Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tabletop Gaming Online - English to Japanese Translation

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

Let's meet the Players:

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

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

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

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

Now then...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have also been known to start games In Media Res and that can baffle new players but I do it because it reflects film and animation which they might be more familiar with. I did just that here and luckily it worked really well. We began in the midst of a battle with Goblins and after the fight I did a flashback in which the group takes the mission and gets part of the exposition. This was followed by some character banter. We then proceeded back to the here and now to show the Party delving deeper into the Castle Ruins. 

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

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

See you soon,

Barking Alien


  1. Thank you for that insight.

    I have a peculiar question: why did no one give their character's names? Is that an anime/manga thing?

    And, of course, the big question: will you all be doing this again?

    1. The 'no names' part is a Goblin Slayer thing, reflecting the Light Novel, Anime, and Manga series. I go into detail on that in the next post.

      As for playing it again Sam...we shall see.

  2. The name thing is particular to Goblin Slayer. If I remember correctly all of the characters are called things like "Heavy Warrior" or "Elf Archer".

    1. Correct you are Monkapotomus!

      I hadn't noticed it at first until I looked up some of the side characters and saw the cast list. The sexy Witch would apparently has some history with Goblin Slayer is just 'Witch'. lol

      The red haired girl Goblin Slayer grew up with is 'Cow Girl'.

  3. Not too sure whether you've caught the news, but Goblin Slayer RPG is being translated in English (release early 2022 by Yen Publishing).

    1. How could I not have caught that news? LOL Thank you for thinking of me though.

      Yes indeed, I follow the publishing company Yen Press on both Facebook and Twitter and Woo-hooed at the announcement. I discuss it in my latest post.