On Reviewing Influences

I have three reviewers who have influenced my technique for reviewing creative material.  The first is Roger Ebert, the late movie critic.  I used to watch his televised reviews and the way he got into how a movie worked or didn’t work got me interested in movies in general.  He would praise movies with effective or entertaining elements and he wouldn’t hold back if a movie blew chunks.

The second reviewer who influenced my technique was Harlan Ellison, from his column “Harlan Ellison’s Watching” in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Again, he was a movie reviewer, but he had things to say about broader creative currents in American pop culture, too.  The column that stuck with me was his description of going to a juvenile hall with copies of one of his books for the inmates to read and discuss with him.  The boys in juvie were so educationally impoverished they couldn’t comprehend that Ellison had the books they were holding published.  In their dim minds, they thought he had physically written them.  When asked what kind of media they liked, they responded by starting to describe scenes of extreme violence from movies, getting increasing excited as their descriptions became more vivid.  This was an eye opener for me.  It was the first sign to me that a notable number of parents and Hollywood both were screwing up ethically, being indifferent to the effect of what minors were viewing and finding entertaining.

The third and final reviewer is Endzeitgeist, the RPG content reviewer.  He is my go-to reviewer when I want to find out whether a Pathfinder supplement is cool or sucks hot volcanic rocks.  He goes into detail about what the good content in a supplement is, if any or if there are flaws in the product and exactly what those flaws are.

I’m nowhere as skilled, talented or experienced as these three people, but their work serves as models for my own.



Review Schedule and Policy Update

I have recently been reading some good books, but I haven’t finished them yet.  I do intend to review them.  My Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone review wasn’t all that positive.  I find it easier to write a review which points out the flaws in a work than write a positive review.  My positive reviews can be summed up as:  It had cool stuff in it.  When I write a negative review, I am more engaged in the material and more engaged in how it is flawed than I am with a review of a book I liked.

Also, a fairly common response of mine to reading a book which I actively loathed is the desire to write a savagely satirical pastiche of the piece.  I feel it is the least I can do in response to an author committing a written atrocity.

Of the books I have read all the way through this year, a dozen of them, I haven’t read one bad book.  I hope to review them all eventually.

On the Pathfinder Society and Individual Pathfinders

I’ve been reflecting on the Pathfinder Society in the Golarion setting and what I’ve read about individual Pathfinders.

I was initially interested in Pathfinders and the Society when I bought the Core Rulebook and read the description of the Pathfinder Chronicler prestige class.  That turned to disgust when I read Pathfinder Chronicles:  Seeker of Secrets.  The initial concept of the Pathfinder Society was fine with me.  The structures which have grown up around it and the people who have joined it since then put me off, emotionally.  I have no interest in having my Pathfinder game characters interact with a venture-captain, or worse, follow the dictates of the Decemvirate.

Pathfinder characters, from the fiction I have read in the first issue of Wayfinder, are insanely reckless and foolhardy.  The most likely result of a Pathfinder investigation is a thoroughly-dead Pathfinder.

So, that result obtains in my Thelsikar’s Ambition campaign setting.  A Pathfinder who sticks their nose into Thelsikar’s activities in Varisia is going to result in a dead Pathfinder.

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Review Policy and RPG Material Reviews

I’ll try to state my review policy.  My reviews are not fair and balanced.  If I like something, I usually really like it.  If I don’t like something, I really don’t like and will be blunt about why.  If I’m somewhere in-between on a text, I won’t have much to say about it either way.

As for RPG materials, my current collection dates from 1994.  I had a collection from April 1980 through June 1994, but lost it to a personal disaster.  Most of the material in the collection is systems that were in print as of 1994 and onward.  I do have some out of print material, thanks to a FLGS which I’ve been going to for just shy of thirty years.  They have shelf on shelf of out of print books, supplements and whatnot.

So here’s my first RPG review, which is based on the one I posted at the Paizo Web site, for the Pathfinder Core Rulebook:

After years of seeing the Pathfinder rule books on the shelves of my FLGS, I took the plunge in December of 2012. I bought the Core Rulebook and began skimming it immediately. My first discovery was the character creation rules. They were fun! Characters were cool in a way that I hadn’t seen in previous editions of the world’s oldest role-playing game. Within three months, I was up and running my first Pathfinder adventure. That was three years ago and I have no regrets getting involved with the Pathfinder system.

The rule book is thick, but don’t let that deter you.  The core rules are simple and are the focus of the first half of the book is on character creation and development.  The Pathfinder system is about options and this rule book gives you options.  Seven player character races with fresh twists on the approach to the standards from the world’s oldest role-playing game system.  Eleven character classes, with options for everything from martial characters, through divine and arcane casters through strikers (what MMO players call “DPS characters”).   The skill is system is clean and robust enough to support a variety of interactions with the environment, creatures and other characters.  The Feat system allows for a lot of customization for a character.  There is enough variety in the equipment chapter that a player can find nearly any bit of mundane gear they want or need.  The spell description section is a hundred and thirty-three pages long and offers a huge variety of arcane and divine spell choices.  The first chapter which gets a meh response from me is the Prestige classes.  I haven’t had the use for them in three years of refereeing.  I’m still exploring the options in the core classes.  Gamemastering and adventure design are covered in one chapter each, with enough information to get you started.  One caveat about adventure design.  Using the adventure design as written will create outlines which support “dangerous” adventures, just as described on the back of the rule book.  While Pathfinder characters have a fair amount of resiliency, it is not difficult to design an adventure which will challenge, injure and possibly easily kill first level characters.  The chapter on creating NPC’s is robust and offers a detailed, useful system for creating characters with class levels.  The chapter on magic items is a hundred and eleven pages long and includes rules for magic item creation.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This is the first book listed on my “read” bookshelf on Goodreads.  I don’t know how I managed that.  When I signed up at the site, it had me select twenty books I was interested so it could get an idea of what to automatically generate for recommendations.

I only read this book when the first movie adaptation was coming out.  I was curious about what the fuss was.  At the time, young readers on AOL constantly asked “Who here likes Harry Potter?”

The prose of the book itself is not bad, relatively well-written and accessible to younger readers.  The main character is a seemingly-ordinary waif with some truly horrible relatives he’s forced to live with.  That was the first thing that put me off enjoying the book.  The author, Rowling, calls them “Muggles”.  I recognize them as “Mundanes” and have had bad experiences with people like that for five decades.

Things get a bit better for the title character, Harry Potter, when he gets invited to and goes to a magical boarding school, Hogwarts Academy.  There other people his age and even adults interact with him in a non-obnoxious fashion.

The plot of the book, once it gets to Hogwarts involves the title maguffin, a philosopher’s stone, renamed sorcerer’s stone, for the unwashed American masses of children.  Harry gets mixed up in finding the blasted thing and preventing it from being stolen by the ultimate villain of the piece, a mostly-dead dark wizard named Voldemort.  A confrontation between the two forms the climax of the book, with Voldemort melting from his attempt to touch the sorcerer’s stone.  I think.  It’s been nearly ten years since I read the book.

On Reviewing Books and PDFs

I got the idea for this blog post from a conversation with BJ Hensley this morning.  If you want to see me review a book or a PDF, leave me a comment.  I usually review general books over on my Goodreads account.  For RPG books or PDFs, I either review them at Paizo’s Web site or DriveThruRPG.  DriveThurRPG sends me periodic reminders to review the PDFs I’ve downloaded from there.  Fair warning, I can have strong opinions.  Also, since I post content under the Community Use Policy by Paizo, I try to keep this blog as general-audience friendly as possible.

Pathfinder Campaign Arc: Riddles in Port, Pirates and Drow, Part II

Well, another blogger on WordPress liked my post about my second-planned Pathfinder campaign arc, so I thought I’d write a bit more about it than just the outline burp I did the first time.

I decided to do a pirate-themed arc because one of the other players, the guy who plays Ibin, the Elf Rogue, wanted to play a pirate in Pathfinder.  I checked out the Skull and Shackles Adventure Path, but that had problems.  First of all, there isn’t much fun pirating to start it off.  Second, the first dungeon is designed to kill the player character party outright.  Flooded dungeons mean the Game Master is trying to kill your character.  Not cool.  Second, I checked out the Freeport Companion as an option.  That also had problems.  First of all, there are layout and editing errors.  Second, there are legacy errors from the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  It appears text was cut and pasted into the document from an earlier version of the book.  Third, there are some downright revolting elements to the thematic fluff of the book.

So, that left me looking at the Paizo Pathfinder catalog, looking for something in the Varisia area which had pirates in it.  Riddleport.  Bingo!  A more wretched hive of scum and villainy you will never find in known Varisia.  With pirates, that is.  What goes on in Kaer Maga stays in Kaer Maga.

I’m a bit like Blizzard, when it comes to creating Pathfinder content.  No, I’m not a multi-billion dollar corporation who is obsessed with cows.  😉  I mean, I’m terrible at coming up with completely original material.  I work best when I take elements from a variety of other sources and remix them to come up with something new.

This time, to give the Riddleport arc some oomph, I decided that I would take inspiration from the Pathfinder Adventure Path called Second Darkness.  It’s set in Riddleport, has a serious case of doom and gloom and the threat of a Drow invasion.  Perfect!  My next step is to buy the players’ guide and the actual adventure path PDFs next, so I can pillage them for content to adapt.  I can fit the Players Guide into my PDF budget for next month, so I plan to do so.

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