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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mummy's Mask - The Half-Dead City


After the potentially world-shattering Wrath of the Righteous, the new adventure path has moved to something somewhat calmer and less immediately devastating. Indeed, the first instalment of Mummy’s Mask, The Half-Dead City by Jim Groves, has one of the calmest openings for any adventure path. This isn’t a bad thing. It provides a contrast with other adventure paths and sets the tone for this one. While big things may well happen down the line, this adventure path is taking the time to set the scene and build things up before letting all hell break loose.

The Half-Dead City is very much a dungeon crawl, and while I’m not the biggest fan of pure dungeon crawls, this is a well-made one and one I can imagine myself running at some point. As a consequence of delving into tombs, there’s not a lot of opportunity for interaction with NPCs, but nonetheless, it does manage to have several extremely well-developed and interesting NPCs. The PCs may not get a lot of time with these characters, but that time will almost certainly be memorable (assuming the GM plays them well).

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cosmos - Hiding in the Light


Light is truly wondrous. Visible light is so prevalent in our lives, we take it for granted and don’t really notice just how incredible it is. Even if we’re somewhat well-versed in the science, it’s easy to forget its bizarre qualities and go about our daily lives and barely pay it any mind. The fifth episode of Cosmos, “Hiding in the Light” continues the programme’s investigation into the nature of light, focusing on its wave nature and the discovery that there are forms of light not visible to the human eye. It also gives us a glimpse into the quantum world and shows us a little more of just how strange, unintuitive, and utterly astounding the universe is.

The episode begins with a look at some of the earliest discoveries about light, such as the fact that it travels in straight lines. We learn about Mo Tse’s creation of the camera obscura, and Ibn al-Hasan’s later work with the same thing and his development of the principles of the scientific method. It’s good to see this inclusion of non-Western contributions to the development of science. Science history often has (like so many other things in the Western world) a Western bias and Cosmos so far hasn’t really been an exception to this, but this episode helps to show that not every scientific discovery has taken place in Europe or the United States. There have been many great discoveries in other parts of the world. Indeed, as this episode shows, if it weren’t for Emperor Chin suppressing the works of Mo Tse and other early Chinese philosophers, science might have advanced far, far sooner.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Delian Mode


Delia Derbyshire is a name well-known to Doctor Who fans as the person who brought us the original version of the show’s famous theme music. She did a whole lot more for Doctor Who, and her legacy extends well beyond just that one show. However, in all her time on Doctor Who, she was never credited for it. Ron Grainer wrote the Doctor Who theme, but it was Derbyshire who arranged and realized it. Even though Grainer felt she should be credited for it, she wasn’t because she was an employee of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which had a long-time policy that its members did not get individual credit for work they did as employees of the Workshop. So even though many fans knew who she was, her name never appeared on screen. The arrangers of the later versions of the theme, from Peter Howell to Murray Gold, all received credit, but not her. It wasn’t until—gasp!—“The Day of the Doctor” last year (several years after her death) that Derbyshire finally received her first on-screen credit for the work she did on Doctor Who. But on-screen credit aside, Delia Derbyshire was one of the pioneers of electronic music, and she is finally starting to be acknowledged for the monumental role she played in music history.

The Delian Mode is a documentary about Derbyshire and her music. From director Kara Blake, it weaves together interviews with the people who worked with her and samples of her music and recordings of Derbyshire herself. But the documentary is more than just a dry presentation of facts and commentary. It’s visually and audially mesmerizing, a work of art in itself. Through it, viewers journey through the process Derbyshire used to create the haunting music she’s famous for. We see not only the actual equipment she used, but also visual interpretations of the ideas and concepts behind the music. We learn of the everyday items she sampled sounds from and hear her own words on how she felt as a woman in an industry dominated by men. One of the most phenomenal things I learned from The Delian Mode was that, after Derbyshire’s death, 267 tapes and countless manuscripts were found stored in her attic—a massive testament to the huge output of her work.

The Delian Mode was released in 2009 and won a Genie award for best short documentary in 2010. In my view, this is a beautiful film and a moving tribute to Derbyshire, one that will be enjoyed by not just Doctor Who fans, but by anyone with an interest in electronic music; I certainly feel it deserved this award. I highly recommend watching it!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cosmos - A Sky Full of Ghosts


Imagination is a powerful thing. It’s the ability to contemplate things that might be and sometimes even to contemplate the complete impossible. The fourth episode of Cosmos, “A Sky Full of Ghosts” is really all about the power of imagination, as well as its pitfalls. It shows how science, at its most basic, all starts with an idea, one that people then investigate. Sometimes the idea is right. Sometimes it’s wrong. Other times, it’s somewhere in between and needs to be modified to bring it closer to being correct.

The episode opens with a very simple statement of “Seeing is not believing,” and proceeds with a demonstration of how some ideas can seem obvious and yet be wrong. Light can play tricks on our eyes. From the exact position of the sun in our sky to the existence of a horizon to the apparent existence of a cosmic horizon, we encounter optical illusions every day of our lives. But it’s through investigating these illusions and questioning them that we uncover the truth. “A Sky Full of Ghosts” goes on to talk about the nature of light and establishes that light has a finite (albeit immensely fast) speed. We can determine the age of the universe (in billions of years) by how far we can see. The light from the “cosmic horizon” has needed those billions of years just to reach us, but there simply hasn’t been enough time for anything beyond that point to get here. We also learn more of how gravity works and its effects on light itself.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Tabletop Day


Today is the 2nd annual International Tabletop Day. And for the second year in a row, it’s been scheduled on an inconvenient day, and so there’s no one for me to play games with. My wife is busy studying for exams and everyone else has other plans that have nothing to do with playing tabletop games. Last year, I challenged my dogs to a game of Zombie Dice and lost solidly to Pan. I thought about doing the same this year, but Pan doesn’t want to risk losing his champion status, and honestly, if I lost again, I’m not sure I could suffer the humiliation. So Pan’s champion status is safe...for now.

However, as this blog is is heavily focused on tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Pathfinder, like last year, I couldn’t let the day go by without doing something in honour of it. As such, I have spent what free time I’ve had today doing long-term planning for my Pathfinder games. I have a regular group that meets every Sunday (although tomorrow will be the second of what will likely be three weeks in a row of no game due to real life interfering) and I also GM two play-by-post games on the Paizo messageboards. Of course, as a game master, I have to spend time every week preparing for games, but today I decided to look a bit farther into the future. As my Sunday group is nearing the end of its current campaign (the Council of Thieves adventure path), I decided to start making serious plans for their next campaign. It will still likely be a few more months before the current campaign concludes, but it doesn’t harm to have an idea of what to do next. I won’t go into too much detail here—partly because I’ve only done the barest of sketches so far and partly because members of my group read this blog and I don’t want to give secrets away—however, here’s a quick list of the books I’ve pulled out in order to assist me:


Tabletop Day was started by Geek and Sundry after the success of Wil Wheaton’s show Tabletop, a great show which has had two full seasons and is now looking to make a third. In order to do that, they are looking for donations, so if you’re interested, head over to Ilovetabletop.com to donate. If they reach $500,000, season three will be 15 episodes long. If they reach $750,000, it will be 20 episodes long. If they reach all the way to $1,000,000, there will be a spin-off series featuring roleplaying games! I will be very interested in seeing that should they achieve it. In just the first few hours, they have already passed $100,000, so I think there’s a pretty good chance they’ll make it all the way. Let’s hope they do!

Happy Tabletop Day, everyone, and as Wil Wheaton says, play more games!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stone

This video is from the same person who created "Wholock", and it's really quite brilliant. It's good to see creepy weeping angels again.

March Round-Up, Absent Doctor Who, and April Fool's


Here in Toronto, March was a month of snow, more snow, yet more snow, a brief thaw or two, and still more snow. In the last couple of days, it has finally warmed up above freezing. March was also the first month in a very long time (possibly ever) that I didn’t make a single post about Doctor Who. It’s not that I didn’t want to; there just hasn’t been much going on. Well, that’s not strictly true. Series 8 filming has been ongoing, for example. But there just hasn’t been anything that I really felt an earth-shattering need to discuss.

I haven’t been negligent in other areas, however, and got through several Pathfinder reviews, including the finale of Wrath of the Righteous, City of Locusts, as well as the Player’s Guide for the same adventure path, Bastards of Golarion, the really excellent Champions of Balance, and the latest adventure module Tears at Bitter Manor. In other news, this year’s RPG Superstar winner was announced and the first of the new Pathfinder Legends series that I mentioned last month has now been released. I am very, very tempted to spend money I don’t have to buy it, but if I did that, I’d have to buy all of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios as well and then I’d be broke. Alas.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos series premièred this month, and I am loving every moment of it! Four episodes have aired so far, although I have only watched and reviewed the first, second, and third so far. I will get to the fourth in the next few days. It’s great to see a science programme getting such high profile exposure, and I hope this paves the way for more high-quality science programmes in the future.

Dark Dungeons: The Movie is also moving closer to its release and the first trailer appeared this month. I am stoked. I also recently watched The Gamers: Hands of Fate for the first time (it came out last fall). It’s the third in the series that started with The Gamers and continued with The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. I hope to get round to reviewing it sometime soon.

Of course, it’s now April 1st, aka April Fool’s Day—well, by the time this is posted it will probably be April 2nd in my time zone, but I’m sure it’ll still be April 1st west of me. I don’t intend to do any April Fool’s jokes here, but I thought I’d point out a few funny ones I’ve found across the web. To rectify the lack of Doctor Who on this blog recently, here’s one announcing Arthur Darvill as the Master!

Think Geek has a bunch of April Fool’s products, but this one, featuring Michael Dorn from Star Trek: The Next Generation, is my favourite:


And CERN has announced that all communication will now be in comic sans:


Finally, IO9 has a round-up of great April Fool’s jokes.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Cosmos - When Knowledge Conquered Fear


I continue to be awed by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Each episode just gets better and better, and the third episode, “When Knowledge Conquered Fear” is no exception. Even though I already know most of the information it’s covering, I continue to be entranced by its presentation. And that’s not to say I haven’t learned anything. This episode, in particular, taught me a lot about Edmund Halley and Robert Hooke that I didn’t previously know. What’s more, it continues to be a great introduction to all there is about science and a perfect spiritual successor to Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos.

In “When Knowledge Conquered Fear”, Tyson takes a look at the human ability of pattern recognition, both in the ways that it has helped us and hindered us. The episode starts with a discussion of comets and how early civilizations interpreted them as omens of disaster, then moves into the reality of what we know about comets today, taking us on a journey out to the Oort Cloud and introducing us to the not-well-known Jan Oort, whom the Oort Cloud is named after.

Tears at Bitter Manor


Paizo’s RPG Superstar is a yearly competition open to anyone who wants to try their hand at roleplaying game design. It starts each year in December and runs through into the new year. The public gets to vote on the submissions for each round, whittling down the competition first to 32 competitors, then 16, then 8, then the final 4 (originally, the first round was decided upon entirely by Paizo’s in-house judges, but in recent years, the first round has been opened up to public voting as well). The first round requires entrants to design a new magic items, while in the last round, the finalists submit an adventure proposal. The rounds in between vary from year to year, but often include tasks like designing a new monster, an NPC, an encounter location, etc. The winner of RPG Superstar gets a commission for his or her adventure proposal, gets to write the full adventure and see it published. In recent years, the runners-up have also received commissions to write a Pathfinder Society scenario. Many past RPG Superstar winners and runners-up have gone on to become regular contributors to Pathfinder adventures and books. This year’s winner is Victoria Jaczko, but it will be a while before her adventure sees publication. However, last year’s winner was Steven Helt, and his adventure, Tears at Bitter Manor is the latest Pathfinder Module.

Tears at Bitter Manor is about a group of retired adventurers who reunite once each year to celebrate old times. However, this year, two of their members mysteriously fail to show up, and so they hire the PCs to investigate what has happened. Although there is a bit of a mystery, it is a fairly straight-forward adventure overall. It’s a functional adventure and will likely be fun and entertaining to play, but despite its rather original premise, there’s not a lot about it that really stands out from other adventures.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Cosmos - Some of the Things that Molecules Do


I expected Cosmos to be good, but it has far exceeded my expectations. This is a wonderful series that absolutely everyone should be watching in order to gain a rounded view of science and the world. What works so well about the series is that it’s clear and accessible, presented in terms that people with no former knowledge of the subject can follow, while still being entertaining to others who may know some or a lot of the topic. It’s a visual feast that absolutely everyone can enjoy.

The second episode, titled "Some of the Things that Molecules Do", delves into that giant of science: evolution. It begins with a look at artificial selection by discussing the history of dog breeding. Dogs are the perfect choice here—not just because I happen to be a dog lover and utterly adore dogs (I have two of my own), but because dogs are things that all the viewers will be familiar with. Many will own dogs of their own, but even if they don’t, they’ll have encountered dogs in numerous ways throughout their lives. Indeed, dogs are a much better choice than the crabs of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos because viewers will relate to them better (except perhaps for crab fishers and some biologists). They can see examples of this artificial selection right in their own lives, and that helps to make the concept of natural selection more accessible.