Tsugihagi Honpo: An Innovator

Ryo Kamiya, the designer of Maid RPG and Golden Sky Stories (and a few other games) is one of the major people behind an independent game publishing company called Tsugihagi Honpo.[1] I wanted to take a little time to talk about what they’ve been up to, because they’ve been doing some pretty amazing things that could help expand, improve, and enliven the TRPG scene in Japan.

Japan is far behind the West in terms of the adoption of e-books. The patterns of tech adoption by the Japanese tend to be different in really fascinating ways, sometimes cultural and sometimes pragmatic. They can be way ahead of the U.S. (as was the case with cell phones) or oddly far behind (I’ve heard that many Japanese companies still make extensive use of fax machines instead of email). While devices like tablets are hugely popular and the Amazon Kindle is indeed available in Japan, the selection of e-books available for purchase is relatively small. There may be a cultural tendency to prefer physical artifacts over digital downloads, but the real issue is with the publishing industry. Japan is one of the more literate societies on the planet, but traditional publishers are incredibly set in their ways, and have largely refused to seriously consider releasing their properties as e-books. There’s an attitude that piracy isn’t merely a concern, but something to be absolutely avoided at all costs. This is largely true of tabletop RPGs as much as novels, partly I suppose because it’s simply not the standard overall, and partly because a surprising number of TRPG publishers are actually small subsets of large, traditional publishing houses.

On the other hand there is a flourishing doujinshi scene that produces a massive volume of fan works. TRPGs are only a small part of that, but given that the heart of the doujin scene is a convention that attracts about half a million people, that small part still produces a lot of interesting material. There’s even some electronic publishing going on, through sites like DLSite and Melon Books, which is where you’ll find the very few Japanese TRPGs available in PDF form. Tsugihagi has a few available (including the English version of Maid RPG), and there are some other games like Giant Allege and Machine Makers, plus replays and some other material for existing games. More recently, Ken Akamatsu’s site J-Comi started offering some older TRPG material for free.


Tsugihagi went so far as to make their own PDF reader app for iPad, Narabete Reader, which allows you to view two different PDFs simultaneously. Of course, in their Narabete Reader FAQ they resort to mentioning that PDFs are common for American RPGs, because Japanese RPG PDFs are so hard to come by. Needless to say I’m hoping that TRPG PDFs take off, though that’s partly just because even with the added hoops of buying through a Japanese site, getting files from DLSite is a heck of a lot easier and cheaper than special ordering a book from Japan.

Nechronica Miniatures
3D printing is a technology that has some major implications for tabletop gaming, as it has the potential to massively boost the variety of physical artifacts that people can affordably produce in small numbers. Right now making miniatures is getting more attainable–there have been countless very successful Kickstarters for miniatures games–but it’s still something that involves tens of thousands of dollars. 3D printing has the potential to let projects be on as small a scale as you want. Shapeways is already providing a Lulu-style POD service for 3D-printed objects, but I was rather excited when I found out that Tsugihagi is offering a set of Nechronica miniatures. They’re not cheap, and they have the “fuzzy” look of the current generation of color 3D printing, but it’s also the first instance I know of of a game publisher doing an official 3D printed accessory.


TRPG Publishing Workshop
Another pretty amazing thing they’re doing is the “Tsugihagi School” workshop. They charge 2800 yen for an all-day program of seminars on desktop publishing and game design. In the U.S. we’ve done plenty of convention panels and podcasts about this kind of thing, and there have been a few convention workshops here and there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like this. That it’s something viable in a paid workshop format is I suspect in part a result of Japan being much smaller than the U.S. It’s taking place in Saitama, which is part of the Tokyo metropolitan area, and while it’s hardly in everyone’s back yard, a larger portion of the potential audience can get there on the train than would be the case for a similar event in any given U.S. city.

Online Play
Also of interest is how the workshop includes a session solely dedicated to talking about online role-playing. From what I can gather, this is becoming a major trend in Japanese TRPGs. The term オンラインセッション/online session gets shortened to オンセ/onse, and there are dedicated platforms for it, like Dodontof. This is of particular interest for Tsugihagi since one of their games is extremely adult in nature and probably not something a lot of people would want to play face-to-face. Online RPG play isn’t at all unusual in the U.S., but with rare exceptions (like Code of Unaris) it’s very rare for publishers to address it in any meaningful way.[2] Dedicating time and energy to looking at ways to design games that are better for online play is genuinely a really cool thing, and something I hope we’ll see more of.

[1]Which literally translates to something like “Patchwork Book Shop,” but in English they call themselves “PatchWorks.”

[2]I don’t have a lot of experience with playing RPGs online, but it’s definitely something I want to address in my own games.

7 thoughts on “Tsugihagi Honpo: An Innovator

  1. This was real food for thought, especially since I’m currently trying to write my own RPG. I knew about Japan’s lack of eBook usage, but I didn’t realize that the TRPG market was interlinked to the major publishers. I was under the impression that they were more like doujin groups “/

    Do you know which RPG the image for Narabete Reader is displaying (and where I can get the English translation!)

    I’m going to have to look up Code of Unaris now because a game designed for playing in chat sounds interesting. I’ve played a lot of table top games online through play by post, chat (mainly IRC) and even over Gchat with the use of roll20. I’m unsure how roll20 and Dodontof compares since it seems like the latter requires you to install a new program while the former is all online. Looks interesting though :3

    (in something totally unrelated, do you have a preference in where people purchase copies of Yaruki Zero: The Book? I know some sellers take a percentage from each purchase and that it matters from store to store.)

    1. Poking online a little more just now I’d say it’s more like several of the major TRPG publishers (like Group SNE and F.E.A.R.) have publishing arrangements with larger companies like Enterbrain. There are quite a few doujin TRPG publishers as I said, but there’s also a “mainstream” of TRPG publishing, even if it’s a niche itself. I really want to acquire, read, write about, and potentially translate some of the better doujin TRPGs, because they have a lot of what makes the Forge/indie/storygame/whatever scene in the U.S. great, combined with Japanese sensibilities.

      The RPG that Narabete reader is displaying is Golden Sky Stories; if you want the English version, our Kickstarter will be launching as soon as we get it approved! Watch basically anywhere that I post stuff for news of when it starts. :3 There’s some other really exciting stuff in the pipeline in terms of TRPGs coming out in English too; 2013 is going to be a really exciting year on that front.

      For the YKZ book the royalties work out roughly the same regardless of where you buy it from, but for both my royalties and your convenience I would recommend Amazon if you want a physical copy or DriveThruRPG for the ebook.

      1. Oh I see. I suppose that makes sense. It’d be cool to see more Japanese ttrpgs in English — they’re different than the sword and sorcery or cyberpunk that’s pretty ingrained in most English-based ones. I’ve purchased a copy of Double Cross by F.E.A.R. but haven’t played it since I have to translate it myself, which I don’t make time for “/

        Ooooh! I will watch here and your tumblr and twitter closely then for links to the KS. I haven’t heard of other TRPGs other than Tenra Bansho Zero (which I picked up the original raw on j-comi just now and have had the TBZ pdfs since March) and Golden Sky Stories, but if you know some insider information, I will gladly wait to see what else comes :D

        And I’ll go and purchase a copy of the YKZ book now, thanks~ I know for music, a lot of indie artists prefer bandcamp over iTunes because of that, but I wasn’t sure if the book would be the same way. Good to hear it isn’t.

      2. Oh god, you would not believe the scream that came out of my mouth when I saw that. Scared the crap out of the freshman who live next to me.

  2. I’d love to know how japanese FLGS deal with miniatures. are there any specific miniatures for the japanese market? do they just import some of ours? The japanese figure industry is huge for PVC style figures, but they are large and ornamental, not really useful for compact grids. They’d probably work easily in games like MBb.4 where positioning is abstract, but for tactical games and simulation TRPGs figures would probably be a must.

    1. I’m not sure actually. For D&D (for which 3.5 and 4e got extensive Japanese releases), Hobby Japan basically just releases the American minis from WotC, but Japanese-made TRPGs tend to call for using either boardgame pawns or cardstock chits (for Meikyuu Kingdom they actually sold a pack of premade ones covering most of the monsters and such from the basic set). So that’s another place where Tsugihagi Honpo was pretty unique. (OTOH they’ve since closed down and Kamiya restarted publishing through Incog Lab.)

      The only actual wargames I’ve actually seen published in Japan are a niche for Avalon Hill style board wargames (the kind that use cardboard chits instead of minis). The tabletop game market is much more about board games and CCGs in general.

      The bigger anime figures wouldn’t be good for most tabletop purposes, but the smaller gachapon type figures could work pretty well for something like Nechronica or Meikyuu Kingdom (though they’re generally a little too big for games like D&D or most Western wargames).

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