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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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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 Space.ca, 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!