Monday, August 2, 2021

RPGaDay Challenge 2021 - MAP

I love Maps. I just don't love using them. 

Let me explain...

Maps are, for me at least, a very beautiful but very specific form of art.

They are [generally speaking] depictions of places, ranging from the interiors of buildings to the geological and topographical features of planetary bodies. The most wonderful thing about Maps in my humble, personal opinion is that these places need not exist. Since they are works of art, they rely primarily on the skill and imagination of their creators and therefore may be real or fictional.

This means that while they are certainly a useful tool for determining where one is and how to get where one want to go, Maps are equally impressive for showing use the relationship between several points that need not be anywhere in reality. Images showing us where the Misty Mountains are in relation to Hobbiton and how far Tatooine is from the Core Worlds of Coruscant and Kuat are of just as much interest to me as the GPS that tells me how to get from my apartment to my favorite restaurants in the Midtown Manhattan. Likely more so. 

When it comes to gaming, I don't use Maps for the purpose of showing my players where their PC is standing, how far the opponents is from them, how many 'spaces' or 'hexes' it is to the door or anything like that. My games aren't war games and I usually don't bother with range unless there is some narrative or dramatic reason to do so. 

I use Maps to say, 'Look at this World Building! Look how cool this place is!' I want you to see the setting in a way that intrinsically makes it more real because as Humans we are trained to understand that if there is a Map to it, it must be a place. I couldn't care less if a Map depicts how many weeks of overland travel it takes to get from one adventure to the next but I do want the visual that says, 'This is far. This is going to take some time and go through so spectacular terrain.'

Maps are fascinating to me but distances less so.

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2021 - SCENARIO

What an excellent first prompt.

A quintessential element of Tabletop Role-Playing Games and one about which I and likely many other gamers have definitive thoughts about. 

It's probably no surprise that I approach Scenarios a little differently from the majority of my fellow Gamemasters. Before I address exactly what goes into my Scenario design, I think it's helpful to define what a Scenario is.

First, what is the actual meaning of the word independent from its RPGaming connotations. According to, Scenario means:

  • An outline of the plot of a dramatic work, giving particulars as to the scenes, characters, situations, etc.
  • The outline or the manuscript of a motion picture or television program, giving the action in the order in which it takes place, the description of scenes and characters, etc.
  • An imagined or projected sequence of events, especially any of several detailed plans or possibilities: 'One scenario calls for doubling profits by increasing our advertising, the other by reducing costs.'

What I find really interesting about these definitions is that all of them sort of relate to how RPGs use the term but there isn't a single one that nails it exactly. Don't get me wrong, that totally makes sense as these meaning weren't intended to be used by gamers. They were meant for normal speech by regular people. Game-Speak is a whole other animal. 

A gaming Scenario is essentially an Adventure intended to be played through by a GM and a group of players that consists of various combat encounters, discoveries, role-playing scenes,  and other bits that challenge all involved. 

The key thing for me is that all of the above definitions use terms like 'outline' or 'imagined or projected'. This fits with my idea of making sure Scenarios in my own campaigns aren't rigid, inflexible, or even overly specific. My Scenarios tend to have a more general, big picture overview, with the details and specifics being variable.

For many of my games I don't really write Adventures or Scenarios in the traditional sense. I have ideas as to which NPCs are up to what, where they are located now or where they are headed, and then sprinkle in various means and ways the PCs can find out about all this. As such, I am totally open to the players/PCs checking out other people, places, and ideas found in the world setting. PCs can go off script in my Scenarios because, simply put, there isn't a script. 

Entry 1 - Scenario

Barking Alien. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

August Rush

My series of blog posts dedicated to Japanese Tabletop RPGs has been delayed by my overactive but under performing brain. My head is in too many places as once and the next set of posts on Superhero RPGs in Japan has suffered because of it.

In addition, my business has been picking up considerably. I've starting going back to the gym and otherwise exercising more regularly. All positives to be sure but ones that have taken up a good deal of my energy and time. 

As July ends and August begins, my aforementioned analysis of Japanese TRPGS in general and Superhero ones specifically are going to have to remain on hold. At least for a while.

For August, I am once again going to be participating in the RPGaDay Challenge. This year - 2021 - will see my 7th annual outing with this initiative and while I have often teased it, taunted it, and even outright mocked it on various occasions...I have to admit I love it. I really enjoy challenging myself to complete the entire RPGaDay month, even when the prompts have been incredibly frustrating. 

This year, I am pretty happy with the primary prompt words. I find them simple, straightforward, and at the same time full of the capacity for expansive interpretation. Most notably the words this year seem a heck of a lot more interesting then last year. Maybe they saw how much difficulty a number of us had in 2020 and decided to go with terms that were more RPG oriented. 

Alternative words have also been included in case the main prompt doesn't do anything for you but I'll definitely be sticking with the primary ones. It just seems more sporting for some reason.

What I am especially pleased to see is that they have fixed my biggest complaint of last year: The early prompts - the first week or so - are good ones. In 2020 the few good prompts came towards the end. The first dozen or so words were kind of lame, dampening ones' enthusiasm for continuing. 

Yes, I can already see a few tough ones on this prompt calendar. There are certainly words that I will find difficult to write anything engaging about, at least at first glance. My hope is that the early ones will excite me and rev up my energy for tackling the trickier ones. We shall see.

Anywho, Japanese Tabletop Gaming shall return in September along with a variety of other bits and bobs. In the meantime, here's hoping you will join me and many other RPG fans for the RPGaDay 2021 Event this August. 

See you then,

Barking Alien

PS: Don't forget that August 25th marks my 44th Year in the Hobby Anniversary! Woot!


Monday, July 5, 2021

VISIONS of The Force

Two of my biggest loves in the world of Pop Culture Entertainment and Role Playing Games are Star Wars and Anime/Manga as clearly evidenced by recent and past posts on both subjects. It's a shame that the two were never fully combined into one amazing Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of complimentary awesomeness. 

Wait...what's this? 

Whoah. I think I died and became a Force Ghost. Force Yokai? Are there Force Yokai? I suppose there could be now...

Star Wars Visions is an all new short form, animated anthology series set in that familiar galaxy far, far away, produced by Lucasfilms and featuring the work of seven different Japanese Anime studios. It is Star Wars through the eyes of some of the top creative teams in Japan, paying homage to both the legendary universe of Droids and Jedi and the cultural perspective of those artists involved. 

There will be nine shorts in total:

  • The Duel by Kamikaze Douga
  • Lop and Ocho by Geno Studio
  • Tatooine Rhapsody by Studio Colorido
  • The Twins by Trigger
  • The Elder by Trigger
  • The Village Bride by Kinema Citrus
  • Akakiri by Science Saru
  • TO-B1 by Science Saru
  • The Ninth Jedi by Production I.G.

After seeing the trailer, which is really more of a 'behind the scenes' look at the creation of some of these shorts, I am even more excited about this series than I was when the idea was first announced in December of last year. Already I am in love with some of the character designs and art styles and very eager to absorb the stories that will surround them. 

Sometime later this month, if all goes well, I will tackle Star Wars TRPG gaming in Japan and what Star Wars Visions might add to running that universe in my own games. Since much of my gaming is Anime influenced already (even when it isn't an 'Anime/Manga Game', I feel like this could inspire a whole new long term Star Wars campaign. 

Check out some of the concept art below...

From 'The Duel' by Kamikaze Douga

From 'Lop and Ocho' by Geno Studio

From 'Twins' by Trigger

From 'The Ninth Jedi' by Production I.G

From 'Tatooine Rhapsody' by Studio Colorido

Star Wars Visions will drop on Disney+ on September 22nd, 2021. According to current reports, the entire series will be available to stream on that day. You can see the trailer here.

More news and information as it becomes available.

フォースと共にあれ (Foosu to tomo ni are). 

May the Force be with you.

Barking Alien


Sunday, July 4, 2021


 Hi all,

Sorry for the long delay in getting back to my blog and coverage of Tabletop RPGs in Japan. I've been busy with some real world concerns, most of which have already been dealt with and the results have been positive. Although I am still struggling with some elements, things are generally looking up and so I can get back to doing what I love - jabbering about obscure subjects only a handful of people care about. Yay me!

While I have you here, I thought I'd update you on my 'State of Gaming' and where I and this blog are going in the near future...

These days I am only playing in one game and it's a great one. I am currently in year five of our bi-weekly Hogwarts/Wizarding World campaign. This game continues to be amazing and I am absolutely loving it. Kudos and thanks to my friend and Gamemaster Alex.

I am currently running my ongoing Star Trek: Prosperity campaign, a bi-weekly Star Trek Adventures game now in its fifth year of real time. 'Season 6' has had a bit of a 'Horror' feel to it and remains popular among all the players and myself. 

Additionally, I am running a weekly Mobile Suit Gundam game, UC 0079: The Siege of New York, using my homebrew Mecha System Variant game mechanics. I have decided they need more playtesting and so that is essentially what I am doing as I run this campaign. The campaign is likely to end soon and I am not entirely sure what the follow up will be. 

Later this month I will be starting a Champions 4th Edition campaign set in the my favorite milieu, the Champions Universe of my friend William Corpening's 10+ year campaign. Tentatively, this campaign has been titled 'Champions: UNITY'. I have not revisited this world or the Champions game since the passing of my friend Dave Cotton. It is a little melancholy to think about running a Champions game without Dave but I think it's time and I will be introducing the setting to a group largely if not completely unfamiliar with it which is very exciting. It's a 'Dedicated to Dave', spread the love kind of thing.

Finally, and this is big, we are tentatively set to run the final Episode/Session of our ALIEN FRONTIER campaign on August 7th. This will be an in-person game, not remote, with roughly 8 players and myself, at a public play location. More details as they become available. So excited for this I don't even have the words.

There is a lot more I'd like to talk about but most of it is not directly related to the games I'm currently playing in and running. Instead, my goal is to get back to the subject of Japanese TRPGs and so I'll end here with this...

Happy Fourth of July to the United States of America and all my friends and family who dwell within it. Though an imperfect work to put it mildly, it is nonetheless a grand experiment and a thing of beauty. As we celebrate, let us also contemplate how to truly progress and improve for the betterment of all people.

Barking Alien

Friday, June 4, 2021

Multiverse Mayhem in The Mighty Marvel Manner!

 Before I move on to discussing the various Japanese Tabletop RPGs that cover the Superhero genre (and thereabouts), I thought I'd share some news on an upcoming American Superhero TRPG that has come to my attention...

Look at that cover! Wow. It has some awesome stuff on it, as well as some things that make me scratch my head a little. 

First, I like the title, Marvel Multiverse. It ties into the upcoming Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness film as well as implying that each campaign you play, that anyone plays, exists somewhere in the infinite dimensions of space and time. Yes! Love it. 

If you read the full article, Matt Forbeck and the games' design team have done my kind of reinforcing of the IP and setting. Their new, original rules for the game are referred to as the D616 System, a homage to the main universe of Marvel Comics being Earth-616. The Attribute stats for a character appear to be Might, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic. Yep, MARVEL and honestly I just did that from memory after reading it only once or twice. Clever on their part. I would say even easier to memorize than FASERIP (I can never remember what all of those letter stand for). 

Lastly, I love that the character in the forefront of the cover is yours. A silhouette that could be any hero but which intrinsically implies you can be the greatest hero Marvel has ever seen. Brilliant! A long way from Marvel Heroic's lack of built-in Character Creation and a mindset of 'Why wouldn't you want to play as Spiderman?". Maybe because I'm an Tabletop RPG gamer? I want to meet Spiderman. I don't want to BE Spiderman. I want to be someone I created and have them save Spiderman!

Now for some...odd choices on the cover and in the write up of the announcement.

First, who the heck is this supposed to be?

Is that supposed to be Thor? Just when I get done praising the designers for brand identity and marketing they gotta go and do dumb stuff like this. Are the art directors and editors working on this new to comics? Even if Thor looks like this now, by the time the book comes out in a year or so he definitely won't look anything like this. Why not draw him to more closely resemble the iconic image of Thor we'd all recognize. Even better, why not illustrate him so he resembles the MCU Thor. That is what is going to sell your game to fans of 'MARVEL the Entertainment Empire' as opposed to those who like Marvel Comics (smaller group) or gaming (waaay smaller group).   

The second thing that bugs me is in the title...Playtest Rulebook. It says the players can get the Playtest Rulebook and effect the shape of things to come as their feedback will be included in the final, complete version of the game due out a year later.

Are you saying...wait...does the Playtest Rulebook cost money? Are we, the fans and consumers, going to need to pay you in order to make your game for you? I know I'm being cynical here but it just sounds like we'd be buying an incomplete game that Marvel is going to complete a year latter using the fans' ideas and then sell then the book again. That may not be what's going on but that's what it sounds like. I could really use some clarification on how this is going to work. 

Still and all, I am looking forward to it. I haven't run or played a lot of games set in the Marvel universe, usually preferring my own setting or DC as I was once a huge DC Comics fan. Nowadays however, with the MCU in theaters and on TV, the upcoming What If? animated series and DC doing at terrible job of being DC, I could definitely see myself running another alternate universe Marvel game like I did way back when

I'll be following the developments of news of this one closely so check back and stay tuned.


Now back to Japan...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet Train

By the mid-to-late 1980s Superheroes were all over Japan, even if the Japanese still didn't call them Superheroes. 

Henshin Heroes, Cyborgs, Aliens, and all many of Supernatural types roamed the Japanese airwaves; from television to movie theaters, from comics to video games. Many had colorful outfits. Most had amazing powers or else high tech or magical weapons and vehicles. Few however received the coveted title of Superhero. 

The real reason for this is that the name was linked, in the mindset of both Japanese Creatives and Fans, with American Comics. Rarely was a Japanese Hero seen in the same light as Superman or Batman because, simply put, Superman and Batman are from the United States.

For those familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, do you consider them Anime? They weren't made in Japan and so they technically don't qualify as Anime even though they share many of the same qualities as Japanese animated TV shows. 

At the same time, Japan couldn't resist the lure of the American Superhero for long...

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I personally recall a number of interviews with Japanese creators, in both Japanese and American Pop Culture magazines, mentioning the influence of Western comics and comic book characters on their writing and art. Notable among them was Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama who noted that the idea for Dragonball Z came largely from combining his two favorite works of fiction: the famous 16th Century Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' and DC's Superman comics. Kia Asamiya, whose real name is Michitaka Kikuchi, is the creator of Silent Moebius, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Steam Detectives. He is a self-proclaimed Batman fanatic and is the owner of a number of props from the first Tim Burton Batman film. 

The 1986 Sci-Fi Action-Comedy Anime 'Project A-Ko' features a 16 year old, female heroine attending high school with a rich, technological genius who builds powered armor and giant robots as well as a friendly, though immature girl who turns out to an alien princess. A-Ko herself possess Super Strength, Superspeed, Superhuman Jumping Ability, and some degree of Super Durability if not Invulnerability. It is hinted at the end of the first film that she may be the daughter of two very well known parents...

On first watch I assumed this was Clark Kent and Lois Lane
but another shot I couldn't find show the woman wearing wrist
bracelets similar to none other than Princess Diana!

A-Ko is the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman!

I also recall an ongoing Light Novel story that appeared in Hobby Japan magazine around this time. I might be wrong about the magazine but I clearly remember the story as explained to me by a Japanese friend: In the USA a boy attends a high school for Superheroes but his 'power' is that he's really smart and builds a suit of armor like Iron Man. Unfortunately, most American Superheroes in the setting have powers and the school can only teach him so much. Luckily - it seems - he gets a scholarship to attend a prestigious Superhero school in Japan where most heroes are technology based. 

Unfortunately he is ridiculed by many of his Japanese classmates as he 'only made Powered Armor', which they view as nothing special. Also, he doesn't really speak Japanese. Thankfully he makes friends with a few other misfit students and changes his armor into a sort of Power Suit / Mecha combo. While testing the Mech Armor out he accidentally stumbles into a real crime scene! He ends up saving the day and is swarmed by Japanese reporters who want to know more about him. He tries to answer but as soon as he speaks English that label him a hero from America and the papers end up calling him, 'The Great Gaijin'!

The Great Gaijin was a favorite of mine and also a completely obscure and overlooked entry in the American/Japanese Superhero crossover genre (I can't even find references to it on the internet). However, I bring it up because long before the present day Superhero Anime and Manga, long before the MCU broke the Japanese box office, here was an Iron Man type hero, from America, going to a High School for Supers. 

Which brings us to...

Today, the influence of American Superheroes on the Japanese Pop Culture market is no longer underground, hidden as Easter Eggs, or subtle for that matter. A public love for many American Superhero movies, animated series such as Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman, and of course video games like Marvel vs. Capcom is evident in some of the most popular Anime and Manga titles out there. 

My Hero Academia, One Punch Man, and Tiger and Bunny are all series that focus on American style Supers, though each has a very Japanese take on the Western costumed crimefighter. As with other Anime and Manga that tweak, twist, or turn genres on their ears, these titles excel for much the same reasons; Superhero stories true to the topic but with their own unique identities and a point of view we in the US might not immediately think about. 

Now the question is, "How do Japanese Game Designers and Fans translate this clear love of Superheroes - American or Japanese - into their Tabletop RPGs? Do they even do this?"

The answer is of course yes but the forms these games take can be as different from what we're used to as their series are from our comic books. 

See you soon - same Chojin-time, same Chojin channel!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Truth, Justice, and The Japanese Way


The very word conjures up images of powerful, colorfully costumed individuals with masks and capes, soaring above a metropolis teeming with crime. Our champion of truth and justice is out to do battle against similarly cowled and cloaked villains out to cause mayhem and take advantage of the innocent. 

So...wait...Are these Superheroes?

What about these guys?

Surely these are Superheroes! Right?

Yes, according to the Japanese, these are all Superheroes and yet rarely if ever are they called that. 

The thing is, the Japanese have a slightly different view of what qualifies as a Superhero and it's not necessarily just that they are 'Chōjin' - literally a Super Natured/Powered Person. In fact, the term Superhero is often reserved for American-style Comic Book characters, although more and more of those are popping up in Manga, Anime, and Japanese Pop Culture entertainment all the time. The basic concepts of the Japanese 'Chojin Hiro' and the American Superhero aren't all that different and yet like Japanese Horror, their physics defying champions have a distinct flavor all their own. 

The first Superhero of Japan was very possibly the first Superhero in the history of the world. Ōgon Bat or 'The Golden Bat', was created in 1931 - predating both Superman (1938) and Batman (1939) - by a 16-year old Japanese lad named Takeo Nagamatsu and 25 year old Suzuki Ichiro. 

The name came from the Golden Bat Cigarette company, while the elements that originally inspired the character's design and story came from paintings of Japanese mythological characters and some of the Western fiction available after the First World War. The creators decided to portray the character as Scientific in origin rather than Supernatural, another first for a Japanese fictional hero. 

Originally created for kamishibai (paper theater), a form of traveling show that would display sequential illustrations while a narrator told a story, the two young men would go around telling tales of Ōgon Bat, periodically showing pictures of him in action. After World War II, with the decline of Kamishibai as a form of entertainment, Ōgon Bat transitioned to Manga (done by none other than Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy/Tetsuwan Atom) and eventually a live action film and one of the earliest Anime.

Speaking of Osamu Tezuka, we can thank him for one of the most internationally well known Japanese characters of all time, Tetsuwan Atom, better known in the US as Astro Boy. First appearing in Manga form in 1952, The Mighty Atom's story was viewed as a Science Fiction tale and he was not really seen as a Superhero by Japanese fans. Other characters created by Tezuka, including his very popular Princess Knight heroine, were likewise not seen in the same category as Superman or fictional entities commonly thought of Superheroes. 

Manga writer and artist Shotaro Ishinomori released one of the first Manga series specifically aimed at something like the Superhero genre, creating a Superhero Team in point of fact. Still essentially viewed as a Science Fiction story with Espionage components, Ishinomori's Cyborg 009 shows signs of things to come, clear to anyone familiar with early American Superheroes such as Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents or the original X-Men.

Cyborg 009 tells us about a team of nine individuals, kidnapped and transformed into superpowered cyborgs against their will by the Black Ghost organization. The group escapes to use their abilities to stop Black Ghost's plan for world domination. Costumes? Basically. Check. Superpowers? Check. Multi-national, multi-ethnic team? Check and check. Curiously, while early Western Super-Teams mostly consisted of White Males, Ishinomori depicts a team including an African Member and a Native American member in 1964. Thought the initial designs of these characters were a bit stereotypical, they were full and effective members of the group and their looks have been improved over the decades.

In 1966, Tsuburaya Productions aired the first Tokusatsu TV series featuring a heroic character battling evil space monsters; the now world famous Ultraman! Tokusatsu refers to any live action series featuring fantastic or science fiction-related elements and involving elaborate costumes and special effects. Prior to Ultraman, many of these were Kaiju/Giant Monster related and before that they dealt with Mythology or Sci-Fi related stories. Now those aspects were being directed towards telling a story about a alien being who has come to Earth to protect Humanity against more villainous aliens. The first Kyodai Hīro - Giant Hero - is born!

The next live action Superhero to take Japan by storm was the Toei Company's 1971, motorcycle-riding, insect themed, kaijin (Strange or Monstrous Person) known as Kamen (Mask) Rider! Kamen Rider was the Batman to Ultraman's Superman, a darker (though still kid friendly) avenger doing battle with the Sacred Hegemony Of The Cycle Kindred Evolutionary Realm or S.H.O.C.K.E.R.. In case you haven't noticed, there is a common theme emerging. Unlike American-Style Super Villains, Japanese baddies almost always serve at some level of a larger HYDRA or COBRA like organization. Their origins, goals, and methods may differ but the tendency is to go less Dr. Doom and The Joker and more James Bond's SPECTRE. 

This sort of 'Secret Agents with Superpowers' or with super equipment (sometimes both) would take off in Anime and Manga form from 1972 to 1975, with the Tatsuunoko Production company leading the charge. The famous Tokyo based Animation studio and producer, responsible to one of the earliest of these heroes 'Mach GoGoGo' (aka 'Speed Racer') would develop solo and team heroes such as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets / G-Force in the US), Casshan, and Hurricane Polymer. 

The Western entertainment influences on Japanese culture were becoming increasingly more evident if not yet prominent by the mid-70s. American Comic Books made it to Japan by way of G.I.s and their families. Hollywood films and TV show were coming over with more regularity. As with all such things however, the Japanese are quick to adopt, adapt, and then make it their own.

In 1975, the first Super Sentai series, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger (Secret Squad Goranger) would debut, changing the face of Japanese Supers forever. Here, when the villainous Black Cross Army emerges and virtually wipes out the Earth Guard League EAGLE, the five remaining agents are summoned by the surviving EAGLE Leader to save the world from the terror of The Black Cross Fuhrer and his forces.

Gorenger ran from 1975 to 1977 and was such a success it spawned a second series, then a third, and on and on to this very day. Unlike the American adaption 'Power Rangers', each of the Japanese shows are a self-contained story and universe, crossing over only for special occasions (TV Specials, Anniversary episodes, and the like). Interestingly, the third series, Battle Fever J, was a Toei Company / Marvel Comics co-production and yet not the first time Marvel had inspired a Japanese Tokusatsu show. In 1978 Japan saw a live-action Spider-Man show featuring a very different webslinger and of course his giant robot, Leopardon! 

It should be noted that all of these characters - Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and Sentai - fall into a Superhero sub-category that is extremely popular in Japan: The Henshin Hero! Henshin means to change or transform and Henshin Heroes are known for transforming from normal (or seemingly normal) Humans into superhuman ones.

While not unknown in the US and beyond - the Hulk and Captain Marvel/SHAZAM! qualify as henshin characters - in Japan the tropes is very popular and can go further than their Western counterparts. For example, many versions of Kamen Rider have him as a normal person with a tiny implant that enables him to go from Human to full-on Cyborg. I vaguely remember a character, a little boy, who uses a special device and becomes a robot with the boy's mind. 

As time progressed forward and exposure to more American products grew, the opposite was also true. The appearances of Japanese Anime and Manga sent abroad and translated meant the lines of inspiration were beginning to blur and a new generation of Japanese creators were influenced by the Western depiction of the Superhero in different way. Likewise American artists and writers were seeing Japanese Animation and Comic Books and a cross pollination of epic proportions slowly but surely began taking place. 

In 1983 the Japanese Manga and Animation studios Kadokawa and Madhouse teams up to produce an animated film based on the 1967 Manga series 'Genma Wars' by science fiction writer Kazumasa Hirai and manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori.- yes, the same Ishinomori who gave us Cyborg 009. The character designs for the film version were done by Katsuhiro Otomo, the writer and artist of the groundbreaking 1982 series and 1988 film Akira. The film was entitled, 'Genma Wars: Harmagedon'. 

While the Manga and film were once again placed in the Science Fiction genre, it is impossible not to see the influence of American comics on movie version, particularly Giant Sized X-Men #1 by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. Thanks to Otomo, the look of the characters changed; they are less cartoonish in overall design to coincide with the modern aesthetic of the time and the dark nature of the story. The global threat is pointed out by showcasing the international origins of the various Psychic/Psionic defenders of the Earth. It's not that this wasn't done in the Manga but the Manga focused more on the main hero, Jo Azuma, and he was Japanese. 

A domino effect had begun at this point, with Japanese artists and writers wanting to integrate more elements from outside of Japan, while America, England, and other nations were finally realizing the scope of the Japanese Anime and Manga empire and its fresh creativity and lucrative opportunities. 

Fast forward a bit and the Superhero would leap across the ocean in a single bound to have game-changing impact of Japanese/American fandom relations...

準備をしなさい True Believers!

Barking Alien

The Same But Different

The unassailable Tim Knight of HeroPress posed an interesting question in the comments of my previous post:

"Are there any genres/topics that the Japanese TTRPG market covers that we don't?"

It just so happens that on the day I put up that post, on the day he commented, I was thinking about that very subject and considered making it the focus of an upcoming entry. This is not so much that entry but it is a preview of sorts...

It is difficult for me to say that the Japanese cover genres we simply do not. While the argument for that can certainly be made (MAID The RPG, Golden Sky Stories, and Uncle Gap come to mind), it is more the execution that differs, not the base conceits. 

MAID may be a game about normal and/or superhuman female domestic help trying to protect and win the favor of their employer but at its heart it is a Romantic Comedy RPG and we certainly have those. Golden Sky Stories (Yuuyake Koyake in Japan) is a heart-warming, decidedly non-violent RPG featuring various spirit folk and set in modern times. Do we not have Modern Fantasy games in the States? Sure we do. Do we have one like this? No, not really. 

Just looking back at the Horror genre TRPGs I mentioned in my post on that topic you can see a few that are definitely unusual in premise - especially Nechronica, Kill Death Business, and The Castle in Gray - but they are really just riff on the basic concept of Horror. Could The Kill Death Business take place somewhere beyond the mortal realm in the World of Darkness? Possibly. Could you use All Flesh Must Be Eaten to run a Nechronica type game. Well, with some effort, sure. The Castle in Gray could be a setting for practically any traditional Paranormal Investigation or Supernatural Conspiracy game. The thing is one in the US has. 

The culture of Japan, its peoples' beliefs, history, folklore, and traditions over the course of many hundreds of years has resulted in a particular way of looking at things. That outlook consciously or unconsciously forms the way they write stories and design games. There are definitely games in Japanese unlike any I've see in the US but not because they are wholly original; rather it is because they are innovative, taking an established concept and moving it in a new direction. 

This may be what attracts me to Japanese TRPGs in the first place. Japan's Game Designers and TRPG Creatives and I have a similar view of what makes a cool game. Look at a familiar idea in a new way. Put a twist on some popular genre without fundamentally changing what makes it what it is. Do this and you can open up a world of heretofore unknown possibilities. 

Expect a follow up post on this subject later this month. For now, get ready for Superheroes! 


Barking Alien

Friday, May 28, 2021

Dumplings Before Flowers

I was hoping to get my deep dive into Japanese Superheroes and Superhero Tabletop RPGs started before the Memorial Day weekend but a busy work schedule and the wealth of information I found has forced me to push the posts back a bit.

Additionally, I'll be working an overnight, dog-sitting for a client at their apartment and won't have full access to my computer or my research materials until next week. I am really sorry about the delay but really looking forward to sharing all the cool things I've discovered. 

I'm honestly a little bummed about it because I've been so busy this month that I haven't gotten to all the things I've wanted to discuss by a long shot. My total number of posts for the month is a bit below my recent average; again, frustrating as I have so much more to say. Luckily views are still pretty high, though not nearly as high as last month (which I mostly attribute the lower post count). 

To end this minor update on a positive note, as I am feeling positive overall, I will say I am eager to not only cover Japanese Tabletop RPGs in the Superhero genre but onward we'll be looking at Science Fiction, Steampunk, and more! Plus, I've got ideas for many other subjects beyond Japanese TRPGs, I hope to revisit some past unfinished projects, and I have a few thoughts on my next big game.

For now, a safe and restful Memorial Day everyone,

Barking Alien

By the way, this is the 1500th Post I've made on this blog.

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 book contained in a boxed set proved popular, so many of the following products were also in 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, additional material, art, and minor alterations were made 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 adventure, with the number 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. 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. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Star Trek Adventures Are GO!

Stepping away from Horror for a moment, I'd like to discuss something near and dear to my heart that, it turns out, is near and dear to Japanese fandom as well, albeit to a smaller extent. 

While researching how big the Call of Cthulhu game is in the Japanese Tabletop RPG hobby market I wondered, and not for the first time, what other American made TRPGs are popular in Japan. That got me thinking about one game in particular...

I was curious how one of my favorite subjects for an RPG fared in the Japanese market - Star Trek and the current Star Trek Adventures TRPG by Modiphius. Do the Japanese play Star Trek Adventures? How popular is it or isn't it and why?

TOS Movie Era Cadets
Artist Unknown

This simple question lead me down a Wormhole of mixed opinions, contrary information, and some wonderful discoveries. I'll break in down like a Transporter doing an Emergency Beam-Out!

Art by Life Form 2602

I started my research by asking if anyone in either of the Star Trek Adventures or general Star Trek RPG Facebook Groups was aware of where or not the game had sold in Japan, how well it had done/was doing, and if any member of these groups was running or playing it in Japan.

For the most part, responses were few at first. Very few people knew the answers to these questions and didn't want to speak on a subject they weren't familiar with, which is admirable in and of itself. There were a handful of members in one group, the Star Trek Adventures group who did have some insight. 

One fellow, who is currently living in Japan, said that Star Trek is not a major franchise of interest to the Japanese at this time. Star Trek Adventures and Star Trek roleplaying is, and I quote, "A niche within a niche of a niche". Another confirmed this to some extent by noting that he lived in Japan and played the game with four other players, all of whom are Americans. 

A reason for this, and a logical one at that (no pun intended) is the lack of Replays for Star Trek Adventures. As noted in previous posts, Replays are the entry way into the TRPG hobby for most Japanese people. 

Searching the internet for more information I found few references to Star Trek on Japanese entertainment sites and of course even fewer mentions of the Star Trek Adventures game. What a different this was to my memories of Star Trek in Japan between 1988 and 1991. That's when I was starting college, working at the uptown Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, and Star Trek seemed like it was everywhere. 

We had movies, a new TV show, models, toys, books, magazines,  and of course the FASA RPG. According to some people I knew and ads in Japanese magazines I'd seen, Japan had all that as well.

Art by TOM

Around this time I had a few Japanese friends, all of whom were Star Trek fans. One of them was a girl named Rina, whom I dated for a time. She would spend her Summers in New York City taking classes at NYU and in the Winter she would return to her home in Kyoto. On a few occasions she would show me Star Trek Doujinshi she had picked up in Japan. Some were parodies, some fan fiction of the TOS characters, and one was a kind of Light Novel/Manga combo featuring original characters on an original starship set in the Wrath of Khan to Undiscovered Country period. She was a huge Trekkie and so apparently, was her father.  

Tanto Class Corvette

My attempt at re-creating the Star Trek
Doujinshin vessel design

The popularity of Star Trek in Japan would apparently continue as another friend years later - the brother of another young lady I was dating - was eager to trade Manga, models, and other Anime related paraphernalia for anything TNG or DS9 related. I got the impression that Star Trek had a smaller but even more die hard following over there at the time. 

Warping back to the present, I was about to give up and write the experience off as a good try that just hadn't panned out, when low and behold I found something. By searching for 'スタートレックアドベンチャー TRPG' instead of 'Star Trek Adventures RPG Japan' or 'Star Trek Adventures in Japanese', I came across one Japanese fan's blog and then, somehow, the floodgates opened to yet another hidden world of gaming. 

Art by Yasaka

I am reminded of my earliest days in the Anime/Manga hobby, seeking out Japanese language magazines that comic book stores had ordered by accident, checking for TV shows and character no one I knew had ever seen or heard of but which fascinated me to no end. Gaming was the same in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, when you'd mention a new RPG to dumbfounded stares of those who thought that D&D was the only game that existed. 

Where was I? Oh yes, thanks to Yumesai Haruka, a female TRPG blogger with an interest in Star Wars, Star Trek, Call of Cthulhu, and other games, I managed to find how-to videos, reviews, a Reddit thread, and much more. All of it dedicated to or at least promoting in some way, Star Trek Adventures by Modiphius. It would seem that the fellows in my Facebook Group were not a perfect picture of the games popularity in the land of sakura trees and everything-available-through-a-vending-machine. 

Of course, the true test of popularity of anything in Japan is how much fan art it receives. On the online art community pixiv, the Japanese equivalent of deviantart, I found over 30 pages, 1,837 entries, under the tag 'Star Trek'. A sure sign that the Japanese youth to middle adults of today do have a love for the Final Frontier.

A good portion of the [possibly renewed] enthusiasm for Star Trek in Japan at this time appears to come from the newer productions. While Japan received many of the prior TV series after they originally aired in the USA (though TNG and DS9 didn't air too far behind America), movies and modern shows like Discovery and even Lower Decks are coming out nearly simultaneously.

USS Cerritos from Star Trek: Lower Decks
Art by 'NCC-80602'

Lower Decks in particular seems more popular than I would have expected, since the art style is very us and a lot of the humor requires some knowledge of past continuity. The fact that the Japanese seem to enjoy Lower Decks tells me they do indeed has a general familiarity and appreciation for Star Trek. 

As for the game itself, from what I can tell, the Japanese play Star Trek much the way everyone else does with perhaps two slight differences. There seems to be a greater focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters - personal drama, romance, etc. - and a bit more humor (which again might explain the popularity of Lower Decks). A Star Trek Anime Rom-Com? Sign me up!

Art by Yukikaze

I also imagine that the characters skew a tad younger as that is common in Japanese pop culture but I can not confirm that at this time. 

Well, that's all I have for the moment. Looking to get more information and maybe even run or play in a game through one of my Japanese friends who doesn't play STA himself but knows some people who do. 

Until then, Nagaku ikiru to han'ei...I mean...Live Long and Prosper!

Barking Alien

PS: One point of interest I have not yet focused on is that Japan seems to have a fairly large percentage of female TRPG fans. While the demographics have improved in the US steadily over the years, it seems Japan might be way ahead in that regard. Likely the entry into gaming, Replay manga, is a big reason why. TRPGs are marketed differently than their Western counterparts. 

A quick final thought: I have mentioned the Japanese Edition of Traveller before, which came to Japan in 1984. It was very popular and remains popular to this day in a way that I think American fans might find curious. I may do a Traveller Japan deep dive in the near future. Let me know if you'd be interested.