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burnt-offerings-cover

It’s probably no secret to those who’ve heard my interviews with Christopher Bowes of Alestorm or Jostein “Trollmannen” of Trollfest that in the halcyon days of my misspent youth, I and several old hometown pals were into D&D.

While something I dropped shortly thereafter (and for a longer span of time than I’m sure many readers of this particular missive have been on this planet) with my entrance to high school and a concomitant major shift in friends and acquaintances, through the magic of social media some of us have recently become reacquainted at all too many years’ remove, and out of a warm sense of nostalgia, have actually returned to those halcyon days with a monthly get together based on some seriously old school gaming (we’re talking 2nd edition AD&D, so you get the general idea here).  But that’s not all.

In the realm of videogaming (something my wife and I have been quite actively involved in for the last 15 years plus), among our mutual favorites have been the earlier Final Fantasy games (pretty much culminating with VII), the hilarious Bards’ Tale, the Dragon Age series, the Fable games (particularly the first), and even more simpleminded hack and slash offerings like D&D Heroes and the Baldur’s Gate games.

Even beyond that, in recent years, both my wife and I have been much enamored of any number of fantasy roleplaying based films and web series: the Felicia Day take on Dragon Age and her amusing Warcraft gamer pastiche The Guild, anime classics Record of Lodoss War and The Slayers, the Rankin Bass Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, and the two Gerry Lively Dungeons & Dragons films (the Hollywood one with a Wayans brother in tow is an atrocity best left unmentioned and unexplored).  Most to the point, we’re also fans of the Dead Gentlemen’s hilarious The Gamers series (and to a lesser extent, the interesting if comparatively quite flawed Journeyquest).

Being an effective child of the 80’s, I further grew up with all those cheesy sword and sorcery films that peppered the early part of that decade – productions and coproductions from Italy, England and the US.  Conan the Barbarian itself still holds its place as what remains my all time favorite film since being overwhelmed by its heady Nietzschean philosophical overtones during its initial theatrical run.

And if all that doesn’t seal the deal, need I mention I’ve been a longstanding Rhapsody (of Fire) fan?   Yeah, I love this stuff.

“Burn their skin and mash their head, goblins here and you’ll be dead…we be goblins, you be food!”

Is this a black metal story?  Apparently the quaint village of Sandpoint has been afflicted by a rash of church burnings and grave robbings.  But no, it’s not corpsepainted Norwegian kids (or even would-be “orcs” like a certain Count Grishnackh), but a gaggle of goblins.  And isn’t that a great picture of them on the cover?

“Stupid creatures…they’re as much of a threat to themselves as to us.”

But given the creatures’ equal love of mischief and affliction with low intelligence, it becomes apparent that someone far more sinister may be behind their recent assaults on village propriety…and how does this all tie in with the lovely tavern wench Ameiko (Yuriri Naka) and her adversarial relations with both her stiff necked and temperamental father and slippery half-elven brother Tsuto (Kevin Shen)?

Coming with a boost from no less than the folks behind the Pathfinder series themselves, Paizo.com (who also provide the virtual and sales home for the aforementioned Dead Gentlemen productions), Big Finish’s dive into the wild world of fantasy gaming comes as something of a welcome surprise.

Primarily focused on classic British and American cult television series such as Doctor Who, Blakes 7, the Avengers and Dark Shadows, Big Finish has expanded its range beyond tangenitally Who-related spinoffs such as Bernice Summerfield and Jago & Litefoot to encompass some interesting new territory of late: the Confessions of Dorian Gray, Vienna and more.  But even with such an expansive line to their credit, the company’s shift to straight up Tolkien by way of Howardesque sword and sorcery seems to come straight out of left field.

Author Mark Wright (whose work is split between highly enjoyable fare such as the Peter Davison/Peri adventure The Church and the Crown and less appealing if not downright gruesome offerings like Project: Twilight and Project: Lazarus) delivers an appropriately traditional tale of intrigue, tavern carousing and adventure marked by strong elements of humor and some quite welcome fantasy-horror based claustrophobic atmosphere.

While filled with familiar genre trappings and dramatis personae such as the brave but none-too smart warrior Valeros (Stewart Alexander) and snarkily testy elven fighter Merisiel (Kerry Skinner), some unexpected if not amusing liberties are taken – the outspoken, leaderlike and somewhat Dionysian wizard and teetotaling dwarven ranger are both somewhat eye-widening to those familiar with oft-repeated genre tropes.

Peopled with a number of familiar faces…well, voices from Big Finish Doctor Who audios such as Duncan Wisbey (Live 34, Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge, The Demons of Red Lodge and Heroes of Sontar as well as several Jago & Litefoot stories), Trevor Littledale (Flip Flop and Lost Story The Hollows of Time) and Toby Longworth (The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Fires of Vulcan, the Maltese Penguin and Bernice Summerfield crossover The Dark Flame), Burnt Offerings still represents something of a departure for all concerned.

With a more simplistic, surface level narrative and an unusual focus on action (which all told doesn’t translate particularly well to the audio milieu), this is not the sort of multilayered tale listeners have come to expect from the better part of Big Finish’s many offerings.

Like the recent Vienna, it appears to be geared directly towards a more undemanding American-style audience, weaned on special effects based lightshows and Lucas/Spielberg-like bombast without an incredible amount of substance to grant it gravitas or longevity (an argument that can, for that matter, be equally applied to New Who).

That said, it’s certainly quite entertaining for what it is, and does capture much of the intended feel of the sort of fantasy-based world role playing tabletop (and video) gaming is generally based on.  Tapping into the core elements, tropes and archetypes of the genre, Burnt Offerings proves to be fun if somewhat mindless fluff for those so inclined.

 

http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/rise-of-the-runelords-burnt-offerings-965

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