Every time I think I’ve found the bottom of my vault, I remember I have more stuff crammed into the corners. So here’s some more of my old work.
“The Sultan of Brass might be a tyrant, but he’s our tyrant, and the only friend we have in all Calimshan.”
So, you want to conquer the world?
Right under saving the world and getting mega-rich, conquering the world is one of the most common aspirations of RPG players. This works great early on. The PCs build up wealth and allies in opposition to some evil tyrant, and at the end they overthrow him and are crowned the new rulers of the land.
Then what? The world has a lot more territory in it than just the one land you’ve conquered, but now you’re in charge of a kingdom. Most character motivations for going on adventures expire once you have an army thousands strong that can go on those adventures for you. Is your paladin going to spend all his time conquering the world instead of settling disputes in the halls of justice and providing valuable legal precedent to the nascent body of law? Is your rogue going to keep risking her life for loot when she could just soak up a cut of the taxes and live the rest of her life in luxury? Even if everyone is on board with leading from the front at all times, do you really want every single adventure for the rest of the game to be a mass combat fought alongside a minimum of fifty other guys, and quite frequently hundreds or thousands?
Maybe you do, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but most groups would like to continue going into dungeons and slaying dragons, and that can be hard to make compatible if you are running an empire whose standard means of expansion is to march an army thousands strong into hostile territory. The answer is the sphere of influence.
What is a sphere of influence?
The sphere of influence was the dominant political model for powerful nations in the modern world and, more relevantly, ancient Greece. In a sphere of influence, a capital nation (we will be using Waterdeep and Thay as examples of protagonist and antagonist capital nations) exerts influence over other states not by directly occupying them with their military, but through military alliance, trade agreements, and possibly sacking (but not occupying) a city.
Mass combat remains on the table (though specific rules for directing troops are not provided in this book), but there are other means of expanding your sphere of influence, typically by examining local conflicts or crises and resolving them in such a way that whoever’s in power at the end is dependent upon you, or at the very least indebted to you.
This might take the form of securing a rare magical resource much desired by a kingdom in order to push that kingdom into accepting a trade agreement with you, thus bringing them into your sphere of influence because much of their economy is now dependent upon trade with you. This would essentially be the plot of Lost Mines of Phandelver.
It might involve making a military alliance with a beleaguered territory, offering protection from a sinister villain in order to draw the people under your wing. This would be a very slightly tweaked Princes of the Apocalypse.
It might involve restoring a deposed king to his throne, establishing a friendship with that king which pulls his kingdom into your sphere of influence. This would be an almost unaltered Storm King’s Thunder.
It could also involve forming a treaty of protection with small towns in a relatively unsettled area between several major trade powers, going on a routine patrol to help secure the area, and winding up thwarting a plot to summon a god to destroy the world. You can probably guess that this would be the plot to Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat.
What’s important to all of these is that sending an army to take care of it would be a bad idea. A thousand level 0 schmucks with spears and chainmail are a terrible choice for rooting out giant warlords who’ve deposed the storm king, as it would straightforwardly be a declaration of war on the giant realms. It is much less costly to simply help the storm king reassert control over his realm.
If you try to relieve the siege of Dessarin Valley by the forces of Elemental Evil by sending out your army, they will probably be ultimately victorious, but will face terrible casualties as they can only bring a small handful of their troops to bear at once in the narrow corridors of the dungeons below, losing their numerical advantage against enemies who are individually far more powerful. Even if you have enough men to wear them down eventually, that will leave Waterdeep vulnerable to attacks from Kryptgarden or the Sword Mountains and leave you with no troops to send if you ever need them for a situation in which they’re actually at an advantage over an adventurer party, like a field battle.
Tracking Tiamat’s hoard and hunting down the wyrmspeakers requires both speed and discretion, two attributes that armies of five thousand soldiers are sorely lacking, military forces will have trouble retaining coherency in the depths of Neverwinter Forest and, while they would probably crush the low-level threats of Lost Mines of Phandelver, it would be at a pointlessly high cost compared to sending a small, fast, more easily supplied strike team to deal with the problem.
I don’t mention Curse of Strahd and Out of the Abyss because in both cases the party is trapped outside the reach of their sphere of influence, and the default objective of returning home only becomes more urgent if your empire could be falling to pieces behind you.
And of course, you may be using other content entirely. You might use DM’s Guild adventures, homebrew content, convert from older editions, convert from the filthy heretics at Paizo, or any combination. All of these examples to illustrate two things. Firstly, that the average adventure, even if it can be solved by an army, is usually much more cost-efficient if solved by a small party, and second, that the average adventure can be used to make an ally, sign a treaty, install a more friendly government in a kingdom typically hostile to your own, or otherwise expand your sphere of influence.
If you are the most powerful adventuring party your kingdom has to offer (and you probably wouldn’t have been able to take over if you weren’t), then oftentimes you are better off leaving a capable steward behind to manage day-to-day affairs for a while whilst you topple an evil kingdom, put the rightful heir on the throne, and secure a new ally for your empire.
Example: Waterdeep vs. Thay
In order to understand how a conquer-Faerun campaign based on a sphere of influence would work, let’s take the example of the players playing as the rulers of Waterdeep (presumably after spending some amount of the campaign becoming or overthrowing the masked lords of the city) with their primary antagonist being Szass Tam of Thay.
The only area directly controlled by Waterdeep is the city itself, however its economic power and historic position within the Lord’s Alliance means that Waterdeep already has a significant sphere of influence in Faerun, and especially the Sword Coast. Many of the smaller towns and villages nearby Waterdeep are only safe because they are members of the Lord’s Alliance, and thus under Waterdeep’s protection, and even those nearby towns which can defend themselves are often dependent upon trade from Waterdeep to sustain their economy. If Waterdeep were to cease trade with, say, Daggerford, the Daggerford economy would immediately collapse, but Waterdeep would barely even notice as they go on trading with Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter, Amn, Calimshan, and the Silver Marches.
So even though Waterdeep has absolutely no soldiers garrisoned in Daggerford or Triboar or other, related towns at all, these towns are already well within Waterdeep’s sphere of influence. When Waterdeep wants something from one of them, they have enormous and asymmetric negotiating power.
However, Waterdeep is not alone in its position of power along the Sword Coast. Neverwinter, the Silver Marches, and especially Baldur’s Gate are all nearly as important to trade and hold nearly as much power in the Lord’s Alliance. Waterdeep would have much greater difficulty convincing any of these to give into demands concerning trade agreements or military support. Even so, none of them would be at all willing to support Thay or anyone else over Waterdeep, so these military allies can be considered on the outer edges of the Waterdeep sphere of influence. Unlike members closer to the heart of Waterdeep’s sphere, these outer members could probably be convinced to declare neutrality in a fight between Waterdeep and an outsider (like Thay).
Szass Tam directly administers the land of Thay, and Thay’s position as a vital component of eastern Faerun’s slave trade puts Chessenta firmly in Thay’s sphere of influence, and likewise because Thay is almost singularly responsible for supplying North Unther with food, they too are deep in Thay’s sphere. Mulhorand does heavy trade with Thay as well. All of these nations were devastated by the spellplague (particularly Unther, which is still mostly occupied by dragonborn invaders) and are at a severe economic and military disadvantage to Szass Tam, so they cannot afford to refuse any but the most outrageous demands he may make of them. Complicating matters for Tam, however, none of the nations deep in his sphere of influence get along well with any other nation there except Thay, and some of them don’t even get along that well with Thay, they’re just dependent on Thay for trade.
Szass Tam’s outer sphere of influence includes the drow realm of Undrek’Thaz as well as other evil nations of the Earthroot realm of the Underdark. These places are tenuous allies principally due to trade, but Tam would not have much difficulty enlisting their aid in a war against Waterdeep if it came to that.
Both Waterdeep and Thay have enemies. Waterdeep has Amn and Calimshan, which would not ordinarily be under Thay’s influence at all, but nevertheless may end up in Thay’s outer sphere due to having a mutual enemy in Waterdeep. Likewise, Waterdeep has no trade contact with Rashemen or Aglarond, but both nations are enemies of Thay and thus may end up within the outer fringe of Waterdeep’s sphere of influence simply because of common goals. Several of Thay’s allies likewise have enemies, most notably the dragonborn of Southern Unther and Tchazzar, former ruler of Chessenta. Tchazzar has no enmity with Thay at all, but if Waterdeep promises to reinstate him in exchange for an alliance against Thay, he might agree and honor the treaty (or he might betray them to Thay or become a third party, hard to tell).
Waterdeep additionally has several potential enemies on their doorstep. Kryptgarden Forest and the Sword Mountains are both inhabited by creatures who generally consider Waterdeep to be an enemy. Neither is an organized nation, but both are home to powerful warlords who Szass Tam could forge an alliance with. Most of Waterdeep’s allies likewise have untamed wildernesses full of warlords and monsters who could potentially be persuaded to join the Thayan sphere of influence to oppose the Lord’s Alliance, places like the Wood of Sharp Teeth, Neverwinter Wood, and the Spine of the World.
A cautious Waterdeep party will want to begin by shoring up defenses, making friends in potential allies of Thay like Kryptgarden Forest and the Sword Mountains and making sure those friends are the dominant force in their respective areas before moving on to defanging Amn and Calimshan. In the former case, this can be done by agitating the tension between Amn’s five ruling dynasties into civil war, and in the latter perhaps by supporting a genie invasion to reclaim Calimshan in exchange for neutrality from (or even alliance with) the new genie overlords. Finally, Waterdeep will want to put pressure on Thay’s core, aiding the dragonborn invaders of Unther against the natives, helping Tchazzar reclaim Chessenta, and then either using trade isolation to destroy Thay or else aiding Aglarond and/or Rashemen in an invasion. A more aggressive pro-Waterdeep force might want to skip to putting pressure on the core for fear that opportunities might be lost and potential allies defeated if Waterdeep takes too long shoring up defenses.
A patient Thay will fight much the reverse of a patient Waterdeep, beginning by helping North Unther in the war against the dragonborn of South Unther and helping Chessenta destroy Tchazzar’s government-in-exile in Erebos in the Sea of Fallen Stars. Then they will want to begin agitating enemies of Waterdeep’s somewhat weaker allies like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter, and the Silver Marches, enemies like the monsters of Neverwinter Wood, the Kingdom of Many-Arrows, the High Moor, and the Trollbark Forest, helping them to cripple the economy of Waterdeep and her allies with increased raiding. With major trade partners sacked or convinced to declare neutrality in exchange for a halt of raids, Szass Tam can make alliances with Amn and Calimshan to embargo Waterdeep and the Lord’s Alliance, thus convincing the already weakened Waterdeep allies to depart the Lord’s Alliance to escape the embargo until finally Waterdeep stands alone. At this point it can be either starved into submission or attacked with allies made in Kryptgarden or the Sword Mountains. Just like Waterdeep, a more aggressive Thay might race to tear out the heart of the enemy by skipping to attempts to wreck the economy of Waterdeep’s allies or even trying to skip straight to pulling Kryptgarden and/or the Sword Mountains into an attack on Waterdeep itself.
This is only an example, with many possibilities (including everything to do with the Moonsea Region, Anauroch, Chult, etc. etc.) cut for the sake of space. It also focuses exclusively on a single rival, Szass Tam, for the sake of simplicity, when a more faithful following of the lore has Amn, Cormyr, Netheril, Hillsfar, and more with their own spheres of influence, each of which will resist being absorbed into another, more powerful sphere of influence. Even if you want to set up Szass Tam as the final villain (and he does make for a good BBEG both because of being quite distant from the starting point and arguably the most powerful villain on Faerun right now), the middle section of the campaign, between the initial rise to power and the final showdown with Szass Tam, would probably include the players’ Waterdeep sphere of influence and Szass Tam’s Thayan sphere of influence gobbling up lesser rivals like Cormyr and Hillsfar, with the player attempting to extend their influence as fast as possible before Thay beats them there. The amount of territory claimed in this intermediate stage of the campaign would then directly influence the course of the final confrontation in the endgame.
Here are a few more much shorter examples that will hopefully give you some more ideas as to what spheres of influence might be interesting for players to command and struggle against:
Crown Wars Rejoined: The good drow of Cormanthor fight with the evil drow of the Underdark, with the Dalelands and the Moonsea often caught in the middle.
Heart of Darkness: Cormyr, having relatively recently driven the Netherese out of Sembia with the help of their allies, seeks to defeat the Empire of Shadows in their stronghold in the Shadowfell. The Netherese seek to regain control of the Moonsea and destroy all their enemies: Cormanthor, Sembia, and Cormyr.
Blood for Gold: Amn seeks to exert their influence over the Sword Coast, while Waterdeep seeks to do the same to the Land of Intrigue. The two trade empires are finally on a collision course and soon one must dominate the other.
Pools of Moonlight: Phlan, recently liberated, seeks desperately to hammer together a sphere of influence from nothing to stand against the rising might of oppressive Hillsfar.
Civil War: The Cult of the Dragon is thwarted, Menzoberranzan and its environs are depleted by internal wars, Amn and Calimshan are on the backfoot. With no pressing external threat, Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate, and Luruar have begun to maneuver against one another. While their history in the Lord’s Alliance is too strong for any kind of open warfare to be conceivable, each begins to undermine the other’s lesser allies while seeking economic and cultural dominance of the Sword Coast. As the skirmishes escalate, the brotherhood of the Lord’s Alliance begins to wear thin, and outright sacking of one city by another is more and more a possibility.
Revenge of the Black Network: The Zhentarim, driven from their base of power in the Moonsea, barely clinging to a single remote stronghold in the Sunset Mountains, have not had their ambitions dulled. Still they seek to rule the world, and nobody will stop them. Not Waterdeep, not Amn, not Thay, nobody.
Rise of Thay: The chaos caused by the Spellplague and Szass Tam’s rise to power has pushed the entire eastern reach of Faerun closer and closer to chaos. Aglarond has claimed Wizard’s Reach, and emboldened by this victory, seek to put an end to the evil of Thay altogether. At the same time, Szass Tam rules Thay absolutely and his lust for power is far from sated. His first step to global domination is to consolidate control of the east by securing his allies and removing the pests in Aglarond and Rashemen who have so long vexed Thay.
Keeping the Crown
“When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.”
—George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones
This document concerns itself primarily with acquiring influence in new territory. This is the part that requires the most attention to unique details of different regions, but it’s not the hard part. The hard part is hanging onto power after it’s already been seized. There are three rules to maintaining power after you’ve taken it: Keep the keys to power happy, control the treasure, and minimize the number of keys.
No ruler is absolute. The ruler does not catch the criminals, defend the walls, and build castles themselves. Instead, the ruler uses the treasure in their vaults to pay other people to do these things for them. This is most obviously true in placed like Baldur’s Gate where the four ruling dukes are elected by a parliament made up mostly of the old money and thus almost always are themselves old money, but even in Luruar or Elturgard, nations in theory ruled over by benevolent leaders who want only the best for their people, the soldiers still need armor and the laborers still need to eat and if you can’t give that to them they will not build nor defend your castles.
Some nations claim to lead with ideals and not with treasure, but take away the treasure and leave only the ideals and the number of loyal defenders of the crown remaining is going to look more like a single adventuring party than an
army. This is why heroes are a big deal in Faerun. Any major city on the Sword Coast will have dozens of people who are tenth level or higher, but the number of them willing to risk their lives out of moral obligation and not necessarily for profit is a lot smaller. Drizz’t matters not because he can fight frost giants at all, but because he’ll do it whether or not Lord Neverember is willing to pay him for it.
This is well and good for Drizz’t, but this book is not about Drizz’t, it’s about Lord Neverember, and from Lord Neverember’s perspective, for every Drizz’t whose loyalty is driven by virtue there are a dozen generals, champions, and sages whose only concern is to make as much money as possible. These people, vital to defending a territory and collecting its treasure, are the keys to power, and the second that someone persuades them to work for someone other than Lord Neverember, Lord Neverember has lost power. He is nothing without his keys, and so keeping his keys happy is his first, second, and third priority.
Lord Neverember is not cruel, but he is ruthless, and unscrupulous pandering to a few powerful people is to be expected of him. So let’s turn our attention to Abdel Adrian, the ruler of Baldur’s Gate (generally speaking, I try to be as vague as possible as to who exactly the Bhaalspawn protagonist of the Baldur’s Gate games was, and this document is compatible with inserting your own character there, however we will use the canonical Abdel as an example of the limits of what a well-intentioned ruler can accomplish in the face of the systemic selfishness inherent to systems of government). Abdel was a hero who was undoubtedly dedicated to the good of the common people of his city. He also maintained and promoted a system whereby 90% of those people had absolutely no say in government whatsoever, presided over an era when the gap in wealth between the rich and the poor steadily expanded, and entrenched the Flaming Fists, an amoral mercenary company, in the government. Why would he do any of this?
Because Abdel cannot do anything for the people of Baldur’s Gate unless he is in power in Baldur’s Gate, and he cannot be in power in Baldur’s Gate unless he keeps the keys happy. The keys to Baldur’s Gate were the wealthy patriar families of the Upper City, who controlled the treasure, without whose support Abdel’s coffers would run dry and he would be unable to pay the Flaming Fists, the other key to power in the city, whose monopoly on effective military power allows them to depose existing governments at-will. Abdel was nominally the leader of the Flaming Fists during his rulership of Baldur’s Gate, but they are still mercenaries. He may have been the general, but a general needs his captains just the same as a ruler needs his generals, and if a rival could have offered Abdel’s captains a bigger share of the city’s treasure than Abdel was offering them, enough of the captains would have defected for such a rival to seize the city.
The first rule to power is to keep the keys to power happy, and that means offering them more treasure and offering it more reliably than anyone else. The wealth of Baldur’s Gate was split entirely between its mercenary defenders and its noble families. Every copper spent on the people came out of Abdel’s personal share. The day he diverted wealth from other people’s shares towards building a better life for the commoners is the day he opened himself up to a coup from opportunistic rivals.
The second rule of power is to control the treasure, and the treasure here is not only the treasure in the nation’s vaults but the treasure held by the nation’s people. People need some of that treasure to run their businesses and feed themselves so they can keep working and produce more treasure, so while the ruler’s goal must be to tax them as much as possible (if he won’t, an opportunist who will can oust them from power by rounding up a critical mass of disloyal keys to power, and it doesn’t have to be all of them, just half or more), the amount by which he can tax them depends on the amount of money they need to be productive.
Merchants who are being taxed too much or who fear their stock might be seized whenever the king wants to start a new war will ply their trade in another kingdom. Skilled artisans like blacksmiths aren’t as capable of packing up shop and leaving whenever the heat gets too high, but if the situation gets desperate enough they are capable of leaving and most of them will. Too much taxation or just general tyranny will drive the most profitable citizens out of a kingdom and thus the king will end up bringing in a smaller amount of wealth in the long run. This opens him up to a coup just as surely as undertaxing out of benevolence.
Thus, how just and benevolent a kingdom’s ruler is will often be defined more by how much justice and benevolence is needed to get the most out of the population. Waterdeep is a port town, and without merchants it has no economy, so they need their taxes light enough that merchants still find it worth it to trade there, and laws lenient enough that merchants aren’t worried about being sentenced to a life in the salt mines if they stick a toe out of line in the city. Calimshan is a trade port, but most of its trade routes are so pirate-infested that somewhere between 20-30% of its cargo never arrives. Its gold mines, on the other hand, are very reliable, very profitable, and can be run on the labor of starving slaves with only a minor loss in efficiency. Any ruler of Calimshan who doesn’t run the gold mines brutally is spending money on the miners that a challenger could offer to spend on the keys to power instead. Even if the keys are all selfless, virtuous heroes, they have keys of their own one level down, and it won’t be long before you run out of heroes and the middle management agrees to open up the gates of the city for Szass Tam’s army to march in, enslave the poor, and cut the traitors in on the profits.
The second means to maximizing the amount of treasure for your keys is also the third rule of power. Minimize the number of keys that you’re splitting the treasure between (this conveniently also increases the size of your share of the treasure, whether you’re spending it benevolently or on hookers and blow) and maximize the number of people who can potentially become keys.
Anyone who isn’t necessary to the ongoing running of the nation is dead weight that a challenger can offer to get rid of in exchange for being brought to power by the actually necessary keys. The keys necessary to taking power are not the same as the keys necessary to keeping power. When you’re taking power, you need lots of soldiers with which to fight the soldiers of whoever already has power. When you already have power, the number of soldiers you need goes down by quite a bit, and the number of tax collectors and customs officers you need rises. Once you’ve taken power, it’s time to get rid of your least loyal generals. You can let them walk away alive, if you don’t mind having a general or champion you stabbed in the back plotting revenge. Bear in mind that in order to expand your sphere of influence you will need to take power multiple times, seizing control of one kingdom after another. If you let all of the unnecessary keys live, they will ultimately form quite a coalition should they ever find one another.
At the same time, you want your keys to be as expendable as possible. If you rule over Waterdeep, you need both a general and an admiral, and there’s no point in having more than one of each, however you want the number of potential generals and admirals to be very high. If the loyalty of your existing admiral wavers even slightly, you must be able to replace them as quickly as possible. The more easily replaced your keys to power are, the easier it is to keep them happy with a relatively small share of the nation’s treasure, leaving more for you and your pet projects whether base or noble. Your keys to power aren’t stupid, however, and may turn against you if they realize you’re expanding the pool of potential replacements. You can’t be much of an admiral if you’ve never been captain of a warship, and captains in the Waterdeep Navy are pulled exclusively from the Waterdhavian nobility. If you make a policy of promoting common sailors who show talent to captain rank, the nobles will take it as tantamount to a declaration of war and begin plotting against you. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, depending on how many other threats you’re facing at the time, just make sure before implementing such a policy that it’s a fight you’re able to win, and never forget: Keep your keys happy, but make them as replaceable as possible.
No ruler is absolute. Ignore these rules to keeping power and you will not keep power. You will carry your morals, uncompromised, to your grave, having helped no one at all.
Keeping track of it all
Running a campaign about Machiavellian global conquest one quest at a time sounds exciting and it is, but it can be a lot to handle if you’re not used to thinking in terms of politics, intrigue, and constant treachery. This section contains some advice for keeping track of it all.
Every region detailed, from Icewind Dale down to the Greenfields, is going to have a handful of keys to power necessary to hanging onto that location. A general needed to defend it, maybe the leader of a party of powerful adventurers who keep the local monster population in check, wealthy merchants, land owners, or noble families who represent a large chunk of the area’s wealth and manage the taxing of that wealth, and so on. In some cases, the keys will be obvious. Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate have internal factions which are thoroughly detailed, and while not all of these are going to be a part of the winning coalition players use to seize power, some of them will be. Baldur’s Gate, for example, has three important factions: The Flaming Fists, the patriar families, and the Guild. Only those first two are keys to power in Baldur’s Gate as it is, but the players might use the Guild to rise to power, and thus replace one or both of the existing keys to power with enforcers and assassins from the Guild instead. In other locations, details are sparse and you may have to do some minor extrapolation to invent characters to use as keys to power.
Whoever these characters are, keeping them happy is the secret to maintaining power. Keep a list of the keys to power, and compile them into a d20 table. Every time the players finish an adventure, or are dragging their feet on getting started with a new one, roll on the table. If it comes up a blank spot, nothing happens and the players can continue their plans unhindered. If you roll up a filled in slot on the table, however, the key to power who’s filled in that slot has some demand. They want more authority, they want some public service canceled to increase their share of the gold (players may not have bothered implementing specific public services, but you can make one up and say it was put in place by the previous government, or attribute it to one of the more benevolent paladin-type characters if that’s in-character for them), a spy has caught them speaking with the party’s rivals in Thay or Calimshan or whoever the villains of your story are. If the players don’t deal with the problem, it could spiral into an uprising.
Those in charge of collecting treasure might begin siphoning some off to rivals or their personal vaults, leading to a shortage of gold with which to keep paying for all the bribes and services that keep the players’ empire humming along, and now they need more gold in a hurry and they have to find out who exactly is responsible for the drain. Keys to power in charge of military affairs might stage a coup or, if they’re more champions than generals, attempt an assassination.
With three or four keys to power in each region and dozens of regions to be claimed, players are going to fill up this d20 chart in a hurry, and that’s intentional. Soon players will be constantly putting out fires as different underlings make demands, sometimes contradictory demands (for example, both of them want the same thing and only one of them can have it). This means it’s time for players to consolidate the number of keys. Instead of having a general in every region, unite the armies of several regions under the leadership of a single general. The generals who are being sacked might not appreciate this, and may express their dissatisfaction with pike formations, but once that problem is dealt with it won’t come back again, and that will give players some breathing room to start expanding again.