Yaruki Zero Podcast #21: Today in Geek History Part 2

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This special episode is a compilation of the second half of the “Today in Geek History” daily podcast I posted on Tumblr. (Here’s Part 1) This is a part of I’ve been working on a humor book titled “I Want to be an Awesome Robot,” and one of my many goals for 2014 is to finally finish up the book. One of my other goals is to get back into proper podcasting, starting with a review of 2013, which I’m hoping to record and post over this weekend.


Yaruki Zero Podcast #21 (1 hour, 30 minutes, 5 seconds)

Caricature of Ewen courtesy of C. Ellis.

Maid: The Role-Playing Game and Star Line Publishing

coverBeginning in 2014, Star Line Publishing will be taking over handling Maid: The Role-Playing Game in English. Maid RPG is a slapstick anime comedy RPG, and an earlier work by Golden Sky Stories designer Ryo Kamiya. Andy K originally took the lead role in the business of publishing the game, while I handled most of the translation and otherwise took a back seat. With Andy moving to Japan and my own publishing venture getting up and running, it made sense to switch the game over to SLP. For the time being we’ll be treating Maid as a “long tail” product, making it available primarily through PDF and print on demand venues, though we’ll still be able to offer printed books at conventions and to interested retailers. We’ll be expanding to a few new POD/PDF sales channels as well, notably DriveThruRPG and Amazon’s CreateSpace (which will in turn make it available for order through Amazon), though given that Maid RPG has gotten and stayed disturbingly high on their sales charts, we’ll definitely continue the partnership with Indie Press Revolution that Andy started.

Whether there will be anything new for Maid RPG depends a lot on what we have the resources to accomplish and what people express interest in. I do plan to eventually complete and publish my Retail Magic game (a comedy RPG based on the Maid RPG rules, but about employees at a magic item shop), and I might go as far as to look into finally putting together a book of original Maid RPG material, and possibly a cheaper and slimmer introductory Maid RPG core rulebook similar to products like the Explorer’s Edition of Savage Worlds. If there’s something you’d like to see, let us know!

Magical Burst Stuff

The other day I got to be one of the very few people outside Japan to see the third Madoka Magica movie. It was at a crappy little theater in San Francisco, and we got to wait in the cold until 15 minutes before the showing started. On the other hand we actually got to see it. When they had the double feature of the first two movies they had about two showings total here, which sold out before I could get a ticket. Madoka Magica has always been the kind of show that’s hard to talk about without giving spoilers, and short of watching a fansubbed camrip, most people aren’t going to get to see it until some time after the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release, so I won’t go into detail about it except to say that it was quite good, but really, really weird, and I think it will be very controversial in the fandom.

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Although I haven’t really had time to actually work on Magical Burst, watching the movie did give me some ideas, and inspired me to start watching more magical girl anime, which in turn gave me other ideas, so at the rate I’m going I’ll hopefully get back into working on it before long. As much as I liked the third Madoka movie, I feel like it helped me mentally decouple Magical Burst from the franchise a bit more, so that I can look at other magical girl titles more clearly and openly. Although Madoka was a prime source of inspiration, MB was always its own thing in many very important ways, especially with the central conceit of Overcharge and Fallout, which is both very important to how MB works and very different from Madoka Magica. In particular I’ve been watching Day Break Illusion, Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya, Fresh Pretty Cure, and the live-action Sailor Moon series. These haven’t really inspired me to change Magical Burst rules-wise, but they have definitely got me thinking about the genre quite a bit more.

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I also ended up having a pretty solid idea for what I want to do for a “Magical Burst Companion” book to eventually follow the core rulebook. This is me getting way ahead of myself as usual, but it helps to have some kind of outlet for concepts that are extraneous to the core project, provided they don’t get totally out of hand. There are several possible alternate takes on magical girls that would make interesting rules options. I want to do something with a dark take on the reincarnation element in Sailor Moon, both as a rules option and in a story. Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya also presents the idea of magical girls having cards they can swap out to get different magical abilities (and of course there’s Card Captor Sakura). Pretear presents a variation on that concept where the different powers come from different people, but using them means risking those people’s lives. A “corruption” system more in line with Madoka Magica could make a nice replacement for Overcharge and Fallout.

The other major part of the Companion would be a set of three alternate settings, which use the same basic rules (with some key changes) to tell some very different sorts of stories.

  • Angel Project has heroines who wear skimpy sci-fi power suits (as seen in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna and a few others) and fight the forces of darkness and occasionally each other. Taking a cue from the Yuna PC Engine games, the setting involves destinations like the Water Planet and the Fancy Planet.
  • Helix Academy is about students at a school for people with special powers, heavily inspired by A Certain Scientific Railgun. I’m not sure how I would really approach this one yet, but I’d like to try something along the lines of Adventure Planning Service’s Elysion RPG, where you have to manage your schedule and take turns doing different things towards your goals.
  • Zero Hour would basically be Persona with the serial numbers filed off, concerning people with special Avatars that give them powers they can use to fight threats to humanity in the un-time. And now that I think about it, the time management type system would be pretty appropriate for this one too.

Anyway, I just wanted to share where I’m at with Magical Burst. I’m thinking over the course of 2014 I want to make a push to complete the new revision, do a bunch of playtesting and refinement, and then move towards publishing it by 2015. And from there avoid having quite so ridiculously long development cycles for my games.

A General Update

I had started writing a design journal post about Fantasy Friends, and then I realized I had made such a post before and I was mostly rehashing stuff I’d already written about. In a way that kind of typifies a lot of what’s been going on with me in terms of game design: there are a lot of things I have more or less figured out in my head but still need to finish doing the actual writing and such. I think that has a lot to do with the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter eating up so much of my time, but the good news is that for the purposes of the actual shipping of physical goods part my own work is very nearly done. All of the many physical items are variously already at the warehouse, on their way to the warehouse, or will be going to the warehouse once printing is done. All that’s left for me is to post some updates and handle letting backers update their mailing addresses when the time comes. After that we still want to get the remaining PDF stuff done in a reasonable amount of time, but it’s not going to be nearly as much pressure. Anyway, I decided to write a blog post about what I’ve been generally working on.

Friday Knights
One of my major projects right now is Friday Knights, a playset for the currently-Kickstarting Costume Fairy Adventures RPG, the inaugural product from David J. Prokopetz’s Penguin King Games. The game is about cute fairies who wear costumes that give them magical powers (there’s a deck of costume cards) and how they generally get into trouble. I’m writing a scenario/playset where your fairies wind up in a house where there’s a D&D game going on. I’ve made a good start on it, but there’s plenty of writing left to do.

Adventures of the Space Patrol
The other day while googling to see what people were saying about Golden Sky Stories I came across something that gave me pause. Someone had pointed out that in describing the Space Agents I had portrayed the male characters in a variety of ways, but managed to talk about pretty much all of the female characters in terms of being young and pretty. I’ve generally been trying to be better about inclusiveness and diversity, both to better serve my audience and to challenge myself to break dumb cliches, so it caught me off guard that I’d managed to do such a thing without even realizing it. On the plus side, that promptly gave me the idea to make Billy Smith’s mother a playable character, which is a dynamic that you pretty much never see in RPGs. Generally tweaking and playing around with the other characters is also going on my to-do list for the next revision of the game, whenever I can make time for it.

I’m also planning to include more robust rules for creating original characters. While I like having premade ones in many different ways, it seems pretty clear that a big chunk of the RPG audience wants the ability to make solid original characters. I also picked up the Fate System Toolkit. It’s packed with all sorts of ideas, but the one that interests me most is Conditions, though I’m not at all sure whether they’re really the way to go. Something to experiment with in playtesting.

Magical Burst
A few people have been asking about Magical Burst. It’s another one of those projects where I’ve pretty much figured out what I want to do, but need to find the time to actually do it. That puts it pretty much at the top of my list of things to do when GSS isn’t eating up quite so much of my life. I also need to find time to sit down and watch more of the magical girl anime that’s come out (the Madoka movies, Day Break Illusion, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, and I’m sure I’m missing something). Of my many neglected projects Magical Burst is easily the one I most want to make happen, and a Kickstarter is a very distinct possibility once I get the rules nailed down. (Though after my experiences with GSS, I’m definitely going to keep extras and stretch goals on a tight leash next time around.) As I mentioned before I want to continue having a free version of Magical Burst available, something along the lines of how Anima Prime has a no-frills free version and a fancy book with illustrations and such.

Other Stuff

  • I haven’t gotten around to posting it, but I did a revision of America’s Next Top Reality Show, making it so that each card has two title words, plus a demographic listed between. That way the game has 144 title words out of a 72-card deck, and doesn’t need for the players to have dice on hand. The game is working pretty well, though it has a very different energy from Channel A, plus we tend to feel kinda dirty after playing it, in a way that doesn’t happen even with Cards Against Humanity. ANTRS parodies something really prevalent in our culture right now, and potentially in a pretty cutting way, since sometimes it does feel like reality shows use some kind of randomizer.
  • Fighting Fighters Coliseum is the title I’m tentatively giving to a game that’s going to be a kind of successor to Channel A, still a party game, but with a little bit more in the way of rules. The idea is that instead of titles, you assemble your final attack name from words on cards. The game would also have a set of character cards, which double as both player avatars and opponents, with different special abilities for both. There’s still some details to work out, but putting together a list of words from special attacks was pretty much just a matter of culling through lists of such.
  • Something’s going to be happening with Maid RPG soon. Nothing earth-shattering, but something. I should be revealing it in about a month or so.

America’s Next Top Reality Show

I made another thing. Let’s back up a little. I’ve been working on a humor book called I Want to be an Awesome Robot,[1] and I decided to include an section with Fun Activities, which will (for the most part) fully functional activity book type stuff, if with kind of a weird sensibility.[2] I’m also working on a mini Choose Your Own Adventure type thing, a super stripped down Maid RPG variant (“Schoolgirl RPG”), and some other things that get a bit geekier and more involved than just coloring pages and stuff (though there will be those too). One thing I came up with but may or may not put into the book is a mini Channel A type spinoff game, intended to have a deck of a more reasonable size and play a bit quicker. A while ago NPR had an article on “The 25 Magic Words Of American Television.” When it first came out I sent the link to some friends, and one immediately declared that he’d watch a show called “Mob Pets.” Putting together a small list of title cards was a very easy thing to do.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually do with the game from here–if it works out well as a game I could totally see doing it in the form of a full card game in a reasonably sized tuck box–but for now I’m tossing out a free PNP version for the heck of it. This is very much like the ones I’ve done for Channel A and Studio B, with the little 2″x2″ cards you can print on cardstock and cut out. You’ll also need two six-sided dice.

America’s Next Top Reality Show PNP Version PDF

Here are some titles I made by messing around with the cards for a bit:

Mob Apprentice, Fear Shack, Hell’s Zookeeper, Star Swap, Amish Hot Rod, Bachelor Dynasty, The American Factor, Who Wants To Be A Cat?, So You Think You Can Catch, Sex House, Dance Kitchen, Pimp My Duck, Extreme Cake, The Deadliest Family, Party Boss, Millionaire Pets, The Doctor Whisperer, The Big Monster Project, Hell’s Hot Rod, The Amish Hunter, Love Chef, Superhero Makeover, Bachelor Island

On other Channel A type news, I recently visited my sister and brother-in-law in Washington DC, and got my new fancy prototype of Studio B (the American B-movie reskin of Channel A). We got to play a good amount of both games, and did very successful demo games at Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, an excellent game store near Capitol Hill.


[1]I already decided that the sequel is going to be called “Most of My Friends Are Potential Supervillains.” You know who you are.
[2]The answer to the crossword clue “Like a crossword without balls” is “WORDFIND.”

Kyawaii RPG #8: Saving Throw

Saving-Throw

One of the funny things about American culture is how there are certain divides that are hard to see past. There are certain figures who have millions of fans, yet are largely unknown to people at large. One such figure is Jack T. Chick. He’s the man behind Chick Publications, which publishes Chick Tracts, of which about a billion copies have been printed. Chick Tracts are tiny comics intended to help fundamentalist Christians proselytize. They can show up all kinds of places–I even have a couple I found at a bus stop here in godless[1] California–and they provide a window into a very distinct and unique worldview. For Jack Chick there is Good (the things he believes in) and there is Evil (absolutely everything else). Good is his particular flavor of fundamentalist Christianity, evil is Darwinism, Buddhism, paganism, Islam, and especially Catholicism, or at least his strange caricatures of these things.

Chick Tracts are generally incredibly easy to pick apart on a purely factual basis, and certain tracts are rather reprehensible on a moral basis (the infamous and emphatically discontinued “Lisa” tract comes to mind). Gamers mainly know of Chick Tracts because of the Dark Dungeons tract, which embodies much of the paranoia of the anti-D&D moral panic of the 80s. Whatever else Chick Tracts are, they’re a fascinating body of outsider art. Chick draws some himself, and has employed other artists as well, so the art ranges from eccentric to genuinely impressive. Aside from the inevitable parodies, there are a a few people who collect and study his work, expressing fascination and admiration even if they find his actual beliefs ridiculous and occasionally repugnant. There are a couple of books about Jack Chick, and even a documentary, God’s Cartoonist.

A friend of mine had the idea to make a Chick Tract RPG, following the same form factor as a Chick Tract (which is to say a little 2.75″x5″ booklet). When I heard the idea, a game popped into my head nearly fully formed. My friend hasn’t gotten around to putting together his take on the concept, but just as Chick Publications has put out over 250 tracts, there’s certainly room for more than one satirical RPG. Saving Throw (aside from being a dumb pun) is my satirical Chick Tract RPG. This version is a letter sized PDF, but I do aspire to get a few illustrations done and do a small print run in booklet form.

To play you will need a d20, 15 tokens of some kind, and a basic familiarity with Chick Tracts (which for better or for worse you can view for free online).

Saving Throw PDF Download


[1]Not really. This area is maybe less religious than some, but there are still churches everywhere.

Fantasy Friends Design Journal

The other day I sent the first draft of Faerie Skies out to backers, along with a request for fans who are from the UK (or just knowledgeable about it) to offer feedback on how I portrayed the English countryside. Thankfully it looks like it’s mostly small details that I missed, and not anything really huge or offensive.[1] As I said in the backer update I’m more of an anglophile than the average American, but I’ve nonetheless lived in California my whole life. On the other hand I’m definitely going to take some liberties with fairy lore, just as Kamiya did with Japanese myths. This is partly because I basically have to make something that works with the GSS rules, and partly just to better fit with what I think would be more fun. Faerie Skies is going to need some fine-tuning and some more playtesting and such, but in the meantime I’ve been working on Fantasy Friends, mainly because being productive helps me not be crazy anxious about the whole Kickstarter thing.

monster_manualLooking through old Monster Manuals (and the Fiend Folio and Monstrous Compendium and such) for monster ideas was kind of daunting. In AD&D1e the monsters are for the most part terribly vicious things, many of which basically exist because an evil wizard figured out a demented new way to kill incautious adventurers. WotC’s takes on D&D focused that much more on monsters that you fight, and at times it seems to be full of angry, spiky, glowing things, especially in the higher-numbered books. Navigating the game towards having friendly versions of beholders and gelatinous cubes make sense feels a bit daunting, since unlike with more classic mythical creatures the D&D monsters have very seldom been made friendly. (Rusty and Co. is pretty fun though.) Fox spirits could be downright terrifying in Asian myths,[2] and the old, unvarnished fairy lore reads like a long list of things to stay away from if you want to stay alive, but the works of fiction around them make them relatively easy to picture as friendly. (And with fairies, the friendly modern version is now more prevalent, so there’s a lot more about happy pixies and elves and a lot less about Jenny Greenteeth eating children.) In GSS, the henge’s self introductions usually address the myths about them, and in some cases they “debunk” the myths. This is especially true of Kuromu the cat henge, who wholly rejects the veracity of folk tales about bakeneko and nekomata and such.

I realized that for the creatures I want to put into Fantasy Friends I essentially need to carry out this same process, though I have to start a little further back as it were. Under the influence of anime and Discworld and such (plus looking at real life), I hit on the tack that in this fantasy world most beings basically just want to live their lives, and it’s mostly politics, ignorance, and misunderstandings that keep them apart. Without that Dark Lord jerk mucking things up, the so-called Forces of Darkness would just be people (with a rather broad definition of people) being more or less decent to each other. For people in an unremarkable little village, the sight of a beholder or whatever is still quite a shock, but ultimately coexisting is better than fighting for everyone involved.

From WotC's Monster Slayers kids version of D&D
From WotC’s Monster Slayers kids version of D&D
I also ended up using Mononoke Koyake as my template for how to approach the new set of character types. In MK, each character type has a whole two extra pages that lay out basic info on the character type, eight or so possible reskins, the rules for how they transform, and advice on naming. This was basically the only way to even make a dent in the possibilities presented by “monsters from D&D and similar fantasy works.” I had considered doing something like this for Faerie Skies, but found that it didn’t really feel necessary, as the different types of fae didn’t lend themselves to there being too many sub-types. For D&D-type monsters on the other hand I ended up with things like an Aberration character type, which covers beholders, rust monsters, chimeras, and so forth. The others are Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, Shapeshifters, and Slimes. Some of these can be quite powerful in D&D terms, but then this is where the way that GSS operates somewhat orthogonally to typical RPG concerns is very helpful. In GSS’ later supplements there are new character types like the Elder Henge that have some very potent powers (snake henge actually have some powers that affect time!), but a power that costs a full 20 points of Wonder is unlikely to be usable until the story is winding down in the first place. And perhaps more importantly, when the final objective is to help people and heal relationships and such, special powers only go so far in the first place. I’ve seen Powers like Peek Into Hearts undo a GSS scenario’s Gordian knot, while flashier powers go unused.

One thing I’m adding in that’s pretty much new for GSS is magic items. In game terms these would basically be a “container” for 1-2 Powers and possibly a Weakness, and in story terms they’d essentially be a plot element roughly on the level of an NPC. Characters wouldn’t just own random magic items, but an item could play an important role in the story. Very much like with Faerie Skies, I’m rounding out the book with a sample town (“Grassdale”), some story seeds, and some new NPCs. So far the NPCs are basically just the archetypes that a fantasy town calls for, such as the priest, innkeeper, and hedge wizard, not to mention adventurers.

Overall it’s kind of surprising how different an energy this project has from Faerie Skies. Fantasy Friends is RPG-style fantasy, and while there are some tropes I want to hit, I’m basically making stuff up, whereas for Faerie Skies I culled through about a dozen different books for reference, from classic literature to recent RPGs. Not having to worry about getting a real-life culture right is also rather freeing. The tricky part is the volume of stuff I have to tease out to create a GSS character type. For fairies coming up with 12 powers and 6 weaknesses was basically a matter of digging until I found enough ideas in fairy lore, while D&D monster writeups tend to have relatively few things that can work as GSS-style powers, and in many cases not a lot of other source material on account of having come from the game with little to no basis in myth. Fantasy Friends also feels a lot more like I’m subverting a genre.[3] Taking something with violence at its core–in some cases so much so that it can obscure everything else–and making a nonviolent heartwarming version is challenging yet oddly appealing. Anyway, I should actually get something done instead of sitting here blogging about it, so I’ll stop here.


[1]People do seem to take the names of British pubs very seriously, though I assume that’s in part because British pub names are awesome.

[2]This is especially true of the Korean version, the kumiho.

[3]Though with this and Retail Magic and Dragon World that seems to be becoming a pattern with me.