Thursday, 14 June 2018

Beta-Readers Needed!

Hey folks! I’m writing a book! In fact, I’ve been writing it for quite a long time now, and it’s finally reaching the stage where I can start thinking about eventual publication. But first, I need some beta-readers to provide me with some feedback to help make the book the best it can possibly be. I’m hoping that maybe a few of my readers on this blog might just be interested. If you are, I’ve set up a special page on this blog with complete details of what the beta-reading process entails and how you can get involved. Click here or on the link at the top of this page to get there.


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Savior's Champion

Reading has always been an important part of my life. I do a lot of reading, but recently, most of that has been either roleplaying books or non-fiction. Last month, I realised that it had been over a year since I’d read a novel. Clearly, that needed rectifying. But first, I needed to choose something to read. I own a huge pile of books that have been waiting to be read for years, but I decided to skip all those and go for something completely new. My attention turned almost immediately to The Savior’s Champion, mainly because I’ve watched a lot of author Jenna Moreci’s YouTube videos and I was aware of its recent release.

I’d read a number of reviews of the book, most of them gushing with praise, so I figured it was a safe bet. However, despite the positive reviews, I didn’t expect to love the book as much, just like it. Too often, I’ve encountered things that don’t turn out to be as good as the hype. Also, I can be very critical of my entertainment, even the things I love (just read my Doctor Who reviews for examples of that).

Well, I was wrong. I absolutely loved this book. It very quickly became one of those books that I just couldn’t put down (except I had to because I had to go to work or do other boring things like that). It may have been over a year since I last read a novel, but it has been even longer since one had me so enthralled beginning to end.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Doctor Who - Twice Upon a Time

I know that, over the entire history of Doctor Who, most actors playing the Doctor have done about three seasons before moving on. Nevertheless, whenever those three years are up, it always feels much shorter. It feels like barely more than yesterday that I was writing about the arrival of Peter Capaldi when, in actuality, it’s nearly six months after his final episode aired. The entire era of the twelfth Doctor has come and gone.

With Series 10, particularly its final two episodes “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls”, the twelfth Doctor’s era has very nearly gone out on a high. Indeed, as I state in my review, the only significant problem with “The Doctor Falls” is that it’s not the twelfth Doctor’s final episode. Instead, it drags the regeneration out to another episode. That episode, December 2017’s Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time”, is not a bad episode, but it also falls pretty short of being a great episode.

There are a lot of good elements to the episode, but it also feels very tagged on. It’s not the climax that Series 10 was leading to (that’s “The Doctor Falls”), but also doesn’t quite manage to be its own thing. It’s still reliant on the Doctor holding back his regeneration—on an emotional state set up in the previous episode but not successfully carried through into this one.


Monday, 11 June 2018

Absences, Apologies, and a Look to the Future

I’ll cut to the chase. 2017 was one of the worst years of my life. I’ve tended not to talk about my own personal mental health issues, but over the last few years, they keep interfering with my ability to put out creative content, and I feel it’s about time I offer an explanation.

I’ve long had issues with depression and especially anxiety, but I’ve also had a tendency to deny it to myself. This has not made for a good combination. Social stigma against mental illness is a real issue and, while I have been vocal against it and in defence of others with mental illness, I have applied that stigma to myself. I have felt ashamed of my anxiety and of myself. So while I would admit to a bit of anxiety, I would deny the extent of it, deny any depression entirely, and pretend everything was just fine. This has led to all kinds of obstacles in life, both professional and social. This most recent absence from this blog was not the first due to things like imposter syndrome getting the better of me.

The fact that my spouse had health issues (both physical and mental) made it easier to pretend my own didn’t exist. I could focus on providing support for her because I could consider her issues more important than my own, and thus mine didn’t need any attention. But through all that time, my issues were bubbling under the surface.

My spouse and I separated in December 2016 and we broke up completely the following April. I no longer had a shield against my own problems and I spiralled into the worst depression I have ever had. 2017 was hard, so very, very hard. It didn’t help either that my financial situation was in a critical state. More than a few times I feared losing everything I had.

But on the good side, it did make me realise that I needed help. I’ve been seeing a very good therapist since January 2017 and I’ve made a lot of progress. Things are still far from perfect, but I’m in a much better state than I was a year ago, and I think I might be ready to face the world again and, in some ways, face it for the first time ever. In particular, I’m hoping to be able to work past my imposter syndrome when it comes to my writing and get not just this blog back into shape, but also kick my hopes for a professional writing career into first gear. I don’t expect there to be no stumbling blocks along the way—there absolutely will be (just this past week, I’ve had another depressive bout brought on partly by a stressful trip to visit family)—but I hope I can work for real change in my life.

First, however, over the past couple years, I’ve let a number of people down. There are several things I promised to write for people that I never completed, from reviews of products that I received a complimentary copy for, to assorted general posts. To these people, I offer my sincerest apologies. I can’t really erase the past, but I can strive to do better in the future. I hope only that people will be understanding and offer me that chance.

So, what does all this entail for the future of Of Dice and Pen? Well, I’ve already posted my review of “The Doctor Falls”, the finale of Doctor Who Series 10. My review of December 2017’s Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time” should be up in the next few hours, or tomorrow at the latest.

I’ve got a ton of Pathfinder material to gradually get through and review, including finishing the Giantslayer Adventure Path, which I had begun reviewing before my most recent absence.

I also want to expand this blog beyond mostly Pathfinder and Doctor Who. I’ve always intended to include more diverse science fiction and fantasy topics, but rarely managed to get round to it. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be this time, but I have a fantasy novel review written (just needs an editing pass) that will be going up in the next day or two.

Most exciting for me is that I will soon be officially announcing a call for beta-readers of my own novel, The Child of the Volgs! I’ll have full details in a few days, but for now, this is just a little advance warning.

Of course, over the last year, I’ve missed a number of big announcements that I would normally want to comment on. In fact, I would still like to comment on many of them. I don’t know how quickly I’ll get to them (time constraints may mean I don’t get to them at all), so I thought I’d offer some quick comments on two of them.

Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor: Super excited! It’s overdue time we had a woman Doctor, and I think Whittaker is perfect casting. I’ve seen and loved a lot of her other work (Broadchurch probably being the most well known, but seriously, you should check out Adult Life Skills, which is a brilliant movie), and I can’t wait to see her take on the Doctor.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition: I’m not as excited about this. I’ve been paying attention to many of the previews, and I like some of what I see and dislike some other things. However, it also seems to be a much bigger change than I want at this time. I still have a ton of Pathfinder books that I’ve never had the opportunity to use (particularly Adventure Paths I want to run) and the amount of conversion effort it appears will be needed to change them to 2nd Edition is more than I care to give at this time. Still, I’m approaching it with an open mind, and could well change my opinion by the time it releases in August 2019.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thank you to all of you who read this blog and my writing. I appreciate you all. Have a happy Pride Month!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Doctor Who - The Doctor Falls

It’s been almost a year since my review of “World Enough and Time”, but I am at last back with the follow-up episode, “The Doctor Falls”. It was never my intent to vanish for so long, but life threw some curve-balls (an upcoming post will discuss my absence).

It’s interesting going back to review an episode so long after it airs, particularly one I enjoy as much as this one. The gap away does, of course, affect my responses. I did make an outline for a review a year ago, and looking back at it now after having just rewatched the episode, there are one or two things on there that I wonder why I bothered including and other things that aren’t there that I question why I didn’t include. In many ways, I’m glad that there has only been one more episode since this one (“Twice Upon a Time”, the most recent Christmas special), as that means there hasn’t been a whole lot of additional show history that might affect the way I see or review “The Doctor Falls”. As much as I am itching for more Doctor Who, it means that I can still treat this one as relatively new.

Before rewatching the episode for this review, I knew I liked “The Doctor Falls” immensely, but I had forgotten just how much. Paired with “World Enough and Time”, it makes what is definitely the best series finale of the Steven Moffat era. Of course, I’ve been frequently critical of Moffat’s finales, so this might not sound like a big deal, but in this case, it really is. It’s exciting and emotional. It is, in fact, one of very few (possibly the first) Moffat-written episode to make me cry. I find that Moffat frequently tries to go emotional but generally fails to build that emotion in a natural way. It’s too often forced. Yet in “The Doctor Falls”, everything comes together almost flawlessly. For once, there are characters that I actually care enough about to be affected by their fates.

The Doctor Falls” is also the perfect final episode for Peter Capaldi, bringing his Doctor’s character arc to a full and satisfying conclusion. It’s a bit unfortunate that it’s not his final episode, and his actual final episode is not as good.

This is what I mean about later episodes affecting opinions of earlier ones. I don’t dislike “Twice Upon a Time” (and I will have a review of it in the next couple of days), but when I originally watched “The Doctor Falls”, I was left excited to see what happened next. Rewatching it now, I’m left thinking how much better it would have been if the regeneration had happened at the end of this episode instead of being held off for later.

I’m treading into spoiler material here. Of course, after a year, spoiler warnings are possibly not as necessary, but I’ll put them up anyway.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Doctor Who - World Enough and Time

Doctor Who finales (since 2005 at any rate) tend to be large and epic, often with the fate of the universe at stake. Series 9’s finale took the Doctor and Clara to Gallifrey and to the end of the universe itself. Way back in Series 5, the entire universe had to be rebooted to save it. Series 10 looks set to end quite epically, though perhaps at not quite so large a scale. So far, it is more in the style of the Series 1 finale, which only involved the fate of one solar system rather than the entire universe.

But the entire universe doesn’t need to be under threat for the stakes to be high, and the stakes are certainly high in “World Enough and Time”, the first part of the two-part Series 10 finale by Steven Moffat. While “World Enough and Time” certainly bears many similarities to first parts of previous finales, it also stands apart. It is certainly one of the darkest Doctor Who stories (not just finales), filled with an unrelenting sense of impending doom. Clocks are seen ticking forwards in this episode, yet the feel nevertheless is one of a countdown—a countdown to a terrible catastrophe. Catastrophe is certainly a hallmark of many Doctor Who stories, but rarely does it feel so tangible and so close—not just close to the characters, but to the viewers as well.

There’s a lot to unpack in “World Enough and Time”. It’s a dense script based around some complex scientific topics (and in typical science fiction fashion, not entirely accurately portrayed) and also has a heavy reliance on the show’s past (which is not always to its benefit). Of course, the next episode (the actual Series 10 finale episode) will likely have an effect (either good, bad, or both) on how many of the elements of “World Enough and Time” ultimately work, but looked at on its own, without knowledge of what is to come next (beyond the “Next Time” trailer), it is a hugely enjoyable—if highly morbid—episode that keeps me captivated until the end and has left me eager for the next. Yet it is also a highly problematic episode that also gets a little too caught up in its own self-references.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Doctor Who - The Eaters of Light

Many people have written for Doctor Who over the years. Some have penned only a single script and, for various and sundry reasons, have never written another. Some have written two or three, and still others have written many. Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks were among the most prolific writers of the classic Doctor Who series. Since the show’s return in 2005, there have also been several writers to write many episodes, including Mark Gatiss, who wrote this year’s “Empress of Mars”. Russell T Davies wrote many episodes during his time as showrunner, and Steven Moffat wrote several episodes during Davies’s time and has written numerous since taking over as showrunner.

However, until now, there has been no writer to have written for both the original and revived series. Rona Munro is the first to fill this role. Munro wrote the final story of the original series’ run, 1989’s “Survival”. This year, she has returned to Doctor Who with the delightful episode, “The Eaters of Light”.

In several of my reviews for this year’s episodes, I have commented on Series 10 being the most consistently good series in some time. To be honest, over the previous two episodes, I was beginning to waver on that opinion. “The Lie of the Land” was frustrating, and “Empress of Mars”, while a decent episode, was not all that great either. “The Eaters of Light”, however, has restored my faith in the series. It returns to delivering what the early episodes of this series delivered: excitement, humour, great characters, an engaging plot, and everything needed for a great Doctor Who episode.


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Inner Sea Races

The Pathfinder Campaign Setting world of Golarion is a diverse world, full of numerous different races, cultures, and ethnicities. This goes beyond just the core races of humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, and halflings. There are tieflings, aasimars, goblins, ratfolk, and more. There are even androids and aliens from other worlds. As the setting has expanded over various books, more and more of these races have received expanded detail, from cultural information to options to play them as player characters. But much of that information is scattered across numerous different books, making it sometimes hard to keep track of it all.

Inner Sea Races brings much of this information into one spot. In doing so, it takes the opportunity to revise and expand on that information, becoming the definitive book on the varied peoples of the Inner Sea region of Golarion. And it’s chock full of tons of useful information that will help bring both PCs and NPCs alike to life.

Inner Sea Races is a 256-page hardcover book. In layout, it’s arranged similarly to the Advanced Race Guide, in that the chapters are broken down based on how common the races are. However, the similarities mostly end there. Whereas Advanced Race Guide is a book of primarily game mechanics options with a bit of generic flavour text for the races it covers, Inner Sea Races focuses almost entirely on flavour text, covering such things as history, society, faith, and relations between races. In fact, there is no mechanical information at all in the first three chapters. The fourth chapter does introduce some new mechanical options, but this is a relatively small portion of the book. People looking for a vast array of new character abilities may well be disappointed with Inner Sea Races, but people, like myself, looking for more flavour text will likely be happier.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Doctor Who - Empress of Mars

The Ice Warriors have an unusual position on Doctor Who. Pretty much any list of iconic Doctor Who monsters will include the Ice Warriors on it, generally around position four (after the Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans), yet the Ice Warriors haven’t actually appeared in all that many stories—only four in the original series (the last of which was “The Monster of Peladon” in 1974) and one in the new series (“Cold War” in Series 7). It’s pretty telling that a group that has had so few appearances has made such an impact. And I think it’s with good reason. In my review of “Cold War” a few years ago, I briefly explained why they are one of my favourite Doctor Who monsters, the primary reason being that they have more depth than most of the show’s aliens.

It was pretty much inevitable that the Ice Warriors would eventually return to Doctor Who again, especially since they are also one of the favourite monsters of Mark Gatiss, who has written and continues to write many Doctor Who stories, including “Cold War”. In “Empress of Mars” (again by Gatiss), the Ice Warriors are encountered on their home planet of Mars for the first time (all previous Ice Warrior stories have been on Earth or Peladon), and this time, the humans are the invaders.

Truth be told, “Empress of Mars” is not an incredible episode, but it is a decent one. It has all the elements that go into making a good Doctor Who story, but doesn’t really take any risks that might elevate it to the level of a great Doctor Who story. Nevertheless, it’s fun, entertaining, and an enjoyable way to spend 45 minutes.


Doctor Who - The Lie of the Land

There are good Doctor Who episodes and bad ones, great ones and terrible ones. Most are a mixture of these qualities, with the good generally outweighing the bad, but with a few the other way round. Every once in a while, though, an episode comes along with a frustrating mixture of good and bad and everything in between, making it extremely difficult to provide an overall opinion of the episode. Even averaging it all out to “mediocre” doesn’t truly convey the experience of watching the episode.

The Lie of the Land” by Toby Whithouse is one such episode. There is much about the episode that is really good—individual moments that thrill and entertain, a compelling concept and setting, some great performances, and more. Yet there is also so much that just doesn’t hold together—scenes that don’t add much to the overall story, a compelling setting that’s never really explored, and more. As the conclusion of a three-part epic, the episode falls completely flat. The story begun and developed in “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World” suddenly seems superfluous and those two episodes kind of pointless, as “The Lie of the Land” doesn’t really do anything to build on them, particularly in developing the Monks, who in this episode become relatively generic villains and lose all that made them work so well in the previous two.