Monday 25 February 2013

Shattered Star Player's Guide

In general, I’ve found the player’s guides for the various adventure paths to be of mixed quality. Some do the job or preparing PCs for the adventure path to come quite well, while others are not so good at it (and sometimes even seem to create a false impression). One of the problems is, how much information is too much to give to the players before the game even begins? Different gamemasters will have different views on this, and satisfying all of them is a virtual impossibility.

As lukewarm as I feel towards the Shattered Star adventure path, the Shattered Star Player’s Guide is one of those that does its job well. Like most of the player’s guides, it’s short (12 pages total including cover and title page—so really only 10 pages), but it’s filled with information that is useful for the campaign. It begins with a few basic tips, then moves straight into the campaign traits. It doesn’t spend much time on how the different classes and races fit in the campaign (like many of the other AP player’s guides do), as there really isn’t any need for that in Shattered Star. It draws attention to the fact that the campaign is focused on ancient dungeons and so suggests that characters with mounts or animal companions might find large animals a liability, but that’s about it. In dungeon environments, there’s little else about any one specific class or race that stands out or needs discussing.

Doctor Who Meets the Big Lebowski

Just a bit of fun here. This is a shot-by-shot remake of the trailer for The Big Lebowski, only using Doctor Who characters. It's remarkably well done and manages to fit in a startling array of Doctor Who characters, both well-known and more obscure. The Master as Jesus is just awesome.


Thursday 21 February 2013

Animal Archive

I think, across my various reviews, it’s become fairly clear that I’m generally drawn more towards the “fluff” material: world details, story lines, things like that. I’m less interested in “crunch”: the game mechanics like new feats, spells, and so on. But that doesn’t mean I have no interest at all in crunch, especially when it’s crunch that is both good and useful. This is certainly the case with Animal Archive, the latest in the Pathfinder Player Companion line. This is a book with everything you could ever want for fleshing out your characters’ familiars, animal companions, and pets. It’s really a quite remarkable book, containing more material than I ever expected of it—new animal companions and familiars, feats specifically for animals, archetypes for animals, and more—all neatly packed into just thirty-two pages.

One of the best things about this book is that it moves away from the tried and true. New feats, new archetypes, new spells—these are things that have been done to death for the character classes. However, while the game has had tons of cool stuff for your druid or wizard or ranger, your animal companion or familiar has often been neglected. There are very few feats or spells in the game that are for animals (either to use themselves or be used on). There aren’t even very many magic items designed for animals, and it’s often unclear how well items designed for humanoids work with animals. As such, Animal Archive fills a need. It uses the kinds of things we’ve seen before, but uses them in an area that very rarely sees use.

One striking thing that readers will notice immediately upon opening the book is that on the inner front cover is a list of animal magic item slots. As I said, it’s often unclear what kinds of normal magic items animals are capable of using. This extremely useful chart breaks up animals by body type and lists exactly what magic item slots they have (and thus what kinds of magic items they can use). The chart also includes lists of specific animal companions and familiars that fit into each body type.

Shattered Star - The Dead Heart of Xin

In many ways, I suspect the final adventure of an adventure path is the most difficult to write and develop. Not only does it have to be a high-level adventure (and those come with a whole bunch of their own inherent difficulties), but it also has to tie together all the loose ends remaining from the previous adventures and bring everything to a satisfying and epic conclusion. As the instalments of Shattered Star are much more loosely connected than most adventure path instalments, there are fewer loose ends to tie up. As such, it might seem that Shattered Star’s final adventure, The Dead Heart of Xin by Brandon Hodge, has it a bit easier. Nonetheless, it still has to provide a sense of closure to the AP’s disparate parts, and in that sense, it just might have it a little bit tougher.

In this respect, I must acknowledge that The Dead Heart of Xin does a very good job. It does provide closure and, on top of that, some truly epic moments. Very importantly, it makes the long quest to gather the separate pieces of the titular Shattered Star worth it, and actually provides the PCs with a chance to use the artifact they’ve worked so hard to acquire. I don’t think it’s a perfect adventure. I think the AP’s focus on dungeons holds this adventure back somewhat, significantly limiting the things that could have been done with it. But overall, The Dead Heart of Xin is a good high-level adventure. And, like the other adventures in Shattered Star, it will work quite well as a stand-alone as well.


Wednesday 20 February 2013

Random Urban Encounters

Running a roleplaying game is not the easiest of activities. Gamemasters have to keep track of a lot of small details, as well as the big picture. They need to track names, personalities, and motivations for numerous NPCs. For many of those NPCs, they’ll also need at least some basic statistics. They also need to keep track of locations, treasures, and a whole bunch of other things I’m probably forgetting right at this moment. And while some GMs are better at winging things than others, they all have to put in quite a bit of preparation before any game session—and those with limited time will often rely on various published game products to cut down on that preparation time as much as possible.

But PCs will always manage to do unexpected things. No matter how much preparation GMs put in, there will always come a time when they need something spur of the moment—when the PCs decide to abandon their quest to go find a druid to reincarnate their dead friend, for example, or when they decide to go to a different city than they were originally heading for. Also, sometimes GMs just decided on the spur of the moment that they need add a little change of pace. Whatever the reason, at times like these, GMs need some sort of encounter to present to their player characters. This will often result in rolling on a random encounter table, or simply opening up the Bestiary or the NPC Codex and choosing something randomly to show up at that moment. As this is a spur of the moment creation, these encounters usually end up as combats, since the GM doesn’t need to worry too much about backstories and motivations in this case.

But random combat encounters can get dull if there are too many of them, especially when there’s no real backstory behind them or reason for them to be there (other than to provide the PCs with a few experience points). This is where a product like Random Urban Encounters from Raging Swan Press comes in useful. Written by Ben Armitage and Creighton Broadhurst, it presents eight encounters for urban settings for low-level parties between levels 1 and 6. All of them are short encounters that can be easily inserted into any other ongoing campaign. Random Urban Encounters is written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is published under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License.

Friday 15 February 2013

Red Dwarf 25th Anniversary

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I almost missed this date. With this year being the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, it almost slipped past me that it’s another anniversary year as well: the 25th anniversary of Red Dwarf, which aired on BBC2 for the first time on 15 February, 1988. Of course, I didn’t see it on that day. In fact, I’m not sure when exactly I first saw Red Dwarf. It was on the Canadian station YTV, which picked it up around the time of the third series (I recall this much because I remember the initial previews that ran on YTV showed scenes from “Backwards”, the opening episode of Red Dwarf III). I do remember that the very first episode I saw still managed to be “The End”, the very first episode, although I’m pretty certain this was on a repeat viewing after YTV had already run the first three series and then had cycled back to the beginning. Whenever it was, I was hooked from that very first episode. I laughed so loud and continuously through it that I received numerous complaints from my brother who was watching it with me, but who didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did.

I watched every episode after that—well, until YTV decided not to purchase new episodes after Series IV. I guess the show just wasn’t doing well enough for them. They didn’t even air the final two episodes of Series IV until after they had moved the show to a late-night timeslot, at which point they just cycled repeatedly through those first twenty-four episodes airing five nights a week at 1:30 a.m. (or thereabouts). Eventually, they dropped the show entirely. I knew there were newer episodes, but there was no way to see them. No other Canadian stations carried the programme. PBS in the States did, but the only PBS station we got was one of the ones that never carried it. (They never carried Doctor Who either. I was always annoyed at that PBS station for seemingly being the only one that didn’t carry my favourite shows.) So I had to wait for the episodes to come out on VHS, and when they did, I snatched them up immediately.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Irrisen, Land of Eternal Winter

As I mentioned in my recent review of People of the North, my favourite campaign supplements tend to be the regional sourcebooks. As great as race books, monster books, organization books, etc. can be, in the end, they’re of little use without a setting to put them all in. The regional sourcebooks provide that setting, allowing a glimpse at what it’s like to actually live in this world, rather than just what you can kill in it. These are the books that let a GM breathe life into the game—a game where the PCs can feel that they are truly part of a much larger world.

When it comes to regional sourcebooks, the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line has a couple of advantages over the Pathfinder Player Companion line. First, by being longer books (64 pages instead of 32), there is room for more detail. Second, since the Player Companion books have the purpose of helping players create characters for the game, by necessity they need to have a certain amount of “crunch” in the form of feats, archetypes, and so on. The Campaign Setting books, on the other hand, can focus almost entirely on the “fluff” of the setting—and I’m always a sucker for fluff. As such, as good a book as People of the North is, Irrisen, Land of Eternal Winter is even better. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best regional books published so far, up there with the likes of City of Strangers and Distant Worlds. It’s full of material that I just really want to use, and it fills me with regret that my campaign set in the region just recently ended. So if I have any complaint about this book, it’s the terrible timing of its release! (Which is not, in any way, Paizo’s fault.)

Doctor Who in 3D

I suppose it was inevitable. Everything's going 3D these days. It was only a matter of time before Doctor Who did so as well. According to the BBC, the show will be going 3D as part of the "blockbuster celebrations" to mark the 50th anniversary. Actually, this isn't Doctor Who's first stab at 3D. That would be the charity special "Dimensions in Time" in the 90's (if you haven't seen it, don't bother; you're better off; trust me). Then, a couple years ago, there was a 3D trailer for Series 5. However, this will the be the first time the programme itself has gone 3D.

Honestly, I'm not really excited about this. I can't watch more than a few minutes of 3D without getting a headache caused by eye-strain. It's a technology that I feel needs a lot of refinement before it will truly be ready for the widespread use it's already getting. As such, I kind of wish the money being spent on 3D was going to another aspect of the show instead, such as a longer anniversary special (90 minutes instead of 60 minutes) or something similar. In any event, even though the show will be available in 3D, I think I'll continue watching in glorious 2D.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

People of the North

When it comes to books from the Pathfinder Campaign Setting and Pathfinder Player Companion lines, I often find that my favourites are the regional sourcebooks, the ones that look at a specific area of Golarion (or sometimes beyond, as with Distant Worlds). While the books about races or monsters or organizations are often very useful and entertaining, they don’t quite grab my attention the way the regional books do. As such, the regional books are ones that I most look forward to opening up and reading. People of the North, the latest Player Companion book, was certainly no exception to this. It has also helped ensure that I will continue to view regional sourcebooks as being the ones to look forward to most.

When Varisia, Birthplace of Legends came out, it set a new bar for quality in the Player Companion line. While the Player Companions that have come out since have been good, they haven’t quite reached that bar again—until now. People of the North once again shows just how good and useful the Companions can be. This book provides everything a player needs to design a character for a campaign set in the far north of the continent of Avistan, particularly in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, Irrisen, or the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. The book also provides some details for characters from the Crown of the World, including the Erutaki and the Snowcaster Elves.

As with all Companions since Varisia, People of the North opens with a “For Your Character” section, which highlights the kinds of characters the book is most useful for. It then follows with an overview of the north before moving into detailing the races of the north. Of the races, Kellids, Ulfen, and Snowcaster Elves get a full two pages each covering basic details, as well as new traits and roles. Each of these three races also gets a sidebar on sayings common to that race. These and several other sidebars that appear throughout the book (including ones on common knowledge about the north and the “Unwritten Rules of Fighting”) are amongst my favourite parts of the book. They add colour to the setting and bring it alive in ways that dry description can’t achieve.