Monday 25 June 2018

Adventurer's Guide

One of the best ways to make new mechanical game content stick out and be memorable is to attach it to creative flavour content. In a game like Pathfinder, which has a massive plethora of options published over numerous books, this has pretty much become a necessity. This is one of the principal reasons I adore Adventurer’s Guide so much.

When Adventurer’s Guide first came out last year, there was some controversy over the fact that it contains Golarion-specific content. Previously, most books published as part of the hardcover Pathfinder Roleplaying Game line have been setting-neutral (apart from a few minor things like the names and domains of gods). Golarion material was limited to the other Pathfinder lines like Pathfinder Campaign Setting and Pathfinder Player Companion. In this way, GMs could use Pathfinder Roleplaying Game books with any setting (whether Golarion, some other published setting, or one of their own creation) without having to make any adjustments.

However, more recent books from the year or so have started to contain more Golarion-specific content. Occult Adventures contains references to the multiverse structure used in Golarion products rather than a more generic planar structure like that used in the earlier GameMastery Guide. Adventurer’s Guide goes even further, presenting eighteen organisations all taken from the Golarion setting. The book is pretty much tied completely to the setting.

Many people, particularly those who don’t use the Golarion setting, were not happy with this change. They felt the book should have been published as part of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line (which has had several hardcovers published for it, including The Inner Sea World Guide, Inner Sea Gods, and Inner Sea Races). While I do understand why people might feel this way, personally, I like the change. I fully admit to a certain amount of bias here as I use the Golarion setting for my own games, and I’ve always preferred setting content over generic rules options. But I also fully believe the best mechanical content is generally that which is also attached to flavourful content. It isn’t strictly necessary to attach it to a setting to make something flavourful—Occult Adventures, as an example, certainly provides a lot of flavourful content that is not tied to a specific setting—but a setting can help provide a framework for that flavour.

Thursday 21 June 2018

Giantslayer - Forge of the Giant God

I began reading Forge of the Giant God (the third part of the Giantslayer Adventure Path) by Tim Hitchcock about a year ago, and got through roughly half of it. I didn’t stop because I disliked it; it was just the state my life was in at the time (see this post for details). Over the next several months, I occasionally went back to it and got through a little bit more of it each time. I thought I eventually made it all the way through, though when I came back to it last week with the intention of reviewing it, I discovered a bookmark (one I thought I’d misplaced) about three quarters of the way through. Assuming I was wrong about finishing it, I picked up reading from that spot.

And was thoroughly confused.

Some things seemed familiar as though I’d read them before and others seemed completely new. More importantly though, I realised I really didn’t have a good enough recall of even the earlier parts of the adventure I knew for a fact I had previously read. This served as a pretty good example of why you should never spread out the reading of something like this over a year with months-long breaks. So I decided to do what I should have done as soon as I picked it up again last week, and that was to reread the entire thing beginning to end.

And I’m glad I did. I came away from it with a higher opinion of the adventure than I had before. I remember previously really liking the opening section of the adventure and disliking the rest. However, this time around, I liked it more. I do still think there are some issues, but they don’t bother me as much they did. The adventure is a little too similar to the previous adventure, The Hill Giant’s Pledge, in that both involve sneaking into a similar giant-controlled location (and The Hill Giant’s Pledge does it better). Following up one adventure with another that does virtually the same thing runs the risk of making things stale for the players. However, there are things to make this adventure more unique, and good GMs should be able to make it into a memorable experience.


Thursday 14 June 2018

Beta-Readers Needed!

Hey folks! I’m writing a book! In fact, I’ve been writing it for quite a long time now, and it’s finally reaching the stage where I can start thinking about eventual publication. But first, I need some beta-readers to provide me with some feedback to help make the book the best it can possibly be. I’m hoping that maybe a few of my readers on this blog might just be interested. If you are, I’ve set up a special page on this blog with complete details of what the beta-reading process entails and how you can get involved. Click here or on the link at the top of this page to get there.


Wednesday 13 June 2018

The Savior's Champion

Reading has always been an important part of my life. I do a lot of reading, but recently, most of that has been either roleplaying books or non-fiction. Last month, I realised that it had been over a year since I’d read a novel. Clearly, that needed rectifying. But first, I needed to choose something to read. I own a huge pile of books that have been waiting to be read for years, but I decided to skip all those and go for something completely new. My attention turned almost immediately to The Savior’s Champion, mainly because I’ve watched a lot of author Jenna Moreci’s YouTube videos and I was aware of its recent release.

I’d read a number of reviews of the book, most of them gushing with praise, so I figured it was a safe bet. However, despite the positive reviews, I didn’t expect to love the book as much, just like it. Too often, I’ve encountered things that don’t turn out to be as good as the hype. Also, I can be very critical of my entertainment, even the things I love (just read my Doctor Who reviews for examples of that).

Well, I was wrong. I absolutely loved this book. It very quickly became one of those books that I just couldn’t put down (except I had to because I had to go to work or do other boring things like that). It may have been over a year since I last read a novel, but it has been even longer since one had me so enthralled beginning to end.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Doctor Who - Twice Upon a Time

I know that, over the entire history of Doctor Who, most actors playing the Doctor have done about three seasons before moving on. Nevertheless, whenever those three years are up, it always feels much shorter. It feels like barely more than yesterday that I was writing about the arrival of Peter Capaldi when, in actuality, it’s nearly six months after his final episode aired. The entire era of the twelfth Doctor has come and gone.

With Series 10, particularly its final two episodes “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls”, the twelfth Doctor’s era has very nearly gone out on a high. Indeed, as I state in my review, the only significant problem with “The Doctor Falls” is that it’s not the twelfth Doctor’s final episode. Instead, it drags the regeneration out to another episode. That episode, December 2017’s Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time”, is not a bad episode, but it also falls pretty short of being a great episode.

There are a lot of good elements to the episode, but it also feels very tagged on. It’s not the climax that Series 10 was leading to (that’s “The Doctor Falls”), but also doesn’t quite manage to be its own thing. It’s still reliant on the Doctor holding back his regeneration—on an emotional state set up in the previous episode but not successfully carried through into this one.


Monday 11 June 2018

Absences, Apologies, and a Look to the Future

I’ll cut to the chase. 2017 was one of the worst years of my life. I’ve tended not to talk about my own personal mental health issues, but over the last few years, they keep interfering with my ability to put out creative content, and I feel it’s about time I offer an explanation.

I’ve long had issues with depression and especially anxiety, but I’ve also had a tendency to deny it to myself. This has not made for a good combination. Social stigma against mental illness is a real issue and, while I have been vocal against it and in defence of others with mental illness, I have applied that stigma to myself. I have felt ashamed of my anxiety and of myself. So while I would admit to a bit of anxiety, I would deny the extent of it, deny any depression entirely, and pretend everything was just fine. This has led to all kinds of obstacles in life, both professional and social. This most recent absence from this blog was not the first due to things like imposter syndrome getting the better of me.

The fact that my spouse had health issues (both physical and mental) made it easier to pretend my own didn’t exist. I could focus on providing support for her because I could consider her issues more important than my own, and thus mine didn’t need any attention. But through all that time, my issues were bubbling under the surface.

My spouse and I separated in December 2016 and we broke up completely the following April. I no longer had a shield against my own problems and I spiralled into the worst depression I have ever had. 2017 was hard, so very, very hard. It didn’t help either that my financial situation was in a critical state. More than a few times I feared losing everything I had.

But on the good side, it did make me realise that I needed help. I’ve been seeing a very good therapist since January 2017 and I’ve made a lot of progress. Things are still far from perfect, but I’m in a much better state than I was a year ago, and I think I might be ready to face the world again and, in some ways, face it for the first time ever. In particular, I’m hoping to be able to work past my imposter syndrome when it comes to my writing and get not just this blog back into shape, but also kick my hopes for a professional writing career into first gear. I don’t expect there to be no stumbling blocks along the way—there absolutely will be (just this past week, I’ve had another depressive bout brought on partly by a stressful trip to visit family)—but I hope I can work for real change in my life.

First, however, over the past couple years, I’ve let a number of people down. There are several things I promised to write for people that I never completed, from reviews of products that I received a complimentary copy for, to assorted general posts. To these people, I offer my sincerest apologies. I can’t really erase the past, but I can strive to do better in the future. I hope only that people will be understanding and offer me that chance.

So, what does all this entail for the future of Of Dice and Pen? Well, I’ve already posted my review of “The Doctor Falls”, the finale of Doctor Who Series 10. My review of December 2017’s Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time” should be up in the next few hours, or tomorrow at the latest.

I’ve got a ton of Pathfinder material to gradually get through and review, including finishing the Giantslayer Adventure Path, which I had begun reviewing before my most recent absence.

I also want to expand this blog beyond mostly Pathfinder and Doctor Who. I’ve always intended to include more diverse science fiction and fantasy topics, but rarely managed to get round to it. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be this time, but I have a fantasy novel review written (just needs an editing pass) that will be going up in the next day or two.

Most exciting for me is that I will soon be officially announcing a call for beta-readers of my own novel, The Child of the Volgs! I’ll have full details in a few days, but for now, this is just a little advance warning.

Of course, over the last year, I’ve missed a number of big announcements that I would normally want to comment on. In fact, I would still like to comment on many of them. I don’t know how quickly I’ll get to them (time constraints may mean I don’t get to them at all), so I thought I’d offer some quick comments on two of them.

Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor: Super excited! It’s overdue time we had a woman Doctor, and I think Whittaker is perfect casting. I’ve seen and loved a lot of her other work (Broadchurch probably being the most well known, but seriously, you should check out Adult Life Skills, which is a brilliant movie), and I can’t wait to see her take on the Doctor.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition: I’m not as excited about this. I’ve been paying attention to many of the previews, and I like some of what I see and dislike some other things. However, it also seems to be a much bigger change than I want at this time. I still have a ton of Pathfinder books that I’ve never had the opportunity to use (particularly Adventure Paths I want to run) and the amount of conversion effort it appears will be needed to change them to 2nd Edition is more than I care to give at this time. Still, I’m approaching it with an open mind, and could well change my opinion by the time it releases in August 2019.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thank you to all of you who read this blog and my writing. I appreciate you all. Have a happy Pride Month!

Thursday 7 June 2018

Doctor Who - The Doctor Falls

It’s been almost a year since my review of “World Enough and Time”, but I am at last back with the follow-up episode, “The Doctor Falls”. It was never my intent to vanish for so long, but life threw some curve-balls (an upcoming post will discuss my absence).

It’s interesting going back to review an episode so long after it airs, particularly one I enjoy as much as this one. The gap away does, of course, affect my responses. I did make an outline for a review a year ago, and looking back at it now after having just rewatched the episode, there are one or two things on there that I wonder why I bothered including and other things that aren’t there that I question why I didn’t include. In many ways, I’m glad that there has only been one more episode since this one (“Twice Upon a Time”, the most recent Christmas special), as that means there hasn’t been a whole lot of additional show history that might affect the way I see or review “The Doctor Falls”. As much as I am itching for more Doctor Who, it means that I can still treat this one as relatively new.

Before rewatching the episode for this review, I knew I liked “The Doctor Falls” immensely, but I had forgotten just how much. Paired with “World Enough and Time”, it makes what is definitely the best series finale of the Steven Moffat era. Of course, I’ve been frequently critical of Moffat’s finales, so this might not sound like a big deal, but in this case, it really is. It’s exciting and emotional. It is, in fact, one of very few (possibly the first) Moffat-written episode to make me cry. I find that Moffat frequently tries to go emotional but generally fails to build that emotion in a natural way. It’s too often forced. Yet in “The Doctor Falls”, everything comes together almost flawlessly. For once, there are characters that I actually care enough about to be affected by their fates.

The Doctor Falls” is also the perfect final episode for Peter Capaldi, bringing his Doctor’s character arc to a full and satisfying conclusion. It’s a bit unfortunate that it’s not his final episode, and his actual final episode is not as good.

This is what I mean about later episodes affecting opinions of earlier ones. I don’t dislike “Twice Upon a Time” (and I will have a review of it in the next couple of days), but when I originally watched “The Doctor Falls”, I was left excited to see what happened next. Rewatching it now, I’m left thinking how much better it would have been if the regeneration had happened at the end of this episode instead of being held off for later.

I’m treading into spoiler material here. Of course, after a year, spoiler warnings are possibly not as necessary, but I’ll put them up anyway.