In this episode I’m joined by Andy Kitkowski to talk about Japanese tabletop RPGs. This is sort of a general overview, and we’ll be returning to this topic in future podcasts to discuss various things in more detail. Our talk went on long enough that I’m splitting it into two installments. This time around we talk about how RPGs came to Japan, the Japanese TRPG subculture, and Japanese RPG design trends.
Yaruki Zero Podcast #4 (43 minutes, 23 seconds)
- Meanwhile… The Super Games Podcast. Episode 12 is Andy’s interview about Tenra Bansho Zero.
- Sword World, the foremost Japanese-made TRPG.
- Record of the Lodoss War on Wikipedia. Originally featured in Comptiq magazine.
- Lucky Star manga artist Kagami Yoshimizu got into RPGs through Lodoss War novels and replays.
- In Episode 66 of Canon Puncture, Jason Morningstar talks about Fiasco.
- Night Wizard, a game from F.E.A.R.
- Ryuu Tama (Dragon Egg)
- Alshard ff, a Final Fantasy-inspired TRPG, also from F.E.A.R.
- Fusou Bukyouden, a wuxia RPG.
- Tokyo NOVA, the first Japanese cyberpunk TRPG.
In the second part of our discussion, we cover doujin/indie RPGs, some neat Japanese games we’ve seen, and localization issues.
This podcast uses selections from the song “Click Click” by Grünemusik, available for free from Jamendo.com. If you like the song, consider buying some CDs from Nankado’s website.
10 thoughts on “Yaruki Zero Podcast #4: Japanese RPGs (Part 1)”
Another great podcast and very interesting. It left me with a lot of ideas, comments and question jumbling around in my head by the main one is this…
What hasn’t anyone translated Sword World? I would love to get the translated rules for Sword World 2.0 and I know a lot of other guys would as well. Many people are tired of D&D for various reasons and the introduction of 4E and the inability to access D&D PDFs seems to present the perfect time to hit the states with this game.
I’ll try to sort out some of the other elements on my mind and get back to you. Looking forward to the next one.
From what I’ve heard, the older versions of Sword World were solid and well-supported, but in the American market there wouldn’t have been much of anything to distinguish it from all the other fantasy RPGs out there.
I own a copy of the 2.0 core rulebook, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it (it’s dense, and 380 pages). Still, it looks like it’s as big of a shakeup as 4e is for D&D, and amongst other things they added new races and classes (well, skill trees) to include elements popular in console RPGs these days. Hence, the races include tabbits (small, magical rabbit people), rune hawks (sentient magical artifacts), and nightmares (demon hybrids that are born at random), and the classes include faerie tamers, martial artists, and gunmen. That makes it a bit more interesting to me personally, but there are still plenty of other games that interest me more.
Another reason is simply that translating an RPG is a major undertaking. Andy and I talk about this in Part 2, but the amount of work involved is major, and potentially very expensive. A professional Japanese translator usually charges something like 20 cents a word, where freelance RPG writing usually pays more like 1 or 2 cents/word. Right now I’m about the only translator who’s skilled enough to tackle and RPG and passionate enough about them to work that cheaply on one. ^_^;
I certainly understand the amount of work that goes into such a project. What I’m surprised at is that a game with such a pedigree as Sword World (Lodoss, Crystania, Rune Soldier, etc.) wasn’t one of the first that was approached for translation by a larger company. It’s a game I’ve always been intrigued by and now more so with 2.0.
As for the ‘new’ classes…many appeared before the 2.0 version of the game in the form of stories, supplements, etc. If you watch the animated film Legend of Crystania (1995), you’ll notice the young girl who travels with the very tall swordsman(whose names I for some reason can not recall right now) is a Faerie Tamer, apparently a class or profession created for the novel though not evident in the original SW RPG.
Well, fingers crossed for a mention of Wares Blade in your next podcast,
Fascinating podcast! I especially gained a lot of insight into the social aspects of the Japanese TRPG scene. I can see why the storied campaigns that western gamers are famous (infamous?) for are seen much less in the land of the rising sun.
The talk of the consistent tilt of TRPGs towards quick-and-easy templates reminded me very much of the original West End Games Star Wars RPG. While newer editions have kept templates in some form, the original really relied heavily on the idea. It worked though, because the list of potential possibilities had such instantly fun character archetypes, like the Laconic Scout and the Armchair Historian. They were more than just classes, they were characters. Just slap a name on them and go! :) I’d like to see such an approach again in a western game.
As for Sword World, I think Ewen touched on the main reason: the competition is simply too steep in the fantasy RPG market. But another problem is Sword World was built on the foundations of the original D&D, rife with archaic nonsense modern gamers would hardly stand for. From what I heard in the podcast, the new edition may fair better, but it’s still hard to stand against the Dungeons and Dragons juggernaut.
That aside, another main issue is that the key potential draw is the Lodoss setting itself. Most of the art we’ve come to associate with Lodoss is currently being sat on by the all-but-dead Central Park Media. Even if a publisher were to try to trump up its anime ties, it would have a long road in doing so.
Well, I’m not surprised to hear that a lot of the stuff in SW2.0 was more evolutionary than revolutionary; a whole lot of the “new” stuff in D&D4e had precedents in supplements and campaign settings for 3.5.
But, in general translated RPGs are by far the exception to the rule, even from easier European languages. There’s In Nomine, Kult, The Dark Eye, Anima, and that’s about it in the 30+ years RPGs have been in existence. (And the list of Japanese TRPGs that I think are better than Anima is pretty damn long, frankly.) Why that is I really don’t know. Some RPG publishers seem to have an inflated idea of what the licenses for their games should be worth, but one would think that it would be worth it for more games than that simply because it largely eliminates the need for a development and playtesting cycle, and provides (hopefully) all the art the game needs.
Unfortunately there’s not going to be anything on Wares Blade. I’ve heard of it, but apart from it being a Japanese-made d20 thingy (from the same company that does the Japanese-translated D&D books) I don’t really know anything about it. Andy and I will have to look into it more at some point.
Of course that “no development and playtesting” part is a load of garbage. Looking at Anima in its final form screams that it needed playtesting and localization. Yes it’s in English, but what the hell does all that stuff mean?
Maid RPG when it was translated for the first time saw the need for workarounds to make it easier to comprehend (I.E. the 1d36 roll being removed) along with some of the tutorials/rulings.
I’m less of an advocate of Sword World for the game itself but more for its (at one point) cross-market possibilities.
Wares Blade wasn’t originally D20. The game first came out in the late 80’s or early 90’s and featured a very cool magical system and was one of the first games (if not the first) in Japan or the USA to contain both fantasy and Mecha. It was produced by Hobby Japan.
I’ve been following the game since about 1991 with numerous articles in the now out of print ‘RPG Magazine’ (the earliest issue I own with Wares Blade in it is May 1991). The following website is the product of a very dedicated fan and a really nice guy who at one time had an English mirror site:
Anyhoo, I’m learning a lot from you guys and can’t wait for more.
> Of course that “no development and playtesting” part is a load of garbage.
I concede the point that the amount of work involved is of course not zero, but if it’s a competently designed game it should be substantially less than designing one from scratch. Otherwise, you might as well go find some other game that isn’t creating unnecessary work. Maybe Anima could’ve become a better game if FFG had revised the rules, but a better solution would’ve been to do Alshard or Sword World instead, or just make a new game entirely. But compared to that, the tweaks we made to Maid RPG were trivial, because the game was solid enough that it just didn’t need changing.
>I concede the point that the amount of work involved is of course not zero, but if it’s a competently designed game it should be substantially less than designing one from scratch.
You’re less apt to run into broken stuff because it’s already commercial product with some solutions in place. That’s one of the attractive things of localizing a product (and the trickiest in that you might/will break something in the translation.)
>Otherwise, you might as well go find some other game that isn’t creating unnecessary work. Maybe Anima could’ve become a better game if FFG had revised the rules, but a better solution would’ve been to do Alshard or Sword World instead, or just make a new game entirely.
I’m more in the belief that the Anima RPG was a “Packaged deal” so Fantasy Flight could get the mini-combat game and the card game. There needed to be something added to it to remove all the fear generated by those intimidating in-play charts and confusing character creation. It doesn’t help that the company has been very minimal on support for the RPG.
>But compared to that, the tweaks we made to Maid RPG were trivial, because the game was solid enough that it just didn’t need changing.
Absolutely. We had a very easy to follow, firm game that wasn’t incredibly wound up with mechanics with a concept most anyone who watch anime can get. On the other hand, Andy K had to make some primers for Tenra to get western readers up to speed on the unfamiliar setting its inspired by.
Interesting podcast! It’s interesting to hear how much similarity there is between TRPGs and wargames in terms of both the people interested and the cultural issues with play in terms of times and places.
(I’ve been living in Japan for more than 10 years and do a lot of wargaming, mostly with Japanese folks – there’s a TRPG circle that sometimes meets in the same community center where we play, but they’re about as friendly to random walk-ins as a similar group might be in the States – i.e., not nearly hostile, but not exactly welcoming, especially when they’re in the middle of a game. Of course, the wargamers are the same way…)