Wednesday 31 October 2012

Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition Player's Guide

With the release of the first instalment of each adventure path, Paizo has also released a short player’s guide. These guides provide players with some initial background, selections of campaign traits, and a variety of other things appropriate to the particular adventure path. The idea is to help players design characters that are suited to the adventure to come. With the early adventure paths, including Rise of the Runelords, the guides were printed books. Starting with Council of Thieves, the guides became pdf-only releases. The attractive part, however, was that they were free downloads. The new Rise of theRunelords Anniversary Edition Player’s Guide is in the style of these later guides, a free pdf download.

The original guide for Rise of the Runelords was somewhat different than all the guides that followed it. It was less a guide to Rise of the Runelords (indeed, it was called simply Pathfinder Player’s Guide on the cover, only mentioning Rise of the Runelords on the inside title page) than it was an introduction to Varisia and Golarion. Golarion was a brand new campaign setting at the time, and so this book needed to cover things like the gods and the domains offered, and race and class information. Obviously for the new Player’s Guide, details such as these are no longer necessary, so the book is free to deal a little more with the campaign itself. It includes long-sought-after campaign traits (traits had not yet been created when Rise of the Runelords first came out) and tips on the most useful skills to select. These are followed by a more extensive gazetteer of Varisia than the original Player’s Guide had.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Red Dwarf X - Entangled

With the latest episode, Red Dwarf X is now two-thirds over, and it continues along quite strongly. “Entangled” is an episode that focuses quite squarely on the crew, particularly on the relationship between Lister and Rimmer, but it’s really Kryten and, especially, Cat who steal the show. While some jokes are little too drawn out (particularly Rimmer ones), it’s a very funny episode with some absolutely hilarious moments involving Cat and Kryten being “quantum entangled”.


Disney buys out Lucasfilm

This is news that is probably spreading like wildfire across the net. Disney is buying out Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion (USD). A full press release can be found here. Star Wars: Episode VII is already being planned for 2015. According to IO9, Disney plans to make a new Star Wars film every two to three years.

I'm not really sure what to think of this. On the one hand, I think it's good that George Lucas is willing to pass on the baton. But of all the places to pass it to, Disney would not have been my first choice. Nor my second. Or third. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Monday 29 October 2012

Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition

This year is the tenth anniversary of Paizo Publishing and the fifth anniversary of the Pathfinder Adventure Path. A lot has happened in both those time periods. Paizo began by taking over the publishing of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and at the time, many people mistakenly believed they were just another part of Wizards of the Coast (WotC). It was during their time publishing Dungeon that they began developing the concept of the “Adventure Path”, a series of linked adventures that spanned an entire campaign. Three full adventure paths were published in Dungeon before WotC decided not to renew Paizo’s license (later learned to be in preparation for the then forthcoming 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons): Shackled City, Age of Worms, and Savage Tide. The adventure paths were successful enough that, when it came time for Paizo to decide what it was going to do when it could no longer publish Dragon and Dungeon, they decided to take the adventure path concept and expand it into its own full publication. And thus the Pathfinder Adventure Path was born.

Although still a periodical, Paizo abandoned the magazine format and published the Pathfinder Adventure Path under the Open Gaming License (OGL) as a full book in its own right. Each instalment was bigger and more detailed than the individual instalments in the Dungeon adventure paths. However, instead of spreading out each adventure path over twelve instalments like in Dungeon, they decreased the count to six instalments, allowing them to publish two full adventure paths per year. The first of these was Rise of the Runelords, and its first instalment was Burnt Offerings.

It was an interesting time for people like me. I had been a long-time buyer of Dragon (since the late 80’s/early 90’s) and in the last couple of years (since Paizo had taken over) had started buying Dungeon as well. However, for most of those years, I had never actually subscribed. While I bought the majority of issues off the shelf, I had always wanted the option to skip an issue if it didn’t appeal to me (that and producing the funds, even with the subscription discount, for a full year or more of issues all at once was an intimidating task at the time). But when Dragon came under Paizo’s control, I started to notice that I was buying every issue, not just most issues, and I had even started buying Dungeon, which had never impressed me before then, but I now considered better than Dragon. So I finally decided to subscribe. Then, only a few months later, Paizo announced that their licence had not been renewed and that the magazines would be ending—well before my subscriptions ran out.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Give a Scary Book for Hallowe'en!

I commented briefly on this great Hallowe’en tradition last year (okay, so it’s only been around for a couple of years and is mostly unknown, so it doesn’t really count as a tradition—yet), but thought I should draw attention to it again, as Hallowe’en is approaching once more. All Hallow’s Read is basically about giving someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. As Neil Gaiman explains in the introductory video, this isn’t meant to replace candy. It’s simply giving somebody you know (or don’t know) a scary book, any scary book (although it’s best to choose a book appropriate for the person you’re giving it to). It’s just a little way to help circulate more books in a day and age when the internet dominates our entertainment.

Learn more at the All Hallow’s Read website and help spread the word!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Red Dwarf X - Lemons

While the previous two Red Dwarf X episodes each focused primarily on one of the crew (“Trojan” on Rimmer and “Fathers and Suns” on Lister), this week’s episode, “Lemons” is more of an ensemble piece, with each of the main cast getting more-or-less equal screen time (although Cat probably gets the least). The character focus of this story is instead on the episode’s guest star, making for a bit of a change of pace from the previous two stories, made especially so by the fact that this is the first episode of Series X to have some fairly serious social commentary going on in it as well. The episode is a bit slow to start, with a few forced jokes, but once it gets into full swing, it’s very entertaining and quite funny—not as fall-out-of-your-chair funny as I found “Trojan”, but still funny enough to leave me quite pleased by the episode as a whole.


Friday 19 October 2012

Jade Regent - The Empty Throne

In Jade Regent, the PCs have set out from their home in Sandpoint, a small town in southern Varisia, trekked north with their caravan to Kalsgard in the Linnorm Kingdoms, then ventured across the frozen Crown of the World to the continent of Tian Xia, crossed through the Forest of Spirits, and arrived in Minkai, the homeland of Ameiko Kaijitsu’s family. Now, having gathered allies, they must set out for the capital city, Kasai, to overthrow the Jade Regent and place Ameiko, the rightful heir, on the throne, in The Empty Throne, the sixth and final instalment of the Jade Regent Adventure Path. Written by Neil Spicer, the adventure has the unenviable task of wrapping up an entire campaign with a suitably epic conclusion, whilst simultaneously allowing for the possibility of more should individual gaming groups wish to continue with their characters. Overall, it manages this pretty well, especially given the difficulties high-level adventures can present to designers. Gaming groups who have played through the entire adventure path will likely find this conclusion exciting, thrilling, and most importantly, satisfying. While the adventure isn’t perfect, few things are, and players aren’t likely to notice its imperfections, especially in the hands of a skilled GM.


Monday 15 October 2012

Red Dwarf X - Fathers and Suns

The tenth series of Red Dwarf got off to a great start with “Trojan”, heralding a triumphant return of the show. Unfortunately, the second episode, “Fathers and Suns”, does not live up to the heights of the first. That’s not to say it’s a bad episode. It deals with some clever and funny concepts, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. However, while I laughed, it didn’t have me in stitches the way “Trojan” did. Nonetheless, I still think Red Dwarf X is off to a very good start indeed, and I remain eager to see the remaining episodes.


Friday 12 October 2012

Doctor Who - P.S.

People who have been following my Doctor Who reviews will know that my favourite new addition this year is the character of Brian Williams, Rory’s father. Although he was only in two episodes, he added an immense amount of humanity to the story of Amy and Rory, a story I’ve been very critical of. I still feel strongly that he is a character who should have been included in the show ages ago, but at least we got him towards the end of Amy and Rory’s time. After Amy and Rory’s departure in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, I was left somewhat disappointed that Brian had received no closure and isn’t even mentioned in the episode. However, the BBC have now released a short unfilmed scene titled simply “P.S.” It is a collection of story boards with some written narration and a voice-over by Arthur Darvill, who plays Rory. Written by Chris Chibnall, who wrote the two stories in which Brian appears, the scene provides that needed sense of closure for the character. For people who haven’t seen it, I’ve included the scene here so you can watch it before reading the rest of my response (although there’s not really much in the way of spoilers anyway).

Simply put, this would have been a beautiful scene, and I really wish it had been filmed. After “The Angels Take Manhattan”, I didn’t really expect to see any follow-up on Brian in the show. Although I really hoped that maybe some future episode would look in on him, it’s just not in the style of the series at the moment to follow up on secondary characters like this. The release of this scene in this format pretty much cements that Brian will never appear on the show again, but at least he has some closure now.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Red Dwarf X - Trojan

I’ve been a fan of Red Dwarf ever since I first discovered it playing on YTV in the early 90’s here in Canada. It was a brilliant mix of science fiction, great characters, and absolutely hilarious comedy. The fact that it was a science fiction comedy series when science fiction comedies were extremely rare (they still are) certainly helped make it stand out, but it had much more going for it that made it unique: the last human alive, travelling with a very small band of misfits, three million years away from Earth. I was hooked right away.

The series went through a number of changes through its original eight years. Series I and II had the feel of a standard sitcom that just happened to take place on a spaceship in deep space. While there were many science fiction elements, the focus was very squarely on the relationships between the characters of Lister, Rimmer, and Cat. Series III began making the science fiction elements more overt and upped the slapstick and silliness factors considerably. It also added the android Kryten to the main cast. The next few years kept to much the same pattern, although even so, there were changes, such as the gradual fading out of the computer, Holly, and the complete loss of Red Dwarf itself in Series VI. In general, Series III through VI are the most highly regarded by fans (although I and II certainly have their defenders, too). It is certainly true that some of the best and funniest episodes (like “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”) come from that period, although the same could be said of some of the worst (“Meltdown” comes to mind).

Sunday 7 October 2012

Dragon Empires Primer and Dragon Empires Gazetteer

Since the earliest days of roleplaying games, gamers have been fascinated by Asian settings, particularly Japanese settings with ninja and samurai. Even though its default setting was based on mediaeval Europe, that didn’t stop first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons from including monks as one of the classes—not European-style cloistered monks, but rather “kung fu monks”, capable of amazing feats of martial arts. It wasn’t long before the publication of Oriental Adventures, a sourcebook which introduced samurai, ninja, and several other Asian-inspired classes to the game, along with the setting of Kara Tur (later added to the Forgotten Realms setting). Since then, Asian settings have continued to be popular and debates have raged about whether the samurai should have its own class or if it’s just another form of fighter. Numerous games and settings from various companies have appeared (and disappeared) in the market. Even the original Oriental Adventures eventually reappeared, revised and updated to 3rd edition D&D.

When Paizo released the first Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes,they began developing their new campaign setting, the world of Golarion. Even though those earliest volumes were set in Varisia, they already contained hints of a far-off land called Tian-Xia. One of the major NPCs in Sandpoint, the home town of the very first volume, was Ameiko Kaijitsu, whose family originated in that distant land. As the campaign setting developed, Tian-Xia received occasional brief mentions, including a brief description in Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting (and its later revision as the Inner Sea World Guide). Last year, however, Paizo returned to the seeds planted in the earliest Adventure Path volumes with the release of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, which took PCs across the Crown of the World to Tian-Xia and Ameiko’s homeland of Minkai. Shortly after, they also released Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Dragon Empires Gazetteer, and then Pathfinder Player Companion: Dragon Empires Primer, both books providing the first extensive detail on Tian-Xia.

Friday 5 October 2012

Jade Regent - Tide of Honor

In Tide of Honor by Tito Leati, the fifth instalment of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, the PCs finally arrive in Minkai, the country of their destination. There they need to begin gathering allies to help them overthrow the Jade Regent and place the rightful heir, Ameiko, on the Jade Throne. Tide of Honor is something of a change in style for the adventure path. What has been primarily a journey from one point to another now starts to set up a home base. Instead of fighting clearly defined enemies blocking their way, the PCs must now engage in a significant amount of diplomacy to win the trust and assistance of people who might be willing to help them, or might not. There are still obvious enemies to fight, but there are also a number of people who could go either way or just remain neutral. There’s a great deal of roleplaying potential in the adventure, more so than any of the previous instalments (with the possible exception of Night of Frozen Shadows), and for groups who prefer that sort of thing, I think this adventure has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable of the entire adventure path. However, for groups who prefer a more combat-oriented approach, there’s still lots to keep them happy, and GMs can easily gloss over the diplomacy stuff in such cases.

For the first time in Jade Regent, PCs are able to start taking real control of their destinies. Up until now, they’ve been following a trail laid out for them, defeating enemies sent to stop them, and making the occasional blow against the main enemy, but for the most part, they haven’t had a lot of say in what they needed to do. They had missions to complete and a destination to reach, and that was it. There have been rewards along the way, but by the end of the fourth adventure, some groups might be starting to feel a little railroaded. This adventure is sure to change that as the ball starts to move very firmly into the PCs’ court. Naturally, there are still missions to complete and enemies to defeat, but this time, the PCs have a lot more choice in how they approach the missions and what order they complete them in.


Thursday 4 October 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan

When the weeping angels first appeared in Doctor Who in “Blink”, they were an instant hit. And not surprisingly. They were one of the most inventive and original new alien races to appear on the programme. While never speaking a word or making any sound at all and while literally just standing there, they left viewers with an incredible sense of dread. The idea of things that only move when you’re not looking was downright terrifying. The simple phrase, “Don’t blink,” suddenly took on a terribly ominous quality. For very good reason, “Blink” was widely regarded as a masterpiece, and many fans still consider it one of the best (if not the best) Doctor Who episodes ever.

It was inevitable that they would return. And return they did two years later in the two-part story, “Time of the Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”. It was also inevitable that any such return would eventually weaken the concept, and that happened perhaps faster than might have been expected. “Time of the Angels” did well building on the mythology while not contradicting it, but in “Flesh and Stone”, the rules started changing. Suddenly, the fact that the angels freeze when observed (described in “Time of the Angels” as an involuntary quantum lock, something part of the very nature of the angels) became something that could be “fooled”. As long as you could convince the angels you could see them, even if you couldn’t, they would freeze. And so we got blind Amy walking amongst dozens of angels trying to convincingly look as if she could see them. She was not in the least convincing, and yet the angels remained frozen until she tripped. On top of that, suddenly the angels could see each other without freezing. The entire resolution of “Blink” centred around the fact that the angels couldn’t even look at each other, thus why they spend most of their time with their hands over their eyes, yet in “Flesh and Stone”, there are entire swarms of them moving in sight of one another, yet not freezing. (I’ll ignore for the moment the directorial decision to show them moving to the viewers. “Blink” was much more effective for not doing that, but this is something that doesn’t really affect them “in-world”.)

Now, the weeping angels have returned for Amy and Rory’s swansong in “The Angels Take Manhattan”. The episode manages to regain the oppressive and ominous atmosphere of “Blink” (a very good thing) while maintaining the plotholes of “Flesh and Stone” (a not-so-good thing). It has some very effective sequences and some genuinely chilling moments, along with good performances and some genuine emotion, but in the end gets bogged down by its plot gimmick, that of the overused sci-fi cliché of the time loop and the predestined future, resulting in a story where characters do things for no real reason other than “they’re supposed to”. What could have been a very powerful episode ends up something of a let-down in the end.


Is Doctor Who a Religion?

While I don't think I would ever describe it as a religion myself, this is a great video, and I felt it important to pass it along.

Monday 1 October 2012

Artifacts & Legends

Since the earliest days of Dungeons and Dragons, there have been magic items with powers well beyond what most magic items have. Known as artifacts, these items have often become focal points of entire campaigns. Player characters have taken on grand quests to acquire or destroy one or more of them. Many are now considered an iconic part of the game and hold a special place in the memories and hearts of gamers everywhere. Nonetheless, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has not done a lot with artifacts so far. The Core Rulebook contains stats for many of the most famous (open content) ones, and some Golarion sourcebooks have introduced a few Golarion-specific artifacts (some with more information than others), but with Artifacts & Legends, the Pathfinder RPG takes its first concerted look at these world-changing and game-changing items.

At first glance, one might wonder about the “& Legends” part of the title as, apart from a brief introduction on “Artifacts in Your Game”, the book is packed front-to-back with descriptions of artifacts. There’s no section of the book on legends. However, on closer examination, it becomes clearer that the legends are the artifacts themselves. After all, these are items that spawn tales about them all across the game world, and so the full title of Artifacts and Legends is most apt for this book.