This is an idea I’ve had for some time, though it just coalesced into something I think I can really make work. I’ve been fascinated by magical girl anime for entirely too long, but it’s a genre that cried out to be satirized and subverted. Some might remember how way back when I made a campaign setting called Magical World, a contemporary setting with a dangerous excess of Sailor Moon style magical girls, heavily inspired by the Magical Girl Hunters improfanfic. Later on I had the idea of doing an updated version, titled Magical Burst, which would incorporate Maid RPG style randomness and Superflat insanity, but I didn’t get very far with it.
What has me so incredibly inspired is a new anime series called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a magical girl series from Akiyuki Shinbo, the prolific anime director known for series like Hidamari Sketch, Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei, and many others. (It also doesn’t hurt that the character designs are by Ume Aoki and the music by Yuki Kajiura.) Lyrical Nanoha challenged some of the conventions of magical girl anime–such as by having the protagonist actually sit down and talk to her mother about what she’s doing–but Madoka Magica is the dark magical girl series I’ve been wanting for a long time. It is a series where death is a very real danger, where the desires of adolescent girls are dangerously magnified by magic, and where the forces they’ve aligned themselves with are not so benevolent as they might seem.
Then I stumbled across the TV tropes page on the series, and it turns out that the main writer is Gen Urobuchi. The staff had tried to keep his role a secret as long as they could. Why? Well, in the postface of the first Fate/Zero book he wrote he said, “I am full of hatred towards men’s so-called happiness, and had to push the characters I poured my heart out to create into the abyss of tragedy…” The series is about halfway through its 12-episode run, and it seems like it’s going to get even darker, which is saying something.
This new attempt at Magical Burst incorporates many of my own ideas–too many for it to be Madoka Magica with the serial numbers filed off–and is meant to be fundamentally a game about fighting youma and the unwanted consequences of doing so. The game is shaping up to be sort of like a magical girl version of Don’t Rest Your Head (“Don’t Rest Your Wand”), though quite a few other elements have made their way into the rules, including a D66 table of random magical mutations.
I think the major thing that has me really wanting to realize this game is that it has the potential to create intense stories that really push characters to their limits, all wrapped up in an anime genre I find fascinating. One of the strengths of the magical girl genre is that it thematically works around a feminine coming of age process, and when you stop sanitizing that in the manner of Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew you’re quickly reminded that girls can be pretty amazingly vicious. (Of course, that’s half the premise of Panty Explosion.) I also love how Madoka Magica emphasizes the unnaturalness of magic. One thing about Sorcerer that never came across to me until I listened to the Canon Puncture Game Advocates episode about it is that it’s assumed that your PCs have managed to do something that violates the nature of normal reality. While in other settings there’s fertile ground for magic as something well understood, the consequences of exposing magic to a world completely and utterly unprepared for it are fascinating.
Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there. The actual game should be fairly short and simple, so hopefully it should hold my attention long enough to at least let me finish a full first draft. I’m still digesting Ben Lehman’s (unusually) lengthy essay on playtesting (especially since I barely read it an hour ago), but the main thing I’m taking away from it is I need to be much more rigorous and dedicated than I have been about design.
4 thoughts on “Magical Burst: Getting Started”
Hi Ewen, been a while.
I’ve been reading your posts but I’ve been so busy I haven’t gotten a chance to really comment.
First, this sounds awesome! I can’t wait to see what you come up with for this game. I am not quite the Magical Girl genre fan you are but I am a huge fan of those anime/manga that turn the concept on its ear. I remember a show not that long ago which was pretty cool in which the Magical Girl star inherits the power from the previous one. The show implied there had been magical girls since before the Meiji era which was very cool. The humor came from the fact that the new title character, a 12 year old girl, was supposed to inherit it from her Mom I think, who never game it up. So you have this ultra-sexy late 20’s-early 30’s woman wearing the kind of outfit you’d normally see Card Captor Sakura in and filling it out a little too well.
Madoka Magica sounds like a must see. I’m going to be digging around for the that as soon as possible.
On a related note, A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun sound so much like a Teenagers from Outer Space game I ran in High School. So much so its staggering. I thought, “Role Play This!? Done! Twenty years ago.”
Look forward to more. Always love your stuff.
This has me pretty stoked, I’d been watching Madoka and thinking “now how could this idea of darker magical girl game work without getting tied up in mechanics.” As what’s really making Madoka fantastic is the play between the different magical girls and the very, very, very, dodgy “pet” character. Fortunately knowing you’re working on one means I can stop thinking about it and get back to pondering idol rpg and, gritty dystopia investigator game.
As to Railgun, I dabbled with the idea of Cybergen except instead of the evolved class you select a “power” but decided that fuzion from the BGC book with the skills from Cybergen was better as you have the talent/complication system that allows the whole Level 0 -> 5 power scale for a trade off (lunatic killing your clones in order to become the first level 6, plus obviously being of interest to the crazy floating upside down in a tank man.)
Havn’t seen the smallville system mind you
Hey man, i have not commented in awhile. Just a comment, you seem to like your pink/red haired girls eh? noticed from your other projects seem to have them as your starting inspiration.
As far as liking anime girls with pink hair I’ll have to admit to being guilty as charged, but that didn’t really figure into why I’ve found Madoka Magica so gripping. (If I ever do something based on, say, Steel Angel Kurumi, then that will be the culprit.)