Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thorough Thursdays : Hobby Japan's RPG MAGAZINE

Prior to this post, I have never specifically tagged a post or dedicated an entry to RPG Magazine. I have shown covers from issues that I own and may have referenced the publication on rare occasion. 

That's just wrong.

RPG Magazine was a monthly periodical published in Japan by Hobby Japan Co. LTD., from May of 1990 to August of 1999. While the Hobby Japan company is best known for its self titled modeling hobby magazine which was first published in 1969, they have expanded into many other hobby fields including the production of manga, prose paperbacks, artbooks, and tabletop RPGs and support publications. 

The magazine was originally 'saddle stitched', with a flat, stapled, spine but changed to a thicker, sturdier, 'flat stitch' format in later years (more like the spine of most softcover RPG books today).

During the 'saddle stitch' era, the magazine was heavily focused on useful RPG articles including adventure scenarios, articles on Medieval Japan culture, sample NPCs for various games, and other helpful bits. The magazine covered many games, though it focused heavily on American RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, MegaTraveller, Rolemaster, and Rune Quest, as well as Japanese tabletop role playing games like Metal Head, Satasupe ReMix, Seventh Fortress, and Wares Blade.

When RPG Magazine changed to a flat spine format, it mainly did so in order to add additional pages of Replay Manga and short Manga serials. Replay Manga is an awesome and uniquely Japanese invention. It is essentially a comic book story showing people playing a particular game. In addition to showcasing cool elements of the game's setting, it teaches you the rules as you read it. It is often accredited with clearing up confusion over rule misinterpretations by both showing and telling how a given mechanic works. 

While this change left less room for detailed, in-depth gaming articles it did have one feature I loved. Often it would give you a new mini-game or game expansion [to an existing RPG] explained as an illustrated prose novel, with a side order of rules (similar to how WotC's Dungeon Magazine did in their Polyhedron issues). 

My two favorites were a cool expanded Mobile Suit Gundam story that filed in the gap between the original series 'One Year War' tech and the later 'Stardust Memory' tech and Mobile Racer Championship, a giant robot competitive racing sport game set in the Cyberpunk milieu of the Metal Head RPG. 

RPG Magazine was eventually discontinued in 1999 and replaced by other titles as the gaming hobby and industry changed in Japan and the United States. While RPGs remained a small but popular past time, card games such as Magic: The Gathering took precedence and brought in more money. GAME JAPAN was the magazine to take over RPG Magazine's legacy, though it was strongly focused on collectible card games, computer games, and board games with just a smattering of RPG material mostly aimed as Dungeons & Dragons. I believe it may still be in print.

Traditional RPGs became even more of a 'niche' hobby, yet Japanese fans of it were fiercely loyal and remain so. This resulted in a resurgence in popularity over time, with more independent and small press games filling in the gap left by fewer big companies like Hobby Japan supporting the interest. 

Nowadays the main tabletop gaming magazine is Role & Roll, though there are a few others. I'll talk about Role & Roll in future post. 

I personally first discovered RPG Magazine in 1991 at the age of 22. I had a couple of friends who could read Japanese and we poured over issues after issue trying to mine even the smallest nuggets of information out of them. 

Interestingly, it was fairly easy to use the MegaTraveller, Call of Cthulhu, and Rune Quest material, as the formats used were nearly identical to those in the American products and the numbers were often written in English. The UWP and UPP Codes used in Traveller to describe planets and characters respectively were identical in both the American and Japanese games. 

Even if I could only understand [with help] 25% of any given issue, I still look them over again and again. The art was so cool and so different from what gaming products looked like in the USA. The ideas that formed the basis of the games made by the Japanese for the Japanese were unusual and incredibly intriguing to me back then.

Though only a handful of issues have survived the intervening 25+ years, I still go back and look at them all the time. Each time I do I am inspired by the visuals and promise of genres that are a tad off the beaten path here in the states. 

Maybe soon I will find a way to reawaken the power within their pages

Until then,

Barking Alien


  1. Wow, nice review!
    I'd be interested in knowing which issues had RuneQuest material in them.