Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tabletop RPG Debris: Dude, Where's My Excellent World?!

Welcome to Abstruse Decapod's  Tabletop RPG Debris; the retrospective that takes a look at obscure and homebrew role-playing games you either might have never heard of, or which have simply been lost to time - sometimes with good reason.

Alright, well, let me get this out of the way. I was never a fan of Bill and Ted or Wayne's World - in fact, I can't honestly say I have seen either all the way through, with certainty ... and I have no immediate plans to remedy that. I just don't like the type of humor that these movies, and shows like them, tend to rely on. Like Napoleon Dynamite, they have a number of quotable lines, and that's great, and I know many people of all ages enjoy these movies - but not me. Maybe it's because I never knew anyone like any of the people in the movies, therefore can't identify with any character whatsoever.

So why am I looking at a handful of role-playing games that are based off these movies? Well, I'd like to think I can put my aversion to the brain-numbing content of the flicks down to the dialogue delivery and obnoxious character portrayals, and be able to look at the games on their own merits.


So, we have three games, and I'll just start with the first known historical appearance of this "genre", if you want to call it that: Teen, the Bill and Ted Roleplaying Game, by Martin Gill.

Now, this PDF of "Teen" is actually one I myself created, from various versions of this game that Mr. Gill has posted on the net over the years, from simple raw text on RPG.NET to RTF files and other such things, about 2002, though he said he'd already been running it for around ten years for his own group. At any rate, Teen was the first solid RPG adaptation of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, a movie starring the "Wild Stallions": Keanu Reeves, known for the Matrix, and Alex Winter, known for... being "that other guy" in this movie. Jane Wiedlin, of Go-Go's fame was in this, and amusingly, far down the cast list, so was an actor named "Duncan Macleod" - I'm not even kidding.

But the first important thing to address: is the game faithful to its source? As I said, I did not see the full movie, but over the years, I believe I have been exposed to enough of it in soundbytes, quotes and images that I could unequivocally say "yes", and in fact, as is often the case with any products requiring brainpower based on over-the-top franchises, I would strongly suggest the game is too faithful to the movie.Let me demonstrate:

Dude. Welcome to the most bodacious of games you are likely to encounter. Ever.
Like, I know what you’re thinking. Like, Role Playing, that’s what that geeky dude in the megadeath T-shirt does. You know, man, the one with the real bad acne and the greasy black hair... Role playing is the coolest. I mean, like...

Is this excerpt making my point for me, or what? I don't mind a conversational tone in a rulebook, and in fact tend to do that myself, and it can even work if the use of English is a bit amateurish or flawed. As long as the author is trying, and is coming across clearly in his work, I can appreciate the effort both to impart the needed information, and to try to emulate the tone and feel of the source material.

Flavor text and deliberate bits of fluff set apart from the main text, written in the "excellent" vernacular of the movie would have been maybe a slightly pedestrian avenue to have gone down, but it would have made this game so much more damn clear! I just can't justify the actual game rules, even for a homebrew, labor-of-love indy game, being formatted in such a thick, noisesome barrage of "Dudespeak". One thing I found quite funny was as soon as I saw the word "mate", I realized this was a British author, which caused a train wreck in my head as I read the phrase:

Throw out the dice. Jack up the stereo and break out all those old Iron Maiden tapes which you never found the time to throw out. So what if the real people are out in bars meeting real girls, just have a laugh. And once you find that this is actually a fun game, then maybe you can invite a non roleplaying mate to play. 

I was not having a very hard time reading the text up until that point in Dudespeak in my head, but when the word "mate" popped up, it caused a disconnect that totally took me out of the whole "stream" - how does one talk like Bill or Ted but also talk about "bobbies" and "lorries" and "leftenants"? I still think I took a d4 San loss on that one.

Those with sharper senses will recall my previous quote mentioning "throwing out the dice". That one stumped me at first - a game like this, really skirting the mainstream dice-rolling format which debatably may help new gamers "ease into" playing? Turns out, yes, just like it says "on the tin", as the Brits say - if your rating is higher than someone else's (Bodacious at Shredding the Guitar for example), you just win. While I admire the author for taking the little-used diceless route... it feels... "flat" here. I just don't see the point of removing a device for random objective moderating of success, which no doubt has resulted in billions of wild outcomes over the years. Just a head-scratcher.

Distracting language use in the rules aside, the lingo use in the mechanics and tables is well done and seems to capture the atmosphere of these types of "adorable loser" movies. It makes use of pretty much all of the significant terms and concepts in the Excellentverse, including: No Way, As If, Hey Dude, Woah, Dweeb, Bogus, Bodacious Chicks, etc.

Teen also includes character types such as Bums, Rockers, Surfies, Goths, Jocks, Nerds, Gangers and Valley Girls, and rules for Breaking the Fourth Wall (ala Ferris Bueller, also a movie I detest) and Bribery, so I have to say this is a surprisingly full-featured game, for just a couple pages, and one which I'm sure very few people ever knew existed.

Dude, Where's My Car

Believe it or not, I saw Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott's "Dude, Where's My Car", and found it at least passably entertaining, and in fact saw it more than once, but not from any burning desire to do so - it just happened to be on again when other people were watching it and I was present.

"Dude, Where's My Car  - A Roleplaying Game" was written by Greg Pogorzelski, also posted first on RPG.NET's forums (noticing a trend here?) in 2002. Although the link on the forums now leads to what Google claims is an "attack site" with a red warning, using the Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine), I was able to retrieve the "core rules" and "GM document", or two single page PDFs.

I'm of two minds about rules-lite and beer-and-pretzel games that are of the "one page" variety - some very few can do it well, but I just don't feel like any role playing game of any significance, even rules-lite, can be properly and sufficiently recorded on one page - at least not without 1 point font, and I'm too old for that crap; I can barely read 16 point.

Much like "Teen", "Dude" seems to very fully capture the essence of the movie, the PDF even being a very "wild" and chaotic jumble with the movie title fonts, really visually helping to connect the film's authenticity to the game. Again, like Teen, Dude relies heavily on quick, brief references and keywords strongly associated with its source material, such as Sweet, Shibby and Sucky, and even "Totally Gay" - a term that I wouldn't want to try to include in a game in this day and age.

The "Dudemaster" PDF has an equally jumbled, but very readable, collection of "GM Guidelines" for running the game, and a "dude record sheet", all on one page, and really, it works. For the goofiness of the movie and concept of making a game from it, and yes, this one does use dice, it looks like the author "got it right" - you don't see that a lot, but it's nice when you do. The only real downside to the game, besides its severe brevity (though that no doubt prevented the same horrible Dudespeak that plagued Teen), is that it was not proofread and has numerous spelling mistakes, which, in a game this short, seem pretty blatant and inexcusable.

Most Excellent Adventure

"Be Excellent to Each Other" reads the very top line of the "cover" of this simple black and white PDF called "Most Excellent Adventure", a much more recent incarnation of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure which I actually found on 1d4chan not an hour ago.  "A ROLE-PLAYING GAME OF TIME, SPACE,AND AIR GUITARS" reads the tag at the very bottom of the cover. Okay, this game has a lot to live up to, with the clean, simple and evocative cover it has.

The first page looks to be... a character sheet, as it has a lot of blanks, a space for "Bummed Out Dice" and sections of Gnarly, Excellent and Righteous, with a phone pad, and a section for "Buds". The intro tells us that:
Most Excellent Adventure is a pen and paper RPG where the players must fix possible alterations of their own timelines (which could affect the rest of humankind in the future) armed only with their wits, coolness and a phone booth.

Right away, I see the huge difference between this game and Teen - it actually makes use of the time traveling phone booth.I didn't mention it in Teen because I honestly forgot about it, and Teen apparently made little or no mention of it, or I would have stumbled across it, so I suppose that is a big void for Teen, and a very surprising one, given the faithfulness it manages to achieve otherwise. But back to this game: Most Excellent Adventure not only incorporates the time traveling - it is apparently intended to be the main plot or theme of adventures, the characters must muck about with the timelines. I have to admit, I'm impressed at this being the actual focus, given the lower road that could have been taken. Characters have Righteous, Excellent, Gnarly and a user-created dice pool that serve as their stats.

The dice mechanics are clever but will likely not be for everyone, as they involve a somewhat confusing ability to arrange rolls and dice pools in various sequences, and it is called "Dialing" when you choose the sequence, such as:

Ex: Bill rolls 1,1,6,8,5 and 2. He can dial this as 1-1-2-5-8-6 (a six-string number). Evil Robot Bill rolls 3,9,3,9,1,1. His longest string is two numbers (either 9-9, 3-3 or 1-1). Good regular Bill wins!

You can also play Death itself, if you're ever killed, and if you beat him at chess or Connect Four or other game, you're apparently brought back to life - just like in the movie? Hmm, there is a "Radical Pool" mentioned on the last page, but I don't see it on the "Dude Sheet" nor is it mentioned elsewhere - my guess is it was renamed to Righteous, but there is no evidence either way, showing that this too still needs some editing, but otherwise, does appear to be a pretty solid offering, especially for free.

Closing Thoughts

As much as I am not a fan of the movies, which would also leave me out for playing the games, the authors seem to have admirably ported the endearing qualities of the movies to rpg format, each with their own flaws and strengths and novelty.

Download Most Excellent Adventure
Download .ZIP of Teen, Dude... and Most Excellent Adventure

As always, I welcome any comments or thoughts or other little-known RPGs! -JP

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