Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Kane’

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

James Introcaso sits down with Enrique Bertran the NewbieDM, Brittany Quintero of Venture Maidens, and Andrew Kane to discuss what it’s like to be a longtime player, but new game master and run a game.

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One of my Exploration Age campaigns is coming to an end… and a new one is about to start! My friend Andrew Kane is DMing us through a campaign based in Exploration Age’s South Pole. The story deals with a cult he created that’s devoted to The Lingering Havoc. Badass! I finally get to step into the role of player which will give me time to focus on publishing the Exploration Age Campaign Guide and allow me to be engaged with the game in a new way. It’s been more than six years since I was a player in a sustained D&D campaign!

As our current campaign ends, Andrew has asked us to submit character backstories so he can begin working those details into the story of the campaign. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to discuss what makes a great character backstories. Here’s a few tips followed by character’s backstory as an example!

Ask the DM

Before you put any work into creating a character’s backstory, ask the person running the game if there are any parameters. Are the character options (like races and classes) restricted? What sort of world are you playing in? A jolly halfling rogue with a passion for lemon cakes and celebrity gossip isn’t something you’d find in a post-apocalyptic setting. Once you have that information from your DM, give them a quick description of your character. It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two. Mine was something like, “My character is a half-elf bard who travels the world searching for ancient troves of lost knowledge. He loves discovering new or forgotten ideas and is particularly interested in necromancy and magic that can extend a person’s life.” This got the approval from Andrew. (Side note: I figured having a knowledgable character would help me roleplay since we’re playing in a campaign setting I created.)

Use What the DM Gave Ya!

Once you know about the world your character inhabits, think about how you can tie your character into the setting. As a DM I find it a lot easier to work a character’s backstory into the game if they already have some connection to the story I’m trying to tell. In my case, I picked a character that has an interest in necromancy because Andrew has told us his campaign is centered around a cult of The Lingering Havoc (which is a massive pile of bodies with one mind). This makes it much easier to draw my PC and other elements of his backstory into the campaign. For instance, if my PC is in The South Pole looking for The Lingering Havoc and an old enemy shows up with an axe to grind, it makes sense that the enemy would know to find him there, since my character has a known interest in necromancy.

Just how did I know The Lingering Havoc and South Pole are playing a big part in this campaign? Why the DM told us of course! In fact he sent us an awesome map and campaign primer. Check out both below!

The South Pole: A Primer

Reminder: All the dark gray spots are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

All the dark gray hexes are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

Closed Point of View

It’s best to use either first person or limited third person points of view (as opposed to omniscient) when writing a character backstory. This allows for the DM to harvest your story for hooks and adventure ideas more easily than if you provide every detail.

Consider this example. Your PC is fighting their nemesis and mortally wounds the enemy before the baddy gets away. An omniscient narrator might then inform us that the nemesis drank a potion of healing and swore to get vengeance on the PC someday. That’s a good hook, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if you as a player don’t know the outcome and leave it to the DM? Then the possibilities are endless. Maybe the nemesis was healed, or maybe with their dying breath the enemy swore an oath of vengeance to a dark god is now an undead revenant stalking the land! Or maybe the nemesis’ much worse sibling or parent found the body and is coming after the PC. Maybe law enforcement found the body and the PC is wanted for murder and doesn’t know it! Maybe the PC is wanted for murder because the body was found AND the nemesis rose as a vengeful wraith (a double surprise). Heck, the DM could tie this thread into another PC’s backstory or the main story! Maybe your nemesis is now a henchmen of the campaign’s main villain! As you can see, a closed point of view allows for more interest storytelling possibilities.

You might consider getting creative and writing your PC’s backstory from another character’s point of view. Maybe a spouse, lover, best friend, parent, or bard tells the tale. Whatever you do, keep the point of view closed so the DM can have a little fun.

Dangle A Few Threads

Leave a few plot threads hanging for your DM to pull on and weave into the story. Your character’s story is just beginning. If all your problems are taken care of at the start of the adventure, then there’s nothing from your backstory to work into the campaign. There’s many possible open threads! Maybe your character agreed to take over the thieves’ guild once an ailing parent/guild leader dies. Maybe someone stole a family heirloom. Maybe your PC wants to learn more about magic so they can return to their farming village to end a years-long drought. Don’t go overboard here. Your DM has other characters and their own story they’re trying to tell. One to three open threads should be enough.

Stick To The Basics And Defining Events

Don’t feel like you need to describe every detail of your character’s life. Answer the basics. Where are they from? Who is close to them? How did they get their talent for fighting, magic, roguing, rangering, etc?

After you answer those questions, you need only describe the defining events in your character’s life. What events made them the person they are today? In fifth edition D&D you might look to your personality traits, bond, ideal, and flaw and ask “When did my character develop these?” Put those moments into words and use those events to leave your dangling threads. That way when your past comes back at you during a game, it’ll be even more meaningful.

Secrets Are Fun

It helps your party members if they know a bit of your backstory, but keep a secret or two for just you and the DM. The secret should be something important that your PC wouldn’t readily share, even with the other party members. Maybe your character is secretly royalty, was once part of a demonic cult, has a secret love child, or accidentally murdered someone. Many of these secrets are shameful to characters, but there’s other reasons a person could keep a secret.

Maybe your PC keeps a public figure’s shameful secret in order to extort them for money. Maybe your PC keeps ties to certain friend or family a secret so enemies don’t exploit loved ones. Maybe they have to keep a relationship a secret because if their father finds out, they’ll lose their inheritance. There’s tons of reasons to keep secrets out there! Give your character a good one… and don’t be surprised when the secret becomes exposed!

Heroes Are Good, Chosen Ones Not So Much

Your character should have some fantastic deeds or moments in their backstory. The first time they cast a spell. The first monster they vanquished. Though remember that this PC is meant to be a part of a group of heroes that is stronger together. You’re character should not be the only person on earth who can slay a world-consuming monster. Not only will it be sad for the world when your PC is killed by a kobold at level 1, it also takes too much importance away from the other characters!

We Knew Each Other Before This

It’s always a good idea to tie your backstory into at least one other PC’s backstory. This makes it easier on the DM to bring people together. Plus it gives you another character you already trust and care about! You might even consider sharing any secrets in your backstory with them.

A Word on Length

When it comes to character backstories, I don’t care much about length as a DM. I’ll read one paragraph (or a list of bullet points) and I’ll read a 30+ page history. Check with your DM before you write a novel. They may not have the time to read it all while they’re worldbuilding and living life, no matter how well it’s written.

Example Backstory: Ramus Verbosa

The link below is the example backstory for my PC, Ramus Verbosa. I’m keeping it in a link since it’s got secrets and I don’t want my fellow players (who sometimes read this blog) to get any spoilers. Happy writing friends!

Ramus Verbosa Backstory

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I’ve been hard at work since Spring with some awesome semi-secret projects! Now a fifth edition D&D adventure I wrote is available and it’s completely free!

What is it?

The Master’s Vault is a fifth edition adventure for 1st-level characters from Roll20, my favorite virtual table. It is designed to introduce new players to D&D and Roll20. If you’re never played a tabletop RPG or never used a virtual table or both, this is the adventure for you. A $0 price tag on the adventure and the fact that you can use Roll20 for free means this product is meant to bring new players into the hobby. Share it with your soon-to-be gamer friends!

If you’re a fifth edition vet who plays every game on Roll20, you’ll still get a lot out of the adventure so give it a shot! I mean, c’mon! It’s free!

Find out how to grab the adventure.

Here’s a brief description of the adventure’s story:

For more than a century Elaria Feywing, known to many as The Master, mentored young adventurers in combat, exploration, and magic. Little is known about the elf woman’s past and her days as a wandering wizard, but her status as a teacher is legendary.

And here’s a video of Richard Zayas, Rudy Basso, Nadja Otikor, James D’Amato, and Greg Bilsland playing through the adventure during Roll20CON:

Who worked on it?

I designed the adventure but so many others have their fingerprints on this thing. There’s art and maps from Russ Hapke and Gabriel Pickard. There’s tokens from Phillip Wright. There’s a special puzzle designed by Stephen Shomo. Liz Courts did the layout. Roll20 co-founders Nolan T. Jones and Riley Dutton produced the dang thing. It is a beautiful, lovely product of which we should all be proud.

I also need to give an extra special shoutout to Andrew Kane, who went through the manuscript and fixed all my typos and to Richard Zayas for encouraging me to take this project on.

So get out there and adventure.

And if you want a preview of some of my other upcoming projects… check here, here, and here.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Andrew KaneRudy BassoAlex Basso, and Round Table newbie Phil Collins to discuss the latest D&D movie announcement and the D&D supplement for Magic: The Gathering’s Innistrad setting.Then it’s an interview with David Silver about his ongoing Kickstarter for fifth edition Ponyfinder. This podcast was recorded on July 12, 2016.

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes. It takes 30 seconds and helps us a bunch!


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

James Introcaso sits down with Andrew Kane, Allison Rossi, and Round Table Newbie Jay Africa to discuss the latest Unearthed Arcana article about feats for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. This podcast was recorded on June 12, 2016.

DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: Tarokka Deck Unleashed

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes. It takes 30 seconds and helps a bunch!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Have Spellbook, Will Travel and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Andrew Timmes, Barak Blackburn, Andrew KaneDan Dillon to talk about the updated Unearthed Arcana mystic class. Then it’s an interview with Steven Helt, Stephen Rowe, Dan Dillon (again), and Tim Hitchcock of the Four Horsemen to hear about all the awesome projects they have cooking. This podcast was recorded on February 1 and 3, 2015.

Noble Knight pick of the episode: Psionic Power

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It’s time to get back to worldbuilding. After all that’s what this blog is all about.

If you’ve only just recently started following this blog, it began as a home for the ideas about the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons world I created for my gaming groups. The world of Exploration Age is coming together as a 300+ page Word document. I still hope to put it out for all of you someday soon.

In a nutshell, Canus is a world with two halves that have just discovered each other (inspired by the discovery of the Americas and Australia by Asia, Africa, and Europe in the middle of the last millennium). One half of the planet is driven by magic technology and divided by recently settled war, the other has primitive tribes of people, bountiful lands, hidden treasures, and mysterious dangers. The people of the former rush to grab up land and resources in the latter.

Here’s a quick excerpt from the aforementioned document that helps explain some more about the world.

5 Facts About Exploration Age

  1. A World of Gray Evil for evil’s sake is not a phrase you’ll hear in Exploration Age. Every debatable issue has more than two sides. Just like in real life, no person is purely selfless and generous at all times. Good and evil are not two sides of a coin in Exploration Age, rather they are two extremes on a continuum and everyone falls somewhere along that line. A queen may be good to her people when it comes time to collect taxes, but strictly ration their food during wartime to better feed her soldiers. A drow adventurer may be good to all his allies except for elves whom he hates with untold passion because of the rocky relationship between the two races.
  2. A World of Mysterious Magic Ancient ruins dot almost every landmass in Exploration Age. Caves in the mountains connect to passages and mines unused for millennia. Portals connect Canus to worlds unknown. Strange, magically-irradiated lands give travelers magic powers or drive them insane. Throughout the world, magic lies in all of these places in the form of items, phenomena, hazards, happenings, and more.
  3. A World of Crude High Magic Airships, magic roads, and firearms are a few examples of the magic technology that can be found in Exploration Age; however, most magic technology still remains a mystery to the common folk. This is not a world where magic weapons, floating tea pots, and the like are mass-produced. Scholars and inventors work furiously to unlock what they may, especially if there is a profit to be made from a discovery, but airships are the exception, not the rule.
  4. A World of Sprawling and Intimate Stories Exploration Age is meant to be a world that can suit your needs. If the story you want to tell is huge and spans many continents and planes, this book will be able to help you out. If you want to tell a story confined to the borders of one country, Exploration Age has enough intrigue and excitement packed into each location that you could level from 1 up to 20 without ever crossing that line.
  5. A World of Blank Spots This goes without saying, but Exploration Age is all about exploring. Ruins dot the map along with mysterious mountains, swamps, forests, and deserts. Most intriguing of all are the blank spots that hold untold dangers… and perhaps untold profit! Exploration Age is all about the thrill of discovery and diving into the unknown.

And here’s a rough map of Canus to help you out.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

Ok, so all this is to say that my good friend, Round Table regular, and player in both my games, Andrew Kane, came to me with an idea of something new he wanted to add to the world. Since I’m a big fan of letting my players do the work (and since the idea was amazing), I said yes. He wants a cult to be added to the world that’s going to be part of his next PC’s backstory. I want this cult in the world because they’re terrifying.

Before you read Andrew’s killer (literally) idea below, you might need a little background on The Lingering Havoc and The South Pole. In a nutshell the South Pole is mostly unexplored, and a guild of adventurers known as the Society of Seekers is trying to map the place. In addition to the normal frozen dangers, the mass of land also holds a beast known as The Lingering Havoc. A Gargantuan animated mass of bodies that’s highly intelligent and seeks to add new corpses to its form. You can check out its stats in the PDF below.

The Lingering Havoc

Now on to the cult of the Awakened, created and written by Andrew Kane!

The Awakened

If one were to leave from the ruins of Ferra Dun in Marrial and travel directly South with the courage to brave the expanse of the South Ocean, then that person might come upon the Bay of Bodies. This bay is part of the South Pole, and it is one of the rare calm places on an otherwise volatile expanse. The waves are gentle, the walls of the bay are high keeping out the strongest of winds, and oddly it does not seem to be as impacted by the earthquakes and storms that ravage the rest of the landmass. As you move towards shore you begin to see that this is not simply a lonely and godforsaken place. The signs of civilization began to appear. Hundreds of boats, both big and small, from all across Canus can be seen linked together. Ropes connect the ships and cliff walls and the shore so that a veritable small city exists on both land and shore alike. If you prove that you come with good intention and that you are worthy, you are given permission to pass the “walls” which are really a large group of ships anchored to protect the city and its inhabitants. This place is called Hereafter, the realm of Maledictus and the Awakened. If you wish to remain, a sacrifice must be made…


He is not sure what name his parents chose for him. He only ever remembers being called “freak”, “horror”, “unnatural”, or “abomination”. When and where he was born and pretty much all of his young life is a blur. The only thing he remembers clearly is when the drow finally discovered his home. He watched in horror as his drow mother and elf father were summarily executed. He listened in despair as the murderers discussed whether or not he would share his parents’ fate. The answer was, of course, yes, but the cowards could not bring themselves to do the deed. They left him alone, in the middle of the woods, with nothing. They were willing to let nature do their work for them. It would seem nature had other plans. Alone and scared, surrounded by the blood of his parents, he did not even quiver when the wolves came. The alpha looked at him, as if in pity. They did not growl or attack. They simply turned and left. The little drow-elf halfbreed stood up and followed them. He had found his new family.

Although never formally trained, he could be best equated to a ranger. When he still did not fully understand the world he would venture out and see creatures that looked like his father. When they saw him, they looked upon him with coldness and contempt. The ones who looked like his mother? They were worse. They would try to kill him. He always bested their attempts. The natural world was his home. The creatures that walked on two legs meant nothing to him. He would be a defender of those who gave him a home.

He learned more about the world when he became better at navigating it. He learned to completely avoid the drow and elves. The other creatures were not as terrible – these things called halflings, gnomes, humans, and so on. He still preferred his more feral compatriots, but he learned to deal with the outside world. He began to travel more freely, which is how he learned of the feud between the elves and drow. It is when he learned why his very existence was detested by so many. He did not keep track of time, at least not in the same way as others. He had no idea how old he was, but he was comforted in the knowledge that his lifespan appeared to be infinite. With his loyal wolf companion, he headed to the part of the world called Marrial as there was word that a new group was forming to explore the world.

As a new member of the fledgling Explorers’ Guild, he set out on their first voyage. They were not on a contract yet, but rather were headed to Parian to help establish an outpost there in order to begin accepting work. It would seem that they were never destined to reach Parian. A disease began to ravage the crew, killing some and seizing still others with madness. Only he seemed to be spared. He helped tend to those who were ill, and at the end he even defended himself against those who the madness had impacted the most. In the end, he was the only crewmember left. Unable to man the ship himself, he resigned himself to death – a lonely death, but one fitting for one who had existed as he had. One day, he saw that the ship was headed for land. He had stopped trying to navigate a long time ago, and he was not even sure how long he had been at sea. As the ship approached a bay, the vastness whiteness caused him to suspect he was headed for the South Pole. Suddenly, a wind kicked up and the ship picked up speed. It charged into the bay and ran aground with such force that he was thrown into the mast and knocked unconscious. When he came to he was nearly frozen. He went below, put on his winter gear, grabbed his weapons, and decided to explore this new land.

The ship had run well aground. There was no way he would be able to get it back to sea. That left him with two choices – head back out on one of the smaller dinghies with a rudimentary sail, or stay here in this harsh land. The bay itself was beautiful. There was not as much ice as he would have expected, and the high cliff walls shielded the beach and bay from the worst elements. The waves were gentle, and other than the freak wind that drove his ship in, it was actually quite pleasant. Since all of the crew had died, he had been very disciplined in his rations. He could survive here for a very long time. He decided to explore a little bit, and see what his potential new home might hold.

He did not know much about the South Pole. Frankly, he did not know much about Canus at all, especially compared to others he had encountered. However, he had heard rumor of a creature that lived down here – some kind of overly large flesh golem or something along those lines. He hoped he would not encounter it. He spent a good portion of the day ranging, getting a lay of the land beyond his bay. It was a treacherous place, with snow dunes and tremors that shook the land. Who knew what manner of creatures could survive here? Those that did must be hard and vicious. He smiled to himself. He could be that, if chose to.

He decided to turn back, as he wanted to make it back to his ship before he lost the light. As he walked he heard a sound. At first he thought it was simply another tremor, or perhaps the sound of cracking ice in the distance. Then suddenly, he felt it. A presence unlike anything he felt before. He turned and in the distance he saw a hulking shape approaching. He was paralyzed with fear. As it drew closed he realized that it was a mass of writhing corpses. He did not fully comprehend what he was looking at in that first instant. However, something within his mind told him he knew the truth of this creature. It clearly was the ultimate power in the world. It was the amalgamation of all who had come before. This creature was made up of all who had lived and died on Canus. At his very core, he knew it to be true. He was looking at what happened after death, at what every living creature became a part of. He would later learn that many called this thing the Lingering Havoc. He only ever knew it by another name – god.

As it approached, he did not know what to do. Was this his end? Would he become a part of this creature, feeding it and living on as a part of a greater whole? Would it give him the purpose he always sought? Something stirred within him. On pure instinct along, he acted. He drew out his knife and cut out his left eye. He stood as the creature drew near and called out, “An offering to you, O Great One! He threw his eye into the air and it never touched the ground. Instead it flew towards the writhing mass. He covered his wound, knowing he could heal it later. He turned and began moving back towards the ship. It followed.

Once he was back at the bay, he turned and called out again, “For you!” He felt the power of the creature as the bodies of his crewmates that remained on board floated into the air and then were absorbed into the larger mass. Although it had no eyes, per se, he felt as if the baleful gaze of it upon him. He prostrated himself before its glory and said, “I live to serve you. Do with me, your servant, as you wish.” When he looked up, it was gone. He had been spared…he had been chosen.

Standing on the shore of his new home, he dubbed it the Bay of Bodies. With his mind newly awakened to truth of existence – that all lived to contribute to glory and wonder of his master – he smiled. He thought about all who had shunned him, tried to kill him, who did not understand him. He laughed, thinking about all the fools who did not understand their purpose in life that the greatest honor, the greatest glory, was to become a part of that which commanded the South Pole. “I shall awaken the minds of those who wish to serve, and I shall be a curse to those who try to prevent me from fulfilling their truest purpose.” That is the day he became Maledictus.


For 200 years, Maledictus cultivated the Awakened. At first, he prayed to his god for others to come, and lost ships would find their way into the Bay of Bodies. He would share his message. Some would join him. Those who did not were given as offerings. The ships that came into the bay were lashed together, to help create a makeshift floating city. As more came in, some ships were run aground and others were broken down in order to be converted into structures on the cliff face. The small enclave quickly became a village, then a town, and then a city. The larger ships were tasked with protecting the people via a “wall”. Still other ships were sent out to spread the good news and bring other true believers, as well as sacrifices, back to what the people had begun to call Hereafter.

Maledictus was a kind and benevolent leader to those who joined their cause, and cold and ruthless to those he believed refused to see the truth of their life. Those who joined and became one of the Awakened had to make an offering, just as Maledictus had done. Therefore it was easy to tell an Awakened. Many were missing an eye, choosing to make the same sacrifice as their leader. Others gave ears, noses, hands, tongues, and so forth. Others would have a large portion of their skin flayed and offered, the scarring was worn as a badge of honor. For those who chose to continue to sleep, to not have their mind awakened, they would be offered up completely. They would often be killed, or left only on the very edge of life. Sometimes they would seek out their lord and watch the bodies be absorbed into the afterlife. Other times they would leave the offering some distance away, and it would be gone by the next day.

Many ships would enter the Bay of Bodies. Only those ships under the control of the Awakened ever left again. Maledictus was not discriminatory against those who came. All races were represented, and he did not rule with an iron first. He was advised by a council of elected members of the Awakened, each hailing from a district of Hereafter. They were content that they were heard, but not would ever go against their leader, the voice of the afterlife.

Maledictus was pleased with how his home had grown, how his ranks had swelled. There were still so many who did not know the truth. He sent representatives out to continue to spread the word, but he also began to come up with a new idea. They had given so much to the afterlife. Perhaps, as a boon, it would give something back to them, an avatar of its power and will. Maledictus called in his clerics and began to make his plans…

So dear readers, what do you think of the Awakened? I love it! Sound off in the comments below.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I sit down with James HaeckCraig Haasis, Andrew Kane, and Alex Basso to discuss the free D&D Expeditions adventure Shackles of Blood, featured in this month’s issue of Dragon+. Then I talk to Robert Brookes about his ongoing kickstarter for the Aethera Campaign Setting. This podcast was recorded on November 5 and 10, 2015.

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Andrew Kane, Andrew Timmes, and Barak Blackburn to talk about the first fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons psionic class presented in the monthly Unearthed Arcana article. This podcast was recorded on July 26, 2015.

Please rate and review us on iTunes, it helps a boat load!


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I sit down with Joe Lastowski, Andrew Kane, and Vegas Lancaster to discuss the newly launched Dragon+ app and the results of the second D&D 5th Edition survey. This podcast was recorded on May 21, 2015.

Please rate and review us on iTunes, it helps a boat load!


If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!