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.