Sunday 30 November 2014

Advanced Class Guide

I will start with a confession that I wasn't particularly looking forward to this book. In fact, the Advanced Class Guide is the first book in the hardcover rulebook line that I seriously considered not getting. This is because its basic premise doesn't really offer me anything I want or need for my games. It's not that I'm opposed to new classes. Rather, the particular classes in this book don't fill any niches that I feel needed filling.

The Advanced Class Guide introduces ten new “hybrid” classes for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. As hybrid classes, they combine two existing classes together, offering a selection of abilities from both classes as well as new abilities that fit their combined flavour. These classes essentially provide a way of multiclassing without multiclassing. This is the fundamental reason why these classes mostly don't appeal to me. While they do have some new abilities, they don't offer any new flavour. In all cases, it's possible to create characters in the same style with the existing multiclass rules. Now, I should probably also confess that I like the multiclassing rules. Yes, there are problems with them (particularly with multiclass spellcasters), but as long as you can get away from the idea that “class” is synonymous with “profession”, you can create a huge variety of character types with them—and yes, they can even be effective characters. As there is already a way to combine the abilities of different classes, there really doesn't seem to be a place for hybrid classes. New classes should be exactly that—new. I have the same problem with the magus from Ultimate Magic, to be honest.

As well as multiclassing, the game also uses archetypes as a way of providing characters with a smattering of abilities from other classes. Archetypes provide ways to create characters that are just slight variants of existing classes, so that an entirely new class isn't necessary. The new classes in the Advanced Class Guide feel a lot like archetypes in many ways. In fact, in the original playtest document, they were alternate classes of both their parent classes. (Alternate classes are archetypes that change a large number of things about their parent class and so get a complete write-up while not being actual new classes.) However, this was changed in the final book, so they are now fully separate classes. I personally liked them better as alternate classes—though, honestly, even as alternate classes, these classes still felt mostly unnecessary.

Nevertheless, despite my misgivings, I did decide to get the book, feeling that there would likely be other parts of the book (like new feats and spells) that would be useful to me, and—who knows?—I might even decide that I like the new classes after all. Alas, it didn't quite work out that way. I'm not saying that the Advanced Class Guide is a bad book. It does what it set out to do, and it does it pretty well. It's just going to see very little use in my games. I might use the swashbuckler and shaman, though.

All that said, let's take a look at what it has to offer and examine both its strengths and its weaknesses.

Friday 31 October 2014

A Note on Updates (or Lack Thereof)

People might have noticed a distinct lack of updates to this blog lately. In my August Round-Up, I briefly mentioned being back at school this year and that that was going to keep me very busy. Well, it's kept me far busier than I imagined. I'm in a practicum assignment on Mondays and Tuesdays. Then I have full-time classes from Wednesday to Friday. I also have to complete a couple hours of community service each week as part of the program. Of course, when I get home each day, I then have readings and assignments to attend to. It's a great program, but it's leaving me with very little time left over (and I'm also trying to earn a bit of money to live off of from part-time work as well). This all means, the blog updates have fallen way behind.

But don't worry. There will be more! They just won't be frequent for a while. When they do come, they will likely be in small bursts. For example, there will be at least two (hopefully three) new reviews up by the end of this weekend. I also have three weeks off in December, so I hope to do lots of catching up during that time. There are likely to be more reviews of programs like Doctor Who than of Pathfinder and other books (although one of this weekend's forthcoming reviews will be a Pathfinder review). This is for the simple fact that it takes less time to watch a program (even watch it twice, which is what I prefer to do when reviewing something) than it does to read an entire book.

My program ends in mid-May, at which time, I'll regain enough of a life to resume more frequent writing for this blog. In the meantime, I hope people will be patient with only occasional posting. Despite having no other posts this month, October has still managed to have the third-highest number of views ever to this blog, so I know people are still coming by. Thanks so much to everyone who reads!

Monday 29 September 2014

Doctor Who - Time Heist

In just a few episodes, Series 8 of Doctor Who has delivered a wide variety of styles. The fifth episode of the series, “Time Heist” by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat continues the trend by presenting a somewhat convoluted bank-robbing adventure tale. Overall, it's a fairly fun story, but tries to be a little too clever for its own good. While it's reasonably entertaining and certainly much better than Thompson's last offering, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, it's also ultimately kind of forgettable—which is oddly fitting for a story where amnesia plays a pivotal role in the plot.


Sunday 28 September 2014

Doctor Who - Listen

There is frequently a lot to criticize about Steven Moffat's writing, whether that's overused ideas, shallow characters, or more, and I've never been one to shy away from such criticism. However, I've also never shied away from giving praise where praise is due and stating the things that Moffat writes that I do like. I didn't expect to like “Listen” as much as I do, but it drew me in almost immediately and kept me mesmerized throughout. It's not perfect, of course—but what ever is? It contains a few of Moffat's more problematic tendencies, and reuses a lot of ideas, like scaring through the senses (in the vein of the Weeping Angels or the Silence) and “timey-wimey” plot-lines and paradoxes. In fact, there's really nothing new about “Listen” at all. Everything in it, Moffat has done several, if not numerous, times before. Yet despite all its repetition of old ideas, “Listen” surprisingly manages to become something completely different, something Doctor Who has never done before, breathing new life into a number of, frankly, tired ideas.

Kudos should also go to the production team for this story. Director Douglas Makinnon has created a suitably eerie and surreal atmosphere and the performances are top-notch throughout. The overall result is an episode unlike just about anything the show has ever produced, certainly since 2005. Some people will be dissatisfied with the ending, but nonetheless, I would rank it as one of the best stories since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner and certainly the best that he has scripted himself in that time.


Saturday 13 September 2014

Doctor Who - Robot of Sherwood

Doctor Who is a show capable of various different styles, from light and campy to dramatic to dark and foreboding. Yet even at its darkest, it always has a sense of humour. It might be the Doctor cracking macabre jokes in last week's “Into the Dalek” (“Top layer, if you want to say a few words”), or the zany antics of this week's “Robot of Sherwood”. It's somewhat fitting that, after a couple of rather dark episodes, the series should turn now to a light-hearted romp with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It helps to show that, while Peter Capaldi's Doctor may be a darker, more serious Doctor, this is still Doctor Who and it can still do anything it wants.

Alas, even Doctor Who can take it too far sometimes, and “Robot of Sherwood” is an example. I would never want Doctor Who to lose its humour and it absolutely is possible to have a silly, fun, and ludicrous story that works. Doctor Who has certainly done it many times. “Robot of Sherwood”, however, tries too hard to be funny, and it does so at the expense of character. There are some genuinely funny moments in the episode, and Peter Capaldi and Tom Riley (who plays Robin Hood) have some brilliant moments together. Their rivalry is very entertaining to watch. Yet the episode frequently devolves into slapstick and nonsense, resulting in a story that, while entertaining, is ultimately unsatisfying. It's not a terrible episode and it has its moments, but it could have—and should have—been so much more.


Monday 1 September 2014

August Round-Up: Doctor Who Returns Along With Doctor Who Extra!

I got behind on a bunch of projects in August (several of them for this blog), but it was still a pretty good month. A new school year is beginning now, and I'm actually back in classes myself this year, so it's going to be hectic and busy, but I'm at my best when it's hectic and busy. I'm quite looking forward to it!

Of course, August was all about the return of Doctor Who, with Peter Capaldi making his first outing as the Doctor! There was a new trailer early in the month, and we also learned that the new title sequence would be based on a fan-made sequence posted to YouTube last year. But August 23rd was the main event, as the first episode of the new season aired, and the second has aired now as well. I was quite impressed by “Deep Breath” and I was absolutely ecstatic about “Into the Dalek”. I'm always excited about new Doctor Who, but I'm feeling a much bigger thrill this year. Peter Capaldi is amazing in the role.

Also premièring in August along with Doctor Who was Doctor Who Extra. This behind-the-scenes programme is similar to Doctor Who Confidential, a programme that ran for several years from 2005 until the end of Series 6 in 2011, when it was cancelled. Doctor Who Extra, however, is much shorter than Confidential, which had 30-minute episodes in its early seasons and 45-minute episodes later on. Extra runs about 10 minutes per episode. The first episode of Extra has not been made available for viewing outside the United Kingdom, so I haven't seen it. I'm not sure why it isn't available as the second episode is, and all further episodes will also be available as they are released each week. You can watch the second episode in the player below:

To be honest, I was never much of a fan of Confidential, especially towards the end when they were clearly running out of ideas to fill up their full running time. Coming up with 45 minutes of extra material for every single episode of Doctor Who was really overreaching. Extra's shorter running time will likely be to its advantage in this respect. The “Into the Dalek” episode is entertaining and reveals some interesting behind-the-scenes information. Alas, even though it airs after Doctor Who, each episode of Extra is still essentially an advertisement for its associated Doctor Who episode, meaning that Extra is likely to suffer from a need to praise uncritically. I much prefer behind-the-scenes documentaries made well after their subject programmes, like the documentaries on classic Doctor Who DVDs and the DVDs of other older shows. Although memories may not be as fresh, the people involved are generally able to be more honest and reflective in recounting the making of the programme. They can say if they don't like a particular episode as much as other episodes. Likewise, when they declare a particular episode as their favourite, you can be confident it really is. With documentaries made at the same time as their subject programmes, those programmes always have to be portrayed as the greatest thing ever. At any rate, I'm curious to see how Doctor Who Extra turns out as the season progresses.

Moving on from Doctor Who, I didn't get round to a lot of Pathfinder things this month, but I did get in reviews of the final two parts of the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path: The Slave Trenches of Hakotep and Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh. There are several more reviews pending, including the Mummy's Mask Player's Guide, People of the Stars, and the Advanced Class Guide. Expect those in the next couple of weeks.

Have a great September, everyone!

Sunday 31 August 2014

Doctor Who - Into the Dalek

After fifty years of stories, it's difficult to do something new with the Daleks. They don't get reinvented the way the Doctor himself does, meaning they can start to seem stale and old. “Into the Dalek”, Peter Capaldi's second story as the Doctor, is a clear attempt to do something new with them. Intriguingly, its concept is really not all that new. It borrows heavily from other sources, including previous Doctor Who (Christopher Eccleston's “Dalek”, Tom Baker's “The Invisible Enemy”, Patrick Troughton's “The Evil of the Daleks” and so on) and completely different programmes like Fantastic Voyage and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “I, Borg”. But originality of concept is not really the important thing. In truth, there's no such thing as an original concept any more. What does matter, though, is what one does with the concepts, and “Into the Dalek” manages to take its various sources and swirl them together into a compelling and exciting episode of television that feels new. It takes the tired old concept of the Daleks and successfully makes them terrifying once more, while simultaneously examining the very question of what makes a person or Dalek good or evil. It doesn't offer easy answers either.


Wednesday 27 August 2014

Doctor Who - Deep Breath

The début of a new Doctor is always a momentous occasion. It's one of the key things that makes Doctor Who Doctor Who. But more than just being a defining aspect of the show as a whole, it is also an aspect which defines a new direction for the programme—a new era within the larger whole. The lead character has undergone a major change, but more than that, the show itself generally undergoes a significant change as well—in style and tone.

Expectations are often high at these times, but these expectations also bring with them some uncertainty, worry, and maybe even a bit of dread that it could all go terribly wrong. After all, just because it has an important task doesn't mean that the show always gets it right. Some Doctors' débuts have been brilliant, others middling, and one or two just downright bad. Peter Capaldi's début story, “Deep Breath”, is one that will likely stand the test of time. While the story itself falls more in the middling range as Doctor Who stories go, there is so much about it that reaches for—and even achieves—the brilliant end of the spectrum. Capaldi himself is amazing to behold, taking hold of the part like he was born for it. Indeed, performances all round are of stellar quality here, Jenna Coleman being a standout in particular. Alas, there are more than a few things that fall rather flat, too, but overall, I think the good edges out the bad, leaving this a story that will be well-remembered in time to come.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Mummy's Mask - Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh

Every adventure path has a theme linking its individual parts. This theme helps set the feel for the adventure path, influences its overall goal, and plays a role in the kinds of encounters the player characters have along the way. In Wrath of the Righteous, the theme is fighting demons and closing the Worldwound. Shattered Star's theme involves dungeon crawling in order to find the pieces of an important artifact, and Jade Regent's involves travelling across the world. Mummy's Mask's theme is that of Ancient Egypt (Osirian), tombs, and undead. Yet despite the common theme linking an adventure path, there is always a certain amount of variety. The adventures of Mummy's Mask have involved exploring ancient tombs and buildings, protecting a city from an undead incursion, researching in ancient libraries, and mingling with nobility. While an adventure path's theme provides unity, the variety of adventures keeps things fresh and avoids player boredom from doing the same thing over and over again. It is for this reason that I'm rather surprised to see two such similar adventures show up back-to-back as the final two instalments of Mummy's Mask.

In many ways, Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh by Mike Shel feels like the same adventure as The Slave Trenches of Hakotep. Sure, the location is changed and the specific monsters and villains to fight are different, but the overall approaches to both adventures are identical. Both involve dungeon crawls with PCs overcoming difficult traps and dangerous monsters in order to solve a specific puzzle and reach their goal. To make matters worse, Pyramid doesn't really handle itself any better than Slave Trenches, and anyone who has read my review of that adventure (linked above) knows that I was not very impressed by it. This makes the two concluding adventures of the adventure path into one extended slog through encounter after encounter with monsters and villains that serve no other purpose than to sit in one spot until the PCs arrive to kill them—adventures in which the villains take no active roles at all other than to wait for their demise. On the plus side, I absolutely love one of the support articles, and the fiction that has been running through the entire adventure path (reviewed at the end of this review) is the best I've read in Pathfinder Adventure Path so far.


Thursday 14 August 2014

New Doctor Who Title Sequence is Fan-Made

If you search around on YouTube, you can find tons of fan-made Doctor Who title sequences, some good, some not-so-good. A few stand out. One in particular, made by Billy Hanshaw and posted to YouTube last year, caught the eye of Steven Moffat. According to, Moffat described the sequence as "absolutely stunning". Moffat proceeded to get in touch with Hanshaw and arranged for the sequence to be used in the actual series. The version that will air starting on August 23 is not identical to the YouTube version, but is apparently mostly the same.

It's actually a really good title sequence. Very original, and definitely far better than the title sequence from the second half of Series 7. Have a look!

Tuesday 12 August 2014

New Doctor Who Trailer

This trailer actually showed up online yesterday with virtually no fanfare. There still hasn't been much, which is kind of weird and surprising. Are people just getting bored of trailers? Afraid of spoilers, perhaps? Oh well, here it is:

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Mummy's Mask - The Slave Trenches of Hakotep

I opened my review of the fourth segment of Mummy's Mask, Secrets of the Sphinx with a comment about how I'm not a big fan of dungeon crawls. I did that in order to set up a contrast with the fact that I actually really like Secrets of the Sphinx—enough to declare it a “dungeon crawl done well.” Conversely, I'm opening this review with a reminder of it because the next segment, The Slave Trenches of Hakotep by Michael Kortes, is a pretty good example of why I'm not a fan of dungeon crawls.

While there are aspects of the adventure that I like (including one great NPC), overall The Slave Trenches of Hakotep is a long slog through a succession of dungeons, each filled with traps and monsters, and many of them forming pieces in an overall puzzle for the PCs to put together. Apart from that one NPC, there's very little opportunity for roleplaying interactions, and very little to keep the adventure spiced up and moving along. It will take many sessions to play through, and most of those session will start to feel like the same thing over and over again—and that's not good.


July Round-Up, Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio, and Doctor Who Teaser

Sometimes time goes by way too quickly. At one moment, it's July, and the next, it's suddenly August and you wonder where all the time went and why you haven't completed everything you planned to complete. But at least August means we're edging ever closer to the première of the new season of Doctor Who! Peter Capaldi gets his first outing as the Doctor and I can't wait! I've been critical of the scripts in recent years, but even if they don't improve, I'm confident Capaldi will be a great Doctor.

Of course, as we get closer to August 23rd (the première date), the danger of spoilers becomes more and more a reality. The Doctor Who World Tour starts in just a couple of days and will bring with it special advance screenings of the first episode in various locations around the world. This will mean lots of people will have seen the episode before the 23rd—but then again, some people have seen it already, what with the episodes leaking and all. I talked a bit about this and spoilers just last week. In other Doctor Who news, a new teaser trailer that I haven't mentioned yet came out last week. You can watch it in the player below. There was also a cut-down version of the full-length trailer, but really, if you've seen the full-length one, you don't need to see the cut-down.

In the world of roleplaying games, the big thing in July was the release of the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I took a look at the Basic Rules here. I also took a look at a few of the latest Pathfinder products: Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, Risen from the Sands, Secrets of the Sphinx, and People of the River. To round up July (and actually catch up with August), here's a quick mini-review.

Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio

The Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio comes with three full-colour poster maps suitable for use with the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path. However, like other adventure path map folios from the past few years, all the maps are easily usable in any campaign set in Osirion. There are maps of the cities of Wati and Tephu, and one of the country of Osirion. The map of Osirion is designed as a player map in the style of something characters might actually acquire in the game world. However, the two city maps are also safe as player maps as well.

All three maps are beautiful, but accolades really must go to the map of Osirion. I really love these player-oriented, in-world maps. They truly are wonderful to behold, and this one is no different. However, there is a difference with this one and some of the others that have appeared before: This one has no labels, not even of cities. The odd part is, this is exactly the same map from the centre of People of the Sands, except larger and that map had not only the names of cities, but also rivers and mountains, as well as roads and common travel routes complete with the distances from one location to the other. This map completely lacks all labels, except for the name “Osirion” in the top right corner. This severely limits its usefulness during game play. While cities are marked (and are wonderfully illustrated to look like the actual cities rather than just having one common symbol for every city), players will still have to go to other sources to find out which city is which. This is rather surprising, considering that similar maps in other map folios (such as the maps of Varisia in the Shattered Star Poster Map Folio or Irrisen in the Reign of Winter Poster Map Folio) have had labels on them. I'm not sure what the motivation for removing the labels on this map might have been (or indeed if this is due to an error or oversight), but it does mar what is otherwise a gorgeous product. I hope the lack of labels will not be a trend in future map folios.

Thursday 31 July 2014

People of the River

The Sellen River cuts across eastern Avistan, all the way from the Lake of Mists and Vales in the north to Star Bay in the Inner Sea 1200 miles to the south. It passes through (or forms the borders of) numerous lands along its way. Amongst them are Numeria and the River Kingdoms, which are the main topic of People of the River, the latest release in the Pathfinder Player Companion line. It provides new options for players making characters from these lands, and also provides some rules and information regarding rivers in general.

The River Kingdoms are actually a grouping of numerous small kingdoms. Combined with Numeria, they make for a large amount of material for this one small book to cover. Not surprisingly, it can't cover them all and there are several River Kingdoms that get no more than a sentence or two of mention. As a Player Companion book, it also devotes a large amount of space to game options, like new traits and archetypes, further limiting just how much it can cover about these locations. In my review of the recent Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, I stated that that book does a great job at describing what it is like to adventure in Numeria, but gives little information about what it's like to live there. Somewhat unfortunately, this book doesn't really fill in that gap. Players without much pre-existing knowledge of the lands covered in People of the River will come away from the book with only a smattering more knowledge than they started with. However, they will come away with several new options to consider for their characters, and for many players, that may well be more than enough.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Mummy's Mask - Secrets of the Sphinx

I've never made any secret of not being a big fan of dungeon crawls. They tend to limit the amount of roleplaying that is possible and often end up being repetitive as the PCs move from room to room, killing one monster after another before finally reaching the end. However, that doesn't mean that dungeon crawls can't be good adventures or that I never use them in my own games. I actually end up using quite a few, as dungeon crawls are signature parts of fantasy roleplaying, and done well, with a good game master, they can be a lot of fun. Secrets of the Sphinx by Amber E. Scott is an example of a dungeon crawl done well. It wraps together an interesting storyline with a compelling cast of characters (and lots of opportunity for roleplay with those characters), and places it all down in a setting that is more than just a static collection of locations and rooms.

The adventure also advances the plot of the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path in one of the most significant ways so far, leading at last to a confrontation between the PCs and one of the key antagonists. It's the first adventure where the PCs will feel that they've achieved a major accomplishment at the end of it.


Knowing What's to Come: The Fascination with, and Fear of Spoilers

Note: There are no actual spoilers in this article.

A few weeks ago, the Doctor Who world was rocked with the news that the scripts for the first five episodes of the new series had leaked online. Not long afterwards came the news that an unfinished version of the first episode had also leaked (through the same source as the leaked scripts). Indeed, it turned out that it wasn't only the first episode, but the first six! (Note: The preceding links go to news articles, not places where you can download the leaked items.) This isn't the first time that mess-ups like this have happened with Doctor Who. Just last year, many people who had preordered the DVD release of the second half of Series 7 received their copies before the final episode had aired on television, and way back in 2005, the very first episode of the rebooted series, “Rose”, leaked online in advance of airing. However, I don't think there's ever been a Doctor Who leak of this magnitude before.

Following the news of the leaks, fandom responded in a couple of ways. Many people immediately guarded themselves against the possibility of spoilers, informing people through social media not to give away anything or face the penalty of unfollowing or defriending. On the other side of the table were those who immediately sought out copies of the leaked material or, failing that, knowledge of what was in them. In short, some people absolutely did not want spoilers, and some people absolutely did.

Of course, the search for spoilers (and the avoidance of them) is nothing new. Spoilers can show up all over the place, sometimes where you least expect them. Messageboards like Gallifrey Base have entire sections devoted to people discussing spoilers, but they also require that spoilers stay limited to those locations and that they not spread into other sections so that those who don't want to be spoiled won't suddenly find themselves spoiled. I, myself, am very much on the side of those who don't want spoilers. I want to be surprised by new episodes when they first air. Yet the events of the last couple of weeks have led me to question myself about exactly why I don't like spoilers. Exactly what harm do they do? Do they really “spoil” my or other people's enjoyment? I haven't asked these questions in order to convince myself or anyone else to seek out and embrace spoilers. Rather, I simply seek understanding. And this goes well beyond just Doctor Who spoilers. It includes spoilers for anything and everything.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Risen from the Sands

This year's Free RPG Day took place on the 21st of last month. Like most years, Paizo released a short adventure for it. This year's is Risen from the Sands by Rob McCreary (the pdf is available for free at the link). It's a short dungeon crawl playable in just a few hours (probably only one session for most groups). Set in Osirion, it works well as either a one-off adventure or as a brief interlude in an ongoing campaign.

There's not really anything about Risen from the Sands that makes one go “Wow!” It's a straight-forward adventure that's not particularly original and has nothing that really makes it stand out from other adventures. However, there's nothing particularly bad about the adventure either. It does its job and it does it competently. With a skilful GM, it will provide a few hours of fun for any group.


Monday 14 July 2014

Doctor Who Series 8 Trailer

The BBC have released the first full-length trailer for the new series of Doctor Who and the first trailer to show us any significant amount of Peter Capaldi in the role. There was actually another teaser trailer last week, but computer troubles (resulting in my computer giving up the ghost last week and me needing to get a new one) meant I never actually posted about that one. However, since I posted the previous ones (here and here), I should probably post that one too.

I will admit, I haven't been fond of these teaser trailers. They show virtually nothing (not that I want major spoilers in a trailer) and don't really raise anticipation much. However, that last one is an improvement on the second, which was an improvement on the first. But now the full-length trailer:

Now, this is a lot more like it! It gives a much better feel for what to expect without giving too much away. I really like Capaldi's reserved approach to the role (in the little we see here). It adds a sinister edge to the Doctor (which the trailer really emphasises) and makes a stark contrast to Matt Smith's much more manic Doctor. This trailer has made me very eager for August 23rd to get here already! 

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) Basic Rules

In my May Round-Up, I noted that the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons finally had release dates, starting with the Starter Set in July. That set is already available at select stores and will be in wide release on July 15. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was that Wizards of the Coast would also be releasing a free pdf of the game’s basic rules (you can download it here). Although I stated that I wouldn’t be switching to the new game (I’d be staying with Pathfinder), I did say that I might pick up the rules at some point. Well, with a price point of free, there really wasn’t any reason not to. So I downloaded them.

I haven’t changed my mind about sticking with Pathfinder, and my reasons are the same as I stated before. However, I will say that I like what I see in the new D&D, and if this had been 4th Edition, I might have stuck with the game at the time. One of the things that turned me away from 4th Edition was the radical departure from so many of the things that made D&D identifiable uniquely as Dungeons & Dragons. After downloading the D&D Basic Rules, I first skimmed quickly through the book just to get an overall feel of how it looked, and right away, I could see things that looked like D&D. It was a good first sign, and it held up upon reading thoroughly.

Monday 7 July 2014

Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars

I’ve always been a fan of mixing science fiction and fantasy. I’m well aware, however, that it can be a bit of a controversial topic amongst science fiction and fantasy fans, many of whom, while enjoying both, prefer that each be kept separate. The way I look at it, though, is most science fiction contains quite a few things that are fantastical—often outright impossible—but merely presented under the guise of science instead of magic, yet accomplishing pretty much the same thing magic does. Mixing science and magic allows you to explore both in new and different ways.

Despite my love of mixing genres, I’ve surprisingly never paid much attention to Numeria, the area of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting where, long ago, a spaceship from another world crashed, and people have been trying to uncover its secrets ever since. Perhaps it’s because the books published so far have paid little attention to the area as well, and other, more-developed areas of Golarion have simply grabbed and held onto my attention. Whatever the case, the publication of Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars reminded me of this land’s existence and I eagerly dug into the book to learn more about it.

Numeria is a land where the high-technology of robots and lasers clashes with the very low-technology of barbarian tribes. There’s actually quite a lot of material to squeeze into Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, as the various Kellid tribes that inhabit the region are not a unified people, and on top of that, there is the Technic League (a group that wants, and mostly has, a monopoly on the control and distribution of technology recovered from the crashed ship) and the crashed ship itself to describe, along with the various alien creatures, mutant beasts, and robots. Overall, Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars does a very good job of getting all this information in there and providing GMs with a compelling setting and hooks for many amazing and outlandish adventures.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

June Round-Up Plus To Be Takei

June was a very busy month for me—in the non-virtual, non-internet world, that is. Consequently, it was a very slow month here on Of Dice and Pen. I was only able to get a few things posted, but July looks to be a quiet month, so I envision much more productivity here.

I did, however, get three Pathfinder review posted: Occult Mysteries, Shifting Sands, and Blood of the Elements. Coming soon, you can expect to see reviews of Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars and Secrets of the Sphinx, the fourth part of the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path.

June also saw the final couple episodes of Cosmos: “The World Set Free” and “Unafraid of the Dark”. It's only been a few short weeks, but I already miss seeing new episodes each week and writing about them. As I've said before, I think it's amazing that a science series has gotten such a high-profile showing, and I wish more science and documentary shows could receive the same treatment. Of course, just because they're not high-profile doesn't mean we can't seek them out and watch them. There are lots of options out there, and many very good ones, including Carl Sagan's original Cosmos series.

In the realm of science fiction/fantasy documentaries, here's one about Star Trek actor and LGBTQ icon and activist, George Takei: To Be Takei. I'm really quite excited to see this one, as George Takei is a fascinating and funny man.

And this Kickstarter for The Great Kingdom, a documentary about Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, looks like it could be interesting. (Edit: Something weird was happening with the embedding of the preview for The Great Kingdom, so I've removed it. You can watch the preview at the site linked.)

But back in the realm of pure science fiction and fantasy, the exciting news is that Doctor Who will be returning on August 23, as reported in this post.

Have a great July everyone!

Friday 27 June 2014

Doctor Who Returns 23 August

The BBC has confirmed that Doctor Who will return on Saturday, 23 August, 2014 with a feature-length episode entitled "Deep Breath". There doesn't seem to be any indication yet exactly how long "feature-length" is. To go along with the announcement, the BBC have released a new teaser trailer as well. It's a little more compelling than the earlier one. At the very least, it has a bit of dialogue and motion in it.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Blood of the Elements

In my recent Pathfinder reviews, I’ve commented quite a bit on the sheer volume of options that are now available for the game, and how many of those options tend to end up forgotten because they don’t stand out and there’s just too much to remember. However, when I’ve brought this up, it’s generally been to praise new material for managing to stand out from the crowd. Several recent books in both the Pathfinder Player Companion and Pathfinder Campaign Setting lines have achieved this. Books like the Alchemy Manual and The Harrow Handbook blend together flavour and mechanics to create truly memorable and interesting concepts. Unfortunately, the new Blood of the Elements fails to continue that trend.

The book looks at the geniekin races (ifrits, oreads, sulis, sylphs, and undines), providing background and character options for each. It also goes beyond this and looks at the four elemental planes, as well as the famed City of Brass on the Plane of Fire—and this is part of where the book goes wrong. There have been a number of Blood of... books and the best ones (Blood of Angels, Blood of Fiends) have had tight focuses, while the weaker ones (Blood of the Night) have tried to do too much. Thirty-two pages really isn’t enough space to adequately cover five races and include a gazetteer of the elemental planes, making Blood of the Elements one of the ones that tries to do too much.

Monday 23 June 2014

Mummy's Mask - Shifting Sands

So far, in the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path, the PCs have explored ancient tombs and temples, and stopped an undead uprising in Wati. At the end of Empty Graves, the PCs came into possession of a mysterious and powerful magic item. Now, in Shifting Sands by Richard Pett, the PCs must uncover the history of this item and learn why certain other groups are desperate to get their hands on it. To do so, they must travel to the city of Tephu and sift through its expansive library while also successfully staying on the nobility’s good side.

There’s a lot to like in Shifting Sands, but I must admit, it’s left me with something of a mixed opinion. I absolutely love certain aspects—in particular, its ingenious new method for handling research, which makes the research far more interesting than just a few Knowledge checks. It also has some great opportunities for roleplay, as the PCs must secure for themselves permission to use the library in the first place. Unfortunately, much of that roleplay is with a rather one-dimensional NPC whose actions vary little regardless of what the PCs do. The concluding part of the adventure allows the PCs to do some exploration of the desert, and works pretty well, but does feel a touch tacked on.


Friday 13 June 2014

Cosmos - Unafraid of the Dark

The Library of Alexandria was a prominent virtual location on Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series. It is fitting, therefore, that the final episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series should begin in that location. Tyson uses it as both a tale of caution and one of inspiration. Before its destruction, the Library of Alexandria was one of the greatest repositories of knowledge in the world. It was a representation of the incredible things humanity could achieve. Yet it was only available to a privileged few, unlike the knowledge that we can download at our fingertips today. There were very few to defend it when the time came.

One of the key themes in “Unafraid of the Dark” is that scientific knowledge should be freely available to all, for that is the only way to ensure that it is used responsibly. Scientists are human beings and capable of error. They’re also capable of corruption. Only by others cross-checking data and theories can the errors be found and corruption weeded out. But there’s a bigger, more encompassing theme, to this final episode, and that is the fact that human knowledge is incomplete. There is so much about the cosmos that we simply don’t know. In fact, when Martin Behaim made the very first globe of the Earth in 1492 (a globe that only contained the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa), people then knew relatively more about the Earth than we know now about the universe as a whole. Yet we shouldn’t be ashamed of this. Indeed, Tyson presents this fact as a point of inspiration, a reason for us to continue the search and to learn more, for there can be nothing more exciting than discovering something new—something that seems to rewrite reality as we know it.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Occult Mysteries

As much as I like the Pathfinder Campaign Setting of Golarion, I’ve often felt that one area of weakness is in conveying what typical inhabitants’ lives are like. The products do a great job of setting a general tone for various areas of the setting and filling in geographical details and history. We learn a lot about the places you can visit, but a lot less about what you can do there, from the festivals and pastimes of the locals, to styles of dress, to art styles and cuisine, and to personal beliefs. I’ve mentioned more than a few times in my reviews my frustration at the lack of explanation of just what a cavalier order is—how it fits into the setting, how it interacts with governments and other organizations. The Prophets of Kalistrade are mentioned in numerous supplements as having strict dietary and sexual prohibitions, but those products never—not once!—actually say what those prohibitions are. These might seem like minor points not worth mentioning, especially since the focus of the game is on adventurers having adventures, not adventurers having normal, everyday lives. However, it’s often the little details that add the most flavour. They may be background elements, but they help to make the setting seem more real and alive.

Occult Mysteries is a product that takes a step towards addressing some of these issues. It doesn’t answer the questions about cavalier orders and the Prophets of Kalistrade, and it doesn’t give information about day-to-day life in any particular part of the world. However, it does offer incredible insight into the beliefs of the people of Golarion, and into their thought processes. The book looks at a number of “mysteries” from across the world—the strange things that people haven’t quite been able to explain, but have many hypotheses about. These include creation stories, the exodus of the gnomes, and the missing Volume 5 of the Pathfinder Chronicles. The book also looks at traditions like astrology and numerology, secret societies, and infamous texts of great power.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Cosmos - The World Set Free

The world is a beautiful place, full of awe-inspiring sights and teeming with millions of lifeforms. Yet the world is a fragile place, too. Life has evolved within a very delicate balance of elements in the atmosphere. Alter that balance just a little and things can change drastically. We have known about global warming for quite some time now, but we have been slow to do anything about it. Indeed, there are many who deny its implications or even its entire existence. They dismiss the overwhelming evidence simply because it doesn’t fit their world-view. Climate change is a gradual process, and even at its current accelerated rate, it’s not something noticeable to the naked eye from day to day or year to year. And because we can’t see it, it’s hard to accept. But simply because something is hard to see doesn’t make it untrue.

A few episodes ago, in “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth”, Cosmos explored long-term climate change, looking at the many different kinds of worlds the Earth has been. Most of that climate change has been completely natural. Climate does change on its own over thousands and millions of years, and even without human influence, it would continue to change. That episode also touched on modern climate change, drawing attention to the fact that we are releasing carbon into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuel at an incredible rate, and it was the release of carbon from the Carboniferous period that ended the Permian and drastically altered the world’s climate.

In the most recent episode, “The World Set Free”, Cosmos returns to the topic of climate change and this time looks closely at human-created climate change and the phenomenon of global warming that we must deal with today. There is absolutely no reason any of this episode should be controversial, and yet there are many that will make it so. Still, this is knowledge that we must absorb and Cosmos, in its usual way, presents it clearly and accessibly, and in an entertaining fashion.

May Round-Up, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and Doctor Who News

May and June are always busy months for me. It’s the end of the school year and that keeps me occupied preparing students for exams and final projects. Then comes the quiet of summer. I like the quiet of summer.

But no matter how busy I get, I always make certain to get some gaming and writing in. Here on the blog, I took a look at several Pathfinder products in May, including the hardcover release, Inner Sea Gods, as well as the Undead Slayer’s Handbook, the very good Alchemy Manual, Empty Graves, Inner Sea Combat, and my favourite of the bunch, The Harrow Handbook. I also got (and still am) very excited over the trailer for Dark Dungeons.

In related gaming news, the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons now has release dates for its initial products, beginning with a Starter Set in July, the Player’s Handbook in August, Monster Manual in September, and Dungeon Master’s Guide in November. A couple of adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat, both from Kobold Press, are interspersed with the other releases. Similarly to 4th Edition, the new edition is not being marketed as “5th Edition” or “D&D Next” or anything else, but simply as Dungeons & Dragons.

While the release of the new edition is likely to be big news, I’ll be honest and state that I won’t be switching to it, even though D&D was my first ever roleplaying game and I’ve been playing it in some form for over 30 years now. This isn’t because I don’t expect it to be any good. I haven’t actually been keeping much track of news about it, so I have very little idea what to expect from it. It might be good, it might be terrible, or it might be anything in between. However, the fact is, I’m quite happy with Pathfinder at the moment and see no need to change. I’ve also invested a lot of money in Pathfinder and have enough products now that, even if Paizo stopped publishing tomorrow, I’d have enough material to last me for decades yet. New stuff is fun, it’s true. I love getting new stuff. But I’m also not made of money and I have to decide carefully where my money goes. I will likely look at the new D&D in the store and I’m certainly not averse to playing in a game one day (although limited time will make that difficult), but I won’t be running games of it myself. I may well pick up one of the books one day, though, and if I do, I might just post a review.

In non-gaming news, I continue to be super excited about Cosmos, and I was disappointed that it was pre-empted on May 25th, which is why I haven’t posted a response in the last couple weeks. However, over the month I did write responses to 9th, 10th, and 11th episodes, “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth”, “The Electric Boy”, and “The Immortals”. My review of this week’s episode, “The World Set Free”, will hopefully be up shortly after I get this post up.

The big Doctor Who news for the month is that the new series will première sometime in August (exact date still to be announced). The BBC released a very, very short teaser trailer for the series, which I mentioned in this post, along with the much more interesting Doctor Who parody production from the Hillywood Show. In the world of missing episode, no more missing episodes have been announced; however, an early recording featuring Jacqueline Hill (who played Barbara, one of the Doctor’s very first companions) has been found. It’s a production of the play Requiem for a Heavyweight, and also features a young Sean Connery from before he became famous as James Bond. You can read more about it on the Doctor Who News Page.

Have a good June, everyone!