Monday, August 28, 2006

Tokyo Heroes Playtest! (and a couple other things)

The playtest of Tokyo Heroes is now well under way. Last week we made characters and such, and this week was the first session. The players seemed to have had a good time, and I'm finding the results of all this incredibly useful. I've started a thread in the Forge's Playtesting forum about it. For this game I have a lot to think about and a lot to work on now.

I've also put the current draft of the rules online for people to peruse.

As a total side tangent, it's worth noting that Greg Costikyan and company recently got Manifesto Games up and running. This is the thing he's been talking about for a while, a site that sells quality independent computer games (so it's sort of the video game world's answer to IPR), and even though I really need to hold off spending money I'm sorely tempted to go buy some things.

The other day I had another random idea for a game that I probably won't get to for quite a while. Toon was the first RPG I ever bought, and not many people seem to notice that it was basically set up as a light, silly version of GURPS. This isn't inherently a bad thing, and the Toon-ified versions of Car Wars and CoC and whatnot in the Tooniversal Tour Guide book were actually really neat. But having been exposed to all this new indie stuff, I have to wonder what an indie take on Saturday morning cartoons would be like. The game idea I came up with was to do a game based around the sort of "predator vs. prey" cartoons, stuff like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner or Tom and Jerry. And it occurs to me that I may have just come up with an idea for a CSI game. There would be two players, and while the predator character would pretty much always lose, the players would be competing, probably to be the ones who make the predator's failures more interesting. And it would be called something like "I Hate You: A Cartoon CSI Game For Two Good Friends." So, that goes right alongside Distorted Futures: A Dystopian Ass-Kicking RPG on the back burner.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episodes 19

I did the best I could, trying to talk to Ryo about things. At first he wouldn't talk to me, and I just started crying and couldn't help it. Mom came in and told us something that shocked me. When dad first came to earth, he was a timid young man, practically scared of his own shadow, and he grew into the hero that we've always heard about. His shoes don't seem quite so big to fill anymore, and if anything I feel like I take after him that much more. There was a time when I was a crybaby too.

I also did Razmus' little test, giving present-day Ryo something to memorize and sending someone else to the ship to ask future Ryo if he remembers it. I used a tanka poem by Ishikawa Takuboku:

(Firmly believing you can't write characters
except on lined paper, Oh my child's innocence.)

I sent Glenn up to deal with it, and future Ryo passed the test. I wonder if he understands the poem. And I wish I understood what it meant. That time travel is even possible is something that blows open our conceptions of physics, and it's frustrating as hell that I have no basis for even guessing at how it all works, beyond science fiction movies. So, I've chosen to irrationally believe that time can be changed for the better.

On our last day in Japan I had lunch with Eri and Takeshi, and wound up telling them about the whole superhero thing, albeit not in much detail. It turned out Suzuka had caught some kind of really nasty cold or flu, and somehow because of it she'd decided she didn't need to see Razmus. Which means something's up and neither of them is willing to tell me; Suzuka doesn't generally act that rational unless she's using her brain to better accomplish something irrational. At her apartment most of her stuff was packed in boxes. So my best guess is she's moving to America and doesn't want to tell me. Part of me would like to see a familiar face from home now and then, but Suzuka is like Razmus in that she's not exactly a source of stability in my life. Suzuka because of her insanity, and Razmus because he's apparently incapable of letting anything be simple and straightforward, and for his ability to make sensible advice sound like he's lecturing a child. (And I especially like how he called the Riders "racists." Him of all people playing the victim card).

Oh, I did actually do a little training with Raz -- and as New Hikaru it's a very different experience by the way -- but when he asked about what had gone down the night before I got too depressed to continue. The good news is I didn't really get rusty, probably partly because I've been applying it as a Rider.

So. On our last day Sam decided to be an idiot and show off his powers to the whole neighborhood (man, I'm bitchy today), Jack went and bothered the monk at the Buddhist temple down the street, and Glenn didn't seem to be able to figure out what he wanted to do. In the evening, we went to the neighborhood's summer festival. I actually wore a yukata, and Ryo came too. It made me feel a lot better.

And then when we got back to the house, it turned out that Glenn had gotten an emergency call. Mom had dropped him off at the U.S. airforce base, and was to relay a message that we need to call the Super Mentors about Raz' trial. I did that quietly, on my cell phone from my room -- it would be very like Raz to pick up an extension of the house's phone or creep up behind me. We need the information from his summons to get things moving properly, but at least I got the ball rolling.

I wasn't in the mood for talking much on the flight back to America. I listened to music and read the rest of that genetics book I bought in Aegis, and tried to think things over some more. Victory Rider is getting slammed in the Japanese press, not that I trust or care about them. I was a bit concerned about PR before -- and I think even Raz is starting to understand why it's important -- but with the invasion and war hanging over our heads it suddenly seems pretty trivial. All I could really figure out is that the next bad guy who gets in my way is going to regret it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some Neat Things

Go Play: I like this; it reminds me of something I need to do more of.

I got Push in the mail the other day; getting that and some comics from lulu took about 9 days total. I like it entirely too much, and I want to submit something for Volume 2.

Faery's Tale and Panty Explosion are both available in print, through their respective publishers and through Key20. Way too many games coming out I want to get, and almost none of them are showing up at my local game stores (though I haven't been to Game Kastle in a while). And I have entirely too many indie games on my shelf that call to mind the Go Play thing.

Guy Shalev, Vincent Baker, and of course Nathan Paoletta have kindly linked to this blog on theirs. Thanks guys! I shouldn't have to tell you that they're all doing some really neat stuff. :)

I finally announced to my friends that I want to playtest Tokyo Heroes in the near future, and we wound up scheduling the first session for this coming Saturday!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Three Things I Like About Tokyo Heroes (so far)

Last week I went to the mall, basically to do some stuff by myself and clear my head. I was especially thinking about getting more of my creative stuff off the ground. One side of that has been harassing my artist friends to get my T-shirt design project seriously under way, but over lunch I pulled out my laptop and wound up rereading the unfinished manuscript of Tokyo Heries, and I realized that I really liked what I saw. Which is why I wound up dropping everything else I was doing (writing/RPG design-wise) for the moment to work on this game.

Sentai is an odd genre, to say the least. "Tokusatsu" -- live-action special effects -- shows in Japan tend to use cheap effects and cheesy, melodramatic storylines with a gonzo enthusiasm, whether it's Godzilla stomping Tokyo flat or Kamen Rider saving it from the machinations of the Shocker organization. Although I watched some Godzilla movies when I was a kid, and I find Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus just too cool for words, the early Power Rangers series had me keeping most of that stuff at arm's length. Over time my changing tastes, my rampant Japanophilia, and the pure awesomeness that is Dekaranger made me a fan of sentai. It can be goofy at times, but the emphasis is squarely on fun.

The game also covers "fighting" magical girl anime like Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew. I've been intrigued by these for a long time (shut up), and the differences between these and sentai seem to be mainly trivialities like the distribution of power levels and flavor text -- stuff that matters for how you play the character, but not at all for how the game works.

I originally came up with the idea for Tokyo Heroes in my hotel room at GenCon SoCal 2004. Sentai seems absolutely perfect for roleplaying, since the notion of a team of heroes working together is so ingrained into the genre. In the U.S. tokusatsu in general is a very small niche fandom, and in Japan it's mostly something young boys watch, so there's next to nothing for roleplaying the genre.

(There is a gentleman who mentioned on that he's working on an RPG called HENSHIN!, which I'm looking forward to almost as much as my own game. So hey, there's now two on the way).

Anyway, here are some things I'm especially fond of about the game:

Character Creation
The thing about sentai is that between series you can have one team that uses super-science given to the by aliens, and another that uses ninja powers, and a third that drawns on dinosaur totem spirits, and somehow they mostly have the same powers. Even when I included the sentai-influenced magical girl anime series, the basic formula changed only slightly.

The result of this is that in the game characters are defined with relatively few traits, many of which will be the same for all of the PCs. In order for the players to have an appropriate amount of input into what their characters are going to be like, the group has to meet together for character creation and hash out the important details. It also forces the GM to avoid planning too much in advance, something I personally need to work on as a GM anyway.

The group has to settle on what Edges and Keys are common to the team. Edges are special powers, gear, and other benefits. Keys are similar to those in The Shadow of Yesterday, but they play into the teamwork thing (Keys earn Hero Dice, that are used by the whole group).

Group character creation is also important because of Aspects. In sentai, the heroes each wear a different color spandex costume, and these have grown into archetypes that to some degree dictate a character's personality. In game terms, Aspects carry some guidelines for roleplaying, give the character another Key, and provide a small special ability. Since each team should generally only have one of a given Aspect, and needs both Red and Blue, players can't come to the table too attached to a character concept either, though with ten Aspects in the game (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink, Black, White, Gold, Silver, Master), and some of them kind of vague (especially Green and Yellow), players shouldn't have too much trouble coming up with the character they want.

Another interesting thing here is the concept of Ally Characters (ACs). Sentai shows frequently introduce new heroes after the fact. There's the archetypal Sixth Ranger of course, and there's been stuff like Hurricanger and Abaranger, where enemy rangers became good guys, and Dekaranger, where supporting characters have occasionally revealed they can transform too. It's also a handy way to fill out the roster when you have less than 5 players and really want a full team of 5 heroes. An AC is basically an NPC that is by definition friendly to the PCs. Each player has Karma (experience) points, and one of the things they can invest Karma in is taking control of an AC for a scene. If they do well, they get their Karma back with interest, and if they do poorly they lose some of it.

Team Dynamic
Teamwork is a very important theme in this game, and I've tried to make the mechanics reflect that. Hero Dice are one of the more important ways in which it does that; characters' Keys don't earn them XP, but Hero Dice, which go into a collective pool available to the whole team. Hero Dice can be used to add to rolls, to restore Stamina points during combat, or to power certain Edges. (Finishing attacks always use Hero Dice, as does stuff like DekaYellow's esper ability, for example). The idea here is to give everyone the ability to contribute to the group's success just by playing their character to the hilt.

The way dice are handled is also meant to enable cooperation, and generally keep everyone at the table doing something. Rolls are done with pools of six-siders; normally you want to roll 4 or higher (a Target of 4) to get Successes. If you assist someone, you get a +1 Target modifier (so you have to roll 5 or higher), and if you merely encourage someone it's +2, but all of your successes are added to theirs. This sort of thing because especially important when the team

Session Structure
My first Japanese RPG, Beast Bind: New Testament, wound up being a big influence on how game sessions are set up in Tokyo Heroes. From what Andy K has said, it seems that in Japan there are a lot more people who learn how to play by reading the books rather than being taught by someone else, and if BBNT is any indication, the way the books are put together strongly reflects this. This particular game outlines how to structure a session, from "pre-session" (getting everyone together and settled in) to "on-session" (the meat of the game) to "post-session" (concluding bookkeeping, cleaning up, etc.), and it even goes so far as to suggest going to a coffee shop of family restaurant to relax and discuss the game. It also makes a point of dividing the on-session portion up into scenes. Although scene breaks aren't hugely important to the game mechanics, the text does a credible job of explaining how scenes begin and end, and it even has a rule for an "appearance check," a roll to see if your character appears during a given scene.

All of the above I think helps a lot to capture the feel of sentai. If you cut out the opening, ending, and preview, a typical sentai episode is about 20 minutes long, so each scene needs to do its job and get over with. It also means that a given game session could potentially fit in multiple complete episodes if you're so inclined. Appearance checks are perhaps a little more practical than in Beast Bind, since they're more likely to be used for something like whether your character can run fast enough to reach that stereotypical sentai rock quarry in time to participate in the battle and bail his friends out.

Another interesthing thing that came out of this is the idea of including a "preview" at the end of each session. This is for not only the usual post-session stuff, but a chance for the GM to give hints about the nature of the next episode and the players to give input as well. In particular, there's a mechanic for "spotlight episodes." Sentai shows frequently have episodes that center around a given hero; the plot is mostly about them, and they get to show off. Players can invest Karma points, and in return their hero earns extra Hero Dice and has a -1 Target modifier to everything they do for that episode. (Newly introduced characters also get a spotlight episode effect for free, and new robots get a scene-long spotlight effect).

Sample Characters
Okay, I lied. Four.

I have way too much fun coming up with characters (this'll be especially obvious once Battlefield Press gets Open Anime published), so I had a fun time coming up with two teams of sample heroes for the Tokyo Heroes book, one sentai team and one magical girl team. I'm entirely too satisfied with myself for coming up with a a sixth ranger called Dynamic Knight, a grim warrior bent on revenge whose real name is Jax Goldwraith, and an evil magical girl who fights dirty called Magical Girl Destiny. Some of the campaign seeds tie into the Dynarangers setting, and once I do some playtesting and get more revisions done I'll be writing examples for the game text using these characters. I'm hoping to have actual art done up of these characters for the final game; at the moment I'm getting my artist friends to help work on the magical girl designs.

I'm really looking forward to playing this game. Every time I watch sentai now I can map out what's going on in game terms in my head. Also, the fact that it's specifically made to not require too much planning (in fact it discourages it in certain ways) will help keep me from dragging my feet and get around to running it sooner. There's still some writing to do, but I now have all of the rules in place, and everything left is revising and/or expanding, rather than creating stuff from scratch.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 18

Things are really starting to get to me lately, and I feel like the old me would be better at handling all of this, but apart from an occasional moment of clarity, it's just not an option. "Take one day at a time," says grandpa, but each day feels like a month lately.

The Wild Rider I fought at the ceremony is (if we believe what he's said) Ryo from about seven years in the future. The brace he wears appears to be the Mega-Brace from the future, but he says it was damaged, and repaired with components from the Wild Brace. I want it to not be true, for him to be some especially clever clone or something, because everything he says is scary and hurtful. Future Ryo hates me for "stealing his heritage," and he's a broken, ragged person, a survivor of two wars and (in his time) humanity's last hope. And he wants to kill Raz, to keep him from going insane and calling down the shapeshifting aliens a second time. And the rest of the Gatekeepers, starting with me, get assassinated two years after the first war ends. It sounds stupid that I'm here thinking "I don't want to die." I mean, I knew there was danger when I signed up for this ride, and I never had a problem with jumping into the fray, but having it hanging over my head two years and six months from now scares the bejeezus out of me. And naturally, Future Ryo doesn't know the details of how it happens.

And yet, the part that hurts the most is that he hates me. He's known me longer than anyone, except for mom, and we always got along. And now it seems like it's me -- not even Victory Rider, but Hikaru -- who's going to totally fuck it up. I tried to talk to him about it, but I think it'll have to wait for tomorrow. I hope I feel a little better tomorrow.

Oh, and we got to find out a bit more about Jack today. A monk -- a Western monk in brown robes -- just showed up at the door (and sunk into the ground when he left!). The Catholic Church had its own version of Project Perseus, and his family was part of a splinter group that broke off over believing that metahumans should be worked with, and science used. His parents were geneticists no less. So, there is a group withing the Church that wants to come after him, and now this splinter group wants him to do a mission when he gets back to America. I'm glad someone else's past is going to be dumping stuff on us for a change.

And since coming clean about stuff was the order of the day, Razmus (who of late has been remarkably tractable and non-jerky, come to think of it) told the group something he mentioned to me the other day. Since he left that town in Colorado, he's been hearing a girl's voice in his head. She'd tell him what to do, and if he doesn't do it he gets monstrous headaches. And joining us was one of the things she ordered him to do. Sam did hear her once, and I'm wondering if this third helix business has something to do with inheriting some of Razmus' latent psychic potential.

There's not too much time left before we're going back to America. I really need to talk to Ryo. At this point time travel is all theory, but if he really is from the future, maybe we can change all this somehow. I sure got the kick in the pants I needed to actually sit down and talk to him. What else can we change? I don't want to die, because I'd be letting too many people down. I don't want Glenn and mom and Ryo to lose a second Rider, I don't want to leave Razmus and Sam and Jack behind, and I don't want to stop protecting the things that matter to me.

I'm not giving up without a fight.

That's right. The old me and the new me agree 100% on this. We've come so far already. No surrender, no retreat.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 17

I really don't know what to make of Razmus anymore. Or myself, for that matter. Somehow, his errand to the base turned into an unannounced trip to Arizona. I tell myself I don't care about him anymore, and that this is the last time, yet again. He doesn't seem to give a shit about me or any of our other teammates (weird, considering it's not like he has anyone else to turn to in the entire world). And as usual he's medically incapable of admitting he's done anything wrong. See, I had grandpa teleport me into his Greyhound bus, and I tried to find out what the fuck he was thinking, and why he felt the need to run away. And naturally, he brushed off the talk of running away, unable to face the situation even verbally. I get that trusting people isn't always easy, especially when your adolescence was as screwed up as his, but I'm really not clear on why he would think it's okay to just run off like that without a word. It's not like we'd be able to force him to stay if he told us he was quitting. I want to smack him so damn hard sometimes, but he can kick my ass and if he did he'd probably convince himself that he was somehow right to do it.

And Swan is suing him, and he's acting like its some kind of goddamn game. I really hope Glenn knows a good lawyer. One that won't let Raz talk too much. He really is a teenager; he says otherwise, but he doesn't understand mortality. He can't fit into his tiny little mind that everything he has and does and says will eventually be completely gone from the universe. That's the way things work.

But who am I to talk? I don't even know what's going on in my own head anymore. The Victory Brace sort of took away my limited, so I have a hard time not saying every damn thing that pops into my head. At first I was brimming over with confidence, but right now I feel like a class clown who got sent to the principal's office. Gotta get it together. I explained to Ryo about how I'd become a Rider, and I think the old me would've done a better job. He was giving me some weird looks and saying "What about me?" Being a world-renowned soccer player isn't enough, huh?

Pop quiz time! Which is worse:
(a) Not being able to express emotions.
(b) Not being able to stop yourself from expressing emotions.
(c) Not being able to express emotions unless it's calculated and fake.

And then Razmus came back. He sent me an email asking for a teleport, and I laughed out loud. I really don't know what the fuck to do with him, but unless my head gets even more messed up, I'm probably not going to be willing to waste my time trying to talk sense into him -- being immune to that must be one of his other superpowers.

I was lucid enough to let my mom pick out my formal wear for dad's memorial ceremony, so I wound up going in this expensive black kimono. It looked better on me than I expected. The same goes for Jack in a suit. We got through most of the ceremony before bad stuff happened. I started crying during the speeches -- especially Glenn's -- and couldn't stop. I'm starting to realize just how incredible dad really was, as a person and not just some guy in a mask. Those are some damn big shoes to fill.

And then a cargo plane buzzed the Tokyo Dome. Seriously. A bunch of black-suited military guys dropped down, along with Wild Rider. We split up jump into the fray. And I figured out my hero name. (drum roll) Victory Rider! And the sword, the Victory Blade. Wild Rider thought the name was stupid (but at least he was talking), but I kicked his ass in a big way. (Oh, shit, I'm thinking like Raz. Someone shoot me.) That Rider Delta Combination move I came up with was just plain cool, if I do say so myself.

By the time I finished, my teammates had dealt with all of the soldiers (who were actual guys this time and not clones, thank god). And then things got freaky, because I swear to god under the mask Wild Rider looks like an older version of Ryo. A lot. He was fighting a lot better than last time too, like a trained martial artist instead of Captain Punchy.

Raz jumped onto the plane and brought it down from inside, apparently, and the others did some pretty crazy stuff too. I gotta watch the news to see more of that.

And then the media came in. I told them that I'm MegaRider's daughter, and that since Japan is so well-protected I'll be in San Francisco, with Dynamo as my mentor. (I saw Glenn shake his head at that, as he usually does when I say something unpleasant yet true). I bowed, and resisted the urge to make a big V-sign with my hands, because it wasn't that kind of day.

So, we're a little closer to figuring out what the hell is going on with Wild Rider, which'll hopefully also give us something to work with for when the time comes to deal with Wash and Pinnacle. My head is screwed up, and I need to go up or down, not this inbetween crap, and I'm thinking I should see someone about it -- it could be some brain chemistry thing. And maybe, just maybe, Razmus has some inkling of how good he has it. I am so messed up right now.

Random Things

I wound up getting inspired to work on writing stories, even though I seem to be sucking at it right now (I did at least finish one short story the other day). I've been in a bit of a funk the past couple weeks, with regard to everything, not just games, hence Thrash 2.0 isn't the only thing I'm not making progress on. I'm trying to read more, and watch more, but my attention span is unusually short lately. So, I have jack to say about games I'm working on (or failing to work on), but plenty on some tangential things.

Comic Con
I went to Comic Con, and it took a while for me to recover. (Not totally coherent LiveJournal entry is here). There were a couple of panels on RPGs there, which was sort of surprising considering there was no RPG programming there apart from a small smattering of RPGA stuff. Chris Chinn covered it better than I could in his blog, but suffice to say the first panel didn't tell me much of anything I didn't already know, and the second I didn't attend because it conflicted with some other panel I wanted to go to. There were actually a small handful of RPG things in the exhibit hall though. There was a dealer with lots of GURPS books (amongst other things), the guy who did Artesia was selling the RPG alongside the comic, and Annie Rush had a table in the indie area (appropriately enough). I picked up a copy of House of Horiku, though I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Snakes on a Game, indeed. I also picked up a sketchbook called Mariachi Samurai, and damn but I want to roleplay as the title character some time. I'm thinking his name would be Pedro. Or maybe Jesus.

No More Goo
It's sad that Guardians of Order is done with, but Mark seems to be doing okay for himself, and most of their IP is going to be getting new homes, which in turn means that BESM3e will be coming out, even if it'll take a while. For various reasons, I've had mixed feelings about GoO from their inception, but I never found fault with the quality of their products. The deafening silence hasn't been good for PR (see this thread), and it's good to finally hear what the hell is going on. Plus I have an acquaintance who got a book green-lighted from them just before all this nonsense happened. My general opinion of Tri-Stat is that it's a great, elegant little system that was never adequately explained in its rulebooks (hence the lengthy essays at the beginning of my netbook). It's also one of those games where a younger me said immature crap about it on message boards, though there are those who make me not feel quite so bad about it, for all the wrong reasons, and in a few cases I was just pointing out stuff that really ought to have been addressed (like, why the insistence on using only SI units for a game predominantly played by Americans?).

Anyway, I'm definitely going to pick up BESM3e whenever it comes out, but (1) I'm glad I didn't give into the temptation to preorder, and (2) right now OAV would be my go-to game for that kind of thing anyway (they need to get some more stuff out at some point though). Still, in the 9 or so years it was around, GoO wound up teaching me a lot about RPGs, and for that more than anything I'm grateful.

How To Do Stuff
Inspired by this thread on Story Games, I went and checked out Elements of Typographic Style from the library. I've only read a little bit (it's really good), but it occurred to me that there are certain things that apply to any creative endeavor. As I'm seriously pursuing designing RPGs and writing, and have dabbled in graphic art, I started to see patterns. I'm going to write up an essay on this whenever I get around to it.
  1. Practice. A Lot.: Whatever you do, do it a whole lot. Every day if at all possible.
  2. Learn the Basics: In any medium there are basic, foundation type things that should be practiced to death. An artist needs to learn how to draw straight lines, which means pencil mileage.
  3. Learn From Others: Look at other works in your chosen medium and others close to it. Include works that you woudn't ordinarily look at (i.e., even if you're writing sci-fi with Venusian telepathic squids, go read literary classics).
  4. Find out the "Rules": In each medium there are formulas that can be training wheels for beginners, "don'ts" that can be violated if you do so skillfully and for the right reasons, and principles that become tools you can use.
  5. Get and Recieve Useful Criticism: Get people to look at your stuff and tell you what's bad about it and what's good. If someone has nothing to say beyond "this sucks," then Triumph the Insult Comic Dog could do the same job, and be more entertaining.
  6. Find Your Own Style: Don't imitate your idols. Don't worry that you can't create something as great as . Concentrate on creating stuff that only you could do.