Sunday, February 11, 2024

31 Days / 31 Characters - ICHIKO YORUHIME

While going through my old RPG notes and files for the 31 Day Character Challenge I came across a folder on my computer containing information on a Japanese TRPG I hadn't thought about in a long while: The Adventures of Horai Academy!!

I'd forgotten how much I fricking love this game! In celebration of rediscovering an old favorite, I thought I'd honor HA with a 31/31 write-up of my favorite character from the one and only campaign I've run of it (so far)...

Character: Ichiko Yoruhime

AKA:  Princess Night, Madame Vice-President

Player: Erica

System: The Adventures of Horai Academy!!, 1st Edition
Nature: Short Campaign: The Save The World After School Club

To say 'Short Campaign' here is a bit inaccurate, at least by my usual standards. There were about 6 sessions of this game as it was difficult to get the participants together due to scheduling conflicts (See below).

It was less a campaign and more like a series of related one-shots. The events of prior sessions were in the continuity of those that followed but often had little bearing on the next adventure. The characters did grow in terms of character/role-play as well as mechanically, though I didn't really explore anyone's backstory as I normally would.

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Circa: 1994

Origins: Around 1990 I kept seeing ads for The Adventures of Horai Academy! in the Japanese tabletop gaming magazine Fujimi Shobo, Japan's Dragon Magazine. It was always in the same magazines that featured  Cregurian ads in them as I recall. I was totally fascinated by these ads, largely thanks to the art, and I eventually discovered the ads were for a Play-by-Mail game (also like Cregurian). 

About a year or so later a friend who could read Japanese and had similar interests checked out the latest adverstisment with me and we were surprised to learn it was announcing a tabletop RPG based on the PBM. Instead of The Adventures of Horai Academy!, we were looking at The Adventures of Horai Academy!!. One exclamation point for the PBM and two for the TRPG. I was already in love. 

Sometime in 1994 I was able to get a rough translation of the rules from another friend teaching Japanese and Japanese studies at a private school. I think. It's been a while. Anyway, it wasn't rough in that the translation wasn't accurate but rather in the fact that the rules weren't complete. She didn't translate the entire rulebook but instead she and some of her students worked out the key elements: Character Creation, Basic Background, Judging Actions, and a few other bits. 

Gathering up a few more players, we decided to try and run a campaign. *Sigh* We never got past 6 sessions. Our lives, the players' lives that is, were all kinds of crazy at the time. We simply couldn't get the gang together easily or all that often. Let me tell you, that sucked. This is a great game, it was a fantastic campaign, and had some seriously wonderful characters. My favorite being Ichiko Yoruhime. 

Backstory: Ichiko Yoruhime (ee-Chee-ko Yo-roo-hee-May) grew up in a suburb of Nagasaki, Japan. As a toddler, Ichiko had an ear infection that turned into a life threatening situation. Thankfully, she survived but ever since she experiences a ringing in her left ear whenever there is a sufficiently loud sound nearby, though it can also be triggered by her own voice if she shouts or screams. She learned to avoid noise and she herself become a generally quiet person. 

Oh yes, then they are the voices. 

Another side effect of her illness and recovery was that Ichiko would periodically hear strange whispers. She practiced listening to them and eventually became convinced they were the voices of the deceased; ghosts chattering away in the shadows. She told her parents and teachers but they chalked it up to her being a lonely child who played by herself and had a vivid imagination. Smart enough to realize telling others would go no where, or worse get her in trouble, Ichiko turned her attention towards investigating and understanding the paranormal all on her own. 

Open her graduation from middle school, the Yoruhime household received a letter from the exclusive private high school Horai Academy, including a full scholarship to attend and stay at the dormitory. In her second year she joined the Save The World After School Club and at some point in her third year became the club's Vice-President. 

Private High School Horai Academy
School Emblem/Patch

Overview: The premise of the campaign was simple; the PCs were members of the Save The World After School Club at the prestigious Horai Academy on the island nation of Utsuhojima. Once a week the club would meet and attempt to thwart the would-be world conquering organization known as HAVOC. 

The rules indicate that each Player Character can have between 1 and 4 clubs, so we decided the Save The World After School Club had to be on everyone's list of extracurricular activities. The clubs' meetings would constitute the game sessions (referred to hereafter as Episodes). Skills and knowledge obtained from ones other clubs would assist the group by giving each PC a different field of expertise when facing off against HAVOC's nefarious schemes. 

In the first two episodes, the STWAS Club had an NPC President with one of the PCs serving as Vice-President. Starting in Episode 3, the NPC had graduated and the PC Vice-President was now the club President. The players voted for Ichiko to be the Vice-President.

In addition to both the player and the character being a quick thinker and very clever, Yoruhime contributed quite a lot to the club's various missions. She was an excellent detective, often went unnoticed by teachers and fellow students, and was knowledgeable about the supernatural. She could even cast a few spells.

The player described her as 'a combination of Scooby-Doo's Velma Dinkley and DC Comics' John Constantine'.


Ichiko Yoruhime was a surprisingly layered and nuanced character. She was played as intelligent, very capable, yet realistically flawed. Her childhood experiences and odd abilities made her feel a step removed from the rest of the world and a smidge closer to the hereafter than is common for the living. Ichiko hadn't died from the infection of her early years but came back to the world with the ability to hear the dead. Why? What is it all mean? Was she supposed to have died and somehow cheated the reaper? Did the Kami send her back as a representative to speak for the forgotten? 

We didn't get the chance to delve deep into these questions but Erica, the player, always had them running through her mind when portraying Yoruhime. This game the character a distant, 'lost in thought' or distracted look. She was often 'in her own world', focused on deciphering a lost runic language or trying to figure out a spell or opening enchanted locks. She was not anti-social but nor was she social. She made friend but often by accident, never going out of her way to do so. 

She was also great at solving mysteries, casting incantations, or charging in to help with a smart and quickly formed plan. Her being completely oblivious to social niceties, romantic intentions, and other heavy emotions didn't mean she was ineffective in the game. Her benefits obvious, her flaws more subtle. Watching Erica play as Ichiko was like watching an extremely well written Anime with a highly talented voice actor. 

The independent island nation of Utsuhojima

Game Info:

Here is Ichiko Yoruhime's Character Sheet based on a translation of the sheet for the unofficial Doujinshi 3rd Edition of The Adventures of Horai Academy!! that came out in 2020.

The information and numbers are based on the aforementioned latest version of the game and written up as if she were a starting PC. The reason for this is that I was testing out the new character creation system and might want to use her as an NPC when I run the game in the future. If I had the original Character Sheet for Ichiko it would should a few raised scores and other adjustments.
Her Date of Birth is based on the character in the original campaign and would of course have to be changed if using her in a contemporary game.

The Advantages and Disadvantages in the 'Notes' section are a new addition to the game that weren't in the older version I ran. I updated Yoruhime to the current rules, adapting many of her talents and personality quirks using these bonus favorable and unfavorable elements. 

Regarding Hideout and Sewer Tribe: Yoruhime found an abandoned office and set of rooms in an unused part of the sewer tunnels behind the school. She converted the office into her own private study for occult research. She is quite familiar with the Horai Academy sewers and can use them as a short cut in some instances.

Though largely invisible to most people (See below), Ichiko definitely knows how to get everyone's attention. When frustrated at being ignored or just desperately needing to communicate vital information, she will slam one of her heavy [, likely cursed] books against a table or wall and simply but loudly says, 'Listen here'. Ichiko gets the attention of everyone in earshot, though it usually causes her a little in pain and a ringing in her own ear. 

Using the Nickname/Username 'Princess Night', Ichiko interacts with other paranormal enthusiasts on Horai Academy's secret internet message boards. This was inspired by the RPGs Cyberpunk 2013 and Shadowrun. Most people do not know who Princess Night is.

Clever and intelligent as she is, Ichiko is a bit of a Thrill Seeker but will never admit to it. As soon as danger appears, Yoruhime runs right at it. The player made the character seem brave but also tragic and dark when she reveals she charges into trouble to save the people she deems are more deserving of life then she is (which seems to be almost everyone in her eyes). 

This leads to Unimpressive. Ichiko Yoruhime is often overlooked, with people walking by her and hardly noticing she was there at all. In fact, when Ichiko does interact with people, the majority of them don't call their original meeting and often can't recognize her face from their previous encounter. This is partially self-induced; Ichiko goes out of her way to stay quiet and prefers to be alone. Her odd ability to hear phantom voices gives her an off-putting vibe.


Ichiko is a female Japanese name meaning 'First Child' or more specifically 'First Daughter'. 
Yoru means 'Night', while 'Hime' means 'Princess'. Her family name is therefore Night

As noted above, Ichiko as a Player Character was both role-play heavy AND action/combat effective. Often these days it seems like players think you can only create a character who is one or the other. Erica proved that isn't the case.

What I haven't really addressed up until now is the fact that the campaign had definite  Romantic Comedy undertones. Most of the comedy centered on the preposterous nature of Horai Academy and its students, as well as the insane plots of HAVOC. All were over-the-top, needlessly complex, and/or too dependent on everything going 'just so'. The main members of the group were intelligent and capable but also prone to in-fighting and chasing their own agendas. 

The female leader of HAVOC had eyes for our PC Club President. He in turn becomes increasingly interested in Ichiko. She doesn't register this at all until about Episode 4 or 5 when he dances with her as a way to move through an extravagant party. The two also team-up a couple times before and after this, with each coming to the other rescue in different situations. Our Ninja guy was kind of interested in the Tomboy/Sports Fanatic but she was interested in an NPC, the sister of one of the villains. 

It's revealed in Episode 4 that HAVOC stands for Horai Academy Villainy Club. They're a club that meets once a week on the same day as the Save The World After School Club and tries to conquer the planet.


Well now...

This post was long and I'm really sorry about that but honestly it's taken me days to edit the original version. Seriously, I could've easily written a lot more. 

Having recently rekindled my interest in this game and after pouring over the fan made Third Edition, I am INCREDIBLY excited to try running it again. I haven't felt this inspired or excited about a new game in a long while. The real trick, as with many of my favorite niche games, will be finding a group that 'gets it'. 

We shall see. 

Now...put your hands on your head and step away from the bioengineered adorable mascot spaceship! You're under arrest and JIN'HOKO of the Galaxy Police is going to read you your rights!

Barking Alien


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Dragon Dance!

Gong Hei Fat Choi!

Wow but there are a lot of ways to write that! Each of China's regional languages and their variants has a different way of pronouncing and spelling the phrase, which literally translates to 'Wishing You Prosperity'.

I tend to go with the Cantonese pronunciation I've been most exposed to. Sometimes I spell 'Choi' as 'Choy' but generally I use the same phrase the same way every year. 

This year is extra cool for us geeky gamer types as it is the Year of the Dragon and Dragons are pretty damn cool.

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!

Barking Alien

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Take A Walk on the Wild Side

The country that gave us MAID and Kill Death Business is clearly no stranger to weird RPGs.

Strange, high concept Tabletop Roleplaying Games are all the rage in Japan...sort of. They aren't necessarily popular with the majority mainstream TRPG hobbyists - that spot goes to Call of Cthulhu - but they absolutely abound in the fan lead doujinshi market. 

Doujinshi RPGs are a major producer of tabletop gaming products, with numerous sites dedicated to selling amateur made games, supplements, scenarios, and (perhaps my favorite concept) 'standing picture material'. The latter are full figure character illustrations that can be used as PCs or NPCs, often accompanied by close-up portraits and/or variations in the character showing alternate clothing or different expressions. 

Old Man from Togenkyosha's Mob NPC 100, Vol. 1.

There are currently 5 'volumes' each with a total of 100 illustrations
including all variations on a character.

Like other aspects of doujinshi, you can expect to see unofficial games based on known IPs but more and more you come across really creative original works. In some cases you have games being made by the equivalent of a Creative Commons or Open Gaming License type situation, such as the Saikoro Fiction games in this post. Other times you will have someone produce a completely original, indie game that so impresses the big boys that a major publishing company offers to produce it professionally, as with Kadokawa Corporation and Mamono Scramble. 

Additionally, many of these games and their supplements are available in stores. As Japan isn't big on PDFs and e-books yet (they're getting there), the doujinshi games are produced in physical books of good-to-high quality and placed on the shelves of stores that sell Manga, Light Novels, and of course dedicated gaming shops and cafes just like their mainstream cousins. 

The inclusion of indie and small press 'amateur' TRPGs in the Japanese game market in such a big way really diversifies the options of a Japanese gamer. It is easy (perhaps even easier than in the West) to get people together to play something other than Lovercraftian Horror or an ampersand game. So jealous. lol

On to the main event...

Mamono Scramble 

Throughout Human history there have been people who claimed to have seen ghosts, faeries, and other supernatural beings and phenomenon. No definitive evidence that the paranormal even existed was ever documented until...'The Great Stop'.

One day in the Winter of 2019, everyone in the world closed their eyes at the same time and when they opened them, they could see the monsters all around them. These wonderous and terrifying creatures were just as surprised as we were. 

Now it's a few years later and a comprise has been reached between Humanity and the bizarre entities that share our world with us. The weird live among us; your dry cleaner is a vampire, the delivery boy is an oni, and that really attractive woman in accounting is very likely a dragon. Unfortunately, not every monster is down with this whole 'living as equals with Humans' thing. In addition, having flaming spectres, giant ogres, and even wilder beasties walking around has its own inherent problems. 

That's where you come in. You are a Mamono, a Non-Human Being, and it's up to you and your tribe (an organized group of friends and/or allies) to help out when your neighbors are in trouble, be they mundane or mythic. Is there a lost Yeti child who can't find their parents? Is an out of control sake-guzzling Yokai loose in Shinjuku? What can we get our friend for her birthday since she's a Polynesian Goddess? It's time to get the gang together and solve this! MAMONO SCRAMBLE! 

This gives you the basic premise and what the PCs do in the game but it only scratches the surface of the world and how scenarios can be played out. Situations can range from heart-warming and humorous to serious and scary. The role of one's 'tribe' and the city of Tokyo itself are just some of the interesting elements of this RPG.

It also features a few intriguing differences from what one tends to see in modern Japanese TRPG design. For one thing it uses D12s instead of the ubiquitous D6s or less common but still very popular D10s. The clearly defined phases and scenario structure popular in many other games is much looser here, as are the skills or 'Characteristics' of the PCs. Mamono characters possess Magic Powers utilizing Mana or 'Spirit Energy'. While these powers have specific rules for their natures and functions, it seems like any characters can take any power. Your form doesn't define what you can do but rather you figure out what you want to be able to do and then describe your form. 

I am going to be talking about this game again very soon. I'm kind of obsessed with it. Hmm. Maybe I'll make up a Player Character like I did for Deadline Heroes

Weirdness Factor: 8

The idea is fairly Japanese, while the execution is VERY Japanese. To run and play a game like this I feel like you'd have to be familiar with the Anime and Manga that cover similar themes. Sadly, those aren't commonly known to a large number of Western gamers. I could be wrong of course and the idea isn't as weird to most people as I think it is. 

Desire to Run It: 8-9

That said, this game is right up my alley. I actually own a physical copy of this one. I love Chainsaw Man and other 'Monsters Among Us' stories as well as 'Slice of Life' Anime/Manga. Combining them sounds charming, possibly creepy, and potentially really exciting. 

Past Future Paradox

In this original Time Travel game by TRPG Circle Behavior Judgment Club (just rolls of the tongue don't it?), the players are cast as Time Travelers from one of 6 eras of Earth history who work together to prevent potentially devastating alterations to the Time-Space Continuum. They must be careful however, for as they attempt to maintain the timeline their actions can have detrimental butterfly effects of their own. 

Characters can be from Primitive Times, Ancient Times, Medieval Times, Modern Times...

How Time Travel is achieved by the PCs and other characters can differ dramatically and from one scenario to the next. Perhaps an alien 'Time Lord' is taking your group on a journey via a Police Box larger on the inside then it is on the outside. Maybe an eccentric scientist has built a Time Machine into a limited edition, rear engine, two-passenger sports car. There is a legend in the mountains of Northern Japan of people disappearing from a natural hot spring only to reappear moments to days later. It's like every book, TV show, and movie Time Travel gimmick exists together. So many possibilities! 

...The Super Information Age, and The Space Age.

Right Top: The Big Bang Goddess
Right Bottom: The Ruler of Time

In addition, the setting has an interesting 'cosmology'. There is a female entity known as 'The Big Bang Goddess' who may or not be the universe itself. It is she who allows Time Travel to occur but also blesses those who travel with positive intentions. She is countered by Chronos, the self-proclaimed 'Ruler of Time', who seeks to twist history to his own purposes. 

The game uses the Saikoro Fiction (Dice Fiction) system but like all the RPGs that utilize these mechanics the rules differ slightly to customize things for the premise and setting in question. 

Weirdness Factor: 6

Perhaps the least bizarre game in this post. What's crazy is that we in the West didn't think of this game first!

Desire to Run It: 6-7

I love the idea and it sounds super cool but I need to learn more about the rules before I can give it serious thought. Also, I see it as better for a series of one-shots or a short campaign. Time Travel is often tricky to maintain over a, heh...period of time. 

The Adventures of Horai Academy!!

The Adventures of Horai Academy! (note the use of only 1 exclamation point!) was a popular play-by-mail game created and written by Kazuma Shinjo and produced by Yuentai in 1990. In 1991 a tabletop RPG was created, with the title being given a second exclamation point to differentiate it from the PBM version. 

The Player Characters are high school students attending the titular Horai Academy, an exclusive private learning institution on an island nation just off the coast of Japan. Yes, the island is independent of Japan and the school is considered its own country. It has over 100,000 students and many of its upper classman and faculty handle the politics, military defense, and infrastructure maintenance of the island. 

The Island of Utsuhojima (likely a replacement for real life Oshima Island)

The game takes an absurdist view of Japanese high school life and students get involved in everything from typical teenage drama to crazy conspiracies, giant robot battles, fighting off Kaiju attacks, uncovering lost civilizations, and unlocking ancient mystical secrets. This is handled by the school's 100+ Clubs, of which PCs can belong to up to four. You could be in the Fishing Club, the Cooking Club, The Eldritch Book Club, the Mecha Building Club, or practically any other mad thing you want to dream up. 

The island and the school have been developed in great detail by the original writers and then further expanded by the fans. The setting is rich but the rules are relatively simple, making for one of my favorite kinds of games - rules light but concept heavy. It's an anything goes Anime/Manga influenced RPG that was accurately described by my friend Ray as 'Crazy Japanese High School, The Roleplaying Game' and really, how can you top that?

Horai High School Life Encyclopedia.

A sourcebook released in 1995 along with
a revised edition of the base game.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention...while the PBM is long gone and the original TRPG out of print, the game has been resurrected by a Doujinshi fan group. Starting in 2020 a group of fans independent of the original publishers updated the game and are now in talks to produce a 3rd Edition! Wild right? SO COOL!

Weirdness Factor: 8

As noted, Horai Academy!! is absurdist in the extreme but its the kind of oddball setting that has its own internal consistency and I just adore that. Like the Wizarding World, Superheroes, and Star Trek it doesn't reflect real world logic but it makes sense to itself and that's the most important thing. I would also contend that's it's the kind of weirdness that one can wrap their head around without too much effort. It's easy (for me at least) to see this world and how to game it. 

Desire to Run It: 9

I actually run this game for much too short a period of time back in 1993. We only had about six sessions spread out over three months or so. It was so fun but the players' schedules and various real life issues got in the way. My next 31 Day Character Challenge entry will feature a character from our Horai Academy!! game. 

Damn but I'd love to run this again. It was so nuts, funny, atmospheric, and just over-the-top awesome. Don't be surprised if you see more posts on this game as well in the near future. 

Uncle Gap 
(Sometimes translated as Gap Uncle or The Uncle Gap)

To explain what this game is about, you first need to understand what an 'Uncle' is in Japanese culture. As a slang term, Ojisan (less formally Ossan) is a middle-aged salaryman with a tired, overworked appearance and attitude.

Additionally, the term has spread to imply that said Uncle is a man with few prospects, someone who isn't going anyway in particular, financially and/or socially. This might be a fellow who is an Otaku (a fan obsessed with a particular hobby), an especially anxious or shy individual, a conspiracy theorist, etc. For lack of a better term, the Uncle is a loser. A loser who's not married, has no kids, maybe not even a girlfriend...they're perfect!

These men are just what the world needs to fight against cultists, monsters beyond Human comprehension, alien invaders, and all sorts of other weirdness. While they may look like under-achievers and washouts to the rest of society, they and they alone know the truth; Uncles are all experts in something. Maybe they're masters of martial arts. Perhaps they're proficient in creating make-shift weapons. It's also possible they know ancient arcane secrets mankind wasn't meant to know. It could happen.

This game is definitely built around a Japanese cultural phenomenon and as such might be difficult to get across to your players. At the same time, we definitely see people like this in our Western society. I'm divorced, no kids, make OK money, and I am an actual uncle. It would be great if I was secretly able to contribute to protecting the Earth from a hidden 'world of darkness'. Sounds neat! 

Weirdness Factor: 8

It is really the gimmick of the 'Uncle' concept that makes the game weird. While we're use to playing characters in their teens or their prime, here's a game where the PC protagonists are possibly balding, likely have some lower back pain, and complain about the music kids listen to these days. Why, back when they were in high school...

Desire to Run It: 7

This is definitely a game I'd like to take a stab at. Mechanically it's another Saikoro Fiction game but otherwise I don't know much about its specifics. I would need to do more research before I felt comfortable bringing it to the table. It's also another game that I think would work best as a short series campaign. 

Luckily I do have one group that knows the tropes of this idea and I think they could pull it off to great effect. 

Anyway, these are just some of the wild and wacky tabletop RPGs Japan has to offer and definitely the ones most interesting to me at the moment. Sure there are Dating Sim RPGs and Baseball RPGs and maybe I'll talk about them in the future but I'll finish here for now. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien