Saturday, May 22, 2021

Kore Wa Jiyū Shōnin Beowulf

Continuing my deep dive into Japanese Tabletop RPGs and the American RPGs that the Japanese love to play, I am moving on to a title near and dear to my heart. Thankfully, its a title that Japan's gaming enthusiasts seem particularly fond of as well. 

I'm talking about...

Games Design Workshop worked with Japanese entertainment company Hobby Japan to translate the Traveller game in 1984. Hitoshi Yasuda, founder of Group SNE, was the lead translator on the product.

The Japanese editions were formatted differently from their American counterparts. The original little black books contained in a boxed set proved popular, so many of the following products were also in the format of boxed sets instead of individual books. The 'Black + Colored Stripe' style of the LBBs was replaced with artwork by noted Science Fiction artist Naoyuki Katoh, well established in Japan as the painter and illustrator of many American Sci-Fi classics that had been translated into Japanese such as Dune, Starship Troopers, The Stars My Destination, and more.

Interestingly, as Hobby Japan preferred to group certain Traveller RPG books together to sell in boxed set, including adventures and additional material, art, and minor alterations were added to make these products work better together. The Japanese edition of classic Traveller is therefore not an exact, word-for-word translation but one that has been purposely embellished for better internal synergy. 

Traveller Referees Accessories

A Japanese Traveller Supplement
with no exact US counterpart.

Furthermore, Hobby Japan was given access to many of the third party products created for use with Traveller by FASA, Judge's Guild, and Digest Group Publications. Not surprisingly, this open attitude on the part of the original creator, Marc Miller, spurred on the Japanese writers to expand the game even further. 

One of my favorite Japanese Traveller products:

The Traveller Robot Manual
combines Book 8: Robots with 101 Robots 

While later editions and variations of the Traveller game that came out in America would also be translated for the Japanese market - namely MegaTraveller and Traveller: The New Era - a very dedicated fanbase of Japanese players continued to play the classic game more or less as it had always been. 

In 2004, Raimei, Inc., an Information Technology and Services company, worked with Far Future Enterprises to publish a 20th Anniversary Edition of the original Japanese Traveller box set. That same year quarterly Japanese gaming magazine RPGamer (Spring 2004, Vol. 5) dedicated an entire issue to Traveller, adding material to the board game Mayday as well as including a Traveller Replay Manga. 

Around that same time, the Japanese TRPG magazine Role & Roll had published a sample Traveller adventure with the numbers all written in English and in the same UPP and UWP order as American products are. The adventure, featuring the PCs' vessel forced to land and do repairs on a planet with huge ant-like creatures, is one I've used regardless of not being about to read the scenario in full (I supplemented a lot of the details with my own ideas.). 

According to my sources, while the GURPS and Mongoose versions of Traveller have made it to the shores of the Japanese islands, the original version is still very popular throughout Japan.

To my knowledge Raimei, Inc. is no longer in business, possibly absorbed into another larger company. I am not entirely sure who in Japan has the rights to original Traveller at present. If anyone out there has any information on the current status of classic Traveller in Japan, please feel free to share it in the comments below. 

For some additional insight and inspiration I recommend checking out the Japanese language Traveller fan website of Kamu Uruhito. This site has been invaluable to me over the years as not only a source of Traveller art and ideas but links to other Japanese Traveller sites. 

I realize that this post talks a lot about Traveller the game and its history in Japan but hardly anything about what Japanese fans do with it. That is to say, how 'Japanese Science Fiction' applies to the Traveller RPG and vice versa. I may have to make that a follow up post as the specifics are both simpler and more intricate than can be easily summed up here.

That is all the time I have right now my friends. I need to make the Jump to Regina. Clear Skies everybody!

Up next, Superheroes...and Superheroes...and Superheroes...

Barking Alien

PS: Since you're all friends of mine, I'll let you in on a little secret - dig around and you'll find that the Traveller site isn't Uruhito's main page (It isn't even his FINAL FORM!) but one of several dedicated to RPGs, models, Star Trek, and a host of other stuff. Have fun!

Finally, some sad news in the world of Anime and Manga. Kentaro Miura, the popular Manga writer and artist known for the series Berserk, passed away on May 6th due to acute aortic dissection. He was 54. I fan of his work myself, my condolences and best wishes go out to his family, friends, and Berserk fans worldwide.

Rest in Peace. 


  1. It looks like fan base for a given system is longer lived in Japan than in Europe or in the USA. Except for a few games, gamers often go to the new edition.
    I know that Chivalry & Sorcery 1st & 2nd edition still have a large fanbase, maybe larger than for the newer editions. It doesn't seems the case for the first D&D edition (dubbed BECMI).
    I know a few HarnMaster players. They are not using the first & second editions anymore, they are using either the 3rd or HarnMaster Gold. And most of my friends went to 4th (and for some) 5th D&D editions.

  2. One of my big regrets is that I didn't try harder to get into the Japanese RPG scene during the decade I lived there. The expat gamer community kept me sated, and the only Japanese friend I had who was also a gamer lived three prefectures away.

    Another regret is listening to my wife when I found a mint condition Japanese translation of the Mentzer Basic D&D box set for sale at Shinjuku Yellow Submarine, for around $100. She thought it was a waste of money, so I didn't pick it up.