Monday, August 31, 2020

Movie Review: Bill and Ted Face the Music

 Over the weekend, I watched the entire Bill and Ted trilogy with my boys (12 and 6). My older boy had seen Excellent Adventure before, but it was the first time for my second, other than a few scenes. He'd found a copy of the movie on my old netbook PC, and watched the Western saloon scene where they order beers and meet Billy the Kid. 

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure really holds up after all these years. I'd last seen it a few years ago. I was not disappointed by it this time. My boys also really liked it, and the silliness of the historical figures in 1980's San Dimas really delighted the boys. 

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey didn't hold up so well. There were laughs, but not as many. The story is a little harder to follow. I had to explain more to my 6 year old as we watched. Still, I figured it would be important for them to see it before we watched part 3, and I was right. I had to do a lot less explaining as we watched Face the Music. 

So, mandatory section on language in the movie, since "movie title + curse" leads parents to this blog. There was a similar level of cursing to the other two movies. No F bombs, a few people called dickheads or dickweeds. Many most creative uses of nonstandard vocabulary to express all things non-triumphant.

The plot is not full of twists. It's fairly straightforward, and I could see one of the main critical elements of the resolution coming just from watching the trailers. But the other element of it surprised me, in a good way. 

The actresses who played Bill and Ted's daughters were really fun to watch. They were as appealing as Bill and Ted, and while it isn't their movie, they didn't feel tacked on like the Princess Babes were in the first two movies. The Princesses also had a nice little story arc, but there wasn't much time to explore it so well. At least they had something to do this time. 

The CGI is a bit overdone at times, but then that sort of fits with the low budget effects that the first two movies had. Everything in the future/circuits of time is better rendered, but it doesn't necessarily look better, if you know what I mean. So while it's updated, it still feels sorta like the original. 

Casting was good, too. I had to check on IMDB after watching it to see if the guy playing Deacon (Ted's brother) was the same as in Excellent Adventure (it isn't, but looks like he could be). Also, I noticed that a different pair of actresses played the princesses in each movie. I don't remember if I'd noticed that different actresses had been hired in Bogus Journey. They were such small parts of both movies. But Joanna and Elizabeth were recast yet again. Both sets of actresses from the previous films seem to be active, so I'm wondering why they didn't want to be part of this. Maybe because the characters were just plot devices in the earlier films. Anyway, they're actually characters with arcs in this one, if the arc is a bit shallow. 

Quick Edit: Gotta love a movie with a robot named Dennis. Most outstanding!

In the end, it was just fun to see Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves playing their iconic duo on screen again. They still have the chemistry they exhibited 30 years ago, and it made me happy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Stars Without Number Revised Edition initial impressions

 Back in 2017, Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing put out a revised version of Stars Without Number. I hadn't played SWN since Justin's old Panoply Sector game (which he ran at the tail end of his Vaults of Ur campaign), so I never checked out the revised version until just recently. I got invited to a play-by-post game using SWN Revised, so downloaded the free version from DriveThru and made a character (actually remade my old PC from Justin's game, Dr. Zoltana, xenoarchaeologist). 

So I've really only looked through the game enough to make my character. This is not a full review. Just some initial impressions. 

SWN Revised keeps the basic chassis of SWN. It's pretty much BX D&D for characters and combat, but with a 2d6 resolution skill system tacked on. And lots of sci fi tech. 

The revision does a few things that impressed me. There's a new fourth character class, the Adventurer. An adventurer combines half of two of the other classes. So you can be part Warrior, part Expert (as I made Zoltana), part Warrior, part Psychic, or part Expert, part Psychic. 

Backgrounds seem pretty similar to what I remember, giving you some extra skills related to your training outside of your class. And if you risk it and get lucky, it can also boost your ability scores. Each background provides 1 skill for free, and you can either choose two more from a small selection of skills, or roll three times on the skill list or the Growth Table which have chances for +1 to any stat of your choice, +2 to a physical stat, or +2 to a mental stat, a set skill, or a skill of your choice.

There are focuses (foci as Crawford calls them) which are like 3E feats, with two tiers. They provide a lot of customization options for characters, and aren't overly complex in implementation. Many also provide a level in a skill.

But so far, the most impressive improvement to the rules has been how Crawford redesigned the skills. In SWN-R, each skill's name is a simple verb. And they cover a wide area, and different ability modifiers can be added depending on the situation (much like 5E's often ignored rule on skill/tool use rolls). The combat skills (shoot, punch, stab) add to d20 rolls to hit in combat, but can also be used with the normal 2d6 in other non-combat situations. Exert, the general physical/athletics skill, can also be used in combat for throwing attacks or I assume wrestling and the like. 

So far, I'm liking what's been done to the rules. It feels more streamlined, and even more customizable to fit nearly any character concept.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Class Reductionism

 I have continued my thinking about simplifying multiclassing in my game. 

Tonight's thinking is thus: 

Multiclassing is only available for the four main classes. My alternate classes will remain, but any previously allowed multiclass using them will be outlawed (no Cleric/Rangers or Illusionist/Thieves). 

Going by the example set by the BX/BECMI Elf class, there is a single XP track and both class's abilities advance at once. Generally the multiclass will take more advantageous numbers from either base class, but demi-human level caps will take the lower. 

The numbers here are still provisional. The Elf uses double the Fighter advancement (the faster class) if you look at it one way, or the combined total minus 500xp at 2nd level if you look at it another. I went with the latter to figure out these numbers. The amounts for high level advancement were considering that spellcasters tend to get exponentially more powerful, but the MU/Thief is stuck with a d4 hit die, so they get a small boost. 

Multiclassing Rules:

  • Take the most advantageous BAB track.

  • Take the most advantageous saving throw for each category

  • Gain all special abilities of each class

  • Use any weapons or armor allowed by either class

  • Use the custom XP track and advance both classes

  • Use the least advantageous maximum level

Multiclass Advancement Table








Hit Die: d8

Hit Die: d6

Hit Die: d6

Hit Die: d6

Hit Die: d8

Hit Die: d4










































































































Dwarf: Berserker (8), Cavalier (6), Cleric (8), Fighter (12), Thief (6), Cleric/Fighter (8), Fighter/Thief (6)

Elf: Bard (6), Fighter (10), Magic-User (12), Thief (8), Fighter/Magic-User (10), Fighter/Thief (8)

Halfling: Acrobat (8), Druid (6), Fighter (8), Ranger (10), Thief (12), Fighter/Thief (8)

Gnome: Bard (8), Fighter (6), Illusionist (12), Thief (8), Fighter/Thief (6)

Half-Elf: Assassin (6), Cleric (6), Druid (10), Fighter (8), Magic-User (8), Ranger (8), Thief (10), Cleric/Fighter (6), Cleric/Magic-User (6), Fighter/Magic-User (8), Magic-User/Thief (8)

Half-Orc: Acrobat (6), Assassin (12), Berserker (10), Cavalier (8), Cleric (6), Fighter (10), Thief (6), Cleric/Thief (6)

Still considering if I want to keep the Dragonborn and Changeling (sort of like Tieflings) or not. 

Also, my Acrobat class is an amalgam of the Monk and Thief/Acrobat. Assassin is what you'd expect, sort of a Fighter/Thief with an instant kill ability. Bard is a lore-master class, not a minstrel. Berserker is the barbarian (but no rage, no magic-item smashing, basically the Berserker monster turned into a class). Cavalier is a mix of the UA Cavalier and the Paladin. Druid is based on the alternate Cleric in the Companion Set as a full progression class. Illusionist is a port of the AD&D class. Ranger is also a modified port of the AD&D class. 

Assassin and Ranger are both basically a Fighter/Thief, only one is urban and the other is rural/wilderness.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

I like this guy's thinking

 After struggling for a year or so to make my West Marches game feel like an old school exploration game using 5E, I gave up and switched to Classic D&D. Don't regret the change at all. But yesterday, I clicked on this "suggested video" on YouTube and liked what the guy had to say. He's making videos for 5E, but at least this one from yesterday and one more I watched today make me think that he understands old school play and what makes it fun and interesting. 

In this one, he talks about how you don't need a lot of game mechanical resolution for a lot of exploration-based play in the game. Thinking of Johnathan Tweet's "Drama-Fortune-Karma" breakdown of how to resolve actions, exploration is mostly a mix of drama and karma, and the rules tell you when you need to involve fortune. Old school play tends to have a different idea of when fortune should come into it (newer school play being very character skill check based, while old school tends to be more about DM systems of management or set abilities with set probabilities), but in both new and old, drama and karma (and some common sense) can manage a lot of it. 

The second video, which I just watched shortly before posting, deals with Simulationism (of the dreaded GNS theory). He's got an interesting take on what simulationism means, and his discussion of having a stable and unbalanced world to game in again seems very old school. 

I think I'll be watching more from Zipperon Disney.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Class Consciousness

Talifer (aka Dean, who plays in my games and DMs what he calls Ozberron, now back to 4E rules) pointed out on my last post that most players are more familiar with AD&D and up editions where race and class are separate. But there's a part of me that really wants to get my game back to the simplicity of the four basic classes, plus demi-humans.

And really, Jeff Rients pointed this out in his blog a long time ago, the four Basic human classes really can represent any type of character in an Asian inspired game (along with some demi-humans). Now I'm going for something a bit more pan-Asian inspired in my home game, but the concept is valid.

Looking at the BX/BECMI options, the demi-humans are two variant Fighters and a single multi-class combination.

If I were to remodel my house rules on the idea of four basic classes but each can choose a specialty, I could cover a lot of demi-humans that way. Being a Dwarf is basically being a Fighter but with a few special abilities, and limited to 12th level. So if I were to make a general Fighter class with options to specialize as a Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger, or just better Fighter, I could also throw in Dwarf and Halfling as options for specialization.

In an OA setting, some yokai (demi-humans/fae) options might be options for another class. Kitsune (fox-spirits) could become a specialization for Magic-Users, as one example. A few non-human options might be like the Elf, with a multiclass combination specialty class, but most could be covered under the basic 4, just with some alternate abilities (and a level cap).

Of course, the danger is going overboard on this, like 2E kits, and overloading players with specialization options. That would just re-complicate things instead of simplifying. Having a big menu of options but only allowing a subset of them to fit the campaign looks good on paper, but some players inevitably want to play the banned content.

This will probably end up being just a thought experiment in the end, since the rules I use now do seem to work pretty well (a few tweaks here and there still needed). It's still fun to think about it, though.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


Once more, I'm thinking of revising how I want classes to work in Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins (my house rules version of Classic D&D, maybe yet another fantasy heartbreaker released to the public some day).

Right now, I've got separate race and class, with races that mimic 5E (since the West Marches game started as 5E) and classes that sorta emulate the 5E classes, but are really closer to 1E.

For TSR-East, I've got human PCs only as standard, with a selection of demi-human/yokai races as an option. So far, everyone who's tried a TSR-East class in West Marches has used a yokai race...but it's actually only a sample size of two, so that's not telling. In general, humans are preferred. I give them "advantage" on hit dice when they level up, along with access to every class and no level limit. That seems to do the trick.

But there's a part of me that wants to go back to race-as-class. And part of me that wants to get rid of the 5E races, or swap them out for something more ME. (I've already made "tieflings" into Changelings, which is more fairy tale/folklore than goth whatever). And I've got two ideas for maybe how to do it.

Back in 2017, I made a half-hearted attempt to create a TSR-Basic game, that only had the classic four character classes, and no multiclassing. Race was still separate from class, though. The thing is, each class had three or four options or class paths, sort of like 2E with kits, or 5E with their archetypes. So you could play a Fighter, but you could choose to be more of a barbarian, or a bit of a ranger, or just a great all-around warrior. I stopped working on that after a year or so of tinkering because I just wasn't needing it. My regular homebrew modifications were good (enough).

More recently, in line with my idea to go back to Race-as-Class, I was thinking of the Elf class. It's a Fighter/Magic-User hybrid. And one of the things I did as I was developing my additional classes for TSR was to think of each additional class as a hybrid of two classes (Bard is Cleric/Thief, Druid is Cleric/Magic-User, Ranger is Fighter/Thief, etc.) This was a process that happened over many years, and as the years went on, each new class became more of its own thing and less of a hybrid, because there were elements of 1E, 3E, or 5E that I wanted to incorporate, or else just my own ideas (my Bard is now really different from any other Bard class I've ever seen, and my players aren't too fond of it).

So here's my thinking.

Idea 1: revamp the classes along my old Basic idea. Four classes only, but with specializations available to get closer to other classes (Cleric can stay standard, or go more nature boy Druid, or more martial Paladin). Demi-humans will be race-as-class for better compatibility with old school modules and stuff. But I plan to give them some specialization paths as well, if I go this way.

Also, it would allow for better integration between TSR-West and TSR-East, since things like Samurai or Wushi (Wu Jen) could just be new specializations for the original four classes.

Idea 2: revamp the classes so there are 4 basic classes, and each multiclass option is listed as a combined class like the Elf. Demi-humans will be limited to two basic classes plus the multiclass class.

This will look like this: Cleric. Fighter. Magic-User. Thief. Cleric/Fighter (Paladin/Dwarf Knight). Cleric/Magic-User (Druid). Cleric/Thief (Bard). Fighter/Magic-User (???/Elf). Fighter/Thief (Ranger/Halfling). Magic-User/Thief (Illusionist).

Tentatively, anyway!

Oh, and in TSR-East I have Yakuza and Ninja using x on d6 or x on d10 for special abilities (Thief skills), but if I go with Idea 1, I'll probably switch back to % skills. Just up the chances all around.