Monday 28 January 2013

Doctor Who - Chicks Unravel Time

When I posted my review of Chicks Dig Time Lords, I mentioned that I had originally hoped to post it along with a review of its follow-up, Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, but unfortunately I had not yet been able to find a copy of Chicks Unravel Time. Well, not long after posting that review, my order from Amazon finally came through and my copy arrived. I then had to find time to read it amidst a busy schedule that has culminated in a bout with the flu (thus my slowness with posting, in general, in the last couple weeks). But at last the reading is done and I have to say that the wait for the book was well worth it.

As much as I enjoyed Chicks Dig Time Lords, I enjoyed Chicks Unravel Time a great deal more. At the basic conceptual level, the two books are very similar: a group of women authors write essays about Doctor Who. But whereas Chicks Dig Time Lords meanders about with numerous different styles and topics—from reminiscences to the position of women in fandom to critical analysis—and a few interviews, Chicks Unravel Time benefits from a more focused approach. Each essay examines one season (or one aspect of a season) from a critical lens. There is exactly one essay for each of Seasons One through Twenty-Six, the 1996 television movie, Series One through Six, and the 2009 specials (in the gap year between series four and five). With its more analytical bent, there is a lot less reminiscing in these essays and a lot fewer anecdotal stories. That’s not to say that such things are bad. I enjoyed the reminiscences in Chicks Dig Time Lords a lot. They were both entertaining and informative. But my natural preferences lean more towards analysis (just look at what I do on this site, after all) and, as such, I think I got just a little more out of the essays in Chicks Unravel Time. Of course, that doesn’t mean that these authors never do any reminiscing. Quite a bit does indeed show up, but it’s always in a manner that’s contextual to the topic of the essay.

Monday 21 January 2013

The Guild - Season Six

Believe it or not, I only discovered The Guild just after season 5 came out. Somehow I had remained completely unaware of its existence until then. It’s odd because many of my friends apparently knew of it.

What, you’d never seen The Guild before?” they asked when I mentioned finally seeing it.
No,” I replied.
You mean we’ve never mentioned it before?”

It’s odd, too, because many websites I often visit are exactly the kinds of sites that would mention it, but if they did, I somehow missed every reference. At any rate, it was after season 5 came out that I finally started noticing mentions here and there of a web show called The Guild and starring Felicia Day. I certainly knew who Felicia Day was, so I was intrigued and checked it out, starting right at the beginning with season 1.

And I was hooked. Soon, I had not only watched the whole series, but I had also purchased the DVDs of all five seasons (to be fair, watching a whole season is about the same time commitment as watching a single movie, so it’s not that amazing a feat that I got through the whole series in about a week or so). The series was a wonderful breath of fresh air, full of funny characters who, while crazy and over-the-top, were still relatable. Here was a show about geeks and written by geeks, a show that could poke fun at the idiosyncrasies and stereotypes of geek culture whilst never hiding the fact that it was also a love letter to geek culture. Shows about geeks have gained a certain popularity in recent years with the rise of programmes like The Big Bang Theory. But that show, while about nerds, is aimed at the masses, and is clearly written by people who don’t really understand what it is to be a geek or nerd and so rely entirely on stereotypes. Felicia Day, on the other hand, is a geek of the first order, and that breathes a life and reality into The Guild that the Big Bang Theory can only dream of attaining.

Monday 14 January 2013

Inner Sea Bestiary

Pathfinder is a game with a lot of monsters. There's no doubting that. It’s enough of a truth that I’ve actually used that opening sentence twice in a row now. I don’t have an exact count, but there are around 1000 total in the Bestiary, Bestiary 2, and Bestiary 3, and that doesn’t count the numerous other monsters that have shown up in the Bestiary sections of Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, various other adventures, Campaign Setting books, and more. This isn’t a bad thing. In many ways, it’s a great thing. It allows for endless variety between different campaigns, and it means that gamemasters can always find something new to spring on their players.

But let’s be honest, there are more monsters in the game than any one gamemaster is ever likely to use in a lifetime. For this reason, I was actually very glad when this past fall, Paizo didn’t release Bestiary 4, but instead released the NPC Codex. As fun as new monsters are, they aren’t really needed, but stats for generic NPCs were. Nonetheless, at the same time they released the NPC Codex, they also released the Inner Sea Bestiary to help sate the appetite of those yearning for more monsters—but more than that, to also provide a resource for Golarion-specific monsters, something not previously available, and thus fulfilling a need after all.

While it’s true that there have been many Golarion-specific monsters already published, these are spread out across a disparate number of resources (such as the Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, Inner Sea World Guide, and others). It can be difficult to keep track of them all and to remember which book a particular favourite might have appeared in. Unfortunately, the Inner Sea Bestiary won’t help with that problem as the monsters here haven’t appeared in previous sources (not stat write-ups at any rate; many of them have been mentioned in other sources). However, the Inner Sea Bestiary does provide an easily accessible source of Golarion monsters, one that gamemasters can turn to quickly and easily to find monsters for their games. (I should point out that throughout this review, I am using the name Golarion to refer to the entire campaign setting, even though it more properly refers to only one planet within the setting, albeit the planet where most of the action takes place. Some of the monsters in this book come from other planets in the Golarion system or other planes, but they are all part of the Pathfinder campaign setting. I use Golarion more broadly for ease of use and convenience.)

Sunday 13 January 2013

Mystery Monsters Revisited

Pathfinder is a game with a lot of monsters. Some have been part of the Dungeons and Dragons game for a very long time. Others are more recent additions. These monsters cover a vast variety of different kinds, from lowly goblins to powerful dragons to terrifying undead. Some monsters, like orcs and the aforementioned goblins, are staples of the game, showing up in some form in virtually every campaign, while others are rarer and see only occasional use, if any use at all. And some monsters are really just variations on other monsters, only with different names and slightly different abilities.

While there are many monsters in the game that were simply made up by the author of some supplement or adventure or other, most of the monsters are inspired by real-world folklore and mythology. Many of these only vaguely resemble the sources that inspired them, but many others are closer to their real-world roots. A subset of these monsters trace their inspiration back to real-world cryptids. These are creatures that many real people believe in—some strongly—creatures that are somewhat more plausible than dragons or vampires, but are still far from accepted by the scientific community. These are creatures like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the chupacabra.

Mystery Monsters Revisited, the latest book in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting series, examines ten of these cryptids in detail. It is also the latest in a line of Revisted books that has been uniformly excellent in quality. Each book has examined ten creatures (or ten treasures in the case of Classic Treasures Revisited), generally painting them in a new light and breathing new life into them. The line began with Classic Monsters Revisited (which looked at the staples like goblins, trolls, and bugbears) in 2008 and has since had numerous other offerings, such as Dragons Revisited, Undead Revisited, and the slightly differently titled Misfit Monsters Redeemed (which looked at ten of the most absurd monsters ever created for the game and made them playable). Like its predecessors, Mystery Monsters Revisited provides an excellent insight into its ten subject creatures and how they fit into the world of Golarion. It allows gamemasters to enrich their games by including creatures that are more than just nameless things to kill, giving each creature a reason and purpose for being there. And even if some of these creatures never actually show up in a game, the book still provides a compelling read that adds just a little more awe to the game world.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Shattered Star - Into the Nightmare Rift

Mention the name, Cthulhu, in a room full of geeks, and the conversation will instantly turn to talk of “Outer Ones” and “Great Old Ones”, as well as various other nightmarish creatures, all taken from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's writing has certainly influenced much fantasy (and even some science fiction) that has come after it, and roleplaying games have been no exception. The Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion has many of these Lovecraftian elements hard-wired right into the setting, from the Outer Beings to the nightmare realm of Leng. Many Pathfinder adventures have featured beings out of Lovecraft stories, from the hounds of Tindalos to Leng spiders and more. The fifth adventure of Shattered Star, Into the Nightmare Rift by Richard Pett, is one such adventure, and it is more overt than most others as it takes the PCs into Leng itself.

I must confess that I haven’t actually read much Lovecraft (my geek cred just went way down, I suppose). However, I have learned about many of the concepts through other sources and I find them endlessly fascinating. So it’s perhaps a bit strange that Into the Nightmare Rift doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s a competent dungeon crawl, but therein lies some of the problem, I think. A dungeon crawl doesn’t feel the right style to do such a nightmarish reality justice. Going from room to room, killing monster after monster (which is what a great deal of this adventure is) doesn’t really allow for a building of dread and suspense, which I feel is really needed (especially for something with the word nightmare in the title).

That said, I should stress that I don’t consider this a bad adventure. My problems with it mostly come down to personal taste. In this respect, it’s similar to Shards of Sin, the first part of Shattered Star, in that it’s a competent, well-designed dungeon that just doesn’t grab my attention all that much. Nonetheless, it’s an adventure that probably many people are going to love because it will grab their attention.


Reign of Winter: A Look Ahead

Generally, I write about Pathfinder products after they're published, not before. After all, I can't review something that I haven't read. However, this caught my attention, and I just felt I had to post about it. The Shattered Star Adventure Path comes to a close later this month (and expect my review of part 5, Into the Nightmare Rift very soon). Up next is Reign of Winter, dealing with the change of rulership that happens every 100 years in the icy realm of Irrisen, when Baba Yaga returns to place a new daughter on the throne.

We've known for some time that the fifth part of this adventure path would be titled, Rasputin Must Die! There has been much speculation about this title. Baba Yaga is a real-world mythological figure with a firm presence in the fictional world of Golarion. Could the Rasputin of the title be the real-world Rasputin? Well, at long last, Paizo has officially announced Rasputin Must Die!, and along with it an official synopsis (see the link for the synopsis).

Yes, the Pathfinder Adventure Path is going to Earth during World War I.

Paizo has taken many risks with their adventure paths and done many new and unique things. This is the sort of thing that could be either a total disaster or the most amazing thing ever. However, I think there's every reason to trust that this will be the most amazing thing ever.

I want to run this adventure path, and I haven't even read it. That's pretty impressive, Paizo.

Friday 4 January 2013

Doctor Who - Chicks Dig Time Lords

I grew up during a time when being a geek was a very male thing, and often unwelcoming of the few women who came along. Or so I’ve always been told. You see, I was always an aberration. Although male myself, there never seemed to be an absence of geek girls in my life, whether through games like Dungeons and Dragons or fans of science fiction like Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Star Wars. Yes, there were usually more guys than girls, but the girls were always there. It was rare that there wasn’t at least one girl in my D&D games, and there were a few occasions when I was the only guy. Heck, I even managed to convince my nerd-hating sister and her friends to play D&D with me every now and then.

Of course, being a geek was still a socially ostracising thing, especially during my high school years. Most people, boys or girls, were not geeks and they did not approve of those who were. But amongst those of us who were, there was a significant representation of girls. It wasn’t until university that I first encountered the idea that being a nerd or geek was a “guy thing”, and that was pretty much confined to a D&D group I belonged to for a year. That group was all male and was the first place I ever encountered actual prejudice against female gamers. For the rest of my university life, I mostly didn’t encounter it. I was one of the founding members of a science fiction fan club at the university, and we never had any trouble attracting female members. In fact, by my last year there, I was the only male still on the executive council (I was treasurer that year, having given up the president’s position the year before).

Then came the internet. (I’m showing my age, aren’t I?) It was only then that I started to truly realize how few female geeks there really were, even though I could still point to many I knew personally. Nonetheless, I had to come to accept that I was simply an aberration. My experiences were far from the norm.