Book-ish Review: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Book-ish Review: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

We are going full nerd today, as if coming up with D-score and gabbing about the effectiveness of various fictional villians weren’t enough already. I’m warning you now, this post is full of tabletop gamer jargon, and it’s for those people. I never intended on penning my thoughts about the second edition of the Pathfinder roleplaying game but I feel like I have a lot to say about it. I wasn’t even planning on picking it up truth be told, but I received the pre-order as a birthday gift from my old players. I haven’t run a game of anything in years but when I was running, it was D&D, GURPS, and Pathfinder.

It’s been well over a decade since Pathfinder came out and the idea that there would be a second edition at all was hardly an expectation. Paizo publishing seemed pretty content with their content cycle and there didn’t seem to be any pressure to iterate from my perspective. Most things prone to having a second version usually do so before they hit a decade old, yet here we are. In the limbo period between knowing the core rulebook was coming and actually getting it I broke into a research period. Apparently there was a public play test that had been going on for quite some time and the goal of this second version was to be more streamlined and more accessible while still retaining mechanical depth.

I don’t think Paizo achieved that goal. I’ve been reading the manual every day for a week now, and there are still things I’m still learning, basic things—I’m running a game for a group in roughly another week and session zero is tomorrow. There are always rules that are more vague than they ought to be in any of these things but how much HP you gain every level shouldn’t have been one of them. Had I not stumbled on a post correcting me just today, my players would have been receiving far too much HP per level past the first. The problems don’t stop there, obvious grammatical errors and half-updates from the play test found their way into the final version. I know I know, in most circumstances complaining about grammatical accuracy would be me throwing stones from glass houses, but I’m not the one publishing a 600+ page rule book that’s entirely grammar bound. For those of you that already own it—physical copy, who knows when it will be fixed in PDF after all—if you turn to the arcane spell list short-descriptions for third level you will see Paralyze on it. The text of Paralyze will indicate that it can only target humanoids. If you go to the full text description, it is clearly all creatures. Since paralyzing creatures and humanoids were distinct spells in third edition D&D, I spent the next 15 minutes looking for the ‘creature’ version of paralyze based on the short description. It doesn’t exist. That was confusing indeed. There’s an errant comma in a Halfling weapon proficiency ancestry feat that, if you don’t ignore it, makes meeting the prerequisites impossible. Other errors and vagueness litter Pathfinder’s second edition core rule book and make an already complex system frustrating to learn. God forbid I try to teach a player new to RPGs in total through this. I’ve had the thought more than once that I should seriously consider running GURPS instead for games where Pathfinder 2 seems like a good solution.

Okay Henry I get that there are a few typos and misprints but that’s not what makes a system complicated, and you’d be right so let’s get to that. In Pathfinder 1 you start by selecting a combination of starting attributes in your main ability scores and a race. These choices underpin your character and only come up at level one. Your race never changes again and your stats don’t change very much either. From that point you select your class—normally anyway, some people figure out what class they play before they know the other bits, bear with me—and your class comes with a nice progression table that while not intuitive puts the bulk of your character progression all in one place. Every so often you take ‘feats’ to further customize your character, and there’s a giant list of them. In Pathfinder 2 you start by picking your race, this gives you some boosts to your abilities based on your choice (you no longer choose your ability scores separately by default) and also gives you access to a pool of ancestry feats, which essentially are all the racial abilities of Pathfinder 1 chopped into morsels and served slowly rather than all upfront. You acquire more of these ancestry feats as you level. You get some HP from this choice as well. Then you choose your background, this gives you more boosts to your ability scores, skill proficiencies, and a predetermined skill feat. From there, you choose your class, which gives you more HP, more boosts to your ability scores, and access to another pool of feats—we’re at three pools of feats now, ancestry, class, skill, four if you’re human, they can pick from the general pool right away if they choose too, which everyone gets access to at level 3. With me so far? Also, classes retain their list of class abilities, that are not feats, but things you just get automatically as the class levels. Finally, you get another pile of ability boosts to spread as you please. Some people have judged the former system as more complicated than the latter, and I honestly can’t understand what they mean. Just because Paizo says 2nd edition is more streamlined than 1st does not make it so. There are newbie traps galore, like multi-classing into Fighter from Wizard being strictly superior than going the other direction for the purposes of building a front line battle wizard. Don’t get me started on multi-classing itself, which would be another paragraph worth of text to explain clearly.

This is all a matter of managing expectations, something I think Paizo publishing should be more careful with. So far I’ve been very negative, but I do actually like the system so far, I love my crunch—I wouldn’t run GURPS if I didn’t—and I’m going to enjoy running game in Pathfinder 2e. We’re going to run into questions about the rules during the game, and I’m okay with that, and I’m studying hard to make sure that if I don’t know the answer I at least know where to look. Paizo however, marketed on less crunch, less fiddlyness, less complication, more ease of access. I don’t think those valuations were accurate of the new system. To be honest, based on their marketing, I was looking forward to a more meaty and mechanically deep version of D&D 5th Edition. I also don’t appreciate that there was day 1 splat in the published adventure paths(pre-made adventures designed to allow me to skip a lot of the work in coming up with an adventure on my own). Erh, I guess I should explain splat. Splat is additional rules that come to a system, and up until now, were generally contained in books that were published after launch, usually as a group of new rules. These are collectively called ‘splat books’. This time the new rules and options come in the form of adventure paths but more importantly, these ‘new’ rules were launched the same day as the new system but not included in the core rule book. This reeks of on-disc DLC in the video game industry. Add-ons should be just that, add-ons. These rule books aren’t cheap—your book wouldn’t be either if it were as big, as thick, and used as much color ink— and all the rules and character options available on day one should be in the ‘Core Rulebook’.

As for the book itself, minus the grammatical errors and misprints I pointed out above, you can look forward to the predictably awesome artwork of Pathfinder, the full color large pages with easy to read print in pleasant fonts. The paper weight is just right, and the finish of the paper is on point, though it does catch the light at shallow angles. It’s big, heavy, and imposing, a plus for me. This product is so niche I can’t give a recommendation one way or the other. If you’ve made it this far, you likely already know if this is the game system for you. Happy gaming, and don’t forget to shame bad dice!

Book Review – Open Bobs BB volume 1

Book Review – Open Bobs BB volume 1

Over the course of this blog we’ve reviewed a bunch of indie-made dildos and I’ve reviewed a fair few books. Today I’m reviewing my first indie-published book, Open Bobs BB volume 1. There were some small challenges in reviewing Open Bobs BB—I’ll just call this OBBB from here on out—that I think are useful to go over. I was asking questions that didn’t have obvious answers, as I typically review from the point of view of the self-help genre with questions like, Who is this book for? What use is it? What’s the value proposition? We’ll be covering answers to those questions where they’re appropriate, but OBBB isn’t strictly, nor is it billed as, a self-help item, it’s a collection item which happens to contain some self-help segments.

Let’s start straight away with one of the most obvious things in need of an answer, what does that title mean? Funny enough, you won’t find that answer in the book, I think there’s an assumption that anyone reading the book will be familiar enough with the blog already to know. Well, I hope that changes, because I think more people should own a copy, but we’ll get to that later. So the short of it is, “Open Bobs BB?” was the first message performer/sex worker/author/more Tawney Seren received when she started working in the sex industry. You can learn more here. I do wish OBBB mentioned that in the introduction though.

From there we work our way through a curated selection of works from the Open Bobs BB blog itself. The formatting of this book really shines here, credit to Harper the Fox. The text is easy on the eyes, the breaks feel natural, and the design lends a sense of flow to the reading, which is very nice to see in a collection type book. As I alluded to earlier, the content itself runs quite a wide gamut of topics. There’s serious practical advice for removing cum stains but also interviews with mothers about their sex lives and body image and how they’ve coped after children, a topic that really hits home here and that I’ve written on at length. There’s windows into the lives of sex-workers and fetish practitioners. It’s not really possible to convey the range of topics here without kinda spoiling the contents in their entirety, so I won’t, let’s just say I found the change of pace from piece to piece enjoyable but formatted in a way so it wasn’t jarring. My favorite bit was the interview with the moms though, for the record.

So, there’s a good question some of you may be asking right now and it’s one that deserves an answer. Why would I buy a book that contains a collection of blog posts I can go read for free? Glad you asked, because while there are some answers to that question that are easy, there’s one I came up with that I found pretty surprising, and all of them fit into a general theme of the benefits of a physical item, though a digital version is available. One of the easy answers is as a show of support that gets you something a little more concrete than a thank you. I also have a thing for physical media, always have, I’m biased towards it, but that’s because of things like the next reason. This is a great book for what I normally consider to be a book graveyard, the coffee table, but this time we’re using it to start conversations instead of to sit unused. My self-help books really don’t accomplish this well. Many people avoid the self-help section of book stores specifically because being seen there means, to many people, that there must be some large flaw with them or something wrong with them, and maybe that’s true, but it’s a tough thing to admit in public for anyone. Draping that on your coffee table comes with similar concerns over the message you’re trying to send. Why would I keep She Comes First on my coffee table? What message would I be sending? Not too keen on telling my guests that I might just have an oral edge over them.

But let’s say I’m really high in openness and really need to be explicitly told borders early in a relationship of any kind. Let’s also say for a moment that people who have low openness are really terrible at communicating things like that. If I leave OBBB on the table, odd title and all, with that cover—getting to that soon—I’d find that to be a more subtle and at their own pace way of getting to know someone’s limits. It’s a world apart from sending them a direct link to the blog via text or something, that would be me shoving the conversation on them, but when you enter my house it would be hard to object to seeing the material there, this is my space. So yes, I’ve finally figured out a use for the coffee table as something other than a place where unwanted magazines go to die. Thanks OBBB.

So about that cover. Despite it’s usefulness in the prior scenario I have to give it the same minor ding I give the rest of the books I review that have the “I will never read this is a coffee shop” cover. I should call this the e-reader award honestly. Damn me and my need for physical items that cover sex but that I’d also like to read in public, or at least away from my utterly lovable but very distracting family.

Let’s get into another use for putting this sort of thing into a collection piece and the value that can bring. Another artifact of doing a lot of book reviews on sensitive topics, and being as in the IT biz as I am, is that a lot of this stuff is not safe to link to or from work. Networks are increasingly monitored and even if you’re on a personal device you may be on monitored wi-fi. Your workplace, if it isn’t already, is getting increasingly invasive into your browser habits for reasons both good and bad. Passing someone a physical book removes these considerations.

I’ve spent a lot of time so far weighing on the pros and cons of physical versus electronic media, where that could have been it’s own post, and maybe it will be, but in light of what this product is, it seemed the right and necessary time for that topic to be covered. Also, this book is a short and quick read if you’re going to be doing it cover to cover style. I managed it with child distractions in about 2 hours, 137 pages.

So would I recommend Open Bobs BB volume 1? Absolutely, but excepting rare cases, my recommendations always come with a few caveats in the form of “if you are looking for X”. Let’s start with a recap of the stats. OBBB is a collected works style book with a great format, layout, a short length that lends it to casual reading or busy lifestyles without much opportunity cost for your time, and is inexpensive. Aside from my specific boundary probing scenario above, this book also serves the purposes of anyone who is even passingly curious about the lives of online sex workers, fetish practitioners, or people who are just curious about sexuality and the forms it takes in general—that’d be me. This is also the time to get some disclosures down. I normally have some boilerplate for these reviews, as I’m typically never tied in any way towards the source of the content. The ties here are really loose, but need disclosing. I have had some of—one actually, as of this writing—my content featured on the Open Bobs BB website and intend to submit more. I purchased this book to read out of my own volition and curiosity and Tawney was blindsided by the news that I’d be reviewing it. So there you go.

If you’d like to pick up Open Bobs BB volume 1 you can get a physical copy like I did—the most recommended option—but you can also pick up the digital version, both are available here.

Convincing Characters

It’s late Sunday evening and the time change has me less tired than I ought to be. So I’m sitting awake late with not quite enough time to do another adult review and I lack the motivation to get into serious relationship stuff this late. So we’re going to do something new tonight and we’re going to be doing something bookish. Yeah that’s right, it’s been a while since I’ve tackled a book related topic on the blog and those got me some of my earliest followers. So this is for you guys, cuz we’re getting into fiction.

Hey Henry, how the heck does this have anything to do with relationships? Well it don’t really, I mean I could connect those dots longways and say better, more convincing characters from today’s creators are better books for tomorrows children, but let’s not get too into that sort of pretension, this is just a fun diversion I got to thinking about when I was extolling the virtues of the character writing in Wakfu. So without further ado, some tips on creating convincing characters in fiction.

Show Me.

This is a good tip for veterans and newbies alike. When you want me to believe your character is capable of doing a thing, I need to be shown that thing. Trying to convince me your antagonist, protagonist, or support characters are awesome by having ‘extras’ talk about it through exposition or some similarly because-I-say-so literary device is yawn inducing and not credible. I’m going after some heavy hitters here with my examples, no one is too famous or too high budget to avoid this mistake as a matter of course. It’s something you need to be thinking about. A fair few of these examples will involve television or cinema. Remember that screenplays and TV/Movie characters are written too. We’ll go through some direct this/not that at the end of this section just to drive it home anyway.

One of the most popular examples of getting this wrong I can think of is Voldemort. Yeah we’re going there. To be fair, in the latter half of the series Rowling corrects this, but for the first entire half of the series we’re supposed to respect the danger of a person whom many believe to be dead, is nonetheless severely crippled, and had his magic death abra kadabra bullets reflected back on him via something as common as a mother’s love for her infant. Seriously, I’m not sure what sort of household Rowling grew up in, but the idea that sort of love is uncommon enough in the wizarding world that Lord Voldemort was able to amass a large army, take over the government, and start a genocide in earnest before he encountered it is awful concerning, and it wasn’t something that impressed me a bit as a consumer of the greater fantasy genre. The only guide we have at this point in the series that he’s anything to fear at all is exposition and here-say. Total yawn villain. Wakfu’s Nox is far more frightening and it’s entirely because he does stuff on screen. In fact, in the Wakfu world, no one really knows who Nox is when he shows up. He’s not famous, he’s not wizard Hitler, and he’s got no fan club spitting exposition at the cast about how dangerous he is. Seriously, go watch it if you have trouble writing convincing villains.

On the protagonist side of awful we have Doctor Who, particularly during the reign of Matt Smith’s doctor and on. I know I know, a lot of you love the goofball but the difference between what he was shown doing on screen and how other people in the universe described him was immersion breaking at best. There’s a scene that really grinds my gears where he meets Amy again for the first time in one of the season openers and he’s being accosted by some eyeball spaceship that he ultimately gets to go away by telling it a speech about how awesome he is because of all this stuff he did off screen(this is an annoyingly common threat resolution technique in new-who in general). This is not how you diffuse tension. It’s certainly more camp, and we really didn’t seem to know how to run a TV show back then, but the show writers for the old series, and particularly for the run of the fourth, really knew how to show The Doctor’s competence on screen and he was a much more convincing character for it.

In what is probably the most under-appreciated scenes in movie history, we have one of the best damn examples ever of introducing a new villain by showing what he can do to the old villain. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture we are treated to an opening shot of three Klingon battle-cruisers shot from a dominant low angle making a slow approach to a new threat. Three battle-cruisers by the way are the unwinnable scenario in the very next movie. Extra care is taken to make the models look extra threatening(this is pre-CGI in case you forgot—or never knew). As they approach one of the battle-cruisers prepares to open fire, and the front of the ship opens up in a marvelous red hue that looks and sounds like some sort of space volcano. These guys mean fucking business and the entire scene lends credence to it. Then they get absolutely annihilated. The Klingons are given new threatening theme music just for this film, their character makeup is completely redesigned to be more threatening, but none of that would have really made you care about their casual destruction like their history in the show to that point. They planted bombs, enslaved worlds, kicked space butt, and were always taken seriously, and always on screen. To treat that sort of one-up-manship with the care it deserved the scene takes five glorious minutes to unfold.

So how do you apply this to your writing? Just remember, if you want me to believe your character can do something, show me! Don’t write me a paragraph by the narrator about how intimidating this new guy in the office is, show him successfully intimidating people he really ought not be able to, like the supervisor. Better yet, build up the supervisor first and then do it. Your office tyrant just killed the Klingons. If you’re trying your hand at a Voldemort like bad-guy who is the villain just because he’s unrelatably evil it might help you to familiarize yourself with the real evil in the world first, which will help you devise scenes where such a character convincingly executes evil atrocities. You can tell Rowling isn’t familiar with that by the way she handles the unspeakable curses. The torture curse is evil because it tortures, and we know it tortures because the book says so. Don’t do that. In fact, that gets us to our next rule.

Write What you Know.

This is just good writing advice in general. When you write about things sufficiently outside your area of expertise it will show and it will show quickly. When writing characters it helps if you focus on characters that you could convincingly role-play yourself. It will keep their motives relatable, focused, and well communicated. If you find that narrows your character breadth too much, it’s time to meet some new people, or at least read about them. Grab a historical biography of someone close to your character, an auto-biography if it’s available. Autos can be the less accurate biographies but they absolutely will show you the line of thinking, and that’s really what you’re after. This is especially important in the case of evil villains and tyrants. If you aren’t sufficiently in touch with actual evil, your villain will come across as a bit Disney. If you write a protagonist that you don’t relate with their actions and motives may not match to the point of being incomprehensible. Heck, I keep this rule in the non-fictional world of my blog. I don’t give marriage, relationship, or sexual advice to the LGBT community for instance because I have no fucking clue what that’s like and it would show awful quick. At best I’d be giving dangerously naive advice from a position of ignorance and at worst be incredibly offensive. Don’t turn that situation into a character!

Learn What a Mary Sue Is.

And then don’t do it. This goes double for fan-fiction, and wish-fulfillment writers—which is actually where the term comes from. A lot of people have tried to define exactly what a Mary Sue character is and isn’t, but everyone knows one when they see one. I’ll try to define this from a perspective that’s easy to absorb from the point of view of a writer. A Mary Sue is a character that begins the story with no room available for character development. In other words they’re already perfect and there’s no real story to tell, just a timeline of events to describe. A lot of people will correctly warn you that a Mary Sue has no character flaws, but if you just leave it at that you can lead people into a trap where they write in flaws but those flaws then turn out to only help the Mary Sue character instead of hinder them. When you plan out your characters flaws make sure that they significantly hinder the character in the story, otherwise growing out of them is meaningless. Just to flip the tables on the pattern I’ve set in this post so far, I’ll say Snape, and Neville Longbottom are a good examples of a character that isn’t a Gary Stu(that’s the male Mary Sue). Wakfu has an exemplar treatment in this regard. Ruel has to overcome his personal greed to defeat a monster that consumes gold, overcoming this flaw to accomplish this task allows him to act more selflessly when the situation calls for it. Tristepin starts the series battling an inner demon that he cannot control. It helps him out of a few pinches but always comes with a cost, and that cost ends up becoming high enough to alienate and exile him from his friends and he’s forced to do battle with his demon, with the help of his god, and win(literally). Examples of Mary Sues abound but I think some of the worst ironically come from the Star Trek series itself in Deep Space 9. Several members of the supporting cast are Mary Sues but particularly Dr. Bashir and Dax. One Gary Stu of particular interest to me is Paul Atriedes of Dune. I don’t know how he does it but Frank Herbert manages to weave genuine tension in his story despite his flawlessness. I don’t know if that’s the praise it should be or more of a backhanded compliment than it should be but that’s a truly impressive thing to do.

Competence Please.

This is going to be a short one and specifically targeted at YA writers. Please have your characters competent enough that you don’t have to turn your supporting cast into clueless morons to make your main character look good. You’ll see this all the time in media for children—hence focusing on you YA writers—where the main driver of the entire plot is “the adults are stupid”. Rowling is guilty of that one too, but I won’t tell you why this time, see if you can spot it on your own. Every Disney channel show I’ve ever seen does this too. You can run afoul of this one in adult writing just as easily though and you’ll find this most often rears its head when you’re breaking the talking outside your experience rule.

Well, that was fun, but it’s late. Hope the time change treats your sleep better than it’s treating mine. I envy the people in countries smart enough to not do this anymore. Happy writing!

Upcoming Stuff, Updates

So far I’ve been using the rules of the WP reader to keep NSFW images from popping up in y’alls feeds since we have a lot of mixed content here. My next feature length post won’t be able to avoid that, there are too many pictures. It’s nothing too bad, just some inanimate objects you probably don’t want showing up in a work context. So I’m planning to drop that piece on Saturday and I think you should look for it. It’s not going to be boring!

On a related note, we pulled the trigger on that unicorn horn shaped dildo from Bad Dragon. That should be arriving in a few weeks.

I’m currently reading two books at the same time because one is witty and the other is really dry. One is Getting To Yes and the other is If You Are In My Office It’s Too Late. So those are the book reviews that are coming. Most of my time recently has been spent on the post mentioned above.

Although we love Bad Dragon to death, we’re going to be exploring items from some of the other fantasy toy manufacturers soon. We’re looking at items from Pleasure Forge, Twin Tails, Dread the Empire, and Primal Hardwere[sic].

We recently crossed 30 subscribers and I’d like to thank all of you for following us. I remember being concerned about getting 5. It means a lot.

Nothing to announce yet, but I’m looking at the idea of doing audio in a group discussion context. Let me know if you’d like to see err, hear that. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Emily directly that way. She likes how I write so much she doesn’t do it herself >_>. Until next time.