Friday, June 28, 2013


Pew pew!

Sweet mother of bacon bits! My Bones Kickstarter order has arrived! I was on business travel in Ohio all week, and got the call from the Fiancee that of course they were dropped off while I was out. So, what was the first thing I did when I got home, jet-lagged and travel-grimey? Of course, I opened up the box and inventoried all of them on my dining room table!

Prepare for unboxening!

So many bags! (oranges included for scale)

The cat was helping.

All set out, arranged and and labeled by group.

Having now given the sculpts a once over, I am entirely pleased with my choice to back the Kickstarter, despite all the delays. The sculpts have a lot of personality to them, and there is a good variety, even among similar pieces. The only downsides I see are:

  1. A bunch of the minis got bent in transit, but that is fixable with a regimen of hot water to soften the plastic followed by cold to reset them in the proper position.
  2. Some of the smaller sculpts are a bit murky in the details, and some of the faces on the medium sized figures look like they're going to be a challenge to paint, because they're not super defined. 

I hear they have pills that can help with this problem

All better!

Nevertheless I am really looking forward to doing some test paints, though I'm not really sure where to start.

This guy was one of my surprise favorites.
He looks like an evil fantasy version of Mac Tonight.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mood Music for Games: Three Lists and Personal Themes

I am out of town on a business trip this week, and so have decided to post something a little easy from my hotel room.

Jay Cartwright of Lemming Malloy
In my game world, the kiitar is a traditional gnomish instrument

This is not the first time I have posted about music at the gaming table. In fact, a search for "music" on this blog turns up about half a dozen posts. Over the years, I have played around with several methods for incorporating music into my game, and have also played in other game groups that used music to set the mood. When I first started running my game, my music use, like much of my DM technique was very much in flux. I sampled, I dabbled, I flitted from system to system, never quite satisfied. During the past year, however, the oscillations between musical systems began to settle into something which I actually feel pretty good calling "useful" and "effective".

See, if done improperly, music has the potential to detract from a game as much as proper use can add to it. In order to be effective, a gaming music system should be simple, yet evocative and should not take over the session, either by forcing the DM to constantly fiddle with it, or by overwhelming the play audibly, or emotionally.

The system I came up with... or heard somewhere and settled on... involves three basic playlists:

  • Atmosphere: Basic, non intrusive background music for all your town 'splorin, travel scenin' tavern drinkin' needs.
  • Spooky: Music to build a sense of tension while exploring dank dungeons or other evil locales.
  • Battle: High energy music to underscore the epicness of the players' actions in combat.

 It doesn't really matter what you use to build these lists. I use YouTube, because I have a program on my Surface that will play them commercial free. I also have a backup set of lists on Spotify in the event that YouTube is being obnoxious, or if I need a dose of something epic at work.

Within the battle list, I also have personal themes for each of the player characters. Just for fun, I provide a minor circumstantial bonus to a player's rolls, if their turn comes up while their song is playing. Clearly, Indiana Jones is more effective when HIS theme is going, so why shouldn't it work for everyone!? The game as a whole also has a theme, which I use to begin each session. When my players hear the music start, they know to wrap up their conversations, because we are about to get rolling.

This system has worked quite well for me since I finally settled on it, and other than possibly porting it off of YouTube, I don't see it changing a whole lot. If you are interested in checking out some of the music I use, click on the linked playlists above, and/or check out my lists on Spotify. I even add to them on occasion, so the epic doesn't get old.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Make-it Monday: Dwarf Mini and Unrelated Frustrations

Dear reader, hopefully you can actually see this as I just discovered that my payment information for this domain had expired and when this here blog came up for renewal at the beginning of the month, all kinds of issues started happening. Of course, Google never sent me a notice that my payment didn't go through. I was left to discover the problem when I typed my domain into the ol' web browser only to have it come up with an expiration error page!

Now, I don't know if you've ever had to deal with Google's ridiculous excuse for customer service, but the Fiancee and I spent several hours wandering through their entirely useless knowledge-base, logging into and out of my account dashboard and trying to figure out why it didn't display any of the features mentioned in the how-to update your payment info articles.

Well, after several hours, we finally figured out that the dashboard we were looking at (and which was included in the "hey, it's time to renew email) was my regular Google dashboard, and not my Google Apps Dashboard. Once we actually managed to find our way to the Google Apps admin panel, I got the payment info updated, and the domain should be fully functional again soon. Not sure why I'm still able to post, or if anyone can see it, but I'm gonna keep up with my stuff dang it!

So, that was a fun evening.

Now onto the good stuff.

I painted up a dwarven mini-figure that I've had since I was a kid. He was part of the special pewter minis that came with the Dragon Quest board game that served as a sort of gateway to D&D. He's old enough to be part of the slightly smaller vintage of minis common during the early days of the game. Contemporary minis are just a little bit bigger and tend to have better defined details. I liked the challenge of painting extra small for this guy, and think he turned out rather well. My painting hand is starting to feel warmed up for the incoming flood. I might go in and clean up his axe handle a bit. I used a ruddy brown wash to shade the handle, and the result is just a bit too ruddy for my taste. Oh, and he still has a bit of blue putty stuck to his base.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bones on the Way and other Randomness

After months of waiting, compulsively checking my inbox every other minute, it finally arrived! I got the email from Reaper Minis that my Bones Kickstarter order has shipped! It is difficult to describe just how excited this makes me. Not only will I finally have over 250 new minis in my collection, but they are scheduled to arrive next week just one week ahead of the grand finale for my current D&D campaign arc, which features the players laying siege to a ruined city recently refortified by cultists, devils and their undead minions. Though I wont have time to paint up the minis, I will have plenty of fresh fodder for my battle mat.


We are scheduled to play the final blowout on July 4.

Note to self: Adapt Bill Pullman's speech from the end of Independence Day to work for high fantasy setting.

In other news, I ran across this really cool short video from PBS Off Book that provides an excellent introductory summary of what D&D is all about, along with some interesting history on how it developed.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Comments are Fixed!


Last week or so I linked the comments on this blog to Google+. Little did I know that such an action would prompt my dear readers to sign up for an account in order to comment. I have now removed the feature and you may all resume commenting per usual.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spirit of the Century: First Impressions

The game group and I played our very first session of Spirit of the Century on Monday, and it was a combination of fun, awkward, fast-paced, halting, spontaneous, creative, and overwrought all at the same time, kind of like a teenager out on their very first date EVAR!

The Arctic Club ballroom as it appears today

Everyone seemed to have a really good time and I tried to drop something into the scenario for each player. Most of the awkwardness came from the fact that I had not been able to internalize the rules having never played the game, but only perused the rulebook. This experience really made me realize just how important actual play is to the learning process for games. I had played D&D for quite some time before ever trying to run a game, and even with a system as rules-flexible as SoTC, running it cold was a challenge.

I also have certain players who like to push the boundaries of a game's rules. To their credit, they are very creative with their ideas, but as they attempt to chain action on top of action, while justifying everything as a single move, it can really test a new (to the rules) GM's resolve. "I think that sounds like too much to be allowable, so I am going to say no." *thinking: I really hope I'm not stifling their creativity!* Turns out, I may have actually been a little too lenient in some spots.

Crowds gather around the planes of the first world flight at Seattle's Sand Point
I set the first adventure in a pulp version of my home town, Seattle and centered it on a real event that took place here in 1924, the launch of the first flight around the world. The adventure opened in two locations. Most of the group was at a party at the Arctic Club (a real location, which is now part of a swanky hotel) while the others were in a secret lab behind a fictional speakeasy called the Jewelry Box. The Jewel Box Theater is a room at an actual bar, but in the story, the location had been shifted across town.

I felt like the familiarity of Seattle as the setting helped open up some of my players who are normally fairly reserved in their play. People who normally play in third person shifted to first person on occasion. Spirit of the Century's system of "Aspects" also seemed to help draw people into the game. My group really played them up, whether it was the pilot with his aspect "What a Guy!" running into a burning kitchen to rescue the unconscious chef, the German scientist with his "In good time" aspect plodding along while his companion was desperate to rescue her sister, or the grease-monkey motor head with "subtlety is not my strongsuit" plowing her car headlong into a crowd of bad guys trying to make their escape from the Arctic Club. Having aspects as a prompt did wonders to steer people's actions beyond simple move and hit mechanics that can become the norm in some games.

After the session ended at 10 pm, I was so jazzed, and determined to figure out how to smooth the rough spots, that I ended up reading the game book and taking notes until 1am! I was definitely a tired boy the next day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Colored Note Cards! Spirit of the Century!

I am gearing up for my very first session running Spirit of the Century this coming Monday, and as I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I have decided to try running the game entirely from 3 x 5 note cards. Why the break from my usual OneNote/MS Surface system? I figured that note cards would force me to be brief in my prep and descriptions, which is very much in line with the improv-optimized FATE system on which SoTC is based.

I have worked out the particulars of my card system and discovered that I have inadvertently stumbled on yet another conversion of Johnn Four's five-buckets of sanity system. I picked up some multi-colored cards from Staples because office supply stores are my second Kryptonite after game stores. But, BUT!!! After picking up the cards, I realized there were five colors, like the five buckets. What's more, I figured out that I could have the name of the colors correspond with the type of things that are on the cards! So, in my Spirit of the Century game, my cards will be organized as follows:
  • Blue for Baddies and Buddies (NPCs)
  • Emerald for Events
  • Purple for Places
  • Gold for Goodies and Gear
  • Red for Rules and other Random things
I also created a FATE dice converter (white note card) to make it easier for my players and I to use regular dice during the game. (FATE dice have two blank sides, two with + on them and two with - on them. It's weird, I know.

I'm both excited and nervous for the first session, because everyone in our group is brand new to the system, including myself. I've been reading through the book during my lunch breaks at work, but I've only really had time to hop around between key parts. I am really excited however for the first adventure I have in mind. The story will begin in Seattle on Valentine's Day in 1924. The adventure title is: Icy Hearts Aflame!

Our final player, who was absent during the character creation session has also worked up his general character concept and is in the process of ironing out the details. I think his character has a lot of potential to create some really interesting dynamics within the group. He is...

Captain Flint Ironstag of the Royal Flying Corps, daredevil test pilot and youngest person to earn his wings during WWI. An orphan raised in a strict boarding school, he learned to watch his six from an early age. He enlisted in the RFC when the war broke out, where he earned a rep as a formiddable pilot, and a heck of a nice guy!

We'll see how that goes over with the hard-as-nails businesswoman, the man-eating diva and  the cute, but socially oblivious greasemonkey.

I'm considering including short story write-ups of the story that unfolds adventure 'zine style here on the blog. So keep an eye out. This is gonna be epic!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I learned it from watching you!

Dungeon Mastering is largely learned through experience and observation. As you run games, you (hopefully) have a chance to take in what works and what doesn't, learning from your mistakes, tucking away new tricks and honing your skills to a fine +5 edge.

Running a game, however, is very taxing on the ol' brain goo. While in the heat of a session, flailing to hold together some semblance of a logical storyline that your players managed to shred on first contact, it can be really difficult to leave some brain space for reflection. Your whole brain is likely saying things like, "What do you mean you want to know the names of the mad Duke's entire serving staff!?" and "is the spell the cleric just pulled out of obscure splat book 963 subject to spell resistance or no?"... ergo, not a lot of time to process what is and is not working. I can't count on all my limbs the number of times I've reached the end of a session only to look down at my game notes to see something like:

Santiago drinks
Rayne eats some cheese and onions
Lanna on the prowl

While that is quite a lovely haiku, it's not very informative about how the session played out, much less as an analysis of my own DMing skill. The point is, a DM cannot rely on self-reflection alone.

That's where observation comes in. I have learned a lot from watching other DMs, and have picked up bits and pieces of things that work well, and not so well. Some of the things that I have learned and incorporated from GMs I've played with include:

  • Having two DMs alternate games on opposite weeks takes the pressure off of them while making it feel like everyone is playing regularly.
  • You must want to play as much, if not more than your players, or the schedule will fall apart.
  • Causing permanent harm to the PCs is not always a bad thing. It can also make for really interesting roleplay.
  • Taking away the PC's stuff can lead to greater creativity.
  • Sometimes being a bastard helps increase emotional investment.
  • Death is not always the most interesting penalty.
And these are just a few of the things I've picked up... wow, most of those examples make me sound like an aspiring jerkwad! I'm not changing them though!

Getting to the other side of the DM screen, or even to a spot hovering around the table can provide some wonderful perspective on how to improve your own game. Furthermore, watching other GMs is often more valuable than reading about good DMing. Even if the good or bad techniques are not spelled out as explicitly, seeing them first hand in context beats the pants off of reading a list of best practices. 

Lately, I've become rather enamored with watching recorded game sessions, especially those hosted by Chris Perkins. I love the way he manages to walk back retcons* while remaining in character and in the scene. I love that he is so calm, where I tend to be a bit frenetic, and watching how he describes a scene as the events are unfolding. Some DMs, liken watching a tabletop game to watching paint dry, which can certainly be true, but if the game is running well, you're in the right mood, and you're watching for the right reasons, you could learn a lot from a DM.

This GenCon game is pretty cool to watch. 
Perkins DMing with two of the world's most prominent D&D authors as players

Fellow gamers, do you enjoy watching others game? If so, have any particular favorite DMs to watch?

*retroactive continuity or correcting a misread roll after the fact

Monday, June 10, 2013

Make-it Monday: ROFL Initiative on Google+ and YouTube!

Howdy everyone! I am pleased to announce that I am attempting to expand ROFL Initiative to other venues around the web! Over the weekend, I rebranded my personal YouTube channel and activated a ROFL Initiative page on Google+. So, if you use either of those services, I would sure appreciate it if you subscribed.

Click to go to YouTube

How I see this all working:

I expect that there will be a lot of cross pollination between the blog and these other services. I have directly linked this site to the G+ page. However, I plan to differentiate the content a little bit from what appears here. My YouTube channel currently hosts a number of playlists intended for use as soundtracks in a fantasy roleplaying game. In fact, I set them up to use in my own game, but now you too can have a listen! I have also started my first baby-steps into the world of video recording. The first was the OneNote walkthrough I posted here recently, and then I went and added my very first Minecraft let's play! Rather than bogging down this blog with video content, I thought I would let most of it live over on the YouTubes.

The G+ page will carry all of my blog posts, as well as random stuff that strikes my fancy throughout the week. I'll share links to other gaming articles, inspirational pictures and other stuff that would feel too spammy in a blog format.

Hopefully this will all lead to new and greater awesomeness all in the name of spreading the nerdly love!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ten Years with Wilson

[WARNING] The following contains some really heartfelt reflection.

This month marks a major anniversary in my life. It has been ten years since I was diagnosed with Wilson's disease. Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. Wilson's is very rare, only affecting about one out of every 30,000 to 100,000 people depending on the study. So, in the city of Seattle, where I live, there should only be between six and 21 people affected or between 3,000 and 11,000 people in the entire United States.

So, why am I posting about this on a gaming blog? We'll get to that, but first a bit of background.


Wilson's is a genetic liver disorder that prevents the body from processing copper found in the food we eat and the water we drink. Trust me, it's everywhere. Though it is a liver disorder, it often manifests in other ways. For me, it was as hand tremors caused by copper deposits in my brain. I was very lucky, as it turns out. My tremor started in my early twenties and I was diagnosed before my liver sustained permanent damage. As such, my condition was highly treatable. Unless something weird happens, I will lead a long and normal life.

Getting here, however, was not so simple. When I started treatment, it stirred up all the stored copper in my body, which made the symptoms worse before they got better. In my case, I lost much of the function of my hands for about two years (though the recovery was so gradual it's hard to nail an end date.) Both my hands, and occasionally my legs shook all the time. I couldn't write or draw. I could barely type. If I gave you a hug, I couldn't help but hump your leg. Pretty much any basic daily function was a challenge. Heck, I even needed to sleep with my hands wedged under my pillow to avoid listening to the sound of one hand clapping all night.

As a creative individual, losing the use of my hands was a major blow. I drew extensively as a kid to express myself, relieve stress and conceptualize my creative ideas. That was all out the door. Even typing was difficult, preventing creative writing as well. I could play video games… sort of… as long as they didn't get my adrenaline going too much. Then the controller would become hard to handle.

Improvement was painfully slow. It took me until early 2005, before I felt well enough to start getting my life back on track. I went back to grad school and started occupational therapy. I set unique personal goals for myself, one of them was to be able to fill out a karaoke slip on my own. Then to eat with chopsticks. By the end of grad school, my condition was significantly improved, and today my tremor is barely noticeable unless I am tired, excited, or upset.

That Brings us to the Blog

Even after reaching a near full physical recovery, I still bore the scars on my creative self. My inspiration had been tamped down for so long that I struggled to open a sketchbook. I might scribble one or two quick things, but nothing bigger popped to mind. I felt stagnant.

That's a big part of why I turned to tabletop gaming. It gave me a venue for my creativity with built in prompts (game books) and a built in support structure (game groups). I finally had a reason and a focus for my right brain. It worked. I used gaming to tell stories. To create worlds, to get back into visual art. Starting this blog was yet another step on the road to creative recovery. It gave me a place to share that expression with a wider audience.

Reflecting back on the past ten years, I really see just how far I've come from one of the lowest points in my life. I now have a second degree. I have an awesome job. I am marrying a wonderful woman next month. Through it all, however, I have been supported by my wonderful family and friends, and want to recognize the help they gave me.

  • My family who was always there for me.
  • Sean my roommate, and his family, especially his father who called in favors with old Air Force buddies to get me in front of competent doctors.
  • Jen and Sully, who drove me to the hospital throughout my early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Jon, James, Sarah, Keith and all the members of the Los Angeles "Committee" who helped me approach the toughest times with a sense of humor.
  • Tawnya, Bridget and the new friends I made after moving back to Seattle who helped me transition from the weird shakey guy to a normal functioning member of society.
  • Doug, who helped convince me to get out on my own again.
  • All of my friends, really, who have continued to support my creative recovery, often acting as companions and/or guinea pigs in the same.
  • And, of course, my wonderful fiancee who is always right there supporting my half-baked ideas, even if they make a mess of the house, or just make her roll her eyes and say, "uh-huh…"

I couldn't have made it to where I am today without the help of my wonderful support network. This blog is for them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Game of Development

I've been riffing on the concept of a Game of Thrones, Arrested Development mash-up over on Twitter... pretty much entirely talking to myself, but this little strip came out of it.

Think about it. The two are ripe for jamming together.

Character Creation: Spirit of the Century

Rendered with the Pulp-o-mizer

My game group ran a character-creation session for Spirit of the Century on Monday, and it was a blast. The character generation process definitely felt more involved than the default process for D&D. In part, I think this is because SoTC characters are already supposed to be established heroes with several adventures under their belts. As such, the number of abilities the players need to select is similar to a mid-level D&D hero. The collaborative nature of SoTC's FATE system also makes the process much more involved, because, in a way, the players are creating the world itself in addition to their characters. While you can certainly do these things as part of a D&D session, it is optional. With SoTC, it is the default.

The SoTC creation process has a lot going for it, and I can see value in adopting it for other game systems, or even for creative writing purposes. As the process develops, the characters establish relationships, and strongly tie their own traits into their backstory.

The process breaks down into five phases:
  1. Background: After each player comes up with a general concept, and name for his or her character, they describe how their character spent their childhood up through age 14. As members of the Century Club, from which the game derives its name, the PCs were all born on January 1, 1900.
  2. War Years: Each player describes how their character spent World War I, which takes place during their formative teens.
  3. First Novel: Each player comes up with the title and description for a novel that featured their character. The novel is set after the conclusion of the War.
  4. Guest Appearance 1: Here's where things get interesting. The players all swap novel titles, and work with another player to work that other character into their novel as a guest star.
  5. Guest Appearance 2: The players swap novels again, and add a second guest star in the same manner.

 Once the characters' backstories are complete, they come up with skills and special abilities (called "stunts").

During our three hour session, my players only got through the first four phases of the backstory generation. This was largely because they were having a lot of fun generating cool concepts, but also because we were all new to the process, and because I only had one rule book handy.

Nevertheless, the characters are shaping up to be really cool! The group consists of:

  • Sophie Steele, globetrotting tycoon, purveyor of advanced mechanisms, jingoist, and president of America Corp.
  • Ruby Valentine, an orphan who clawed her way up through the mean streets to become a successful singer and owner of her own speakeasy/club. She possesses an air of cynical glamor.
  • Violet Fairweather, Ruby's long lost twin. Violet was raised by a loving foster father, who taught her the ways of machines. She has a sunny disposition beneath her grimy exterior. She took up barnstorming after the war. Though she is the spitting image of Ruby when cleaned up, they couldn't be more different.
  • Heinrich Stumpf, the "Bavarian Machine", a German scientist afflicted with polio as a child. Stumpf worked on early chemical weapons experiments during the war. Afterward, he acquired a set of powerful mechanical legs, which he uses to stomp out evil.
  • Sri Lumani, Avatar of Vishnu manifested strange powers at an early age. Sent to the legendary land of Shangri-La to gain control of her powers, she now finds herself in the West, with only her mysterious companion to accompany her.
The group has one more player who wasn't able to make Monday's session who will be worked in after the fact.

One of the core mechanics of the FATE system is character "aspects". These are things that define each of the characters, and which ideally will indicate what the players want out of the game. The characters choose two aspects during each of the five character creation phases. These aspects can be anything from a signature item, to a catchphrase, to a personality trait. Some of the aspects my group invoked include, Violet's "Subtlety is not my strong suit", Ruby's "wrapped around my finger" and Heinrich's "indoor kid" They are meant to sound a little ambiguous to outsiders, and to have the potential to cause both help and hinder the character's progress.

Another change-up that I'm making from my D&D game is that I plan to run this one from notecards! I'm trying to go with the limited-prep, improvisational spirit of the FATE system. We'll see how that goes.

I have posed the idea of giving each of the player characters a feature post here on the ol' blog, some have already expressed interest, so you may get to hear more about the exploits and adventures of this little game as it gets rolling.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Make-it Monday: OneNote Organization and 1st Vlog!

Howdy all, for this week's Make-it Monday, I thought I would give you all a sneak peek into my D&D campaign OneNote, and specifically, into how I have been reorganizing it according to Johnn Four's buckets of sanity method.

Don't mess with a guy's bukkits of sanity!
Oh, and to help it make sense, I made my first ever vlog! What!? You can see me and hear me talk! Also, yes, I know I pronounce it vee-log... trolololol!

Let me know if you like the video, and I will consider incorporating more stuff like this into my regular blog. I certainly wont use video for everything, but it's certainly handy when trying to demonstrate how something is made or done... like with movement and stuff.

After uploading the video to YouTube, I experienced something I don't feel that often, complete and utter dread. I was fine when making the video. I got a little nervous while trying to edit it, but once it was posted, my brain started screaming at me, "WHAT IN THE NINE HELLS ARE YOU DOING, GEOFF!?" and it kept shouting that all night. I woke up around 3:30 this morning, and gave up trying to get back to sleep a little after 5.

It's seems weird that this project is having such an effect on me. I'm not normally this self conscious about putting my self out there. I've done a lot of stage acting in my life, heck, my undergraduate degree is in theater! I regularly go to karaoke. Heck, I've even been on television and radio for work... multiple times! Some of it live! For some reason, none of those things were as scary as this.

Perhaps, it's because this video was entirely my own idea. Perhaps it is because I am dipping my first toe into a creative medium (web video) that I have been admiring for the past several years, but only now got up the courage to ask out. Perhaps it is the rumors of trolls lurking in the untamed jungle of the internet that have me glancing over my shoulder, thinking, "I should go back."

I think it is all of the above, plus the mutterings of my own inner critic, who is grumpy that I am not a master of the medium right out of the gate. I am a n00b, when it comes to web videos. I utterly flail about when it comes to lighting, editing and structure. I need to acknowledge that, and be okay with it for now. This experience really deepens my respect for the people who willingly put themselves out there in this way.


So, like all good nerds everywhere, the Fiancee and I have been watching Game of Thrones. While we have both read the books, the couple that we watch with every week have not. I have to say that watching their reaction at the end of this week's episode was worth all the jackassery that George R.R. Martin has put me through thus far. Now finish the damn series, George!

During last night's episode:
Game of Thrones viewers on the outside,
someone who has read the books, center.
I'm running a character-building session for Spirit of the Century tonight. Keep an eye out for updates on that new and exciting campaign later this week!

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