Monday, February 19, 2018

BLS in Calgary

Last Saturday night was a big night for metal in Calgary, with Sabaton returning to The Palace and Black Label Society playing at the University of Calgary. I already had a ticket for BLS before I was aware Sabaton would be in town, but I saw Joakim and the boys from Falun last year, so I was happy with my choice. BLS had Eyehategod and freakin' Corrosion of Conformity opening for them. I would've paid to see CoC as a headliner. Sadly, I missed pretty much all of Eyehategod's set waiting in line to get through security. That's what you have to put up with when you take in a show at the U. Nonetheless, the rest of the show was amazing.

Fronted by the immortal Pepper Keenan, CoC played a solid set that leaned heavily on their classic albums from the 90s. I especially enjoyed Vote with a Bullet, Albatross and Who's Got the Fire. Now I'm really hoping for that on-again, off-again Down reunion.

Then it was time for Black Label Society, with frontman and guitar god, Zakk Wylde.

Zakk Wylde is an absolute madman, pounding his chest and his guitar in equal measure. BLS played for over two hours with many songs bleeding into one another such that at times you weren't sure what they were playing. The set combined songs from their new album Grimmest Hits with an excellent selection of older stuff, especially from the albums 1919 Eternal, The Blessed Hellride and Mafia. It was at times poignant, such as the performance of In this River in tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell. Other times, it was sheer madness, especially when Zakk went on a ten minute guitar solo playing Fire It Up while walking through the crowd with a train of roadies following behind him carrying his audio cable aloft. The virtuosity of this man cannot be overstated. He is arguably the greatest heavy metal guitarist in the world today. Great show and one more thing off my bucket list!


Monday, December 25, 2017

My favourite things of 2017

Let's face it, 2017 has not been a great year. Our friends to the south seem to be going through a bit of a rough patch right now and nerves are frayed everywhere. Still, it's not all bad and in this little corner of the internet, we like to concentrate on the positives. In that spirit, I am going to highlight my favourite movie, music and game releases of the year.

I saw quite a few movies this year. Some were very good (Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049). Some were enjoyable, but flawed (Justice League, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kong: Skull Island). Some were immediately forgettable (The Dark Tower). But for me, the best movie of the year was...(drumroll please)...Logan. Man, did this movie speak to me. Having recently entered my second half century, I could feel every ache and pain Logan endured in his daily life. I don't have an adamantium claw that keeps getting stuck, but my knees are shot and I have an old shoulder injury that hasn't stopped hurting in five years. The struggle of dealing with an increasingly demented Charles Xavier and an uncommunicative "daughter" resonated with own life navigating fatherhood and aging parents. Logan was gut-wrenching, but I was feeling every minute of it. A superhero movie for Generation X.

It wasn't a great year in music, although seeing Sabaton in concert was certainly the highlight for me. As far as new releases go, I am going to divide up my picks into three categories, both because they cover the three kinds of music I love most; rock, metal and country, but also because the three best albums of the year fit this categorization. In the rock category, you have to look at newcomers, Greta Van Fleet. This foursome made up of the brothers Kiszka (Josh, Sam and Jake) and drummer Danny Wagner are the reincarnation of Led Zeppelin. I'm not kidding, these guys really sound like Zeppelin. Listen to Highway Tune or Safari Song from their 2017 double EP From the Fires and you'll swear you were listening to some unreleased Led Zeppelin B-side from the 70s.

In the metal category, wow, 2016 was awesome, huh? Metallica came back with a vengeance. And speaking of vengeance, Avenged Sevenfold had a pretty awesome album drop too.  Wait...oh right, this is 2017. Hmmm, Mastodon had a new album out that some people liked I guess. Kind of slim pickings this year. For me, I will go back to that Sabaton tour and a little known band from Finland called Battle Beast that opened along with Leaves' Eyes and damn near upstaged the headliners. My metal album of the year is Bringer of Pain by Battle Beast.

As for country, it was Chris Stapleton all the way. Following up his 2015 chart-topping debut Traveller, Stapleton released two albums in 2017; From A Room: Volume 1 and From A Room: Volume 2. It is from this second 2017 release that I select my 2017 Song of the Year: Scarecrow in the Garden, a haunting ballad sung by a farmer in West Virginia lamenting the state of the land today compared to when his father and grandfather worked it, and his fear that the biblical End Times may be coming soon.

We've all been waiting for this one and really, is there any doubt? The game release of 2017 is, of course, the Starfinder Core Rulebook. Not only is this the biggest new release by Paizo since the original publication of Pathfinder, but it has also been a source of much speculation regarding a future new edition of the game. Could the game mechanics of Starfinder serve as a template for some future Pathfinder 2.0? Now that would be cool!

May we all have a safe and prosperous 2018.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Pathfinder's strange treatment of spears

The spear is arguably the most effective melee weapon in human history. Simpler to use than the axe or sword and cheaper to produce, the bulk of virtually every army from antiquity to the development of gunpowder has been comprised of spearmen. Probably the most iconic of history's spear wielders were the Greek hoplites.

The hoplite spear, called a dory, was 7 to 9 ft. long with an iron, leaf-shaped tip and counterbalanced with a bronze butt-spike. It was intended to be primarily a melee weapon, wielded with one hand in conjunction with a shield. Yet this iconic weapon does not exist in any form in Pathfinder. The only one-handed, hafted stabbing weapons in the core rulebook are the shortspear and the trident. Obviously, the trident is something different, but what is a shortspear? It is described as being three feet long and may be thrown. This description is close to the iklwa, the short, stabbing spear of the Zulus,

but definitely not the Greek dory.

The other two types of spear in Pathfinder are the "spear" and the "longspear", both of which are two-handed melee weapons. The former is 5 ft. long, while the latter is 8 ft. long and both may be braced against a charge (although 5 ft. seems too short for such a purpose). Most importantly, neither may be used in conjunction with a shield, without the assistance of a feat. Also, there is no entry corresponding to what we typically think of as a pike. The longspear is about the length of a hoplite spear, but a pike is 10 to 25 ft. in length. Perhaps, if the longspear was extended to 10 ft. and the spear to 8 ft. and made into a one-handed melee weapon, we would have a more realistic treatment of this most important and underrated weapon.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Iron Gods - The final showdown

We conclude our Iron Gods adventure path - spoilers ahead.

After a day to recover from the devastating battle against Ophelia, the party returned for the final showdown against the mad AI Unity. They entered the interface centre which housed devices called mindmelders that would allow them to enter the Godmind, Unity's virtual domain. Casandalee agreed to accompany them into the Godmind and would fight beside them. Upon entering the mindmelders, they found themselves standing on a balcony of a cathedral overlooking an idyllic pastoral tableau. Guarding the entrance to the cathedral, a pair of angelic figures. They offer to accompany the party to their audience with Unity. Deciding to play along for now, they follow the angels into a large open nave. The great walls of the structure were alive with digital codes and cyphers constantly changing and moving. In the centre of the nave was a colossal ice linnorm who watched the party intently, but did not immediately attack. Nonetheless, the party felt threatened by the massive dragon and began to prepare for battle. The linnorm and the angels responded in kind and battle ensued. The linnorm started it off with a frigid blast of cold breath, catching the entire party in the cone of frosty death. Several party members were seriously injured. Still they fought on. Casandalee put up a wall of force, giving the party a brief window to concentrate on the angels and heal up, before turning once again to the linnorm. Relentless laser fire, combined with deadly spell and melee attacks eventually brought the beast low.

At this point, a large radiant angelic figure coalesced, seemingly out of thin air. It was flanked by four lesser beings, similar to the angels they had just defeated. They knew immediately that this was Unity. It congratulated them on their success and offered them great power if they joined him. The company responded with an immediate attack. Unity stepped up and tore into Casandalee, the former lieutenant that betrayed him. Meanwhile, his bodyguards engaged the rest of the party. The fight was intense, but timely successful resistance against a couple of Unity's more powerful spells proved the difference. Unity was destroyed and he and his guards and the entire virtual realm shut down. The company was shunted back to the interface centre, although Casandalee was not among them. For a few moments, they celebrated their victory. When the monitors in the room came to life and Casandalee's face appeared, they cheered. However, the festivity was short-lived. Casandalee said something was wrong. Unity was not destroyed. She worked intently to get internal systems back online in order to locate the AI. Eventually, she located it in a powerful robot chassis and it appeared to be searching for something, possibly allies. Augusto was able to locate the robot and the party quickly teleported to its location in order to finish off Unity once and for all.

Unity had installed itself in an overlord robot, a powerful frame with a force field, slashing claws and an integrated laser rifle. The mad AI had added a couple of potent additions of its own, a vorpal battleaxe and a gravity bomb launcher build into its one large eye. Nils opened up with his deadly laser fire, which passed effortlessly through the force field and blasted the robot chassis. Unity responded by tearing into Nils with claws and axe, badly mauling the inquisitor that had caused him so much misery over the last few weeks. Nils was down, bloody and hovering on death's door. At the same time, Unity launched a gravity bomb at Targus and Smangtooth. Both were slammed for massive damage and Targus was entrapped in a sphere of force. It was Smangtooth's turn. The enraged barbarian tore into Unity with her adamantine-toothed chainsword. The force field held momentarily, but the onslaught was too great and sparks began to fly as metal bit into metal. Augusto added his magical prowess, slippery Targus quickly escaped his confinement to join the fray and Hala worked tirelessly to keep his comrades from joining the Choir Invisible. The battle was brutal and a couple of the company almost didn't make it out alive, but finally the killing blow was struck. The robot collapsed in a shower of sparks and the evil AI god Unity ran out of options.

Epilogue: Casandalee took over control of Divinity and with the groundwork done by Unity, soon ascended to godhood. Her own personality as well as the installation of certain AI-modifying devices which the party had collected along the way led to the moulding of Casandalee's divine profile. She was lawful, with an interest in artifice and the void. She also saw herself as the patron deity of androids and other synthetic beings.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Iron Gods - The Divinity Drive 2

We continue our Iron Gods campaign journal - spoilers ahead.

Sensing a need for haste, the party decided to move on without seeking out Deacon Hope. They found another monorail station which provided them access to the security deck. They battled undead security personnel in the monorail hub, interrogation centre and surveillance control room, before moving on the security administration area. This area was guarded by several director robots. After destroying them, the company assaulted the control centre. A pulsepounder golem stood guard outside, but despite its fearsome appearance, it proved little threat to the party.
Once inside the control centre, the company encountered one of Unity's top lieutenants, a noqual golem robot called Bastion. Combining the magic resistance afforded by its noqual construction and two integrated gravity rifles, the towering robot proved a powerful opponent. Nonetheless, Nils' laser rifle once again proved equal to the challenge and Bastion was destroyed.
Sensing that his lieutenant was defeated, Unity finally made direct contact to the party by way of viewing screens in the control centre. He offered them the opportunity to join him, before promptly destroying the computer controls. It was time to confront Unity.

Casandalee provided the party with instructions on how to get to the command deck, which would lead to the computer core and the virtual realm where Unity awaited. They battled a group of cyber-gargoyles, priests of Unity, for control of the command deck, then defeated an ancient vortex dragon who served as mercenary and astrogator in support of Unity's plan for world domination and ascension to full godhood. The last defender standing in the way of the party's final showdown with the mad machine god was the high priestess, the cybernetically-enhanced leader of the gargoyle cult named Ophelia. Protected behind a wall of four evaluator robots, she fired at will with her rail gun. Nils responded with his laser rifle, but Ophelia was prepared and she had cast protection from fire on herself. Meanwhile, the rest of the party battled the robots in melee. Switching to his zero rifle, Nils was able to do some damage, but Ophelia had cold resistance as well, so it was slow going.
As Ophelia's situation grew more desperate, she cast a quickened irradiate spell to devastating effect. Jols and Hala suffered massive radiation poisoning and Jols was killed. Luckily the party had a cardioamp available which pulled their deceased comrade back from the jaws of death. Still, both stricken party members were gravely ill. The rest of the party finished off Ophelia and they retreated for some much needed rest and magical healing. Unity would wait for now.


Monday, September 04, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 2

Since Kolrez is a mystic, alignment and deity are defining aspects of his character, so some thought has to go into making these decisions. I wanted Kolrez to be most at peace among the stars, so Ibra, god of the cosmos, seemed the best choice. Ibra is true neutral, so I decided Kolrez would be also.

At this point, I should say a bit about gods in Starfinder. Some of the gods are familiar from Pathfinder. These include Iomedae, Sarenrae, Desna, Abadar, Phaerasma, Zon-Kuthon and Urgathoa. Other Golarion gods such as Asmodeus, Calistria and Lamashtu still exist, though in different and less powerful forms. In addition, there are many new gods and goddesses, some adopting portfolios previously held by other gods of Golarion, while others are completely new such as Triune, god of artificial intelligence and Oras, god of evolution and natural selection. Although the Dark Tapestry, which played such a large, though indirect role in Iron Gods, is not mentioned by name, the Outer God, Nyarlathotep is now a core deity with responsibility for conspiracies and forbidden magic.

At 1st level, mystics select a connection, which is very similar to an oracle's mystery class feature from Pathfinder. A mystic selects only one connection which provides insight bonuses to certain skills, bonus spells and class abilities with increasing levels. For Kolrez, I choose the Star Shaman connection which gives him Piloting and Perception as associated skills as well as the Walk the Void (Su) ability, allowing him to survive exposure to vacuum without harm. As a 1st level mystic, Kolrez also gains Healing Touch (Su), allowing him to heal an ally up to 5 hp/level, once per day. Finally, like in Pathfinder, the character starts with a feat at 1st level. I choose Great Fortitude.

All that remains is to choose spells, skills and equipment and Kolrez is ready to go. Both the mystic and the technomancer have a 0-6 level spell table. Kolrez starts out knowing 4 0-level and 2 1-level spells. He also gains an additional one from his connection. He selects Mystic Cure and Lesser Remove Condition as his 1st level spells and gains Shooting Stars (Magic Missile for mystics) as his connection spell. This makes him a formidable healer with a bit of offensive magic thrown in as well. For skills, Kolrez takes Piloting, Perception, Sense Motive, Mysticism and Diplomacy. The skill list in Starfinder has a lot of overlap with Pathfinder, although there has been a fair bit of streamlining. For example, the Mysticism skill now incorporates both the Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana) skills as well as any Craft skill needed to make magic items.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 1

The much-awaited Starfinder Core Rulebook is finally available at your FLGS and I have my copy. This will be my first in a series of posts on the new game. I will be looking first at character creation. The first step in this process is to conceptualize your character and select your race, theme and class. Pathfinder players will certainly be familiar with race and class, but theme is something new.

Starting with races, there are humans, androids, two subspecies of lashuntas, kasathans, ysoki, vesh and shirrens. Anyone who has played the Iron Gods AP will have some familiarity with androids, kasathans and lashuntas, although the lashuntas have been altered somewhat. The ysoki are simply space-faring ratfolk. The vesh and the shirrens are your obligatory reptilian and insectoid races respectively. The other Pathfinder races such as elves, dwarves and halflings are not core races, but it has been hinted at that they will be introduced later*.

Classes are mostly self-explanatory. They are envoy, mechanic, mystic, operative, soldier, technomancer and solarian. The envoy is the party "face". The mystic and technomancer are the cleric and wizard respectively. The operative is the rogue, while the solarian is a sort of space monk, like a Starfinder jedi.

Themes are aspects of your character that reflect background and/or motivations. The options available in the core rules are ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, xenoseeker and themeless. Somewhat counterintuitively, there are no restrictions regarding combinations of themes and classes, so it is possible to have a priest mechanic or a mercenary mystic. Clearly some combinations will require exotic backstories. The purpose of themes is to provide a starting ability score bonus to one stat and a few minor boons to the character as he gains levels.

I decided to try out the character creation procedure by making a kasathan spacefarer mystic named Kolrez. After making those preliminary decisions, it is time to get to the number-crunching. The point buy system is a bit different in Starfinder as compared to Pathfinder. You start with straight 10s, then adjust your ability scores based on race and theme modifiers. Kolrez gets +2 STR and WIS and -2 INT for being a kasathan and +1 CON for being a spacefarer. So his starting ability scores are: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 11, INT 8, WIS 12, CHA 10. You have an additional 10 points to spend on a 1-for-1 basis, although no ability score can exceed 18 at this point. Note that ability modifiers are the same in Starfinder as Pathfinder. With that in mind, I distribute my additional points to improve CON, INT, WIS and CHA as follows: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 12, INT 9, WIS 18, CHA 12. You cannot transfer points from one ability to another.

Next, we look at hit points (hp), stamina points (sp) and resolve points (rp). Stamina points represent general toughness. They are lost first and relatively easy to recover. Hit points indicate actual capacity to endure injury. Resolve points represent willpower and are used to activate certain class features and regain resources such as stamina. None of these points are rolled, all are fixed based on your character race, class, ability modifiers and level. At 1st level, Kolrez gets 4 racial hit points and 6 class hit points for a total of 10 hps to start. At 2nd level and each level beyond, he only gets the 6 class hps. Stamina points are based on class and CON modifier. Kolrez starts out with 6 class sp and 1 CON sp for a total of 7 sp. Finally, resolve points are equal to half your level (minimum of 1) + modifier of your key ability score. Since Kolrez has WIS 18, he gets 4 + 1 rps.

In my next post, I will discuss class features of the mystic, gods and alignments.


*Edit: There is a section in the back of the core book which provides some information on Pathfinder races for those wishing to use them to make Starfinder characters.