CanCon 2014

28 January, 2014

(NB: I am drinking at the keyboard again, so this post contains a little language)

CanCon 2014. I signed up to play PFS, this year.

Saturday, played the intro game with my new character, Zack Jackson. In the evening, DMmmed it at a table at which a couple of guys (at least) were themselves DMs. No pressure.

Sunday, played an afternoon session, but the noise was so bad I left the table. Could not, could not hear the DM. I’m a bit deaf, or something, but it wasn’t just me – he was reduced to playing D&D with the player sitting next to him, who would play chinese whispers to get the info around the table.

No fun, especially when PFS modules feature slabs of colour text which a DM is supposed to sit there and read out. I’ll tell you – when I ran games, I would print copies of that shit beforehand and just had it around the table.

Actually – I’ll go off an have a mini-rant about it. Here’s a typical example:

The Pathfinder Society has turned its attention to the Ruby Phoenix Tournament—a world-renowned fighting competition, held once every ten years in the city of Goka on the eastern continent of Tian Xia. More specifically, the Decemvirate is interested in the incredible prizes available to the tournament’s winner—a choice of treasure from the legendary vaults of Hao Jin, the Ruby Phoenix herself. As part of the preparations for the tournament, Pathfinder Society agents have been deployed across the Inner Sea and beyond to seek out forgotten lore, allies, and magical items to be used by the Society’s tournament representatives.
Venture-Captain Amara Li, leader of the Lantern Lodge and Goka native, has uncovered information about one such item hidden amid the reaches of the Wall of Heaven—an Iroran relic known as the Braid of a Hundred Masters. Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends to send a group of Pathfinders to the high mountain range in search of the braid’s ancient home: the Clouded Path Monastery. The two-week-long journey to the mountains began in the cosmopolitan city of Goka, passed through the surrounding villages and farmlands, and led thousands of feet up into the tallest mountain range on Golarion; all that remains is the final day’s journey up from the base camp.

This is box text. You are supposed to sit there and read it out to the players, like it’s fucking story-time for kids at the local library.

I mean, let’s take this bit:

Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends to send a group of Pathfinders to the high mountain range in search of the braid’s ancient home.

This is so wrong. How are characters supposed to know this? They just by magic know what Amara-Li’s long-term intentions are? This is DM background – absolutely should not be box text that you sit down and read out to the players.

And frankly, you sound like a dick reading it out. Nobody actually talks that way “Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends …”. Try it now. Look around, to see that no-one is watching, and read it aloud. You feel like a fool, right?

It’s a classic violation of the basic rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell. Box text should be limited to what players see and hear and know. If it must have background info, it needs to be in dot point form.

So module writers, you don’t make the DM read out “Organizing the search from her base in the Dragon Empires, she intends …”. The right way to do this is to have as one of Amara Li’s possible answers to the characters’s questions: “Oh, I’ve been organising it from my base here for years!” You don’t say “As part of the preparations for the tournament, Pathfinder Society agents have been deployed across the Inner Sea and beyond to seek out forgotten lore, allies, and magical items to be used by the Society’s tournament representatives.” as box text to be read out – you let Amara Li say “We have pathfinders looking all over for something to give us an edge – lore, allies, magic items. All the other competitors have been doing the same, naturally.”

Fucking dreadful. As I said – I would copy that shit into a document, print out a couple of copies and hand it around the table. The intro stuff I would leave on the table before game for payers to look at while I was housekeeping.

Oh – off on another tangent – PFS modules have a nice way they use knowledge skills for background info. Here’s an example:

Diplomacy or Knowledge (local)
10+ Nobody has seen the monks of the Clouded Path Monastery in years. In the past, the monastery often sent a small group of them to the mountain’s base camp to trade for the goods the monks could not produce for themselves in the harsh mountain environment.
15+ A demon of ice and snow made flesh, called Shang Xu by locals, prowls the mountains. Since the monks disappeared, it has come down to raid the farms and villages on several occasions.
20+ The “demon” is not a demon at all, but rather a raving yeti that has established its territory well below the icy altitudes in which its kind normally hunt. With increasing regularity, the beast has attacked travelers in the low mountains and even settlements high in the foothills of Clouded Path Monastery’s peak.

I would print off a few copies on this on strips of paper. My attitude is that if you know something, you know it, and during briefing of course you are working with your knowledge. Making players guess that the specific K to use is K(Arcane) is bullshit – like the character has different DVDs in their head and just overlooked referencing the right one. Instead, I’d just tell the players to roll “K(local) or diplomacy”, “K(Arcane)”, or whatever the module specifies. If anyone got 20+, hand them a strip of paper. 15-19, I would just fold the paper under to hide the 20+ info and hand that out. Etc. Then the players can RP their characters pooling what they know about the situation. And I don’t have to sit there and read out box text which, I hope I have made clear, I despise doing.

So, getting back to CanCon 2014, we have a DM with a cold (conventions are disease vectors) attempting to read out torturous, narrative colour text in an environment which, from an auditory standpoint, I can safely compare to being inside a jet engine. I’m reduced to shouting at the player next to me “Purple? Did he say something about something being purple?”

Worst of all, the module was all about exploring a tomb and solving riddles written on the walls in ancient Orisani. You have to be very clear about the text of those motherfuckers, or you wind up decapitated.

When I noticed myself getting frustrated and pissy, about to stand up at the table and yell at the top of my voice at the DM “I’m sorry – did you say something as purple?” (as if the entire con is supposed to STFU because I’m trying to play Pathfinder), I cut my losses, packed up and walked out in the middle of session. Made sure to apologize after. I behaved badly. I feel bad about it. I wish I were a better human being.

I believe Venture-Captain Ben will be having words with the CanCon organisers next year. Not that it’s thier fault either: CanCon is a bit of a victim of its own success. The tables were too close together, but they were all full. Next year, they should grab one of the other Buildings at epic, too. Moving the roleplay groups (PFS and DWO) into the building with a bar would be utterly, utterly awesome.

And, that was it. That was CanCon 2014.

Shout out to Andrew, who permits me to exercise my amateur rigger skills most years (you want to tie down a load, speak to a truckie or a motorcyclist).

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Durak becomes useful

19 January, 2014

Rise of the Runlelords SPOILERS!
Had to break the session kinda-sorta in the middle of a fight, Friday night. We haven’t dealt with the BBEG, but Durak was very handy against the mini-boss.

We took down a trio of bearded devils. Durak and Bahlek both failed a fort save, so something unpleasant is coming up.

The casters did some crafting – Durak now has a nice suit of +1 lamellar stone armour, a +1 double-headed dwarven axe, and Boots of Striding and Springing. The armour was enchanted by Aeona, so is covered with runes and designs of horological significance.

I’m becoming concerned that taking the cleave option might not have been the best choice. It’s great for move->hit things->move->hit things, but the stonelord stance means that Durak must be mostly immobile (although there is cheese to counteract that). With Haste, you are getting three attacks per round anyway, two at your top attack bonus, which is as good as cleaving. Great Cleave will give you N hits, but realistically you are never going to get more than two or three in a round.

Oh well. It’s cinematic, and it might work out ok. My plan is still Great Cleave followed by Orc Hewer. We will be up against giants eventually (not that he knows this), and needs to be fighting them enlarged. After Great Cleave at level 7, it would be fun to have a scene involving mowing down a room full of goblins.

Just sayin’.

We eventually wound up at a clock tower. Basically a lighthouse – hollow on the inside. Some fun environmental challenges involving rickety stairs.

The mini-boss on the ground floor was an awakened flesh golem. Our party bypassed it, but then it headed outside – screams of terror. Durak, paladin that he is, decided that an attack on actual people happening right now took priority over what might hypothetically be at the top of the tower. Goddamit. Bahlek stayed below, but everyone else was already heading upstairs. So, team dwarf.

Flesh golems are immune to magic and have DR 5/adamantine. So Durak was the perfect – Stone Strike makes your hits adamantine, and enlarged he is a pretty heavy hitter. He blocked the door, Bahlek behind plinking arrows into it which unhappily didn’t do much thanks to the DR. Worst of all, this thing was rocking a scythe and we are using the paizo critical hit deck. But we had a stroke of luck – it crit fumbled. We are using the crit fumble deck as well, and Durak grabbed the scythe off it – dropping his axe to do so. On his round, he threw the scythe out of reach over his shoulder, picked up his axe (AAO), and kept swinging.

Main problem was that our party was split and our healer had gone up the stairs. I wasn’t keeping track of my HP as I should and was running lower than I realized. Managed to stanch the damage with lay on hands when I realised what was happening, but it was closer than it ought to have been.

Oh – did I mention that it was a clock tower? Bad guys on the rafters above, dropping bells on us. Big bells. There were two fights simultaneously. Up above, Vik (a summoner with an eidolon that can fly) was bull rushing bad guys off the rafters. Splish. Zoran the swashbuckler neatly riposted a blow, and crit fumbled. You see, his practised riposte unfortunately involved a turn and sidestep and with a splendid “Ha ha!” he stepped off the rafter. He also splished, but has a few more hp than the average mook and survived.

Anyway.

Bahlek got the kill steal, but Durak had used a potion of Enlarge Person with no way to dismiss it, and had no way to get up the rickety stairs. Meanwhile, Vik confronted the real BBEG above and was promptly charmed – the BBEG suggested that she fetch Aeona and bring her upstairs for some healing.

However, the last thing that happened prior to this was that Vik had asked Aeona to cast Silence on her. Which, on her turn, she did. So Vik picked up Aeona and flew her up to the BBEG, who could not use her magic thanks to the silence. So it attacked – dispelling the charm/suggestion/whatever, and the two casters came back down to ground level, the BBEG retreating upwards.

(Part of this was that we had Protection from Evil on and the suggestion should not have worked at all. But magic, you know, is tricky and unpredictable.)

And that’s how things stand. We are back on the ground, badly beaten up, there’s something nasty in the top of the tower, and Durak weighs a metric ton and cannot ascend the stairs.


Zack Jackson, reincarnated

16 January, 2014

Zack Jackson is back! Halfling bard (archaeologist), absolutely useless in combat. All he can really do in combat is flank and assist. I took the ‘helpful’ trait for him, meaning that he grants +4 rather than +2 on an assist. Better than bard song, but a) you have to hit and b) only one enemy. Since he will be doing a lot of that, I really need to buff his AC.

I played ‘the frostfur captives’, which I have played before, so no risk/no reward.

SPOILERS!!

The combat at the towers took too long. Our main melee guy was busy trying to open the doors, which was a mistake. Once he was in combat, he dealt with the guards handily.

The ‘getting the goblins across the ferry’ was fun. A social encounter, involving mollifying an irritable ice troll. There troll declared that he did not want dirty goblins on his ferry, and that the price would be 200gp. Zack offered that since the goblins-on-the-ferry was the sticking point, how about if we just dragged them behind the ferry on a rope? They needed a bath, anyway. The troll thought this was a great idea, and offered passage for 25gp, which ZJ negotiated down to 5gp on the basis that there were four of us and 4 onto 25 won’t go. (still an outrageous amount for a ferry ride, but meh – the pathfinder society is paying).

We skipped the creepy hut – walked around it without engaging.

In the final combat, two axe guys attack the storeroom, and the two dudes at the table – an axe guy and a priest – also attack. We had split the party. Zack has one spell. Grease. Zack Jackson greased the axe of the axe guy at the table, and he spent the next 10 rounds fumbling with it. It very effectively kept him out of the real combat.

At one point, Zack attempted to throw some mashed potato at the axe guy to blind him. Rolled a one. Our interpretation is that Zack grabbed a handful of mashed potato and gravy off the table, was about to throw it, then “Hmm! Good!”. He’s not a glutton, specifically, but he is a halfling.

Zack also dropped some grease on the floor (which only delayed the priest for one round) then while the dude was fumbling with his axe, ran around to the other side of the floor grease patch. Dude finally got his axe, ran at Zack, failed a perception check and rolled 1 on his reflex save.

Fun times.

I’ll continue to play him as comic relief and skill monkey, I think. I’ll look into dirty fighting rules, maybe take ‘agile manoeuvres’, equip him with some bolas if possible. And keep putting points into skills – nine per level. Utility and debuffing spells. I may trade off some Cha for more Dex or Int, dump his Str to 7-2(racial). Bad MAD, unfortunately:
Str – CMD
Dex – missile & skills
Con – to stay alive
Int – skill points & knowledge
Wis – perception, sense motive
Cha – Social skills, archaeologist’s luck

Absolutely will not dump Con under any circumstances. But I could bear having a laughably nonexistent Str. I can live with Wis 8.

On a more contextual note, we had two experienced players, two n00bs at the table. The experienced players instinctively sat next to the DM. This was also a mistake. Yes, it means that the more into-it players wind up shouting the whole game, but its worth it to make new players feel included.


A small miscalculation

13 January, 2014

There is little to tell.

We rode from Sandpoint to Magnamar, fighting off a gang of three trolls on the way. We were a little short of fire – a situation I have somewhat remedied. The trick to dealing with trolls is to keep them down once they go down, but we managed well enough.

Once in Sandpoint, the more stealthy of us went to investigate the residence of the very late Squire (Lord? Sir? Whatever!) Foxglove, and Aeona and I went shopping. Much to see, of course, but we were not offered any difficulty.

Vik, Bahlek and Zoran returned, reporting that the place had been boarded up. They were keen to investigate overnight, but I was adamant that we ought to present our credentials to the local authority and proceed that way. By credentials, I mean that we had requested a letter of introduction from the Sheriff of Sandpoint.

That evening, we listened to gossip. I seems that Mangamar, too, has had a series of ritual murders. How wide does this plot extend?

Next day, introductions made, we visited the Foxglove townhouse, one constable doughnut in tow. We knocked, and the door was answered by … Aldern Foxglove himself! And his wife! What strange doings were afoot here? Both we knew – or thought we knew – to be dead!

They explained the boards on the windows – they were expecting renovations, it seems. An … odd explanation. The well-to-do do not generally oversee tradesmen in person. They invited us into a parlour. Two of us accompanied and – when our group was split – they attacked. My calls that they were under arrest going unheeded, we fought, we being careful to knock them out rather than kill. They did not fight as civilised humans would, forgoing weapons they struck us with their hands with unnatural strength. When they were subdued, our arcanists pronounced that they were very likely not human.

We secured them, and searched the house for evidence.

We found a small cache of documents, detailing that the residence near Sandpoint had been financed mainly by the “brotherhood of seven”, and was to revert to them after a mere hundred years (which I suppose may seem a long time to a human). The parallels were too obvious to miss – the seven points of the Sihedron rune, the letter stating that a “brotherhood” was involved. But all very thin and inconclusive.

We also discovered that the woman Aisha (Aldern’s wife, or rather the someone who seemed to be her) would make periodic payments to be collected at a sawmill at midnight.

We returned to the Magnamar authorities. The “brotherhood of seven” are, it seems, a merchant company. All above-board. Regardless, we requested leave to investigate this sawmill further. During the afternoon, the more bookish of us went to the registry office and investigated, but discovered little of substance.


That night, we visited the sawmill. A large building full of machinery powered by waterwheels. The first two floors held nothing of interest to anyone except perhaps an gnome of engineering bent. We discovered a hidden closet full of some sort of robes and mention of the god of murder and assassination – Norgorber. On ascending the stairs to the top floor, we heard a scream – exactly the kind of scream that would be emitted by someone having a seven-pointed star being carved into his chest.

Bursting into the room, we found it full of perhaps eight or a dozen cultists led by what was plainly a priest. The fight was straightforward – Aeona dropped a Silence spell on the whole area, and without their spellcasting the cultists were easy meat.

And wasn’t there just one very unhappy DM at the table that night? All these guys were equipped with Command, which just doesn’t work in a Silenced zone. Absolutely correct action by Brett, there, when dealing with a roomful of religious cultists (ie: spellcasters).

We had the drop on them, and Zoran simply walked through them to get at the main guy – no AAOs because they were flat-footed. That put him in a nasty spot. As soon as I was able, I moved Durak in to take some of the heat off him. At one point, I used my extremely cheesy interpretation of the rules to have Durak make a 5-foot step, use lay-on-hands to remove his own fatugue, resume his defensive stance (free action) and then make a full-round attack.

Oh, speaking of cheese, I need to have Durak talk about Vik.

The cultists fleeing, including their leader, we ran in pursuit – Vik teleporting down. Which I will write about in a moment. I being slower than the rest, opted to make an opening in the wall by which I was standing and walk through. This proved to be a small miscalculation, as I plummeted down into the river wearing full armour. It took a moment for me to find a pier with handholds, but I managed to drag myself up out of the water before my breath let out. By that time it was all over.

An eventful night. But we have aside from flushing out a nest of these cultists (and let us not make light of that, we have saved one man’s life, at least), we have discovered little but that we are working against a large, organised group, associated in some way with the cult of Norgorber. How this relates to the runelords of ancient Thassilon, I cannot say.


I am most concerned about Vik. One of the two sisters, Vik’s art mainly concerns the summoning of creatures from – well, from wherever such things are summoned. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the red-eyed slavering of these creatures. Clearly Vik, though not evil in herself (yet), is having some sort of truck with the lower planes.

Last night, she summoned a being which she calls her “eidolon” and – for want of a better word – clothed herself with its substance. This being has all the red-eyed, bewinged, fanged ferocity one would would expect of a demon. But despite its appearance there was not the stench of evil coming from it. I simply don’t know what to make of it.

I should speak to her first, I think, before acting. But act I suspect I shall have to do.


The Greater Good

4 January, 2014

Durak’s personality is coming along, I think. If there’s a door, and there might be something eeeevil behind it, then what you do is you open the door and strike at the eeeevil with your hammer until it is gone.
He’s not stupid, but he is uncomplicated. It also moves the game along briskly. This party doesn’t have any “You go!”, “No – you go!”. Durak just goes. Why? ‘Cause he’s a paladin. Opening the door and stepping through is why we came down here.

Rocky (his earth elemental familiar) is a potential game wrecker, especially down in cellars. We are handling it by him being stupid and lacking initiative. He has Int 4 and is an alien – he can’t describe what’s in a room in useful terms. And although he does have decent Wisdom, I suppose here on prime he relies on being told what to fight because he’s unfamiliar with the place. The tremorsense, however, is handy and doesn’t give too much away – no more than a really good perception check.

Less than a year is not sufficient time to cease finding strange the human habit of building homes where the “floor” is a wooden platform suspended in the air. The elves, at least, use living trees. I can respect a tree – you know it is going to be around a decent time.

I would guess the reason for living in “houses” it is that they are quick to construct – humans being a short-lived race. The orcs, being even shorter-lived, make tents of stick and hide so it all makes sense. A habitation made of dead wood cannot stand for more than decades, but the humans live their lives quickly – should a house fall or burn, they will build another just like it in its place. The humans, then, are no less practical than we, it is just that the facts of their lives make what is practical for them different from what is practical for us.

But the subject of houses brings us to that of haunted houses. Which is where we spent yesterday.


Clues lead us to the abandoned home of a local noble family. We searched the bottom floor, discovering it to be haunted indeed. Various apparitions appeared and attacked us – a Manticore, an animated scarf, a piano, and from the floor above us the sound of weeping. Each manifestation telling us something of the tale of what lived here.

Haunts are a cool pathfinder idea. You can tell stories with them (which is what the module did) without having to have an actual ghost.

The ground floor more-or-less explored, we opted to go down, rather than up. I called Rocky to assist us.

The cellar was – a cellar. Cold storage for food, a wine room (which we regrettably destroyed. Not that I am usually a wine drinker, but some of the vintages would have fetched a good price.). We were attacked by swarms of rats and eventually came to a strong door, warded by an excellent lock. Reasoning that if there were still a key, it would be above, we resolved to search the upper rooms of the house.

There were more haunts above, telling the tale of an unhappy marriage, a murder, a picture of a man with an odd puzzle-box. We found the key (or, what Zoran juded to very likely be the key) in a study. But we passed a door from which the sound of weeping was loudest. We opened it.

Within was a spirit, an unquiet dead, cowering away from a mirror. She was clearly the shade of the murdered wife, and did not respond to our questions. As we discussed what to do – I was keen to look into the mirror – the summoner Victora said “civilised people often cover mirrors when there has been a death” (which I hope was not an insult directed at me). The taller of our party threw a sheet over the mirror, and the spirit rose and proceeded to walk through the house, heading for the lower floor.

We followed. The spirit went to a room with a great bloodstain on the floor, and began tearing at the floorboards. We assisted it, and opened a hole to a hidden room below in the cellars. In that room was an old dry well, and the spirit went down into it. We followed – Bahlek looking a little green for some reason.

Below was a natural limestone cave (probably carved by water, if I am any judge). We were attacked by ghouls, and prevailed thanks to Victoria’s earth elementals.

The DM was playing hardball – the ghouls would paralyse then attempt a CDG. Hapilly, there were enough summoned dudes to AAO them to death. Dave is summoning earth elementals because Durak has “Earth Channel”, being a stonelord. We actually haven’t used it yet, but now at 6th levels he has enough grunt to drop 3d6 healing into any earth critters nearby. He has 4 lay-on-hands, and it takes two charges, so realistically he will only be able to do it once. I will reserve a lay-on-hands to get rid of the “defensive stance” fatigue should it become necessary.

Catching up to the ghost, it was tearing at a door (ghosts often dont realise that they are ghosts, and act as they would in life). We assisted.

Within was an expensively dressed undead. On a bench behind – a ruined puzzle box. It addressed Aeona, and the ghost of his murdered wife (for surely it was they) attacked. He called out in the local language – Zoran telling us that he had called for help. Our casters retreated outside, and we fought the undead, the ghost assisting. More than assisting, really. In truth, we barely put a scratch on it.

The casters heading outside was a mistake, for more ghouls came from that direction. We were split in two. Had I known how badly they fared out there, I would not have stayed in the smaller chamber to ineffectively swing at the ghoul. But it seemed to me that my place was to help deal with the greater evil.

Eventually, the ghost prevailed. The noble was dead, and with his death the ghost dissolved, its geas accomplished. Our casters inspected the ruined puzzle box, and decided that it was likely meant to be a phylactery for a lich. Thus was all explained – this noble was a caster attempting to secure undeath for himself by becoming a lich. He murdered his own wife, and who knows how many others, to secure sucess. It is well that we intervened. Such a great evil would have been worth out very lives to forestall.

We found a letter from a party in Magnimar. It seemed to indicate that someone was offering this evil man assistance, spoke of a “Sihedron ritual” – this being the seven-pointed star that we keep encountering associated with the ancient runelords of Thessalay. The letter indicated that there were to be seven ritual murders in all – I am not sure that we stopped them all.

I shall go from here to Magnamar, then, and bring this person to account. The other four heroes of Sandpoint – each for reasons of their own – have made the same choice, which is very well. We remain a party of five, then, and traveling with these four comrades who I have come to know and rely on eases my spirit considerably.

We attempted to fire the house when we were done. But even with fire elementals, the place would not catch. There is older evil here, I think, beyond our power to cleanse. All we can do is inform the church.


But this is all background. The question with which I must wrestle is: ought I to have attacked that ghost, the spirit of the wife, when I saw her rather than helping her?

Torag revealed to me that the apparition was evil. And that her aid probably made the difference in slaying the greater evil below is in no wise. After all – she might have joined with that evil and made it more powerful, so far as I could have known at the time. And although that did not happen, although we accomplished a much greater good, yet I assisted her accomplish her evil goal, which was to do murderous revenge on her husband. I helped her succeed in this act, I cannot escape my complicity and guilt in this respect.

Why did I do it? What were my motives at the time?

First, cool calculation. I judged that the murder of the wife by her husband was central to the riddle of that house, that the matter was best concluded, and that this spirit would lead us to the heart of the mystery. I was resolved that this spirit must be dealt with, one way or another, but the better way to do it was to permit her to reveal her story rather than simply attempting to kill a ghost with weapons (a tricky prospect, even with magic). It transpired that I was right – but that matters not. It is true that I took a risk, but every choice was risky.

Second, pity. This woman, in life, had been murdered by her husband. Can there be any keener betrayal? Yes, the evil spirits of the undead feign distress to lure noble fools to their doom. But still. Even a heart turning to stone can know pity. And I knew something of her story – there was adequate reason to belive the spirit was not feigning its fear.

It would have been simpler to simply charge in and attempt to hammer that spirit into oblivion. My conscience would be happily clear. And we would be slain by the undead below, Aeona subject to a terrible fate, and in all possibility a lich loosed upon the world.

No, I must content myself with this. My goal was to bring the evil of this house to an end. I acted as I did – following that ghost and assisting it – for that reason. That we succeeded in large part is a great comfort, but my hands are not clean.