves, elves etc. are there and not original races. But since the things I occasionally hate are a core part of the setting, and I am not Metzen, I do not feel like performing major surgery just yet.

That doesn't mean I think the setting is bad, or I am fishing for praise, though. On the whole I like it, it's just that for some reason describing my work in glowing terms feels almost as pretentious as using phrases like "dear reader".

I'll skim the basics, though. If you do not want to read all this shit, please scroll down to the red line of text marking the ending and I will talk about the strip!

Otherworld is my standard setting for 3.5 D&D, and as such contains a lot of the trappings you'd expect (i.e. ornamental coverings for a horse). I have heard it described as a "pastiche" or a "satire" by players whom I trust because they tell me how great a DM I am a lot. I won't bother covering much history, because it is mostly an excuse for swords-and-sorcery action, but here are the Cliff Notes:
  • In the beginning, the world was created. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • Stuff happened.
  • The various ancient civilisations that predated everyone else popped up, and then promptly collapsed out of historical etiquette.
  • The major races of the world today got their act together and sorted out most of their nations.
  • About five thousand years ago, powerful demons decided to establish themselves as the primary antagonists of the setting (what can I say, I love demons) by appearing to major leaders and whispering in their ears, corrupting people, etc. This made a lot of people very angry, created some interesting new races and caused interesting things to happen to many of the existing ones.
  • Demon problem was solved via careful application of extreme violence and hostility.
  • Gods decide to intervene in the protection of the world, and create the Titans, four powerful elemental quasi-divine beings charged with making sure everything is hunky-dory.
  • The Titans get bored and decide to use their divine powers to create life. They also decide to ignore anyone who points out they're a little late.
  • The Titans create dragons.
  • The Titans decide to make this race a king, and create the very first Hydra, a being which quite resembles Tiamat.
  • The Hydra goes completely off the deep end with power, to the surprise of nobody.
  • Chromatic dragons are rallied to its cause. Metallic dragons ally with the Titans. A colour-coded dragon war begins.
  • Eventually the Titans destroy the Hydra (and most of a continent in the process) by combining like Voltron and then exploding, neatly avoiding "what the hell were you doing" interrogations from the gods afterwards.
  • The gods wisely decide to back away from the world slowly and stop mucking about.
  • And so on, until whatever the present time is.
Current races include:

Humans, who are to mundanity what the modrons are to perfect law - adaptable and relatable;

, who follow a philosophy of the harmony of opposites which influences them to live on mountain peaks and underground, worship elementals and a small pantheon of gods, and have very few women which are allowed to take multiple husbands and tend to be wizards;

, which come in two flavours with cultural differences; the "main" elves, which live in a jungle on the eastern continent and ride dinosaurs, and the "vanilla" elves who live near the humans in pretty woods (with giant mushrooms for housing, though) for people who are boring;

Gnomes, swamp-dwellers with a thirst for knowledge and a drive for creativity (in music and magitech, mostly) who also happen to think secrets exist for a reason and free press is weird. Gnomes who go around saying "I just LOVE to tinker!" and making stupid things like mechanical chickens are like their version of senile people and usually put in "special homes";

Faeri, who are actually elemental humanoids kind of like genasi that just look like fey (hence the name) spawned from the remains of the Titans, who still haven't been perfected because I need a name that's actually good and their racial stats are still a little all over the place...

There are a few minor races like naga (elves which sided with the mariliths that showed up to corrupt people in the bad old days and have more in common than Warcraft naga, cough), sthein (stolen from Bastards & Bloodlines with an only-slightly-edited backstory), drow (you can be a chaotic good rebel or a chaotic good non-rebel from the chaotic good surface city of Drizzimatizz!), orcs (read: pirates), goblins (little demon-worshipping bastards), asian people, etc.

Sadly, there are still no black people in this setting.

There's also some nations! Made with
geography! Real geography!

Short version:

There are four continents known: Lerioth ('primary' one, humans and dwarves etc. mostly), Nhaudan (exotic eastern jungle land, humans and elves), Abudhamos (shattered by the Titans and a mysterious wasteland, but you can bet there are humans in it!) and Taishiria (for Oriental Adventures games).

I can't be bothered listing every nation and their nuances, and most of the map is still... unmapped (you won't believe how handy a continent-spanning mountain range is for avoiding having to flesh out chunks of your setting), but I can run through the basics again. Lerioth has (in alphabetical order):

  • Aldanath, fairly standard medieval fantasy kingdom which is recovering from two wars (one of them covered in that campaign I mentioned once!) with a lich and developing some pretty sweet magitech to get back on their feet;
  • Brellan, swampy and partially mountainous gnome homeland with the occasional gnome-built floating city (and I hope you liek oozes!);
  • Czeras, vanilla elf land built in the forests of Linde'taure nobody else wanted because the giant mushrooms smelled weird;
  • Dall, the mysterious homeland of the dwarves in that huge mountain range I mentioned;
  • Drizzimatizz, a hidden surface drow city dedicated to Eilistraee ecause all those chaotic good drow rebels had to go somewhere;
  • A land of Druids and nature which I have fleshed out so little it doesn't have a name;
  • Epinoza, which would be a bit like the toga version of Greece if I bothered fleshing it out more as well;
  • Genera, a floating island city-state of wizards in pointy hats and beards;
  • Glaswegia, a little-known snowy country in the mountains which is reportedly very cold;
  • Jai-Kaldor, the obligatory powerful city-state in the middle of things that is not Waterdeep or Ankh-Morpork in any way;
  • and Rayaleigh, an extremely mountainous place inhabited by peery Germans, or at least peery what-I-think-Central/Eastern-Europeans-are-like-having-done-little-to-no-research.... s.
That covers about half the map. The rest just has "STUFF" and "UM" written on it. My players suggest that these are actually plains, travelled by the dreaded Um Horde of barbarians which prevent anyone crossing the mountains from returning alive.

The Iriscian Islands, are an island chain which links Lerioth to Nhaudan, and has a lot of ruins and pirate action between Rune (a good(ish) city-state which used to be part of Kaldor before that stopped being a kingdom) and Skull City (the obligatory evil(ish) "monster city" which is where most orcs probably come from). Nhaudan itself has:
  • Cabelaba, the first human nation on Nhaudan which happens to be the most boring by far;
  • Gnoll Country, an unimaginatively-named lawless stretch of badlands which seperates the human places on the western side of the eastern continent from the elves on the eastern side;
  • Jhaka-Szark, neutral evil wizard peninsula which is in no way Thay;
  • Khanjo, jungle land of jungle elves living in cities high on mesas;
  • Merchant City, the port city to the west where time is money, money is everything and assassins are legal, a polite way of conducting business and a government body;
  • and Paladinia, a lawful good theocracy which just happens to be north of Jhaka. Actually, Paladinia is the name of the capital city, but I forgot the name I came up with for the whole thing (a sure sign that I didn't like it anyway) and I can't bring myself to use a player's suggestion of "Aclerica". Then again, I was planning to name the True Neutral outer plane Switzerland.
That is pretty much it. I'd include cosmology but this is way too long already (at least new players can read it later and get aquainted) and, as any of my players will tell you, it changes every two weeks when I get a new idea. So, that is it for now.

And now, in red text as promised for those tl;drs among us, the comic!

It was actually intended to be filler, but I couldn't think of something that applies to my setting (note to players preparing incriminating comments about things I left out: shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
. It is true, though. God, I wish it wasn't.

Sometimes my players read this thing. Most of them don't - I'm sure if most of the people involved actually read Natural 21 they would have had a conniption fit - but a lot of them (at least, those I met in /tg/-related rooms) do read those comics I post here and to that board under the This Just Happened title (the oldies would make good filler, actually...) and, sometimes, they get the wrong idea.

Specifically, that I am in the business of drawing awesome things my players did.

I have a few problems with "awesome" D&D stories, one of them being that most of the "awesome" D&D stories people tell are awesome or fake. (For more on that, see the post I promise to make in the next couple days.) The main one, though, is "terrible" D&D stories are funnier.

Admit it, hearing about someone doing cool things, while fun, is not as fun as hearing about just how bad a player is. There's a perverse pleasure in swapping tales of (and heckling) things that are bad. That's why I still have Ctrl+Alt+Del and Dominic Deegan bookmarked. Not that my players are that bad - most of them are quite lovely, and I will dedicate a post to them one day, I promise - but that don't make for good reading, and the silly things they do on occasion are more fun to vent about anyway. It's cathartic.

Sometimes they don't get the message, though. Back when this was just a few comics posted on /tg/ every once in a while, I ran a game where one player got a lucky critical hit and I decided his frenzied brokenserker removed the arm of an ultroloth bad guy. He decided this was awesome.

He demanded I draw a comic of it for months.

The answer was no. At the time I'd just drawn players doing silly things, and "my player critted and cut a yugoloth's arm off, and he begged me to draw it" seemed to break the flow.

Besides, trying to get a discount fiendish arm graft from it in Paladinia and declaring he would kill anyone, PC or NPC, who objected was a much better subject.

Well, you know what? I guess it is a little harsh. I have drawn something for a player last week - partly because it was a good opener to a post I've had in mind for a while now - so I suppose I can draw things my friends did that are awesome for them.

Just don't expect me to write this many words on how great you are.