Wednesday 26 October 2011

All Hallow's Read

This is just a short post to provide a link to All Hallow's Read. I think this is a great idea (Neil Gaiman's introductory video is awesome), and I encourage people to spread the word and get involved!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Aliens and Creatures

Aliens and Creatures is a supplement for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It provides games statistics for a plethora of monsters and alien beings from the television show as well as an overview on how to create your own alien characters. In addition, there are a few short adventures, more story point tokens, and best of all, detailed creature cards for easy reference. It is invaluable to any Gamemaster running a game in the Doctor Who universe. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, so you should grab one while you can since there are apparently no plans to reprint it at this time.

The main portion of the boxed set is a 134-page rulebook. This book contains extensive game statistics and descriptions of just about every alien creature to have appeared during the time of the ninth and tenth Doctors. While some of these creatures appeared in the core rules set, their descriptions here are fleshed out to include various different kinds. For example, in addition to statistics for the generic Dalek, this book also contains statistics for the Emperor Dalek, Supreme Daleks, the Cult of Skaro, Dalek mutants (the true Daleks inside their casings), Davros, and even statistics for the pig slaves and Dalek/human hybrid seen in the story “Daleks in Manhattan”. There are statistics for both evil and good aliens alike, from the adipose and carrionites to the catkind and Ood. Even some of the more obscure creatures to have shown up (such as the Hoix from “Love and Monsters” and the Isolus from “Fear Her”) are included. There are even statistics for specific individual characters, such as Cassandra, the Face of Boe, and Professor Lazarus.

Monday 24 October 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures - The Man Who Never Was

And so the end has come. With the transmission of parts one and two of “The Man Who Never Was”, The Sarah Jane Adventures has come to a premature finish. Many people, myself included, erroneously believed that this story had always been intended to end the season, so even though it wouldn’t be wrapping up the whole show, it would at least wrap up the season. It’s perfectly normal for television episodes to be filmed out of order, so there was nothing unbelievable about this idea and the rumour spread far and wide. (I could have sworn I first read it on the Doctor Who News Page, which is generally a very reliable source of information, so I believed it; however, having just done a search for it, I can’t find any mention in any post on the Doctor Who News Page, so I must have seen it somewhere else.) As it happens, the truth of the matter is, “The Man Who Never Was” was always intended as the third story of the season, and so does not provide the sense of closure that many people no doubt hoped for. However, it does have a certain sense of closure to it, particularly through the meeting of Luke and Sky, and it doesn’t leave the audience consciously thinking about any of the show’s loose plot threads.

Written by Gareth Roberts, “The Man Who Never Was” is a fun story that combines together the meeting of Luke and Sky with a tale about a sinister new computer (the “Serf Board”), an evil corporate villain, and some deft social commentary on human trafficking. It’s not the greatest Sarah Jane Adventures story ever (that title probably goes to last week’s “The Curse of Clyde Langer” or perhaps “Death of the Doctor”), nor is it particularly epic in style, but it is an entertaining romp which perfectly encapsulates the true heart of the series. If any random story had to be selected as the finale of the series, this one works better than pretty much any other. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Friday 21 October 2011

Feast of Ravenmoor

Feast of Ravenmoor, by Brandon Hodge, is an adventure for 3rd-level Pathfinder characters. In it, the PCs are sent to the remote village of Ravenmoor to search for a missing tax collector. Once there, they get to attend the village’s monthly festival and experience the very strange customs of the locals. The adventure is rife with lots of role-playing opportunities. Indeed, depending how the PCs approach their mission, it’s possible to get through this adventure with very little combat at all. Although the story is set in Varisia, Ravenmoor’s remoteness and non-Varisian-like customs make it easy to transplant the adventure to other areas of Golarion or even to other campaign worlds if Game Masters desire. Overall, Feast of Ravenmoor is a straight-forward mystery adventure that should keep players entertained for several sessions. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Monday 17 October 2011

Jade Regent - Night of Frozen Shadows

Pathfinder Adventure Path #50: Night of Frozen Shadows by Greg A. Vaughan continues the Jade Regent adventure path, begun in The Brinewall Legacy. In it, the PCs travel to the city of Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings to find the legendary sword, Suishen, and then to find a guide across the Crown of the World to the far-off land of Minkai. The adventure is mostly event-based with a lot of role-playing opportunities, and ends with a dungeon crawl. It contains an interesting system for tracking the PCs’ “notoriety”, and from that, determining how and when their opponents react. It makes an excellent continuation of the adventure path, and only really suffers from having no explanation for the inaction of the party’s NPC allies. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Friday 14 October 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures - The Curse of Clyde Langer

In short, utterly brilliant.

At some point or other, pretty much every science fiction programme out there does an episode in which one or more characters find themselves alienated from the other characters. Sometimes, everyone else forgets they exist. On other occasions, they become invisible and no one else realizes they’re there. However, while the reason for it might vary, the effect is generally the same: the characters are forced to deal with isolation and loneliness, and through it, learn some lesson about themselves that makes them better people. It’s happened enough times on various science fiction shows that it’s become something of a tired trope. This isn’t even the first time The Sarah Jane Adventures has employed it. However, “The Curse of Clyde Langer” by Phil Ford is quite possibly the best take on it I’ve ever seen. There is real emotion here, with some stunning performances and even a bit of social commentary about homelessness to go along with it. It is definitely one of the best pair of episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures and even one of the best Doctor Who of any kind. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Friday 7 October 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures - Sky

My earliest memory of Doctor Who is seeing an episode with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) up against the Daleks. This was several years before I became hooked on the show and began watching it religiously. It was at a time when Doctor Who terrified me and gave me nightmares. I remember seeing the Doctor tied up on a table being interrogated by the Daleks. I remember seeing the Daleks exterminate a man who had betrayed them, and most terrifying of all, I remember an army of Daleks coming out from under a bridge to exterminate everyone.

I often saw snippets of episodes, as my mom watched the show every week. They always scared me, so I never really sat down to watch whole episodes. Nevertheless, there was always something about the show that intrigued me, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith became prominent figures in my mind. Eventually, I saw episode 2 of “Full Circle” and I was hooked for life. Of course, by that time, the companion was the second Romana, and Sarah Jane Smith was long gone. Still, Sarah Jane had formed a huge impression on me over the years. To me, she was part of what made the show Doctor Who.

Now that I was hooked, I simply had to find out more about the programme I had been missing all those years. I began voraciously reading the novelizations of the episodes, and would frequently discover moments I remembered seeing on television. Naturally, I was curious about my earliest memory. I quickly discovered that there was only one Dalek story with the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane: “Genesis of the Daleks”. I found a copy of the novelization in the library, read it, and was surprised to find that it didn’t really fit my memory. Now, the old Target novelizations sometimes deviated a bit from the TV episodes. They were often condensed considerably, so I thought that maybe the book had just handled the scenes from my memory differently than the episode had. I wasn’t fully convinced of that, though, so I tried double-checking that there wasn’t another Dalek story that could fit my memories. Sarah Jane had been in the Third Doctor story, “Death to the Daleks”, so I considered the possibility that that was the one I remembered. I really didn’t think it likely because Tom Baker was so clearly in my memories of the story in question. Nonetheless, I read the novelization of “Death to the Daleks”. It didn’t fit.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Doctor Who - The Wedding of River Song

And so we come to the end of series 6/season 32 of Doctor Who with “The Wedding of River Song” written by showrunner Steven Moffat. The Doctor’s fated death has come and gone, and all has been resolved—well, not really. I initially found it difficult to form a straight opinion on this one. After my initial viewing, I felt rather nonplussed. I definitely enjoyed it, but much like “Let’s Kill Hitler”, I enjoyed the individual moments, but felt disappointed with the total product. I was hoping for a resolution to the ongoing arc storyline, but this episode provides very little actual resolution. The Doctor’s death is resolved, but none of of the other outstanding questions are answered. Indeed, most of them aren’t even referenced. Instead, the episode introduces a couple new questions. From a series finale, I was hoping for something a little more final. However, I’ve watched it a total of three times now, and with each viewing, I’ve grown to appreciate and like it a lot more. I think being aware that the questions I have would not be answered has allowed me, on each subsequent viewing, to view the episode on its own merits, to enjoy it for what it is, instead of disliking it for what it isn’t.

The Wedding of River Song” really is a rather clever episode, set mostly in an alternate reality where time has gone wrong and is disintegrating. It has a lot of similarities to last year’s finale, “The Big Bang”—in some ways, it’s a little too similar, giving a slight feeling of having done all this before. However, it does it quite a bit better than “The Big Bang”, and the resolution (to this story, not the arc) is far preferable to Amelia Pond wishing the Doctor back into existence. The storytelling is tight and engaging, with good doses of both humour and action while still maintaining a strong dramatic and emotional presence. The plot does involve lots of the complex “timey wimey” material that Moffat is so fond of, but nonetheless remains straight-forward and easy to follow. There are no real surprises in the episode, but that’s okay as the episode aims to bring everything that has been foreshadowed to a conclusion (whilst foreshadowing yet more). SPOILERS FOLLOW

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Winter Witch

It’s been quite awhile since I last read a novel based on a game world. Years ago, I voraciously read through the Dragonlance Chronicles when that trilogy was first published. I remember enjoying the books at the time, but when I reread them a few years later, my opinion of them diminished considerably. I went on to read numerous other Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books and a few books based on other game worlds as well. While I found the odd one to be enjoyable (I remember finding The Black Vessel, a book set in the Mystara setting, to be particularly fun to read), I became increasingly disappointed with them the more I read. I found them poorly written, with cardboard characters and plots that were unoriginal, predictable, and dull. Worst of all, they rarely seemed to have much setting flavour, seeming more like generic Tolkienesque fantasy novels that were simply shoehorned into the given setting. Eventually, a little over ten years or so ago, I gave up reading them altogether.

Fast forward a decade. It occurred to me that, while I continued to be quite critical of game novels, not having read any for so long meant that I had no way of knowing whether they were still as bad as they once were, or if the quality had increased. Perhaps they had never been as poor as I remembered, as no doubt my tastes had changed a bit in the passing decade, or maybe I had just poorly chosen the novels I did read (as I certainly didn’t read every novel available back then, only a small sample really). So when Paizo started releasing their Pathfinder Tales series of novels based on the Golarion setting, I began to ponder whether I should pick one up and read it. Recently, I decided to do just that and bought myself a copy of Winter Witch by Elaine Cunningham*. I had read a short story or two by Cunningham and was impressed by them, so I figured her novel would be a good choice to start with.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Doctor Who - Closing Time

The last few episodes of Doctor Who have shown a significant improvement over the earlier episodes of this year. The arc plot has taken a back seat, and while that does create the question of why the characters are ignoring it (particularly Amy and Rory and their forgotten parenthood), it has allowed the episodes to shine on their own merits. “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex” were both substantially better than anything this season apart from “The Doctor’s Wife”, and now “Closing Time” also ranks with those lofty three. It shows a much older Doctor (possibly as much as 200 years have passed since “The God Complex” if the ages given in “The Impossible Astronaut” can be trusted—of course, it’s hard to trust the Doctor when he gives his age) on his way to his death. On one of his last stops on his “farewell tour”, one day before his fated death, he stops in to see his old friend Craig, first seen in “The Lodger”, one of last year’s best episodes. “Closing Time” is written by Gareth Roberts, who also wrote “The Lodger” last year as well as previous stories, “The Shakespeare Code”, “The Unicorn and the Wasp”, and “Planet of the Dead” (the last he co-wrote with Russell T. Davies). He has also written numerous episodes of the Sarah Jane Adventures and many Doctor Who novels. As such, he has a lot of experience writing for Doctor Who and it shows. In particular, he is expert at blending humour with horror, a key aspect of Doctor Who and something that “Closing Time” has in abundance.

Closing Time” guest stars James Corden, reprising his role as Craig Owens from “The Lodger”. Although he is best known for comedy, Corden slides into a dramatic role with ease, lending his comedic talents when necessary, but never taking them over the top. His on-screen chemistry with Matt Smith is wonderful. The two of them work off one another with astounding ease and look perfectly natural together. Craig is one of the most believable and sympathetic characters to appear on the show in quite some time. He is instantly likeable and it is very easy to understand both his frustration with, and trust in, the Doctor. As in “The Lodger”, Craig essentially has the role of surrogate companion in this story, and one of the purposes of the companion has always been to provide a link to the real world for the viewer, to provide a character that the viewer can easily relate to. Even though Craig’s role is often comical, he succeeds in this purpose better than many of the Doctor’s actual companions. SPOILERS FOLLOW