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


  1. "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."

    All things that have faded from mainstream D&D play, and embraced largely by people wanting to stress the hardcore survival aspect of play. Seriously I can not remember the last time I counted torches between 4th edition have easy-to-find magic item flashlights and the spell "light" readily available.

    1. It's funny to note that you say, "faded from mainstream D&D play". It's true but for myself they 'faded' around the same time they were discovered. We did away with that stuff almost immediately. It simply didn't fit/wasn't reflected in the majority of the genre media. Even books of fiction rarely discuss those things.

  2. For a long time most of the groups I played with consisted of a Dwarf, a Halfling or two, couple Elves, and always that one useless Human who needed a torch or a light spell to see in the dark.

    What the heck, man?

  3. Trashmob, The fella that does those wonderful cartoony paper minis posted on Twitter the other day that the new generation were bringing Anime to D&D and the old guard could suck it (he was more pithy and diplomatic than that) and, as part of the old guard I warmly welcome it. The new generation are making D&D much lighter, faster and more colourful, informed by the media that they consume as well as the more traditional Tolkien and pulp fantasy writers from the 30's and 60's and it's never been better. The game you played in sounds absolutely fantastic and there's a lot I might take from that going forward.

    1. Your comment is a welcome one Scarecrow, not just 'cause I've followed you and value your opinion but also because it bodes well for the future.

      If the old guard don't adapt a bit to the changes and influences of the modern world, there is unlikely to be a new guard going forward. Disconnects and incompatible mindsets could easily turn off and away a younger generation.

      That said, let me be clear - I am not advocating the old guard stop playing how they play if that is what they enjoy. By all means keep doing what you're doing if it works for you and your friends. All I am saying is don't be so married to that style you can't see an alternative way of doing things. Don't alienate someone who didn't read every Fritz Lieber book five times and doesn't know all the Elf Lords of the Silmarillion.

      Maybe give Record of the Lodoss War, The Legend of Crystania, or Goblin Slayer a watch (that last one is pretty metal).

  4. That game looks exactly like the sort of thing I want my games of D&D to be. Sometimes I manage it, but there's a surprising amount of resistance against that sort of play.

    I saw that Japanese version of D&D in an issue of arcane in 1996ish and I've wanted a set ever since.

  5. I do dump on D&D quite a bit but please know it isn't out of malice or a sense that 'my way is cool, your way is dumb'.

    It's more because sooo many just default to it without A) really looking at the fact that the game has a lot of flaws and B) trying the vast variety of other games out there. I mean, looking at my own blog roll I can see that I don't follow too many people who talk about other games because I simply can't find that many blogs that talk about other games. Everything is some version of D&D and that's like...like...

    Like saying you love hamburgers but all you ever do is order from McDonalds. Not only are there a ton of other ways places that make burgers, not only could you make them yourself at home, but you're not even ordering from the best burgers out there.

    Go on, live a little.