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 books contained in a boxed set proved popular, so many of the following products were also in the format of 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 and additional material, art, and minor alterations were added 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 Traveller adventure with the numbers 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. I 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 were aware of whether 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.

Initially I received very little response. 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 were Americans. 

A key 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 the ads I saw in Japanese magazines, 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 short while. She would spend her Summers in New York City taking classes at NYU and in the Fall and 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. That's 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 characters 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 was 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 have 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. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Voices in The Dark

As stated in my previous post, Call of Cthulhu - the American born Tabletop RPG by Chaosium based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft - is the most popular Role Playing Game in Japan.

There are numerous reasons for this (see Mountains of Madness) but chief among them is Japan's love affair with the Horror genre. That fondness has led to the development of numerous other TRPGs, some derivative of the 'Great, Old One' and some that do things very differently. The more recent, 'small press' takes on the subject do some things I find very interesting and would love to discuss and explore further. 

To that end, here are a few of Japan's most notable Horror TRPGs:

From Left to Right, starting with the Top Row and then the Bottom Row we have...

Ghost Hunter The Role Playing Game

Author: Hitoshi Yasuda (founder of Group SNE) and Tsuyoshi Shirakawa.
Studio: Group SNE
Publisher: ASCII. Later Enterbrain and Kadokawa.

Published in 1994, Ghost Hunter is one of the first, if not the first, Horror TRPG produced by a Japanese company for the Japanese game hobby market. It was created by the founder of Group SNE, a creative studio best known for Record of The Lodoss War and all related Forcelia titles (the Sword World TRPG, the Legend of Crystania animated film, and more).

In addition, SNE is responsible for the translation of a number of Western RPGs into Japanese as well as the continuation and expansion of those games in Japan. Currently they hand GURPS, Shadowrun, Tunnels & Trolls, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. 

I don't know a lot about the game beyond its general premise and a little bit about its rather unusual system. Ghost Hunter is set around the 1920s and 30s and focuses on the Player Characters fighting off incursions of supernatural entities into our mortal world.

Various aspects of your character are named for the constellations of the Western Zodiac and the rules system uses traditional playing cards as random number generators [instead of dice]. Truth be told, it might use dice as well. I am not sure as I haven't read through it completely. 

Oh yes, sorry, you can read a fan translation of this game thanks to the incomparable Claydonian, a fellow Japanese TRPG enthusiast who actually speaks and reads the language and lives in Japan. Check him and his awesome works out through his twitter.

Peekaboo Horror - The RPG of Neighborhood Spirits

Author: Toichiro Kawashima and Nagomi Ochiai (the Illustrator and Kawashima's wife)
Studio: Adventure Planning Bureau
Publisher: Shinkigensha Co., Ltd. 

One of my favorite Japanese Tabletop RPGs and the first game to use the Saikoro or 'Dice' Fiction system. In my past posts on Dice Fiction (see tag below) I completely forgot that Peekaboo was a Saikoro Fiction game. 

In this Horror/Comedy game, the players take the roles of Elementary School children (called Innocents) who investigate supernatural mysteries with the help of a Boo or Spooky, a paranormal entity that is linked to the child. Each player plays both an Innocent and a Spooky but you don't play the Spooky attached to your Innocent. The players play each others' spirit companions so as to maximize player to player interaction. 

Some of the most intriguing rules govern what a Boo can and can't do without its Human partner and when each of the characters is active in the story. For example, Spooks can operate at night while the child is sleeping, Innocents can do things during the day when a Spooky is at its weakest, and then there are times the two work together. 

The horror is along the lines of things like Goosebumps crossed with the classic Japanese Anime/Manga GeGeGe no Kitaro. A bit less goofy than the two of these can be believe it or not but definitely imbued with a sense of tongue-in-cheek humor. 

I was able to run this some time ago with students at the tutoring center where I used to teach and it was an absolutely blast. I am really looking forward to running this again sometime in the future, likely influenced by some of the ideas I've had for Ghostbusters; a little creepier and scarier than is standard.

Nechronica - The Long, Long Sequel 

Author: Ryo Kamiya
Studio: Patch Works
Publisher: Tsugihagi Honbo

This one...Whoa Nelly. Those with sensitivity to...well...a lot of things...should probably skip this game and its description. Continue reading at your own risk. 

Ryo Kamiya is quite a talented individual and their talent varies widely as far as subject. They are best known as the creator of both MAID, the first Japanese Tabletop RPG ever translated into English and Golden Sky Stories, translated and published in the USA by Ewen Cluney and Star Line Publishing. 

Nechronica is a very difficult game to describe. It's not that I can't tell you what it's about but rather that in doing so I will paint an inaccurate picture of the game. It reminds me of trying to explain Neon Genesis Evangelion; I could tell you the story is a classic alien invasion by bizarre Kaiju-sized monsters and that the Earth attempts to repel them using Giant Robots. The robots are developed from the body of the first of these aliens to crash on our world. The is both a completely accurate description and not even close to scratching the surface of what Evangelion is about. 

OK, here goes...

In a post-apocalyptic world of damnation and ruin, mysterious Necromancers animate the dead bodies of girls to battle other such minions of other Necromancers. These doll-like Zombies are often cobbled together from multiple people 'Frankenstein'-style and may have mismatched parts. Additionally, when one zombie beats another they may take a part of the defeated and use it to upgrade themselves going forward. Often inorganic matter is incorporated into these bodies as well, from plastic skin armor to machine guns for legs. 

Nechronica is a game about being physically strong but emotionally vulnerable in a world of the dying, the dead, and the undead. This includes your PC and her 'sisters'. The PCs are all Dolls - thinking and feeling undead girls who fight against the Necromancer and his minions, even though it is the Necromancer who created the Dolls in the first place, for simple amusement or decoration for this rotting world.

Sounds fun, no? Ahem...

The mechanics are largely concerned with creating the patchwork zombie characters, body horror, and a combat for engagements between these undead girls. There is also a detailed Madness system which revolves around complex emotional connections between the Player Characters and sometimes their foes, who are more often then not in the very same situation and condition they are.

In order for a Doll to stay stable and sane, it/they must rely on and manage their complicated, often conflicting emotional state and their relationships with their fellow Dolls. Nechronica is a game the cheapness of life but also its beautiful fragility. Likewise, it is darker than the darkest dark but really a game of hope and holding onto positivity in a world of decay and doom. 

I'll be honest, this is both too grim for me and absolutely fascinating. I would love to run it or play it just once to understand it better. It really feeds my desire for esoteric, high concept genre gaming at its wildest. 

An unofficial fan translation of the game can be found online

inSane - Multi-Genre Horror RPG

Author: Toichiro Kawashima
Studio: Adventure Planning Bureau
Publisher: Shinkigensha Co., Ltd. 

A 'cult hit' in Japan, inSane is not a sales powerhouse but it is much loved by those who play it. Additionally, it seems the game gets a fair amount of fan-made doujinshi love, much like the industry leader that likely inspired it. 

inSane is another Dice Fiction game, this one covering a wide range of Horror subgenres. I mentioned in my prior entry that the Japanese use Call of Cthulhu for a variety of different types of Horror beyond the default mythos. That obviously wasn't the intention of that game's designers but here that was exactly what the creator of inSane had in mind. 

Though the game is set so that Gamemasters and their groups can create their own Horror settings, five pre-made settings have been developed. The default setting in the core rulebook is a really scary modern day Japan. The additional sourcebooks cover America in the Roaring Twenties, Victorian England (titled, 'Dark Victoria' or 'Victoria in The Dark'), Parallel Worlds or 'Loops' (Events repeated but in alternate ways, titled 'Deadloops'), and finally a book based on the SCP Foundation milieu. 

As far as the rules go, the game has a 'Fear Check' mechanic that I find quite cool. Every Player Character has Sanity Points. At the beginning of the game, players choose three Crazy Cards, all placed face down. Bizarre and frightening information and events can drain these points. A character with only one point remaining has a Shock condition. With a zero, no Sanity left, the player turns over one of the Crazy Cards, each of which describes a madness that is inflicted upon the PC once a certain trigger is met.

I really love that last part. Imagine that you get 'Go Catatonic' but only 'If the entity addresses you directly or the situation or entity follows you when you try to escape'.

Kill Death Business - Hell TV Reality Show RPG

Author: Takayoshi Saito
Studio: Adventure Planning Bureau
Publisher: Shinkigensha Co., Ltd. 

This is probably the game I am most fascinated by and intrigued to play. Really run. When I say 'play' what I really mean is run. 

I've discussed this game already in a previous post but basically we're looking at an Action/Adventure, Dark Comedy, Horror about Contestants (the PCs) on a Reality Show/Game Show hybrid that airs in Hell. The Contestants earn points on the show by defeating, capturing, or destroying renegade Demons and other unpleasant folk on the run from the authorities both Above and Below. The points can earn you a transfer to Heaven, a better spot in Hell, or maybe, just maybe, a return trip to the world of the living. 

Imagine combining the Good Place with Guns Akimbo. Mix Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel with a kind of reverse Running Man. I love the idea of PCs caught in a demented, infernal entertainment industry version of a very surreal 'Reality Show'. Tons of opportunities for crazy combat sequences, offbeat characters, world-building, and more. 

I am currently in the process of deconstructing and translating the Character Sheet as a means of figuring out how the rules work. Plus, I've been able to find additional rules notes across the 'net.

I'd love to give this a try.
Novice Novice Table Talk Role Playing Game - The Horror

Author: Takashi Konno
Publisher: Arclight Games

Here is another game I don't know a lot about but what I've seen of it is very promising as an introductory game for those new to Tabletop RPGs. 

This game is the second in the Novice Novice series [I believe], with the first being a traditional Western Fantasy game and the other installment being Steampunk. All the games share the same basic mechanics and play style: The players draw cards that give them a pre-generated character template which I think can be customized by other, additional cards. The characters than go on an adventure who has a very tightly structure sequence of phases; this is common in many Japan TRPGs.

In each phase players draw a card to determine the direction the adventure will take or the outcome of various decisions. Meanwhile, they can role a 6 sided die against a score on their Character Card to perform an action within the scene. From what I understand, the cards don't so much tell you what is happening as much as they provide context for the events unfolding. 

Clearly more research on this one is needed. If anyone knows more about this game or any game in the Novice Novice series, please share. 


The Castle in Gray - Haunted Palace Gothic Horror RPG

Author: Karikari Ume
Publisher: Unknown - Available through Conos

An independent, small press game created by a designer with a few other interesting game credits under their belt, The Castle in Gray, aka 'Gray Castle Mystery', is the game I know the least about. As far as I can tell the game is only available through a website called Conos, which is essentially a Japanese version of DriveThruRPG, with both official and unofficial/Doujinshi products being available from the site. Curiously, as with most Japanese book and TRPG products, you can only buy physical copies. There are practically no e-book or PDF versions of anything (though this is slowly changing). 

Why the Japanese don't do more PDFs is rather confusing. As I understand it from friends who know more about copyright laws and the Japanese market than I, the publishing companies of Japan fear that people will buy PDFs and then just make copies and give it to all their friends/players. At the same time, they have no issue with someone making money selling original material based on a product they didn't create, unlike in the US. So strange. 

Anyway, the key thing that makes The Castle in Gray interesting is that the PCs are all drawn to a single location, a mansion or other large, old building, and from that point on they find themselves inexplicably back at the location time and again. The edifice is Haunted and may simply be creepy and spooky or down right Amityville depending on what the players and GM want. 

While at the 'Palace' they will receive word of various ghastly goings on and if they investigate and solve the morbid mysteries they are confronted with the house will ease up on them, allowing them to go home, see their family, and friends, etc. Only by solving the mystery of The Castle in Gray itself will the curse be lifted and the PCs lives return to normal. 

Love that as a campaign concept and goal. 

Well, that's all the time we have for now. I have a real surprise in store for my next post. To see it, you'll need to look to スペース...最後のフロンティア.

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mountains of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you then...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Museum of Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Steven Yap:

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

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

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

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

From Jason 'Big J' McAlpin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I May Have Spoken Too Soon

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

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

Which brings me to a particularly interesting observation...

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

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

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

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

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

Barking Alien