Thursday, October 30, 2014

Occult Adventures Playtest: First Impressions

Yesterday, Paizo released the playtest document for Occult Adventures, the hardcover rulebook they will be releasing next Summer. This book will contain rules for more occult topics, like auras and occult rituals, give advice on how to incorporate such topics into your Pathfinder campaign, and introduces six new classes that utilize a new form of magic: psychic magic. 

Having read the playtest document and the six new classes, I thought I'd give my first impressions of each. Unlike the previous Advanced Class Guide playtest, my overall opinion is much more positive this time around. Each class feels unique, possessing interesting flavor, and really can't be replicated by an already existing class (with probably one little exception). Also, since I personally find the subject matter interesting, I was almost guaranteed to like this. Anyway, with that out of the way, let's take a look at the new classes: the kineticist, the medium, the mesmerist, the occultist, the psychic, and the spiritualist.

The kineticist possesses the ability to call upon her inner power to manipulate elemental forces and the world around her. The keneticist is the only non-spellcaster in the document. Instead, she receives "wild talents" that she can use and enhance by accepting points of non-lethal damage (called "burn"). While I feel so people will dislike the burn element of the class, I personally find it cool. This class is basically a bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender & Legend of Korra. If you ever wanted to play a character like that, you can do so now.

Similar to the shaman, the medium weals and deals with spirits. However, the medium performs seances that allow these spirits to inhabit his body, granting him unearthly powers for a price. This is a 4-level caster without a fast base attack bonus progression and has the possibility to be one of the most complicated classes in the game due to influence. Each medium knows a number of spirits (based on Harrow cards), which have points of influence over him. The more points that spirit has, the more power the spirit has over the medium. If their influence gets too strong, the spirit takes over the medium for a short time. The flavor for the class is great, reminding me of 3.5's binder. However, I feel like it still needs a little work because it feels a little weak at lower levels. 

The mesmerist manipulates the mind of allies and enemies alike through the use of his hypnotic gaze, creating powerful illusions and enchantments with his psychic powers. This seems to be the "trickster" class for Pathfinder, reminding me of 3.5's beguiler. While you could mimic this class with some of the others, the mesmerist offers some neat abilities. For example, they can use an ability called "hypnotic gaze" as a swift action to give opponents 30 feet away a penalty to Will saves, making them more susceptible to his enchantment and illusion spells. Since I've been wanting such a class for awhile, I'm pretty happy and will probably be running one the next time I get to actually play. 

I'll admit, it took me a few minutes to understand the occultist. The class utilizes objects of personal or historical significance, using them as implements for his psychic powers. The occultist seems to be a class built around psychometry (a psychic ability to make relevant associations from an object of unknown history by making physical contact with that object). I had trouble understanding the nature of implements, but once it clicked, I found myself loving this class. Its filled to the brim with flavor and I can already see so many interesting ideas coming from this class. It definitely has my approval. 

The psychic is probably the most boring of the six classes. The psychic focuses on the power of the mind, allowing them to wield the mightiest of mental magics to crush her enemies and explore the deepest reaches of thought and consciousness. The class remains me of the arcanist, seeing as they possess a pool of points they can use to amplify and modify their psychic spells. However, it doesn't hit my "ban this sucker" button as hard as its slightly older cousin did. Also, the psychic's disciplines are pretty cool. One has your psychic power originating from aberrations and "malign entities that dwell in the voids between the stars." That statement just makes me happy inside. 

The spiritualist is similar to the summoner. The class is forever bound to a phantom, which can reside in her mind or manifests in the physical world with a ectoplasmic form. However, unlike the summoner, you do not build your phantom from the ground up. Instead you select an emotional focus for the phantom, like anger or jealousy. Part of me wonders if this is a preview of the reworked summoner for Pathfinder Unchained. Seems interesting enough and could be pretty cool. 

Have you read the playtest? If so, what do you think of the classes? I'd love to hear your opinions and thoughts. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fun Times at the Tyler Rose City Comic-Con

Look what I found beside the pool.
I wonder if its bigger on the inside than
the outside?
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Tyler Rose City Comic-Con as a volunteer for my FLGS' room. This was my second time attending any kind of convention, with the first being my slightly disastrous trip to the Dallas Comic-Con last year. I think its safe to say this was definitely the better experience.

However, you'd never expect that from how the day began. Due to my inability to read directions properly, I ended up driving around in circles for nearly an hour before finally finding the Holiday Inn. Once I arrived and checked in at the ticket booth, I made my way back to the "Phoenix Room" where the fine folks from Halflings Hideaway would be selling board games, roleplaying games, Magic: The Gathering cards, and running game demos. We also happen to be sharing the room with the Pathfinder Society's local chapter, causing the already small room to be pretty cramped throughout the day.

After taking a quick walk around the show floor, checking out the other booths and admiring some of the awesome cosplayers, I made my way back to the Phoenix room to play the Shadowrun 5e I signed up for. Unfortunately, only two other people signed up so we couldn't run through the actual adventure. Thankfully, the two people running the game didn't miss a beat and ran us through a humorous little encounter they called "Food Fight", showing what happens when a group of shadowrunners try to pick up some fast food late at night. While short, the game was pretty fun and my shaman kicked some serious ass.

Shortly afterwards, I was asked if I could run a session of Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG, a game I've never run before and have only taken the occasional glance at. However, wanting to be helpful, I decided to give it a shot. While I fudged a lot of the mechanics and improved a good amount of the adventure notes given to me, the group of mostly new players seemed to have a fun time.

Running Doctor Who and telling someone where the bathroom is.
A master of multitasking.
After a short break to help with promoting the remaining demos, I moved onto my second game of the day: Deadlands. Originally, I was going to run Numenera, but I felt Savage Worlds would be a better fit for a convention setting. Thankfully, I was correct. All of the players were new to the setting, but dug the concept and enjoyed the game. The game ended with our huckster setting the big bad on fire with his magic by blowing up a jar of whiskey in its hand and causing so much havoc. It was easily one of the most entertaining sessions of Savage Worlds I have ever GM ran.

With my GMing duties for the day over, I decided to kick back and relax with a few of the other volunteers, talking about games and goofing off. Afterwards, we checked out the fire dancing show out by the pool and the cosplay contest. The night ended back at the Phoenix room, killing time with a friend until he could finally call it quits for the day and go to bed. Once that was done, I gathered my stuff and made my way back home. 

Although I only attended the con for a day (which I now regret since I missed the chance to play with Jim Ward, the designer of Metamorphosis Alpha and one of Gygax's original players), I had a blast. I'll definitely be attending next year and will definitely be there for both days. If you're in the area next year, I suggest checking it out as well.

Friday, October 24, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House is a British horror film based off the Richard Matheson novel. Physicist Lionel Barrett is enlisted by an eccentric billionaire to investigate the Belasco House, a location supposedly haunted by the spirit of a sadistic man, hoping to prove the existence of life after death. Barrett is accompanied by his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, and physical medium Benjamin Fischer (who is also the solve survivor of a previous visit to the house). The team must survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mysterious of the notorious "Hell House".

While watching certain films, you can automatically tell which decade they were made. When watching The Monster Squad, you know it was made in the 80s. Pick up Scream and you'll definitely know its a 90s slasher film. The Legend of Hell House screams 70s haunted house film, embodying the best and worst of that subgenre during that decade.

The Legend of Hell House, like many 70s haunted house films, prioritizes atmosphere and interesting visuals over cheap scares. The film's setting is simply gorgeous, looking like something from a gothic horror story. It also builds a creepy tension and remains visually interesting throughout the film, utilizing spinning shots and strange camera moves very well.

The acting's pretty solid as well. While some of the characters are better written than others, the actors and actresses do a good job with the parts given to them. Roddy McDowall easily gives the best performance, really bringing the character to life and making him endearing.

However, the film does have its weaknesses. At times, it feels like the movie thinks its more clever than it actually is. The characters sometimes act in strange ways, like Dr. Barrett refusing to accept the survival of personalities after death, even when the evidence proofs him wrong or Florence Tanner refusing to leave the house after being physically harmed. The ending is also pretty lackluster.

Although I'm somewhat biased towards 70s horror and haunted house films, The Legend of Hell House is definitely a classic that deserves to be seen at least once. While its not perfect, the atmosphere it creates, the performances, and the visuals are worth the ride.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Riding the Bullet (2004)

Directed by Mick Garris, Riding the Bullet is yet another horror film based off a Stephen King short story. While hitchhiking back home to visit his sick mother, Alan Parker is picked up by a mysterious stranger. As the ride goes on, Alan uncovers a terrible secret about the driver, who then gives him a choice. A choice between life and death.

Riding the Bullet feels like a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 98 minutes. If Rod Sterling had appeared at the beginning and end of the film to give his signature monologues, I wouldn't have been surprised. Well, I might be a little surprised since he's dead and all. However, it would definitely have been a more lackluster episode with a slightly unfocused and confusing narrative.

The plot is simple enough, with a college student receiving rides from strange individuals and having weird incidents along the highway. However, certain scenes feel like someone having a somewhat tame acid trip. Just weird enough to be confusing, but not weird enough to unique or memorable.

Riding the Bullet's acting is also somewhat hit and miss as well. Jonathan Jackson's performance is alright, but a little dull at times throughout the movie. David Arquette goes a little over the top, but he's at least having fun and it works for the film's tone. Although she's only in a handful of scenes, Barbara Hershey is definitely gives the best performance. I just wish she showed up more and most of her scenes weren't repeated clips.

However, I strangely found myself enjoying Riding the Bullet despite its faults. Maybe the weirdness worked for me, maybe I liked the story hidden underneath the strange narrative structure, maybe I just liked it visually. I really can't explain it, but I thought it was alright and would probably watch it again. Its not my favorite Stephen King adaptation, but its okay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

5e Musings: Dealing With Incorporeal Undead

Fighting incorporeal undead just sucks. At higher levels, its not as bad due to most characters likely possessing a magical weapon by then. However, at lower levels, its frustrating to be a fighter and be fundamentally useless because that sword your carrying will simply pass through the ghost's intangible form. While 5e does lessen the frustration by only giving the ghost resistance against nonmagical weapons (meaning you'll still deal at least a little damage), I thought it'd be fun to create a different way you can handle these bastards without resorting to magic. 

The idea would require a little more work from the DM, but I feel it could be pretty interesting. Most ghost stories have the titular spirits attached to something or someone, so attached that it prevents their spirit from passing on to the next life. What if a player finds someone tied to the spirit's previous life, something they cared deeply about, and that object allowed them to have power over the creature? 

For example, let's say the ghost possessed a special necklace that once belonged to a very closed friend. The PC could find that object and present it to the ghost as an action in combat, forcing the creature to make a DC 15 Wisdom save. If they fail the save, the ghost is considered incapacitated. Every turn thereafter, the undead makes another Wisdom save for free, allowing them to act as normal if they succeed. 

While the character isn't damaging the incorporeal undead, they at least can effect it in a significant way. Also, it creates an interesting way for characters to deal with ghosts and other incorporeal undead besides combat. The players might have to delve into the spirit's past, hunt down one of these objects (maybe even a relative), and use it against the creature. 

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Monster Squad (1987)

Directed by Fred Dekker and co-written by Shane Black, The Monster Squad is a horror comedy film that acts as a humorous love letter to the Universal monster movies. Sean Crenshaw and his best friend Patrick are monster movie fanatics. Along with their portly friend Horace, junior high bad boy Rudy, Sean's little sister Phoebe, and little Eugene they come together in Sean's treehouse and talk about monsters. 

But when Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Mummy come to their small town to retrieve a mystical amulet that will allow them to take over the world, Sean leads his friends into action to defeat the forces of evil.  

The Monster Squad is probably one of the silliest, cheesiest films I have ever seen. The story suffers from serious lapses in logic, its tonally confused, and has to be one of the most 80s films to come out of the 80s. 

However, none of that matters because The Monster Squad is just all kinds of awesome. 

On paper, The Monster Squad should be god awful. However, the film manages to achieve a special level of silliness that causes the film to loop back into the territory of awesomely entertaining. Its like Dekker and Black kidnapped a horror fanatic, dissected that fan's brain, found what every one of us has dreamed about, and filmed it. The Monster Squad is basically The Goonies for horror geeks.

The Monster Squad is a film that every horror fan should see at least five times. Its perfect Halloween marathon material and is filled with heart and fun. This movie, like the Wolf Man, has 'nards. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Silver Bullet (1985)

Directed by Daniel Attias, Silver Bullet is a horror film adaptation of Stephen King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf. Normally, the small town of Tarker's Mills is an incredibly peaceful place where nothing extraordinary happens. However, this changes one night when a series of bizarre murders begin. The townsfolk believe a maniacal killer is one the loose. Marty, a young handicapped boy, believes the killer is something else entirely: a werewolf. After encountering and wounding the creature, Marty and his older sister Jane hunt all over town for the man they believe is the werewolf.

At first glance, Silver Bullet appears to be just another run-of-the-mill werewolf film. The special effects are decent and its story is interesting enough, but the film doesn't seem like anything special. However, Silver Bullet possesses one thing that does make it stand out among its lycanthropic peers: the relationships that exist between the main characters and the chemistry between their actors and actresses.

Maybe it's due to the low expectations I had going into the film, but I was pleasantly surprised by Silver Bullet's performances. Corey Haim gives a solid turn as Marty Coslaw, a young paraplegic boy who has probably one of the coolest wheelchairs ever. He's very likable and manages to hold his own in the more emotional moments, especially when paired with Megan Follows as his sister and Gary Busey as his wild uncle. The three have very good chemistry on screen and you feel like they're an actual family. Heck, I'd even say the scenes with Haim spending time with his uncle or riding his motor-tricycle are the best in the movie and the werewolf stuff takes away from that.

Speaking of werewolves, Silver Bullet's special effects aren't half bad either. They're nowhere near the same level as something you'd see inside American Werewolf in London or The Howling, but they are definitely decent. The film also knows when to hide or not focus on the less effective effects, or keeping the werewolf mostly hidden until the end of the film. Also, you can't help but love the utter cheese that is the werewolf church seen. Its something that you just have to see, but you will understand why its awesome after watching it.

However, Silver Bullet does have some obvious weak spots. For example, the film has this weird narration from what is supposed to be a future version of Marty's sister, making the film appear to be a story she's telling someone else. However, there's we never see this person she's talking to and it feels completely unnecessary. Also, Silver Bullet can feel a little slow at times.

While its by no means a perfect film, Silver Bullet has some good stuff going for it. If you like werewolf films with some good performances and decent effects, check out Silver Bullet.