Monday 27 May 2013

Site News and Thanks

I've added an "About" section to the blog. It contains a couple of brief sections on what Of Dice and Pen is all about and who I am in case anyone was wondering. I may add more detail as time goes by. People can also make requests or otherwise just say hello in the comments section of that page.

I just wanted take a moment to say thanks to all who come to the site. I've been overwhelmed by how much the number of views to this blog have increased in just the last couple of months. The site passed 25,000 views about a week or so ago. That's only three months after it hit 10,000. Considering it took close to a year and a half to make that first 10,000, I'm pretty happy. Sure, there are sites out there for which these numbers would be a drop in the ocean, but they mean a lot to me. A powerhouse article has been my Sexism in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who? essay. It quickly rose to the most-viewed post on this blog and kept on climbing. At this time, it has nearly seven times as many views as its nearest competitor, my review of the Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, and it continues to gather 100 to 200 views per day. If you do a Google search for any variation of the words Doctor Who and sexism, my essay is generally at or near the top of the list. I'm simply stunned. Thanks to everyone who has read that article (whether you agree with it or not) and any other articles on this blog. Thanks also to all those who have left comments. I appreciate you all!

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Doctor Who - The Name of the Doctor

Series Seven of Doctor Who has come to a close in an episode that is supposedly game-changing. And I suppose in a sense, it is. The Doctor’s greatest secret has been revealed...sort of. With its revelation, tons more questions have arisen, and very few old questions have found an answer. But in another sense, it’s really not all that game-changing. “The Name of the Doctor” is a quite typical Steven Moffat finale. Indeed, to a great extent, if you’ve seen his previous finales, you’ve seen this one too. There are a lot of grand ideas mixed with complex interweavings of time-streams and plotlines. There are a lot of things happening because they have to happen. People do things because, “This is what I’ve already done.”

Like many Steven Moffat stories, “The Name of the Doctor” is best enjoyed if you just turn off your brain because, as complex as Moffat likes to make his plots, when you pause to examine them, they start to fall apart. Better to just let things happen, be taken in by the spectacle, the rapidly changing images, and the bigger-than-life ideas. Unfortunately, turning off my brain has never been something I’ve been particularly good at. As such, the problems start to stick out like a sore thumb: the repetition of old ideas, the lack of believable characters, the plot holes. I’ve watched “The Name of the Doctor” three times now, and to be fair, each time, I’ve enjoyed it a little more than the previous time. The are a number of good individual moments throughout the episode, and each time I’ve been able to appreciate those moments a little more. Alas, strung together as a whole, the episode falls quite flat.

And then there’s the ending. Oh, the ending.




Thursday 16 May 2013

Doctor Who - Advance Thoughts on "The Name of the Doctor"

This Saturday, the season finale of Doctor Who will air, and it will supposedly wrap up all the loose ends of the Moffat era, as well as reveal the Doctor’s greatest secret and solve the mystery of Clara. It’s a lot for one episode to accomplish, even at the breakneck pace of all the episodes in Series Seven. But that’s the promise.

Some people have been lucky (or unlucky?) enough to have already seen it due to a distribution error that resulted in a bunch of copies of the Series 7, Part Two Blu-rays being sent out early to people who had pre-ordered. I am not one of those people, and I have done my best to avoid spoilers for the final episode. However, in advance of seeing the episode, I wanted to discuss my thoughts on the subject of the episode’s title, and whether or not we really will learn “The Name of the Doctor”.

The question “Doctor who?” has been a focus of much of Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner, and even in his scripts before that. Both “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” bring it up. Since the conclusion of Series Six, the question has been brought up repeatedly, often to the point of sounding unnatural, sometimes multiple times per episode. In “The Wedding of River Song”, Dorian calls it “the first question”, and on a meta-level, that’s absolutely true. Way back in 1963, when the first episode of Doctor Who aired, the very first words encountered are the title, and thus the question.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Doctor Who - She Said, He Said

So the latest prequel for an upcoming Doctor Who episode is available. This one is for this week’s Series Seven finale, “The Name of the Doctor”. Entitled “She Said, He Said”, it’s one of the longest prequels they’ve filmed. It’s also one of the dullest. For people who haven’t seen it, here it is:

The idea of presenting a pair of monologues as opposed to an actual scene (making this not really a prequel, I suppose) is actually an interesting idea, and I’d approve if the material Clara and the Doctor are talking about was actually interesting, but it’s not. On top of that, monologues by their very nature do what Doctor Who has been doing far too much of lately: they tell rather than show. Monologues can work great when they’re about things we’ve actually seen or as a change of pace. The Doctor goes on quite a bit about how perfect Clara is, how she’s perfect for him, but this is something we’ve never really seen. What about Clara is so perfect? What sets her apart from other people? The only thing unique about her is that she’s lived more than once. But she doesn’t even know that (from what we’ve seen so far, at any rate). There is nothing else about her that makes her an individual and different from other people. So why is she so perfect for the Doctor?

Clara, in turn, refers to not falling in love, a trick she performs twice a day, implying a growing love between her and the Doctor. This is something that has been thrown into a few lines of dialogue here and there (in “Hide” and “Nightmare in Silver”), but is also something we’ve never really seen. Indeed, we’ve seen very little of the relationship between Clara and the Doctor. We’ve never seen them get to know each other. Do they know each other?

Each monologue also has an annoying change in perspective at the end. Both Clara and the Doctor begin speaking as we know them now (up to the end of “Nightmare in Silver”), but then switch at the end to speaking from a point of view after the upcoming finale. I understand the effect Steven Moffat was going for here, but I personally find it very jarring, and unnatural. It doesn’t place tantalizing hints. Instead, it just reminds you how unreal everything is. And yes, Doctor Who is about a ton of unreal, impossible things. But it should feel real, and it doesn’t. And without feeling real, the “Impossible Girl” is no more impossible than anything else in the show. It makes me not care at all about her mystery.

Of all the prequels, "She Said, He Said" is the most easily missable.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Doctor Who - Nightmare in Silver

I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman. However, I have to be honest and say that I only actually discovered him a few years ago. Oh, I had heard about him before that. I just hadn’t gotten round to looking at any of his work. But once I did get round to it, I began devouring lots of it. I still haven’t read everything he’s written (indeed, there’s a lot I haven’t), but nonetheless, I rank him very highly amongst my favourite authors. As such, I was very excited when I learned that he was writing an episode for Doctor Who Series Six. I felt that his style was perfect for Doctor Who, and I turned out to be right. His episode, “The Doctor’s Wife” was not only the best of that season, but easily the best of the eleventh Doctor, and one of the best Doctor Who stories of all. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a wonderful homage to everything that had come before it (right back to 1963) and simultaneously took the show forward, adding to the show’s mythology, and giving new insight into the show’s most iconic character—the Doctor’s TARDIS. It did so in ways that the more recent “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” can’t even compare.

So naturally, I was excited once again to learn that Gaiman was writing another episode for Doctor Who, to air near the end of Series Seven, an episode that promised to make the Cybermen scary again: “Nightmare in Silver”. And it does. “Nightmare in Silver” is, alas, not as good as “The Doctor’s Wife”, but that really shouldn’t be held against it. It’s a clever and enjoyable episode that not only effectively reinvents the Cybermen, but also has a wonderful examination of the Doctor’s psyche. It’s not a perfect episode and there are a number of little flaws here and there (more from execution, I think, than script problems), but in a period of Doctor Who where most episodes are far from perfect, it stands out well above the majority of its competition.


Wednesday 8 May 2013

Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror

It’s crazy how quickly time seems to pass sometimes. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that Doctor Who had been off the air for over a decade (apart from one attempt to revive it in 1996). It doesn’t seem all that long ago that many of us never really thought it would ever come back. And now here we are, seven new series and 100 new episodes later. That’s right. This week’s episode, “The Crimson Horror”, is the 100th episode since Doctor Who’s return in 2005. To mark the occasion, we get a light-hearted, but slightly macabre romp through Victorian Yorkshire. This is the second script this year from Mark Gatiss, and like his previous one, “Cold War”, it’s one of his better scripts. It’s funny and adventurous, with some great characters and an over-the-top villain played by the absolutely wonderful Diana Rigg. To be honest, the strength of “The Crimson Horror” comes from the performances, which are generally superb, rather than the script, which does have a number of problems with it. However, the overall sense of fun that the production presents makes most of those flaws nearly invisible or, at least, forgiveable. Alas, there are a couple of flaws that nonetheless stand out and mar an otherwise enjoyable episode.


Tuesday 7 May 2013

Reign of Winter - Maiden, Mother, Crone

In every adventure path, there’s always at least one major dungeon. Even in much more story-based adventure paths, there’s a volume that is primarily a dungeon crawl. In Reign of Winter, that volume would be the third, Maiden, Mother, Crone by Tim Hitchcock. In the adventure, the PCs take their first trip in Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut and find themselves in Iobaria, where they must locate the next set of clues that will ultimately lead them to the imprisoned Baba Yaga.

Of the three volumes of Reign of Winter so far, this one is unfortunately the weakest. That’s not to say it’s bad—I actually rather like it—but it’s not as good as the first two. Its major weakness is that it suffers from the static randomness that so many dungeon crawls suffer from. Despite a great backstory, its dungeon (or rather, dungeons) still feels like a place where the denizens just sort of sit there waiting for the PCs to arrive and kill them, and that spoils what is overall a great framework for an adventure.


Wednesday 1 May 2013

RPGs are Evil!

This is really quite awesome.

Those of us who have been around for a while may remember Jack T. Chick, publisher of Chick Tracts, short comic books aimed at saving people’s souls and bringing them to Christianity (very fundamentalist Christianity). What we might not realize is that Chick is still around and there’s a whole pile of his tracts. They’re actually kind of funny to read, made all the more so by the seriousness with which they’re delivered. Amongst roleplayers, the most famous tract is without a doubt Dark Dungeons first published in 1984.

You can read the tract at the link above, but in short, it tells the story of Debbie, who plays the character Elfstar in a Dungeons & Dragons game. Her dungeon master tells her it’s time for her to learn real spells and introduces her to a witch’s coven. Meanwhile, her friend Marcie’s character Blackleaf dies in the game and Marcie can’t handle it. Marcie kills herself and this causes Debbie to rethink her association with the occult and turn back to Jesus.

In the tract, we learn a few very amazing things, particularly that playing Dungeons & Dragons teaches you real magical power! Or it’s supposed to. Hmmm... I’ve been playing D&D and other roleplaying games for thirty years now and I haven’t been introduced to the true power yet. I’ve also been a DM/GM for almost all that time. I feel a little cheated. Where’s my magical power? I could use a few handy spells right now!

Oh well. I guess I just haven’t been playing it right or something. I’ll learn the powers one day.

Anyway, fans of Dark Dungeons will be pleased to know that an intrepid, devout soul is now running a Kickstarter to raise the funds for Dark Dungeons: The Movie! He’s very nearly made his goal too. This movie promises to bring the truth of roleplaying games to a modern generation, much like Mazes and Monsters did back in the 80s. This movie will be absolutely glorious—and I’m completely serious with that comment. I can’t wait to see it.

In all seriousness, while at first glance the project may look serious, if you watch the video all the way through or read the website in detail, it becomes more and more obvious that Dark Dungeons: The Movie is a parody, and a brilliant parody at that. Alas, the 80s’ madness isn’t completely dead; there are still people who really believe the whole “D&D is satanic” thing, as evidenced by this clip from The 700 Club that’s been making its rounds on the internet recently.

Isn’t it wonderful to have people like this to look out for us?