Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mountains of Madness

Continuing with my discussion of Horror in Japanese Pop Culture, we move on to...wait. Did you just hear that? What was that? It sounded like...hmmm...probably just the wind.

Anyway, I'd like to discuss Horror Tabletop Gaming and its gripping hold on the Japanese market. 

While the popularity of Tabletop RPGs has increased considerably in Japan over the last decade and especially in the the past two to three years, it is still a very small industry. It is considerably smaller than the relatively small market it is in the USA. 

Here in the States, Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder have the lion's share of players/consumers, with the next closest game(s) pretty far behind. In Japan, Call of Cthulhu is currently the most popular tabletalk (more on that below) RPG. Yes, that Call of Cthulhu; the one created by Sandy Petersen and company and originally published by Chaosium Inc. in 1981. 

The Japanese translated Call of Cthulhu RPG - specifically the game's 3rd Edition - landed in Japan in 1986, at first published by Hobby Japan and later taken over by Kadokawa, one of the largest publishing companies in Japan. It is largely developed for Kadokawa by Arclight, known for putting out TRPG, Card Games, Board Games, and Role & Roll Magazine (a monthly physical magazine dedicated to Role Playing Games and card and my personal favorite such Japanese periodical).

This poster was made for a Call of Cthulhu 'live play'
video which featured Anime Voice Actors playing
the RPG in order to promote the game. 

Call of Cthulhu and the Cthulhu Mythos caught the cultural imagination of the Japanese due largely to the Horror elements that appeal to them throughout the genre - body horror, loss of individuality and sense of self, the 'cosmic' / Science Fiction origins of the often kaiju-sized monsters - these things are all central to Call of Cthulhu.

Additionally, the Basic Role-Playing Game created by Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis and used for Call of Cthulhu turned out to be very well received by the tabletalk gaming fans of Japan. The system's use in emulating the 'real world', from the 1920s to modern times is especially valuable to its customers, who seem to really enjoy gaming in such settings. 

What I find particularly interesting is that today the popularity of CoC is so great that it has spawned (heh) a slew of new material unique to Japan. In addition to a variety of sourcebooks and adventures created by Arclight, a vast array of Doujinshi or fan produced, self-published works are made for Call of Cthulhu, many of which are not directly focused on or connected to the Lovercraftian stories themselves. 

Therein lies the part that fascinates me the most but might surprise traditional fans of the game. The doujinshi I've seen run the gambit from tragic, vampire romance to possessed serial killers to a mini-zombie apocalypse. Additionally, there are a ton of Cthulhu Replays.

As I've discussed before, though perhaps not thoroughly enough, the Japanese TRPG market is all about the Replays. These are recounts of gaming sessions, often accompanied by rules, Player and GM tips, or the like, in the form of Manga. The second cover above (left to right - top row) is for a Replay Manga entitled 'R'lyeh High School, a very Japanese style story about a High School that trains students to fight off Cthulhu.

My friend Ray, whom I game with quite regularly and who happens to be a big fan of Anime and Manga, noted that Japanese Horror tends to blur the lines of its sub-genres. This would explain why the fan made CoC scenarios and comics are so diverse. To the Japanese creators and their audience, nameless, faceless, monstrosities from beyond time and space are part of the Cthulhu Mythos but so are ghosts, mummies, and murderous madmen. It's all Horror and therefore it all works in the Call of Cthulhu game. 

As with any successful endeavor there is bound to be competition and copycats. In the case of CoC, while no other Horror game matches it in popularity, others have made a name for themselves by either being similar but with some sort of twist or wholly unique. 

Next up I will discuss some of those, particularly my favorites: Peekaboo Horror and inSane - two games utilizing the Dice Fiction rules system. 

See you then...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Museum of Terror

It looks like May will see a continuation of my discussion of Japanese TRPGs and Anime/Manga themed/inspired RPGs in general. To that end, here's a subject I haven't yet addressed, partially because my experience with it is limited...Horror. 

I am not, by and large, a Horror fan.

Like Fantasy, I have never been especially enamored with the genre, though I do like creepy, spooky themes, ghost-stories, and art that is weird and even a bit disturbing. It is the tropes of the Horror genre I do not particularly care for and the limited (IMHO) nature of Horror narratives as they apply to ongoing tales (such as RPG campaigns) that make me less interested in the traditional structure of Horror as a whole. 

That said, I do love ALIEN, the Thing, the Shining (film), The Exorcist, the Weird America series of books, and other examples of frightful fiction. I have also been told I run a good Horror-esque game. From my Ghostbusters NJ campaign to recent 'episodes' of our ongoing Star Trek: Prosperity game (now in it's sixth year), it seems I have a knack for making things feel effectively unsettling when I want to. 

While looking at the various genres covered by Japanese Anime and Manga for gaming purposes, I realized how widespread and diverse the Horror genre is and how well it is represented in Japanese Pop Culture. It is also, curiously, mixed with other genres quite often in a way that works for me personally.

Instead of simple modern day Slasher film silliness, we get the giant, man-eating zombie/ghoul creatures from Attack on Titan or the supernaturally powered demons of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. In both cases however, are these really Horror? They are more Action/Adventure oriented and while there is a Horror element, they aren't exactly what an American Horror fan would consider to be a good example of the genre. 

Meanwhile there are series like The Promised Neverland, Paranoia Agent, Tokyo Ghoul, Ghost Hunt, Corpse Party, and many others that are clearly pure Horror. 

Japanese Horror and American Horror aren't the same. Sure, there are things that scare all of us as we are all Humans but there are distinct differences that give Japanese Horror movies, books, Anime, and Manga their own unique feel. 

What is it that makes Japanese Horror special? Well, to figure this out I enlisted the help of several of my good friends who are more well versed on the subject and here is what they had to say...

From Steven Yap:

"Common ideas revolve around cultural mythology like spirits and animism. Themes of finding your place in society and the dread that its at the bottom of the ladder or that your purpose is horrible and you're trapped there are of particular note. Body horror and the 'uncanny valley' of things that seem almost Human but are not are very common motifs.

Because Japanese society has a very "for the good of the collective" cultural tradition and the overwhelming authority of your seniors is pervasive, social mentality themes of loss of identity or being transformed into something less than Human at the whims of those above you are common. These stories sometimes start with a Midas touch/monkey's paw situation wherein it is the attempt to gain greater means or power that traps you in your predicament."

Steve manages to simultaneously be concise in his observation, while at the same time nailing down what are essentially the broad strokes. It's a great overview.

I find the Japanese take on transformation from normal Human to Monster, be it Demon, Vampire, or Zombie, takes on a slightly different connotation. The horror isn't all from being the Monster, from the Monster itself, but 

From Jason 'Big J' McAlpin:

"I think the subjects of the stories are vastly different. In Japanese horror a lot of the stories deal with the students being the monsters instead of the victims as you have in US horror.

Death Note is about a student that decides who lives and who dies, playing god through the use of an otherworldly notebook. Tomie, the first published work of Horror Manga legend Junji Ito, is about a student who drives everyone who sees her to madness, violence, and body horror. Even Ring, Grunge, and other similar stories all deal with a ghost youth or child. That reflects part of the Japanese culture of their society getting older and the lack of young to take over. It’s also part of their reason for the robotics push but robots are always played in a hopeful light in comparison.

Japan also has the whole Animism concept in their folklore and spiritual beliefs, where everything has a spirit and they play off that mythology a lot. For example, a spirit might go evil because someone destroyed its home or they might take human form and fall in love with someone such as the fox spirits/kitsune. If their lover dies or is unfaithful the spirit will take revenge or cause havoc. Spirited Away deals with a bunch of those kinds of spirits. Princess Mononoke does this as well.

The other thing is they use is demons from their own mythology which brings plenty of unique monsters that they can use in stories. Demons are a catch all term for usually malevolent monstrous entities that come in a variety of forms, shapes, and sizes but they are distinctly different from ghosts or yokai. 

A common Japanese Horror trope is that when an individual becomes obsessed with something they can take on a demonic form. The Ring is a good example of this. The Girl's hatred consumed her and turned her into a terrifying demon that killed with a videotape. The only other mythology I’ve encountered that comes close to this approach is Native American mythology with the Wendigo, which is a person that consumes human flesh and transforms into a monster that grows with each body they eat. Death Note explores this as well with the main character getting a book that lets him kill. He starts out by targeting criminals and eventually starts killing anyone that doesn't agree with him and his plan for world domination. He never takes on a form of a monster but definitely plays on the idea of the individual becoming the monster."

Interesting observations all around I would say and it would seem to track with my research. The real question is, how does one apply these elements to Horror gaming? Well, I am not entirely sure how to answer that immediately but let me tell you who can...Japanese Tabletop RPG designers. 

Horror RPGs hold a much larger portion of the gaming market in Japan, with Call of Cthulhu - yes, that Call of Cthulhu - being one of the top selling and most played RPGs they have. is and isn't the Call of Cthulhu we know. It definitely uses the Chaosium rule mechanics and the various official products are dedicated to the Cthulhu Mythos but the unofficial products - and there are MANY - cover a much wider range of Horror settings and subjects, sharing only the game rules with traditional CoC. 

I'm going off topic. Well, more like across topic I suppose. This post laid down the basics of Anime and Manga Horror, though really Japanese Horror. The next post will more thoroughly discuss Horror TRPGS in Japan.

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I May Have Spoken To Soon

I am at nearly 2000 views for May and it is only the 5th of the month. That's insane!

I can't thank you all enough. It means a lot to me that people are interested in the often off-beat RPG ideas and subject matter I discuss here. 

Which brings me to a particularly interesting observation...

I noticed the viewership spike when I began posting links to my blog on Twitter. Even more so when I started discussing Anime/Manga themed and inspired Tabletop Gaming. This leads me to believe that people on Twitter and elsewhere want to here more about the subject. 

I'm one heck of a detective no? A regular Sherlock Holmes. Elementary dear Watson!

Hmm. In keeping with the premise of this post, perhaps I'm more Detective Boy Conan

Anyway, on a vaguely related note, I've been pretty disappointed with my gaming in general this past pandemic year as I've mentioned in the last few months. The one highlight was running the Goblin Slayer TRPG one-shot with friends in Japan. 

Put these two things together and perhaps it was a bit premature to say I would be taking a break from discussing Anime/Manga gaming...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

We Do What We Do

Greetings Entities and Gentle Beings! 

I thought I would open this month with something a Long Time Ago coming to a Galaxy Far, Far Away since we have a new entry into that universe with the Disney + cg animated series, The Bad Batch. 

Having watched the pilot episode earlier today (after my nephew called to remind me it was on - he is a huge Star Wars fan), I'd like to give some thoughts I had and address some ideas it brought to mind about gaming in the early days of the new Galactic Empire. 

I've always been curious about what the Star Wars universe was like in the fledgling days of Imperial Empire and even more so after the Clone Wars Animated Series that this new show spins out of. 

What was the transition like? How did the Clonetrooper give way to the Stormtrooper and why? Did some Jedi escape Order 66 only to be eliminated later? How did the Star Wars Galaxy at large handle the change from Republic to Empire?

Overall, I get the feeling this series will address a lot of these questions and I am very much looking forward to that. It is my hope (and my belief based solely on this first episode) that the show will give us Star Wars RPG fans all the world-building elements we'll need to set a campaign during this era.  

 As with practically all the pop culture entertainment I consume, I look upon it with one eye toward analyzing its particulars as they pertain to being used in RPGs. This is especially true for IPs like Star Wars, which I not only love but which I find well portrayed in one of my all time favorite games, West End Games' D6 System.

It's not just the characters, aliens, droids, and other trappings of The Bad Batch that I am looking to stat but I'm also trying to get the feel of the era and the type of stories being told. I want to get the atmosphere and the tone correct and I am looking forward to studying them as much as the plots and events of the series. 

Now as for the pilot episode itself, I liked it a lot. One of the main reasons was that the key characters, Clone Force 99 - The Bad Batch, were far more intriguing here than in The Clone Wars final season arc that introduced them. There I found them very one-note, mere caricatures of action movie archetypes. Here there was a bit more to them but more importantly, the subtle yet distinct feeling there is more still to be learned. 

I'll definitely be tuning in this coming Friday for the second episode and beyond to see where these characters go and how this setting develops.

I will likely revisit The Bad Batch again in the near future as the show progresses. I hope you'll join me. 

Until then...May The Force Be With You.


Barking Alien 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Leave Room for Dessert

 As I wrap up April and move on into May, I wanted to say thank you once again to everyone who came by this month and made it such a fun time. In addition to getting a record number of views for the blog's 12th anniversary year, I also received far more comments then usual. That really means a lot to me and I hope everyone continues this trend as I move into other territory.

Eat or be eaten in my homebrew 'Delicious in Dungeon' TRPG.
Coming soon...

I have decided that I am going to develop a homebrew 'Delicious in Dungeon' TRPG instead of a more general Anime/Manga Fantasy game. This is going to take some time so meanwhile the blog will move on from Anime and Manga to cover some other subjects. 

Subjects like...

Stay tuned,

Barking Alien

I'll Be Reckless If It Means I'll Win

It is nearly the end of the month and I have over 9000 views for April. Nine thousand.

That is the most I've had in a long while and I want to thank each and every one of you out there who has taken the time to give my weirdo, Narrative promoting, Anime discussing, Space Adventure loving RPG blog a looksee. 

You guys are the best.

For my final entry (for the time being) regarding my Goblin Slayer TRPG One-Shot run over the internet with four players in Japan, I want to talk about some interesting bits that didn't fit anywhere else. 

Hope you enjoy.

The Demon of The Lake
 of The Ruins of The Castle in The Lake

Deep Dive

I was reminded early on about one of the reasons I find Fantasy RPGs and just Fantasy in general so irritating sometimes - it is all so bog standard that any attempt to do something different often feels frustrating. 

I thought it would be cool to place the adventure in an interesting setting and terrain; a flooded castle, half submerged in a lake, and it was raining. I then took to the internet to find an image of a submerged castle. Nothing even remotely cool. 

I search for Sunken castle? No. Not completely underwater, how about Flooded Castle? Nope. Castle in a Lake? Hmmm. Castle with Water? Nothing. ARGH!

Are you telling me I am the first person in the history of Fantasy RPGs to have this type of setting in an adventure? Surely not. The first person to want a picture of it? Good grief man! WTH! I am other a savant genius of setting design or you Fantasy artists out there need to step up your game. 

Strangely, the idea was inspired by one of the early volumes of the Manga 'Dungeon Meshi' or Delicious in Dungeon. I didn't want to use that art though and confuse the IPs.

Don't even get me started on the Giant Killer Mermaid. At least that I could put together myself. Sheesh.

Favorite Quotes:

"I will make it rain Fire and Death." Naoko said this when it looked like the Lake Demon was going to eat Lady Knight and the children on the raft. She said it in a tone that was so incredibly nonchalant that I burst out laughing. It was an even, soft, but serious tone. She might as well have said, "Here are the quarterly reports you asked for" or "I took the liberty of ordering tea and scones for us". My favorite line of the night. 

Just like how [in the Anime] Goblin Slayer says 'Souka' or 'I see' a lot, Yasa's Armored Dwarf has the catchphrase Mondai Nai, which basically mean 'It's no problem'. He said it often enough that it became clear he was doing it to be funny. He would lean back on his chair and smile the same way almost every time while saying it. His Dwarf was so laid back he wasn't bothered by any dangerous or difficult task the group asked of him. 

"Dwarf, do you think you could retrieve the dagger I threw into that goblin's guts?'

"Hai. Mondai nai." Sure, no problem.

When Jenn's Lady Knight needed to reach the three children tied up on a raft in the middle of the watery ritual chamber, she started to get this desperate, earnest look on her face. She was honestly worried Knight Woman wouldn't be able to jump the distance to save the kids. John noticed her look and mentioned that the Dwarf was already in the water. She looked at Yasa (via screen of course) and asked, "Is that OK?" Clearly Yasahiro had no idea what she was planning but lean back and said, "Mondai nai."

Jenn describes Knight Woman leaping off the ledge onto the floundering Dwarf, then off him and onto the raft. Yasa's face was priceless. He laughed and laughed, moving his arms as if he was trying to tread water and then pantomimed sinking. Hero and Hilarious! For her part, Jennifer described the Lady Knight landing on the raft with a Superhero 'Three Point Landing' stance. 

Lastly, I described the Lake Demon in some detail; a beautiful but gigantic mermaid with a very curvy figure. Yasahiro smiled and basically said, "Oh ho!". Then I mentioned her rows of razor sharp teeth and long, sharp claws. He then said something under his breath in Japanese that caused Naoko to laugh for a full minute. 

After the game I asked him what he'd said. He told me that after his "Oh ho", he had also whispered, "Sexy" in Japanese. After the full description he changed his opinion saying, "Oh. Not sexy Mermaid. Scary Mermaid."

Naming Convention:

In the Goblin Slayer series (Anime and Manga for sure - not sure about the Light Novels) none of the characters have proper names. We never find out the given names of any of the characters. The Goblin Slayer is always called Goblin Slayer. The High Elf Ranger is referred to as 'Elf', 'High Elf', ' High Elf Archer', and 'Ranger'. Even the credits of the show list the voice actors as playing secondary characters like 'Guild Girl', 'Sword Maiden', and 'Cow Girl's Uncle'. 

According to the series creator, Kumo Kagyu, this was done to reflect the fact that many players and Gamemasters of Fantasy TRPGs find it hard to come up with names for both PCs and NPCs and often forget them, simply calling them by their Race and Profession. 

When we started the game I told the players that it was fine if they created names for their PCs but I will only be calling them by their Species and Class. They were stunned and then told me the idea was brilliant. Perfect for this game world. I was pretty proud of that small but immersive choice.

A Sequel or Side Story?
We shall see.

One-Shot Wonder?

A question I've been asked by Tim Knight and others is, will we do it again?

I would love to and I am sure the players would too but the timing on the session we did was just a perfect zeitgeist. Normally Jenn, John, and Yasa only get the chance to play on the weekends and not usually together (though they might now - John and Yasa exchanged the names of their respective favorite Gaming Cafes.). 

If the opportunity comes up I would happily run for this group again. Such energy, investment, good RPG, good tactics, and a mindset many gamers these days lack - We only have 4-5 hours to play. Do stuff. Take action. Convey your character in a line or two. Keep it moving.

I will conclude here by thanking Naoko for this opportunity and her hospitality in inviting me into her home and world if only virtually. The same goes for all those involved. Jennifer, John, and Yasahiro, it was a pleasure and I look forward to the chance to enjoy your company again. 

正式にありがとう Seishiki ni arigatō

Barking Alien

Tabletop Gaming Online - English to Japanese Translation

A little behind the scenes information and analysis of my recent, online, one-shot of the Japanese Goblin Slayer Tabletop RPG by SB Creative, run for a group of four players living in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

Let's meet the Players:

Jennifer is a White Female in her mid-20s, American, originally from California, who moved to Japan about 5 years ago. She teaches English to high school students but also does tutoring for adults. She only began playing TRPGs a year or so ago when she started dating her boyfriend John, though she has been an avid board game player for a long time. 

John hails from Seattle originally but moved to Japan a little over 5 years ago. Originally he lived in Tokyo but took a job that moved him out to Chiba. He is a White Male, mid-to-late 20s (he is a little older than Jenn). John was an avid TRPG player as a kid, stopped for several years and then got involved in it again 3 years back.

Naoko, whom I met through an online Art Forum, is a Japanese Female in her late 20s/early 30s who works for a Small Press Book Publisher. She has never played a TRPG before last night but became interested in them after seeing them at a Publishing Industry convention. She looked into them further and eventually started checking them out for her own company. She started reading my blog and that is how this whole thing really came about.

Last but not least, a colleague/co-worker of Naoko's, Yasahiro is a Japanese Male in his late 20s/early 30s who is very, very funny. Seriously, this fellow's quiet, subtle humor had me chuckling throughout most of the session. Yasa (he said to call him that) has had some experience with TRPGs but not a lot. He was the person most familiar with the Goblin Slayer Anime series. 

Now then...

This was my first time running a Japanese game for Japanese nationals living in Japan and as such I have no other experience to compare it with.

With that in mind, I put together some basic questions and answers based on ones I had going in and what I learned. 

If you want to know something that I didn't cover, please let me know!

Was this typical of how the Japanese play TRPGs online? I have no idea. As I said, I have no prior experience to compare it to.

Did you need to bring a 'gift' to the online session the way you would in Japan when visiting someone's home? No. As I understood it, this was more like when the Japanese go out to play RPGs at a Gaming Cafe. Yes, Gaming Cafes are a thing in Japan, one that is growing in popularity (or was prior to the Pandemic). Most Japanese Gaming Cafes primarily host Board Games but it is also a popular venue for TRPGs as well. 

How did you begin? Naoko facilitated things with introductions that were both more formal than a typical first time meeting of American gamers and more casual than proper introductions at Japanese business and social meetings I have attended in the past. This maybe because of the nature of the 'get together', the fact that three out of the five participants were actually Americans, or because modern Japanese social customs among people her age are less structured than they used to be. I don't honestly know. 

How did you introduce the game and the adventure? After getting to know everyone, I asked each if they had played TRPGs before, if so how often, and were they familiar with this particular game and it's Anime/Manga origins. 

I made it clear that I was not as well versed with the rules as I wanted to be. I was told that John had thoroughly read and understood the mechanics, while Naoko had gone over them the night before and got the basics. In practice their knowledge of the rules was incredibly helpful. Honestly, the two of them were handling the mechanical side of the adventure during play.

I kind of felt bad, like I was shirking my duties and letting them down. Even now I can't say I have a good sense of the rules in any detail. At the same time, having them overseeing the rules freed me up to focus on the narrative. 

I asked them if there were any elements or subjects they felt they wanted me to avoid and assured them that I had no desire to be particularly vulgar or graphic going in. There was a general consensus that we were all on the same page and that was that. 

I asked them to introduce and describe their characters and so they did, if briefly. Some of i it was especially interesting to me.

For example:

Yasahiro's Dwarf Warrior, sometimes called The Armored Dwarf, was the lightest of the characters in terms of pathos or background. As Yasa explained, "I just want to play a Dwarf. No one plays them for some reason. I think it would be fun. He (the Dwarf Warrior) is a fun guy. He is very likable." He played the character laid back, jovial, and very funny.

Naoko described her character, the Elf Girl Mage, as "More pretty than cute". She described her having white hair, blue eyes, and dressing mainly in red. She wore a hooded cloak outside but inside she often put on a witch's hat. She also asked if she could take the Spell 'Blizzard' and change it to be Fire - same effects and damage but with a Fire/Flame descriptor. I called it Firestorm and she loved that, so we made it so. 

Jennifer's character, The Lady Knight or Knight Woman was less interested in reward money and more dedicated to protecting people who can't protect themselves. Furthermore, because Knight Woman isn't motivated by money, she is more likely to leap into danger to save others as she isn't weighing their lives against a monetary value. I Instantly fell in love with this character. 

John's Priest of The Home followed a Home/Hearth Goddess. His idea was that his character was not well suited for the life of an Adventurer at first glance. His opinion was taking him on an Adventure was like taking a piece of Home with you wherever you went. The way he applied his Spells and Skills made him seem somewhere between a Cleric and a Druid.

Were there any difficulties with the game? What was the hardest part? There were a few things that did come up during the game, though none of them impeded us overly much. 

For some reason, I did something I rarely do - I described distances and measurements. "This is 15 feet away", "that's over 20 feet high". Every time I did this I could see the Japanese players doing the Metric conversions in their heads. This issue never even occurred to me.

I usually describe things by saying it's about as tall as a fire hydrant or it weighs as much as an unabridged dictionary. Why was I suddenly giving exact measurements? I switched and at the end got great reactions by saying the Lake Demon, "stood three floors high out of the water", and "She reaches out to grab you with arms that are two cars long". The players loved that.

At one point, as expected, I started to go a little too fast. It was pointed out to me and I slowed things down. 

Japanese TRPGs have very distinct scene structures. This is especially true of those that have come out within the last 5 years. There is a Introduction Scene, then a Role Playing Scene, then a Combat Scene, etc. I imagined my style, which often blends many of these separate events together, could be very confusing if you are used to the Japanese approach.

I have also been known to start a game In Media Res and I did just that with this session. Meanwhile, I did just that and it worked really well. We began in the midst of a battle with Goblins and after the fight I did a flashback in which the group takes the mission and gets part of the exposition. This was followed by some character banter. We then proceeded back to the here and now to show the Party delving deeper into the Castle Ruins. 

At first, this approach really through them. Even John, who had prior experience with RPGs hadn't really played that way and was now used to the Japanese approach. They all liked it a lot though, saying it forced them to think quickly and get into the story right away. They also said it was so much more like an episode of an Anime. 

OK, that's a lot and I need to get some rest. There is one more entry coming, hopefully giving some more notes including some of the Easter Eggs, humor, and setting details. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Ruins of The Castle in The Lake - A Replay

"I will make it rain Fire and Death."

-Elf Girl Mage, my friend Naoko. Best quote of the session.

Goblin Slayer TRPG
Standard Edition Cover

"Plip. Plip-plop. Plitty-plip plop plip. Raindrops pitter-pattered across the landscape, covering the ruins of The Castle in The Lake in a heavy mist. As the raindrops fell upon the Lake, the water rose, flooding the already damp area.

'SPLOOSH' The Dwarf Warrior's foot came down in a large puddle as he blocked the Hobgoblin's massive club with his Axe. Several smaller goblins stood surrounded the combatants in a circle, engaged in battle with The Elf Girl Mage, The Lady Knight, and The Priest of The Home."

This is how I opened the session this morning, paraphrased here and there, for our One-Shot of the Goblin Slayer TRPG. The game was run over Zoom with myself as Gamemaster and four players.

I am in New York City, NY in the USA. They were in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

Jennifer played The Lady Knight (aka Knight Woman)
John played The Priest of The Home (aka Home Priest)
Naoko played The Elf Girl Mage (aka Mage Elf)
Yasahiro played The Dwarf Warrior (aka Armored Dwarf)

The plot was simple and straight forward - Merchants, mostly Farmers and Fishermen, had pooled together a lot of reward money to hire Adventurers whom they hoped would defeat Bandits hiding in The Ruins of The Castle in The Lake.

The ruins were off the road that led from the Fishing Village to Market Town. Bandits had recently attacked Fishermen on the road going to Market Town, as well as Farmers and Merchants leaving Market Town for the Fishing Village. 

The Adventurers Guild Party took the job only to find out these were not mere Bandits. It was a Cult of Evil trying to resurrect The Demon of The Lake. The items robbed and people kidnapped by the 'Bandits' were to be used in an Ancient Ritual of Dark Magic!

The Party were all 'Steel Level' members of the Adventurers Guild and it seemed they may have been a bit out of their element. Goblins had take up residence in a section of the Ruin and had attacked the group as they entered the area. These Goblins were odd however; different in appearance from the usual fare. They had frog-like skin with molted markings. The deep gray rain clouds provided just enough darkness for the Goblins to come out during the day or perhaps they were aided by the rain itself. 

With some effort and teamwork the Party managed to slay the Goblins but that was only the beginning. The Bandit Cult (as they became known) had laid traps for the Party and without a Scout they often had to find other ways in and around the Ruins (which I must say was very clever). 

They encountered several Cultist Bandits and an Evil Bandit Acolyte on a series of staircases descending deeper into the keep before reaching the center of the ruined Castle, which was itself submerged in the Lake. The Cultists there was standing at various positions on a magic symbols carved into the stone floor. They were in the midst of their ritual to summon The Lake Demon, prepared to sacrifice three young children who were tied up on a raft that was floating in the water. 

The Party sprung into action like they'd being doing this for years! The Elf Girl Mage shot a Firebolt at the Cultists, causing them to break from their positions. The Dwarf Warrior followed up by charging the closest Cultist, though this sent them both tumbling into the water where the Cultist had the advantage; the Dwarf couldn't swim well at all. The Priest of the Home, brilliantly, blessed the Lake with a Purify Miracle, causing steam and a distant, inhuman cry to rise from the water. The Lady Knight...heheh...OK, so the Lady Knight...

Knight Woman leap off the ledge at the edge of The Lake, bounced off of the Dwarf in the water, jumped from there to the raft with the three children, and then cut them free. Just as she tried to figure out how to 'row' them back to dry land, a couple of Cultists jumped in the water and went after her. 

Meanwhile the Bandit High Priest is completing the Ancient Ritual, somewhat unaware of the fact that conditions aren't perfect. He is either ignoring it or so wrapped up in what he's doing he's in a kind of trance. 

The battle rages with The Party making short work of the Cultists but Knight Woman and the kids are still out on the raft in the water. Suddenly...'SH-THOOM!' A massive, muscular Mermaid with markings similar to the frog-skinned Goblins emerges from the water. She is both beautiful and creepy, the Demon of the Lake and she is not under the control of the Cultists. With their Ancient Ritual disrupted and the offering of the children not properly given, Mermaid Demon is angry, hungry, and out for blood!

Obtaining clubs from the Bandit Cultists she defeated, The Lady Knight and one of the kids use the weapons as makeshift oars and row back to the shore/ledge. Mage Elf covered them with Firestorm (a spell we made up based on the game spell Blizzard). 

As the team regrouped on slightly higher ground, a blast of steam so hot and powerful it nearly knocked them all over erupted from the center of the Lake. The Firestorm spell, mixed with the water on and below the Lake Demon had created a tornado of super-heated mist. With a furious scream, the Mermaid Demon emerged from the steam, clawed fingered and sharp teeth barred, leaping toward our heroes.

End of Episode. 

Behind the scenes info, thoughts, and more after the eyecatch.

Barking Alien

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Four Sided World

A rare opportunity has come up and I couldn't say no...though perhaps I should have thought my yes out more carefully.

My friend Naoko, who lives in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan, has invited me to/requested that I run an Tabletop RPG One-Shot for herself and some friends tomorrow evening. To be clear, tomorrow evening for them is early tomorrow morning for me. 

The game in question is the official Goblin Slayer TRPG published by Softbank Creative. Not long ago, I was able to obtain a copy of the Limited Edition boxed set of this game thanks to Naoko. 

Box Set Art

Boxed Set Art

I am incredibly flattered to be asked to GM for this collection of players and overjoyed to run a game I know I might not get to play otherwise. I do have some concerns however.

Oh boy do I have concerns...

First and foremost, I do not speak Japanese. While I might know some words and phrases, I can't actually speak or understand the language for the purposes of a conversation. 

Second, I haven't read the rules. See the first conundrum. The game is written in Japanese instead of the use of English on the front cover of the box set and rule book. It has not yet been translated into English, professionally or by fans, though there are some groups working on that noble cause even as we speak. 

I don't know these players, their likes and dislikes, and the proper protocols for gaming over the internet with people from Japan. That is, are there cultural elements about gaming online that differ from those of the US? Given the subject matter of the early episodes of Goblin Slayer, is there anything that might offend any of them or make them uneasy that I should avoid referencing?

Well, check this out...

Accessories that come with the Limited Edition.

A Dice Bag, Custom Dice, and
a Goblin Slayer Miniature!

According to Naoko there will be four players - an American Female friend of hers who teaches English in Chiba, her friend's boyfriend - also an American, a Male colleague from work who is a Japanese native, and herself, also a Japanese native. 

The two Americans speak English fluently but also Japanese (particularly the teacher) so they can help with translations. Naoko and her Male friend speak English, though she says she knows her pronunciation and usage of some words isn't perfect. Her friend is similar.

Naoko and I have spoken a couple of times online and I have never had a problem understanding her. She sometimes has difficulty understanding me when I speak too quickly, which I realize I do quite often. I will make an effort to slow down tomorrow. 

As far as the rules, I have been able to obtain some basic rule information, though I am concerned about where it will be enough. At least one other person in the group has read the rules in full and Naoko is going over them tonight (or is that today? hmmm). 

Finally, in regards to what I can say, can't say, should or shouldn't say, I generally go by the simple rule that if there is nothing to added by being vulgar then there is no reason to be. It isn't something that concerns me because, generally speaking, I don't create scenes that might 'trigger' people.

Granted, I have also played with people who don't get set off by in game actions or words easily. Sure, this might come up and if and when it does we will address it. If there is anything they don't want me to talk about or cover, I will ask them up front if there are any such things so there won't be any issues later on.

After going over all that I am feeling...still nervous has heck but I am really excited and can hardly wait to see what happens. I do need to calm down and relax a bit though. After all...I'm gaming in 8 and a half hours!

Gamemaster's Screen

“Luck, wisdom and courage! It all begins with whether or not you’re going to do something,
So do something!”
-Burglar, Goblin Slayer Season 1, Episode 8

Let's hope this group, unlike many US players, take that advice.

Barking Alien

Bug Stompers

 Happy Xenomorph Day Everyone!
April 26th, or 4/26, has become a way to celebrate the ALIEN franchise, referencing the planet LV-426 where upon the crew of the USCSS Nostromo and it's Chief Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley first encountered the titular extraterrestrial horror. 

I was really looking forward to today as Free League Publishing had originally announced that its delayed Colonial Marines Operations Manual would come out today, this most appropriate of days. has been further delayed and will not be out until, well, until they're completely done with it I suppose. When that will be is anyone's guess but Free League assures up the date is 'soon'. 

I am disappointed of course, partially because it would have been cool to have it come out on this particular date but also because I really like this game and there really hasn't been any great material for it since the main book was released. The special dice, the GM screen - all that and an adventure came out with the corebook or just after. What have we seen since? Another adventure or two? Nice but not something I need or use so I am looking for them to put out more books. A Colonial Marines sourcebook is just what the Android ordered! 

So now we wait. I hope Ferro and Spunkmeyer get here soon. 

Did...did you just hear a crash? That sounded like a crash...

Barking Alien

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Dungeon Meal Guide for Adventurers

While working on the rules for what I hope will be an upcoming Anime/Manga themed Medieval Fantasy RPG campaign, I had a mini-epiphany; one that is making me question how best to proceed.

The more I work on The Dungeon Experiment, the more I realize how much it is being influenced by a single Manga series: Dungeon Meshi, known in the USA as 'Delicious in Dungeon'. 

Sure, a lot of ideas go into a project of this nature and some are conscious additions while others seep in over time and through fandom osmosis. While I am not actively adding anything into The Dungeon Experiment from say, Record of The Lodoss War or Ruin Explorers, those are definitely two Japanese titles in the same genre that I really enjoyed in the past and to say they have no effect on my approach to this game would be short-sighted. 

That said, Dungeon Meshi is really the template from which I am working. This begs the question - Considering who I am and how much I love IP/Franchise based gaming, does it make more sense to create The Dungeon Experiment or simply make a Delicious in Dungeon Tabletop RPG?

In the seven years that the Manga has been in print (first US edition produced by Yen Press was released in May of 2017), the series has generated excellent reviews and a sizeable and dedicated fan following.

Creator, writer, and artist Ryoko Kui, in addition to the main Manga, has produced a guide to the characters and setting (The Dungeon Meshi World Guide Adventurer's Bible),  Senshi's Diary - A Record of Life (a series of diary entries by the Dwarf Cook Senshi noting observations about his fellow party members and what they'd all eaten), several one-shots tangentially set in the same milieu (most notably the story, 'There Were Dragons in The West'), and three artbooks/sketchbooks entitled Daydream Hour that have additional notes on the world, its species and monsters, alternate and additional characters designs and costume variations, and more. 

Finally, the book shown above, 'The Dungeon Meal Guide for Adventurers', is both an in-universe book the character Laios Touden carries around with him and an unofficial fan-made  actual book containing original fan art and recipes (giving both monster ingredients and real world ingredients that can be substituted to make the dishes in your own kitchen). 

All this additional material [beyond the Manga chapters themselves] fleshes out the setting in a way that is perfect for world-building an RPG campaign. The additional art is an excellent way to visualize elements unique or specific to the game world (such as depictions of Dungeon Meshi's Orcs and Kobolds). 

Left: Female Orc
Right: Male Kobold

I love the doggo Kobolds!

I have a lot of reasons to love this idea and to want to make an unofficial fan-made Delicious in Dragon RPG. But...

Should I? Shouldn't I stick with a more original, widely accessible game with inspiration from Dungeon Meshi AND all the other series I've been discussing. Part of me thinks this makes the most sense. I don't need to introduce those unfamiliar to the world of the Manga if I am using a world I am developing as I go. It's definitely more flexible, more expansive, or at least that's how potential players would see it (as people always feel strange entering an established setting that they don't know...for some reason). 

Yet...I am the 'IP Guy'. I feel the pull; the challenge of making a game based on this series. The same reasons I love running DC Comics Superheroes, Ghostbusters, Red Dwarf, Star Trek, and Star Wars, are the reason I feel the desire, almost the need, to make a Delicious in Dungeon RPG. 

I'm torn. 

Curious to hear what others think. 

I guarantee you more to come soon...

Barking Alien