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Alex Fell (Rugby, Warwickshire, UK)

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Dragon Age 2 (PC DVD)
Dragon Age 2 (PC DVD)

3 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, 16 April 2011
This review is from: Dragon Age 2 (PC DVD) (DVD-ROM)
This game seems to have drawn the ire of some Origins devotees. Having played both, this seems to have a slightly less cheesy storyline, better graphics (if a bit more cartoony, though the original seems a bit muddy to me) and a good storyline. You don't go anywhere much, unlike the original, but that doesn't bother me (it's an urban campaign, rather than crossing continents, which is fine for a change of pace). You can't give your companions armour, but you can give them all the other stuff (weapons, potions, rings) so that's no big deal either. And you deal a lot with the Qunari, in all their psychopathic glory. Overall, I'd say it's an enjoyable game and if you like roleplaying games, you should like this.

Ruin (Forgotten Realms: The Year of Rogue Dragons)
Ruin (Forgotten Realms: The Year of Rogue Dragons)
by Richard Lee Byers
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly disappointing ending, 27 Aug. 2006
This book brings an end to the trilogy started with the Rage and the Rite. This is one of the the better series to come out of the FR novel line, and I particularly enjoyed the first two. But this one disappointed slightly, especially at the end.

Firstly, a few pretty heavy-hitting figures in the FR mythos get wasted, almost in passing, and it doesn't really feel like much of an event when it happens. When someone (I'm not saying who) has statistics in the Epic Level Handbook, you really think that their death should be quite important and difficult to achieve, and maybe even a key element of the story. But it really feels incidental, and that doesn't really sit well, especially as it will have significant long-term ramifications within Faerun.

Secondly, the book ends pretty abruptly, and the death of one of the key characters also happens without anyone even seeming to be upset (I don't think it anyone even bothers to mention them after their demise). That struck a slightly false note too.

That said, the basic story is fine, and the writing is good. It is certainly pacy and the ultimate conclusion is satisfying as far as it goes. The action and fight sequences (including a massive scrap between dragons at the end) are certainly fun and exciting. I dunno, it is always tough to end a good series I suppose, but it just seemed a bit careless the way the author just seemed to get bored in the last chapter. Or so it seemed to me.

Dragons of Faerun (Dungeons & Dragons)
Dragons of Faerun (Dungeons & Dragons)
by Eytan Bernstein
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good and interesting Faerunian resource, 27 Aug. 2006
I initally assumed this was a fairly basic roll-call of dragons, and frankly expected a lot of reprints of the old Ed Greenwood articles on "Wyrms of the North", originally printed in Dragon magazine and updated on the Wizards of the Coast website. Actually, it is much more than that.

Firstly, I have to mention the cover - a ravishingly beautiful (if slightly grisly) depiction of a gigantic red dragon obliterating a party with its fiery breath (and flip over to the back cover, where the sole survivor watches in horror from the shelter of a pillar as her compatriots are roasted - brilliant).

Secondly, this actually doesn't really contain much on the Wyrms of the North stuff at all - instead the reader is redirected to the said website for this stuff. Much of what is there is actually new content, which seems only fair for an expensive hardback book.

Thirdly, it actually looks beyond the period of the Rage of Dragons (as depicted in the trilogy of FR novels by Richard Lee Byers) and is, to some extent, moving the FR world on in time a bit, at least with respect to the impact of those events upon the Cult of the Dragon, the Church of Tiamat and events in Unther and Chessenta. We are no longer in the Year of Rogue Dragons, Sammaster is destroyed and Tchazzar is reborn.

In brief, the sections of the book comprise a history of dragons in Faerun, including the rivalry between Tiamat and Bahamut, a brief description of a few important dragons and dracoliches, and a smallish though interesting section on draconic motivations (effectively dividing them between predators, who have a small impact at a political level, i.e. the archetypical "hoard-sitter", and schemers who are much more active in schemes and machinations at a regional level). Next there is a chapter on the Cult of the Dragon, and how recent events have changed it and its leadership. After that, the Church of Tiamat and the its impact on Chessenta and Unther are described (including a brief detailing of Unther as a region). Another sets out various, less important draconic groups, including the Moruemes of the Nether Mountains with their hobgoblin army and the Silver Talons, a group of draconic paladins. The next couple of sections set out "draconic lairs", including traps, hazards (like dracolich slough, animated bits of undead flesh that have fallen off a dracolich) and monsters, spells and magic items (including a number of minor and major artifacts which can be found in the hoards of specific dragons). Finally, there is a comprehensive listing of all dragons mentioned in the FR literature, including novels, with indicative descriptions.

One caveat - a degree of reliance is placed upon the owner having the Draconomicon and, to a lesser extent, Races of the Dragon too (while some are fully statted, a number of dragons are described along the lines as using the same statistics as "the ancient green dragon on page xxx of the Draconomicon", and a number of prestige classes and feats from this publication are used, for example in Tchazzar stats, who is a terrifying CR40!). This doesn't bother me (I own them both) but it might some people. However, you can probably use it without these, though it might involve a bit more elbow grease to create the relevant nasties.

Overall, I like this. It has good campaign ideas, a few of the dragos really make compelling long term villains, and it pushes forward the story of Faerun a bit further.

The Dragon Below (Eberron - The Binding Stone)
The Dragon Below (Eberron - The Binding Stone)
by Don Bassingthwaite
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-writen and enjoyable, 10 Jun. 2006
This is a pretty fun read. Some of the Eberron novels have been a bit variable, but this one actually pulls its weight in terms of being a good adventure story, competently written with reasonable characterisation and a decent, pacy plot. In gamer terms, it introduces another aspect of the Eberron world, this time a bit of the Eldeen reaches and lots of the Shadow Marches, and also addresses the Gatekeeper sect of druids and the cult of the Dragon Below. Thrills and spills aplenty - recommended.

The Shattered Land (Dreaming Dark)
The Shattered Land (Dreaming Dark)
by Keith Baker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The action moves to Xendrik...., 18 April 2006
This is the follow on to The City of Towers, also by Keith baker, the creator of Eberron. I really liked the previous volume and felt considerable goodwill towards this one. However, while I liked this, it probably fell short for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the first volume was a key introduction to the world of Eberron - it fleshes out details of the dragonmarked housed, dragonshards, the Last War, Sharn, and generally gives a great background for the setting. As a gamer, this was pretty invaluable and really kicked off the setting for me nicely. This one doesn't really break ground in the same way - there have been a number of Eberron novels and this one doesn't stand out from the crowd so much.

The novel is also a bit slow to start - there's a lot of faffing about, explaining about the quori, getting from Sharn to Stormreach, hanging about Stormreach, before you finally get out into the wilds of Xendrik where the action takes off. Also, this novel didn't so much feel like a sequel as starting off a new plotline entirely. I guess I haven't read The City of Towers for a while, but there didn't seem to be much prefiguring I can remember for what happened in this volume.

Not withstanding all that, this is nevertheless an entertaining read. Once things get going, there's a lot of action, and some new mysterious elements are brought into the mix (mostly unresolved - I guess the final volume will tie the ends together). And, of course, it deals with Xendrik, and the Eberron-style drow pop up in no uncertain fashion (no spider-worshipping dominatrixes these). There's lots of action and derring-do, and I read it pretty quickly.

So it is a good read, and carries on the stories of the characters convincingly. I guess it doesn't announce the advent of Eberron in such a strident way as the previous volume, but it does the job of being a fun read.

The Road to Death (Eberron Novel: The Lost Mark)
The Road to Death (Eberron Novel: The Lost Mark)
by Matt Forbeck
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well...., 18 April 2006
I didn't really care that much for the last volume - it seemed to rely on the characters (villains and good guys alike) being a bit slow in the head for the plot to work. Against my better judgement, I purchased this, the follow up. And, you know, I actually quite liked it.

Negatives first: these is some god-awful clunking dialogue, especially when Kandler is trying to express his feelings for his dead wife near the beginning. I'm sorry, people don't talk like that, especially when expressing deeply held feelings (it was rather like something from a dodgy romance). The characters are a bit cardboard cut-out too, though there's enough sympathy to keep you reading on.

Positives: well, the idiot factor has decreased somewhat - the characters behave in a fairly sensible fashion throughout. Like the other one, there are some very good action scenes (Forbeck excels at these). More of Eberron gets described along the way - this time Metrol, the former capital of Cyre, the Talenta Plains, complete with those halflings on dinosaurs, Fort Bones on the Karrnathi border, and the Ironroot Mountains. And there are some new villains in addition to the Blod of Vol.

So I enjoyed this. I guess my expectations were petty low, but I found it page-turning and entertaining. Great literature it ain't, but it's fun and undemanding.

Just one thing: if the dragons exterminated House Vol for siring a half-dragon, how come the half-dragon in this can wander around happily, even working the with the Chamber? Maybe all will be revealed.... Or maybe not.

Morph The Cat [U.S Version]
Morph The Cat [U.S Version]
Price: £16.22

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No surprises?, 25 Mar. 2006
Every album put out by the guys from Steely Dan, either together or separately, is an event. But also a worry. Their "late period" stuff (from Kamakiriad onwards) has been variable in quality. Plus there is also the weight of expectation - the stuff from the Seventies was, in parts, genius. The later stuff has been, well, just very good. So the arrival of this album through the post brought both anticipation and worry. What would it be like?
Superficially, this feels very much like most of their later stuff. The same rock/funk groove is there, the arrangements are similar, Fagen of course sounds the same. So in that respect there is nothing much to surprise. Tune-wise, it is probably somewhere between Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go - a little bit more melodic than the former and perhaps a bit less pop-y than the latter, and quite jazzy even for a Dan album.
If I was to characterise the tunes, the title track is my least favourite (more like a football chant to a jazz groove than a classic Steely Dan track) while Great Pagoda of Funn kind of loses itself. But Brite Nightgown grooves evilly and Fagen unleashes a Curtis Mayfield-esque falsetto (last seen on Transisland Skyway), while Mary Shut the Garden Door shimmers in a sort of clammy heat, and The Night Belongs to Mona evokes quite effectively NYC at night.
One notable change is that, unlike previous offerings, Walter Becker is nowhere in sight. And that, curiously, seems to be a good thing musically. Virtually all of the guitar solos on the previous two Dan albums and on Kamakiriad were by Becker and, to be frank, they aren't great. Here they have crack session musicians, and it's like being back in the Seventies in one respect - brilliant guitar solos. I always missed than on the last few albums and it's nice to have them back. (Not to diss Mr Becker - his solo album has some great guitar sections, but he didn't seem to rise so much to the occasion on the two latest Steely Dan CDs.)
The album is interesting in a lyrical sense too, in that the words seem much more Steely Dan-like. Fagen's previous solo efforts always seemed a bit divorced from reality - the Nightfly is a paean to his youth, and Kamakiriad had this dodgy science fiction plot. Morph the Cat is very now, with most of the lyrics very much evoking a post-9/11 paranoia and Bush-era politics.
So Great Pagoda of Funn is about a couple trying to insulate themselves in their relationship from the ugly realities of the world outside, with its "severed heads and poisoned skies", and Mona has become a child of the night due to a terror of the outside world (maybe due the "fire downtown"). Meanwhile, a sinister cult has taken over the government in "Mary Shut the Garden Door" (presumably a reference to Bush and the religious Right) and even the light-hearted romance of Security Joan is about an airport security guard ("You won't find my name on your list/Honey, you know I ain't no terrorist/Confiscate my shoes, my cellphone/You know I love, love, love you, Security Joan"). Morph the Cat is about a giant (albeit benign) smoke cloud floating over Manhattan - I, for one, remember the last big pall of smoke in New York. Even the death of Ray Charles gets a look in, with What I Do.
Overall, this is a pretty satisfying package. I think it is fair to say that we are unlikely to see any great innovation in the Steely Dan/Fagen sound any more, and his creative juices are maybe a little drier than in his glory days. But in the latter canon from these two guys, this one can hold its head up high.

Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff, 11 Mar. 2006
This review is from: Lyle Mays (Audio CD)
I have often wondered what Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays individually bring to the party for the Pat Metheny Group albums. I love the PMG stuff because, at its best, it is both fantastically structured, almost orchestral jazz in which are embedded some fantastic jazz solos (many of them Mr Mays as well as the eponymous Pat). Yet, by himself Metheny seems to produce small group, conventional jazz records and his solo-written pieces for the PMG are likewise fairly low-key, straight-ish jazz. Is the presiding genius who produces the complex, highly arranged and orchestrated compositions of the PMG the relatively uncelebrated Lyle Mays instead?
On the evidence of this album, yes it is. In a sense, there isn't much difference between this and a PMG album, except that there are more piano solos. The tunes are accessible yet possessing an intricate musical architecture. However, there are in fact some significant differences. The tunes are probably a bit less populist and tunefully subtle, rather than the sunny crowd-pleasers that the PMG might come up with (though they are still hum-able and foot-tapping). And the sidemen, in particular Bill Frissell on guitar, give the music a different dynamic. Mays is very much the star of the show on this album - he has almost all the (excellent) solos and dominates proceedings (fair enough - it IS a Lyle Mays album, after all).
For me, a number of tunes stand out: Highland Aire, a sort of Scottish jig meets calypso, is an excellent opener and, while not the most convincing example of "folk jazz", is nevertheless a merry and engaging piece; Slink, as the name suggests, is sinuous and dark; Alaskan Suite - Ascent starts with a sinisterly funky groove before moving on to an emphatic climax; and Close to Home is a tender, wistful ballad.
Certainly, this equals the best of the PMG, and may surpass it. Anyone fond of the Pat Metheny Group should get this and revel in what Mr Mays can produce by himself.


17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bland noodling, 11 Mar. 2006
This review is from: Fictionary (Audio CD)
Now, don't get me wrong - I am a big fan of Lyle Mays. I actually prefer his playing to that of Pat Metheny in the Pat Metheny Group albums (though I'm a pianist, which probably makes me biased - no disrespect to Mr Metheny). I also have some of his other solo albums, which I like.
And it's not that I don't like this album, as such - it is impeccably played, and he has fantastic sidemen. But this is definately not what you are used to from a Mays or PMG album: this is a trio date. Again, nothing wrong with that, especially with Jack de Johnette and Marc Johnson in tow. But here they are playing new tunes by Mays, with themes that are a bit hard to recognise, and then plunge off into meandering, semi-free solos where the structure is not always apparent.
As a listener, I tended to get lost in the undergrowth - I couldn't really tell where the tune stopped and the solos started, and then where the tune started again. Any while Mays is generally a pretty lyrical sort of player, on this I can't really say any of the solos were terribly exceptional. Doubtless I'm missing the subtleties, but I am a fairly experienced jazz listener and have heard this sort of thing done better.
If you are looking for a "Pat Metheny Group"-type experience, this is not the album for you. It is straight-ahead small group jazz, not a highly structured and produced studio album. Here, the music is fairly free trio jazz with whispy tunes and uncompromising jazz solos. Like I say, you can't really fault the music. I just felt the participants were having a lot more fun playing than I was listening.

Sons of Gruumsh (Dungeons & Dragons Campaign)
Sons of Gruumsh (Dungeons & Dragons Campaign)
by Christopher Perkins
Edition: Paperback

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Orc-bashing fun, 24 Feb. 2006
This is written by Chris Perkins, former editor of Dungeon now working for WotC. And a pretty damn good adventure this is too (although I haven't played it, only read it, so there may be a few wrinkles in it that were not immediately apparent).
Effectively, the characters are hired to find some missing junior nobles from the Moonsea area (it's billed as FR, but frankly it is pretty generic so don't let it worry you if you are running a non-FR campaign) and wind up rescuing them from the clutches of nasty orcs.
Positives: orcs (neglected of late, but with character classes a very adaptable, iconic villain), a decent plot (mostly a dungeon bash, but with a bit of investigation and politics thrown in), good encounters and a vivid setting (murky, misty moorland effectively evoked). Also the adventure has a guide to which WotC miniatures to use for each encounter (not obligatory, but helpful) and as far as I can tell they have pretty much used the statistics on the cards - a nice touch.
Negatives: well, none really (though the final encounter looks very tough). A good adventure for level 4 characters - perhaps not an immortal classic, but entertaining.

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