Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Can't Get This Out of My Head - Ghosts

Sadly, for me at least, some of the approaches to subjects for gaming that I find incredibly interesting are takes on said subjects that are not particularly popular.

Case in point, I love medieval folklore and fairy tales but I don't like typical medieval fantasy. For every Faery's Tale Deluxe or even Ars Magica there are thirty Dungeons and Dragons style RPGs. Mine is not the popular view.

This holds especially true for a project I've been working on for a very long time, although perhaps it is to my advantage...




 

Other than the Dogs, Faerie Folklore, Muppets, Smurfs, Star Trek and Superheroes, there are a handful of other things I am obsessively fascinated by.

One of them is Ghosts.

As I have mentioned at least once before, I have been thinking about this idea for a game for so long, at some point I thought such a game existed. On further inspection (and a good deal of research), it turns out I must have dreamed it because I am fairly certain no game exactly like my concept exists. A number of games come close, yet none of them quite do the trick.

When Ghosts come up in gaming, they are usually an adversary. Be they the aging menaces of D&D or the comical opponents for InSpectres Agents, the Ghost is your PCs enemy. In a rare few games, you can be the Ghost or you get to have a Ghost ally.

Does anyone remember Wraith: The Oblivion?

What a let down that was. Not because it was a bad game or poorly designed. Indeed it's setting was well (pardon the pun) fleshed out and quite fascinating, if a bit overwrought. It was a disappointment though for all of us playing World of Darkness at the time (mid-90s) as we were really looking forward to the idea that our characters, or campaign stories, could now interact with the recently departed.

Only...that's not exactly how it worked. The realm of the Wraith was far removed from the rest of the World of Darkness and indeed the world itself. Yes, you could perceive and interact with the living world somewhat but the focus of the game was on the lands of the dead, which were a gothic labyrinth of strange names and complicated politics.






I used to hear, read and tell Ghost stories as a child. I have watched Ghosthunters, seen Poltergeist, and checked out books on the paranormal. I must have missed the parts where they described a Stygian empire that ruled with an iron fist, and guilds existing to fight the tyranny of...wha? What the flaming, flying skull does that have to do with Ghosts?

Ghosts are creepy. They are mysterious. Their situation seems sad and lonely, or at the very least forlorn. They are gone but still here. They haven't moved on. Why? How can they fix this tragic error in the natural way of things?

THAT is what my game is about. You are dead, a spirit, a spectre that initially no one can hear or see. You need to build up enough power to be seen, heard, to move an object, touch the living, or in some other way get their attention. Why? To resolve an issue. To finish something you started, or never got to do before you passed on. Something is keeping you here, and not letting you go...wherever it is you are going to go. You don't know. All you know is right now you are stuck, and that is a horrible feeling.

Here is the piece de resistance, the master stroke of my idea...the object of the game therefore, is to lose your character.

In every game you've played the key is to not die, to keep your character going. The idea here is you start dead, so the goal is to move to the next state of existence, and remove your character from the game.

Nice huh?

I want it to be, all at once:

Amazing Stories (TV series), Destination Truth, Ghost, Ghosthunters, Poltergeist, The Terror,  The Twilight Zone (TV Series), The Uninvited, Weird US, and the numerous, unquantifiable ghost stories we've all heard since forever.

And more than that.

Modern Ghost films, actually modern horror films in general, are simply dreadful. To me, most horror movies totally miss the point of the genre in it's cinematic form, but that is a different discussion for a different day.






Right now it's just an idea.


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Barking Alien






Monday, July 29, 2013

I Can't Get This Out of My Head - UFOs

So ends my attempt to discuss Anime/Manga gaming...for now.

I simply can't maintain the enthusiam if there isn't much of a response. I can do it if I am talking about something I am currently working on or an idea I love that just hit me but for a general discussion I need feedback or I get distracted and want to talk about some else.

There are a number of something elses on my mind as a matter of fact. Some of them, I can't seem to stop thinking about.






Other than the Dogs, Faerie Folklore, Muppets, Smurfs, Star Trek and Superheroes, there are a handful of other things I am obsessively fascinated by.

One of them is UFOs.

I had an idea last year for the NaGaDeMon Challenge but wasn't really feeling it and because of other circumstances during that period of time, I couldn't drum up the strength of will or creativity to push forward. While the idea was new the subject matter was not. Not for me anyway.

I have long since wanted to create, run and/or play a RPG in which the PCs are the crew of a UFO, visiting Earth and creating all sorts of mayhem as extraterrestrials on a modern day Earth. Exactly what that would entail I don't know. Rather, I have some ideas but they keep twisting and changing.






One key factor would be the idea that the aliens have advanced technology but are really just run-of-the-mill joes. I see them as very blue collar people but with a Masters-of-the-Open-Road attitude and mystique, like truck drivers or the guys on Deadlist Catch. They could also be scientists but less Mr. Spock and more the people who try to tag wild life in the rainforests to follow their migratory patterns. Smart, highly skilled professionals but in the end, just doing their job.

I want to incorporate as well as parody the troupes of UFO reports, stories and movies, including everything from mysterious power failures to abductions, cow mutilations to crop circles. I want to examine the 'REAL' reason these things occur in a fashion that is both sensible and humorous.

I have read Chariots of the Gods waaay too many times. I have seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind even more often. I love reading about and watching all those Discovery Channel and Nation Geographic shows where they search for answers and after an hour of television say, "So, we still have no freaking clue".

I want it to be, all at once:

Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Destination Truth, E.T., The Extraterrestrial, Escape from Planet Earth, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Hunter Planet, Men in Black, Paranoia, Planet 51 and Teenagers from Outer Space.

And more than that.




Right now it's just an idea.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

An August Preview - Questions of a Random Wizard

So this is going around and I'm afraid I've caught it.

My guess? Not enough Vitamin C.

As I intend to dedicate the month of August to discussing Dungeons & Dragons (Wait? What? Really? I said that?), consider this a coming attraction to the level of quality ideas and entertainment you're in for.

Oh, you're in for it alright...





(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?

No. I thought that was silly in 1977.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?

Dwarves have souls but lack spirits.
Elves are fae and do not have souls. They have spirits and can become spirits.
Half-Elves, like Humans, have souls and spirits but sometimes only half of each.
Gnomes, like Humans, have both souls and spirits but only one at a time.
Wilders, also called Halflings, like Humans, have both. One is usually stronger than the other.


(3). Ascending or descending armor class?

Ascending.

(4). Demi-human level limits?


Hahahaha...oh. You're being serious. No. Silly in 79'.


(5). Should thief be a class?

Should anything? Sure, why the hell not.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?

You mean can they learn to cook, sail and weave wicker baskets? Sure.
Knock yourselves out.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

Wizards are better at using magic.
Warriors are better at fighting.

Apples do no 'take the lead' over oranges at being oranges and vice versa.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?

Yes, I speak good.
No, you speak well.
I do, I speak good well.

Hahahaha...no.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?

XP for making your character seem like a character, discovering things, inventing things, solving problems and the like.

No XP for gold. That's like giving you a penny for finding a penny.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?

Mine.

After that, Sworld World.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?


 
Huh? Oh, unified. The less tables the better.

***

Let the Hate Mail Commence!

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Barking Alien

Thursday, July 25, 2013

MAGIC AND MACHINERY

A slight change of plans.
 
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am going to be easing up on the theme of Anime/Manga gaming and just posting whatever I feel like talking about, including Anime/Manga gaming if indeed the mood strikes me.
 
With the generally lackluster response and interest in the subject however, I am loosing steam and my thoughts are drifting to other ideas. I've mentioned this before, it's how my head works.
 
So for now, I did want to show off one of my favorite Japanese Table Top RPGS. A mix of Dungeons and Dragons and Battletech - Medieval Fantasy crossed with Giant Robots. Lord of the Rings + Pacific Rim =
 
 
WARES BLADE
 
 
 
 
Clockwise from Upper Left;
Wares Blade - 1st Edition Boxed Set (1988),
Wares Blade 'The Renewal' - 2nd Edition Boxed Set (1995-97)
Wares Blade D20 Rulebook (2008), Fan art from one of dozens of Wares Blade blog sites
Wares Blade - Wares 1092 Tactical/Strategy Game for the Playstation (1997)
Wares Blade 'Ryude Knight' Resin Model Kit (2000),
One of the many Wares Blade setting novels (2003)
Center: Wares Blade Fold Out Poster From 'RPG' Magazine (1994)
 


 


The cover of the May, 1991 issue of one of my favorite Japanese gaming magazines, entitled simply and elegantly enough, RPG Magazine. This is probably one of the first issues I ever purchased and it is still in mint condition. The feature article is of course, Wares Blade.

Rules

In its original form the game plays like a modified and slightly streamlined version of the original Battletech game, with PCs handled in a system most closely akin to Call of Cthulhu (Basic Role Playing system) meets D&D.

Magic

Magic is somewhat akin to Ars Magica crossed with Runequest. There are schools of magic, known as 'Gates', that correspond to various elements. The eight Gates are Earth, Fire, Metal, Moon, Sun, Water, Wind and Wood.

Interestingly, the Undead are tied to the Earth Gate, since the dead are buried in the Earth. Dwarves are usually of the Earth or Metal Gate, leading many to distrust them and view them as having contact with Necromancers. Dragons, most of them anyway, are connected to the Fire Gate and Shapeshifters with the Moon.

Mana, known as Renpo in the game, is everywhere and in all things, although the type/Gate of the Renpo is dependant on the thing you are referring to. Mountains contain mainly Earth and Metal Gate Renpo while the Ocean contains mainly Water and perhaps some Wood.

Ware Stones are rare mystical rocks (more minerals than gems or crystals) that contain and focus Renpo. Wizards often wear jewelry and carry foci embedded with these stones to assist  them with spell casting. The stones are required to create any kind of permanent magic item, including the 12-18 foot battle armors known as the Machine Soldiers.




Original Wares Blade illustration by Qu-Ro-Quro
 

Machinery

Machine Soldiers are the giant robots that give this otherwise traditional fantasy game its rather specific twist. There are many kinds of Machine Soldiers and indeed, 'Machine Soldier' is perhaps the least impressive of them. Those that existed in the time of the 'Old Dynasty Empire' were far more amazing than the ones being built in the setting's present (Wares 1092) and are called Ryude Knights. Between the artifact-like Ryude Knights and the cheap, 'modern' copy Machine Soldiers are the Machine Knights, which are either of superior, modern craftsmanship or are partially made from the remains of a damaged Ryude Knight.


Geography and Setting



Map of The Ahanic Western Continent
from The Wares 1092 Artbook and Sourcebook

Modified by me. I removed the Japanese place names
and intend to rewrite them in English.
 

The physical setting is called Ahan, also known as 'The World of Wares' (in reference to the importance of the Renpo stones). Only the Ahanic Western Continent is fully fleshed out in the original game, with the East being a 'land of spirits'. At one point, we do learn of a Human and Elven land whose people resemble the Celts and Gauls mixed together. The land in questions sits on the border between the Western Continent and the Eastern spirit lands. The country itself, 'Farthest Ki'Dein', is somewhat like Ireland or Scotland.

The center of the Western Continent is called Kedamon, a land of demons and monsters that also houses the ruins of the Old Dynasty Empire. It is mainly desert and in some areas borders haunted Jungles and woodlands prone to terrible storms. 

At the continent's Western most edges are the kingdoms most player characters would call home. These include many 'holy sites', places of historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the people of Ahan. There are few if any gods remaining, as apparently most of them were killed in a war between the Old Dynasty Empire and the heavens which resulted in the demon infested wasteland in the middle of the continent. Instead, the people worship spirits and spirtual places. These locations are often fought over by various factions and are one of the key sources of conflict in the Wares Blade setting.

There is a lot more I can tell you but for now this will do.

I am disappointed in the turn out for this month but at the same time, I realize not everyone is going to get jazzed about something so foreign (pun intended) to their experience.


Next up...I'm not sure.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lost In Translation

 


My objectives in putting together this Anime/Manga Table Top Gaming theme month were pretty simple.

First, I wanted to inform.

I thought, 'Here is something I know something about, that I enjoy, have fun with and maybe others would have fun with it too, if they knew about it'.

Second, I wanted to reach out.

I thought, 'Maybe someone out there in the vast expanse of webspace is a fan of Anime/Manga gaming already and nobody is talking to them on the various gaming blogs'. Perhaps someone would see a post and say, "What? You like mixing your love of Japanese pop culture with your love of RPGs? So do I!" Maybe someone always wanted to try it but didn't know where to start. This would be for them as well.

Third, it's an ego trip.

Not all my motivations are purely altruistic. OK, most of them are but I'm not ashamed to say that I like being the guy who says, "I know about this offbeat but really cool thing. Come check out my blog where I will tell you about this offbeat, really cool thing nobody else is telling you about because they'd rather talk about the same old stuff".

***

The problem is, it's not exactly working as planned. Few people seem interested. People are reading it but there is no discussion. Not even a, "That sounds cool! I didn't know that existed."

As my wise friend Lord Blacksteel said:

"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 would 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."

Is it? Maybe it is. Maybe it's just too different and that level of crossover from one fandom to the other is too rare.

While Anime and Manga have become fairly mainstream (or as mainstream as any fandom related subject can be), RPG gaming still feels rather fringe at times (appearance on Community not withstanding). I am beginning to see why. We are very set in our ways we gamers. Not unlike comic book fans and I'm sure many other subgroups of geekness. The new and different is great, over there, where it can't bother us or intrude on our doing things the way we like them done.

That's unfortunate for me. I am left out of the 'we' and the 'our'. I like what I like and don't like what I don't, don't get me wrong in that regard. At the same time, I do always seem to be the fellow on the outside saying, "Why can't we try something new?". "Why can't we say yes to players?". "Who cares if they want a honking big sword if we all agree it still only does what a broad sword does?".

Anyway...

I do have a few more entries I'd very much like to tell you about, after that I will probably ease up on the theme and say whatever happens to be on my mind.

Next month's theme is Dungeons and Dragons.

Wonder if anyone will come by for that (eye roll).

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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 IN JAPAN
 
 
 
 
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.
 
 
***
 
MORE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH
 
 
 

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'.
 
 
***
 
SUNSET MEMORIES
 
 
 
 
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 stea...er...benefit from.
 
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*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.

 
 
 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Direct To Video

For many years here in the West, a film or program that went 'Direct to Video' was viewed as something of low budget and poor quality. Very often these were 'B Movies', insufficient in technical or artistic expertise to consider being released in theatres.

In Japan, Original Video Animation, or OVAs as they are commonly known, are made for video (originally VHS but now DVD and Blu-Ray) productions that are akin to a long episode or a short film. Often, each release is part of a series and forms a complete story arc at the end.

The benefit of OVA productions is that, while they do not have the budget of a feature film, they often have the budget of a 12 to 24 episode TV show, spent on a smaller number of slightly longer episodes. The end result is that OVAs are usually of high quality, quite the opposite of the stigma of their American counterparts.

A number of very popular animated series got their start as OVAs. Another benefit of the OVA for the Japanese animation companies is that they can create a short series, say, 6 half hour or 3 forty-five minute episodes, and see how the customers respond. If the series is popular it may prompt the company to make another, longer series, a film (less common) or a TV series (quite common).

Among the most popular and famous OVAs are Bubblegum Crisis, Mobile Suit Gundam: 0083 Stardust Memory, Tenchi Muyo, Record of The Lodoss War (a must for any Dungeons and Dragons fan but more on that in another post) and the amazing Otaku No Video.




What does this brief lesson about the Japanese animation industry have to do with gaming? Well, I could actually go in a dozen different directions with it but the truth of the matter is I am continuing my discussion of Anime/Manga themed RPGs created in the West. So, without further ado...



The Original Edition (front cover) mounted on the back cover of the upcoming New Edition (proposed front cover).
(Thanks to a little photoshopping by me).


OVA, originally subtitled 'Original Versatile Anime' Role Playing Game (a pun of sorts on the definition of OVA I gave above), was published in 2006 and written by a fellow named Clay Gardner, a nice chap who I have heard speak on a number of podcasts.

While Big Eyes, Small Mouth grabbed the Anime/Manga gamers attention and held it tightly for sometime, I always felt this game was actually closer to being what BESM wanted to be. It was simple, flexible and while there was a little crunch, it was easy crunch. Compare biting down on a mouthful of Jolly Ranchers to a mouthful of Life Cereal. Both are crunchy, but the experience is very different. OVA is like Life (how's that for a sales pitch)*.

Character creation is fairly easy and freeform, with a good deal of what you can and can't choose dependant upon the setting your group has decided to use for your game. Like BESM, OVA is a not-quite-generic generic system and can be used for anything and everything you might come across while perusing the Anime shelf at your local DVD rental shop for on Netflix. Basically, a conversation with your GM is probably the single most important part of forming your character.

During character creation, the idea is to end up with a Zero sum of bonuses and penalties after determining the type of character you want to play that fits in with the campaign. This is sometimes called 'Zeroing' (at least I remember hearing that term for this and similar systems). When deciding what special abilities and weaknesses a...let's say...'Jungle Cat Clan Ninja' has, you might have an advantage ability like Agile +1, Arrogant, a -1 drawback/weakness, Fear of Fire at -2 and Quick +2. The end result of the pluses and minuses is zero.

The basic mechanic of the game is also relatively simple. You start with a basic roll of 2d6, higher numbers are better. Abilities add dice, weaknesses subtract dice. The end result is a dice pool. When multiple dice come up with the same number (doubles, triples, whatever) they are added together. The exception to this rule are 1s, which are not added together.

So for example, let's say Jungle Cat Clan Ninja Nekuko throws her 'Cat Claw Strike' at a member of the rival Dark Cloud Sky Ninja Clan. Nekuko's player rolls 2d6, adds her Quick +2 for two extra dice and another die for her special attack (she has Cat Claw Strike +1 on her sheet). The pool consists of a total of 5 dice. If she rolls 2,3,4,5 and 5, then the player got a 10 (5+5). That roll is then matched against a difficulty or another player (or NPC's) roll. Highest roll wins.

I owned the original edition of this game and, although I don't believe I ever ran or played it, I do remember creating a character or two. The Kickstarter for a new edition ended on June 17th, having surpassed its goal and reaching all nine of its stretch goals! Wow. Pretty impressive.

The new edition might be a tad crunchier in combat than I recall or I may not be remembering all the rules from the original 100% perfectly. I may have to give the new edition a look see.

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*Back in the mid-90s there was a commercial on Japanese television for a video game console which consistently had my friends and I laughing our heads off. I wish I could remember the name of the product.

It would usually begin with a normal Japanese male doing something like fishing on a boat, playing baseball or jogging in the park. Then he would either pull out or suddenly be handed (by an unknown, unseen person located somewhere off camera) a controller and look up to see a TV screen with the game playing on it, regardless of where he was (so it would appear in the boat, on the ground of the baseball field or on a bench in the park).

Some hazard or  minor tragedy would befall this young man's onscreen avatar, the game character, and than the camera would show it having actually happened to him. The best was the fishing one IMHO, in which the fish pulls him off the boat and into the water. The fellow then climbs back into the boat and shouts the game's catchphrase while holding a cartridge:

"It's Like Life!"

How in the name of Mt. Fuji is it 'like life'? Never in my life have I been yanked off a boat while fishing, hit by a pitch to the point of being knocked unconscious or jogged right into a lamppost. It's like a cartoon my friends. No, "It's Like Life!"



Monday, July 15, 2013

Big Sword, Short Skirt

Aside from the games of Mike Pondsmith and R. Talsorian, I often find that, for many gamers, few other names even ring a bell when it comes to Anime and Manga style RPGs published in America (or available here at least).*

Of course this is not true but as a good deal of time has passed since the height of Anime/Manga gaming popularity**, it is easy to forget all that came before. Let's see if I can refresh your memories.

Big Eyes, Small Mouth



Probably the most successful and most well known Western RPG that is not mecha focused, Big Eyes, Small Mouth (or BESM), was first published in 1997 by the Canada based company Guardians of Order (now since defunct). Utilizing its own rule system, known as the Tri-Stat System, BESM attempted to be a sort of Anime/Manga GURPS. It was touted as a universal RPG system but one that distinctly maintained the flavor of Japanese comics and animation.

BESM was quite popular in its time and spawned two later editions as well as numerous supplements. Some focused on a particular genre or subgenre, such as their Science Fiction sourcebook 'Big Robots, Cool Starships', or specific settings, like S. John Ross's amazing Uresia, Grave of Heaven.

In addition, the game generated a number of popular licensed sourcebooks for Anime being made available in the United States. Sailor Moon, Slayers, Tenchi Muyo and a good number of other titles came out as sourcebooks and later 'Ultimate Fan Guides', which weren't so much RPG products as much as what they're name implies, guide books on the shows for the fans.

In 2003, amid the D20 craze generated by the Open Gaming License Wizards of the Coast had made available with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, Guardians of Order jumped on the bandwagon to create BESM D20. Opinions on whether or not this was a good idea in the long run are of course mixed.

The game's third edition had been delayed quite some time due to Guardians of Order going into bankruptcy. The companies properties were eventually purchased by Arthaus, a subsidiary of White Wolf and BESM Third Edition was published in 2007.

While there is no denying the passion that went into making this game (it was by Otaku, for Otaku for sure), I never really took a shine to it in any of its forms. For one thing, for a game called 'Tri-Stat' (Which implied to me the simplicity of only three stats or attributes) it seemed a very crunchy and clunky system. While its basic mechanic was simple enough, roll two D6 and add the appropriate stat and/or skill as a modifier, the game was point based similar to Hero System or GURPS.

The idea was that you could take X amount of points and build a super agile, samurai sword wielding school girl while I took the same amount of points and built a telepathic, teenage mecha pilot. The problem was, for me, that while that's awesome for American Superheroes, is it necessary for Anime characters?

Furthermore, nothing amount the game's mechanics felt overly Anime and Manga-Themed. There were bits and pieces but it largely felt like the games creators and/or writers over analyzed the genre and tried too hard to translate the often over the top, ridiculousness of Japanese pop culture entertainment into exacting numbers.

BESM was a major player in the gaming hobby for quite some time and it remains a favorite for many trying to run RPG campaigns in an Anime and Manga influenced or even oriented setting. Unfortunately, it is not my personal cup of Sweat.

Matte, motto arimasu! Sugu ni modotte kuru!

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*BESM comes from Canada.

**Bet you didn't know it had a height of popularity. Now you do.



Cancelling The Apocalypse

Go Big Or Go...Oh Hell. Just Go Big.
 
 
 
 
Hollywood is an amazing place capable of wonderous things that defy the imagination.
 
They made Star Trek dumb.
 
They made Superman an arse.
 
Based on this track record, there is no way in hell that this Western poop machine is going to be able to crank out a good version of an idea so utterly Eastern as Giant Robots versus Giant Monsters.
 
And yet...
 
Pacific Rim was great. I mean really, really good. I am as surprised as you are.

I have heard it said that it wasn't original. That everything in it was from somewhere else.

Newsflash. Everything from everything is from somewhere else. Especially in Hollywood.

That said, it is true that the film is exactly like that other big budget, American made, live action movie with cool effects and a lot of action in which huge, humanoid robots battle immense, alien monsters.

You know the one. It was...well...gee...unless I'm forgetting something...there wasn't one.

Right.

Look, it's not a cinematic masterpiece, and it isn't Shakespeare, but you know what, that's fine with me. After the rest of the crap this Summer, I am totally OK with this movie being this movie. It's the film I always wanted to see. Was it perfect? No. What the hell is perfect these days? It was good. Booyah-Fist-Pump good. That's more than I can say for most Summer blockbusters.

In my lifetime there was a Mecha vs. Kaiju movie in theatres.

Score.




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This is the 650th Post on the Barking Alien blog. So there.
 

 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Clear and Preference Danger

I intend to get back to the subject of Anime and Manga gaming right after this, but I wanted to add some clarification to the comments I made in my last post.

My favorite subjects upon which to base role playing game campaigns are Star Trek and Superheroes. For those who know me or frequent this site, that's old news.

Now, I'm a pretty laid back, flexible, Hakuna-Matata-Type guy. I am always willing to give different systems and approaches a shot, even if I haven't found them to my liking in the past.

At the same time, we all have our preferences and given the chance to run what I want to run and play what I want to play, I am going to go with my preferred style, settings and systems.




I have played games of Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) that I've thoroughly enjoyed. I have had a blast with various one-shots and the short campaign I ran at the Study Center of Marvel Heroic (MWP). Unfortunately I can't say the same for ICONS. I ran it once and it wasn't to my liking, though my players seemed to think it was OK. Still, after three sessions we all voted unanimously to switch to Mutants & Masterminds. I never played ICONS myself as a player.

While I am a stickler for the tropes of whatever genre I am running, in order to ensure in feels right and different from my other games, I try to find a happy medium between the genre in question and making it a functioning RPG. This isn't always easy but I find not breaking the fourth wall too often helps.

Now what does that mean?

Well, when playing Star Trek, it's inevitable that someone will joke that the ship is a model on a string or not to worry about an avalache since the rocks are made of styrofoam. It's a game set in a universe based on a TV show. Yet, if one does it too many times or references that characters as actors, you are entering a meta-thinking area that can take you out of the buy-in needed to take a game of Star Trek seriously.

Neither is the wrong way to play but the two styles of play are very different in my opinion. Are we role playing characters who live in the universe we've seen over the years on Star Trek or are we role playing characters on a TV show with cheap (though effective) special effects?

I love comic books and have since I was a very young lad. When playing a Superhero comic book RPG, I don't mind 'being in a comic book' once in a while, as that can be a lot of fun. A game where you are known and acknowledged to be a comic book character, whose actions have to fit in the space of a panel and whose abilities are not measured in how many tons they lift or miles per hour they run but whether their 'Awesome' Rays and better than their opponent's 'Fantastic' Field.

For a campaign however, a long term series of adventures with the same characters that builds it's own history and mythology, I want to have a system and an approach to Superheroes that is a bit more centered on the idea that the character are 'real people' relative to the world they live in. They may live in a comic book inspired world and follow many troupes of the genre but they are not comic book characters in a comic book. They are people in a universe.

I looked to the GNS Theory to try and make the explanation of my approach clearer and after reading the wiki I remembered why I don't usually use its terminology. IMHO, it's awful. So much of it overlaps and merges that it doesn't help me say what I am trying to say at all. If anything it makes it almost sound like the opposite.

In the end, I will say what I said in the comments of the previous post, which seemed to clear things up for some...

"What it boils down to is that while I do want the troupes of the genre, I don't want it to feel like the PCs are not living in a breathing, moving world. I don't want them to think of their characters as drawings in a storybook. I want to feel like these are people, struggling against evil, who could die.

I never get that feeling playing or running ICONS, Marvel Super Heroes or Marvel Heroic."


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