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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!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Doctor Who Trailer

This trailer actually showed up online yesterday with virtually no fanfare. There still hasn't been much, which is kind of weird and surprising. Are people just getting bored of trailers? Afraid of spoilers, perhaps? Oh well, here it is:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Mummy's Mask - The Slave Trenches of Hakotep


I opened my review of the fourth segment of Mummy's Mask, Secrets of the Sphinx with a comment about how I'm not a big fan of dungeon crawls. I did that in order to set up a contrast with the fact that I actually really like Secrets of the Sphinx—enough to declare it a “dungeon crawl done well.” Conversely, I'm opening this review with a reminder of it because the next segment, The Slave Trenches of Hakotep by Michael Kortes, is a pretty good example of why I'm not a fan of dungeon crawls.

While there are aspects of the adventure that I like (including one great NPC), overall The Slave Trenches of Hakotep is a long slog through a succession of dungeons, each filled with traps and monsters, and many of them forming pieces in an overall puzzle for the PCs to put together. Apart from that one NPC, there's very little opportunity for roleplaying interactions, and very little to keep the adventure spiced up and moving along. It will take many sessions to play through, and most of those session will start to feel like the same thing over and over again—and that's not good.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

July Round-Up, Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio, and Doctor Who Teaser


Sometimes time goes by way too quickly. At one moment, it's July, and the next, it's suddenly August and you wonder where all the time went and why you haven't completed everything you planned to complete. But at least August means we're edging ever closer to the première of the new season of Doctor Who! Peter Capaldi gets his first outing as the Doctor and I can't wait! I've been critical of the scripts in recent years, but even if they don't improve, I'm confident Capaldi will be a great Doctor.

Of course, as we get closer to August 23rd (the première date), the danger of spoilers becomes more and more a reality. The Doctor Who World Tour starts in just a couple of days and will bring with it special advance screenings of the first episode in various locations around the world. This will mean lots of people will have seen the episode before the 23rd—but then again, some people have seen it already, what with the episodes leaking and all. I talked a bit about this and spoilers just last week. In other Doctor Who news, a new teaser trailer that I haven't mentioned yet came out last week. You can watch it in the player below. There was also a cut-down version of the full-length trailer, but really, if you've seen the full-length one, you don't need to see the cut-down.


In the world of roleplaying games, the big thing in July was the release of the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I took a look at the Basic Rules here. I also took a look at a few of the latest Pathfinder products: Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, Risen from the Sands, Secrets of the Sphinx, and People of the River. To round up July (and actually catch up with August), here's a quick mini-review.

Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio

The Mummy's Mask Poster Map Folio comes with three full-colour poster maps suitable for use with the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path. However, like other adventure path map folios from the past few years, all the maps are easily usable in any campaign set in Osirion. There are maps of the cities of Wati and Tephu, and one of the country of Osirion. The map of Osirion is designed as a player map in the style of something characters might actually acquire in the game world. However, the two city maps are also safe as player maps as well.

All three maps are beautiful, but accolades really must go to the map of Osirion. I really love these player-oriented, in-world maps. They truly are wonderful to behold, and this one is no different. However, there is a difference with this one and some of the others that have appeared before: This one has no labels, not even of cities. The odd part is, this is exactly the same map from the centre of People of the Sands, except larger and that map had not only the names of cities, but also rivers and mountains, as well as roads and common travel routes complete with the distances from one location to the other. This map completely lacks all labels, except for the name “Osirion” in the top right corner. This severely limits its usefulness during game play. While cities are marked (and are wonderfully illustrated to look like the actual cities rather than just having one common symbol for every city), players will still have to go to other sources to find out which city is which. This is rather surprising, considering that similar maps in other map folios (such as the maps of Varisia in the Shattered Star Poster Map Folio or Irrisen in the Reign of Winter Poster Map Folio) have had labels on them. I'm not sure what the motivation for removing the labels on this map might have been (or indeed if this is due to an error or oversight), but it does mar what is otherwise a gorgeous product. I hope the lack of labels will not be a trend in future map folios.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

People of the River


The Sellen River cuts across eastern Avistan, all the way from the Lake of Mists and Vales in the north to Star Bay in the Inner Sea 1200 miles to the south. It passes through (or forms the borders of) numerous lands along its way. Amongst them are Numeria and the River Kingdoms, which are the main topic of People of the River, the latest release in the Pathfinder Player Companion line. It provides new options for players making characters from these lands, and also provides some rules and information regarding rivers in general.

The River Kingdoms are actually a grouping of numerous small kingdoms. Combined with Numeria, they make for a large amount of material for this one small book to cover. Not surprisingly, it can't cover them all and there are several River Kingdoms that get no more than a sentence or two of mention. As a Player Companion book, it also devotes a large amount of space to game options, like new traits and archetypes, further limiting just how much it can cover about these locations. In my review of the recent Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, I stated that that book does a great job at describing what it is like to adventure in Numeria, but gives little information about what it's like to live there. Somewhat unfortunately, this book doesn't really fill in that gap. Players without much pre-existing knowledge of the lands covered in People of the River will come away from the book with only a smattering more knowledge than they started with. However, they will come away with several new options to consider for their characters, and for many players, that may well be more than enough.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mummy's Mask - Secrets of the Sphinx


I've never made any secret of not being a big fan of dungeon crawls. They tend to limit the amount of roleplaying that is possible and often end up being repetitive as the PCs move from room to room, killing one monster after another before finally reaching the end. However, that doesn't mean that dungeon crawls can't be good adventures or that I never use them in my own games. I actually end up using quite a few, as dungeon crawls are signature parts of fantasy roleplaying, and done well, with a good game master, they can be a lot of fun. Secrets of the Sphinx by Amber E. Scott is an example of a dungeon crawl done well. It wraps together an interesting storyline with a compelling cast of characters (and lots of opportunity for roleplay with those characters), and places it all down in a setting that is more than just a static collection of locations and rooms.

The adventure also advances the plot of the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path in one of the most significant ways so far, leading at last to a confrontation between the PCs and one of the key antagonists. It's the first adventure where the PCs will feel that they've achieved a major accomplishment at the end of it.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Knowing What's to Come: The Fascination with, and Fear of Spoilers


Note: There are no actual spoilers in this article.

A few weeks ago, the Doctor Who world was rocked with the news that the scripts for the first five episodes of the new series had leaked online. Not long afterwards came the news that an unfinished version of the first episode had also leaked (through the same source as the leaked scripts). Indeed, it turned out that it wasn't only the first episode, but the first six! (Note: The preceding links go to news articles, not places where you can download the leaked items.) This isn't the first time that mess-ups like this have happened with Doctor Who. Just last year, many people who had preordered the DVD release of the second half of Series 7 received their copies before the final episode had aired on television, and way back in 2005, the very first episode of the rebooted series, “Rose”, leaked online in advance of airing. However, I don't think there's ever been a Doctor Who leak of this magnitude before.

Following the news of the leaks, fandom responded in a couple of ways. Many people immediately guarded themselves against the possibility of spoilers, informing people through social media not to give away anything or face the penalty of unfollowing or defriending. On the other side of the table were those who immediately sought out copies of the leaked material or, failing that, knowledge of what was in them. In short, some people absolutely did not want spoilers, and some people absolutely did.

Of course, the search for spoilers (and the avoidance of them) is nothing new. Spoilers can show up all over the place, sometimes where you least expect them. Messageboards like Gallifrey Base have entire sections devoted to people discussing spoilers, but they also require that spoilers stay limited to those locations and that they not spread into other sections so that those who don't want to be spoiled won't suddenly find themselves spoiled. I, myself, am very much on the side of those who don't want spoilers. I want to be surprised by new episodes when they first air. Yet the events of the last couple of weeks have led me to question myself about exactly why I don't like spoilers. Exactly what harm do they do? Do they really “spoil” my or other people's enjoyment? I haven't asked these questions in order to convince myself or anyone else to seek out and embrace spoilers. Rather, I simply seek understanding. And this goes well beyond just Doctor Who spoilers. It includes spoilers for anything and everything.

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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!