Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Risen from the Sands

This year's Free RPG Day took place on the 21st of last month. Like most years, Paizo released a short adventure for it. This year's is Risen from the Sands by Rob McCreary (the pdf is available for free at the link). It's a short dungeon crawl playable in just a few hours (probably only one session for most groups). Set in Osirion, it works well as either a one-off adventure or as a brief interlude in an ongoing campaign.

There's not really anything about Risen from the Sands that makes one go “Wow!” It's a straight-forward adventure that's not particularly original and has nothing that really makes it stand out from other adventures. However, there's nothing particularly bad about the adventure either. It does its job and it does it competently. With a skilful GM, it will provide a few hours of fun for any group.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Doctor Who Series 8 Trailer

The BBC have released the first full-length trailer for the new series of Doctor Who and the first trailer to show us any significant amount of Peter Capaldi in the role. There was actually another teaser trailer last week, but computer troubles (resulting in my computer giving up the ghost last week and me needing to get a new one) meant I never actually posted about that one. However, since I posted the previous ones (here and here), I should probably post that one too.

I will admit, I haven't been fond of these teaser trailers. They show virtually nothing (not that I want major spoilers in a trailer) and don't really raise anticipation much. However, that last one is an improvement on the second, which was an improvement on the first. But now the full-length trailer:

Now, this is a lot more like it! It gives a much better feel for what to expect without giving too much away. I really like Capaldi's reserved approach to the role (in the little we see here). It adds a sinister edge to the Doctor (which the trailer really emphasises) and makes a stark contrast to Matt Smith's much more manic Doctor. This trailer has made me very eager for August 23rd to get here already! 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) Basic Rules

In my May Round-Up, I noted that the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons finally had release dates, starting with the Starter Set in July. That set is already available at select stores and will be in wide release on July 15. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was that Wizards of the Coast would also be releasing a free pdf of the game’s basic rules (you can download it here). Although I stated that I wouldn’t be switching to the new game (I’d be staying with Pathfinder), I did say that I might pick up the rules at some point. Well, with a price point of free, there really wasn’t any reason not to. So I downloaded them.

I haven’t changed my mind about sticking with Pathfinder, and my reasons are the same as I stated before. However, I will say that I like what I see in the new D&D, and if this had been 4th Edition, I might have stuck with the game at the time. One of the things that turned me away from 4th Edition was the radical departure from so many of the things that made D&D identifiable uniquely as Dungeons & Dragons. After downloading the D&D Basic Rules, I first skimmed quickly through the book just to get an overall feel of how it looked, and right away, I could see things that looked like D&D. It was a good first sign, and it held up upon reading thoroughly.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars

I’ve always been a fan of mixing science fiction and fantasy. I’m well aware, however, that it can be a bit of a controversial topic amongst science fiction and fantasy fans, many of whom, while enjoying both, prefer that each be kept separate. The way I look at it, though, is most science fiction contains quite a few things that are fantastical—often outright impossible—but merely presented under the guise of science instead of magic, yet accomplishing pretty much the same thing magic does. Mixing science and magic allows you to explore both in new and different ways.

Despite my love of mixing genres, I’ve surprisingly never paid much attention to Numeria, the area of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting where, long ago, a spaceship from another world crashed, and people have been trying to uncover its secrets ever since. Perhaps it’s because the books published so far have paid little attention to the area as well, and other, more-developed areas of Golarion have simply grabbed and held onto my attention. Whatever the case, the publication of Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars reminded me of this land’s existence and I eagerly dug into the book to learn more about it.

Numeria is a land where the high-technology of robots and lasers clashes with the very low-technology of barbarian tribes. There’s actually quite a lot of material to squeeze into Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, as the various Kellid tribes that inhabit the region are not a unified people, and on top of that, there is the Technic League (a group that wants, and mostly has, a monopoly on the control and distribution of technology recovered from the crashed ship) and the crashed ship itself to describe, along with the various alien creatures, mutant beasts, and robots. Overall, Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars does a very good job of getting all this information in there and providing GMs with a compelling setting and hooks for many amazing and outlandish adventures.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

June Round-Up Plus To Be Takei

June was a very busy month for me—in the non-virtual, non-internet world, that is. Consequently, it was a very slow month here on Of Dice and Pen. I was only able to get a few things posted, but July looks to be a quiet month, so I envision much more productivity here.

I did, however, get three Pathfinder review posted: Occult Mysteries, Shifting Sands, and Blood of the Elements. Coming soon, you can expect to see reviews of Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars and Secrets of the Sphinx, the fourth part of the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path.

June also saw the final couple episodes of Cosmos: “The World Set Free” and “Unafraid of the Dark”. It's only been a few short weeks, but I already miss seeing new episodes each week and writing about them. As I've said before, I think it's amazing that a science series has gotten such a high-profile showing, and I wish more science and documentary shows could receive the same treatment. Of course, just because they're not high-profile doesn't mean we can't seek them out and watch them. There are lots of options out there, and many very good ones, including Carl Sagan's original Cosmos series.

In the realm of science fiction/fantasy documentaries, here's one about Star Trek actor and LGBTQ icon and activist, George Takei: To Be Takei. I'm really quite excited to see this one, as George Takei is a fascinating and funny man.

And this Kickstarter for The Great Kingdom, a documentary about Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, looks like it could be interesting. (Edit: Something weird was happening with the embedding of the preview for The Great Kingdom, so I've removed it. You can watch the preview at the site linked.)

But back in the realm of pure science fiction and fantasy, the exciting news is that Doctor Who will be returning on August 23, as reported in this post.

Have a great July everyone!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Doctor Who Returns 23 August

The BBC has confirmed that Doctor Who will return on Saturday, 23 August, 2014 with a feature-length episode entitled "Deep Breath". There doesn't seem to be any indication yet exactly how long "feature-length" is. To go along with the announcement, the BBC have released a new teaser trailer as well. It's a little more compelling than the earlier one. At the very least, it has a bit of dialogue and motion in it.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Blood of the Elements

In my recent Pathfinder reviews, I’ve commented quite a bit on the sheer volume of options that are now available for the game, and how many of those options tend to end up forgotten because they don’t stand out and there’s just too much to remember. However, when I’ve brought this up, it’s generally been to praise new material for managing to stand out from the crowd. Several recent books in both the Pathfinder Player Companion and Pathfinder Campaign Setting lines have achieved this. Books like the Alchemy Manual and The Harrow Handbook blend together flavour and mechanics to create truly memorable and interesting concepts. Unfortunately, the new Blood of the Elements fails to continue that trend.

The book looks at the geniekin races (ifrits, oreads, sulis, sylphs, and undines), providing background and character options for each. It also goes beyond this and looks at the four elemental planes, as well as the famed City of Brass on the Plane of Fire—and this is part of where the book goes wrong. There have been a number of Blood of... books and the best ones (Blood of Angels, Blood of Fiends) have had tight focuses, while the weaker ones (Blood of the Night) have tried to do too much. Thirty-two pages really isn’t enough space to adequately cover five races and include a gazetteer of the elemental planes, making Blood of the Elements one of the ones that tries to do too much.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Mummy's Mask - Shifting Sands

So far, in the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path, the PCs have explored ancient tombs and temples, and stopped an undead uprising in Wati. At the end of Empty Graves, the PCs came into possession of a mysterious and powerful magic item. Now, in Shifting Sands by Richard Pett, the PCs must uncover the history of this item and learn why certain other groups are desperate to get their hands on it. To do so, they must travel to the city of Tephu and sift through its expansive library while also successfully staying on the nobility’s good side.

There’s a lot to like in Shifting Sands, but I must admit, it’s left me with something of a mixed opinion. I absolutely love certain aspects—in particular, its ingenious new method for handling research, which makes the research far more interesting than just a few Knowledge checks. It also has some great opportunities for roleplay, as the PCs must secure for themselves permission to use the library in the first place. Unfortunately, much of that roleplay is with a rather one-dimensional NPC whose actions vary little regardless of what the PCs do. The concluding part of the adventure allows the PCs to do some exploration of the desert, and works pretty well, but does feel a touch tacked on.


Friday, 13 June 2014

Cosmos - Unafraid of the Dark

The Library of Alexandria was a prominent virtual location on Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series. It is fitting, therefore, that the final episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series should begin in that location. Tyson uses it as both a tale of caution and one of inspiration. Before its destruction, the Library of Alexandria was one of the greatest repositories of knowledge in the world. It was a representation of the incredible things humanity could achieve. Yet it was only available to a privileged few, unlike the knowledge that we can download at our fingertips today. There were very few to defend it when the time came.

One of the key themes in “Unafraid of the Dark” is that scientific knowledge should be freely available to all, for that is the only way to ensure that it is used responsibly. Scientists are human beings and capable of error. They’re also capable of corruption. Only by others cross-checking data and theories can the errors be found and corruption weeded out. But there’s a bigger, more encompassing theme, to this final episode, and that is the fact that human knowledge is incomplete. There is so much about the cosmos that we simply don’t know. In fact, when Martin Behaim made the very first globe of the Earth in 1492 (a globe that only contained the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa), people then knew relatively more about the Earth than we know now about the universe as a whole. Yet we shouldn’t be ashamed of this. Indeed, Tyson presents this fact as a point of inspiration, a reason for us to continue the search and to learn more, for there can be nothing more exciting than discovering something new—something that seems to rewrite reality as we know it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Occult Mysteries

As much as I like the Pathfinder Campaign Setting of Golarion, I’ve often felt that one area of weakness is in conveying what typical inhabitants’ lives are like. The products do a great job of setting a general tone for various areas of the setting and filling in geographical details and history. We learn a lot about the places you can visit, but a lot less about what you can do there, from the festivals and pastimes of the locals, to styles of dress, to art styles and cuisine, and to personal beliefs. I’ve mentioned more than a few times in my reviews my frustration at the lack of explanation of just what a cavalier order is—how it fits into the setting, how it interacts with governments and other organizations. The Prophets of Kalistrade are mentioned in numerous supplements as having strict dietary and sexual prohibitions, but those products never—not once!—actually say what those prohibitions are. These might seem like minor points not worth mentioning, especially since the focus of the game is on adventurers having adventures, not adventurers having normal, everyday lives. However, it’s often the little details that add the most flavour. They may be background elements, but they help to make the setting seem more real and alive.

Occult Mysteries is a product that takes a step towards addressing some of these issues. It doesn’t answer the questions about cavalier orders and the Prophets of Kalistrade, and it doesn’t give information about day-to-day life in any particular part of the world. However, it does offer incredible insight into the beliefs of the people of Golarion, and into their thought processes. The book looks at a number of “mysteries” from across the world—the strange things that people haven’t quite been able to explain, but have many hypotheses about. These include creation stories, the exodus of the gnomes, and the missing Volume 5 of the Pathfinder Chronicles. The book also looks at traditions like astrology and numerology, secret societies, and infamous texts of great power.