Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Glass Darkly

The latest entry to the Pathfinder Tales line is Nightglass by Liane Merciel.  As you can see from the image, the cover is beautifully illustrated by Tyler Walpole.  But Nightglass is really only the first part of the novel, ending on page 157.  However the fault is to be divided between Merciel and the editor, this addition lacks the level of cohesion required of a novel.  There is an admission of this fact in the formatting and division of Nightglass into Book I: Monsters and Book II: People, but the lack of development will not let Book I stand alone and, as it stands, it does not achieve unity with what follows. 
Book I: Monsters is grim.  Exceedingly grim: over 100 pages of growing up and coming of age at the mercy of a dark god and his twisted minions.  I can appreciate it as an exercise in world building, but this exceeds my tolerance for treatment of children in this kind of jeopardy of evil and of fundamental lostness on the part of the protagonist.  While it hints of more horrors than it actually details, the thoughtful reader with a vivid imagination may still find themselves disturbed.
Now, I am no opponent of literature's capacity to disturb, but when it comes to entertainment, it must disturb as a part of accomplishing its purpose.  If Book I’s purpose is to create the character and his predicament and Book II is his redemption from the realm of Monsters to the realm of People, then a tighter composition in which Book I is significantly shortened and the protagonist’s redemption begins earlier would bring about greater unity.  Giving into an excess of world-building and extraneous characterization in this case overcame the basic necessities: revulsion from the Nidalese way and sympathy for the main character.  To be clear, I am not saying that Book I as a whole was unnecessary.  On the contrary, Isiem could have appeared with little initial sympathy without the knowledge of how he was victimized by the followers of Zon-Kuthon.  Rather, what is at issue is balance, focus, and integration.

Book II is much more enjoyable.  Isiem the shadowmancer is fleeing the dark grasp of the evil god of he and his people’s slavery.  He struggles to survive in a harsh frontier and come to a life free of the shadows and of relationships twisted by domination and fear. 

In Book II, the classic trope of what is human and what is monstrous finds play as Isiem discovers that the fearsome, inhuman strix (pictured below) are more humane than the peoples he has known previously.  However, his escape from the world of the monstrously evil humans to the presumed, but human-hearted, monsters will only come with struggle, and this redemptive struggle makes Book II more plot-driven and active -- and ultimately, enjoyable.

I'm sorry to have to judge Nightglass as the weakest of the line so far.  In spite of its potential and its good parts, I grade it as it stands as a whole.
Grade: D

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brusting with Artistic Inspiration

If you've been following the MR blog, you know that this has been the year in which I finally got around to reading Steven Brust (or at least, the Steven Brust that everyone else was reading), and enjoyed his work a good deal.  If you are a Brust fan, be sure and catch this interview with him on Atomic Array.

Brust work's has inspired some gorgeous artwork over on DeviantArt that is not to missed.  So, with the kind permission of the artists, please feast your eyes on the these gorgeous and evocative interpretations, and if you aren't familiar with these artists, head on over to their DA sites (linked below) and give yourself an eyeful and them some love.

Vlad Taltos by Ashley Cope

Jhereg by Kerem Beyit

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grognards and Kobolds

My 2012 Economic Growth Program has resulted in my return to certain things I once enjoyed, like a KQ subscription.  (How sweet it is!)  So you will soon be hearing me talk about the religion articles in issue 21, but for now, I want to point out the growing connections between the Old School community and this excellent periodical.

If you find yourself a gamer who does not like 3rd and 4th era mechanics or new school RPGs like Dragon Age, you might question what KQ would offer you other than flavor material and inspiration.  The most recent issue shows that the magazine is open to Old School submissions as it continues to live out its polity of the "Switzerland of the Edition Wars."  Issue 22 includes nine monsters for Castles and Crusades.   It also contains a preview of another attempt to streamline the d20 system, undertaken by a mix of former TSR/Wizards designers, 13th Age.  If I were a gambling man, I'd take good odds on that the reason we haven't seen more reflects the submissions that Wolfgang Baur has [not] received.

KQ has also published on their blog an appreciation of the OSR written by long time D&D freelancer Steve Winter, who has also added an OSR Resources page to his blog.  (I recommend both of these blogs no matter what FRPG you play.  For that matter, writers who aren't gamers will also find items of interest.)  If this together with the C&C article isn't a toe in the water, then I'll be shocked.

So in addition to the inherent value of flavor and inspirational text (and art!) to Old School gamers, I would take this as a moment to be seized for those looking to spread the Old School love.  Go comment on Steve's post at KQ.  Look into submissions for the quarterly.  Even if your query was accepted to the KQ blog first, I know folks who started with blog publications and then went on to have things published in the quarterly and even in separate Open Design publications.  I know as a subscriber, I'd love to see things published for OS simulacra and evolved retro-games.

PS.  Steve, what's up with the OSR Croc?   I love it, but I feel like I'm missing a reference or something.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

It's difficult to know what to say about the tragic loss of life in Colorado at this film's opening, other than my prayers are with the victims and their families.  It's not difficult to know what to say about the film itself: it lives up to the hype.

While there will not be much surprise for the attentive viewer who knows the Batman stories well, The Dark Knight Rises is very well done, and continues the trend of excellence in films based on comic books.  I enjoyed the final installment to The Dark Knight series even more than the much-lauded Heath Ledger/Joker one, and at this point would put it in my top ten of comic book movies of all time.

Great action, satisfying wrap-up of characters arcs.  While the effects are not as impressive as the Avengers, I think it is more successful in terms of plot. (I can't believe I didn't get an Avengers review up!  Well, I was out-of-town.)  Great casting and acting in the other parts along with directing and writing continue to save the less than stellar Bale Batman.

Have we entered the Golden Age of Comic Book Cinema?  Are we getting spoiled or lucky?  Sure seems like great days for geeks.  Long may we rule the market!
Not to be missed

Thursday, July 12, 2012

PaizoCon 2012 Picture Gallery

The Gaming Room

The Store - A place of great evil and low Will saves.

Mike Welham - RPG Superstar 2012

Patrick Curtin - my roomie

Oh Jeremy.....

So evil, I had to show it twice.

That Mona fella - he sure is shifty looking.

Holger and his fiance Sabine

Mmmm...zombie chess

Soooo shiny.....

All hail our Digital Overlord

Holger with Richard Pett and Dave Gross

COSMO!  He's really certain I won't be back next year.  Something about "delete"....

Jess - mere hours before I nearly killed her PC.

Mike was serious about immersing himself in the Catfolk role.

Teter Tot!

Mike, Pat, Holger, Tom, and Tom's sons.

Steve (TOZ) and his wife Shana.

Musings from the Zombie: PaizoCon 2012 Retrospective

Hmmm....What are my thoughts on my first PaizoCon?  In a word.....


But seriously, it was a fantastic experience.  I'll admit, going into this I was a bit nervous.  I hadn't been to a Con in years, and I was going to one where I had never met anyone in the flesh.  These were all online friendships, something that's still somewhat new to me.  Hell, I was even going to room with someone I'd never met in person!  For someone who can, at times, be a bit paranoid, it was a leap of faith.

So there I was in the Seattle airport, and the first two people I met were Mike Welham and Jess Door - two PaizoCon veterans.  And Mike was the RPG Superstar winner of 2012!!  We met!  We shared a cab to the hotel!  We had lunch together.  All in all a pleasant experience with two awesome people.

Next up was my roomie - Patrick Curtin.  A funny guy, and a truly cool dude.  I'd like to think we hit it off pretty well.

That night was the Meet and Great at this place called Claimjumpers.  Some dude named Glen from New Zealand came and sat down at our table (after making sure we were fellow Paizonians), and sat with us the rest of the night.  I met Hugo Solis, among others.  Also got to meet Tom Riner (Tordek), his wife, and two of his sons.  Tom and his boys game with my brother and Wolfthulhu down in Houston, so it was a real pleasure to meet them. I had good food and plenty of beer (maybe a bit too much).

Next morning we got in the registration line, and when we got up to the head, a Paizo employee simply handed me my envelope, without me even saying who I was.  Clearly, I had a reputation with the Paizo folk.   That seemed to be enforced when I introduced myself to Cosmo, who responded with an "Oh, it's you.".  Hmmm, mayhaps my reputation amongst them is not all that good.  But Adam Daigle was much more cool with me, so maybe my rep ain't so bad after all.  And the PMG was so quiet, yet friendly. Friday I also got to meet Holger and his fiance Sabine - two really awesome people.

I didn't have any games I was signed up for, so I spent most of my first day shopping at the store (shakes fist), going to some seminars  (future APs was awesome), and generally hanging around.  Saturday, Mike got me into my first ever Pathfinder Society game.  Patrick joined us.  I got a chance to play my Dwarven Monk.  It was a blast.  Later on I did some more shopping (shakes fist), then we hit the Rise of the Rune Lords 5th Anniversary discussion and got our hardcovers signed by the aritists, writers, etc. 

Saturday night was the banquet!  I started at Gary's table, migrated over to Sara Marie's after eating (great food), then kind of milled about out in the hallway.  Poor Gary was so nervous, but he got through his presentation with no problems and I think his was the most talked about afterwards.

Sunday, we finally got around to playing my Crypt of Illusions -  a game that had been percolating in my poor, tender head for years.  I finished the draft development just for this occasion.  Mike, Jess, Holger, Patrick, and Steve all played, with me doing my best to slaughter them.  We had to call it a break early, but I think they still had fun.  Later, at lunch, I went through more of it with Mike, Patrick, and Jess.

After Sunday lunch, we said goodbye to Jess, then later on that night to Mike.  Patrick didn't leave until early the next morning, with me following not far behind.  Steve Schopmeyer (TOZ) and his lovely wife were kind enough to give me a ride to the airport.

All in all, it was a great experience.  One I hope to repeat another year - hopefully with more of my fellow FAWTLY Folk from the Paizo Boards.

Until then......mrgh.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mythopoeic Monday Helps Find the Way!


Pathfinder fans:  Issue #7 of the excellent fanzine, Wayfinder, is now out!  Download your copy of the pdf here for free!  Friends and fellow Ramblers contributed both art and articles, so brace yourself for excellence.  It's packed with 94 pages of Pathfindery goodness.  Check it out to see Western Avistan in the Golarion setting developed.

Once you given it a look through, you can go enjoy the ever-improving art submitted at DA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff IX

Project Swallowtail--the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game--due for release GenCon 2013, is a cooperative, non-collectible card game. Skills, feats, items, spells, etc. have been translated from the PFRPG rules to a card mechanic. The Rise of the Runelords set is the first set, 400 cards that recreates the experience of the first book of Rise of the Runelords. Plays in an hour to an hour and a half. Talk to your venture captain about being part of the playtest!

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff VIII

Fun stuff from the future! Presented by Erik Mona and Space Amiri. First up is the plush goblin, with different outfits and such. Next is the Pathfinder Comic Book, created by Jim Zubkavich and a slew of cover artists. The comic book will be available as a subscription, which comes with a bag and board and features exclusive cover art (first issue has a cover illustration by Tyler Walpole). Each comic book will have a PFRPG encounter. Neeeeext, the upcoming Pathfinder Battles set (releasing roughly Jan. 2013) will tie in to the Shattered Star AP. It will have 55 minis, only Large, Medium, and Small figures. Amiri, everyone's favorite Lem (named after Lemmy), Sheila Hindmarch, Oriana (Grey Maiden) are the iconics featured in the set.

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff VII, now with more Gary Teter

Gary(!) talked about the new Pathfinder Society section with forums for each faction, and developing a way to upload character information to Paizo Paizo Game Space! A new way to play games--on-line in a virtual tabletop fashion. It runs in your web browser, with no software to install (not even a plugin). It will do all the prep work for you--maps, NPCs, and monsters. It will not implement the full Pathfinder rules. It's "not quite ready", and it won't be released when it's perfect...so, probably this summer, and Gary and his team will improve it as they go. Plus, IT'S FREE!!!!

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff Part VI

The Pathfinder Player Companion will be awesomer (so says Erik Mona). Wes Schneider showed off Varisia, Birthplace of Legends, which will debut at GenCon. The books have been redesigned with a lot of cool new visual features--the inside cover of this book shows all the Shoanti tribes in Varisia. The Player Companion is very modular and will feature quick pieces of information. The first spread contains information "for your character" and a reference to all the new rules in the book. The books will show roles for iconic characters (such as the Varisian Fortune-Teller), which features suggestions for character classes, feats, and roleplaying ideas. The next featured section was the player map, showing all the things characters would know and not spoiling GM-y goodness. Paizo is taking advantage of the book's format to have double-page maps and panoramic art (like the illustration depicting Korvosa). The books will also pull in some information from the Player's Guide, but it will including more information than just the AP. Next in the line is Knights of the Inner Sea, which has information on paying the "big heroes" of the Inner Sea.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff Part V

James Jacobs showed off the Rise of the Runelords Deluxe Collector's Edition, and it looks sweet! It will be on display at the Paizo store tomorrow. James Jacobs then showed off NEW art for the Shattered Star AP. I'm not going to spend 1,000 words describing each piece, though. OK, there's the dark rider which is the Headless Horseman with a spinal cord whip. By the way, the characters will be Pathfinder Society members (I suspect there will be a way to unlink from PFS). James reiterated information about The Reign of Winter AP.

PaizoCon 2012 Ultimate Campaign (Banquet Stuff Part IV)

This book scheduled for Spring 2013 gives tools to, yep, run a campaign. It will include details on running downtime, like building a keep, raising puppies, etc. It will also bring in the (expanded) kingdom building rules into the core rules. So...those of you hoping for mythic rules, I guess you'll have to wait until GenCon for that announcement!

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff Part III

Jason Bulmahn turned to the NPC Codex (320 pages), which contains stat blocks for every core character class from level 1-20. Each NPC will have some information that a GM can use to build an encounter or an adventure around. All characters will use options from the Core Rulebook.

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff II

Jason Bulmahn showed off Ultimate Equipment. It's the "one-stop shopping source" for gear for your character, with some new equipment added to the book as well. The book includes magical arms and armor from previous sources, plus the same amount of new content. There's a rings/rods/staves section, and a wondrous item section (organized by slot). It has a section of artifacts, cursed items, and statted out intelligent items. Finally, we've got an appendix! Who doesn't love appendices? OK, who likes the return of treasure types?? (only the treasure scales up by type in PFRPG) Still more to come...

PaizoCon 2012 Banquet Stuff Part I

Lisa announced promotions of Jeff Alvarez to Chief Operating Officer, Erik Mona to Chief Creative Officer, and Vic Wertz to Chief Technical Officer. Vic says there is no raise to go with the promotions. :) More to come later...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Grand Convocation 4712 A.R. has begun

We pathfinders have gathered for the Grand Convocation in Absalom. Much political jockeying is going on as we all try to influence the upcoming Blackros wedding. I will be your reporter, Tellgard Rossine.
This man is my venture captain, Grandmaster Torch.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Seminar

A Report from PaizoCon 2012

Panel Participants:
James Jacobs - Creative Director
Wes Schneider - EIC, Paizo Publishing
Adam Daigle - Developer (non-adventure)
Rob McCreary - Developer (adventure)

Lots of exciting reveals at this panel: Shattered Star AP - Launching at GenCon. A look back at the beginnings of Paizo. A sequel to Rise of the Runelords, Curse of the Crimson Throne, and Second Darkness. Deliberately advancing the timeline of Golarion with the events of the previous adventure paths having already taken place. Grey Maidens (from CotCT) will get more development. This AP is more of a dungeon/artifact quest. Seven parts of a sihedron are split up and the party looks dungeons to find all the pieces. Splits the difference between the pro- and anti-megadungeon demands, with 6 large dungeons. The first dungeon is in Magnimar (Irespan), the second dungeon is in a Statue of Liberty type colossus (shard of lust, features enchantment effects), Kaer Maga is the third dungeon, the fourth dungeon is Windsong Abbey, the fifth dungeon is in a tower touching on Leng, and the final dungeon is the city of Xin--the first city built in Thassilon.

Back matter articles - Grey Maidens, the sihedron, the seven skymetals, short encounters in Magnimar, gazetteer of Leng (written by Greg Vaughn), the nightgaunt (by James Jacobs) and other Lovecraftian monsters cut from Carrion Crown, features on the Runelords (by Rob McCreary).

The next adventure path - Yep, Baba Yaga returns in the Reign of Winter Adventure Path. Winter will be a big theme (someone made a "winter is coming" reference). The adventure path kicks off with "The Snows of Summer" in Taldor, where unseasonably cold weather appears. The queen of Irrisen, Elvanna, does not want to relinquish her throne. The adventure moves to Irrisen, and the PCs will get to play with Baba Yaga's Hut. The second and subsequent titles are: "The Shackled Hut", "Maiden, Mother, Crone" (Iobara), "The Frozen Stars" (Triaxus!), "Rasputin Must Die", "The Witch Queen's Revenge".

The AP that debuts after GenCon 2013, after Reign of Winter, will be revealed at GenCon 2012. :(

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: Pixar's Brave

A Brave Addition to a Fine Summer of Cinema

While everybody else is seeing The Amazing Spiderman or getting fireworks ready, I finally got to go see Brave.  This is Pixar in fine form, and though I am proud of the English side of my heritage, and pity those who have to grasp at tenuous Celtic links to feel good about their heritage, I'm still a sucker for Celtic stuff.  There are nice touches of Celtic folklore in the story, but I'd put it at the level of flavor for the general audience, and not as strong as what you'd get, for example, in the Secret of Kells.

Brave is beautifully done.  The comic relief is almost all provided by male characters.  The film has not one, but two strong female characters in major roles, not to mention a rather delightful wit- I mean, wood carver.  Visually beautiful, good writing, some laughs, a good balance of action and characterization, a conflict between two sympathetic, strong, and different female characters, it's very enjoyable.  My only criticism has to do with the pulling off the plot's solution.  Somehow, it managed to be both too predictable and not formulaic enough.  An odd criticism without explanation, I know, but I think I will skip explanation for now so as not to spoil the show.  This plot defect (defects?) doesn't mar the movie, it just makes it imperfect.  The film had the potential to be more complex than it turned out, but I still recommend it to girls and to the general audience.


Postscript on Strange Criticism
So, I ran across a criticism of Brave online that struck me as simply strange.  I ran across it thanks to the lovely Once Upon a Blog's Fairy Tale News, and if that one post comes in for a share of the criticism below, you shouldn't take that as a detraction from enjoying what's on offer over there.  Mary Pols decries Brave in Time as a "failure of female empowerment."  Following the links (especially this NYTimes article) and doing some searches on my own turned up a good deal of criticism, good and bad, centering on Merida's mane of curly, flaming hair.  The idea that Merida's hair is a part of what's wrong with the film, frankly, makes me shake my head and laugh -- but the latter with bitter weariness. 

It seems to me that certain strands of feminist criticism, like many contemporary ideologies, are tempted by either the Scylla of materialism or the Charybdis of a disembodied Gnosticism.  You can tell what I think of both options with my analogy.  What I mean by it is, either Merida is her hair or she needs to be liberated from her hair.  On the whole, I guess that there are probably more feminists who want to turn gender into a cultural construction so that they can escape biology for some new cultural realm of the Mind (f.) which they construct in its place.  Never mind the fact that Gingers might be empowered by Brave (oh, how we picked on them during elementary school!), but I seriously doubt that there is a strong connection between folks who enjoy the aesthetic of her fiery locks or the technical and artistic accomplishment of portraying them on screen and the reduction of women to their hair (or the cultural values pertaining thereto).  The fact is, art lets us do something that life does not excel at as well: fit the outer embodiment to the inner person.  Just as art explodes our tendency to overplay the correspondence between appearances and the realities beneath them in destructive ways, so it also lets us enjoy a world where these correspond to a greater degree.  To reduce art to either one kind of art or the other, now that would be a failure of human empowerment.  Further, in a market where art is also business, these kind of physical manifestations of character are an important part of the art's success -- especially for art pitched to kids.

Who knows?  Maybe these are just Sassenach critics seeking to oppress my Celtic forebears and colonize their hair with some less ethnic coloring?  (Yes, sometimes it is very good to be a hybrid.)

Where I would agree with feminists, or just film critics of any stripe, is that we can do better than Brave.  But they should appreciate how hard it will be to do better in some areas, and that when better comes, it may have Brave to thank in part for doing so.  The ecology of art and criticism is necessarily red with tooth and claw, but Brave doesn't deserve a take-down, and the art of animated cinema will improve from its success and suffer if it is considered a failure.  But then, this is coming from someone who doesn't plan on seeing most Pixar films a second time and does plan on seeing Brave again.

Monday, July 2, 2012

PaizoCon Cometh

Sorry no Mythopoeic Monday feature today -- I've been buried in grading.  To keep the day from going completely without the Monday posting, I will note that PaizoCon is in four days and I am beating the virtual bushes for correspondents to guest blog during the Con and give us the latest news from Paizo.