To Boldly Nerd…

Video games, pen&paper RPGs and other nerdery

15/07/2015
by Kadomi
0 comments

Book Reviews: June 2015

As Goodreads kindly reminded me, I am doing great on my 2015 goal of 50 books. I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped to in June, but I have some reviews for the month.

ruin-risingI continued to finish the Grisha series, with its final volume Ruin and Rising. The conclusion to the series finds Alina and Mal trapped in the caverns underneath Ravka, with the clergy using her as symbolic figure of little power, Saint Alina. Eventually the gang of Grisha flee to find the mystical Firebird, the last of the sources of power that Alina hasn’t bound yet, hounded on all sides by the vastly superior powers of the Darkling. The book is dark, full of action and only in its conclusion managed to disappoint me, with a giant cop-out. An opportunity of giant emotional impact was lost here. I wish Leigh Bardugo hadn’t gone for this cop-out and had treaded a less safe route. But then, who am I kidding, this is YA. I have to admit I was a bit disturbed to read all the Goodreads reviews of teenage girls fawning over the ‘hotness’ that is the Darkling. Erm, yeah.

My rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

steles-of-the-skyThe next book I read finds me conflicted. Steles of the Sky is the final book of the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. Set in a quasi-Asian world, it is the story of Re Temur, the exiled heir of the Khaganate, so basically Mongols. In the first book his lover Edene was captured by the Nameless Assassins, a cult of assassins from the desert that want to resurrect the greatest evil of all times. In the final book of the series, Re Temur and his allies, including a now fled Edene and their child, gather at a lake in Song (what I gathered to be this world’s China), and prepare their last stand against the armies of Al-Sepehr. When the final battle comes, it’s full of surprising twists and turns. I have to say, I really did not see this end coming. As in the previous book, Steles of the Sky is not really a book about Temur, but of the women in his life, the wizard Samarkar, Edene, and many other strong women. The book’s greatest problem for me is its glacial pace. It really takes forever and ever until things happen, at a pace that made me give up caring at times. Also, as it’s been a long time since I read the previous books, I had forgotten a lot of elements of the story. In retrospect, I can only wish I had read all three of them in close sucession, to make the final volume a better experience. One thing I know for sure: the setting made me actively crave playing Mists of Pandaria, its soundtrack would be a great soundtrack for the Steles of the Sky. All in all I absolutely recommend this trilogy of fantasy books, but please read all three books together for the best experience.

My rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

prince-of-wolvesLast but not least, I read Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross. This is the first book of the Pathfinder Tales, tie-in fictions for the official campaign world of the Pathfinder RPG, Golarion. Now, in my time, I have read tons of tie-in fiction. When I used to play AD&D, I pretty much bought every Forgotten Realms book published, and same with the Dragonlance books. A lot of this tie-in fiction was bad or disappointing. I know people love R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt do’ Urden books, but I despised them. They were bland, generic, and Drizzt is just such a special snowflake. Eventually I moved on to what I consider real fiction. I mean, come on, I even read Dragonlance fiction by Richard Knaak, the guy who brought us Rhonin and other disappointments in WoW fiction. This all should explain why my expectations for Pathfinder fiction were really really low. I am very happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised.

The more than creepy villain of this book is a Penanggalan, a vampire rising out of a body. Gross.

The more than creepy villain of this book is a Penanggalan, a vampire rising out of a body. Gross.

Prince of Wolves is set in Ustalav, Golarion’s version of Romania or maybe Transsylvania, settled by a group of people called Varisians. It’s a country ravaged by war against the Whispering Tyrant, a powerful lich and is still suffering from that today. The story has two protagonists and is told from the first person perspective in alternating chapters. Count Varian Jeggare is an elven Venture-Captain in the Pathfinder society, a powerful faction of explorers. He has lost contact to one of his Pathfinder agents and travels to Ustalav to find her. He is accompanied by his bodyguard Radovan, a tiefling with devil blood, but also Varisian roots. Early on, they get attacked and separated. Count Jeggare ends up in the clutches of cultists of Urgathoa, the goddess of undeath, whereas Radovan ends up with a group of werewolves who are Sczarni and who believe he is the Prince of Wolves that was foretold to them. Inevitably, they end up together again, both searching for the Lacuna Codex, an evil book of spells that the Urgathoa cultists are only too eager to get their hands on. The book is a strange mix of humor, a bit of a Victorian feel because Count Jeggare and Radovan were a bit like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with the count being very much snooty upper class, and classic gothic horror, sometimes a lot more creepy than I really expected. Above all, it was extremely true to the world of Golarion and pretty much oozed Pathfinder spirit at all times. I am not the only one surprised at this level of quality from a series of tie-in novels, as you can see in Aidan Moher’s interview with James L. Sutter, one of the Paizo developers and in charge of the line of novels.

My rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

That was it for June. Anything good anyone else has been reading? Recommendations are always welcome. :)

14/07/2015
by Kadomi
0 comments

RPG: Titansgrave

Whenever I try to describe pen&paper RPGs to someone, it turns out to be a bit difficult. How can you describe it so that the other person is not weirded out but interested? When I roped my co-workers into playing Pathfinder with me, I had the advantage of them being extreme nerds in the first place, and having seen RPGs in action in The Big Bang Theory. But others? To get more people interested in the hobby, it’d be great to have a great example to show them. Titansgrave might just be this.

This is Aankia, one of the game's PCs

This is Aankia, one of the game’s PCs

So what is Titansgrave? It’s a show on Geek&Sundry, Felicia Day’s web channel for nerdy shows. It’s hosted by Wil Wheaton, who’s already been doing a boardgame show called Tabletop there, where he plays boardgames with various nerd celebrities. There’ve been a couple episodes there in which he GM’d the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin. Titansgrave is taking this a couple step further, by running a pen&paper campaign in a story arc of 10 episodes at 45 minutes each. Now, that’s not a lot of time, considering my average RPG session is 6-7 hours, but for a produced show it’s great.

The used RPG system is Fantasy AGE which is a generic version of the Dragon Age rules that can be used with any fantasy setting. The campaign setting for Titansgrave was developed by Wil Wheaton and his son, and is a blend of the currently very popular Science Fantasy style. Think Thundarr the Barbarian, John Carter, technology meets magic. A bunch of RPGs use Science Fantasy now, aside from Titansgrave, e.g. Numenera (which I am going to write about soon) but also Pathfinder, with their bizarre Iron Gods Adventure Path (which I am also going to write about, honestly). There’s some technology on this world, but also magic.

Wil Wheaton is running the campaign with four nerd celebrities, though I have to admit I didn’t know most of them before I started watching the show. There’s Hank Green, apparently a popular vlogger, as Aankia, a saurian rogue. Alison Haislip, actress and hostess, plays Kiliel, a half-dwarf rogue, who is the thieving ranger type. There’s Yuri Lowenthal, a voice actor with tons of anime credits but most importantly Sandal’s ENCHANTMENT! voice from Dragon Age. He plays an orcish mage called S’Lethkk. Last but not least we have Laura Bailey, a famous voice actress, and MMO fans will mostly know her as /the/ voice of Jaina Proudmoore since Warcraft III. She plays a human warrior with a cyborg arm.

Lemley is seriously the best.

Lemley is seriously the best.

As far as pen&paper goes, the campaign so far has been what you call a railroad. The characters have zero freedom to explore as they want to because the GM is pretty adamantly setting them on a course. This is understandable, because in such a short format and a planned story arc, the characters have to play along. As much as it’s more fun with more freedom, just as in video games, I am not a huge fan of the sandbox style, and do not mind that it’s so very railroad-y. I have to say that so far I have been impressed by Wil Wheaton as a GM. In general, I find him a bit overhyped, and he clearly believes his own hype, but as GM, he’s good. He’s a big advocate of role-playing, and I am shamelessly stealing a couple ideas for my own campaign. For example, every character has a secret only they know. We got to see those secrets in episode 0. Also, every character has a short- and a long-term goal. I really dig that, because it’s an easy way to add depth to the characters. I offered these two systems to the players in my campaign as optional rule, with a small XP reward if they participate, and some really dug into it. Especially our rogue surprised me, as his secret really offers great character motivation and layers to his character.

Titansgrave is produced well, and so the GM has lots of assistance, with roll tools on the screen, voice enhancement when needed for big booming voice moments, and lots of customized art to visualize the campaign. There’s also a battle overlay but that’s not working for me. It’s not your usual grid, and it didn’t help me with visualizing the combat at all. Of course, Wheaton has an advantage as GM. As professional actor, he really is quite outstanding at performing NPCs. I am just a bit jealous. But as I said above, he’s good, and he’s got experience. He’s running a series of tips on The Mary Sue now as well, to improve your GM game, and I’ll enjoy watching those.

As far as the player characters go, the first episode was a bit stiff, everyone still getting their bearings, but it is a lot of fun watching them getting really into it. Laura Bailey is my favorite, because she’s really getting into it. Wheaton tosses stuff at them that requires impromptu roleplaying and storytelling, and she’s been outstanding at it. Hank Green is a bit annoying, and maybe a bit pushy. Yet, that mirrors my pen&paper experience, because you will always have one of those players in every group. 😉

If you are interested in pen&paper, but aren’t sure what it’s about, Titansgrave is a great intro. If you’re already an avid RPer and don’t mind a railroad, this is probably the most high-profile and well-produced RPG session you’ll ever find. Certainly beats all the other YouTube game sessions that I have ever watched. They’re currently at the midway point of the show, with episode 6 out today. I wish my players spoke English a little better, because I’d totally make them watch the series. I am considering buying the Titansgrave campaign book when it comes out, to steal more ideas for a Numenera campaign I am hoping to run one fine day.

If you want to check out the introduction episode 0, you can find it below.

13/07/2015
by Kadomi
6 Comments

MMOs: Return to FFXIV

Whenever I quit playing MMOs, I always think it’s forever. I start playing single-player games, get fully immersed by them and then shake my head how I ever fell into the MMO trap, with its shallow stories, repetitive tasks and content droughts. But it’s always the same. It’s always about the people.

I am still in touch with friends I have made over the years playing WoW, and we always reminisce about wanting to play together. My friend Shivali who is all around fantastic, probably has been the most consistent part of my MMO life, always playing with me where ever the waves of MMOs drop me ashore. We played Rift together, she created an EU account to play WoW with me when I gave up the US account, we played Wildstar together, and now she went ahead and tried the trial version of FFXIV. She liked it and so I decided I would go back to that game that I had fallen slightly in love with but then dropped after the free month you get with the box was over. I am glad I went back, because the deeper I dig into this game and its various WTF quirky systems, the better it gets.

Mounts

When I last posted, I was working on the chocobo mount and was level 21 on my lancer. In the meantime, I picked the Maelstrom Grand Company, making me a fancier version of a pirate, and did the grindy quests and Fates that award company seals which are used as payment for your mount, leveling gear or promotions within your company. Please meet Chocobon, my trusty Chocobo mount and defender. At level 30, you can unlock that your mount fights at your side. They have three different specs, tank, healer or damage, but you have limited control compared to, say, a WoW hunter pet. Still, it’s available for any class in the game and makes leveling a lot more pleasant while you are out in the world.

Isn't he perty?

Isn’t he perty?

Apparently there’s another kind of mini-game involved where you can change the color of your mount by stabling or breeding them, and I have to admit I didn’t fully get it just yet. It’s another of those quirky systems that you have to play with and that are very different from what I am used to. I will eventually play around with it, because Chocobon has a very dull brown color. But then, afaik, I will get a unicorn mount sometime. Seriously, a unicorn. What the hell!

schokobonFor anyone wondering why my chocobo has the stupid name Chocobon, I thought I was being clever when I named it after a favorite treat of mine, Kinder Schoko-Bons. It’s basically Kinder chocolate in egg-shape with chopped hazelnuts in it. I am so brilliant. 😛

Jobs

It is still mind-boggling to me, but you don’t really play alts in FFXIV. You just have your one character, and the world is your oyster. You can pick up any or all professions, and you can be any class you want to be after level 15. You don’t even have to change specs or anything of the kind. You just pick up a different main hand weapon and bam, you are that class. There are six martial classes (not counting the ones the expansion added), plus three caster classes. To make that even more complicated, you mix and match those classes to a so-called job, a more specialized and improved version of the classes. I started the game as a lancer, which is a melee class that uses lances and tridents and spears, basically incredibly long weapons on a stick. The improved job of a lancer is the dragoon. In order to unlock it, you have to be a level 30 lancer and a level 15 marauder, which is the tank class that uses 2-handed axes and plays a little bit like an Arms warrior from WoW. As dragoon you can use skills from the classes lancer, marauder but also pugilist, which is a weaponless monk-like class.

Enjoying the view of Limsa Lominsa while leveling as Marauder

Enjoying the view of Limsa Lominsa while leveling as Marauder

My friend Ria just started playing and is going to be a ninja, aaaaaiii. In order to be a ninja, you need to be a level 30 rogue and a level 15 pugilist. While she catches up, I thought to give healing a whirl and decided I would want to be a White Mage, which is conjurer/arcanist. I now have the conundrum that I totally fell in love with healing in FFXIV and might not want to go back to the dragoon for a bit. Also, my cat lady is awfully pretty in robes. The cowls even show off her ears quite nicely!

And that's just a level 5 robe!

And that’s just a level 5 robe!

Healing in FFXIV is quite relaxed, at least at my level. There’s the long global cooldown, the matching cast time, and I only really have three spells to use, which is Cure, the basic healing spell, Medica, an AoE heal and Ensuma, to remove a debuff. I know there will be more, especially of the support kind. But for now, that’s all. Damage is very smooth, with no real spikes, and so I find myself DPSing a little bit while the tank needs no heals. It’s a bit jarring going from click-healing to not doing that, but it’s fine. I am having so much fun, and from the rate it’s been raining player commendations on me, I seem to be doing well. Move over, dragoon, you might be looking badass, but I sense some pretty white mage outfits in my future.

I am still too chicken to try tanking. All the tanks so far have been frighteningly competent. Maybe later, when I can field a full dungeon group just with friends.

Group content with weird names

The thing that still gets me is that everything has a weird name. There are levequests. I originally thought they missed the ‘l’ but no. They’re repeatable quests that you get to do on a timer, and the speed of completion determines the amount of exp you get. You can do those for normal leveling, but I think most people probably do them for professions and gathering. Then, there are guildhests. Because the name was so odd, I didn’t do any, and now I can’t get enough of them. They’re basically mini-dungeons or scenarios that you do in a 4-man group and queue for. They teach you basic info on group play, and are pretty great exp for completing them the first time. They’re quick, and really a welcome diversion. They made me miss WoW scenarios. I don’t know why those weren’t brought back. I have fond memories of the heroic scenarios from MoP.

At least dungeons are still just dungeons and not some weird word, and they’re pretty much mandatory content in FFXIV. Most of the dungeons are tied to the main story mission, and thus you require a visit. The variety has been pretty good so far. I have visited a pirate hideout, a crypta, a mine, a former prison, an arena, a spooky manor, and an outdoor instance set in a jungle. Bosses mostly have interesting mechanics, though a lot of them are annoyingly add-based. Still, fairly creative for leveling dungeons. My experiences are still very positive. When a wipe happens, people work together so that the next time, it’s not a wipe. Did I mention healing’s been pretty pleasant? I think I did.

The main story

The shining glory of FFXIV is its highly touted story. It’s been an entertaining way to level, but up until I finished the Titan trial at level 34, it’s been fairly unexciting. For me, this is in large parts because Minfilia, the leader of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, an organization you join, is so dishwater dull. She’s very very pretty, but she sends you on the most inane fed-ex quests. There are comics mocking those quests, because inevitably she asks you back to HQ even though you have a linkshell to use for communication. But the return to HQ after the Titan trial was my first wow moment, and I suddenly believe all those people who are telling me that they were moved to tears by the further events of the original game’s story. I still seriously wish though that Minfilia and the game in general had professional voice acting. I don’t know how they managed to hire Gideon Emery (Fenris from DAII, Lor’themar in WoW), and then nothing but crap for the rest. Minfilia is the worst for me. Now I can only imagine her if Laura Bailey had voiced her, instead of this very bored and boring, young voice actress that she really has.

Despite the cringe-worthy voice acting and the many fed-ex quests, the story is engaging and keeps you pushing on. I can’t wait for my character to get White Mage to 35 so I can continue.

Speaking of cringe-worthy, meet this dude from one of the story missions. I still have nightmares:

Yeah, I don't know what to say. I wanted to run screaming.

Yeah, I don’t know what to say. I wanted to run screaming.

16/06/2015
by Kadomi
0 comments

Media Monday #207: Otherland, MOBAs, E3 squeeing

I was a bad blogger last week and skipped Media Monday. I wanted to post on time yesterday, but my computer wouldn’t boot. When it finally did, I spent most of the evening updating phpbb, which I use to run a forum for my two Pathfinder groups. I also run a Wiki, which I will have to post about another time.

Off we go, however.

  1. I’d love to be a member of the movie or TV show family Bartowski, from Chuck, because for one, Chuck is a loveable nerd, and Ellie seems like a kickass sister to have around. There’s Captain Awesome, who’s even awesome for a gay lady like me. Let’s not forget Stephen Bartowski as crazy scientist dad and Mary Bartowski as super-asskicking tough spy. Yup, it’d have to be them. I’d be the normal one.
  2. The cover of City of Golden Shadow, the first book.

    The cover of City of Golden Shadow, the first book.

    One of my favorite authors is Tad Williams. I regularly re-read his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy of books and have an Otherland re-read on my to-do list. I know way too few people who have read those books. They’re slow and they’re wordy, but they are utterly fantastic and amazing. It’s a bit like Snow Crash, but way more detailed, and more fantastic. It’s Alice in Wonderland meets Snow Crash meets Neuromancer meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I can’t recommend this series more. As a bonus for diversity, the main protagonist is Renie, a South African university teacher, and her sidekick is !Xabbu, a Kalahari bushman.
  3. Yvonne Strahovski played quite a few parts, but I would like to see her back as Sarah Walker, because her story is definitely left unfinished. Basically, this is me saying: GIVE US CHUCK THE TV MOVIE. Ahem. If not, then video-capture her again as in Mass Effect 2 and put her in more games as kickass heroine. I’d play that.
  4. I just can’t couldn’t deal with MOBAs, because I can’t see any of those games be anything but toxic. Aside from MMOs, I don’t really play multiplayer games. I haven’t ever played anything like Team Fortress 2 (which explains my non-existent interest in Overwatch) nor do I ever play multiplayer maps in games like Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed. I messed around with Mass Effect 3 multiplayer for a bit, but honestly, I sucked at it, and thus it was no fun. I am pretty sure I would not be a particularly skilled League of Legends player, and all the stories about its toxic communities have taken care that I will never try. None of my RL friends are playing, so I am out. I haven’t even downloaded Heroes of the Storm because the same rules apply. People will be assholes. Come to think of it, most of Blizzard’s recent games have been big misses for me, because I don’t care for Hearthstone either. I am not the target demographic whatsoever.
  5. Lego Dimensions is almost unsurpassable in coolness, because they even make someone like me consider it, and I don’t play with Legos, nor have I ever tried anything like Skylanders or Infinity. But just look at all the nerdy audiences they’re covering with sets: Portal, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, Back to the Future, etc. Yes, I would get a tiny companion cube like that. Because it’s cool!
  6. Seriously, how cool is Lego Chell with her portal gun?

    Seriously, how cool is Lego Chell with her portal gun?

  7. Would be really cool, if the transporters from the Star Trek universe really existed, because instantaneous travel is my ultimate Sci-Fi dream. Alternatively, let’s live like The Jetsons and just fly everywhere in personal ships.
  8. Video game consoles didn’t use to appeal to me, because I was a happy PC gamer and thought that it fits all my gaming needs. But now, I have changed my mind, ever since I first tried gaming on a PS3. I haven’t bought a single game this Steam sale, because a) I have tons of Steam games and b) I can’t play them while sitting in my Ikea Poäng chair. Yet. I just bought The Last of Us GotY and am super-excited to play it. Speaking of excitement, the following trailer had me squeeing and laughing and grinning all over my face in giddy anticipation. Hell yeah.

Less squeeing, more like awe-inspired watching happened when I saw the following trailer.

2016 looks like it’s going to be amazing for gamers.

10/06/2015
by Kadomi
2 Comments

Book Reviews: May 2015

I have fallen out of the habit of posting book reviews, but I’ll go back to that on a month by month basis. My Goodreads goal for 2015 is 50 books, and I am currently doing well, even though I might be cheesing it by counting Pathfinder sourcebooks as well. But they’re books, even if it’s only 64 pages.

Shadow and Bone, book 1 of the Grisha series

Shadow and Bone, book 1 of the Grisha series

The first book I finished in May was Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. It falls into the YA genre, which for me has held few highs (Hunger Games, Divergent) and many lows. Mostly, because I am hardly the target audience and really have no patience for the romantic tropes of this genre. However, Shadow and Bone is beautiful. If I had to sum it up in a few words, it’s pretty much ‘Harry Potter is a Russian girl, goes to Russian Hogwarts and kinda gets the hots for Voldemort’. Our protagonist is Alina Starkov, the setting is Ravka, which is a fantasy Russia heavily leaning on tales of folklore and fairy tales. Alina is in the Ravkan army and she is to cross the Unsea, a magical lightless area full of monsters that separates Ravka from the western part of the country. While trying to cross, it is discovered that Alina has magic powers, which makes her a Grisha, a member of the magic users of Ravka. As she has the unheard of ability to summon light, the Darkling, the ruler over the Grisha, wants her to help him remove the threat of the Unsea. She gets taken to the capital to the Little Palace where Grisha are trained and Alina struggles to understand her power.

I really enjoyed the Russian flavor, and there are surprises in the story. If you enjoy YA of the fantasy kind, I highly recommend this.

My rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

The first Jean Le Flambeur book

The first Jean Le Flambeur book

Next up, I picked up the debut work of Hannu Rajaniemi, a Finnish author. I’ll be upfront, I probably never read a book that left me so confused as The Quantum Thief. I really want to read some amazing Science Fiction, but for me, this book wasn’t it. Even trying to describe the plot will be hard. Jean Le Flambeur is a thief who is held captive in a Dilemma Prison of the Sobornost. He is broken out by a female mercenary called Mieli and her sentient spaceship. As price, he has to steal something for Mieli’s employee, and in order to do that they have to travel to Mars, to Oubliette, where Jean has hidden the memories of his past life. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. The author seriously offers zero exposition to any of this. He flings exotic terms your way, like Sobornost, gevulot clouds, etc, but at no point stops to explain them. I really have to respect the author for writing in such a way that despite the lack of information you keep reading. The writing is definitely top-notch, even if I still can’t say I fully understood any of it. It even includes a race called Zoku who are basically gaming communities celebrating LAN parties and MMO raids. Yeah, make of that what you will. I am not quite sure I will pick up the next book, though I would really like to learn more of the Sobornost, the evil overlords of this setting.

Only touch if you enjoy hard scifi and insanity.

My rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Grisha 0.5

Grisha 0.5

The Grisha series received three companion novellas that are available for free on the Tor website. I read all of them, and I have no regrets! The first one has no relation to the series, but is set in Ravka, in the vicinity of the orphanage that Alina and Mal grew up in. It’s a very dark fairy tale of a girl living on the outskirts of Duva Forest. In her village, female children keep disappearing, and it is said that the forest consumes them. It’s very Hansel and Gretel like, really, with a surprise twist at the end. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I am a sucker for dark fairy tales though. I read a lot of fairy tales as a child, and really come to think of it, most of them are deeply disturbing.

My rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

The Tailor is set between the first and second book of the Grisha series and returns to a character we met in Shadow and Bone. This novella helps with actually understanding her motivations and adding layers to this character who seemed mostly like the sympathetic sidekick for Alina in Shadow and Bone. However, I didn’t enjoy this novella nearly as much as I did the other one.

My rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

siege-and-storm You shouldn’t be surprised I continued my reading with the 2nd book of the Grisha trilogy, Siege and Storm. It seamlessly continues the story from the first book. Middle books are always a bit problematic, and this one is no exception. My biggest issue was how drawn out the middle section is. You get an action and story-packed beginning, and then an endless middle section with little going on, until you get a very dramatic finale. Also, the middle section is full of the love triangle bullshit I have come to expect from YA fantasy, drama for the sake of drama. It was still an entertaining book, but did not live up to its full potential.

My rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Grisha 2.5

Grisha 2.5

In Siege and Storm we met Nikolai, also called the Too-Clever-Fox and this novella tells us the folktale of Koja, the too-clever-fox. It’s a fable full of talking animals, and much like Leigh Bardugo’s first novella, it’s excellent. There’s no obvious connection to the Grisha series, it’s just a lovely short story.

My rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

And that’s everything I read. Very Grisha centric, but I like to read complete trilogies. If anyone’s got any excellent SF recommendations for me, please share. My last two tries (the other one was Revelation Space), really fell short.

09/06/2015
by Kadomi
2 Comments

Steam, you mighty overlord

I don’t usually get excited about hardware announcements. I don’t chase after the latest phones, I have no intention of purchasing any smartwatch, and I am happy using the PS3 (for now). Every couple years I upgrade my PC, usually when something breaks or it’s become too slow. Steam however managed to get me so excited that I am pondering a pre-order. And I don’t do pre-orders ever!

Since the arrival of the PS3 in my household, I find it difficult to actually play games at my computer. When I come home from work, I don’t want to sit at a desk again, I want to lounge in comfort. The only game I am currently playing on my PC is Pharaoh, and that only occasionally, since I made a mistake in the last map and really hate starting over. However, my pool of PS3 games is very small. Last week I got really frustrated in Darksiders, and didn’t really have any alternatives to play. I do however have many many alternatives on my PC. My Steam Library.

Don't ask me how many of those games I have actually completed.

Don’t ask me how many of those games I have actually completed.

My PC and the TV are in the same room, and so of course I have the option of having an HDMI cable lying across the room and buying a wireless controller to use Steam’s Big Picture functionality. But really, I wouldn’t want that cable lying around all the time, and crawling around under my desk everytime I want to play is not my idea of relaxing fun. Another option would be if I had an older PC I could set up next to the TV, to use Steam’s In-Home Streaming. We streamed a game to my SO’s laptop once, but when I tried streaming something beefier, like Tomb Raider, it pretty much didn’t work. Not sure why that would be, maybe our wifi doesn’t support the streaming. In any case I don’t have an older computer I could set up for streaming.

This last week, Valve announced two hardware releases that pretty much will solve my woes in November: the Steam Link and the Steam Controller. The Steam Link is a small streaming box you can connect to a TV and which will then stream content you have on any computer running Steam in your home network. The Steam Controller looks like a hybrid between mouse and controller, and I have to say, seeing it used in the trailer is inspiring.

It pretty much solves my current issues (as long as there’s the necessary throughput). I want both pieces of hardware. Well played, oh mighty overlord of my PC gaming experience.

Of course it’s Steam, which means European buyers get punished again. In the past, Steam used a 1:1 pricing scheme for selling PC games. Game cost 4.99 USD, it would cost 4.99 EUR, even though that was quite a bit more money converted. Now that USD and EUR are pretty much even, they’re not even bothering anymore. The Steam Link and Controller are both priced at 49.99 USD.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Are you fucking kidding me?

At the current conversion rate, that means we’re currently paying around 62 USD per item. Just a slight difference, eh? But who am I fooling, I am going to buy both of those puppies. The only question is: why is November so far away?

04/06/2015
by Kadomi
2 Comments

Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords, Session 7

The reason I didn’t blog last week was that my post-work time was for the most part consumed by either watching TV or preparing the Saturday game of Pathfinder. It’s been a while since I last blogged about it, but I want to start writing more regular session reports. Spoilers abound.

PZO1002_500Most of our party managed to reach level 3 after clearing the Catacombs of Wrath in the previous session, with only the rogue lagging behind because he missed a couple sessions. I am not 100% convinced about the experience point rate. Pathfinder uses three different XP tracks: fast, medium and slow, based on what kind of game you want to play. The slower the track, the more experience points a character needs to level. We’re playing the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, which is set up using the fast XP track. As we’re 6 PCs, and RotRl is set up for 4 PCs, I had to adjust encounters a lot. In the Catacombs of Wrath, the first real dungeon of the adventure, I pretty much tossed in quite a few more sinspawns than originally planned, nearly draining the minor runewell. All the extra monsters accounted for extra experience points, taking them almost halfway through level 3. I have been toying with the idea of not awarding experience points anymore, and instead leveling the characters at certain story milestones. I do however have the impression that people are really excited to get their experience points at the end of the night. I guess it’s the ol’ draw of MMOs as well. Leveling and loot are very gratifying, and as they’re all fairly new to pen&paper, I don’t want to deprive them of this kind of excitement.

Rest in peace, Koruvus. They'll never know your story.

Rest in peace, Koruvus. They’ll never know your story.

On the other hand, awarding experience points based on challenges also greatly encourages murder hobo behavior. In session 6, the party pretty much methodically explored every room in the catacombs, slaying all that were there, never once stopping to question anything they saw at all. Murder, loot, rinse and repeat. As a story and RP opportunity, it fell flat. I also did not do my best as GM to present the main antagonists, Koruvus and Eryllium, as more than cannon fodder. I can only strive to do better with the finale to Burnt Offerings.

Shopping Queen or adventure?

This Saturday the group, minus the player of the barbarian, continued where we had stopped last, looting Eryllium’s dead body. The party tried a bit half-heartedly to investigate the well in the cathedral, but gave up quickly. Instead, they decided that they would cleanse the catacombs by taking some of the Water of Lamashtu that they found outside in vials, and then went back to get a town guard to bring them stuff to set the zombie traps in Koruvus’ room on fire. After they set the zombies on fire, they left the catacombs behind, instilled fear in the townguards outside of the Glassworks who had let a sinspawn escape to murder a Sandpoint citizen the night before. The party then split up, to sell their loot and to inform Sandpoint’s mayor of what they had found underneath the Glassworks. Our rogue and the druid make a terrible tag-team of greed, both being Chaotic Neutral, and played the mayor like a fiddle once they stopped the intimidation route the rogue was taking by tossing Eryllium’s dead body on the mayor’s desk. Instead, they decided to sweet-talk her and aided each other with diplomacy rolls to receive further assistance with their next step forward, investigating the goblin stronghold Thistletop. The mayor promised them to purchase masterwork weapons for them. Yup, I brought it onto myself, power creep at level 3. It was just a pretty great diplomacy roll and good RP which I wanted to award. I will just have to continue making the challenges tougher.

The other party members sold off all their loot, had the wand and scrolls identified, and that was pretty much it for the day. The next morning there was some shopping of masterwork weapons, and then the party decided to head towards Thistletop. Sort of. They didn’t really seem sure what to do, so I gave them Tsuto’s journal page again. Instead of heading out directly for Nettlewood, they decided they would use the smuggler tunnel underneath the Glassworks. Soon they were trudging along the coastline, somewhat aimlessly. The ranger found an obviously goblin-trodden path that steeply led up back to the main road. A small pack of goblins assaulted the longshanks on the main road and were quickly taken care of. Instead of pushing onward, they decided to go back to Sandpoint to get their horses and buy a map of the hinterlands. Little did they know that Nettlewood and the approach to Thistletop don’t really allow for horse-riding. Speaking of horses, when they finally reached Nettlewood, they found a distraught horse breeder with a cart who was traveling towards Sandpoint and then Magnimar to sell his prize horse Shadowmist. Only that he was assaulted by a horde of goblins who didn’t bother with killing him when he hid under his cart and instead dragged his horse off. The gnome ranger gave up her pony so that the breeder could travel to Sandpoint and then followed the tracks leading into the dark Nettlewood full of briars. Eventually the forest became impenetrable until they discovered a briar gate leading into a goblin-size tunnel system through the briars, very close to the coast. After the gnome ranger scouted and did not locate any enemies, the rest of the party joined. The gnome ranger, halfling sorcerer and the half-elf druid were fine walking through the briar tunnels, but the rogue and the paladin had to squeeze their way through.

They found a hole in the ground that seemed to directly go to the sea, and beneath them, a strange sea creature cried loudly, filling the druid with utter panic, running all the way back to the entrance of the tunnels. Lucky for her that she is a druid or she would have scratched herself up badly. Warily the party proceeded in line, when suddenly the paladin was jumped from behind by a wild cat…

With this cliffhanger, we stopped at 1 am. I am quite fond of this cliffhanger, because it means I can prep the encounter and hopefully make it the most dangerous one they have faced yet for next time. Based on the speed with which we were progressing, I would say that the resolution of this last chapter of Burnt Offerings will likely take at least 3-4 sessions for us, as the pace is relatively slow. A lot of this session was pretty much filler material, character maintenance, really. Selling loot, identifying, buying stuff. As one of the players complained, it felt a bit like Shopping Queen, a German reality TV show. Because that all took so long, the adventuring part was a bit thin. I think sessions like that can’t be avoided. I would have liked to see more RP of the plotting and planning part, but I think they’ll have to learn that yet. At the end of the night, they did not get the bombastic amount of experience they had gotten the previous session and sighed a bit that of course there hadn’t been enough combat, which made me try to explain that it’s not only combat but also creative RP that earns them experience. I guess that’s the downside of a system like Pathfinder, rewarding combat too much.

Gadgets and rules ramblings

On the technical side of things, I experimented a bit more with how to best experience the sound effects from Syrinscape. Our rogue brought his bluetooth speaker along. I ran Syrinscape on my Nexus 7 tablet and put the speaker in the middle of the table. The speaker itself has excellent quality but the tablet has fairly low volume settings, which meant the ambient sound effects just didn’t work well. Also, around 11 pm the speaker lost its charge, and when I tried to charge it via USB, it didn’t pair with the tablet anymore. Ultimately, I decided that next time I will run Syrinscape on the laptop again and will use my TV’s soundbar for all sound effects. Other than that, I still think Syrinscape is the bomb.

I used roll20 again for the map, and learned a lot this time around in prep. I am using my maps off Deviant Art because the artist hero339 makes gorgeous maps over there. I hope by the time we get to Skinsaw Massacre, he will have created maps for it as well. Speaking of Deviant Art, it’s really a treasure trove for Pathfinder related art. hero339’s maps are glorious, but they’re also enormous, and roll20’s upload limit per file is 5 MB. The Thistletop map I am using is 28 MB however. I went ahead and cut the map into six pieces using Photoshop and then saved it as web jpgs, reducing their size to around 5 MB each. I was then able to upload all six parts, enlarge the canvas size for the map layer and put all six pieces together like a puzzle. I made a couple mistakes when cutting the map, and so some connecting pieces have an irritating white line, but it’s no dealbreaker. It still looked pretty awesome.

Pathfinder-UnchainedPaizo recently released Pathfinder Unchained, a sourcebook that offers optional rules and new systems for any GM to pick and choose from. Amongst the most interesting parts of this book is a class overhaul for four classes that Paizo deems a bit problematic: barbarian, monk, rogue and summoner. As I have two of these classes in my game, and play a rogue in another, I am very interested in these changes. As far as I can tell, the barbarian’s overhaul is to make the rage mechanic more transparent. I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I run Hero Labs in my game is that I can toggle rage on and off, and see the changes in stats immediately, without having to calculate anything. Anything to make this easier on player and GM is a bonus in my book. The rogue part is even more interesting. Our rogue complained that compared to pretty much anyone else he kinda feels useless in combat. Playing a rogue, I have exactly the same issues he has. I am squishy, as a Bilbo Baggins-style rogue I have a very slow movement rate. By the time I arrive at a monster in order to flank, it’s pretty much dead already. All the rogue seems to have going for the class is the skill monkey approach. From what I have read, the Unchained rogue is a nice improvement. I will be offering my rogue the chance to play one and if it’s good, I might try to convince my other GM to switch to Unchained for my rogue as well.

I am super-excited for the Ultimate Intrigue playtest coming up in mid-June. It’s going to be a new sourcebook to be launched in spring 2016, and it is described as follows: the new Pathfinder hardcover that delves into the shadows, where charm, grace, innuendo, and insult may be more powerful than a sharp sword or spell. Color me intrigued already! Anything that enhances roleplay outside of combat is a big plus for me. Paizo playtests are pretty great, because they let you download the current rules, test them in your own games and then provide feedback on to how it works. I didn’t participate in the last playtest for Occult Adventures because I think core rules and Advanced Player’s Guide provide plenty of classes already, but Ultimate Intrigue only seems to have one additional class, the Vigilante.

01/06/2015
by Kadomi
4 Comments

Media Monday #205: Chuck, Darksiders, Wildstar and more

I didn’t get around to a normal blog post last week, quickly devolving to old patterns again. But I’ll make up for it this week. Last week was full of exhausting work, prep time for Saturday’s Pathfinder game and a catastrophic playtest of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game that I will have to blog about another time, because, gee. First though, it’s Media Monday #205.

  1. Ah, so adorable, those two.

    Ah, so adorable, those two.

    Not just recently I have a certain weakness for nerdy TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, because before I rooted for Leonard and his hot blonde chick, I rooted for Chuck and Sarah Walker. I could really wax poetic how much I love this TV show and once we’re done with TBBT on Netflix, it’s time to watch Chuck again. It’s got Chuck, the adorable nerd, who accidentally gets an important database full of government secrets downloaded to his brain, from then on requiring protection by NSA and FBI. I laughed, and worried, and cried. This action-drama-comedy show had it all. Admittedly, it’s got its weaknesses, but season 1 is such a fun ride, and season 2 really blew my fucking mind. It gets weaker after that and ultimately has one of the saddest endings ever, but I love the whole package. If you have never watched it, just give it a try on Netflix or whatever other TV streaming you do.
  2. Darksiders is somewhat intense in its design which I enjoy on the one hand but have come to despise on the other. I enjoy the intense atmosphere of the first chapter, which is pretty much Diablo-esque, and I don’t mind the blood and gore because a) the monsters are demons and devils from Hell and b) none of it has been particularly gross. But the intensity has its downside when minibosses and chapter bosses are a drastic increase in difficulty. I have been stuck on Tiamat for over a week now, there’s no mid-game adjustment of difficulty, and I might throw the PS3 controller against the wall one of these days. Ugh. Ever had a game you love until you get stuck? That’s where I am with Darksiders at the moment.
  3. logoIn my opinion ____ was doomed to fail, because ____ . – If I listened to the majorities out there talking about MMOs, Wildstar was doomed to fail but I don’t think so. No one plays subscription games anymore (other than WoW and FFXIV apparently), too hardcore, not fun enough, etc. I am still sticking with it that Wildstar is a fantastic theme-park game, and I was totally excited to make it my number one game back then. Then it launched, I played until my stalker was level 35ish or so, and then I stopped logging in. Not because it wasn’t fun, but because I couldn’t keep up anymore. Liore put it excellently in her post about Wildstar going F2P: “I suppose that most of us found ourselves in the same situation — fans of the game in theory, but not able to make the effort in practice”. I really wanted to give it my all, but I don’t have the time and the energy to commit to any MMO that much anymore. I sincerely hope the transition will mean an influx of new players and ultimately cash. It’s a fun game, the devs at launch were amazing and really upfront (something current Blizzard devs could have learned from), and I will probably go back. For a while at least.
  4. never-unprepared-cover-250wThe huge allure of pen&paper RPGs for me at this point in my life is nearly inexplicable. It’s really time-intensive, all the prep time alone has led to me currently reading a guide to GM prepping. As an adult, it’s really hard to find a day that all seven people are available and ready to have their game face on. Then you find out someone in your campaign would rather play a different game, etc. etc. And yet, despite all the obstacles and the time-consuming hobby that it is, I wish I could do it way more often. Maybe I am just crazy.
  5. I would enjoy Final Fantasy XIV even more, if I had more of a weakness for J-RPGs or Japanese entertainment in general. As pretty as the game is, some of the very Japanese shticks (to me) rub me the wrong way. What’s with the insanely young faces and the white hair on so many characters? Why always the upskirt looks? The early outfit of my lancer was embarrassing to me. I feel like I am missing references or something because I haven’t played a single JRPG game in my life. It’s really a miracle I enjoyed the game as much as I did. Still on a break though, not feeling MMOs at all, and the impending expansion doesn’t help because I am far behind for that anyhow. It just seems that with all the dungeons the main story requires it will get a lot harder to get those done once everyone is leveling in the expansion.
  6. ____ did better movies, but ____. – I am skipping that question, because I am really not a giant movie buff and might have to start rephrasing some of those Media Monday bits to steer clear of movies.
  7. Generally, I enjoy movies best that either have incredible plot twists like The Usual Suspects or are so bombastic that you simply have to watch them in a movie theater. The last one of those I watched was Inception. As I have mentioned before, I would really like to watch more movies and I think that’s one of the media goals I have this year. Watch more movies at the theater. Rar.

25/05/2015
by Kadomi
0 comments

Media Monday #204

Off we go again, to my from now on regular Monday post. Hope you all had a great weekend, while I am enjoying Whit Monday as extended weekend. As always, the original questions are posted here (in German).

Frodo Baggins, professional Ring bearer

  1. An Extended or Director’s Cut that really greatly enhanced a movie, was the one for the Lord of the Rings movies, because it added important scenes or extended existing ones to make it a better flowing movie trilogy of the books that shaped me and my interest in fantasy literature when I was a 13-year old. It’s possible that there are even better Director’s Cuts, but I wouldn’t know, not being a huge movie buff. I do want to watch the Final Cut of Blade Runner. One of these days.
  2. The best film-musical is Grease. It has the catchiest songs, and is pretty much All-American silliness. It made me long to go to a drive-in movie all my life. I’ve moved past that desire though, especially as there are very few drive-ins over here.
  3. Many people like Bloodborne whereas it aggravates me because of people discussing that it means the PS4 is the hardcore gamer console, and that this is the renaissance of hardcore gaming. I personally haven’t played it, but friends of mine have and their descriptions of the game were colorful, to say the least. I am sure there’s a market for games like Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne, but it’s certainly not me. In a world that’s shown last year that there’s a very ugly side to gamers, I don’t know how to feel about the most-highly celebrated PS4 game of the year being a game that ‘puts hair on your chest’, quoted from a review.
  4. Pathfinder Online seems like an old-school MMO because of its design approaches. Its list of features pretty much reads like a mix of Dark Age of Camelot with Ultima Online. My only interest is really that it’s a Pathfinder game, set in Golarion’s River Kingdoms, so basically being Kingmaker, the sandbox Adventure Path. I don’t do sandbox, and the pricing is shocking. How can you be making so much money with selling access to an alpha game with no release date, actually making people sub to a game that’s not really anywhere near release-ready? When you already got all the money from Kickstarter? It doesn’t help that the creators are asking for a recruitment drive in a very pushy manner. Sometimes I feel morose about MMOs in general. I think if I wanted to play a Pathfinder multiplayer game online that’s not a VTT, I’d probably go with Tenebrae MUX.
  5. Tasty!
    The subject is guilty pleasures: I don’t care, if you all find King games stupid, I however love playing Candy Crush Soda saga on my phone. It’s my daily ritual. Whenever I come home from work, I plop down on the couch and play through 5 lives in Candy Crush Soda Saga to unwind from a long day. It’s brainless, sometimes annoying when they run one of their sales, but above all, it is very relaxing and most of my friends play it, so I could burn through many lives daily, if I wanted to. Yesterday, I finally beat level 145, after being stuck on it for two weeks, woot.
  6. I gainfully used the long Pentecost weekend, to play lots of Darksiders. I also am blogging, and I did some prep work for Saturday’s Pathfinder game. I prepped the loot list that they got last session, because I am sure they will head off to sell stuff or get the magical stuff identified. As next step, I will prepare the campaign newsletter. A couple days before the next session, I always mail a newsletter, with a session summary, some helpful campaign background, usually notable NPCs they have met and a deity from the Golarion pantheon, and local gossip around Sandpoint, as RP hooks. It’s always fun to write.
  7. With the passing of this week, May is over. That’s okay, because in June my SO will likely be allowed to give up her crutches and fly like a bird. Or rather, walk on both feet. That’s going to be momentous.

22/05/2015
by Kadomi
1 Comment

Yay for long weekends

Today is the last day of my Belghast experiment and I can draw my conclusions now.

  1. I still enjoy blogging.
  2. It takes me entirely too long to blog at night, about 1.5 hours.
  3. I don’t have the time and the energy to blog every night.

So there’s that. I will never write daily like Belghast, but I don’t actually need to, I think. I think I can pull off twice, maximum three times a week. Media Mondays will help me with focus and keep me writing. Also, if I have an idea, I should write about it the same day, not push it back, because then I lose the inspiration. I was very happy about the comments I received here and on Twitter. Thanks for reading, guys. :)

Her Little Pony

As I probably mentioned many times before, my spouse had a horse riding accident in March when her horse spooked and she landed on her right foot, snapping the ankle. It’s now 2.5 months later, and she’s still not on her feet, though she is allowed to put 20kg weight on the foot now. She will probably be allowed to walk without crutches in another month. That’s a long time to be sitting on the couch. She pines for her horse like I pine for delicious food and awesome games. Actually, she pines for him more. So today right after work I picked her up at home and drove her to the barn, where she spent happy time brushing her horse while I played Candy Soda Crush. I have been stuck on level 145 for two weeks, it’s driving me insane.

It’s really hard for me to understand why she pines for her horse that caused her to have such a grievous injury. I mean, the wound where the bones broke her skin is still not completely healed. Horse riders are strange folks, honestly.

Rider of the Apocalypse

That pony looks as evil as my spouse's! I honestly can say that I had never heard of this game before, like ever. I thought I know pretty much most PC releases, but Darksiders totally flew under my radar. It’s from early 2010, which is when I was playing Dragon Age: Origins more than any other game. I think as a game, it’s far more suited to a console than PC, so I am happy I am only playing it now.

You’re War, one of the Four Horsemen, and at the beginning of the game, you are tricked into starting the apocalypse which brings about the demise of humanity, and the forces of Hell beating the forces of Heaven. Accused of having done ill, it’s up to War to prove that it was not his doing. You do so by swinging a giant sword, jumping and running and exploring. It’s as if Diablo had a love child with a jump and run game, as far as the combat game play goes and the aesthetics of an Earth ruled by demons and devils.

Arthas' love child with Jaina? We'll never know.

Arthas’ love child with Jaina? We’ll never know.

War kinda looks like he’s the Lich King’s better-garbed son, with giant clunky boots and a red cloak with hood. His enormous sword is called Chaoseater. It pretty much looks like a WoW death knight’s dream sword. The more I look at him, the more War looks like Arthas in his death knight days. The WoW references don’t end there. War’s voice actor is Liam O’Brien who is probably most familiar to people from the following line:

Oh, there’s also chests you can open, treasures and weapons to collect, Zelda style. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a bit cartoony, it definitely is incredibly gory, and I am having fun hacking and slashing my way through it.

So far I can’t fault my RL friends with their PS3 recommendations, games have all been quite excellent.

The long weekend

As mentioned in the title, we’re having a long weekend. It’s Pentecost, another religious high holiday, and we love ourselves our public holidays in spring and early summer. No work on Monday, hooray. I am looking forward to another much-needed break. So far, we don’t have a lot of plans. Tomorrow, we’re trying to buy Thai and Indian spices at the Asia grocery store, then pho for lunch. At least that’s the plan. On Sunday, we have an invitation to have barbecue at a good friend’s house, friends who we haven’t seen for a looooong time. That night there’s also the company anniversary party, but I am not sure yet if I’ll go. No plans for Monday, though maybe friends will come over. We’ll see!

I have a lot of reading to do, because I am behind my Goodreads challenge goal this year, oy. It really doesn’t help that I am not digging The Quantum Thief as much as I’d hoped to. I also need to start prep work for next week’s Pathfinder session. But more on that in another post.

Hope you’ll have a great weekend, long or regular.