Friday 22 January 2016

Steven Moffat Leaving Doctor Who

The BBC announced today that Steven Moffat will be stepping down as Doctor Who's showrunner after Series 10. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of online response from Doctor Who fans, with responses ranging from jubilation to heartfelt sadness and everything in between.

Readers of this site know that I have been highly critical of Steven Moffat's time on the show. I've criticised his portrayal of women, poor characterisation, his avoidance of consequence (through characters dying and coming back to life shortly thereafter), and numerous other things. That said, I wouldn't still be watching the show if I hated it, and there has been a lot of very good things during Moffat's time. There have been stand-out stories, great performances, some great writers and directors, and more. In particular, I think there have been a lot of improvements in the last couple series and indications that Moffat has been paying attention to the criticisms against him and trying to improve. Series 9 has some of the most diverse casting in all Doctor Who, for example.

But whether you love or hate (or anything in between) Steven Moffat, his departure is ultimately a good thing—not because of any criticisms I or anyone else might have of him, but because Doctor Who is all about change. Upon the completion of Series 10, Moffat will have overseen 6 full series of Doctor Who as well as numerous Christmas specials and, most significantly, the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” (one of the highlights of his time, in fact). This is a great run, longer than most others (only John Nathan-Turner oversaw more seasons), and he has left an enduring mark on the show. But just like companions move one, and just like every few years, Doctors move on, so to do the people behind the scenes move on. This includes the producers and showrunners. Doctor Who thrives on new blood and this time, I have no doubt, will be no different.

Taking over from Moffat will be Chris Chibnall, who has written several Doctor Who and Torchwood episodes in the past. What he will bring to the show as showrunner remains to be seen, but I can be confident of one thing: he will bring something new. I, for one, will be watching.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Daleks Versus Toys!

Earlier today, the BBC Archive tweeted this little gem: “Toy Fair 1966”. I don't really know any details about it—indeed I never knew it existed until today. However, I can say that it is wonderfully creepy and, if expanded upon, might make a brilliant full episode of Doctor Who. Enjoy!

Lost Treasures

Treasure is an important part of Pathfinder games. Players often get very attached to their characters' equipment—enough so that being the target of mage's disjunction, a spell that destroys magic items, is often considered a worse fate than dying. At high levels, death is not that hard to reverse in Pathfinder. Replacing powerful magic items can be much more difficult. It is a bit unfortunate that acquiring monetary wealth is such a principal motivator for PCs, but the fact is, the ownership of magic items is tied into the very mechanics of the game. PCs need wealth just to keep up. Fortunately, there is lots of treasure to be gained on adventures.

Unfortunately, when treasure is so prevalent, it starts to become very generic. A +1 longsword doesn't seem all that special, when virtually every adversary has a +1 weapon of some kind. I've had players comment on the sheer volume of rings of protection they find during an adventure path. Each time another one comes along (and more come along quite frequently), they redistribute the ones they have and mark the leftovers with the lowest bonuses for sale. Although these are technically magic items, their sheer “normalness” makes them seem not very magical at all.

Of course, it can be very difficult to make every item unique. It would take a huge amount of work to do so, especially given the amount of magic characters are expected to possess once they reach higher levels. As such, it's natural that significant portions of that magic will become somewhat generic. However, that does mean that when a more unique item does come along it can really stand out. One avenue the game has for more unique items is through artifacts. The book, Artifacts & Legends provides many sample artifacts for GMs to use in their games. However, artifacts tend to be very powerful and can unbalance games if not carefully handled. They work best in high-level games. So what about less powerful magic items in lower-level games?

This is where Lost Treasures comes in. This book provides a large number of unique (or nearly unique) magic items, complete with background stories and adventure ideas for using them. It's a good book for GMs looking to add a few treasures into the game that stand out from the typical +1 weapon or cloak of resistance. A few are powerful items; many others are considerably less powerful; some aren't even magic items, but just mundane items of high value or historical importance. However, all the items have their own individual character to them and will add a ton of flavour to treasure hauls. Even the mundane items here are anything but mundane.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Pathfinder Unchained

Although Pathfinder started its life as a revision of 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, it has grown very much beyond it roots, introducing ideas and concepts completely new to D&D. As early as the Advanced Player's Guide (one of the earliest rules expansion books for the game), Pathfinder was already starting to chart its own identity with new classes not seen before (like the oracle and inquisitor) and new ways of using existing rules (like the new combat manoeuvres). Since that book, the game has only continued to develop more. Mythic Adventures and Occult Adventures each add whole new layers to the game making it less and less like the D&D editions that came before it. While I still often think of Pathfinder subconsciously as D&D, there is no doubt that it has attained its own identity separate from the game that birthed it.

Indeed, I've always been impressed by Paizo's willingness to take Pathfinder in new directions. Not every idea works out perfectly, but that's okay. Without innovation, the game will only stagnate. Yet as much as Pathfinder has gained its own identity, there are many aspects of the rules that keep it cemented to its 3rd Edition D&D roots. The core d20 mechanics are still there, and many of the decisions made during the initial development of Pathfinder were made to maintain “backwards compatibility”. This was absolutely the right route to take. After all, the initial audience for Pathfinder was made up of 3rd Edition players who wanted to continue to use their 3rd Edition books, which the large changes to 4th Edition D&D had made impossible. The intent behind Pathfinder was that those books could be used with only minimal adjustments.

Yet these legacy aspects of the game can come under a certain degree of scrutiny. Do they help define the identity of the game, or do they actually hinder it in some way? There are limits to how much the 3rd Edition classes could be changed without giving up that backwards compatibility, leading to complaints that some classes, such as rogue, are just not up to par with the others. Then there the mechanics of how the game-play itself works. What might have happened to those if backwards compatibility had not been necessary?

Pathfinder Unchained takes the opportunity to explore these questions. If the shackles of backwards compatibility are removed, what can happen? While this is a book full of rules options, it's not a book like the aforementioned Advanced Player's Guide or Ultimate Combat. Whereas those books mostly add new options to the game, Pathfinder Unchained changes the options that already exist with alternative versions of several classes and new ways of handling skills, alignments, combat, and more. Some of these are ideas that have been explored before in books like 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana, while others are entirely new. It's not possible to use everything in Pathfinder Unchained the way it is with a book like the Advanced Player's Guide, as the book often provides multiple alternatives for the same thing. For example, there are several alternative ways of handling skills, some of which are in complete opposition to each other. The intent with Pathfinder Unchained is to pick and choose the rules alternatives that will work best for the style of game your particular group is trying to run, or to experiment with different options until you find the ones that work best for you.

Friday 8 January 2016

Occult Realms

One of the key things about the occult in Occult Adventures is that it is mysterious and different from everything else in Pathfinder campaigns. This is not easy to achieve when there are already scores of different kinds of creatures, abilities, and magic in the game. Yet Occult Adventures pulls it off pretty well. Since publication of that book, other books have also dealt with the occult, including Occult Origins and Occult Bestiary. Plus, Occult Mysteries, from awhile back, ties into it all as well. With each new book published, there is a danger of it losing that sense of difference.

Occult Realms is the latest book published to tie in with Occult Adventures, and thankfully, it manages to maintain that sense of mystery and the unknown. While Occult Origins and Occult Bestiary are tied to the world of Golarion, they are primarily books of mechanics. Occult Realms does have some new mechanics in it as well, but its focus is much more on descriptive detail that brings the occult fully into the campaign setting. And the mechanics it does have exist entirely to support the flavour and feel of the setting.

I have to say that I hugely enjoyed reading Occult Realms. It offers wonderful glimpses and insights into areas of Golarion that have only received a small amount of attention previously, even a place or two where you might not expect the occult, such as Razmiran. Some of the places are quite small, sometimes just a single building, but the small areas mean that the details can actually be more specific. There is a better sense of a lived-in world from this book than from some other Pathfinder Campaign Setting books, which tend to focus more on providing a list of locations than on what it's like to live there. The approach here is still on listing locations, but there is more room for detail about those locations.