Monday, December 26, 2005

"Beast Bind: New Testament" GET!

Still have RPGs on the brain, still posting here almost every day. This morning I finally got my copy of Beast Bind: New Testament from Kinokuniya.

The first thing I noticed was that the book was definitely printed in Japan. The size is smaller than our 8.5x11" format, and although it's a softcover book it has a slipcover. Looking under the cover I immediately noticed they did something clever: the back of the slipcover is the character sheet. The artist who did pretty but vaugely loli art on the front cover did that and a very brief comic, while other artists did the interior art, which is actually surprisingly sparse. Only the first 16 pages are in color, while the rest are in black and white (an approach I haven't seen in an RPG since Mekton Z). The layout was done by someone with definite skills, though it veers a little bit towards the cluttered aesthetic you see in Japanese magazines. The text is mostly in two narrow columns, albeit with lots of sidebars and diagrams, and the pages that list of numerous powers or other items are in vertical rectangular boxes arraged in a 3x3 or 3x4 grid. Western RPGs often have an example of play in the form of a dialogue showing what the GM and players say -- BBNT has those throughout the book to illustrate the rules.

It's going to take some time for me to read through it thoroughly -- I can read Japanese, but I can't really call myself fluent -- but from what I understand the system is actually relatively simple. The game has some archetypes for quicker character creation, but to start from scratch you first pick two "Bloods" (though you can double up on a single one). These are Artifact, Immortal, Irregular (a person with superhuman abilities), Stranger (someone from another world), Spirit, Celestial, Demon, Beast, Full Metal, Magician, and Legend. Each blood gives you 3-6 points in each attribute (Body, Reflexes, Emotion, Mind, Society), and then you have 3 points to put wherever you want. From each of the attributes (which range from 6 to 13 at character creation) you divide by 3 and round down to get the number you actually add to rolls, and there are about 13 skills total (stuff like Melee, Machine Operation, Knowledge, etc.) that add directly to these for rolls (and between your Bloods, your Cover identity, and your free points you only have 10 levels total). There are some other derived values, my favorite being FP, which are basically HP, but "FP" is short for "Flesh Points" (or maybe Fresh Points...). Rolls are just 2d6 plus modifiers vs. a target number.

The neat think about this game is mainly just that it's such an all-out gonzo manga take on the "supernaturals hiding in the modern day" thing. Among the included archetypes are not only a Rogue Vampire and Werewolf Cop, but a Magical Girl, a tokusatsu style transforming hero, and an android (well, gynoid) combat maid. It doesn't have the Rune Blade archetype that was in the first edition, but you can make that easily enough, along with a zillion other things. The different Bloods determine what Arts and Hyper Arts you can take, and I find the fact that the Full Metal Blood has an Art called Gospel Engine too cool for words. (It lets a machine character have a soul in case you're wondering). I am reminded not a little of Exalted's Charms, but without the trees of prerequisites. Unlike Exalted the character sheet has spaces for the relevant data and more importantly a spot for writing the relevant page reference.

Most of what makes it seem different from Western RPGs is subtleties of presentation and aesthetics. It's meant to be set up very much like an anime episode, with rules and guidelines addressing setting up scenes and whether a given PC can participate in a given scene, and it recommends doing trailers/previews for each session. Still, reading 272 pages in Japanese is going to take me a while. ^_^;

As a side note, when looking through websites for TRPGs I noticed that some of the art I'd seen in Masamune Shirrow's Intron Depot artbooks was actually originally for some of the Asura System TRPG books. I definitely need to start making a (reasonable) list of TRPGs for my friends to look for when they take a trip to Japan (which in turn means figuring out where the heck they should go to find them; I think there's a place or two in Akihabara).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

24 Hour Hikikomori

Holy crap I've been posting a lot. But then I've been writing two RPGs and reading lots more (I'm about halfway through reading Dogs In The Vineyard, and I finished reading Primetime Adventures; more on those when I've had time to digest). Anyway.

I'd been thinking about trying my hand at the 24 Hour RPG thing for a while, and today I came up with an idea for one. I've been reading this weird Japanese novel called Welcome to the NHK (there's also a manga adaptation, though AFAIK nothing published in English yet). It's about a hikikomori -- a guy who hardly ever leaves his apartment -- and the bizarre adventures he has. It gets into some very weird territory, including religion, drug use, conspiracy theories, otaku, lolicon, and so on. I have no idea how this would translate into an RPG, but I figure that's a good starting point for a 24 hour RPG.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Other Side

My friends and I had a Christmas party -- remarkable enough in itself just because we actually got together for a special occasion for once -- and one of the things we did was watching Kwoon. The actual episodes are hilarious, but the bonus features are actually funnier in a lot of cases. One of the longest shows Todd Roy, the main guy behind the series, promoting it at trade shows. Seriously, promoting the hell out of it. He's got a really entertaining title and he really wants to get it on the air, and he hasn't yet let up, even though each episode costs him thousands of dollars to make.

And I can't help but think, I'm so not cut out for that kind of thing. I'm not that much of a people person, and while I do like to go to cons on occasion, I find them mentally draining. Both professionally and creatively I'm more interested in working hard at typing stuff on a computer, because to me dealing with lots of people starts fun but quickly goes to that place where it ranges from boring to irritating. Designing RPGs is fun and satisfying, and while it would be nice to get a little monetary compensation for my work, I'm not sure I'm the right sort of person to be trying to sell stuff, least of all as a one-man operation. Granted, I'm perfectly willing to do it without making any money so long as it doesn't cost me much more besides time, and I think that's the kind of people the RPG hobby needs more of, but there's also something to be said for getting your work out there and having it experienced by people.

So, I really have no idea what to do about it, but then it's going to be a while before I have something finished enough that I need to worry about it.

Eternal Saga
I have some really awesome friends, for gaming with and other stuff. Between my various friends at the aforementioned Xmas party, I recieved two CRPGs for PS2 -- Makai Kingdom and Dragon Warrior VIII. Where a lot of tabletop RPG gamers (online at least) seem to complain about CRPGs as overly limiting, I take them as what they are (an entirely separate genre from tabletop RPGs) and enjoy them a lot when I'm in the right mood. So, another project that's been on the back burner for a loooong time (and every now and then I take it off, rip it apart, and put it back together again) is Eternal Saga, a generic CRPG-inspired tabletop RPG. I tend to get inspired to work on it whenever I play CRPGs, which is why the project never quite dies. It could wind up being another fantasy heartbreaker, and it is yet another combat-oriented gamist RPG (a friend of mine remarked that it's a lot like a sister game to Thrash -- being based on a video game genre and all). I still haven't worked out the main resolution mechanic, but I did come up with a few neat ideas here and there:
  • I stole the XP system of the .hack games, where every level is 1000 XP, but how much XP a given thing is worth depends on its level relative to yours. (In ES I'm using this so that rewards for roleplaying and whatnot always count the same amount towards your next level).
  • There are three character creation options: classes (pick one class and stick with it; like old-school D&D or a lot of MMOs), jobs (gain levels in multiple jobs ala D&D3e and FF Tactics), and point-based (no classes, like a lot of newer CRPGs, just points to spend however you like to create a unique character).
  • Bonus Points are spent on advantages and disadvantages, as well as starting gear. If the GM ups the starting level, the value of BP relative to GP increases for buying stuff.
  • A lot of things are based around construction systems (so getting those right is critical to making the game work) to let the GM easily come up with new classes/jobs, items, monsters, etc., since even within the same series no two CRPGs agree on the stats and whatnot for things. (OTOH the game will have a healthy selection of samples).

Thrash 2.0

With a project like Thrash 2.0, I can't help but get nostalgic and whatnot. On the one hand, I can't help but kick myself for taking so long to get this far -- it's literally been about three years, mostly taken up by distractions and procrastination -- but then I've learned a lot about RPGs and game design in that time. I'm barely even looking at Thrash 1.8 as I work on the new version because every time I do I see stuff that makes we wince. Plus I've changed enough core concepts that the utility of looking at the old version is kind of limited at this point. Still, even though the rules were really wonky at that point, my Karyuu Densetsu ("Legend of the Fire Dragon") campaign was the first really long, memorable campaign my group had post-high school. It was big and melodramatic and cheesy and the player characters were kicking ass all the time, when they weren't too busy bickering. There was a really fantastic mishmash of mythical stuff, from Thuggee assassins (one of whom had a Grab/Life Drain/Choke Slam combo move) to a village of hybrids of humans and the Four Sacred Animals, to bring sucked into a realm in the astral plane where dragons roam free, to redeeming one of the genetically engineered bunny-girl clones, not to mention the elemental ninja clans.

Every time I start thinking I've left Thrash behind for good, I find myself wanting to go back, both because of those memories and because the game had its fair share of fans. At its height I was getting emails from gamers all over the world, and there were a couple different translated versions in the works. After reading and playing dozens of new RPGs, I feel much better equipped to make Thrash into the kind of game I feel it deserves to be. To do that I wound up pretty much tossing out the old edition and starting from scratch; clinging to old (bad) ideas and having no real focus for new ones is a lot of what was bogging down previous attempts at putting together 2.0.

Styles as a character trait are completely gone. That approach was full of flaws to begin with, and none of the alternative approaches I came up with were making things better. Instead, I wound up using the "Techniques" from Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, minus having styles determine a character's available maneuvers. The end result is that I don't have to worry nearly as much about styles being accurate or inaccurate, and you don't have to create new character traits to have a character whose style isn't in the book. While in SFII they went to the trouble of listing a style for every character (even if some of them were odd or just plain made up, a situation that wasn't improved when the game was localized for our neck of the woods), many fighting games don't bother. Most of the cast of Soul Calibur just fights with some European weapon, and there aren't many cool style names for that kind of stuff. It's much easier to say that if you want to make a video game Tae Kwon Do guy you need to give him lots of big kick moves.

The new AP system is probably the most important and radically altered aspect of the system, and it seems to fix several of the combat system's biggest problems in one fell swoop. All characters get 3 AP per turn, and unspent ones are actually saved up, to a maximum of 6 (taking a cue from Xenosaga). Combos, counters, and so on are all so much simpler this way. Improvised combos are just doing multiple moves in a turn, and combo maneuvers let you commit a certain amount of AP to do a set number of moves that would ordinarily use slightly more AP. Very few tabletop RPGs actually use any kind of Action Point system -- the closest I know of is Shadowrun, and they may have changed that in the new edition -- so I'm doubly curious to see how it works out in play. I'm definitely going to put those glass beads to use for tracking AP.

Maneuvers got a lot simpler too, just because I decided they should mostly be a character's special moves (the ones that, in fighting games, take a controller motion). There was a lot of confusing and unnecessary variety in maneuvers, especially throws, and paring down that selection looks like it'll benefit the game substantially. It'll probably be a little harder to make a realistic martial artist, but then this is Thrash and that's not a bad thing.

I also dropped the idea of doing a unified point-buy system. It was Mutants & Masterminds that convinced me to do this. I've heard good things about M&M and when I picked up the book and read it I was inclined to agree, but when creating a character it's hard to get a good sense of point scale, and it's just time-consuming. (Which is part of why we're probably using T&J for our upcoming superhero campaign). For a superhero game it makes sense that you'd need to be able to divert points towards attributes if you feel inclined to make a super-strong guy, but starting Thrash characters have a narrower range anyway. Right now I have Thrash set up with three pools of points at character creation -- Attributes, Techniques, and Everything Else (Edges, Flaws, Abilities/Skills, and Maneuvers).

Tokyo Heroes definitely has a bit more of an "indie" vibe to it than Thrash (insofar as you can when your game is based on a massively popular formulaic institution of Japanese television), but Thrash is where it needs to be. The thing that did the most to help me work on the basic mechanics was finally reading Unisystem (in the form of the Angel RPG). It actually uses a d10+Attribute+Skill mechanic just like Thrash's Interlock system roots, and it even has maneuvers (though they're a little different, more a quick-reference than a character trait). To the limited extent that I understand GNS theory, Thrash is basically Gamist. I've been trying to give the game a little more tactical depth (to the extent I can). I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I did wind up dropping a "Fighter Nature" mechanic (where you pick an archetype of why your character fights and you get a minor special ability and a way to earn more Karma points) because it doesn't fit with the general direction the rest of the mechanics are going. While I wonder what a more Narrativist anime martial arts game would be like, I think if I do another system I'd like it to not be about characters who fight constantly.

Just as I've been watching sentai and magical girl shows for Tokyo Heroes, for Thrash I need to get back into playing fighting games. Most of the time when I get inspired to work on Thrash it's because I was playing some fighting game that I really enjoyed. Party's Breaker and Eternal Fighter Zero helped with that in a big way at one point, and I really need to get around to playing Melty Blood at some point. Doujin games seem to be the last bastion of good 2-D fighting games these days; even SNK is trying to go 3-D. For whatever reason there aren't a whole lot of fighting anime around though. King of Fighters: Another Day looks *really* cool, but it's only sporadically released shorts, Fighting Beauty Wulong isn't being subbed (I should watch the raws anyway, really), and people online act like I'm crazy for liking Air Master (and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha for that matter). I think my Dreamcast died though (and I never got very far in DiGi Charat Fantasy either...), so I'd have to borrow a friend's or something.

It's good but weird that now when I watch sentai and magical girl shows I find myself mapping things out in terms of the Tokyo Heroes game mechanics (though I'm still not sure how exactly the Dekarangers' SWAT Mode is going to translate into game terms). Hopefully it'll work that way for Thrash as well. ^_^

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Writing Style In RPGs, In Tokyo Heroes

Lately I've been pondering the craft of writing -- putting together words with skill -- as it applies to RPGs. And not having much luck. One of my other hobbies is writing fiction and poetry, and I like to think I'm at least not completely horrible at it. However I find I have a hell of a time fully applying what writing ability I have to roleplaying game texts. I'm sure the differing writing genre makes a difference (I have a harder time with creative nonfiction too by the way), especially when it comes to writing game rules.

The RPG books that I can remember liking the writing style have mostly been either crisp and clear (Primetime Adventures) or sort of like a really excited yet coherent friend telling you about cool stuff (octaNe). Exalted books always develop a really awesome setting and have sentences here and there where the wording seems awkward to me. Part of that, I'm sure, is that I've found that as I work on longer pieces of fiction, the revision process lengthens exponentially rather than in a linear fashion (I don't want to talk about how long this novella is taking me, and I'm afraid of what'll happen when I try for a full-length novel). Another part of it is simply differing priorities; I'm not just writing, I'm putting together a game that needs a coherently interlocking array of rules and concepts. Just typing up the rules as I have them in my head is a challenge sometimes. I'm wondering if I should've tried taking a technical writing class alongside all those creative writing classes... And I may have to finally break down and get Dogs In The Vineyard (even though it's not something I'd run with my group), since its writing style is yet another of the things people keep praising it for.

The thing about Tokyo Heroes is that it deals with a genres that have only a cult following in the English-speaking world, so there are a lot of non-rule concepts I want to convey in the text, but I keep finding myself using "noodly" language with lots of conditional phrases ("Often the Sixth Ranger is..."). That's partly just a fault of how I think and write; another reason I like writing fiction is it's easier for me to get away from that. One idea I'm contemplating is using vingettes to convey certain concepts. Granted, RPG-related fiction is notoriously bad, outdoing even novelizations of movies at times, but I like to think I could do a bit better. ^_^;

Anyway, for that (and other purposes) I want to put together sets of original characters -- a sentai team and a magical girl team. For the magical girls I'm just taking the protagonists of a story that never quite came together, Magical Girl Rose, which takes some cues from Abaranger for how the five heroes are organized (three main heroes, one mentor, one who starts off evil and comes around at the end, and a dangerous/defective transformation item thrown into the mix). For the sentai I originally at least had the name (Dynaranger), except that then I'd wind up having heroes with the same names (Dyna+color) as Kagaku Sentai Dynaman. Besides, I want to come up with a more detailed and somewhat less generic sentai team concept. In the "wish I'd thought of it" category is one of the PBP RPGs in the Japan Hero forums, "Kensei Sentai Slashman." One of my favorite things about OVA is that it has a set of sample characters and uses them for every illustration and example.

And in other news, I ordered the aforementioned TRPG Super Session Daikyouen book with the Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger game in it, though it'll take around 3 weeks to arrive. I don't feel so bad for not knowing 饗宴 (kyouen; "feast"), since apparently the clerk at Kinokuniya (a native speaker) didn't either. A friend of mine is moving to Japan next month and I'm going to be sorely tempted to bug him to buy TRPGs for me... But it'd be much better to wait for my other friends to take their 2-week trip to Japan instead.

I've been trying to watch more source material for Tokyo Heroes, starting with Tokyo Mew Mew. I don't know that I'd call the series good, but it's definitely fun, and as usual in spite of the fact that between sentai and magical girls the number of hours of programming I've watched is now in the triple digits (holy crap, I never realized that before!) I find I need to watch it with a notebook in arm's reach, should I suddenly gain new insights into the genre.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Japanese RPGs, Anime RPGs

I came across a free magical girl RPG from Japan called "Witch Quest," though it's over a 200 pages of Japanese text, so it'll take me a long while to read through it. (This while I have a copy of Beast Bind: New Testament on the way...) OTOH it seems to focus more on witch-style magical girls; the introduction starts off saying:
Haven't you ever wanted to use magic?

You could transform into someone else...
Or climb on a broom and soar through the sky...
Speak to plants and animals...
Make people smile...

This book, this "Book of Magic," is for you.
You know, learning Japanese takes a lot of work, but for me it's been totally worth it. (the main portal site for Japanese TRPGs) actually has a ton of good info and neat stuff -- it's just that it's mostly dense Japanese text. In the English pages there's a section on free games (and a more frequently updated Japanese version too of course). There's one called Cute Sister TRPG (or CST for short); as far as I can tell the PCs are all girls who are around a single NPC guy. It's entertaining to read just for the special abilities; there are classes like "Clumsy Girl" with special abilities for inadvertently causing damage or being really persistent and "Animal Girl" for stuff like having cat ears. I just wish it wasn't 172 pages long... ^_^;

If I keep this up I'll wind up being "the other guy who's into Japanese RPGs" on the internet (the first being Andy K), though at the moment I don't have the funds to do stuff like take a trip to Japan and drop $500 on RPGs (the $50 it'll cost to order Beast Bind is more than I should be spending). From what I've seen so far (which I admit isn't all that much) it seems like Japanese RPGs aren't more or less innovative, but they are grounded in a different culture and evolved a little differently. Tenra Bansho Zero sounds especially intriguing from what I've heard about it, but I think I'll hold out for the English version. Of course, being able to explore an entirely different RPG subculture is an intriguing idea, to the point where I kind of wish I knew a third or fourth language (German has the coolest word for RPG -- rollenspiel) to see what's cooking elsewhere in the world. But, being a sucker for cool manga-style art, taking an interest in the Japanese ones works for me. I need the practice anyway; I'm pretty sure I didn't quite pass the Level 2 JLPT (and I still haven't finished reading NHK ni Youkoso).

I was somewhat aware of this already, but another thing I've noticed is that there's no "anime" RPGs in Japan in the way that we have BESM, RandomAnime, and OVA. (Though Mekton was in fact the basis for the Japanese Gundam TRPG, coming out in English some time this century). To the extent that even stuff with anime/manga style art consciously imitates the original medium, it adopts a narrow focus. This is not unlike how in Japan there aren't any TV or radio stations devoted to anime; there's not much need when it creeps into everything (there's this new phenomenon of moe guidebooks to things where cute anime girls tell you all about English phrases or kanji or WWII military vehicles and no I'm not making this up). Anime takes a different shape in the American fan's psyche, as something special and exotic rather than being a part of the landscape.

As a wannabe game designer, I've given up on the idea of doing my own universal anime RPG (before people start using the term "anime heartbreaker"), even though I got relatively close to finishing an anime flavor of Fudge ("Chocola Anime") at one point. This is partly because I'd rather use my energy elsewhere, and partly because there are already some very good ones on the market. The most anime-like campaign I've run used Fudge, and between the existing universal anime RPGs and the numerous normal universal RPGs there's more than enough stuff to work with. (I should know; I wrote an anime sourcebook for Open Core). Instead, my model is to take a more specific genre and come up with a carefully tailored game for it, or if I don't feel that's necessary, simply pick out a suitable system and write a sourcebook for that. For Tokyo Heroes I have very, very specific ideas about what I want out of the system, so it has to be built from the ground up. Mascot-tan and Thrash are likewise along those lines, though Thrash is a little more mainstream in its style, reminiscient of Interlock and Unisystem with a dose of Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game tossed in. For Angel Soul (a Scryed-esque mini campaign setting) there's no great need for an original system, though at the moment I'm not 100% sure what existing system I'd use. I was originally thinking of going for Anime d20, but now I'm leaning more towards OVA.

Where BESM mostly tries to enable anime-style gaming by not getting in the way, OVA does actually have a few options that IMO fit really well with the typical melodramatic mainstream anime, to the point where there are a lot of times reading the book where I asked my self, "Why the hell didn't I think of that?" It's still mostly a rules-light universal RPG reminiscent of Risus or PDQ (Risus also kicks ass for the right kind of anime gaming BTW) but with just a little extra crunchiness. On the other hand zillions of people seem to be doing fine with online free-form anime roleplaying every day, so while the system plays a part in roleplaying, it isn't actually necessary per se, much less a particular "anime" RPG system. Conversely, it wouldn't hurt for people to stop assuming that an "anime RPG" has to cover everything from DiGi Charat to Grave of the Fireflies. Personally, if a system can do (off the top of my head) Bleach, Slayers, Air Master, Tokyo Underground, Scryed, Trigun, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Galaxy Angel, and Vandread, I'll be really happy with it. Though come to think of it, a Ghibli RPG might be-- Nah.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Character as Communication/Tokyo Heroes

Three posts in less that twelve hours! Woo! (I really have had RPGs on the brain lately...)

Reading all this theory blog stuff (not to mention finally reading through more of The Burning Wheel) got me thinking of this idea of "character as communication." This post in Jay Loomis' LJ digs into the nature of the whole disadvantage concept as seen in GURPS, which helped bring an idea together:

A character sheet is a means of communication between player and GM, and both sides need to treat it as such. When a player puts a disadvantage or somesuch on the character, he should be in effect saying to the GM "I want the game to partly be about this!" Burning Wheel stresses this quite a bit actually, though with the added wrinkle that the group will periodically vote on new traits to be added to each player character based on how they act in-game. In RPGs, players tend to get disadvantages for points and hope that the actual downside will be minimalized, while GMs can sometimes get too caught up in the overall plot to have the PCs' individual stuff be more than a sub-plot.

I'm pretty sure I've been guilty of both, though my character for my friend's upcoming superhero campaign has some serious stuff that will come back to haunt her (which come to think of it is not unlike my character for his Macross-based Mekton Z game, though for very different reasons). With my superhero character (Victory Rider) I went so far as to even list off some possible plot/episode ideas. I deliberately left her father's alien origins a total mystery, and also suggested some wacky stuff with her rider transformation getting weird before it adapts to her physiology.

For Tokyo Heroes I'm attempting to do something with this idea. The game has a "Keys" mechanic similar to TSOY, but for Hero Dice that are shared by the group, and the group chooses 2 Keys that are possesed by all team members, and the player selects one related to his character's Aspect (ranger color) and has the option to buy a "Personal Key" to boot. Each player also has a Heroic Flaw (inspired in part by Enemy Gods), which I'm thinking of linking to the individual XP-type mechanic somehow. None of these have any point benefit during character creation; you have to pick them. Between those the players are saying a lot about what they want out of the campaign, so the text recommends that the GM either have copies of the character sheets or make a cheat sheet of the characters' stats, and look at them before doing any serious campaign planning. This is something I'm definitely going to be trying out with pretty much any game I run.

Tokyo Heroes also has a "spotlight episode" mechanic. In sentai and magical girl shows there are often episodes that revolve around one particular hero; the team gets drawn into the plot because of a friend of that hero, and it's that hero who leads the way into battle. In Dekaranger the episode titles are actually color coded, and there are episodes like "Perfect Blue" -- where DekaBlue has an old partner come to Earth for a visit, but turns out to be a bad guy, and they have a climactic shootout. So, in Tokyo Heroes a player can invest personal points (I've been calling them Karma in my notes, but as a placeholder) -- sort of like the Star Power in Hong Kong Action Theater 1st Edition -- at the end of a session to have the next session be a spotlight episode. The character gets certain mechanical benefits and has the plot center around them for that session. In spite of that last sentence being really horrible convoluted, the point is that this is a way for players to force the issue and make it so that their characters' desires and whatnot become a part of the game.

Also, just when I thought there weren't any other sentai RPGs out there at all, it turns out there is in fact one in Japan. It's called Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger (Hero Sentai Justice Ranger), part of a 175-page RPG anthology called TRPG Super Session: Daikyouen. From what I've read it seems to be a little toungue-in-cheek, and pleasing the sponsors in order to get more toys is a major part of the game. Still, I'm definitely going to see about ordering a copy from Kinokuniya when I get a chance.

Neat RPG Blog Posts

[Actual Play] Mascot-tan: Tiny Aliens

Admittedly Mascot-tan isn't the sort of game that requires really massive amounts of playtesting, but I did run a test session anyway, partly to look for any kinks and partly just because I thought it would be fun.

The setting I came up with I call "Tiny Aliens," which I describe as "Bottle Fairy meets Invader Zim." The PCs are aliens from the Planet Kyut, sent on a first contact mission, and I explicitly told the players to choose whether their characters were interested in peaceful contact or conquest and not tell anyone else, not even me. Also in this setting the -tan suffix of the game is actually an honorific for the Kyutian elites; the normal citizens have to use -chan, while members of the imperial family are called -chama or "Your Awesomeness."

Character creation had a slight hiccup because the players had a hard time coming up with a full four Gimmicks, but I suspect that's partly because of the alternative setting. (When statting up the RPG Girls I had a hard time limiting myself to only four). For that I'm thinking of just having a rule that the GM can "call time" and the players lose any Gimmick slots they haven't used up. And it might be amusing to have them be stuck with any Gimmicks they haven't finished writing on the character sheet. ("I don't know what a 'Special Atta' is, but you'll find out if you try to use it.")

The first thing I noticed was that, to my surprise, the Rock-Paper-Scissors-based resolution mechanic actually worked really smoothly. This was especially surprising because (1) actualy writing the rules put my brain in knots, and (2) we never play RPS normally in the first place. I also seemed to be really good at it, though that's partly because I would space out and do things like throw Rock three times in a row.

Handing out and spending "moe" tokens (I renamed Popularity, though I still haven't posted that revision to the PDF on the website) worked out well too. I'd gotten a couple things of those flat marble glass beads months ago (at Cost Plus where they're meant for plants and dirt cheap) and finally put them to use. Mostly I gave them out when the players were entertaining, though I docked Akido-tan for a reference to anal probes.

In keeping with the spirit of the game, I did my best to mess with the players a bit. I had them choose a number between 1 and 6 for the opening theme, though I was lying then because it was going to be "Birthday Cake" by Cibo Matto no matter what. At one point I announced that whoever bidded the least moe would be attacked by a housecat, and at the end when the fanboy's little sister found them, assumed they were dolls, and played dress-up, I had each player decide on the outfit put on the character of the player to their right. Then a 1-6 choice (for real this time) for the ending theme (Electric Light Orchestra - Twilight) and preview background music (Unsolved Mysteries), though Akido-tan's preview was kind of meh.

What threw the session a bit off track was that all three players made characters with a Smarts of 1; they'd decided to have stupid characters, and roleplayed accordingly. It was very fun and entertaining, but I basically had to abandon any hope of them actually completing the adventure's objective (them being so tiny, they were supposed to fend off a housecat).

Akido-tan saved me the trouble of having the ship be too damaged to fly. When they stepped out of their tiny flying saucer that had crashed in a strange world (some anime fanboy's messy room) and Genko-tan asked "How are we going to get home now!?", Akid0-tan grinned and said, "We're not!" and hit the remote detonator for the explosives she'd planted all over the ship.

The funniest part was when they got up on the desk; they found all these plastic figures of anime characters, and being cute, miniature anime characters themselves, the figures looked an awful lot like Kyutians. Genko-tan went off about how they'd become "plastonians" (gasp!) and Honeko-tan's question was, "WHY ARE THEY HAPPY?!" They also borrowed some (non-functional) armaments from the figures. The computer was on too, and Genko-tan briefly chatted with someone on AIM, and managed to mistake a casual chat attempt for whoever was responsible for the "plastonians" being on to them. There was also a brief bit of Katamari Damacy action with the ship's gravity core, and a moment when they managed to make contact with the Kyutian Empire's Second Crown Princess, who gloated about how she'd ensured they were stranded there, but Genko-tan didn't get it at all.

But anyway, it was a quick, fun, and zany game (I think we played for two hours tops), as I'd intended, though the players were a lot of what made it work.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

First Post - What To Expect

I've decided to try to separate my RPG-related musings from the white noise of my LiveJournal. I don't know how long I'll keep updating regularly, but right now I have the RPG bug unusually badly, so I'll probably be posting quite a bit for a little while.

Right now I'm working on two different systems -- the second edition of Thrash, and a new sentai RPG called Tokyo Heroes. Both are now going really well, to the point where having a version for playtesting is going to be mostly a matter of getting what's in my head and notebook into the Word doc, plus some grunt work (designing maneuvers) in the case of Thrash. Both are going to need plenty of playtesting, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

This evening we finished up a mini-campaign run by my friend Elton, using Fudge and based in the same universe (a science fantasy space opera setting that I really need to write a book for some day) as the long campaign I ran and finished not too long ago. Up next is my friend Mike's superhero campaign, for which it looks like he's settled on Truth & Justice. So, I'll be printing out the pdf (and Prime Time Adventures too) for further perusal, since I have a terrible time reading pdfs on a computer monitor. This is partly because for some reason people always do them in two or more columns, which makes the file just annoying to read when you have to either scroll up and down or make the page too small to read in the first place.

In the past I've had a really hard time wrapping my head around the stuff that's going on with RPG theory, but then I came across this page, which contains links to numerous RPG design and theory blogs. I used Plucker to take it with me to work on my PDA, and I found I was actually understanding most of what was said. I don't want to go knocking Ron Edwards' articles, but for various reasons they just don't do it for me. In the couple of hours it took for me to go through the various blogs I already felt like I was getting much deeper into understanding new concepts in RPGs, and it affected Tokyo Heroes right then and there.

So, while you shouldn't expect too much, I will be occasionally philosophizing about RPG theory here, as well as talking about where things are with my games and my experiences with actual play.