Saturday, January 21, 2006

TRPG Super Session Daikyouen

My Amazon Japan order came a LOT faster than I expected, so I have TRPG Super Session Daikyouen in my hands. I haven't had a chance to do more than skim through the six games contained inside.
  • Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger: The aforementioned "Hero Sentai Justice Ranger." Earth (especially Japan) is being targeted. There are heroes who will rise up to defend the world. But... defending the world isn't cheap. Pleasing the sponsors earns you Sponsor Points, which are actually divided up by the category of sponsor, so you get different effects from using video game sponsor points versus foodstuff sponsor points. The four attributes are Courage, Strength, Gentleness, and Sponsorship.
  • Super Shounen Shoujo Comical RPG: Genki Zenkai!: A game about fifth-graders with super powers. The three attributes are Heart, Technique, and Body, and powers are determined by picking out archetypes (Android, Esper, Magical Girl, Scientist, Sueprhero, Ninja, etc.).
  • Monster Maker Senki: Road to Valhalla: I don't know a whole lot about this one just yet except that it has a definite tactical bent to it. It uses paper minis and hex grid maps, and the back of the book's slipcover is in fact a map and color paper minis for this game.
  • Survivor: Kotou Seikan: Of the six, yhis is probably the most "indie" in its concept. Ordinary people are stuck on a deserted island and have to survive and find a way to get home. There's a good amount of little tokens and whatnot that give it a little bit of a boargame look.
  • Heroes & Heroines: Herohero Fantasy: The art for this game has a generically non-Western feel to it (kind of like some of CLAMP's stuff), and it seems to be a fantasy RPG that makes extensive use of cards, to the point where it's practically an RPG/card game hybrid. One page in particular has monsters, which look like diagrams of cards arranged to look roughly like the critter in question.
  • Burnin'X'mas: Tatakau Santa-san: I'm not sure what to make of this one, except that it looks crazy and nifty. Apparently the PCs are given the job of making Christmas happen, and you pick a Class (Santa or Reindeer) and Type (Perform, Assault, Stealth). There's also a busty, scantily clad Santa-girl (I'm not sure, but I think it came out before Ken Akamatsu's Itsudatte My Santa, which recently was made into an OAV), a mean-looking cyborg with a santa hat, and an array of wicked-looking yet holiday-themed weapons, plus a really blatant send-up to Initial D.
Also, for each game there's a 2-page color comic introducing the general setting in the front, a fairly long replay (4-8 pages), and a B&W comic showing gamers reacting to the game. And although pretty, the cover has almost nothing to do with the contents. The interior art varies in quality, but it's always very appropriate and relevant to the particular game.

Anyway, more on this when I've had a chance to read through more.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Status Report

I dug into Tokyo Heroes again after not looking at it for a couple weeks, and it looks like the actual rules are mostly done now. I need to fill out the rules for making bad guys, finish writing up the sample characters, and the last of the fluffy flavor text. Hopefully once that's done I can get back into working on Thrash 2.0 -- which is also mainly a matter of grunt work at this point. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to get done once school starts, of course. This semester is looking to be pretty intense.

On the TH inspirational stuff front, Tokyo Mew Mew has been getting really good lately (I'm on episode 37 right now), mainly by finding interesting things to do with the different characters. I watched the first few episodes of Genseishin Jutsirisers and was surprised by how good it was (especially after seeing the first episode of Sazer-X). It's basically a sentai show, but it has its own distinct feel, separate from the Super Sentai Series. Similar to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (but in different ways) it deals with what it means to be a "hero" with weird powers. Two of the main characters are high school kids, and they're fighting in spite of their misgivings and fears about the whole thing. I also like how the girl character is on the school's lacrosse team basically as an excuse for the characters to have a metal stick handy when mooks show up.

Last night we had our first session of Truth & Justice, though it was mostly prologue and roleplaying. The real super action hasn't started yet, but the campaign is off to a good start at least. We've been playing mostly on Sundays at the FLGS, and the first time we played on a Saturday it was much more crowded than we've ever seen it before. It's definitely encouraging to see that many people playing games.

Ether Star RPG: Coming Some Day Maybe

Yet another RPG I want to work on is "Ether Star" (formerly "Star Sorcerer," possibly to be called something else if I can come up wiht something better). I came up with the setting a while back; it basically mixes bits and pieces of Xenosaga, Phantasy Star Online, and a few other things, the result being an anime space opera setting with a big emphasis on "ether powers." Ether is sort of a distillation of psionics and magic into a single scientific practice, and is heavily used in the setting's technology.

The original Star Sorcerer campaign I ran used Fudge (with very loose rules) and was generally a big success with my group. Writing the actual book has proven to be more daunting of a task than I expected. Still, I want to sit down and try some time, and I do want to use Fudge still. One of the things I like about Beast Bind is that its character creation has a lot of "flavor" too it that generic point-based character creation lacks. There's just something about picking the Full Metal blood and then the Gospel Engine art to go with it. I'm actually kind of starting to dislike noodly point-based character creation. Granted you don't have to deal with it after your first game session, but I think a game system can go a long ways towards helping create interesting or at least pertinent characters. octaNe's archetypes kick ass on that front, and Weapons of the Gods lets you spend Destiny points on loresheets to give your character more plot hooks, and of course good old D&D's classes give you iconic characters with pre-defined niches.

Although I was toying with using Five-Point Fudge, my idea for Ether Star is to go for more Japanese-style character creation and have players select a race (human, variant human, android, simulant) and two professions (or your can double up on one), plus a few levels of stuff to personalize attributes, skills, gifts, and faults. That's the thing about Fudge; it's basically just an action resolution mechanic and a list of suggestions, but most published Fudge-based RPGs just use the Objective Character Creation rules as-is, making character creation much like every other point-based RPG out there.

OTOH I do want to come up with some kind of HP type rules for Ether Star; the damage rules of Fudge work, but for me at least they're a little clunky, plus a death spiral isn't quite the right thing for an anime-style epic space opera setting IMO. And there's the matter of vehicles/mecha and the actual ether powers too. But realistically, I think I'd better try to finish up a playtest version of Tokyo Heroes before I get into yet another RPG project.

Plus the major problem with Ether Star right now is that it doesn't have a good answer to the "What do you do?" question. In Tokyo Heroes and Thrash it's pretty obvious, but as it stands now Ether Star is a pretty wide-open setting, a big galaxy where there's all kinds of neat stuff going on, but nothing so pressing that anyone can assume it's about a particular thing. My campaign had a pretty clear focus, but it was based on keeping the PCs in the dark about a lot of stuff for a long while, so I'm not sure how effective it would be to have the secrets of the ancient Terran Empire be the answer to the "What do you do?" question. The lack of this kind of focus is one of the major things that keeps me from doing a whole lot with most of the White Wolf stuff I own. Solar Exalted are tossed out into the world to find their destiny, Dragon-Blooded are mired in imperial life, Sidereals mostly have to do stuff for Yu-Shan, etc., and all of that is pretty vague compared to "kill things, take their stuff, get stronger to kill stronger things" or "kill monsters and make people less afraid so the DeadLands disappear" or "fight supervillains for truth and justice." (Though I've been hearing on that the new WoD books tend to be chock full of plot hooks--like they should've been over a decade ago).

Housecleaning is pretty much done though, but then school starts up in about a week and a half, and my schedule's going to be pretty heavy this time around.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mundane Details

Argh. So, when I finally got the postcard about my order from Kinokuniya it was one of those ones that says the book is out of print. Amazon Japan says differently, though I probably won't get my copy of TRPG Super Session Daikyouen from there until early March. I haven't gotten much done apart from some housecleaning for the past week or so, but having a cleaner environment to work in does help some.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Stating Things Clearly

I've gotten a lot further reading Beast Bind (still need to get through the setting and GM chapters though). Apart from the way the game favors quick character creation at the expense of a certain amount of player choice, I think the main thing that separates BBNT from your average Western RPG is that there are a lot of things that are spelled out explicitly that would be left vague or unmentioned in a game from our neck of the woods. The book actually maps out the process of going through a game session, from "pre-session" (settling in, getting materials ready, episode trailer, etc.) to "on-session" (the actual scenario) to "after-session" (handing out experience points, other finishing paperwork, etc.), and it even goes so far as to suggest heading to a family restaurant (famiresu -- basically Denny's-like places) or coffee shop to relax and discuss the game.

I've also heard that Replays are a major part of the hobby in Japan. A replay is a transcript of a game session, including both in-character stuff and game-mechanic stuff, and they're common on fan websites and even sold as doujinshi. Andy K mentioned that these were helpful to the hobby in that since it was even more of a niche thing there was an even greater need for people to be able to understand what it's all about just from reading something. Actual Play threads tend to summarize more often than not, while a replay is a blow-by-blow transcript. This and the above makes me wonder whether play styles in Japan might be more homogenous than here. When you go back to the original D&D, no two groups really played it quite the same way, and it looks like each successive generation of roleplayers came to it with different games and different expectations.

The game also as divides the scenario up into scenes. Like in World of Darkness (which was probably in some ways an influence on BBNT) there are powers with "one scene" as the duration, but it also makes a big deal of figuring out which PCs appear in a given scene. Sometimes you can even make an "appearance check" (登場チェック) -- a roll on the Society attribute -- to see if your character shows up. It's not a basic, vital part of the game like in Primetime Adventures, but it's there. And the thing is, given its quasi-narrative nature an RPG session inevitably has scenes, even if the group isn't conscious of them as such. In writing fiction you have the whole scene vs summary thing, and I think that shows up in RPGs too. Even more so than in prose, using scene instead of summary emphasizes things, so I wonder if deliberately using that kind of distinction might be a good way to keep a game more tightly focused.

Needless to say I'm playing with some of this stuff for Tokyo Heroes. A sentai show contains about 20 minutes of new footage per episode, all of it meant to appeal to hyperactive little kids (and to a lesser extend the geeky older fans). The added twist for TH is that in a battle scene where a teammate has been hit at least once you can spend a Hero Die to automatically make it to the scene to help out. (Of course, sentai heroes do run into situations where they have to split up, so coming to help out isn't an option).

The aforementioned TRPG Super Session Daikyouen book I ordered should be coming pretty soon too -- hopefully some time this week, but given that most everything Japanese grinds to a halt for new year's, it's hard to say exactly when. Hopefully Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger won't contain anything that has me ripping Tokyo Heroes apart completely and starting over. I already did that once... ^_^;

On the plus side, I finally made some progress with Kidou Sentai Dynaranger, my generic example sentai team. And it is a little generic; it fits the genre perfectly I think, but I doubt at this point they'd do another general sci-fi based sentai series. If nothing else it'd wind up looking too much like the Chouseishin series (which seems to have completely fallen from grace with Sazer-X).

Sunday, January 01, 2006


The Year 2006
2006 is upon us. There was a thread on asking "What RPG products are you looking forward to in 2006?" Maybe I just don't keep up on upcoming releases enough, but for both tabletop and video games there aren't that many titles I'm really anticipating. For tabletop RPGs the list goes:
  1. Tenra Bansho Zero
  2. BESM Third Edition
  3. Anima Beyond Fantasy
And of the three, Tenra is the only one I'm strongly interested in playing. I just don't have the kind of group where running a game as crunch-tacular as Anima seems to be is practical. We've been using Fudge for long while now, and our next game is going to use Truth & Justice.

What I'm looking forward to in 2006 (which is next week, come to think about it) has more to do with actually getting my own stuff up and running. I'm in the process of writing two different games, which will need plenty of playtesting (especially Thrash 2.0). I also have a habit of buying RPGs more as reading material than for actual play, when I really ought to be getting more experience with different kinds of games. And I have a considerable variety of games in my collection now, in part thanks to all the stuff I keep hearing about on and the Forge. At some point I want to try out otaNe, OVA, Primetime Adventures, Cat, InSpectres, etc, and I have a few ideas for original settings (anime vampires, gonzo steampunk fantasy, etc.).

RPGs as Creative Writing
Working on Tokyo Heroes has been an interesting experience creatively. I write fiction and poetry too (and I've dabbled in creative nonfiction too), and the more I got into literary fiction the more it affected my writing style. I used to write in a very linear fashion, starting with Chapter 1 and going on until the story ended. It wasn't until I started writing short stories that I really got away from that, and my writing benefited. Nekomimi Land, the novella I'm still revising, took that a step further because even more so than before I was discovering what the story was about as I went along. There are a lot of elements that are very important to the story in its current state that I hadn't the faintest idea would be in it when I started. I discovered them from reading other books, from digging into my own words, and entirely too often from random little epiphanies that happened while I was trying to sleep.

Tokyo Heroes hasn't been anywhere near that intense to work on, but it has been a constantly changing creature, and there are a lot of important concepts in the game as it's written right now that I never dreamed of before. I first concieved of the game in my hotel room at GenCon SoCal 2004 (just over a year ago), and it doesn't look much like my early attempts at putting a game together. It looks a lot better. The process of experimentation and discovery is probably what's making the game that much more fun to work on -- which would explain why for the past few weeks I've been working on TH and neglecting Thrash.

Of course, part of what makes TH fun to work on is just that it gives me an excuse to watch lots of sentai and magical girl shows. Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch didn't really do it for me, but I'm enjoying Tokyo Mew Mew more than I probably should. I also got caught up on Dekaranger, and started in on Magical Canan. I still seldom get through an episode without thinking up some new something-or-other for the game. Most recently it was the idea that instead of attacking you can "worry" an opponent, using your attack ability to harass them and keep them busy while doing minimal damage -- something bad guys like to do to magical girls all the time.

The campaign seeds are proving to be a lot of fun too. For example:
Souzou Sentai Imagiranger
Keisuke is a young boy who feels crushed by his mundane, pointless existence. His life is overwhelmed by silence and boredom; his parents are always away at work, he has no siblings, and no one at school really likes him. What keeps him going is something inside his head, a place very much like the world he lives in, except that there he’s the Red Ranger, and along with his four allies he fights the forces of evil.

But maybe there’s more to it than just daydreams. There’s this new girl at school who seems like she might actually want to talk to him, and on the same day she transferred in a new Ranger--a female, Silver Ranger--invaded his daydreams all of a sudden.