Monday 30 September 2013

September Round-Up, Orbiting TARDIS Update, and other Doctor Who News

September was a rather uneventful month, with not a lot going on. There was the finale of Breaking Bad, I suppose, but I must confess, I didn’t watch it. I’ve actually never watched a single episode of that series. People keep telling me it’s great, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I actually haven’t been watching much of anything lately—but I have been doing lots of reading!

Here on the blog, all that reading has helped me catch up further with my Pathfinder reviews. The big one was Mythic Adventures. A book of that size takes a while to read and then review. I also added reviews of the Pathfinder Society Primer, The Worldwound, The Worldwound Incursion, Faiths & Philosophies, Demons Revisited, and the Demon Hunter’s Handbook. I am now caught up on everything except this month’s releases. Of course, by the time I get through all of those (next up will be Mythic Realms), October’s releases will probably be available, but hopefully, I’ll get a start on those as well before the end of the month.

Outside of Pathfinder, the only other thing I had going this month was my weekly reflections for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. This month I looked back on my time with the second, third, fourth, and fifth Doctors (and although it was actually at the end of August, just for completion’s sake, here’s the link to my reflections on the first Doctor).

In the wider world of Doctor Who, there have been a couple of things going on—things that I thought I’d compile here since I haven’t made separate posts about them. Perhaps the biggest thing is that the BBC released its anniversary celebrations plan. Actually, it released it 12 hours early by mistake, took it down even though everyone had seen it, and then put it back up at the right time and hoped that everyone would still find it a surprise! Then, very shortly after that, they announced that there was a problem of some sort with the planned showing of the very first Doctor Who story, “An Unearthly Child”. There has not yet been any confirmation on just what the problems are/were or whether or not they will actually broadcast the story. The press release also revealed the title of the 50th anniversary special as “The Day of the Doctor”. It is confirmed at 75 minutes in length.

In just the last couple days, the BBC revealed the official hashtag for the 50th anniversary, which is #savetheday. Honestly, I find that hashtag rather underwhelming and wonder why it can’t be something straight-forward like #doctorwho50 or something like that. Then again, I’m not that into hashtags. I use them once in a while in my tweets, but most of the time, I just can’t be bothered. Anyway, here’s the “sting” introducing the hashtag:

Radio Times has a look at the original TARDIS blueprints. They come from “An Unearthly Child” director Waris Hussein’s personal collection. It’s a fascinating glance back into the origins of Doctor Who. For another look into the early years of Doctor Who, a 1966 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) interview with Syndey Newman, the creator of Doctor Who has surfaced. The interview actually only mentions Doctor Who briefly near the beginning when Newman refers to it as “silly”, but it is nonetheless a look at one of the minds responsible for early Doctor Who. You can watch it in the player below (warning: a couple of advertisements play first).

A few months back, I made a post about a father-daughter team trying to put a TARDIS into orbit for the 50th anniversary. They have an update on their progress, which you can see below.

Have a great October everyone!

Demon Hunter's Handbook

While demons have been prominent in a lot of recent Pathfinder products, those products are primarily for gamemasters to provide compelling and powerful villains for their campaigns. They don’t have a great deal for characters needing to fight demons. That’s where the Demon Hunter’s Handbook comes in. It’s a book full of equipment, feats, spells, and more, all to help characters face and overcome the hordes of the Abyss.

The Demon Hunter’s Handbook is certainly a bit of a niche book, in that it will only really be useful in a campaign where demons feature regularly. However, as demons do tend to show up a fair amount even in campaigns not focused on them (Paizo’s various adventure paths quite often have a demon or two show up at some point), players will likely be able to find a use for at least some of the abilities in this book in just about any campaign. As such, it’s not quite as niche as a book like the Dragonslayer’s Handbook.

This is very much a book of mechanical options (or “crunch”). What flavour text (“fluff”) there is, is generally short and fairly broad and generic in scope. While this is true of many books in the Player Companion line (to which this book also belongs), it’s a bit more so in this case. The opening chapter containing an overview of demons, demonology and demon hunters’ causes is entirely fluff, and there is some background information later on the Worldwound and the Abyss, but most of the rest of the book is pure crunch. This is, perhaps, not all that surprising. Player characters probably shouldn’t start their careers as experts in demons. That sort of information needs to be learned over time. However, they certainly will need equipment and abilities to help them fight demons.

Demons Revisited

Demons are popular antagonists in many Pathfinder games (not to mention numerous other roleplaying games as well). While they are in the limelight at the moment in many recent products, they have always shown up with regularity in Pathfinder products and adventures. Demons Revisited by James Jacobs is another of the recent books focusing heavily on demons—indeed, in this case, focusing entirely on demons. One of the strengths of this book is that, while it is a great stand-alone product that looks at ten specific demon types in detail, it is also the perfect companion product to several others. Combining them all together provides a huge wealth of information and adventuring opportunities, giving demons a life and “reality” that most other monsters in the game don’t have.

Demons Revisited naturally works well in conjunction with The Worldwound, allowing gamemasters to bring to life the dark entities that rule that land. Not surprisingly, it also works well with the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, which is all about demons and the Worldwound. Then there’s the Demon Hunter’s Handbook (a book I haven’t quite got round to reviewing yet, but it’s next on the list), which arms player characters with the tools they need to go out and fight the demons in Demons Revisited. But there’s also a much earlier book that Demons Revisited makes the perfect companion to: Book of the Damned Volume 2: Lords of Chaos. The three Book of the Damned volumes are an excellent series detailing the fiends of the lower planes. However, of the three, I’ve always felt that Lords of Chaos is the weakest for the simple fact that it is the one most constrained by its size. The Abyss is far larger in scope and size than either Hell (home of the devils of volume one) or Abaddon (home of the daemons of volume three). As a result, in order to cover everything there (or at least, a sizeable chunk), each individual part has to make due with considerably less detail. Demons Revisited helps to fill in the blanks Lords of Chaos couldn’t cover. In a sense, it’s almost like part two of Lords of Chaos and its existence makes the Book of the Damned more complete.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Fifth Doctor

I moved to a new school the year that Peter Davison’s Doctor finally premièred in full in Canada. I had been identified as “gifted” and was being moved into a gifted programme, something that didn’t earn me a lot of popularity at the school I was leaving. Of course, since I was leaving the school (and never actually had much in the way of popularity anyway), that really didn’t bother me. Popularity was never something I was after, anyway. I did my own thing, and I really didn’t care what other people thought of that—well, that’s what I told myself anyway. In my new class, I found a much greater level of acceptance (even of the fact that I liked Doctor Who) and forged much stronger friendships, and that was really rather liberating. Of course, the school as a whole still shunned the gifted class, but at least we had each other.

The day “Castrovalva” Part One aired on TVOntario, I wasn’t actually expecting it. There had been a straight run of repeats for numerous months (most of which were actually new to me at the time), and I hadn’t been paying attention to when the new season might start. There had been no announcements or previews of the new season that I had seen, so I sat down that Saturday evening expecting another Tom Baker story. If I remember correctly, the one that had been repeated the week before was “The Leisure Hive”. At the time, I had no idea what came after that story since the repeats hadn’t caught back up to where I’d started watching (with “Full Circle”). I think I half expected the repeats to continue all the way up to “Logopolis” again before the fifth Doctor would finally start.

The TVOntario ident came up on screen and then the most bizarre thing ever happened: the Doctor Who title sequence didn’t start. Instead, there was a scene of some scaffolding and a person lying on the ground behind it. For a brief moment, I panicked. Was Doctor Who not on? What was happening. And then, as Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan came running into the scene, I realized that was the Doctor lying on the ground. These were the ending moments of “Logopolis” as the Doctor was about to regenerate. I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who start with a pre-titles sequence before, but it made instant sense to me that this one had to. The titles would start as soon as he had regenerated. This was clearly how it happened with every new Doctor. I know now I was wrong—that really was the very first time the show had ever had a pre-titles sequence—but it made logical sense to me at the time.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Faiths & Philosophies

I was uncertain what to expect from Faiths & Philosophies when I first heard about it. After all, there has already been a whole series of books on faiths in Golarion, with each volume covering the gods of good (Faiths of Purity), neutrality (Faiths of Balance), and evil (Faiths of Corruption). Between the three of them, they cover all the gods of the Inner Sea, so what could Faiths & Philosophies cover? The answer is actually rather obvious, but it is something that often gets ignored by many campaign settings: the different forms that faith and belief can take and how those things don’t necessarily have to centre on a god or gods. Faiths & Philosophies looks at the different kinds of philosophies (including religions, but not limited to them) and belief structures that exist within the world of Golarion, from druidism and the Green Faith to spirit worship and even atheism. It also includes lots of little mechanical perks for players with characters belonging to any of these various faiths.

I’m really glad that a book like this exists as I often wish Pathfinder Player Companion and Pathfinder Campaign Setting volumes would include just a little bit more of what daily life is like in the world. I do wish Faiths & Philosophies could go into quite a bit more detail, in fact. It offers a tantalizing glimpse at the belief structures of the world, but since a lot of space has to be devoted to new traits, feats, archetypes, and more, it can really do nothing more than brush the surface of these things. Nonetheless, it does provide just enough information to inspire players designing characters and gamemasters designing campaigns. For that, if nothing else, it’s well worth it. And some of those new mechanical options are quite interesting.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Fourth Doctor

Although Jon Pertwee was technically my first Doctor, the honour really belongs more to Tom Baker. He was the one who imprinted himself on my memory, going so far as to take Pertwee’s place so that I forgot the third Doctor had ever existed. It was the early fourth Doctor period that had the most effect on me in my early formative years. But it wasn’t just Tom Baker. It was also Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Indeed, to some small extent, I think Sarah may well have had more effect on me than the Doctor himself did.

In those years, to me, Doctor Who was about the Doctor and Sarah—and sometimes Harry (I knew Harry existed, but he wasn’t always there, so I didn’t really include him to the same extent). They were the stars of the show and they had always been the stars of the show. There were no other companions and no other Doctors. As I detailed last week, my memories of “Day of the Daleks” had replaced both the third Doctor and Jo with the fourth Doctor and Sarah. Similar things happened after Sarah’s time on the show. I have a distinct memory of seeing “The Invisible Enemy”, specifically the scene where the Doctor and Leela are about to cross the bridge between the two parts of the Doctor’s brain. But my child mind didn’t notice Leela. No, that was Sarah. Right up until I started watching the show regularly (when I was confronted with the harsh reality that the person I thought was Sarah was being repeatedly called Romana), every female character on the show who spent any amount of time around the Doctor was Sarah. (I should point out that I have always had a rather poor visual memory. I’m an audio learner and remember sounds far better. When it comes to vision, I remember actions—movements and things people do—without any problem, but when it comes to what people (or things) look like, I can’t give more than the vaguest details (gender, skin colour, very approximate height, maybe hair colour). It’s perhaps not surprising that I never noticed Sarah’s changing appearance or that Tom Baker looked very different from Jon Pertwee.)

In many ways, I was kind of enamoured of Sarah. She was the one I looked up to more so than even the Doctor. The Doctor was clearly a hero, of course. He was the good guy and he saved the day in the end. But the Doctor was distant, intimidating, even a little bit terrifying in his own right. He was powerful and if the monsters could harm him, they had be really, really bad. Yet Sarah was a different sort of hero. She was more like me. She was afraid of the same things I was afraid of, had the same sort of vulnerabilities. In short, she was human. The Doctor wasn’t. Sarah showed that a normal person could rise up and defeat the villains, too. You didn’t have to be a powerful alien like the Doctor.

Wrath of the Righteous - The Worldwound Incursion

After a few products dealing with the theme of dragons (Dragons Unleashed, the Dragonslayer’s Handbook, and The Dragon’s Demand), the latest themes for Paizo products are demons and mythic. Demons are a major focus of The Worldwound, Demons Revisited, and the Demon Hunter’s Handbook (the latter two being products I will be reviewing in the not-too-distant future). Mythic is the major focus, not surprisingly, of Mythic Adventures, but it is also the focus of Mythic Realms and Mythic Origins (two more products I’ll be getting to in the coming weeks). The new adventure path, Wrath of the Righteous, focuses on both.

When I read The Worldwound, I was rather surprised by how much I liked it. It deals with an area of the world I was never particularly bothered about, but the book showed me just how interesting and compelling an area it is. As Wrath of the Righteous is set in that area and deals with the Mendevian crusades against the demons (something else I wasn’t overly interested in), I didn’t really expect it to interest me a great deal. I didn’t expect to dislike it either. Rather, I just expected it to be a good, but unremarkable adventure path. Expectations can be glaringly wrong, however. The Worldwound helped raised my expectations for the adventure path, and reading some of the initial response to the first volume raised them even more. By the time I finally got round to reading it myself, I was quite eager.

And I have to say, The Worldwound Incursion by Amber E. Scott absolutely blew me away. A couple months ago, I declared Rasputin Must Die! to be one of the best adventures I had ever read. Well, it’s entirely possible that adventure now has a rival. I don’t make statements like that lightly (and anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows I can be very exacting in my standards), but from start to finish, this is one epic and exciting adventure. It’s definitely worthy of the term mythic. If this adventure is anything to go by, the remainder of Wrath of the Righteous will be simply stunning.


Friday 20 September 2013

Mythic Adventures

When I first heard the term mythic in relation to Pathfinder, my initial impression (which I suspect many other people shared and some possibly still share) was that of epic, character levels beyond 20 as first detailed in the third edition Dungeons and Dragons sourcebook, the Epic Level Handbook. I figured the announced Mythic Adventures book was to be Pathfinder’s replacement for the aforementioned third edition book. It was very quickly apparent, though, that this was not exactly the case. While there are similarities between mythic and epic and even some overlap, they are different things. That said, Mythic Adventures is a sort of replacement for the Epic Level Handbook as mythic tiers (the mythic equivalent of levels) pretty much make epic levels unnecessary, while simultaneously accomplishing quite a bit more.

At first, I was quite disappointed. I actually really enjoy high-level play, and I was looking forward to Paizo one day “fixing” epic levels. Most people will agree the Epic Level Handbook was not a very good book. The system had a lot of flaws in it—its biggest problem being its attempt to make level advancement unlimited with a continuous repetition of the same for infinity. A noble goal, I suppose, but simply unattainable. Nonetheless, the Epic Level Handbook had a few good things going for it, particularly a selection of epic monsters that were powerful, unique, and hugely imaginative. As a revision of D&D 3.5, it seemed natural that Pathfinder would eventually revise epic levels as well. I always expected such a revision to make drastic changes to the very structure of epic advancement. I also fully expected a change of name—primarily because, in messageboard discussions on the topic, Paizo employees had made it fairly clear they favoured a change in terminology. What I didn’t expect is what mythic actually ended up becoming.

In short, mythic is not necessarily an advancement into super-high levels, although it can be used for high-level play (indeed, it’s necessary in order to provide characters with powers beyond 20th level). Mythic can easily be introduced at low levels as well, and the recommendation for a typical mythic game is that characters have roughly half as many mythic tiers as they have character levels. Mythic is essentially a way for characters to gain additional and greater powers beyond those normally available. I have to say that when I first heard about this, I strongly disliked it. The game already has a built-in method for gaining additional power—it’s called levelling up. New powers are introduced to the game all the time through new spells, new feats, prestige classes, and more. And what I heard and read initially regarding mythic paths just sounded like prestige classes (or maybe templates) under a different name.

However, after my initial reaction, I decided to maintain an open mind and wait. I downloaded the playtest document and skimmed it over (unfortunately, I never got a chance to read it fully and never actually participated in the playtest). What I saw there gave me some reason to think it might just work out, although I agreed with some people’s initial responses that it didn’t really feel mythic (to use the literal meaning of the word, as opposed to the game meaning).

Now that Mythic Adventures is out, I have to say I really, really like the results. This is a great book and the system it introduces looks like it will work far better than the Epic Level Handbook’s system ever did. What’s in the book can provide great new dimensions for gameplay and the opportunity to build exciting, unique characters. That said, there’s still one thing I don’t really buy: that mythic characters are all that...well...mythic.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Third Doctor

Jon Pertwee was my first Doctor. The funny thing is, it was a long time before I realized this. During my childhood, Tom Baker managed to supplant himself into my memories of Jon Pertwee stories. It became like Jon Pertwee never existed and it had been Tom Baker all along. A couple years ago, when I reviewed the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Sky”, I talked a little about my original introduction to Doctor Who, and my attempts to figure out which story my earliest memories of the show came from—a Dalek story with Tom Baker, and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Except, it wasn’t with either of them.

I can’t say for sure what the very first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw was. I was so young then, that what memories I have of that time are nothing more than images, like photographs in my head—and blurry photographs at that. In all likelihood, my first exposure to the show was not a full episode, but rather just a few moments. My mom used to watch the show regularly, so I’d hear or catch glimpses of it from week to week. It used to terrify me. To me, Doctor Who was not a science fiction show; it was a horror show. So not surprisingly, my earliest memories of it are piecemeal. Memory is never a particularly reliable thing (studies have shown just how poor human memory actually is) and during the earliest years of life, it was even less reliable, so I suppose it’s not so strange that Jon Pertwee managed to morph into Tom Baker in my memories.

It’s still a weird sensation. I still have a very vivid memory of Tom Baker strapped to a table with Daleks hovering over him. But that scene doesn’t exist anywhere. It never happened. The scene is from “Day of the Daleks” and is actually of Jon Pertwee strapped to a table. I’ve seen the story many times now, so obviously, I have a memory of the real scene too, and the two memories conflict in my head. The Tom Baker one won’t go away even though I know it’s not real.

With Tom Baker taking over Pertwee’s place in my early memories, one might reasonably think that Pertwee didn’t have much of an effect on me. After all, if I forgot him so easily... But there’s no doubting the show itself did have an effect—in more ways than just scaring me—and Pertwee was an important part of the show. Despite being terrified of the show, I was strangely drawn to it. It was a long time before I was willing to watch an episode all the way through (not until well into Tom Baker’s time), but it still held a prominent place in my mind. I can’t really explain it, but Doctor Who was significant somehow, in ways that other television shows weren’t. It had already been running longer than most other shows, but I certainly didn’t know that at the time, so what made it more significant than other shows—even the ones I watched regularly and all the way through—I can’t really say.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Worldwound

One of the most dangerous places on Golarion is the region known as the Worldwound. A little over a century ago, at the time of the god Aroden’s death, demons tore open a rift from the Abyss into northeastern Avistan, then swarmed out and destroyed the nation of Sarkoris. Forces led by the followers of Iomedae fought hard to hold the demons back, launching a series of crusades, none of which have been fully successful. However, they have succeeded in keeping the demonic taint from spreading across all of Golarion.

This desolate land is the subject of Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound. I’ve often said that my favourite supplements are generally the ones detailing specific lands and countries. But the Worldwound is a very different sort of area from most. It’s not the kind of land that player characters call home. Instead, it’s the kind of land that they travel to once they’ve gained a few levels, and hope to survive long enough to make some sort of difference. However, they would have to be high-level Mythic heroes to have any hope of ending the demonic invasion entirely (something they may get the opportunity for in the new Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, the first part of which I will be reviewing in the not-too-distant future).

The Worldwound is really quite an impressive book. The desolation and despair of the setting come across remarkably well, while at the same time, the little glimmers of hope that dot the region (a few hold-outs for the forces of good) keep the book from becoming too depressing in its subject matter. In many ways, travelling to the Worldwound is like travelling to the Abyss without leaving Golarion, so it presents a very, very different setting to what is just next door. Even the sky and the weather behave in different ways. It’s not an area of the world I’ve paid a lot of attention to in my gaming up to now, but after reading this book, I just may pay it a little more in the future.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Second Doctor

Of the eleven Doctors, I think I probably have the least to say about Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor. This isn’t out of a dislike of Troughton, his interpretation, or performance. I like his Doctor, and I enjoy watching the few episodes that still exist from his time. It could perhaps be because his era of the show is the most badly hit with missing episodes, and so there is less for me to reflect on and less to have impacted me. But that can’t be the entire reason. There are other Doctors with small episode counts (Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston) and I suspect I’ll have quite a bit more to say about them when I get around to them in a few weeks’ time. For whatever reason, finally being exposed to his episodes just didn’t have as much an effect on me as other Doctors have.

I wrote a fair amount last week about my early years searching for novelizations of the first two Doctors, as those books were the only way I had of experiencing them. Much like the first Doctor books, second Doctor books were difficult to find. I can’t remember now what exactly I read of the second Doctor. I do remember reading The Web of Fear—although, to be honest, I don’t remember the actual reading; I just remember finding the book in the library and seeing the very prominent picture of Patrick Troughton on the cover. I remember the excitement of seeing that book, and that may well have been the first second Doctor book I read.

It wasn’t until much later that I actually got to see Patrick Troughton in a television story. The first was "The Two Doctors" during Colin Baker's time. Then I got to see "The Five Doctors" when it came out on video (since TVOntario skipped it). But the first actual story I saw from his era came about in a very unusual situation and was completely unexpected. The series was finally starting to come out on VHS. A local video rental shop near where I lived in London, Ontario had a few Doctor Who videos and they had the ones that the local comic store I bought them at refused to stock (as I mentioned last week), so I decided to rent them (and I will confess, I copied them). One of the ones I rented was the Tom Baker story “The Robots of Death”. Well that’s what the box said, at any rate. So did the label on the actual tape—sort of. When I got home and took the tape out of the plastic case the rental shop placed it in, I noticed something odd about that label. With a ballpoint pen, someone had crossed out the word “Robot” and scribbled in “Seeds”. That was odd, I thought. Could this be a mislabelled copy of “The Seeds of Death” that had also been put in an incorrect box? Excited at the possibility, I slipped it into the VCR, pressed play, and lo and behold, it was “The Seeds of Death”.

Friday 6 September 2013

Pathfinder Society Primer

Pathfinder is a word with quite a few meanings. Ignoring the vehicle, the branch of the Girl Guides, a movie or two with that name, and so on, even within the context of the roleplaying game published by Paizo, it has several meanings. It is the name of the game itself (which was named after the Pathfinder Adventure Path), it is the name of an in-game organization of adventurers and treasure seekers, and it is also the name of a real-world organized play society (in which players play members of the in-game Pathfinder Society). It makes a certain kind of sense that, because it shares the same name as the game, the in-game society would gain a certain amount of extra attention. It likewise makes a suitable vessel for creating a real-world organized play society around. As such, it’s not surprising that there would be a full book devoted to it. What is perhaps surprising is that there are now three.

The first book was Seekers of Secrets. Then came the Pathfinder Society Field Guide. Now, there’s also the Pathfinder Society Primer. Admittedly, the first two books weren’t all that good. They were also part of the Campaign Setting line (meant primarily for gamemasters, even though there’s a lot useful for players in both books), while the new Primer is part of the Player Companion line (for players, obviously). Nevertheless, three books on the same group seems like a bit of overkill, especially when no other organization has gotten even a single book to itself. Generally, organizations have to share space with other organizations, such as the knightly orders in Knights of the Inner Sea. On some of those occasions, such as in the Faction Guide, these organizations even have to share space with...yes, the Pathfinder Society. I suppose that, since the real-world Pathfinder Society is focused around the exploits of their in-game namesake, the real-world society needs some extra material, but nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that the Pathfinder Society (the in-game one) really doesn’t need any more material about itself.

In looking at the Pathfinder Society Primer, I have done my best to look at the merits of the book on its own and not let my bias about the number of books on the subject cloud my judgements. That said, this book does not exist in isolation. It’s part of a series (or rather, several series) of books, and its place within that series is important too, so I cannot completely ignore that it is the third book on the same basic topic. In cases such as the Pathfinder field agent prestige class, it is very relevant.