I started this morning with scrambled eggs, which is always a good way to start the weekend. And what a weekend it has been so far! My great procrastination continues – I’ve got to write an essay by the end of next week, and while I’ve been thinking about it (honest), I have yet to put fingers to keyboard. And yet here I am, blogging . Shocking!

In case you’re wondering, I’m doing a degree with the Open University in History with Classical Studies. Because I love history (it’s in my tagline, remember!) and I love the Classical World. I’m currently nearing the halfway point – with this essay, and an exam at the beginning of June, that’ll be me exactly halfway through. OU degrees, unlike ‘regular’ degrees, take six years to complete rather than three, and I’m on the cusp of the end of the first module of my ‘second’ year. If that confuses you, you’re not alone. Anyway, the current module I’m nearing the conclusion to is A200, Exploring History: Medieval to Modern. It’s been really really good, I have to say! A lot of people doing the current course with me seem to be really down on it, as it’s too much reading or whatever, but seriously, the study of history involves a whole ton of reading, so I’m not entirely sure what they were expecting. History is more than just interesting stories, people! And thus I dismount my soapbox. The essay I’ve not yet started on is about territorial expansion, with reference to colonialism in Africa in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Awesome stuff!

I’ve technically had last week ‘off’, for Easter, so instead of working at the degree, I’ve been reading more Star Wars novels. Of course! Despite the recent announcement, I still have a huge love of the expanded Star Wars universe, not least because these are the stories that I grew up with – none of this Gungan flapping nonsense, but Hutts building Death Star-like superweapons, and blue-skinned alien Grand Admirals running rings around the fledgling New Republic! Oh yes! That’s the good stuff! And I doubt that anything Disney puts out from here on in will dissuade me from that.

This week’s book has been another Tim Zahn treat – Choices of One. Amazon tells me I’ve had this book getting on for two years now, and yet this is the first time I’ve actually bothered to pick it up. It’s a sequel to Zahn’s Allegiance, which is set during the three years between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and follows a similar plot, featuring the renegade stormtroopers self-styled as the Hand of Judgment. All the favourite rebels are there, including General Riekkan and General Cracken (a real surprise treat, that one!). Luke is the noob who still doesn’t know how to be a proper Jedi; Han is still the rogue who is unwilling to commit himself to the Alliance, and Leia is very much the authority figure we see her on Echo Base. In addition, we have Mara Jade as the Emperor’s Hand, running around rooting out treachery in the Imperial ranks. We also have the star destroyer Chimaera, and while Pellaeon is here, he’s not yet the captain of the ship. A really nice inclusion, that. The plot is all centred on a far-flung star system, where the Imperial Governor is accused of treason (hence Mara’s involvement), and deals with a nebulous threat lurking from the Unknown Regions. Voss Parck and the Adjudicator are also involved, which is a nice nod to Zahn’s shorter fiction that deals with Thrawn’s adventures in the time of the original trilogy.

Basically, I really liked this novel a lot. Perhaps even more so than Allegiance. As usual for Zahn, you see plenty of the puzzle pieces, but they don’t begin to connect until later in the game, and I’m either lazy or I was kept guessing right up to the final pages. Something I really, really liked was the way he keeps us guessing as to the identity of Lord Odo. (SPOILER ALERT: I was fairly convinced it was going to turn out to be Thrawn, but no!) The warlord threatening the galaxy from the Unknown Regions, Nuso Esva, was a really intriguing threat – while we didn’t see much of him (SPOILER ALERT: or did we?!), he was clearly a compelling antagonist, with a very intricate plot set up. Nicely done, Mr Z! MORE SPOILERS: The Nuso Esva plotline isn’t actually resolved here, however – for that, you have to head over to the 20th Anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, and the short story ‘Crisis of Faith’ that is included therein.

I’ve not yet read Crisis of Faith, but I’ll let you know what I think when I do. I’m currently trying to read the fiction in chronological order, so I’m still a few years off at the minute 🙂

This morning, I took delivery of the fifth adventure pack for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. At least, I think they’re called adventure packs. Well, whatever. I’ve been off-and-on playing this game since last September, when it first arrived in my hot little hands. I mean, more off than on – I’ve by no means been playing it constantly, or anything! In fact, my boardgamegeek stats tell me I’ve played it seven times since I had it. (I’m on boardgamegeek as ‘spalanzani’ – feel free to add me as a geek buddy!) The game was something of a sensation when it came out – the forums were absolutely crazy with new posts, to the extent that I had to unsubscribe pretty sharp-ish as my subscription feed was just spammed daily. The idea of a game that was “the perfect amalgam” of card game and RPG seemed to scratch a lot of itches across the ‘geek, and of course, the Pathfinder RPG was close to a lot of peoples’ hearts. The box follows the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, a linked series of six adventures in the Pathfinder universe. I’m saying all this like I know what I’m talking about, of course – while I do indeed have the Rise of the Runelords RPG book, I’ve never actually played the RPG, so have no idea what it’s like. The RPG engine is, I believed, licensed from Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 3rd edition system, which I have also not played, but I have played d20 Star Wars RPG (Saga Edition), which I believe to be a similar engine. But all of this is pretty tangential to the actual discussion.

In the card game, you pick a character and have a deck of cards, which represents your “life” in the game – if the deck runs out, you die. You have a series of locations, represented by cards and an associated deck, that you have to explore. Within each location’s deck can be anything, from items and spells you can try to acquire, to monsters and even the villain of the piece! You have to fight these monsters, which is a skill check based on your character’s stats and a die-roll (the RPG element). Once you explore the locations to meet the win conditions of the scenario you’re playing, usually beat a villain in combat, you have a reward, which so far for me has been drawing a card from those unused in the box, or adding bonuses to your skills that will help in subsequent adventures (again, the RPG element).

Ready to go with Ezren!
Ready to go with Ezren!

By rights, I should be obsessed with this game, and I should be far too over-excited each month as Paizo sends me the new adventure pack (I’m just calling them that, whether they are or not!). But I find the game oddly dissatisfying. Like I said before, I’ve been playing it intermittently since September, and have taken Ezren through all the scenarios up to the midway point of Burnt Offerings. However, there is something missing, for me. While I enjoy the levelling aspect, and the dice rolling and the fantasy locales, I find myself feeling like I’d much rather play a proper RPG. For me, RPG-ing is a terrific social opportunity for storytelling and having fun while exercising the imagination. I suppose the ‘anything can happen’ aspect of the RPG is lost when you’re straightjacketed into the same mechanic of exploring locations and fighting monsters. Yes, arguably that’s what most RPG-ing comes down to, but there can be so much more variety in games where you can concentrate on diplomacy or any other of a multitude of types of quest. Plus, crucially, the presence of a GM in a RPG leads to so much more interactivity than we have here. So what we’re left with is a bit of a hollow shell of a RPG. Harsh, I know. When approached as a card game, it is much more enjoyable to play, but I find this game wants to be a RPG too much. Which is probably why I only play it in short bursts.

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