Monday, July 22, 2013

East Meets West Meets East

Not too many responses lately. Views seem high for some posts, low for others. Curious. Is my look at Anime/Manga gaming overstaying its welcome? I hope not. I haven't really gotten to the best parts yet.

While there are a number of other American Anime/Manga games (Random Anime, Anima, Beyond Fantasy - at least to some extent), not to mention supplements of an Anime/Manga nature for several generic systems (D20 Mecha, GURPS Mecha, etc.), none of them really 'get it' the way Mekton, TFOS, BESM and OVA do/did.

Now, I would like to point out a few titles that get it largely because they are it.

The following games are rather unique in that they were originally published only in Japan but have since been translated into English and American versions have been (or will soon be) released.

The first of these games is already out and currently available (although I don't know if hardcopy books are still available. You may have to get it in PDF format. Don't quote me. I have both the PDF and an actual book but I got mine a while ago). The other two have had successful Kickstarters and I am eagerly awaiting them.

Without further adieu...

MAID, The Role Playing Game was created by Ryo Kamiya and translated into English by Ewen Cheney. It is the first Japanese table-top, pencil and paper and dice RPG ever translated into English. If you don't know who Ewen Cheney is, you are missing out. Seriously. You are denying yourself one of the great pleasures in life. OK, maybe that's laying it on a bit thick but he is a really nice person and one of the most talented independant game designers I've encountered. Translating Japanese RPGs is just one of his miraculous skills. Check out his blog at Yaruki Zero Games.
Back to MAID...

MAID is really a peculiar creature. It has an Anime/Manga feel to it and is obviously inspired by a certain Japanese cultural theme that often appears in their animation and comics. At the same time, it is a theme that is so very Japanese that I think it is hard for many people to comprehend what to do with the game if they aren't already familiar with the genre it's taping into.
You play a maid, a female employee/indentured servant (or at least that's how it sometimes seems in the genre) living and working in the household of a NPC 'Master'. Now the household may be anything from a castle in Victorian era France, a Smart-Mansion estate on the moon of Altair IV or a palatial home in the mountains of modern day Japan. Likewise, the Master may be a young boy just learning about girls, an eccentric scientist conducting mad experiments or a wizard charged with protecting the kingdom from an evil warlock.
The maids (there are rules for making a Butler too I recall), get involved in all sorts of wacky Anime shennanigans, all the while attempting to win the Master's favor. The games get really be played in a number of 'modes' however, with the Japanese Anime/Manga sitcom, a sort of randomly rolled scenario style of play or a competition to win the Master's heart/favor.
The thing about Maid is, it can be enjoyed immensely as easily as it can be misunderstood and passed over. An entry over at D20 Source (of all places) has a terrific recounting of playing Maid and why everyone* should give it a try at least once.
I ran it at a convention years back and had a total blast. One group was all guys and it was as awful as it was hilarious. The much more amazing session was nearly all female players and it was as funny, sweet, charming and action packed as I could have hoped for.

Tenra Bansho Zero fits into the category of 'Storytelling Game' but certainly one heavy on action. It is set in a milieu self described as "Hyper-Asian Fantasy". Taking place on a far flung world sometime in the distant future, the Sengoku (Feudal/Warring States) period of Japanese history is essentially repeating itself. This time around, the battles are being fought with technologically advanced weaponry, magical mecha, taoist sorcerers and super-human samurai warriors.
The game focuses on the characters and their backgrounds as well as their destiny world of Tenra. Players get bonus points by acting in character and entertaining the other players. The points can spent to boost powers and gain new abilities. While it sounds similar to experience points the way I'm describing it, well, it is and it isn't. Creativity, focus and buy-in and comraderie is directly rewarded in the game. It is also possible to misspend/abuse your points (in essence) and lose control of your character as they spiral down in darkness.
The game is very theatrical, utilizing Scenes, Acts, Intermissions and Coming Attractions as components of play. Similar to a film or play, an entire story or campaign can be played out in its entirety within a single 4-6 hour gaming session. It's one part regular RPG and one part Microscope I suppose.
Tenra Bansho Zero was created, designed, written, and largely illustrated by the popular Japanese game designer Junichi Inoue and F.E.A.R. (A Japanese RPG, board game and light novel publishing company whose acronym stands for a Japanese Far East Amusement Research). It has been translated into English and published by Kotodama Heavy Industries, in cooperation with F.E.A.R., and is now available on PDF through RPGnow. A successful Kickstarter ended in September of last year and as such, a physical book should be available soon (if it isn't already - I hear mixed information on this subject).
The title, Tenra Bansho, basically refers to 'Tales of Heaven and Earth'.
Golden Sky Stories, originally titled Yuuyake Koyake** in Japan, is an upcoming Japanese RPG translation from none other than Ewen Cheney and his independant publishing venture Star Line Publishing (which he developed with Mike Stevens and others). Golden Sky Stories was created by Ryo Kamiya, creator of MAID, The RPG.
Golden Sky Stories is a heartwarming role-playing game centered around telling the type of tales you might see in a Hayao Miyazaki movie.
Player Characters take on the role of henge (pronounced "hen-gay"), animals with a small amount of spiritual/magical power, most notably the ability to temporarily take on human form. Your henge live in a small, rural Japanese towns where they try to help ordinary people solve problems and become friends.
The game is resource based and diceless with a simple and interesting approach to its mechanics that I find intriguing if just because they are so different from what one usually encounters. The real beauty of this game however is in its concept. Like many of the games I am most interested in these days, Golden Sky Stories turns 360 degrees away from the default motivations of most old school RPGs to explore the idea of simply helping people in need with normal, everyday issues. For example, the game has no combat rules, because this isn't about fighting and violence helps no one in the world of Golden Sky Stories.
While there is no way that even my best group would make this their regular RPG campaign choice, it is a wonderful change of scenery from the deadly serious, or even deadly humorous, games that most of us play. I think it would make a great convention game and I am really eager to try it out with my students at the learning center on Sundays.
This game ended its Kickstarter this past May, far exceeding its goal. Ewen has already announced working on two supplemental products that I find absolutely fascinating.
One is a translation of some of the additional material for the Japanese game that enables players to play characters beyond henge, from demons to aliens, ghosts to kappa.
The other is an original setting, created by Mr. Cheney, entitled Faerie Skies, which utilizes the Golden Sky Stories concept and applies it to Faerie Folklore of the West (specifically England, Ireland and Scotland). Can you guess who is ridiculously excited for these? Yep! I can't fool you guys.
Well, that's it for this segment. Next up, some Japanese RPGs from Japan. How they work, what makes them different and what cool gaming ideas we Westerners can from.
Barking Alien
*OK, not everyone. Nothing works for everybody but I can guarantee you'll never know for sure if you don't like something if you never try it.
**Yuuyake Koyake is translated by Ewen Cheney, a skilled Japanese translator, as Golden Sky Stories. Yuuyake refers to the red colored sky at sunset and koyake is kind of the orange or golden sunset sky. There is a Japanese song by the same name used to signal to children that school is over and it is time to go home.
As such, I originally translated the title as Sunset Story or, with a bit of artistic license, Sunset Memories.



  1. I have all 3 editions of BESM, just received Tenra Bansho Zero in print, have the pdf of Maid, and contributed to the Kickstarters for OVA, and Golden Sky Stories. And haven't played any of them. They make for a fun read, though.

  2. Haven't played ANY of them? That my good sir, is a damn shame.

  3. So many games, so little time. Anime games are a hard sell around here, for example, there is zero chance I will convince my group to play Maid, ever. The best I have done so far was to run BESM Dungeon as a D&D session.

  4. I think that's the biggest problem here BA - you'd have better luck finding some anime fans and convincing them to play one of these than you woul convincing the typical RPG group to play a game where everyone is a maid or non-violent animals. It's just way outside most RPG-era frame of reference.

    I think that explains the lack of comments too. It's cool to read and know these exist and what they're about, but I don't own or play any of them so I don't have much to add.

  5. Duly noted.

    Indeed, your response has has gone so far as to inspire my next entry.