Saturday 31 August 2013

August Round-Up, Reign of Winter Poster Map Folio, and a Few More Funny Searches

These days, months seem to go by really fast. It feels like I only wrote July’s monthly round-up a few days ago, but here we are at the end of August. It was an interesting month and fairly productive for me on the blog—apart from the past week, when a hectic schedule kept me from making as many updates as I would have liked. It was the best month ever for views though, with more than twice as many people visiting the site than in the previous best-ever month!

The month opened with the BBC announcing that Peter Capaldi would be stepping into the role of the twelfth Doctor after Matt Smith leaves in this year’s Christmas special. As with all new Doctor announcements, this one was met with lots of praise and just a little bit of criticism, some justified, some not-so-justified. As happy as I am with the choice (and I do believe he will be a great Doctor), I had to admit to a couple concerns with the casting process myself. More exciting news came a couple of weeks later with the announcement of the discovery of a lost William Hartnell interview. It’s not quite the discovery of lost episodes, but a significant event nonetheless. Also, for a bit of fun, Doctor Who fans discovered that the TARDIS is on Google Maps. Finally, I have begun my own preparations for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by looking back at my own experiences with the show throughout my life. Each week until the anniversary, I’ll look at one of the Doctors, and finally at the spin-offs. It’s a little bit of self-indulgent nostalgia, and I hope people enjoy it.

In the world of Pathfinder, I continued to make my way through my backlog of products to review. I didn’t get through as much as I hoped this month, but I still made good headway. Reviews this month included Castles of the Inner Sea, Dragons Unleashed, the Dragonslayer’s Handbook, The Witch Queen’s Revenge, the Reign of Winter Player’s Guide, and The Dragon’s Demand. Coming up soon, I’ll be getting to products such as The Worldwound, the new Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, and the hardcover release, Mythic Adventures.

Although no one’s actually enquired about it, it occurred to me that people might wonder why I review the player’s guides for adventure paths at the end of the adventure path and not at the beginning, which is when the guides are released. This is because there have been legitimate criticisms of past player’s guides that they don’t adequately prepare players for the entire adventure path, leaving players with characters unsuited for sudden shifts that occur later in the adventure path. As such, I leave reviewing the guides until after all the adventure path’s instalments are out so that I can evaluate how well the guides prepare players for the whole experience.

Last month, I included a couple of very brief reviews with my monthly round-up, and I’d like to include another such one this month. With every adventure path Paizo has published, they have also published a map folio to go along with it. Early ones were just a collection of important maps from the adventure path, but later ones have been a selection of full-colour, poster maps that are useful for the adventure path but can have more generic uses as well. Since these folios are published in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line rather than the Pathfinder Adventure Path line, they need to be useful to people who get the one and not the other. It’s also nice not to have to get a set of maps you already have. I don’t normally review the folios since they are just maps and I haven’t felt I could give them the in-depth coverage I like to include in my reviews.

The Reign of Winter Poster Map Folio contains three poster maps: one of the country of Irrisen, one of its capital Whitethrone, and one of the region of Iobaria. Each map is in a somewhat different style, with the map of Irrisen being the most visually stunning. In many ways, it’s more like a piece of art than a map, and indeed, it’s perhaps not the most useful map as a result. Still, it show the locations of sites throughout the country, and would work especially well as a representation of a map that people actually living in the game world might see and use. The other two maps are more typical of the gaming maps of most use to gamemasters. There was a poster map of Whitethrone in the City Map Folio from a few years ago, but the one here is larger and more detailed. Overall, the Reign of Winter Poster Map Folio contains three good maps that will be useful to people running games in the northern reaches of Golarion.

A couple months ago, I listed some of the most unusual search terms people had used to find their way to this blog. Since then, I’ve collected a few more. These ones aren’t quite as bizarre and it’s easy to see why this site might show up as a result, but they made me chuckle. As before, all spelling and grammar errors are replicated exactly:

girls withdigtits – I really want to know why porn searches bring people to my blog. Could it be because the word sexism shows up here and that has sex in it and thus, porn? Or just because?

sarah jane smith hot – I understand the sentiment, but it seems an odd search to me.

of dice and men sexism doctor who – This is clearly a direct search for this site with either a typo or a misremembering of the blog’s name. Either way, the error is rather ironic.

sexist doctors nowadays – I have no idea what to say.

children girl doctor things – Still don’t know what to say.

left 4 dead original character models – Until this very sentence, I have never once mentioned Left 4 Dead on this blog. I don’t play video games these days (mainly because, if I do, I know I’ll never accomplish anything productive ever again) and so I barely ever mention them on this blog, if ever. No idea why Of Dice and Pen came up in this search.

Anyway, that’s all for this month. Have a great September, everyone!

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the First Doctor

On Saturday, 23 November, 1963, Doctor Who aired on BBC television for the very first time. Twelve weeks from today, it will be Saturday, 23 November, 2013—fifty years to the day after that original airing, and the show is still going strong. It’s had its ups and downs, of course, including sixteen years during which only one new television production aired. But even during that time, it continued in other forms. Doctor Who is the world’s longest-running science fiction television series, and also holds the Guiness World Record for most successful sci-fi series in the world. It has become an enduring icon of British television, and in recent years, has achieved phenomenal success in the rest of the world as well. According to a recent international trailer for the 50th anniversary, the show has over 77 million fans worldwide, a number that seems to be continually growing.

Doctor Who has also had a huge effect on me throughout my life, both growing up and as an adult. While other TV shows—many of which I fondly remember, while others lie forgotten—come and go, Doctor Who lives on constantly in my mind and thoughts. It has shaped me in very perceptible ways. I became a full-fledged fan at the age of ten, but I was well aware of the show for years before that—scared stiff of it, yet somehow intrigued and drawn to it.

In recognition of all this and of its upcoming 50th anniversary in November, I’d like to take a look back at my own history with the show. A couple of years ago, when I wrote my review of The Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Sky”, I also wrote about my introduction to Doctor Who. Last year, on the 49th anniversary, I mentioned that I might write a more detailed account of it this year. Well, that’s what this is—and more. Over the next twelve weeks, I’m going to examine my life with Doctor Who one Doctor at a time, one per week, and then on the final week, a look at the spin-offs and expanded universe. I will look at my earliest childhood memories of the show, how and when I fell in love with it, and all the way up to my current experiences and how I struggle with loving a programme that I now find so problematic. Of course, my exposure to Doctor Who wasn’t in order. After all, the show is older than I am. However, the Doctor is a Time Lord. He doesn’t have to do things in order, so neither do I. So I will look at the Doctors in order, even though it’s not in the order of my life. It just seems fitting somehow. So naturally, I begin with the first Doctor, William Hartnell.

The Dragon's Demand

While dragons are a hallmark of fantasy gaming (they are even present in the name Dungeons & Dragons, from which the Pathfinder game derives), they have surprisingly not featured much in Pathfinder adventures—at least not as the central focus. They have appeared in numerous adventures, but usually only as encounters along the way, or servants of the main villain. Into the Nightmare Rift, the fifth part of Shattered Star, had a draconic villain, but that dragon was not the central villain of the entire adventure path. However, dragons couldn’t remain in the shadows forever and a couple of recent non-adventure products—Dragons Unleashed and the Dragonslayer’s Handbookhave focused on dragons, and in The Dragon’s Demand by Mike Shel, a dragon finally gets to be the central villain of an epic adventure.

The Dragon’s Demand is the latest in the Pathfinder Modules series, but it is also the first in a brand new format for the series. Previous adventures have been 32 pages in length, but this doubles the count to 64. From here on, Pathfinder Modules will be this longer length, but will be released at a reduced rate. And The Dragon’s Demand starts the new format off in style with an adventure designed to take characters from first level all the way to seventh! Yet the higher page count doesn’t just allow for a longer adventure; it also allows for greater detail and background. The Dragon’s Demand is practically a mini-campaign, complete with a fleshed-out town and numerous smaller quests that the PCs can complete along the way. The adventure will work great for players looking for a short campaign that will last more than just a couple sessions, but will not go on for years (like an adventure path potentially can), and it will also work great as the triumphant start to a longer campaign.


Thursday 22 August 2013

Reign of Winter Player's Guide

When players sit down to create characters for an adventure path, it helps to have an idea what the adventure path is about and what kinds of characters will best fit in. After all, if you create a swashbuckling pirate character and the campaign ends up set entirely in a desert without a sailing ship or water in sight, you might be just a little disappointed. The campaign will likely end up not being much fun as a result. With some adventure paths, this is more of a concern, as they have specific themes or centre around specific locations. This is why there’s a player’s guide to accompany each adventure path.

Reign of Winter is a very linear adventure path. One event leads into the next in a somewhat preordained manner, and given its constant movement from one location to the next, there’s not a lot of opportunity for the PCs to stop and do their own thing. There’s certainly no opportunity for side quests. For this reason, characters need to be well-suited for what’s ahead, and their backgrounds need to reflect their abilities (although there are otherwise very few restrictions on appropriate character backgrounds and origins). The Reign of Winter Player’s Guide helps players create such useful characters, and it accomplishes this quite admirably.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Reign of Winter - The Witch Queen's Revenge

It has all been in preparation for this. The player characters have travelled to exotic lands and distant worlds, all to find and free Baba Yaga and put an end to the eternal winter that threatens to engulf all of Golarion. They have finally found Baba Yaga, but in order to free her from her prison they must complete a series of trials and face her daughter, Queen Elvanna, who desires her mother’s power for herself.

The Witch Queen’s Revenge by Greg A. Vaughan brings to a close Reign of Winter, which has been a very ambitious adventure path. It has involved a few aspects that some people may not fully like mixed with their fantasy (a little bit of science fiction and some modern-ish technology), but it has done so in often brilliant ways. This final adventure has the unenviable task that all final adventure path volumes have: that of bringing all the loose ends together and tying them off in a satisfying manner, while simultaneously providing a fun and exciting adventure in its own right. For the most part, The Witch Queen’s Revenge manages this wonderfully. It’s an excellent adventure, albeit a touch railroaded, and its final resolution could potentially frustrate some players. There are a couple other issues as well, and as such, it’s not the best of the entire adventure path (that honour definitely goes to Rasputin Must Die!), but it’s far from a weak adventure and it finishes off what has been a truly excellent adventure path overall.


Friday 16 August 2013

William Hartnell Interview Discovered!

These days, we're pretty used to seeing interviews with actors who have played the Doctor or other roles on Doctor Who. And not just the current Doctor and companions. Previous Doctors and companions continue to get interviewed regularly about their time on the programme. It's also pretty easy to find and watch past interviews with the actors while they were still on the show, or after they left, or even during the "wilderness years" of the nineties.

This is true of all the Doctors but one. Until now, no interviews with William Hartnell, the very first Doctor, have survived. But news has now broken that an interview with Hartnell from 1967 has been uncovered. Richard Bignell, a member of the Doctor Who Restoration Team (the team responsible for the restoration of Doctor Who episodes for the DVD releases), actually made the discovery a couple of years ago, but the announcement has been held back for the interview's appearance on the forthcoming DVD release of "The Tenth Planet", William Hartnell's final story as the Doctor (this release will also feature an animated reconstruction of the missing final episode, using the existing soundtrack). Bignell describes the discovery (via the Doctor Who News Page):

A few years ago, I was doing research into the article I was preparing for Issue 3 of Nothing at the End of the Lane on Hartnell's rather disastrous performance as Buskin the Fairy Cobbler in the pantomime Puss In Boots, which toured around four different venues in December 1966 and January 1967, just three months after he had completed work on The Tenth Planet.

Whilst doing some work at the BBC Written Archive Centre, I checked the respective Programme-as-Broadcast sheets for the period, looking specifically at the local BBC news programmes to see if Hartnell's appearance in panto was deemed worthy of a television report.

He was in fact interviewed twice. Once in the first week of the tour in Ipswich (shown on Look East on 27th December 1966) and again during the final week in Taunton for Points West, shown on 17th January 1967. As I'd built up some contacts in the BBC's regional news libraries working on the DVDs, I dropped the respective archives a line to see if there was any chance the two interviews survived.

The first interview for Look East had long gone, but the ladies in the Bristol News Library very quickly got back to me to say that the interview done in Taunton still survived. We arranged for the footage to be sent over to London, where it was duly transferred. It shows Hartnell in his dressing room doing his make-up for one of his performances, with his "Doctor's ring" on the table and a Berwick Dalek playsuit stuffed in the corner. Hartnell speaks about his problems acting against the Daleks and how pantomime isn't "legitimate" theatre! Enjoy!!
There have been all kinds of rumours going around lately about missing Doctor Who episodes having been found, but with no confirmations. While this isn't a lost episode, it's still an exciting find, and I look forward to watching the interview when it's available. "The Tenth Planet" DVD will be released in the U.K. on November 18. There is not yet an official release date for North America, but the DVDs are usually released in fairly close proximity, so we should expect it within a couple weeks of the U.K. release.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Dragonslayer's Handbook

Now that the dragons have been unleashed, it’s time to train, gather equipment and supplies, and set out to slay them! For those in need of a few tricks of the trade to help them slay a dragon, there’s the Dragonslayer’s Handbook. This Player Companion book provides players with background information on dragons, new feats and archetypes focused on dragonslaying, new spells, new equipment, and more.

There’s no denying that the Dragonslayer’s Handbook is a bit of a niche product. It’s geared towards player characters who intend to make a career out of slaying dragons, and many of the abilities and archetypes won’t see much use unless the campaign features dragons quite regularly. As such, the book may not be of great value to many games. However, those games that do focus more heavily on dragons will find much to benefit from in the book. There are some very nifty new options in here, including a whole new category of equipment called dragoncraft items, along with the aforementioned feats, spells, etc. That’s also not to say campaigns that only feature dragons occasionally can’t gain any benefit from the book. Dragoncraft items can easily show up in any campaign, as can the other equipment and many of the spells. It will just have lower utility in such cases.

Like most Player Companions, the Dragonslayer’s Handbook opens with an overview of its topic, providing what is considered common knowledge about dragons (information that doesn’t require a Knowledge check to know). This includes basic information about the ten most well-known types of dragons (the five chromatic and five metallic). It then goes on to advise how best to prepare to slay a dragon and provides a few equipment kits that may be useful. Next up is information on typical dragon lairs, including forest, march, mountain, underground, and underwater lairs.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Doctor Who Easter Egg on Google Maps

There is a police box on Earl's Court Road in London. If you follow this link to the Google Maps streetview of the location and then click on the double arrows in front of the police box, you can take a virtual tour of the TARDIS! It contains a detailed 360-degree view of the console room and TARDIS controls.

The above link apparently doesn't work if you're signed up for the beta version of the new Google Maps, but you can go directly into the TARDIS with this link

Monday 12 August 2013

Race and Gender Bias in Doctor Who

A little over a week ago, when Peter Capaldi was announced as the twelfth Doctor, there was a lot of celebration and cheering across Doctor Who fandom. And for good reason. Capaldi is a brilliant actor, and I have no doubt he will make an amazing Doctor. However, amidst all the praise and adulation has been some criticism and negativity. There have even been some rather baseless and silly criticisms. This isn’t really anything new. Doctor Who fans can be hard to please sometimes, and there are typically vehement complaints with every new Doctor, from Christopher Eccleston’s leather jacket not being Doctor-ish enough to Matt Smith being too young—an interesting one given that some people are now calling Peter Capaldi too old. However, there is one criticism of Capaldi’s casting that is gaining a fair amount of voice and it’s actually quite valid.

To be fair, it’s not actually a criticism of Peter Capaldi himself, and I’ll reiterate that I think he’s a great choice for the role. I’m excited to see his portrayal. Indeed, I can’t wait! The criticism is directed more towards the process itself and the people who make the decision, people like Steven Moffat and the other senior members of the production crew. The simple fact of the matter is that Peter Capaldi is the twelfth white man in a row to play the role, thirteenth if you count John Hurt. There has never been a person of colour in the role or even—gasp!—a woman. And lots of people have noticed. (Just as a bit of shameless self-promotion, this Jezebel article on the topic even mentions me by name!)

I can almost hear the groans from some people now. Why does it matter whether Capaldi is white or not? All that matters is whether he’s a good Doctor. The role should go to the best choice, regardless of the colour of the actor’s skin. And yes, this is ideally true. And it really doesn’t matter that Capaldi himself is white. However, what does matter is that all the Doctors have been white. If casting were truly colour blind, if everyone truly had an equal chance and the part always went to the person best suited for the role, wouldn’t we logically expect a bit more of a racially diverse group playing the Doctor? It’s simple statistics. This becomes more and more true the more Doctors there are, as the sample size becomes larger. The U.K. is a pretty racially diverse place and there are lots of non-white actors there, but none of them ever land the role of the Doctor*. Now, to be fair, the political climate back in the 60’s and 70’s pretty much ensured that the early Doctors would all be white, but this is the 21st century now and all four 21st century Doctors (five including Hurt) have been white. It really is overdue time to get rid of these ingrained biases that still permeate our lives and media, as this is a problem that extends well beyond Doctor Who.

Dragons Unleashed

Dragons are an iconic part of fantasy. Massive, winged lizards that breathe fire (and sometimes other things like cold or poison gas), they inspire both awe and fear. Naturally, they are an iconic part of fantasy roleplaying as well. The original fantasy roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons, even has them in its name. As a game that developed out of D&D, Pathfinder, too, features dragons. Each Bestiary has included several types of dragons and dragon-like creatures, and other books have introduced a few other varieties as well.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, however, Pathfinder has done very little with dragons so far. Early on, there was the 3.5 supplement, Dragons Revisited, which looked at the ten core chromatic and metallic dragons and introduced the history of dragons in Golarion. Since then, dragons have occasionally shown up in adventures, but rarely as a principal antagonist. There hasn’t even been an adventure path yet that has a dragon as its central villain. Apart from the new kinds of dragons in the various Bestiaries, dragons have barely put in an appearance at all since the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was released. In the last couple of months, however, there has been a little boost in dragon-related products, starting with Dragons Unleashed (which I am reviewing here), as well as the Dragonslayer’s Handbook and the adventure module The Dragon’s Demand (both of which I will be reviewing in the coming days and weeks). Where there was once very little, there is suddenly quite a bit.

Dragons Unleashed is very different from Dragons Revisited, and so people shouldn’t think that it is just a rehash of that earlier product. It doesn’t follow the format of the Revisited line of books, which look at the ecologies of various types of creatures. Instead, Dragons Unleashed presents fifteen specific dragons with their history, personality, complete stats, lair, and treasure hoard. The dragons are of various different kinds, not just the standard chromatic and metallic dragons (black, blue, green, red, white, brass, bronze, copper, gold, and silver), and cover a range of power levels. Of course, being the powerful creatures that dragons tend to be, the majority of dragons in this book have challenge ratings in the double digits. In fact, there is only one entry in the book (technically three dragons—the Brazen Clutch, all described together in one entry) with a CR below 10. The most powerful dragon in the book has a CR of 25 and many of the others have CRs in the high teens and low twenties.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Castles of the Inner Sea

When people think of fantasy, they tend to think of wizards and dragons and other mystical things. These are what make it fantasy, the things that separate it from reality. But at the same time, people also think of castles and knights on horseback, things that actually exist (or have existed) in the real world. For fantasy to work well, it requires something people can relate to. If everything is unreal, it becomes harder to suspend disbelief, an important requirement of any fiction, but even more so with fantasy. As such, the trappings of mediaeval Europe—the castles, knights, kings, and queens—take the role of the familiar and the normal, allowing the fantastic to achieve its potential.

Funnily enough, castles don’t actually make much sense in most fantasy worlds. Castles were developed as a means of defence—against forces that didn’t have the capability of flight. But in a world with flying creatures and wizards casting spells, invaders can easily bypass castles’ walls, and once that’s done, most of the castles’ defences are for naught. Yet this is something we, as an audience of fantasy, conveniently overlook. We either don’t notice it at all, or we shrug our shoulders and decide we don’t care. Castles provide a specific feel. They’re a link to the real world. It doesn’t matter whether they’re truly realistic or not.

In fantasy roleplaying, castles are just as iconic. A castle can be a base of operations for the player characters or a site where they adventure and explore. Villains might lair in a great fortress, or a castle might be the home of the benevolent rulers of the land. Castles certainly abound in various places across the Pathfinder campaign world of Golarion. Castles of the Inner Sea takes a look at six specific castles from across the continent of Avistan, complete with maps, overviews of each castle’s history and denizens, and a specific adventuring location within each castle.

Sunday 4 August 2013

The Twelfth Doctor: Peter Capaldi

Earlier today, before the big announcement, I was talking with my wife and some friends about who the new Doctor might end up being. I mentioned that Peter Capaldi had been a press favourite for the last several days and that I thought he would make a superb Doctor. However, I also declared that there was pretty much zero chance that he would actually turn out to be the new Doctor.

Well, as most people probably already know, I was utterly wrong there. I was not able to watch the live show of his announcement due to other commitments (to be honest, even if I could have, it was all a bit too pomp-and-circumstance for my tastes), but I was able to check briefly on-line shortly after the announcement to find out the degree of my error. And I am suitably humbled.

Seriously though, I do think Peter Capaldi is an excellent choice. I haven't seen much of The Thick Of It, the show he's probably most well known for, but the small bits I've seen of his performance have impressed me. However, he absolutely blew me away in Torchwood: Children of Earth. His performance as Frobisher is one of the things that makes that miniseries one of my all-time favourite things ever. I think Capaldi could do amazing things in the role of the Doctor and bring it a gravitas that we haven't really seen since Christopher Eccleston (provided the scripts are decent, that is).

I'm really glad to see an older actor chosen for the part again. I wrote a couple months ago about what I'd like to see in a new Doctor and this was one of my criteria. Capaldi is actually about the same age (55) as William Hartnell was when he took the role back in 1963. Change is an important part of introducing any new Doctor and after two very young Doctors in a row, an older actor will help to emphasize that change.

Although Capaldi will make his debut as the Doctor at the end of this year's Christmas special, we won't really see his performance as the Doctor until sometime next year. As such, it's not really possible to judge exactly what that performance may be like. However, I am very optimistic.