Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Project A-Game

It is my intention to run a truly special, truly memorable RPG campaign this year. Something that is elevated above the run-of-the-mill work I feel has made up the bulk of my endeavors over the past 12 months or so since the pandemic began.

True, the Red Dwarf/Yellow Sun game was on point and pretty amazing but other than that it has felt like I've been generating a lot of mediocre content. 

In order to bring my 'A-Game' to the virtual table though, I need to go with campaign concepts I truly feel passionate about. Likewise, I require a group of players eager and invested in these concepts as well, to the point where they aren't just saying, "OK, I'll play" but rather 'That sounds awesome! I'm all in!".

That later part maybe a little harder to pull off at present and with these particular ideas. That said, here is what I have:

[Stay tuned at the end for a rather unusual offer.]

Idea #1

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Flood 

Set a little before the original Anime series and using a merged original and 'Rebuild' continuity, the flooded city of London-2 is the site of attacks by invading aliens. To thwart these devastating creatures, a subdivision of NERV, Project: NIMUE, battles the monsters with their own EVA Units. These Units are not derived from The First Angel, 'Adam' where do they come from? 

Players would play 14-19 year old pilots who need to get in their &*$%ing robots and protect England and the European Union from the Absolute Terror that are The FALLEN ANGELS. 

Adapting the rules found in Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood, I would love to run this creepy, angsty, action-packed story which I've had in the back of my mind for over 15 years.

Idea #2

The Kill Death Business:

Tonight on Hell TV we tune in to everyone in the Underworld's favorite unreal-Reality/Game Show, 'The Kill Death Business'! Contestants (the PCs) are Souls sent to that realm of eternal damnation over relatively minor sins but given the chance to earn points towards being forgiven and moving on to a better afterlife in Heaven! If you are willing and able to reach the Bonus Round, you will be given the choice of the land of eternal happiness or Earth!

Contestants earn points by hunting down and eliminating even worse Souls, those that have become so corrupted they're now Demons! These foul entities are trying to wreck havoc in the mortal realm and only you can stop them AND win lovely parting gifts!

There is some fine print in your contract of course; nothing you need concern yourself with. In order to take down some of these truly terrible foes, you need to be a bit terrible yourself. While this earns you points on the show, Heaven isn't going to want awful, violent people skipping through the Pearly Gates. Of course, big time Devils might see your handy work and offer you a better job if you stay but wait, what about the chance to return to Earth?

A darkly humorous Action/Comedy that mixes The Good Place with Battle Royale.

Honestly, as much as I really, really want to run this game, I don't think I could assemble a group of players out of my entire current talent pool who would be completely behind this concept. It is a little too dark and easily misunderstood.

Much like another game I deeply love, the All-Australian Sci-Fi Comedy RPG Hunter Planet, it's hard to get everyone involved on the same page for something like this. If you're lucky, you start out with a bunch of people who just hear about it and instantly say, "Oh man, what an AWEsome concept! I totally get it!", then you start making characters and playing and discover that they don't. 

This game is a TRPG that comes from Japan and utilizes the Dice Fiction system I discussed near the end of February. Another game using a variant of Dice Fiction is Idea #3... 

Idea #3

Yokai Hunters Society - Dice Fiction:

Original Version Cover

During the Meiji Period of Japan (possibly switched to the Edo Period - haven't decided), a secret organization of ghost and demon hunting heroes from all walks of Japanese life band together to protect their land and people from supernatural menaces. 

In addition to Anime and Chanbara style action, there will be drama and even humor stemming from the 'secret identity' lives of the individual YHS members. Since each wears a Mask their true identity is unknown even to others on their team (at least initially). Players may be nobles or beggars, peasant girls or retired soldiers, and no one would know who was what until the story unfolds. 

Rules would be based on my adaption of Dice Fiction, mentioned in posts last month (check out the tag below). 

Honorable Mention:

I have two other ideas - One which I have been really interested in for a long time and one that I've only recently felt an inclination to try out. Both are inspired by both Anime and Manga and game concepts of partially American origins. These two ideas...will open April.

Check back to fine out! 

There is a reason Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular RPG in the Western world. It has broad appeal and is (for some reason) easy for a large number of people to understand mechanically. It is the American Football of RPGs. It is the McDonalds of gaming.

I am not a Sports fan. My comfort food is Spicy Ramen. I often feel like I'm at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to selling people on my ideas.


If any of these ideas really appeal to you, you aren't busy on a Wednesday or Sunday evening, and you favor character, story, and setting over rule mechanics, contact me via Twitter and let me know. I might be able to add you to a game. No guarantee but let's talk shall we? My Twitter ID is Barking Alien @alien_barking. 

Be sure to indicate which of the game ideas you would be most interested in and what your second choice would be. The game with the most interest will likely be the one we do. 

Barking Alien

Oh and it probably doesn't need to be said that I'm also always up for...


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Is It Wrong to Try to Put Anime in Dungeons and Dragons?

 A comment on my last post by JB of B/X BLACKRAZOR awoke a memory that had previously been lost to the mists of time. 

At a gaming convention in New Jersey I attended sometime around 1993 or '94 (most likely ShoreCon or DexCon), I saw a listing for an RPG one-shot that read...

Come if you like Dungeons and Dragons,
Stay if you love Japanese Animation!

The Japanese Edition of the D&D Rule Cyclopedia released in 1994

I was, unsurprisingly, intrigued.

I had lost my taste for D&D already by that time but I was at a high point in my interest in Anime and Manga. I signed up for the event, got in, and soon found myself sitting at a table with a diverse mix of players who all had one thing in common - they were all, to varying degrees, fans of Japanese pop culture media and entertainment 

There were six players plus the Dungeonmaster. Male GM, four guys - including myself - and two gals. Most of the fellas were hardcore gamers who also really liked Anime. 

The two female players were a hardcore gamer just getting into Anime and a diehard, cosplaying Otaku who was just getting into gaming. The latter was named Roni (short for Veronica) and I had an instant crush on her. She and her character were a big part of what made this game so memorable. 

The DM introduced himself, explaining he'd been gaming since the early 70s, was stationed in Japan for a time, then lived there for a bit before coming back to America. He was a big Anime and Manga fan and had run TRPG games for friends - both American and Japanese - while overseas. Those experiences gave him the idea for this session

There were a dozen pre-made character sheets laid out in front of us and we took turns choosing our PCs. All the sheets featured a cool Anime/Manga art style illustration. 

At this point I should note that the game rules were modeled after the BECMI version of Dungeons and Dragons, something I know very little about from first hand experience. My friends and I went from Basic to Advanced, rarely paying much attention to the expansion of the Red Box rules.

On top of this, the DM had given the PCs unusual Class/Race names consistent with what you might see in Anime, Manga, Japanese Tabletop RPGs, or Japanese Video Games. Mechanically everything corresponded to BECMI D&D but was renamed and/or re-skinned to give it an Anime flair. That said, I have to assume he made numerous rule modifications because I have rarely ever had that much fun playing D&D. It all moved so fast and so smoothly that if I didn't know he was running D&D I would swear he was running anything but D&D.

The session began with an introduction and a 'recap' of the fictional Anime series we were now a part of, Dungeon Delver . This was a 'Previously on ' type situation. Our session was billed as the most recent episode of the show, some dozen or so episodes in. We each then drew an index card that gave us a secret subplot element to help inform our role-playing throughout the session. 

The combination of these two components absolutely grabbed all the players, immersing us in this game automatically. The session - its theme, style, and story - became something to invest in as it was 'more than a one-shot'.

The plot of the 'series' revolved around returning a mysterious and beautiful young woman back to her distant homeland. She had awoken in an unfamiliar place where the PCs accidentally stumbled upon her while unsuccessfully trying to find treasure and adventure. 

The truth was revealed (at some point) that she was an other worldly being, basically a Goddess, removed from her land so evil forces could corrupt the place and take over. The main villain was her sister, an evil Goddess who resented the love and admiration that the caring, good aligned Goddess had received from the people of their land. 

The session itself took place in medias res, with the PCs in various positions on and around a bridge amid jungle covered ruins. The bridge was high above water and there were waterfalls everywhere, pouring out of the remains of this ancient, forgotten city.

A unique flying monster hovered overhead, speaking to the party in a charming yet thoroughly sinister tone. From the foul creature - who disgusted our Priestess but our Mage flirted with - we learned that the our enemy, the evil Goddess , had placed a cursed artifact in one of the structures in these ruins in order to twist the jungle and infect it with her darkness. Our goal was to find and remove or destroy the item before its curse could spread through the region. 

What followed was in most ways classic Dungeons and Dragons, the party searched through the ruins, fought lizard men and undead, bested traps, found treasure and magic items, and all the things one would expect to engage in and encounter in a 'Dungeon Crawl'.

However...Combat was fast, furious, colorfully described and cinematic. People leapt into the air to come down on enemies from above, charged up spell attacks for extra power, had the unusual power here or unique magic item there and nearly every moment was filled with banter or pathos. 

There were arguments of philosophy, romantic reveals, plots twists and turns akimbo! More happened in that 4 hour time slot than I've seen occur over several sessions of a standard D&D campaign. Sure, part of it was a great DM and the knowledge that he had to tell a satisfying story in 4 hours. That doesn't lessen the fact that he did just that! I attribute a big part of that to his 'gimmick' of making it feel like an Anime. 

Do you know what the game lacked? Strict adherences to Casting Times, Range, how many torches we had and how long they'd last, Weapon Speeds, and the all important Encumbrance. 

Yeah, no.

No one cared and no one missed it. It didn't need to feel like a survival game or a chore. It needed to feel like a fast paced Japanese cartoon and it did. It smelled and tasted like one for crying out loud. A touch of romance, a sprinkle of comedy, and heaping ladles full of action and suspense. Not suspense created merely through die rolls but by the situation at hand, the choices of the players, and the nature of the setting and genre. 

Give me the worst parts of this a thousand times before the best 'traditional' D&D. 

Oh yeah, before I go our characters were:

Cursed Thief: Gray Mouser-esque rogue who gained random animal attributes/appearance if he used magic scrolls. Started game with cat eyes and one arm covered in black feathers. Goddess promised to cure his curse once she was returned home. Thinks more about this than the party. 

Dwarf Berserker: (Me): Dwarf with huge gauntlets that did damage as if armed with hammers. Can create Earthquake/Thunder Strike-like effects with gauntlets (X number of times during session). Sworn to protect Magical Girl because her mentor saved his life.

Elf Faerie Friend: D&D BECMI Elf whose spells were described as summoned fae performing the effect. Secretly in love with Priestess but she is nervous around other Elves. 

Magical GIrl: (Roni) Anime cute, witch-themed female Wizard with a magic staff. She can ride staff like a Witch's broom but only like a Star Wars Speeder Bike. Can't go high in the air. Has a black cat familiar. Crush on Dwarf but afraid to tell him. 

Mighty Warrior: Human Fighter with a honking big sword. Sword can charge up with Magical Energy and deliver devastating blow (X number of times during session). Doesn't trust Thief and also has a crush on Priestess. 

Summer Priestess: Female Cleric with Sun/Summer/Tropical motif. A sort of Druid/Shaman/Traditional Cleric combo actually and very cool. I would love to see something like this portrayed elsewhere. Not interested in either of her suitors because of her devotion to accomplishing the quest at hand. Kind of the team leader. 

OK, that's all for now. Another post majorly delayed by life and the inability to find or make good illustrations for it. Ugh. Sometimes I'm not sure why I bother. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A Certain Animated Role Playing Game

Overflowing with conflicting ideas for games I am currently unable to run and [as a result] unable to sleep, my thoughts suddenly drifted to the question, 'What was the very first Anime/Manga themed game I ever ran'?

The problem with answering this question isn't so much trying to figure out my first Anime/Manga focused campaign; that was a Mekton campaign from early high school, circa 1985 or 86. My first dedicated one without Mecha as the main draw was 'Blast City Blues', my high school Teenagers from Outer Space campaign from around 1987. 

The only thing that doesn't add up here is that I was a big fan of the American broadcasts of Space Battleship Yamato as 'Star Blazers' and Science Ninja Team Gatchman or as we U.S. East Coasters knew it, 'Battle of The Planets', as early as 1979. I had seen other series dubbed in Spanish not long after, including Cyborg 009, Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, and Captain Future. By the early 80s I knew that these shows were bastardized translations of animated series from Japan, largely thanks to my friend Aldrin 'Buzz' Aw who had seen them in his native land of Myanmar (at that time called Burma). 

By 1984 and 85 I was sitting with club that would get together the second Saturday of each month to watch shows recorded off of Japanese television or on VHS release overseas. These show and films had no subtitles or foreign language dubbing. They were in Japanese for Japanese audiences and it was only thanks to synopses provided by the club's Japanese speakers that I had a solid idea of what was happening. Well, that and the excellent storytelling of those early series that made getting the gist of an episode much easier then I think would be the case today. 

What I am getting at, what has me wondering is...what was my first game heavily influenced by my exposure to Anime and Manga. Was there a campaign that was strongly effected by my love of the medium, even if it wasn't really an 'Anime/Manga game'? 

Answer that latter part first, yes, of course there was. Most likely it was The Winghorn Guard and its world setting of Aerth, my D&D-But-Not games. Aerth definitely has an Anime/Manga feel to it akin to what you would see in Record of the Lodoss War, Legend of Crystania, and other 'Western Style' Fantasy films and series from Japan, even though those would actually come out after the initial Winghorn Guard campaign. 

I think the style and approach of these Japanese entertainment mediums had major influences on all the gaming I did, whether they were intended to or not, and that's why it's difficult to pinpoint a first time. My stories added more melodrama, romantic subplots, touches of comedy here and there, and intense and often over the top action sequences. 

We're all the product of what we are exposed to and as I've stated before, my origins in the hobby are not extensions of Conan novels or re-reads of The Lord of The Rings. I'm far more influenced and inspired by Comic Books, Film, and Television and that most assuredly includes Japanese Comics and Animation.

It would be fascinating to take a time machine back to watch myself run games in the years between 1979 and the early to mid-80s to see if I could spot the point where Anime really started to rear its head.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

MSV - Dice in The Pocket

I created and developed my homebrew Anime/Manga Mecha game, Mecha System Variant, for the purpose of running various IP based games - Macross, Gundam, and even Japanese TRPG based settings like Wares Blade. The goal was to have a system that would accurately emulate the feel of these well established Mecha series where both the players and the GM (myself) knew, generally speaking, what the robots and their pilots should be capable of.

While this has worked extremely well for each outing I've run so far, it means that I've ignored a crucial element of Mecha Anime gaming. I don't have a Mecha Construction System. I never designed rules for players to create their own Mecha as we were generally using our favorites from whatever franchise we were playing in.

Heheh. My bad.

All joking aside, this is indeed a problem.

I'll be honest, I feel pretty foolish that it never even occurred to me to create a system for players to create original robots. I mean, what is this Marvel Heroic? 

Now that I want to make this into a game others beyond myself and my groups can download and use, I need to flesh out the system in ways I never really intended. Originally, I made only what I needed and wrote it all down in a way that worked for me, no more no less.

What you're going to see over the course of a few upcoming posts is a man reverse engineering a game he himself created. Yeah, kind of nuts but it's the only way I can think of to make this work. 

To begin, let me lay out the basic structure of the game as well as the why of that structure. 

I'll be honest and upfront with you, what I had determined to be a finished game before the month started is looking more and more like a work in progress. Part of the reason this post - this whole month - has taken so long to put together is that I continue to make changes to the details of how this game functions on an almost daily basis. *Sigh*

The main ideas are thus:

When performing actions with their Mecha, a Mecha Pilot adds their stat and skill to the connected capacity of their Giant Robot. At present, you roll 2D6 and try to get under that number. That is not how it originally worked. Originally, you rolled a 1D10 and added the the combined Pilot Stat, Pilot Skill, Mech Stat and tried to beat a target number or an opposed roll. Unfortunately, that seems to close to Mekton for me. Another option I am toying with is that the combined total is the number of 6 sided dice you roll and attempt to get 'successes', I style of game design I have been really enamored with these past few years.

Mecha are structurally similar to Characters. 

Computer Control is Brains
Hydraulics is Brawn
Maneuverability & Handling is Agility
Power Systems is Cool...Sort of. 
Sensors is Perception 

While some of this is self explanatory, others need a little clarification. Brawn is Physical Strength, used to fight hand-to-hand, push open doors, or lift things. Cool for a Character is your default Social Skill and I am likely to switch up that term for something else before the game is complete. For Mecha, its replaced by Power Systems and governs Special Moves or Effects that don't easily fall into any of the other categories. Basically, when your Mecha needs to do something 'Cool' you tap Power Systems.

The other key element is, as noted in an earlier post, there are no hit points or anything quite like that. Instead, under Software and Hardware (as well as Weapons) you list the various components that make up your Mecha; Software includes Targeting System, Database, or Energy Scanner, while Hardware are physical parts like Right Arm, Head, and Jetpack. 

When you successfully hit an opponent or are hit by them, weapons do 'Rolls of Damage'. Let's say a Laser Rifle does 3 Rolls. Each Software and Hardware component is numbered and you roll 2D6 (or originally 1D10) for each Damage roll. An attack might hit your Left Arm, Left Leg, Sensors. Each hit reduces the function of that component, dropping it's dice/effectiveness. You can opt to spend a Drama Point (possibly a Reactor Point) to say, "I land all three hits on the Sensors" or "the Left Arm". This effectively disables that part until repairs can be enacted.

If  your Mech's Arm is holding a Beam Sabre and that Arm is disabled, you can't use that Beam Sabre. If your Sensors are down you can't see, flying blind and suffering a major penalty. If the region is randomly struck again after being disabled, it is destroyed - the arm is blown off and goes hurtling through space or lands as a heap of burning wreckage. 

As I write this I realize I am rethinking parts of the game more and more. Part of the reason for this is I am currently running a game with a similar system to the 1D10 variant that feels, well, a bit mechanically tedious. Rolls of the dice aren't particularly engaging or exciting for some reason and I need to figure out why or how I can get them to feel more interesting. 

As you can probably tell, I am struggling a little this month, even though I am totally jazzed about this idea. I have a number of strong concepts for games, including this one, bouncing around in my brain but my anxiousness over real life stuff and frustration over some of the other games I'm running is making it difficult to get this done. 

As is often the case with things I truly love, want to do, and believe, I am too dumb to give up. 

The quest to complete MSV and discuss Anime/Manga Gaming continues...

Barking Alien

Friday, March 19, 2021

MSV - The Origin

In 2009, Game Designer Jim Clunie created a game for a 24 Hour RPG Challenge called Extended Mission. I originally found the game through the website 1KM1KT but as of now neither that site nor Extended Mission seem to exist. I will update this if they become available one more. 

A rules-lite, resource management game, the focus was on playing satellites trying to get information about an abandoned Earth for the Humans living on Mars before their batteries ran out and/or they burned up in Earth's atmosphere. I was intrigued and inspired by the system and concept and began to tweak the rules to work with an idea I'd have for years; a game in which players would play Artificially Intelligent robots. 

The result was something I initially called Extended Mission Expanded. I ran it for several sessions and those sessions were pretty damn great. I forget why it ended. Scheduling most likely, the ultimate enemy of good games. 

From there I made some changed and pushed the game even further, thinking that if it could handle robots of the Star Wars Droid and WALL*E variety, maybe it could handle Giant Robots. Maybe, just maybe, I had a potential Anime/Manga Mecha game on my hands that could solve what I felt/feel is the key issue with the Mecha games that have come out so far...

They aren't, generally speaking, very Anime like.

Before I get into that though, let me finish with the origins of my new RPG. Where was I? Ah yes...

Over the years that followed I tinkered with the game further and further, eventually transforming it from Extended Mission Expanded to Extended Mecha and finally its current incarnation - Mecha System Variant or MSV*

Now here's where I give my unpopular opinion:

While there have absolutely been some awesome Mecha RPGs over the years, especially Mike Pondsmith's seminal game Mekton, most American Giant Robot games focus too heavily on tactical, wargame oriented combat. Pages and pages are dedicated to range, armor, damage, and the specific mechanics of missiles vs lasers, size and weight, and other such details that don't really matter. 

That's right, you heard me, these things don't matter. 

Very few Anime or Manga make a distinction between different weaponry beyond what that do. Is the opponent in range? Don't pull out a hex map and measure the distance - they don't do that in the medium. Are you and the target on screen at the same time? Was the enemy approaching before a jump cut to the hero? In either case, they're in range because that allows for action. You shouldn't slow down a Mecha Anime game with crunch and I feel that's exactly what most Mecha games do. 

There are no hit points in Anime. Mecha rarely loose armor points, though sometimes their armor gets blown off.  Animation and Comics are visual and visceral and they focus on what happens, not on abstractions. Gundam robots don't take 3 points of damage, they lose targeting or visual sensors. When the EVA-01's arm is cut off the important thing for the audience to know is that the pilot, Shinji, is afraid and in terrible pain, not that it adjusts his hit modifiers.

To this end I set out to produce a Mecha game with no hit points and armor that reduces the level of negative events. I wanted rules that added drama and built to climaxes. It was important that the action move the story and vice versa, avoiding action for actions sake. This doesn't mean action isn't a major element of the game; far from it.  Mecha Anime and Manga are solidly a subgenre of Action Adventure. It's just that the goal in making this game was to create sessions where you can see and feel what is going on in the game and not spend too much time calculating numbers. Decisions you make are character, story, and scene driven and less tactical in nature. 

30 Minute Mission Alto Custom
by ICHI [いち]

At least that's the plan. 

Here goes nothing...

Barking Alien

*The name MSV actually comes from a series of books put out in Japan called 'Mobile Suit Variations' which detail designs and variations on those designs for robots featured in the Universal Century and One Year War timelines of the franchise.

Many of the designs never appear in any Gundam series, having been created purely for merchandising (models kits mostly) or for a planned series that was cancelled. Nonetheless, as the books were put out by Bandai/Sunrise - the company that owns Gundam - and designed by the writers and artists of the series, all the Mobile Suits in these books are considered canon. 

I used to collect these whenever I found them and loved pouring over the various designs again and again. When I started thinking up names for my own Mecha game, MSV was the first thing that popped into my head and it kept coming back. Defining it as Mecha System Variant, an alternative to traditional Mecha RPGs, sealed the deal. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Things From The Second Impact

You know what goes really well with Giant Robots? Existential Dread!

I had something of an epiphany while doing research for [what I hope will be] a future Anime Mecha campaign.

It came about after reading a post and its follow-up responses on Reddit regarding the very same subject I was thinking of exploring...a tabletop RPG campaign based on Neon Genesis Evangelion. The original poster, the person who started the thread, asked what game system people would recommend to run a NGE campaign. He further stated that he was well aware of the various existing Evangelion RPG offerings and was A) looking for something different and B) curious what others would consider a good match for the setting.

Wait...have I never discussed Neon Genesis Evangelion and its impact (no put intended) on me and the stories I create?

That's just wrong.

(See what I did there? Now it's a Thorough Thursday post!)

For those unfamiliar with Neon Genesis Evangelion...what the heck is wrong with you? How are you even from this planet? I'm not and I still know what Evangelion is! OK, teasing aside, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese Mecha Anime that originally ran on TV Tokyo in Japan from October of 1995 to March of 1996. The 26 episode series was the product of Studio Gainax and was ground breaking in terms of subject, storytelling, and its deconstruction and deep love for the Mecha genre. 

Ostensibly a classic Sci-Fi Mecha scenario in which the Earth is attacked by alien monsters with only a handful of young pilots and super-powered giant robots to defend it, NGE isn't about that anymore than Citizen Kane is about a sled. There are layers upon layers of themes and meanings to Evangelion, including explorations of Mental Illness, Religious Imagery, Spiritualism, Psychology, and Philosophy. 

The end of the original series was quite controversial, with popular stories and theories being that they had run overbudget and behind schedule (which was true) forcing them to finish it somewhat abruptly. It spawned two films - Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion in an attempt to mitigate some of the ill-will towards the finale and complete the original vision for the series. Later, over a period of 14 years (between 2007 and 2021), four features films would retell the story and add a good deal of additional material.

The Rebuild of Evangelion adds new characters, expands and changes our perspective on old ones, and ends with a very different final act that only came out this month, Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 'Thrice Upon A TIme' (the only one I myself have not yet seen). 

I was absolutely obsessed with Evangelion when it came out and saw the original 'last film', The End of Evangelion, in a movie theater in conjunction with a Anime Convention I was working at. I once spoke to an executive from Gainax through a translator and he asked me if I like the film and I told him I liked it very much. Then he asked if I understood it. I admitted to being unsure that I completely understood all of it. He laughed a deep, hearty laugh and excitedly said, "That is alright. I did not understand it either." 

Finally, I have wanted to run an Evangelion campaign for many, many years now.

Japanese produced and published Evangelion tabletop RPGs

There have been at least two official versions of Evangelion tabletop RPGs in Japan (possibly three), as well as at least two or three made by American fans. One of the fan produced American games is actually quite popular, Adeptus Evangelion, and it uses the rules for Dark Heresy for some reason. (Kidding! Not a terrible game but not right for this). 

Going back to the Reddit thread, a great many commenters were suggesting on Mecha systems or another, if they weren't touting a generic game like GURPS, Hero System, or (*shudder*) D20. Then, like the Spear of Longinus itself, a reader game through with a statement that pierced the clouds and hit right on target. 

I am paraphrasing: "I see so many people recommending Mecha games. These people must not have seen Evangelion. That isn't the focus of the series. It's about people - damaged people - and their relationships with each other."

That is so right, so perfectly stated that it started me rethinking my own approach. 

Hold on a moment...Angsty Teens. Check. Each character has a Problem, a Drive, and a Shame. Checks. Relationships are a key element of the setting and system. Check. Scars, physical and mental, are what results from failure. Check. I've got it!

The sequel to the absolutely awesome Tales from The Loop, the game is scaled up in both Player Character age and overall danger level. The game is essentially perfect for a Neon Genesis Evangelion campaign, albeit without the addition of some Mecha rules. Perhaps adapted from my MSV system? 

'Cause the thing is, even though NGE isn't really about Giant Robots battling bizarre Space Monsters...

It totally is!

Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Feel free to share.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Full Metal Milieu: Neighborhood

There are just these things that happen in American Movies, TV shows, and Comic Books.

Evil Aliens, Supervillains, and monstrous Monsters all seem to have it out for noted landmarks. You can't have a spaceship land in California and not have it pass by the Golden Gate Bridge. Likewise, the army of extraterrestrials invaders is going to have to battle the Superhero team in Times Square, Grand Central Station, or possibly in the air over the Empire State Building. Why else fight in New York? You don't a lot of battles at Hoover Dam but when you do you can be sure it's going to be a doozy. 

Teenagers do crazy stuff like drag racing the family car, make two romantic dates for the same night, and participate in school spirit events like cheerleading and sports. I guess. Honestly I live in New York City and I'm a geek. I have no idea what normal middle American teenager do. 

The point is...American films have their tropes and cliches tied to Americana and the cultures and traditions of the United States. We have our, Japan has theirs. 

My previous post addresses Japanese Anime/Manga settings with a very general, wide scope lens. With this post, we get close-up and take a look at some details that tend to show up in a good number of series. Not all of the bits I'm going to mention are going to fit in with your particular campaign, maybe none will given its specific contents and context, but these are elements often seen in a wide variety of stories. 


Tokyo, the de facto capital of Japan, is officially known as the Tokyo Metropolis, is arguably the most world renowned and prosperous prefecture in Japan. A port city at the edge of Tokyo Bay, the city is to Japan what New York is to the United States - the primary target for giant monsters, mad scientists, and would-be world or universe conquerors. 

'Open 24 hours' like it's America cousin 'The Big Apple', Tokyo has a history of appearances across Japanese pop culture entertainment. It is the favored destination of Gojira (Godzilla), the location of the Metropolitan Police Department's 2nd Special Vehicles Section in Patlabor, and of course the central focal point of Tokyo Ghoul, Tenchi in Tokyo, and Tokyo Babylon.

It might interest some of you to know that the population of the 'city' of Tokyo and its 23 wards or districts is 9.7 million as of 2020 estimates. The nearest, next largest populations are in Yokohama at 3.8 million and Osaka at 2.8 million. Tokyo has more than double and a half times the number of people as its closest rival!

Tower of God

In the Shiba-koen District of Minato, Tokyo, there is a 332.9 meter tall (1092 ft.) replica of France's Eiffel Tower used primarily as a communications antenna and observation post. It is an extremely popular tourist attraction, bringing in sizeable income thanks to an influx of three million visitors each year. 

Tokyo Tower as it appears in Tokyo Babylon
Art by CLAMP

In Anime and Manga, Tokyo Tower appears all the time, across numerous series, in genres ranging from horror, to romance, to modern and near-future Mecha stories. As Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958, it has been appearing in Anime and Manga stories for nearly as long as there has been Anime and Manga. 

In addition to being an impressive and easily identifiable location, making it an excellent backdrop for battles in the skies over Tokyo, the observation decks - located at 490 ft. and 819 ft. respectively - are common sites for teenage romantic meet-ups. 

Summer Wars

Episodes/installments in which the characters go to the Beach or visit Hot Springs are prevalent in a great many Anime and Manga, especially those focused on modern times. It is not unknown to see this is period series though, as Japan's Hot Springs have been a draw to those trying to cleanse the mind and body for many centuries. 

The Beach Episode gets first mention: it is not about anything culturally Japanese per se, except that it allows the artists, animators, and producers to show their characters with a lot more skin - the guys are all shirtless, the gals in bikini swimsuits, and such. Beach episodes are usually announced in advanced as if they are particularly special events 'you won't want to miss'. It is a merchandising opportunity for the show as well - how many figures can you produce of a character in her same-every-episode sailor suit or battle dress? Now fans will be clamoring for 'One-Piece Yellow Bathing Suit Yuki-Chan'!

Hot Springs, known as Onsen in Japanese, are naturally heated pools, geothermally heated groundwater that comes up through the Earth's crust. Japan has a large number that are at a safe temperature for bathing and resort/spas have been built around them. It is a popular vacation destination for Japan citizens and visitors alike, with many just many a day trip out of it. 

The Heroines of My Hero Academia
hanging at a Hot Spring

Like Beach Episodes, Hot Spring Episodes are often an excuse for Fanservice - most hot spring patrons go in naked, wearing a towel and from the changing areas but otherwise going bare. In Anime and Manga, strategic and often extremely clever use of towels, furniture, steam, and of course the water itself are used to hide the characters' most private particulars. 

That said, at some point one character will likely see another naked even if the audience (the Anime viewer or Manga reader) doesn't actually see anything. This most often occurs accidentally, though the Undisciplined Character may be actively trying to catch a glimpse of the boys or girls across the way. At resorts the baths/pools are usually separately by a wall of some kind with males on one side and females on the other.

A variant on this is the Public Bathhouse, usually only seen in Anime/Manga where a previous episodes battle has somehow damaged the plumbing/water supply at the characters' home, forcing them to use the Public facilities. 

In all these cases, taking the characters out of their normal environment and letting them relax gives them a breaking from intergalactic invasions and ghost stomping to get to know each other better. Some of the best Beach and Hot Springs episodes further romantic plots or subplots, add a touch of comedy to an otherwise dramatic series, or a touch of personal drama to an otherwise comedic one. 

One last note - while not common, the Beach/Hot Springs Episode can have a plot/action sequence all its own. The Summer, not the Fall, is the time of telling scary stories and a bit of horror (or horror mixed with humor) at a Hot Spring resort adds an additional layer to the outing. 

The Wind Rises

Anime and Manga characters seem to spend a lot of time on rooftops. Whether it's their own house or the roof of their school, there seems to be no place like the top of a place for dramatic confrontations, epic one-on-one battles, or just a moment of peace.

It is a common sight in many, many series - a teen climbs out of their bedroom window to sit on the roof of their house to be alone with their thoughts or feelings. Before long, one or more other characters are sitting right up there with them. This is sometimes comically exaggerated so what begins with just two people on the roof - a parent and child, a [possible] romantic couple - ends with the top of the house hosting the entire regular cast and a half dozen reoccurring secondary characters as well. One common gag trope is to find someone up there who is very old and normally couldn't have gotten up onto the roof by themselves. Another is a character who seems to have been up there during the entirety of the original duo's conversation even though they weren't 'on camera' until the moment they speak or otherwise reveal themselves. 

Alternatively, a male or female character goes to the rooftop of their school after making a fool out of themselves in front of their crush and the next thing you know 'Senpai'* comes up there looking for them. Oh my goodness! Senpai noticed you! 

School rooftops allow for unobstructed martial arts combat and for planning your bands next gig or discussing the details of the mystery you're investigating. Curiously, this is an Anime and Manga trope but not something actually done by Japanese kids. Most school roofs are closed and no one is allowed up there without supervision or special permission. Over the past couple of decades it has been more and more common to have small greenhouses or vegetable gardens growing up there but it is still well regulated. 

One of the big reasons it became popular in Anime and Manga is because it is comparatively easier to draw then say a crowd scene on a busy streets of Tokyo or Yokohama. Staging a scene against open sky, a few fences, maybe a wall, allows the reader to focus on the characters and let the background fade into 

Well this post took much longer than anticipated due to unforeseen real world circumstances. I am way behind for the month and don't know if I'll be able to catch up but rest assured, this is still a subject I am interested in pursing. I have a lot more to say on the subject and some very specific ways I want to apply what I am coming up with. 

Until next time...

Barking Alien

*Senpai is a term meaning 'Senior', as in senior student or upperclassman. It can also refer to anyone older that a younger person looks up to or idolizes. 


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Full Metal Milieu

 Let's talk about Setting.

Map of the 'Earth'
from the various Dragonball series

I am definitely a Worldbuilding Gamemaster; someone who personally enjoys and is known for the development of a fictional setting within which a given fiction takes place. I love running games that have cool and interesting settings and although both 'cool' and 'interesting' are matters of personal preference, many of my players over the years have remarked that they liked and appreciated the way I have handled the settings of the games I've run. 

Now I will be the first to say that it's pretty easy to be good at Worldbuilding when you're running Star Trek, Star Wars, or another well known IP. Most if not all of the heavy lifting has already been done for me. This is no less true if I am running a campaign set in the universe of Mobile Suit Gundam's One Year War or the superheroic future of My Hero Academia. I don't have to come up with how the world works. We've seen how it works. We all watched the same episodes.

Map of the Earth Sphere during 'The One Year War'
from Mobile Suit Gundam

Except...sometimes all of us haven't. I have often come across the situation wherein I have seen all of the Gundam series set in the Universal Century timeline and not everyone else has. Another common scenario is one in which I want to run a game based on, let's say, Five Star Stories or Aura Battler Dunbine, and everyone says yes to this, only to find out that most of the players are largely unfamiliar with the chosen series. Now, although my job as setting developer is made easier by the extensive materials published in Japan for pretty much every Anime series they produce, the tricky task of being able to convey that setting to my players becomes key. They may not know any more about the world of a given Anime than they would about an original setting of my own creation. 

That of course is the holy grail, the great experiment - Worldbuilding your own Anime/Manga setting! How does one create a milieu of their own with the proper Japanese Pop Culture Entertainment flavor and feel? 

Like my first post on Characters, this entry is going to paint in broad strokes and get into the nitty gritty in the follow-up. What I want to discuss here are the elements that a great many Anime and Manga settings share 

Now and Then, Here and There

The vast majority of Anime and Manga series take place on Earth, not unlike the vast majority of Western fiction. Much like the trend that most Superheroes live in New York City developed because the big comic book publishers were in NY, so too did most Anime feature action in and around Tokyo, the location of most animation and manga studios.

At the same time, Japan is structured differently from the US and their entertainment media is applied differently as well. It was not uncommon, even in the early days of Anime and Manga, to see stories set in what we would refer to as rural or suburban areas. Each prefecture has its own geography and character and often the creators of Japanese entertainment worked in their hometowns or used iconic locations that would be easily identified by anyone of Japanese citizenship - Mount Fuji, Tokyo Tower, Aokigahara (the so-called 'Sea of Trees'). 

Historic fiction and folktale based or inspired works have been a staple of Japanese Anime and Manga for a long time, giving us glimpses into Japan's past. Samurai films, Anime, and Manga, from the works of Akira Kurosawa to Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima of Lone Wolf and Cub fame have given us tales that clearly take place on Earth, in a very particular place and time. 

The distant past and far future are common subjects in Anime and Manga, all taking place on an otherwise normal, recognizable, and believable Earth. The setting has familiarity and weight because it is our Earth, albeit with the fantastic elements of the stories thrown into it. I will go into more detail on Anime/Manga futures and pasts later in the month when I do posts focused on Science Fiction and Fantasy respectively.

However, there is another idea that is both very familiar to gamers and yet very Japanese that I'd like to address first...

Hello World

The Pokemon World
It's Earth...but is it?

A number of very popular Anime and Manga take place on an Earth we surely wouldn't recognize. These settings, much like the Alternate or Parallel Earths of Science Fiction and Superhero Comics, TV, and Films are far more varied and indeed less clearly the world we know than their Western fiction counterparts. At the same time - and this is what makes it uniquely Japanese - they are never referred to specifically as a Parallel or Alternate universe. 

Dragonball (and its follow-ups), Pokemon, and Hunter x Hunter all take place on Earth. It is never stated that these series take place on a 'different' Earth or that it is another planet entirely. They take place on Earth, just not our Earth. 

Now I have a theory about this, though I do not understand the culture and psychology of modern Japan well or deeply enough to make any sort of claim of what is going on here. What I have is just a thought based on what I've seen and heard, nothing more and nothing less:

WARNING: Recorded in Minimum Setting Rant Mode:

It would seem that the Japanese fan community is less likely to deconstruct things than their Western (especially American and British) counterparts. In Japan, a setting just is what it is. They absorb a series and its universe without searching for some greater, conspiratorial reason things work the way they do or assuming the creator made mistakes and immersion breaking inconsistencies in their own work. 

Even I am guilty of entertaining the idea of a dark origin behind the Pokemon universe. One in which the reason for all the identical kids, Officer Jennys, and Nurse Joys is that they're clones, needed to replace a Human population wiped out by the arrival of Pokemon. 

That doesn't occur to the average Japanese Pokemon fan. No, it seems instead they see the many Jennys and Joys and think, 'Ha! What a quirky, fun gag to add detail to this show I love.'
Westerners want to show how smart they are by pointing out all the flaws in creative ideas until they render them sad and unfun. Aren't we just so clever?

Another trope common to Anime and Manga worldbuilding...

Time Bokan

Time travel was, for a very long while, fairly rare in Japanese pop culture but present nonetheless. The various theories we see in Hollywood films and Western Science Fiction and Fantasy are all on display, though it would be seem Japanese temporal castaways are more inclined to mess with events than the ultra-wary chrononauts of the Western world. This goes all the way back to Doraemon, who traveled back in time from the 22nd Century to aid young Nobita Nobi in the 20th (Manga first published in 1970. Short anime series in 1973, followed by a much more popular one in 2005). 

My favorite blue robotic cat from the future with no ears. 

While straight forward Time Travel isn't all that different in Japan than it is anywhere else (blue robot cats aside), there is something much more distantly Anime/Manga related that I want to talk about; anachronisms.

Anachronisms are very common in Anime and Manga settings and much like a very strange Earth just being viewed as Earth, most of these anachronisms go unmentioned. Usually they appear in the form of some technology that was not available in the time period being depicted or a standard form of technology that is clearly missing, though this is less common. 

Examples include Black Bulter, ostensibly set in 1888 London, shows a maid washing clothes in a washing machine, video games seem to exist, and other modern technology such as cell phones are seen in the possession of some villainous types. As the series progresses this happens less and less though certain characters can gain access to technology too advanced for the time by making deals with demons (which may also explain some of the earlier anachronisms). 

Fullmetal Alchemist appears to be set in a Fantasy version of the late 19th or early 20th century, though periodically things such as steampunk-esque prosthetics ('Automail') and other machinery will appear that fit better into later eras. 

Pokemon and Soul Eater both feature towns and people that seem out of time. In Pokemon we encounter someone who dresses like a early period Samurai, though the Pokemon World is clearly modern with occasional examples are future tech such as the Pokeballs themselves. Soul Eater characters stop by Medieval towns, then go to a Polish village where they see Golems, then travel to modern Italy, Venice, and America. 

Sometimes it's explained and part of the story behind what is going on in the series. Quite often though, it just is, a fixture of setting that is largely as aesthetic choice of the creator. The American equivalent would be the the Batman Animated Series by Paul Dini and Bruce Tim. What that set in modern times, the 1930s, or some strange art deco universe all its own?

Finally, sometimes you just need a world of your own...

The Magnificent World

Many Fantasy stories and a good number of Science Fiction tales are set on other worlds far beyond our Earth. Be it an alien planet or a 'Oz'-like alternate dimension, other realms abound in Anime and Manga as they do elsewhere. 

The World of One Piece

Some worlds are indeed wholly different planets, the setting of the Anime/Manga in question where the different culture, terrain, and history are a key part of the story and the characters within it. One Piece is among the best examples of this that I can think of, with Five Star Stories another and one a absolutely love.

A very common, very popular trope of this is having one or more normal teenagers or others from our world transported to this strange, other place and possibly trapped them, unable to return. This has become increasingly popular in recent years, being identified by the Japanese as its own genre or at least sub-genre of Fantasy known as Isekai. Isekai translates as 'different world' or 'other world'. 

The 'Transported to Another World' concept has been a part of Anime and Manga for a very long time, with the classic Fantasy Mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine being among the early Isekai shows (and indeed a favorite of mine). Young Sho Zama has an accident during a motorcycle race that sends him down a hole and into the Medieval realm of Byston Well. 

Other well known examples of this genre include Kagome's travel to and from ancient Japan in Inu Yasha, the three main protagonists of El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Rising of the Shield Hero, and another fave of mine, The Vision of Escaflowne. 

A major trend is to see the characters transplanted from Earth to a Fantasy world with very video game and/or RPG laws and mechanics. Variations include someone dying on Earth and being reborn into this Medieval Fantasy universe or being trapped inside an actual game by some peculiar means. Often winning the game or defeating some key element of it is the ticket to returning home. 

The Devil is a Part-Timer flips the scenario, with the Devil trapped here on Earth. 

Like the previous posts, I could go on and on with this subject but for now I do believe this is enough. I still have a lot of other material to get to and I am running way behind schedule. In the next post I will touch upon some famous/infamous setting cliches and tropes you might want to include in your Anime/Manga game so that it feels even more like a real series from Japan.

After all, if Japanese Manga writers use these tropes, why shouldn't you?

Barking Alien